In their latest issue PC Gamer UK quizzed Blizzard's J Allen Brack, senior producer of Wrath of the Lich King. Here's what they managed to extract...
What was the biggest lesson you learned from launching The Burning Crusade?
JAB: I think the biggest thing we took away was that Illidan (Burning Crusade's lead baddie) was meant to be an all-pervasive evil that you'd fight against and eventually defeat, but I don't think that came across to the average player.
Most players just did their quests and never really thought about him. That's one of the big changes we want to make to Lich King. We're going to push Arthas right in front of players - so they understand why he's a big threat. In Lich King, Arthas will appear to players at level 71, level 75 and level 80.
Do you think as a company you're getting better at making World of Warcraft?
JAB: I think so. The team is a little bit larger than it was, but it's got 95% of the people who worked on Burning Crusade working on Wrath of the Lich King. You just get better at your craft as time goes on.
If you look at the quests for Outland, compared with the quests for the original game, there's a night and day difference in terms of how fun they are. It's the same with the dungeons, same with the raids. I think if you look at the quests we're creating for Wrath of the Lich King, you're going to see another giant leap in quality.
What do you think is the hardest part of making World of Warcraft?
JAB: The rate at which players consume content far exceeds the rate at which we can create it. It's the speed and quality that we demand of ourselves. The players, 11 million of them, are a very hungry bunch in terms of wanting new things to see and do.
When we first announced the expansion back in August, all my friends who I don't work with were saying "What are you guys doing? I can't take another expansion right now, Burning Crusade only just came out!"
My reply was, "That's only a problem if we release the expansion tomorrow, right?" Six or eight months later, the same friends are saying "Hey, we're really ready for that expansion. Any time now would be good, right?"
The Steam hardware survey shows that something like 30% of gamers have upgraded to a high-end 3D card. Are you going to do anything to cater to them?
JAB: At the start of each expansion, we've said, "do we want to do a graphical update?" EverQuest and Ultima Online are the two games that tried that, but most players ended up preferring the original art. That doesn't feel good as a developer - to spend all that time on new art, and to hear "what you had before was better". There's not really a clear path for us to work out what the right plan for us is.
Our approach now is to continue to expand and make cool effects for players with high-end videocards and high-end processors, as long as there's some kind of fall-back system for those that don't have the hardware. We have plans to increase the draw distance: we doubled the maximum draw distance in The Burning Crusade, and we'd like to increase it again. I don't know if we'll be able to double it again, though.
If you've been playing WoW for a long time, but introduce a friend to it, it's quite hard to play together - the level separation is pretty massive... you're talking about tens of days' play before you can really team up.
JAB: I think it's definitely an issue. If we continue to make expansions that add ten levels at a time (which we wouldn't necessarily do), that problem gets worse every time. In one of our recent patches we made it about 60% faster for you to level-up to 60 - we'll continue to make changes if we feel the need to give players a boost.