I’ve had the opportunity to conduct some fun interviews over the years but sitting down with Jeffrey “Tigole” Kaplan felt like I was hanging out with an extremely knowledgeable gamer, not a big wig at a major studio. From the moment I met him he had this pleasant aura about him which made it extremely easy to talk about our previous lives as hardcore ‘EverQuesters’. Once upon a time Jeff was the GM of a guild that many of you reading have likely heard of, “Legacy of Steel”. He’s used his love and knowledge of gaming and the end result is World of Warcraft.
The following is from my talk with Jeff Kaplan on Wednesday night at the official Blizzard Wrath of the Lich King Launch event in Anaheim, California. Special thanks go out to Humphrey Cheung from TGdaily.com for the pictures and to Blizzard PR for sneaking me inside Fry’s.
Allakhazam : Hey Jeff, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us tonight. We know there is a lot going on so we appreciate your time.
Jeff : Well I really appreciate being here and I'm a huge fan of Allakhazam so it's my pleasure.
Allakhazam : Thank you! So what were some of the major challenges you had developing Wrath of the Lich King?
Jeff : I think the biggest challenge with Wrath of the Lich King was trying to top Burning Crusade. We felt like Burning Crusade was a great expansion but at the same time, because it was our first expansion to WoW, there were a lot of things that we learned from, that we felt that we could do better. So there was that pressure of could we make it equal, at the very least to Burning Crusade, and then sort of surpass it while making sure we didn't make the same mistakes twice.
Allakhazam : So what made you decide to add a Hero Class to the game? Did it just seem like the right time or were there other factors involved?
Jeff : It was a combination of really good timing. When we started talking about the feature set for Wrath of the Lich King, the Hero Class kept coming up. There was also the thematic sort of underlining story of Wrath of the Lich King with Arthus, The Scourge, going to Northrend, which made the Death Knight seem like the perfect choice. Then there was also the fact that we've been wanting to put a Hero Class into the game for years and years now and were really trying to figure out the best, most elegant way to have all players experience it and make it really feel like something completely different, yet live up to the expectations at the same time.
Allakhazam : Are you happy with the end result? Would you do anything differently if you could do it all over again?
Jeff : That's a good question. I think, if you asked me if we could do it all over again, I'd have a great answer in like six months to a year. Right now, we feel really good about this expansion. We had a super long beta cycle and we had a nice healthy alpha internal only cycle before that. I leveled up personally to 80 in the beta so I've played all the content, did all the dungeons and we've played every one of the raids that's going in. So I have a high degree of confidence in the 'fun level' of the expansion overall. Those things that come out and those lessons that you learn, tend to happen after you have lots and lots of people playing. You see some of the systems and how they hold up over time. I think there are going to be some things that we can learn from but I don't know what those are, just yet.
Allakhazam : We both come from hardcore "uber guilds" with the 72 person EverQuest raids. Now there are still guilds in WoW that are still capable of doing the 40 man raids. Have you ever considered the possibility of maybe adding an "epic" level to certain raids to appease those individuals?
Jeff : Well that's definitely a thought that we think about often. We're constantly debating what makes a raid "epic". I go back to a lot of the early Naggy and Vox raids and even in Kunark, the Trakanon raids where before they had the server side filtering going on, if you exceeded like 30 people, it would start dropping members of your raid. In a weird sort of way they almost had a hard cap on their raids. It was more of a soft cap where you never knew who was going to go. We tended to keep our raid size pretty small because we knew if we exceeded that, we'd lose people.
Likewise the developers were tuning the content around the 30 or so mark. They knew we weren't going to get many more than that into a raid fight. So I feel that those fights were really epic. I felt that part of what made those feel epic was that an individual contributed at a high level and their degree of skill mattered much more than once you started getting into the crazy 72 person raids. We started to get into modes where we would just count Clerics and their skill level didn't matter. We felt like we had a really elite guild, unless you were a Cleric, then it was just like "Oh all right, that's cool..."
Allakhazam : Hey! I was a Cleric!!
Jeff : *laughs* Oh! I mean don't get me wrong. One of the best players in our guild "Manalope" was a Cleric and this guy was amazing. So there were skilled people playing the class, but to a certain point we would just guild Clerics and we would measure whether or not we could do it, based on that one class and that felt kind of flawed at the time.
I know a lot of people like the 40 person raids, but we're trying it a little bit smaller and we still feel like we can make it epic. I think we can make 10 person raiding feel really epic.
Allakhazam : Now at the World Wide Invitational we were told that we might get the option for a dual spec. We heard it again at BlizzCon where we were told that 'it's coming, no eta'. Can you give us an update on that?
Jeff : It's definitely coming. One of the things the fans will want to know the most is really detailed but we'll be including glyphs within the system so if you swap between your specs it will also swap between your glyphs because glyphs were really key to a lot of players, they wanted to be able to swap between those. We're figuring out the Hunter pet issue because we want to do something for Hunters that are switching specs as well. Those are some of the challenges. The User Interface is coming along great. The mechanics of it are coming along great. I can almost guarantee, as much as I can at an early time like this, that it will be in patch 3.1 that will be the first major content patch after Wrath of the Lich King is live. Now you'll see a bunch of patches come out before 3.1 but that will be the really sizable, "meaty content" patch and that's the one we're shooting to have it in. I would hope that will be out by early next year.
Allakhazam : Are you still looking at ways to further balance the racial abilities and can we expect to see any changes in the near future?
Jeff : I think that balance, class balance and racial balance are ongoing. We like to settle it down, I mean people really identify with their race and class by certain abilities and certainly the racial abilities. At the same time, as the game evolves, we have to make sure that we don't just stick to decisions that were made four, five, six years ago. I feel like we're in a pretty good place right now but we'll need to re-evaluate once the majority of the player base is 80 and Arena and hardcore raiding are kicking in. We'll have to look at it again at that point. I don't see racials being changed in the next few weeks but I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happened over the course of the months.
Allakhazam : How important will pre-WotLK Resilience gear and stockpiled arena/honor points be once the WotLK Arena Season starts?
Jeff : Arena points are actually going away. As soon as you level up to level 71 you'll be in a new bracket and you'll need to get to 80 to get points again. So there won't be any stockpiling of arena points but stockpiling of honor is definitely something that's going to happen. Earlier we made a decision to wipe honor points but then we reversed that decision based on community feedback. There were a lot of hard feelings about removing those points. We had to raise honor costs on items but we also made level 80 honor income accumulate more quickly. So at level 80 it will play out the same. If you stockpiled points you'll be able to buy a few items but not as many as players might have thought.
I think that stuff will make a difference but I don't think it's 'make or break'. We did a lot of things like add tradeskill PvP sets this time around so even if you didn't stockpile honor you can put together some really good competitive gear. You can get your resilience pretty high, straight up on the auction house with tradeskills, which will make you competitive at the very least.
Allakhazam : Recently there was a map discovered in Shattrath which shows the three playable continents: Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor and Northrend as well as a continent on the bottom. Can you shed any light on that?
Jeff : We'll, we know there is a lot out there. There's The Maelstrom, there's all sorts of things going on with the Azshara. There's the Tomb of Sargeras out there. There are also islands that have been documented in our RPG books. Tel'Abim, we always tease and say that the famous Isle of Banana's is down there. There's also Kazan, home of the Goblins and Undermine where they come from. So there's a lot still out there.
There's also a lot in Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor that haven't been revealed yet. Uldum, Grim Batol, Gineas, Kul Tiras, Tol Barad. These are all areas that we want to explore someday.
Allakhazam : Alright so how's the development on Kazan going?
Jeff : *laughs* Kazan! There currently is no "announced" development of Kazan going on but we'd certainly like to develop Goblins more. We'd also certainly like to develop what's going out in The Maelstrom more, overtime.
And like I said, we're also really looking inward to the places in Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor that players keep asking us about.
Allakhazam : Can you sum up Wrath of the Lich King in ten words?
Jeff : Ten words? I don't think I'm good enough to count ten words. "Death Knights are Awesome! Northrend is beautiful! Ummm".
Allakhazam : "Ummm" is a word!
Jeff : Ugh! I lost it on "Ummm"
Allakhazam : I can take it back.
Jeff : Motorcycles, Barbershop ... I want my "Ummm" back. Alright this is going to be one word, Gnomish-Mohawks.
Allakhazam : *laughing* You heard it here first! Wrath of the Lich King is "Death Knights are Awesome, Northrend is beautiful, Ummmm, Motorcycles, Barbershop, Gnomish-Mohawks ". Thank you so much for your time!
Jeff : It was great talking to you. I always like talking to Fansites because you're always much more knowledgeable and I actually get to talk about the game instead of hearing "So what's this WoW thing that you guys are doing?". So, thanks!
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle