At BlizzCon 2009 members of the press were able to attend a private conference with World of Warcraft Production Director J. Allen Brack and Diablo 3 Game Director Jay Wilson, and the duo had interesting things to say about both games. For example, Brack emphasized there are absolutely no current plans to reach a final level cap in WoW, and the team doesn't look much past the next two expansions since they're constantly learning from their development experiences.
Also, there's been a lot of talk about updating the WoW character models, especially with the addition of new races. It may or may not happen for Cataclysm, but when it does, you might have the option to select the original or new models. Oh, and the WoW team was initially angry when the Cataclysm announcement was leaked, but was ultimately just happy that fans seem excited about the new expansion.
The full Q&A from the press conference can be found after the jump.
Unless otherwise noted, the responses are not exact quotes.
Q: Will we ever get guild housing?
Brack: We talked about it with this expansion. Never say never, but it's not part of the plans for Cataclysm.
Q: Will we get more iPhone options for the game franchises?
Brack: We just released the WoW mobile armory. I think it's natural to think about what we can do to connect games with mobile phones. We are not currently planning any iPhone games.
Q: There's been a lot of information about Battle.net for StarCraft 2 and it being incorporated into WoW. What about Diablo 3?
Wilson: We've been involved in that development through the entire duration. All social networking options will be integrated into Diablo 3.
Q: Do have you a storyboard planned out to the final level cap in WoW?
Brack: Not in any way at all. This is a team where we do something and learn from it. We did some stuff with Ulduar that helped us make decisions in 3.2. We'll do the same thing with Cataclysm. We've never had any discussions about making the level cap 100.
Q: Are there any plans to start characters at higher levels, like death knights?
Brack: It's something we have talked about as sort of a reward for players who have been with the game for a long time. Although level 100 is a very high number, we don't really want the amount of time it takes to get to the cap to change. We're on record as saying the amount of leveling time won't change.
Q: Will you ever make a WoW expansion without raising the level cap?
Brack: Sure, we could make an expansion without raising the level cap. It's not anything we've really talked about.
Q: Will there be more big bosses after Icecrown Citadel and before Cataclysm?
Brack: We're not going to make a new in-between boss. The Lich King is the boss of Wrath of the Lich King. Deathwing will be the final boss in Cataclysm. In terms of giant bosses, those are it.
Q: China players rely on the media. Is it possible for Chinese media to get access to more information?
Brack: We have an office in China called Blizzard China, and we're interested in growing that office and engaging the Chinese community. We have a new partner there called NetEase. Our plan is to get Burning Crusade finished in China, then move to Wrath of the Lich King.
Q: Is there any possibility we'll be able to save and replay in Diablo 3?
Wilson: One of our programmers said that might be a possibility, but it was only one conversation.
Q: About mods in Diablo 3, they've been really crucial to long-term playability. What are you planning to do about them?
Wilson: We considered the idea of doing mods, but decided a map editor was too ambitious. The randomness does not lend itself to create user mod tools. We value mods, but "for us it was really a choice of randomness or in-user mods."
Q: Linking to Battle.net changes all the information on your games. Are there any plans to get around this to make sure players can't buy level 80s?
Brack: That's a tricky question. We talked about that a great deal. We could have gone the soft way or the hard way. The Battle.net merger lets players play. Many of you are probably playing on accounts that don't have your last name, which would have made it difficult to link to Battle.net if we went the hard way.
Q: Will there be enough content available before Cataclysm launches?
Brack: The next content patch is Icecrown, which will have 5-man dungeons and 10- and 25-person raids for Arthas. It's the last content patch of that magnitude. Players have no idea when Cataclysm is coming out, so how do they know how much content is available?
Q: Have you ever considered increasing the cap on some Diablo 3 skills? If not, have you considered changing the graphic representations of skills?
Wilson: Most of the caps are around five points now. What is not apparent now is that we don't intend for five to actually be the cap. We'll put items in to raise the level caps so you can customize them. In terms of changing the look of skills over time, we decided to invest in the rune system for that. There are five runes, and each one does a different thing. One splits skills, so for example you can have your magic missile split into multiple missiles. That will let you enhance the look of things.
Q: When are you going to update WoW character models?
Brack: We've talked about that a lot recently, particularly as we start on new races. It may or may not happen for Cataclysm. We may make it an option so you can select whether to have new models or not.
Q: In Diablo 2, we saw the fate of heroes from Diablo 1. Will we see Diablo 2 heroes in Diablo 3?
Wilson: You will see the fate of not necessarily every hero, but we do plan to put in at least one. I would like us to do more. One we had planned was cut.
Q: Raids and battlegrounds are becoming more casual friendly. Will we ever return to the Burning Crusade arenas that were more like chess?
Brack: I think Burning Crusade arenas were far more casual than the ones in Wrath of the Lich King. In Burning Crusade arenas, people made teams and got welfare epics. I think Wrath of the Lich King arenas are more hardcore. Our matchmaking is so much better. You can't make a team and start facerolling people. The philosophy of matchmaking is you should win 50 percent of the time. We want to implement the idea of rated battlegrounds.
Q: You have the new Battle.net StarCraft mod distribution system, so what about WoW mods? Will you ever charge for WoW mods?
Brack: We've talked about it a lot. We'll never say we're never going to do that. We now have a way for mods to work, and changing that way is not simple. Right now, it's not something we're actively talking about.
Q: Are you happy with the difficulty of Wrath of the Lich King? Did you expect it to be cleared in three days after the launch? Do you think complaints that it's too easy are valid?
Brack: People said C'Thun was too easy. I don't think that's a new comment. I think we feel pretty good about how Naxx turned out. One thing we learned about is our hard mode stuff. We like the idea of having a friendlier mode and a soul-crushing heroic mode. Every boss will have a normal and hard mode.
Q: In Diablo 3, is the latest build tied to a specific act? Will we be visiting specific cities per act?
Wilson: Yes, it's the second act. The acts are more of a story division for us than geography. It's a nice division for where we put our cutscenes. There will likely be multiple towns within each act, but they might not all fit the same purpose.
Q: The Cataclysm announcement wasn't exactly a surprise for anyone who follows news sites, but how did the studio react to the leak? How did it go over internally? Will anything change?
Brack: I think we went through the five stages of grief. First it was white-hot rage, then it transitioned to people showing excitement for the game. "It's hard not to have that initial irritation about it. Fire shot from our eyes. There was a lot of cursing. It's hard not to work on something and build up a surprise and want an awesome reveal." But the reality is, fans still enjoyed it. So it's not a big deal.
Q: As it pertains to lore, how closely are the WoW novels tied to the movie?
Brack: The script's not done. The goal is for it to be a great story first and an experience you enjoy. Our goal is to have a damn good movie.
Q: Regarding the development cycle for Diablo 3, do you intend to get developers in from StarCraft 2 when it ships? Will you get an influx of people?
Wilson: if we need them, probably. It's typical for us to share a little bit of resources. We have had two people from our team, which is about 60 to 70 people, go to StarCraft 2. And they weren't critical members of our team. One's a UI designer. There are also strike teams of developers that play the games and give formalized feedback. I was on the Burning Crusade strike team.
Q: When can we expect to see female monk artwork?
Wilson: probably not too far in the distant future.
Q: You mentioned a dev chat thing with fansites at the summit. Do you have any details about that?
Micah Whipple: We were referring to Twitter specifically. We might answer questions live through Twitter. Some may be for fansites, while others may be just for fans.
Q: In Diablo 3, what are the reasons we would ever put more than one skill into the lower end skills?
Wilson: With low-end skills, what we try to do is use runes to amplify their powers. Some skills are designed to be early game skills and will be replaced. While we try to find ways to make those early-game skills stay useful, they'll be updated. Players can also respec.
Q: What role will the Council of Tirisfal play in Cataclysm?
Brack: I don't know if we've talked about the council. The big rival council will be Twilight's Hammer.
Q: Have you had a chance to walk around the floors and play your games? Have you seen anything you already want to change?
Wilson: Yes, I spend hours watching people play Diablo 3. I can't say I've seen anything to change yet. I've been watching people play for weeks and weeks in development. For us, the biggest thing is when you get four players going with monsters on the screen and it becomes a soup of effects. It breaks core value of the company, which is gameplay first. It's not an uncommon problem.
Brack: I haven't seen as much as I'd like. The stuff I have seen has been interesting. A number of people are choosing worgen over goblin. Worgen has an instant appeal for a lot of people, so I'm interested to see feedback.
Q: The worgen and goblins are playable at level 6 in the demos. Do you have levels 1-5 planned out?
Brack: Levels 1-5 weren't done for goblin. For worgen, we wanted you to be able to play as a worgen, not just a human. We have levels 1-5 planned for both.
Q: EverQuest just hit its 10-year anniversary. WoW is halfway there. Where do you see WoW 10 years after launch?
Brack: "So many people asked me about WoW 2 today, it was like bizarro world." Contrary to the perception of how we do things, we're only working on two things at a time on the WoW theme: one expansion and the next expansion. "That's about as far as we look ahead. For us to look much further ahead is not a good use of time because we're going to be so much smarter. Doing a lot of five more years of preplanning is not useful because I can make smarter decisions." To answer your question, "I really have no idea."
Q: What happens to a brand new player of WoW? How will Cataclysm affect them?
Brack: When Deathwing brings on the Cataclysm, you'll be in the post-Cataclysm world. The old world will go away. Part of the motivation is to bring up the quality of leveling for the level 20-60 experience. It doesn't make sense to go back to stuff in the game we don't like.
Q: In Battle.net, can Diablo 3 players talk to Diablo 1 players?
Wilson: "I don't know if we'll backwards integrate previous games. It's always a goal. But I don't know specifically what they're plans are for that."
Q: Blizzard has three properties in development, and then the next-generation MMO. Do you foresee this next-gen MMO cannibalizing the WoW player base? How will they interact?
Brack: No comment.
Q: WoW was a PvP-based game when it first launched via world PvP. Are you bringing PvP back to forefront? Will guild achievements add to PvP?
Brack: The point of the guild system is to enable you to play with your friends. Players love to achieve things. They love goals. I wouldn't describe WoW as a PvP-based game.
Wilson: "It seems to me the evolution of world PvP in WoW is more of a player-based evolution than a world evolution." Wrath encouraged more world PvP, and that's how to get world PvP going again.
Brack: One thing we learned with more casual arenas in Burning Crusade is it's easy to get into the trap of thinking there are PvP or PvE players. "Players just want to advance."
Q: Can you talk about how you're handling cinematics for Diablo 3? How much are you using pre-rendered and in-game cinematics?
Wilson: It's about the same level as in Diablo 2. It's a difficult story to tell with cinematics. We don't have a focus on in-game cinematics. We try to tell our actions through quests. We don't pull control away from the player.
Q: How is trading going to work in Diablo 3?
Wilson: We haven't decided yet. "Going into a chat channel and spamming it is not going to work." We're going to have some kind of trading system. It could be an auction house, it could be over Battle.net. We consider Diablo 3 to be a game all about trading.
Q: Traditionally the monk is male. How will a female monk look?
Wilson: "Sexy!" Other games have approached female monks. We're leaning away from having a bald head. Like with other classes, we're going to take a note from the male and find something that makes her stand out.
Q: Diablo 2 felt quite linear in level design. Does Diablo 3 intend to have a point C or D that branches off, or is it more of moving from point A to B?
Wilson: We're still focusing on a more linear game. With all the random content we have to create, adding branching would be difficult. We're still giving the feeling of nonlinearity though.
Darryl "Togikagi" Gangloff