On April 19, Blizzard Entertainment revealed the World of Warcraft Classic expansion — Wrath of the Lich King Classic. I was invited to participate in a group interview with Kris Zierhut (principal systems designer) and Brian Birmingham (lead software engineer).

There were three outlets along with me in the same group time slot: Eric Law (Gamerant), Cameron Koch (Gamespot) and Tyler Colp (PCGamer).

Wrath of the Lich King Classic Interview Transcript

Eric Law (Gamerant): Generally speaking amongst a lot of the fans of World of Warcraft, Wrath of the Lich King is probably one of the most beloved expansions out there. I’m sure some people might have opinions that differ, but generally speaking people love Wrath of the Lich King. It was a high point in World of Warcraft and just in general, people have a lot of fond memories about that. What was it like with the pressure of relaunching an expansion that is beloved by so many people in the Classic servers? What was it like sort of operating with that?

Zierhut: I think it helps that it’s beloved by us as well. Both Brian and I worked on the original Wrath of the Lich King. It was really a wondrous time here at Blizzard, too; and I could remember the crunch time and the many hours put into creating Wrath of the Lich King, working on death knights, doing all the new talents, and changes to classes.

I remember that very vividly as a wonderful time at Blizzard. So it was really exciting actually to try to bring that to players and to think about– it was great! I’ll make it even better on the second release. I’m going to give you an example of the way we’re making it even better in the second release, which is when the original Wrath of the Lich King first came out, we introduced the first new hero class, which was death knights, and they started at level 58; and that sounded great because, you know, we were all level 70; and we were still kind of thinking in terms of level 60 original level caps, like all those start most of the way there and we’ll make them available on launch day. Well, the problem is if you start as a death knight on launch day, that you will be level 58 as you exited the death knight area, and like, oh… where … I guess I go to Outland?

Alright. I got to go back and do all the stuff that everybody else has just finished doing; and so they were frantically spending their time, turning a level up as fast as they can, get some gear, get just enough so that as their friends were starting to go into the first dungeon, and the raids, they were just like, come on, guys, hold up. I’m almost there. I’m almost ready; and they try to make it to that first raid.

So this time what we are doing differently Is the death knight class will be unlocked when we do the pre-patches. As soon as the pre-patch unlocks, you can make your death knight. So for the entire pre-patch period, you can level up more casually as the death knight, spend some time, smell roses (so to speak) or pick the roses in the case of the new trade skill and go to Black Temple, go to the Sunwell to collect a good set of gear; and then when your friends are on that boat to Northrend and they arrive in Howling Fjord or Borean Tundra, you’re there to go into that first dungeon with them. You’re there to do those first quests with them instead of being left behind; and that’s going to be a better experience.

Birmingham: Yeah. I did that. That like exactly mirrors my experience. I actually switched death knight when Wrath of the Lich King came out. I was really excited to play the class and I’m a notoriously slow leveler. So all my friends are always leveling fast with me; and then this time I was even starting behind. So it was a double extra challenge, but yeah, I’m really excited that we’ll be able to change that at this time.

Cameron Koch (GameSpot): I guess kind of going off that last question, I know The Burning Crusade pre-patch was kind of on the shorter side. I think a lot of people would have liked to see that longer. Do you know the length of the Wrath of the Lich King pre-patch? Like how much time will people have to level their death knights?

Birmingham: We have an idea and it’s honestly like it’s similar to what we did in Burning Crusade, but we were on the shorter end of what we were planning to do for Burning Crusade. I think we may have said it at the time, but I always kind of imagined it as somewhere between 2-6 weeks and it really depended; and we ended up landing on 2 weeks, because of the way that the dates worked out; and so we’re in the same kind of boat of probably no less than two, probably no more than six. Maybe we’ll land somewhere on 4 weeks; but I’m not promising that until we have the exact dates nailed down. We don’t know for sure how it will be. It really depends on what those dates are and where they line up on the calendar.

Tyler Colp (PCGamer): I saw that you guys mentioned like the dungeon finder will not be in, in Wrath of the Lich King Classic. I’m kind of curious if there are any other kind of features that have been left out for sort of similar reasons from what you’ve seen with the success of Classic.

Birmingham: Sure. One of the ones that is also similarly contentious… I know we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who are both really excited that we’re not putting the dungeon finder in; and to be clear, that’s the automatic dungeon finder; and also people who are disappointed because they were looking forward to it.

We are planning to make improvements to the group finding tool, but we don’t want those improvements to mean that you will automatically be put into a group of people without talking to them; and we don’t want it to teleport you automatically to the dungeon or allow you to play with people from other realms.

So we do want to improve that way of like listing yourself for an interested activity, finding people and talking to them, and make that available. But the other feature to answer your question that we aren’t including, that also came in like the last patch of the original Wrath of the Lich King is the automatic integration of the quest system with the map where it would tell you where the quest objectives were directly on the map; and we’re not going to put that in because it was out in the very last patch of Wrath of the Lich King, and it changes the way you play the game; and we know some players don’t want that put right in their face. They want to be able to experience the game where they’re reading the quest text, exploring the world, trying to discover where those things are, sending them to and have that kind of immersive experience of living throughout the world and exploring that through the quest text.

While we know that there are add-ons — and we’re not doing anything to prevent these — if you want to install an add-on that does this, that’s fine. That’s okay. We want you to be able to do that, but we want players who want to be able to play without that experience, who want to experience Lich King the way they did the first time when they leveled up without that, to have that opportunity without it being pushed into their face, by the default UI experience.

Zierhut: Yeah, I want to emphasize, we don’t make these kinds of changes lightly. They come from really core values to what Classic is about. We think Classic is about being social and making friends and meeting new people so that in order to make that happen, you have to run into those people on multiple occasions, you have to have a chance to play with them; and then, play with them a second time and say: “Oh yeah, I remember that guy. He was cool last time. Maybe we should be sharing my friends list. Maybe I should put them on the list of people that I try to make Dungeon groups with all the time.” After you’ve had a successful adventure run.

So we want to emphasize social and we also want to emphasize that the world and the immersion in the world; and it’s really important when you’re reading that quest texts that you’re thinking about the world and the NPCs and the motivations, what’s going on and in all locations. Whereas if you have the tool that’s showing you all on the map, go to this. You start to ignore the quest text or the NPC and go just to the location the UI is telling you to go, instead of thinking about that immersion in the world; and so, because those two values are so important to us, we want to make these changes to emphasize these values.

Birmingham: Now that you brought that up on those together like that. If there’s even a social aspect to the–

Zierhut: You are asking for help, I can’t figure it out.

Birmingham: People tend to go straight to just look it up on the website and okay. You can look it up on the website, but oftentimes I find that I actually I chat the zone or ask my guildmates first; and then if they don’t know where I have to go, then I start — well, maybe I’ll look it up on the website or think a little harder about it and then look it up.

Blizzplanet: What content will be available immediately to Wrath of the Lich King Classic players; and do you have a roadmap of how the other content will slowly be unlocked in future content patches leading up to Icecrown Citadel?

Birmingham: I think the first thing, of course, that’s obviously going to be unlocked at the beginning is Naxxramas; and I think a lot of people have been talking about that; and one of the things that’s interesting about Naxxramas is that this time around a lot of players who have been playing Classic all along have already experienced it in the original Classic release and more like a larger percentage of people who came back for Classic played Naxxramas than people who play Naxxramas in the original launch of World of Warcraft.

Everybody was learning how to play World of Warcraft for the first time, of course, back then; and so a very small number of people actually played through Naxxramas. It’s part of the reason why it was brought back in Wrath of the Lich King as the introductory raid was to give more people a chance to see that content; and we realized that this time, even though a lot of people who played Classic are seeing it again, they would have seen it already and they will be playing through it again, there are still people who are coming back who for them Wrath of the Lich King was the first time they saw this content, that they played for the first time in Wrath of the Lich King.

So for them, it is going to be an experience that reminds them of the way they played originally that they want to see again. So even though it’s going to be easier for players who have played it in Classic, we want to make sure that that’s available at a difficulty that is appropriate for people coming into the game for the first time; and that said, we also of course have Sartharion in the Obsidian Sanctum, as an additional content that’s going to be available at launch, and Malygos is also available at launch as someone who you can take down in the Eye of Eternity; and those are encounters that are a little bit harder, especially Sartharion if you try it with three drakes still up there. That encounter has multiple drakes that you’re supposed to kill on the way to start there; but one of the ways that you can get an achievement is leaving the Drakes up and trying to do that harder content.

Zierhut: Yeah. And of course, the achievement system’s going to be available, which is new to Wrath of the Lich King. So lots of really interesting and challenging stuff to do, right as you hit next level where you say: “Can I pull off this string, team?” it was an achievement for doing this on the zone, and the Heroic Dungeons, right? So there’s a lot of content available there for people to do, right from the beginning in addition to these raids.

Birmingham: I remember actually doing the five minute Dungeons and trying to do some of those Heroic dungeons. Really hard. Some were really, really hard, especially like early on like that. So that’s, that’s a really fun challenge we have tried to put out.

Eric Law (Gamerant): I actually want to go back to sort of where you guys had brushed on the question before last, with the idea that what classic really is, it’s an old school MMO in a modern MMO setting; and so I think I want to pick your guys’ brain a little bit more about what it’s like designing an MMO that is rehashing this content in this old school sort of mode when modern MMOs are all about convenience, quality of life, making things easy and quick like the dungeon finder, for example. Can you shed a little bit more of insight on how you decide what parts you want to modernize? Like adding the achievements and stuff like that; and what parts you want to keep old school?

Zierhut: I think one thing I spent a lot of time in the last five or six years, looking at social in MMOs. It’s applicable for the last project I worked on and very applicable to Classic. We didn’t have people thinking about how social systems should work back when we originally did Wrath of the Lich King.

So it’s a new lens to look at things like what promotes social, what damages social, and paying close attention to that. There’s a lot of good writing out there on how do people form friendships, the process of forming friendships, which requires you to have social proximity. But you see the same people over and over again, you have to have similarities to other people, so you decide whether you should be friends, like we’re working on the same quest together.

So we’re trying to think about, as we design for Wrath of the Lich King, how we can promote social, how we can create those situations. People can find similarity, engage in acts of reciprocity, the things that lead them to friendship and avoid damaging social proximity, which I think that’s the thing that we weren’t careful about. We worked on Wrath of the Lich King the first time because we put in features that sounded great, but made players experience less social proximity; and so we want to put in features or make changes that strengthen it instead of weaken it.

Birmingham: Also as we’ve done in Classic and Burning Crusade, we’ve had this opportunity to kind of go back and re-examine them just broadly and see like what kinds of things as we’re playing through there are we experiencing with this second approach of we’ve played now through all of these expansions, we’ve gotten into mainline, where we are in our modern World of Warcraft, we are playing things like Shadowlands, and then looking back at Classic and people have been asking us for this. It did it differently. Some of us are also like, enjoy that experience and recognize that it’s different; and so first identifying what those differences are — which was something we did of course, to be able to do the release, but then playing with them again and living with them and saying like, okay, this thing is really cool. This I actually really liked. This is creating this experience that I can’t have anymore. How do we preserve that? What do we do to keep that alive and other things that we look at and say, oh, this is actually cool on paper. Well, we brought it back and maybe it isn’t actually what we want to do going forward.

Like arena teams is a good example of that. We were really excited about it. We put extra work in to make sure that we could deliver those at Burning Crusade, even though they had been completely removed from the game engine; and so we had to like rebuild them almost from scratch in order to get them out and we’re really excited that we were able to have that experience, experienced them again and say: “Oh wow! they actually really do not really belong.” They actually make the experience, not as socially sticky. People are already trying to form new teams and trying to like get off of the team and they have a roster that’s too big. Even with the kind of late in Burning Crusade changes to arena. They caused more problems than they solved.

And so we felt like that was something that everybody was very vocal about that they wanted us to remove, and we looked at it and we said, we agree. It actually does not make a lot of sense.

Zierhut: There are other cases where a hindsight is kind of helping us deal with things that we didn’t realize were going be a problem that became problems during Wrath of the Lich King. Wintergrasp is a great example of this. It drove a great exited so to speak or influx people, changing servers and changing factions because they wanted to make sure their faction won Wintergrasp. Because they needed to go to the Vault of Archavon because it had extra loot that contributed to progression. It dropped PvP items and helped you with your PvP progression.

Like people really wanted to win Wintergrasp to go to the Vault of Archavon. So we’re thinking about ways to make it not so important. Like maybe there’s a way to go into the Archavon dungeon without winning Wintergrasp. Right? If your side loses, maybe there’s some other way you can still get in there with a little bit of extra work.

So we’re trying to find solutions to those sorts of problems that are related to social, but just related to: “You know, that was a great idea,” but in retrospect, it did the opposite of what we wanted. Wintergrasp is supposed to be the king of all outdoor world PvP events ever; and what it actually ended up doing was killing world PvP as people server-transferred to win Wintergrasp.

Cameron Koch (GameSpot): Just kinda going off of that a little bit. I mean, you talked about removing the dungeon finder, and the PvP arena changes. Are there other changes that you guys considered and then tabled; and now are there any better, you guys are still kind of considering, but aren’t 100% locked in yet?

Birmingham: One of the ones that we’ve been talking about that I think we’ve talked about and we’re pretty committed to continuing to do is dual spec. People have been asking for this even to come early in Burning Crusade and while we didn’t do it there, I feel like we’d probably be making almost everybody mad if we didn’t do it at all around in Wrath of the Lich King.

We are considering whether or not we want to do some kind of restrictions to it; and this is something that a lot of people have been asking about. Like, are you going to do anything about that? Are you going to leave it alone? And we don’t want to do anything that feels really bad, but what we’re worried about that it might cause is like this incentivization of making kind of hybrid specs; or things like… this spec can tank pretty well, and also DPS, or this one is healing and DPS. And we want people to have that feeling of wanting to be able to experiment with specs, but some people have brought up that dual spec actually might encourage that because they might be like, oh yeah, definitely I can heal with dual spec back, and this is the one where I experiment. That’s a little bit of a healing DPS spec because sometimes people really want me to be the full-time healer and other times I get the opportunity to play in this kind of hybrid role. And so we’re definitely going to have the dual spec system. And the question really is, do we want to do anything to it? And that’s kind of an open question.

Tyler Colp (PCGamer): The Dragonflight part of the stream, they talked about the new UI changes. I’m kind of curious if those will be coming to Wrath of the Lich King Classic, as well as I know you guys sort of share some of that DNA.

Birmingham: That’s a good question, too; and probably at some future point, we will do something with that. One of the things that we’re looking at there is they’ve done like a full visual refresh of them so that they look nicer and they look more modern; and we probably don’t want the visual refresh, but under the hood, the refactor of the way that the systems work and the UI like toolkit that they used to build that, we probably do want, and of course anybody can re-skin their UI. So if you want a prettier or more minimalist UI, you can make mods that do that; but we want that feeling of logging into world of Warcraft Classic to feel like, oh, I’m going back in time. This is how it used to be. This is that old game that I remember playing. We want it to feel that like familiar grabbing you kind of way — including like one of the things that they’re doing with the modern UI is to try to like minimize things and kind of take away the space that they take; and one of the changes that we made when we brought back Classic originally was to make that UI really pop and actually fill the screen in a way that would almost be like antithetical to what you want to do in a modern MMO is trying to make it minimize off to the side.

We want it to feel grabby and like big, like it used to. And so we would want to keep those kinds of underlying tools. So like the ability to move things around and reset everything and control things. We probably will integrate that at some future point. We’re not doing that directly with Wrath of the Lich King. They’re planning that for Dragonflight and we’ll probably have some amount of work to integrate that after they’re done with that.

Blizzplanet: With the launch Wrath of the Lich King are there going to be new content or quality of life improvement to the WoW Classic and Burning Crusade Classic games; or are those going to be frozen in time with no new content?

Birmingham: That’s a good question; and the plan really for Classic era is to continue to have it be a place where you can play the original version of World of Warcraft without any expansions.

One of the things that happened when people first asked us… the community really like asked: “Please bring back Classic. I want to play this old game. The one that didn’t have any expansions.” And there was a little bit of a two audiences camp. Like there was the people who said, I want to go back to the beginning and progress through the expansions again. I really liked Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich king. I want to see them afterward. And the other group that said, like, I really just want the original one. I want that game as it was. And so we want to make sure we preserve that promise to those players, but for the players who have moved on to Burning Crusade, we are going to transition all of them to Wrath of the Lich King.

So everybody who’s playing Burning Crusade right now, all those servers will operate automatically to Wrath of the Lich King; and the people who are playing in Classic will stay there.

That said, we are doing cool things like Season of Mastery, where we started new servers for the Classic content that started again with like Molten Core as the only thing unlocked and the Blackwing Lair unlocked later; and they’re actually gonna unlock the Anh’Qiraj War Effort. I think this Thursday, if I remember my dates right.

We’re like patching that today to make sure that that’s all ready for that; and those servers are actually having like a new spin on the way that you played through the Classic content.

So you can play through it all again. Unlock all those things, and the raid bosses are tuned up, made up a little different, new interesting mechanics added to them; and there’s also like faster leveling that’s more focused on dungeon and group content where you get leveling bonuses for doing the quests that are elite quests or dungeon quests.

So there’s opportunities that we have in the future to come back and revisit these things and put a new spin on them; and we’re really excited about those opportunities in the future, too.

Eric Law (Gamerant): One of the big things that’s coming to the live servers (Shadowlands) right now is the implementation of cross-faction play. Obviously, it’s going to be somewhat limited at first. I was curious if there was any inclination in the future that you plan on implementing some parts of that cross-faction play into Classic as well.

Birmingham: I want to really quickly clarify that you said the live service. You meant specificly the modern WoW. I think it’s actually before Dragonflight. They’re doing it right now in 9.2.5. Yeah. And then that is in the Modern version of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, and now into Dragonflight.

And we’ve talked about it a little bit in Classic. We definitely don’t have any immediate plans. It’s not going to come with Wrath of the Lich King. We’re also not offering faction switches because of the same worry that we mentioned earlier with Wintergrasp about exacerbating the problem of faction divides on servers.

And we know that that’s already a problem. We don’t want to make it any worse by making that too easy for people to switch factions. And that said, I think that’s an interesting idea. It’s certainly something that I’ve always wanted in modern World of Warcraft; and so I’m excited to see that they’re exploring that and I’m open to feedback — if people think that that would be appropriate for Classic, it definitely seems like it would be a departure from what has been the case for many years, but it’s a cool idea for sure. We’ve already experimented a little bit with things that may be similar in doing same faction battlegrounds for Warson Gulch and our Arathi Basin to help reduce the queue times that we were seeing — where it will still try to match you cross back against the opposite faction, but if it can’t find a match after a few minutes, it will be happy to put Horde versus Horde, or Alliance versus Alliance. And the other side kind of dresses up as if they were playing the other side and kind of like a mock battle to try to prepare to defend against the real invaders.

We thought that that was a good way to kind of make it feel still like it was an immersive world and like there’s something really going on and practicing for when the invaders really do come.

Cameron Koch (GameSpot): So you mentioned that the Burning Crusade servers will be upgrading to the Wrath of the Lich King servers. Can you talk about a little bit of like the reasoning behind that? Is it just out of concern of splitting that community three ways as they’re just not a population that could sustain it, or is that the primary reason or are there other reasons involved for that?

Birmingham: It’s not strictly the population that we’re gonna strain it, but it’s more that we like definitely feel like most people want to move on; and we felt like we had made a promise to the original Classic audience when we first went from Classic to Burning Crusade; and we didn’t want to violate that promise that we felt like people were expecting from us.

I don’t know if we ever explicitly made that, but it definitely felt like people were expecting to be able to continue on Classic. That was something that they clearly asked for, or whereas in this case, this is the audience that had said we want to move on; and so we feel like it is a reasonable assumption to say like, most of you want to move on again; and we would be fracturing communities and pulling people apart where we would be making people make these difficult decisions that maybe they hadn’t signed up for where half my Guild goes to Wrath of the Lich King and the other half wants to stay behind. What are we doing there? It’s difficult.

In terms of like that social dynamic you already have with the friends that you’ve already made, and we don’t want to put those guilds in that kind of pressure. We want to give them all a clear path where they can all go together and stay friends with their same groups.

Tyler Colp (PCGamer): Season of Mastery is going to be coming to Burning Crusade in some form, or is it always gonna be a Classic specific thing?

Birmingham: Right now what we have promised is that anybody who’s playing at Season of Mastery will have an opportunity to opt in, to keep their character on the Classic era servers when Season of Mastery comes to a close. We’re looking into whether there are other options to be able to move on, but we don’t have anything to announce on that.

But we know that it’s been a popular request, so we are looking into it, but what we’ve been spending a lot of our attention on trying to get Wrath of the Lich King ready; and so we haven’t had enough time to devote, to making sure that we can do any other options. So right now we can only really promise that it’ll be available for you to opt in, to keep your characters in Season of Mastery in Classic era; and we’ll look and see if we could provide other options.

Blizzplanet: The fact sheet mentions a new set of rewards in the achievement system. Can you discuss what is new that was not available in the original game?

Zierhut: It’s the same achievement system that Wrath of the Lich King originally had when it originally shipped. We’re not changing what achievements are possible or not, not putting new achievements nor taking out achievements. I think it is notable that since the achievement system is kind of there in the background through all Classic that in some cases, people are going to get credit for things that they didn’t realize they’re going to get credit for; but other than that, it’s the same system that we have had all along.

Birmingham: Actually, we didn’t start tracking the achievements until Burning Crusade, and even then in a limited sense. The system was there. We just didn’t actually have the data set up for it because we used the original Classic data. So there’s no data for it originally, but we put in some little bits with Burning Crusade so that we might be able to catch some of the raid achievements and things like that.

But I don’t want to make any like overly broad promises definitely be giving you achievement credit for things that you’ve done, but we might be surprised. Yeah. We might be able to pick up a few cases that we might’ve missed otherwise.

The achievement system is the thing that gives them that whole new set of rewards. It’s the same one that was new in Wrath of the Lich King, of course, the first time; and Wrath of the Lich King Classic is including achievements this time. Again, the same ones.

Zierhut: It was one of the features that is debated. There are some people who think of achievements as these things that they don’t want in their Classic experience, but we thought there’s enough positive, exciting, new content and achievements to be used to bring them in. But it’s definitely something that we examined. Does this fit? Does this make sense for Classic?

And we’ve talked about how social and immersion, the things that are really important to us, and it ends up that achievements help social and immersion. So they make sense, right? There’s something you keep.

Birmingham: Yeah. I mean, like, that’s a good point. Like we did talk about like, when we first brought back Classic originally that taking achievements out was one of the things that we kind of celebrated at that time.

It wasn’t like one of the strongest things as Kris is pointing out, but it was like, oh yeah, what were the original achievements? It was just like getting reputation with various factions. But we do agree at this point, like, as we’re looking at the Wrath of the Lich King data and bringing in the achievements in, it does feel like it is something that will add more to it.

We’ve got certainly plenty of feedback during Classic. People said, could you put achievements back in? And we were like, well, not during Classic. But with Wrath of the Lich King Classic, we will.

Eric Law (Gamerant): So right now, from what we can see of the release schedule of Classic versus when you look at, say the release schedule of modern WoW — modern WoW is usually two to three years between each expansion or so, whereas Classic seems to be releasing, it was about two years or so between it and Burning Crusade. But this time it looks like there’s going to be about a year between Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King give or take a few months. But it does seem to be going a little bit faster. As far as the future of Classic is concerned… is there like a point that you guys consider to be sort of like the classic cut-off period or is it possible that in seven, eight years we could see say a Legion Classic or Shadowlands Classic? Like if there was a demand for it, what’s sort of your design philosophy on that?

Zierhut: So yes, Classic is definitely releasing content faster than the original game did. On the other hand, we wanted to release it this fast. We just couldn’t do it. I was there. Right. We were trying to release it faster. I remember when we’d have the go/no-go conversations. Like, are we ready to launch this by a certain date? It’s like, no, we need more time. Right. So we would add two or three months to the development schedule and take a little longer to go. So I think the pacing is closer to what we wanted it to be; and so in that respect, I think it’s good. Players are getting enough stuff to do. They don’t get bored. They don’t run out of exciting things to see.

As far as, what happens after Wrath of the Lich King, we really want to hear from the community. This whole project has been community driven. It is how this came to being. Because the community demanded it. So what does the community want to see next? Where did they want to go next? Do they want to go onto Cataclysm? What do they want to see next? Do they want to go to Pandaria? Are there features from future expansions, they want to see brought back to Wrath of the Lich King? Are there features that they absolutely never want to see brought into the game at all?

Like if we left this feature out, then I’d love playing all the way to Legion. I don’t know. We really want to hear from the community, we have our own opinions, but the opinions of the community will help us make better decisions.

Birmingham: I agree with that a hundred percent and I think it is worth pointing out that like, we are starting to have those conversations, even right now in Wrath of the Lich King with things like the dungeon finder and the quest box and what those things do to the game is something that we want to be thinking about even now.

And honestly, we even started having them in Burning Crusade Classic, but we decided to go with most of the features in Burning Crusade, feeling like those mostly fit. But yeah, even now we were starting to talk about which ones do fit, which ones don’t. Let’s have that conversation. We want to make sure we open that up; and that’s why we’re talking about things like cutting the LFG dungeon right now.

Zierhut: Actually, one example, there’s a multiplicity of raid difficulties that happened during Wrath of the Lich King, and we’re looking at that like:

“Is that good?
How does it work?
We’re not sure.
Leave it alone?
Change it?
Not sure.”

We want to hear from the community. What do you want to see on all the different raid difficulties and how they work in Wrath of the Lich King? What would be the best way to handle that?

Birmingham: That’s a really good point. I mean, actually one of the things that I really liked about Classic was the fact that because there was one raid difficulty and like so much of the things seems to be from raiding there was this general sense of everybody coming together to a raid because everybody’s motivations were kind of all aligned. What do you want to do? I want to do the hardest content. Where is that? Well that’s in the raid. What I want to do is I want to see the best loot. Where is it? That’s in the raids. I want to see the story. It’s in the raid. Everything is in the raid. And so, everybody kind of comes together for the thing that you need the most people to do. So it kind of made sense. It was kind of cohesive.


Cameron Koch (Gamespot): For Burning Crusade Classic, you guys did the Dark Portal Pass, which was like the level boost, and then there was also like a deluxe edition that had like a mount and some other stuff in it. I know that that didn’t go over too well with some of the Classic community. In terms of people being able to buy the boost and get a mount that normally you have to get everything from playing the game… is that something that’s going to be happening in Wrath of the Lich King Classic? And if so, can you talk about kinda what the decision behind that is?

Zierhut: We will definitely be offering a single character boost per account, again, just like we did for Burning Crusade, and the reason for it is really simple. Some people didn’t play Classic and Burning Crusade Classic, but they love Wrath of the Lich King, and they want to come back and play with their friends; and they want to play a mage, or a warrior, or a druid, or something that is not a death knight; and they need a boost in order to get a character up and ready to play with their friends.

And that’s really what it’s all about. We want you to be able to play with your friends, and that’s why it’s one boost, not a bunch of boosts, not infinite boost, just a one boost per account. So you can get in there or one death knight per server; and it’s all about that social connection.

Birmingham: Right. And we realized that that’s a contentious decision. It’s something that we’ve kind of like, we already crossed that bridge with Burning Crusade and we feel like this is the right thing to do for making sure that people who want to come back for this specific expansion can do it.

And again, like going back to there’s that option that if you really don’t want this, Classic era still exists as a kind of untouched original before any expansions; and there isn’t a booster there, if you want a level, for sure. The leveling way, like that is an environment that it continues to be, free of boosts for people who want that option.

But if you want to come back because you want to come back and play Wrath of the Lich King, it feels unfair to say well then you must be able to catch with your friends, play through all the content that you specifically already decided to skip.

Zierhut: We have been giving deluxe copies of the game. Exclusive cosmetics since day one of the game. Right? When you installed the Collector’s Edition of the Original World of Warcraft, you got to have a little Bear Cub or a little mini Diablo following around after you. It’s something that World of Warcraft has had since the beginning.

Birmingham: And actually, we do honor those original Collector’s Editions and Classic, now. If you had the original Collector’s Edition on your World of Warcraft account, it will give you the original Diablo.

Cameron Koch (Gamespot): Wasn’t there something with like the TCG card game as well?

Birmingham: That’s a little different, but I know what you’re talking about. The Trading Card Game did have a collectable rewards and those were also per character, and the redemption method for them was really convoluted; and they would also be tied to a specific character and we don’t print those cards anymore.

So, long ago with the release of our original Classic, we said that we weren’t going to support the TCG redemption system in Classic. A lot of those, like I said, have already been redeemed against a single character in modern World of Warcraft; and so those have already been taken care of. And so there’s a really limited ecosystem for it in Classic.

So what we’re doing in Classic is we’re using those as opportunities to do maybe other rewards, trying to find other ways that we can include those things to do things like Charity bundles or things like that. I think there’s also one attached to a 6-month bundle in China and things like that.

But we want to try to make sure that there are things that feel like they are not overly intrusive, but available to people who want to be able to get access to those things. Similar to how they were available originally, but without printing new cards.

Tyler Colp (PCGamer): From what I remember, the expansion just sort of got bigger and bigger in scope, but some I’m mostly just curious how are you sort of preparing for that as a team? Even if it’s not necessarily like the next expansion, it just seems like the feature list is getting bigger and bigger.

Birmingham: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, part of that is that we’re hiring more people. So we are trying to grow the team to support that. And, like some of it is like the complexity of it grows as well. Like it’s not just that the expansions themselves get bigger and bigger, but also the complexity of resurrecting the original data, putting it onto the modern data format, right? Like the game engine expects that data in a different format. But the 1.12 version of the data was different than the 2.4.3 version of the data, which was different than the 3.3.5 version of the data.

So we’re importing from three different formats, and then as we like import it to the modern version of the game, that’s changing over time too. So of course then like, as we do 1.14 and then 2.5.4, and then, three, four hours probably what we’re going to call the Wrath of the Lich King patch number — those things are also each in a different format. So we’re really dealing with like six different version formats, trying to make sure that the changes that happened in one are appropriately reflected in the correct place in the version that we’re releasing later. And so that is a challenge that we’re trying to grapple with as we try to make good notes about what those changes were, try to document our changes as well as we can.

And honestly, think about which ones really make a lot of sense. It’s part of, what’s kind of driving that conversation of like, how long does this go? What do we want to do next? What makes the most sense for us and for the players?

Zierhut: Yeah, definitely, the teams are getting bigger. I’ve myself only recently come back to the team. Right. In the letter of hashtag some changes, it takes more hands to make the changes we do think that we made to curate this best Classic version of Wrath of the Lich King.

Blizzplanet: Dual spec was something that was later added to Wrath of the Lich King, which allowed players to have two specs. You can freely swap between specs without the spec cost. Do you plan something different there?

Birmingham: We mentioned this earlier. I think that we do definitely want to have dual spec. It’s one of those things that we feel like since people have been asking for this since Burning Crusade. We’re definitely going to deliver it; and we may do some kind of restrictions on the other spec, but we want to have that conversation with the community.

We don’t know for sure if we want to restrict it or how; and what we really want to do, I think is having that conversation about what motivates people to kind of play with hybrid specs and not feel like they have to play always the super optimized this-one-and-that-one and switch between them and really kind of like find out what people want to be the best experience there.

Zierhut: It’s a system that is going to have to have some limit. You can’t change your spec in the middle of an encounter, and they just respec in the middle of an Arena team battle. Right? So where’s the line of where you’re allowed to change your spec and where you’re not. Is it a, you can only change your spec in the capital city? Is it you can change it anywhere you’re not in combat, right? So we’d love to hear from the community, where do they think that line should be that would best protect people’s ability to experience that Classic feel of the game.

Eric Law (Gamerant): You mentioned a little bit ago about the different challenges of using the older code from Wrath of the Lich King and implementing it into servers using it in a more modern technology. What do you think were some of the biggest challenges of taking that decade old stuff that you used the first time, and then putting it onto servers using the modern day codes that you have?

Birmingham: One of the biggest, maybe most surprising changes is actually the map data. The way that we record the maps that you like look at and view when you press the M key is the default and it opens up the map, and you see the world, and then you can like click to go into, like, I want to see this continent or even this zone; and then right-click to go back up.

That system, believe it or not changed significantly over various patches. I mean, like both from like a player perspective of like you go to Burning Crusade, and there’s another level of depth where it’s like the universe map: here is Outland and here is Azeroth; and then you go into Azeroth and here is two continents.

And so like that hierarchy even like when we did the Burning Crusade, one was a little bit of like, oh, let’s do this quickly. This is a quick little band-aid fix. And like, oh, then there’s other ache case because it actually turns out that the starting zones for Draenei and Blood Elves are actually on the Outland map areas.

We’ve got to like fake that and present that as if it’s actually part of Azeroth, and so we built all these systems and then later refactored them all to try to make them a more cohesive, more complete way of dealing with maps in a more kind of streamlined manner; and of course, all that data is like different for various versions of the game.

So that’s one of the ones that is kind of like, oh, it seems so simple, but it’s actually one of the most complicated systems that we have to deal with.

Zierhut: One that I know I’ve been dealing with coming up is that we refactored how some of the data is represented in our game. In particular, spells; and ironically, the first time we refactored it, I was the guy that had to go through all of these scripts written by the designers and fix them so they could access everything by these new methods. So I had to rewrite a lot of scripts, find the place where they are all wrong, rebuild what was broken, make them work again, test them, and now we have to do it again, because now we have the Lich King version that never got fixed when I fixed everything. So I’m going to have to go through and refactor a lot of the spell scripts by designers for encounters, for creatures, for character abilities and talents; and make sure they work correctly.

Birmingham: Yeah, that’s a good point. Like that format change originally happened much later in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The Lich King versions of those spells and things didn’t actually ever get converted. We have to get back to those original Lich King version that converts them, their Lich King behavior into the modern format.

Zierhut: Yeah, I think we changed them in Cataclysm?

Birmingham: More than once actually. That’s the other thing. Lich King did have a change. It was the first one that introduced actually multiple difficulty spells. We had multiple difficulty features for Burning Crusade, that they would have their own unique spell records attached to the creature; and then Wrath of the Lich King was the first time when spells themselves could differ by difficulty; and then after that we changed them even further in terms of like breaking them up into sub tables. We’ve made posts about that actually, when we were developing Classic, talking about the way spells are broken up into multiple tables.

Zierhut: Yep. And the spell scripts grow exponentially from expansion to expansion.

Birmingham: Yea. Just get more complicated.

Zierhut: Just more longer scripts.

Eric Law (Gamerant): Sounds a lot like cleaning out an old file cabinet or something in some ways.

Zierhut: In some ways, yes.

Cameron Koch (Gamespot): In Classic and in Retail, kind of over the past six months, the teams have been kind of updating and changing, like potentially kind of like problematic quest dialogue or achievements or stuff to be more inclusive or for different reasons. Is that something that’s going to be continuing into Wrath of the Lich King; and do you have any examples of stuff that you have found already that you are changing with that in mind?

Zierhut: We have the easy one: the human racial, Every man for himself. It’s been renamed in the modern game. We’re going to rename it too. We’re very committed to being as inclusive as we can; and so we’re going to keep on where the things you find that are a problem and we will fix it.

Birmingham: Yep. That’s in general, like the philosophy is if it is a problem in modern World of Warcraft, it is probably a problem for Classic, too. We do want to take a little care just to make sure that it really is, but it almost always is.

I can’t think of an example when it hasn’t been that we make the exact same change, but we do have like a list of them that we go through, like: Hey, here’s all the changes that were made in modern World of Warcraft, and we get the list and we go through. Actually, we have additional ones to have where we go, oh, you missed this and it was removed in modern World of Warcraft and we still have it in Classic. So we have to go back and remove or change that, too.

Zierhut: Yeah. Another example that we’re in relation to inclusion is our change to the barbershop feature; because the barbershop historically really only let you change your hairstyle. That was it. But we’re updating it so you can change all of your appearance, including what gender you appear as. So it’s going to be more inclusive of people exploring their identity in that way.

Blizzplanet: Full controller support. When?

Birmingham: (laughs) That’s a good question. And honestly, I think, we are getting those changes to the engine. So the engine is actually a million components. People say engine, they mean different things, but the underlying like client-side controller support and rendering engine is shared broadly between Classic and modern World of Warcraft.

And so as we continue to get those controller improvements in modern World of Warcraft, we will also get them in Classic World of Warcraft. The people working on that are committed to trying to make sure that it’s supported in Classic, as well. I don’t have an exact date for you, but I would be surprised if Wrath of the Lich King doesn’t have the ones that are currently available in Shadowlands now because it’s coming out later. I believe they are all included.

Eric Law (Gamerant): Can we get your final thoughts on Wrath of the Lich King Classic, and just Classic in general?

Zierhut: I think one thing we did not talk about that I want to bring up is our class balance. Death Knight class balance in particular. We’re going to be using the data from patch 3.3.5, which was the final patch in Wrath of the Lich King, which means death knights after they’ve had multiple changes to bring them into line with the rest of the other classes.

Whenever we add new things to a game, we want to make sure that the new thing is super exciting. Everyone wants to play it. That usually means that we err on the side of it being too good instead of too weak, right. Because we want to make sure people try it.

And death knights definitely erred in that territory where they had a lot of strong things where players creatively combined things together in ways that we didn’t think of, which is great. The immersion phenomenon, the emergent behavior. That is fantastic. We love it. But over the course of Wrath of the Lich King we did do a lot of balance work to death knights, a lot of balance to the new talents and skills on the various classes.

A lot of balance work to the new glyph system. It was added in Wrath of the Lich King. I did a lot of that work myself; and so we’re going to use the 3.3.5 version which had brought us all to a place where all the classes and specializations are in a good place relative to each other.

Birmingham: I just want to say, like, in general the whole Classic journey so far has been a huge amount of fun, that I feel like it’s great to hear how many passionate players we have that have their opinions and want to share them about like, what’s really cool about Classic, what’s frustrating them about it; and we just love getting that feedback. We’re looking forward to getting more of their feedback for Wrath of the Lich King. This is when we can hopefully generate more of that excitement and get that conversation going with people offering helpful insights and good reasons for like why they liked the things they like, why they don’t like the things they don’t like — so that we can try and make the best decisions going forward as this game continues to evolve in new and exciting ways.

Blizzplanet: Is there going to be a Beta?

Birmingham: There will be a Beta.

Zierhut: Of course. It’ll be multiple months of Beta, and it’s going to happen this year. And in fact, this is coming out this year. So you do the math.

Blizzplanet: Thank you so much.

Zierhut and Birmingham: Thank you guys.

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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts