From his early days as an EverQuest commentator to the lofty heights of lead designer on World of Warcraft, Jeff Kaplan's rise to power has been meteoric. In the flesh he's polite, kindly spoken and passionate, often sporting - as most of Blizzard seem to - own-brand shirts with brightly coloured orcs on them.
Our leading authority on sexy elves cornered him recently and demanded details of our imminent journey into Northrend - and Jeff's promises were exciting to say the least...
Jeff Kaplan: When people heard the expansion was going to be set in Northrend, they freaked out, saying 'No, I can't go to a continent that's all snow!' Just visually alone, we've made sure that all the zones are not full of ice. For example, the Howling Fjord is completely green, and it's modelled after the Redwood Forest on the Pacific north-west.
There's another zone called the Borean Tundra that has typical autumn colours, and we're really going out of our way to make sure the zones are visually distinct. Another cool part of Northrend is the big PvP zone. It's about the size of Westfall, and will be all-PvP - in no way, shape or form will we support PvE players in it.
It'll be optional, but it'll be completely non-instanced, have multiple objectives, siege weapons, and destructible buildings.
On Grand Entrances...
Kaplan: We absolutely need to make the entry to Northrend epic. I mean, we originally had the entry to Burning Crusade's Dark Portal as a bunch of cohorts walking around, and people reacted badly. This really hammered home the fact that we needed to raise expectations on entering the expansions.
With the four points of entry (two for each side) we've gone out of our way to make them cool. With the Alliance you go to the Howling Fjord - you come down through the big Fjord walls, and there's big battle going on around you. For the Horde, in Howling Fjord, you enter an area with brand new Forsaken architecture.
Traditionally they have wrecked human buildings, but we've built these awesome new Forsaken buildings, with their own distinct style that comes from the Undercity - that kind of Tim Burton feel. They're landing an invasion for fighting the Alliance, and instantly you can see the battle.
If you go to the other side, to the Borean Tundra, the Alliance comes into a giant Alliance stronghold, with a brand new leader that we're building up - and a massive Alliance steam ship.
They're launching an expeditionary force to get to Icecrown and defeat Arthas, but the Horde are coming into the Warsong Fortress, ruled by Garrosh, son of Grom Hellscream (from Warcraft III) - so instantly there's a major Horde character. Not only that, but the Warsong base is absolutely huge and epic.
We've built this giant, epic base specifically for this guy, and the Horde dock in the base when they start. The Horde will have this moment where they are just instantly in awe.
On High Levels...
Kaplan: We feel that we now have an overwhelming majority of players who have played through the content to the end. It's not even about the casual/hardcore thing, it's more about addressing an issue that exists among max-level players.
We felt we could deliver on content towards the end of the game, and that players between level 30 and 40 already have so much to do in the game that they haven't run out of content yet.