While at this year’s BlizzCon in Anaheim, California, we got the chance to interview Blizzard Entertainment’s Greg Street – the lead systems designer on World of Warcraft. We spoke about the Cataclysm, Tauren Druids, level caps, faction transfers, as well as the future of the MMO and other of life’s great mysteries. Enjoy!

GS) Why the change in level cap increase with this expansion? Usually they give players a max level cap raise of ten. With Cataclym, only five.

GregS) Well a couple reasons really. We’ve done two expansions already, this will be our third expansion and players have ten levels to go and they have a lot of content to cover and some players feel compelled to get to the end as fast as possible. At the same time, we introduce a lot of new abilities as players level up and we thought that maybe we could give them the same kind of quest experience – give them a lot of stuff to do without piling up so many new abilities that we would have to add bars for people. Basically, WoW is a complicated game and we want to offer people new content without constantly making it more complex.

Check out the rest of the interview After the Break!
GS) Is there any truth to the rumor that the five level increase was a commercial decision before the game ends at 100 (again, also a rumor)?

GregS) No, no we never talked about it ending at 100 levels – I don’t really no where it will end…I think our official design is that we are going to keep going as long as it makes sense. I don’t know if the next expansion will have five levels or maybe we will decide we don’t like that and go back to ten levels again. We just plan on keep doing it as long as people are interested in buying expansions to the game.

GS) When compared to last year’s huge, CG Wrath of the Lich King trailer, this year’s seemed a little less flashy as it was all done in-game. Why is this announcement trailer in-game and not through the traditional Blizzard CGI?

GregS) Well, there will be a cinematic CGI trailer, we are just not far enough along yet that that has been completed. I’ve seen some early versions of it but I don’t know if we will have launched by time the next BlizzCon but I am certain there will be a CGI trailer by then.

GS) With respect to the game’s ‘phasing’ technology, how much of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor will be affected by it?

GregS) Bits and pieces, definitely the new zones will have a lot of it. We’ll probably add some to the old zones but its not like – we’re not going to phase the entire continent for example, but where it makes sense we will do it.

GS) How will new players experience Cataclysm? When they install it will it have already taken place or will they experience the actual event too?

GregS) Yeah thats one of the things that is really different about this expansion. In the past, there has been a new continent to go to but in this case the old versions of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are just going away. There will only be what we call the ‘sundered continents’ left.

GS) So with all the new geometry changes, will this expansion completely reinstall the new maps over itself or will it simply append the existing files to make the changes?

GregS) Its going to be a change to a lot of levels. I mean we don’t need to mess with Outland or Northrend. We don’t need to chance a lot of the instances – they’ll still work fine. But we are going to have to update the graphics at some point. Its either going to be a really big patch or a really big install – there’s a lot to install.

GS) You guys are tweaking some of the game’s graphics for Cataclysm – new water effects, for example. Are there any plans to completely upgrade the engine to a new DirectX 11 model as WoW is now just shy of five years old?

GregS) So far we haven’t talked about it that much. Its always been kind of tweaking the graphics as we go along. We haven’t yet run into anything where the programmers say ‘Nope, we gotta trash this all to advanced forward’. They have been able to add the new shadows for Lich King and the new water for Cataclysm just on top of the existing engine.

GS) Have there been any new developments with the much talked-about faction transfer system?

GregS) Yeah, we’re gonna do it. It shouldn’t be too much longer. I don’t know the exact day but we have to get things done on our end and then on the web side for players to be able to actually use the service.

GS) Have you guys ironed out the logistics of faction transfers? Will players who have an Alliance-only race/class configuration have to change to a Horde equivalent?

GregS) Originally we were going to try and prevent them from changing races. We did not want people to use the faction transfer service as a way to change their race. Since then we have just decided to allow race changes also…You would have to, for example, if you are a Human Paladin you could not pick a Troll Paladin. You would have to pick a Paladin that was on the Horde side. Right now its only Blood Elves but it will be Tauren also.

GS) So your class will stay the same in the faction transfer – you would just pick a new race on the other faction’s side which can utilize it?

GregS) Right.

GS) Any chance that player housing will make an appearance in Cataclysm?

GregS) No, none. Its something players often ask for but in order to do it, we would want to do it right.

GS) I asked Tom Chilton the same question in an interview during the Wrath of the Lich King launch event in Anaheim and he responded with a very similar answer. Being that it was back with Wrath and now its the same with Cataclysm, is it safe to say it is not really even on the radar for World of Warcraft at this point?

GregS) Its really not even on our radar. We did have a legitimate conversation about ‘Hey, is this something we want to try to do for Cataclysm?’. We sat down and looked at how much art time it would take, how much restructuring and we thought if it was really worth it. Basically we would be pushing players out of the city streets and into their own little private things so that they won’t even see other players. It sounds cool as a feature but would it really change your day to day fun of playing WoW? We thought we would get a lot more fun out of other features.

GS) With respect to the guild achievement system, how will it work to keep smaller guilds competitive with larger ones?

GregS) Thats a huge concern of ours because people pick their guilds for a lot of different reasons and some just prefer small guilds. We have guild of five hundred or more people and we have very small guilds and we wanted to make sure that we were not pushing people in a direction they didn’t want to go just to embrace this new system.

For example, we are limiting the number of players within a guild that can contribute per day. When you are collecting currency, for example, only the top twenty earners will count towards the guild achievements so that the bigger guilds just don’t swamp the smaller ones.

GS) What form will the guild achievements take?

GregS) We generally try not to offer anything that inflates player power through achievements so we might give guilds titles or vanity things like that. We probably wont even give you points for achievements, it will probably be more just for bragging rights.

GS) Also, something that has been bothering a lot of purists is that Taurens will be able to become Paladins when it is not in keeping with their usual lore. Why was this decision made?

GregS) We knew that a big part of Cataclysm is giving players a chance to go back and see their old content in a brand new way and a great way to do that is to re-roll a new character and a great way to encourage that is to give them new things they could be. So we tried to find some new classes we could put on the old races. We picked some safe ones – no one is objecting to the Gnome Priest but when we got to the Taurens we though the story of Cataclysm is about change – everything is different now. So we wanted to pick a few that were a little controversial just to sell the fact that the rules you knew are different.

We actually have already started selling the idea of a Tauren Paladin. There are NPCs now in Thunder Bluff that are starting to have conversations about ‘You know, we have always been traditionally Druids but maybe there is another way’. They are starting to talk about the sun in addition to the moon which has always been tied to Druid magic.

GS) And lastly, what kind of things will Archaeologists be able to do and will new players be able to take advantage of that secondary profession?

GregS) We definitely want it to be something players can pick up even at low level. The basic way it works is that you are completing collections and there are all these ancient races around Azeroth. For example, there are Trolls, Titans, those kinds of things. Say at low level you’ll have to complete a Troll artifact and you will need five pieces to complete this artifact. You can find those pieces by the standard clicking on a ruin the way you would a mining node – you might get them off certain mobs. Then, whenever you complete a collection you’ll get some points that improve your Archeology skill and you’ll get an item. It might be something you can use, something you can sell – basically its going to generate items the way a lot of professions do. At super-high levels you will be able to convert the items into these new glyphs which are part of the Paths of the Titans.

We would like to thank Greg Street and the Blizzard Entertainment PR team for setting this interview up for us at their 09 BlizzCon event.


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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com