We talk with World of Warcraft's lead content designer about The Shattering patch, the upcoming Cataclysm launch, the game's sixth anniversary, and the possibility of more dynamic events!
With all signs indicating that the world-changing patch 4.0.3a will hit the live servers this week, we thought it was the perfect time to sit down with Lead Content Designer Cory Stockton to discuss The Shattering patch, the upcoming Cataclysm launch, the sixth anniversary of World of Warcraft, and more.
Stockton reflects on the design process behind the massive expansion and explains why he feels everything should run smoothly when Cataclysm is turned on at the stroke of midnight PST on Dec. 7. He also speaks at length about dynamic events like the Elemental Invasion and hints that similar world events could start appearing in WoW on a regular basis, including an expanded Darkmoon Faire. Keep reading after the jump for all of his answers!
ZAM: Cataclysm was first announced at BlizzCon 2009. What's the past year been like for you?
Cory Stockton: The past year has been busy! It's been really good though. BlizzCon this year was awesome, especially because we felt like we had just gotten to that point where we pretty much had everything wrapped up. It always feels great to go to a BlizzCon and be able to know that everyone's getting close to playing what we've been working on for so long.
It's also been a stressful year. There's been a ton of things to do and a massive amount of work for this expansion. We definitely took on more here than we felt like we've ever taken on before in an expansion cycle. The fact that we're not only delivering the 80-85 content, including new zones and dungeons, but also redoing the entire 1-60 experience has been a huge amount of work.
ZAM: With the Cataclysm launch coming up, are you more excited or stressed? Or is it a combination of the two?
Stockton: It's a little bit of everything. In my position, I touch a little bit of everything in WoW. I end up being here for hotfixes and anything that has to happen after launch that we're dealing with. I also think it's exciting because the world finally gets to see what we've been working on all this time. Granted, we've been on the beta and PTR for awhile now, but that's an extremely small number of the people that are going to get to play all this content when it finally launches. I'm definitely really excited. I think we do awesome launch events, so it's great to see everyone come out at midnight and get excited. It's great that you can download the game beforehand and have it ready to go right at midnight on Dec. 7. You can log in and play. That's something we've never been able to do before. It's really awesome to have that kind of stuff.
ZAM: Speaking of the test server, what kind of feedback have you gotten from players? What kind of changes have you made based on the feedback?
Stockton: In general, the feedback has been positive. We always have a mix of both good and bad. We've gotten a lot of feedback because we're changing so much more this time than we ever have before. I think our communication with the players has gotten better over time. It's much more active in finding out what's going on and trying to have an ear to the ground with what the players are feeling. We tried to do a lot more focus testing this time. We've had Tol Barad focus tests and rated battleground focus tests.
Raid testing just started a few weeks ago, and that really involves a lot of work from the encounter team. Not only are they reading feedback, they're watching all those raids live. We open the raid on the server and tell everyone this single boss is ready to go, and we have the entire encounter team logged in on clients on our side watching and fixing things as it's happening. That's typically the way we do things with our internal raid testing – they're fixing things in real time – but it's pretty amazing that we're able to do that nowadays off the beta server. I really just feel like we've gotten better to the point where we can get feedback quicker and turn that feedback around and get it into the game so players can experience it. The big thing with that is trying to get beta builds up quicker. We tried to have less of a distance between each individual beta build.
It's funny, because it's brand new to the players when it comes out on the beta server, but we've been looking at it for weeks. There's a lead time because when our content finishes it has to get through QA and get cleaned up, even for the beta server. We don't want something to go up that's going to give us negative feedback because of a bug. When a patch goes up we're excited to see it because we've been waiting to get feedback on something.
ZAM: The Shattering patch sets the stage for the expansion. For players who may still be confused, what are the differences between patch 4.0.3a and the launch of Cataclysm?
Stockton: There's a massive amount of content that players are getting in The Shattering patch. The main reason is because that content is available to everyone that's playing WoW. That means all the level changes from 1-60, all the new quests, the new race/class combos for everything except goblin and worgen, and all the general systems that have changed within the game. Players are going to see a lot of things that impact your normal everyday life in the patch. Clearly a lot of that systems stuff was introduced in patch 4.0.1, but with 4.0.3a you're going to see the actual world changes separate from what you saw with the systems stuff before.
The main things you'll see happening on Cataclysm launch day are the opening of the content from level 80 to 85, so players will be able to travel to Vashj'ir and Hyjal at that point. It opens up all five of the new zones and also opens up access to all of the new dungeons that become available with that. They will be available through the LFD tool so people can get right into that stuff. Players can start leveling and access stuff like Tol Barad, and our two new battlegrounds become available. Separate from that, the biggest thing would be the goblins and the worgen. At that point you can race change any existing race into a goblin or worgen, or you an actually create a new one and choose to level them up from there. The goblin and worgen come with their own completely new set of zones and experiences. Also, rated battlegrounds open up for level 85 players. People will have to level to 85 first, but they'll be available with Cataclysm.
ZAM: So 4.0.3a is the world changes, and everybody gets access to that. Players need to buy Cataclysm to create a goblin or worgen, level to 85, or enjoy the new zones and dungeons.
Stockton: That's exactly correct.