Firstly, a round-up of new features in the Cataclysm expansion:
Two New Playable Races: Adventure as one of two new races - the cursed worgen with the Alliance, or the resourceful goblins with the Horde.
Level Cap Increased to 85: Earn new abilities, acquire potent spells, and tap into new talents.
Classic Zones Remade: Familiar zones across the original continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms have been altered forever and updated with new content, from the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens, which has been sundered in two.
Revamped Talent Trees: Every talent tree has been significantly overhauled, giving players clearer and better class customisation choices than ever before.
New High-Level Zones: Explore newly opened parts of the world, including Uldum, Grim Batol, and the great sunken city of Vashj'ir beneath the sea.
New Race and Class Combinations: Explore Azeroth as a gnome priest, blood elf warrior, or one of the other never-before-available race and class combinations.
Guild Advancement: Progress as a guild to earn guild levels and guild achievements.
New PvP Zone and Battlegrounds: Take on PvP objectives and daily quests on the island of Tol Barad, a new Wintergrasp-like zone, and fight for glory in two new Battlegrounds: Twin Peaks and The Battle for Gilneas.
Rated Battlegrounds: Prove your PvP prowess on the battlefield to earn fame, Arena points, and potent upgrades.
Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards.
Flying Mounts in Azeroth: Explore Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms like never before.
Interview: Chief project manager, J Allen Brack
Which of the new features in Cataclysm are you most excited about?
Different players will be interested in different sorts of things. We've got people who have made a lot of different alts [alternative characters]. I think for them the two new races, the worgen and the goblins, combined with the new levelling-up experience, are pretty compelling. Then, we've got people who focus on one character and don't really do alts. The levelling-up with all the new dungeons and raids and the guild achievements will probably be the thing that appeals to them.
I was going to ask about the guild achievements. Some people think it might split the big guilds or make the smaller guilds less competitive. What are you views on that?
It's interesting. I've heard both fears: that the smaller guilds might not be able to compete, and that the bigger guilds are going to split. I think it's hard to say. We did come up with what we think is a reasonable balance: our goal is definitely not to split guilds. Or have guilds at a huge competitive disadvantage.
One way we mitigate that is that there is no additional power you get from guild perks, no 1% DPS talent, additional armour or weapons. All the guild perks are convenience and/or cosmetic. Even if your guild is the biggest guild in the world or your guild is much smaller and doesn't feel it can compete. They're not really competing where it really counts which is raw player power.
World of Warcraft is now up to 12 million subscribers. Do you think that number is set to rise, or has it reached its peak? Also, which of the new features do you think will be most attractive to new or returning players?
Traditionally, we are pretty terrible at predicting what happens with subscription numbers. The thing we try to do is focus on making WoW the best that it can be, and so far that's worked pretty well for us. In terms of returning players, it goes back to what you're really interested in. The goblin race has been a hugely requested race for a long time, and I think a lot of people who played the game in the past will be interested in seeing how it's changed.
I have to say I spent some time flying through the old zones and seeing all the changes has made me want to level yet more alts.
Exactly. I spent last night trying to do all the quests in Northern Barrens, and tonight I'll do some other old zones. It's pretty exciting.
And how was the notorious channel Barrens chat?
You know what, it was pretty funny. There were people trying to start it back up. The funniest thing was something along the lines of: "How do I know this is the real Barrens chat?" The instant response was "Because you're talking in it, dude."
Returning to goblins and worgen, what would you say is each races unique selling point?
The idea we started out with was: "Let's do a race that actually transforms in some way". And that evolved into this idea of taking the worgen, which is a story we've wanted to tell for a really long time, and make it so that people can change between their human and worgen form. For the Alliance, they represent a bit more of a sinister race than a lot of the others. They certainly don't have the purity of the Draenei. When we were developing them we thought of them as kind of the Forsaken for the Alliance.
A bit like the inverse of what the Blood Elves did for the Horde?
Exactly. They've got a little bit of a darker side and a little bit of their own agenda. They're part of the Alliance, but they still have their own demons.
Well, I'm Horde through and through, but I'll be rolling a worgen.
[Laughs] We had a lot of debate about which race was going to end up where. There are people who are big fans of the Alliance and people who are big fans of the Horde, and we had to think what the right thing for the game was. We ended up deciding worgen for the Alliance. As for the goblins, they've been a requested race for a long time. They're a pretty whimsical character which is another reason for doing the goblins on the Horde side. There's not a lot of whimsy on the Horde.
We don't have gnomes, basically?
Exactly. So that was kind of the motivation for those guys.
The Horde capital city Orgimmar has been drastically changed and many of the zones dramatically transformed. But other capital cities – Undercity, for example – and lots of other zones have remained largely untouched. Are there any chances that Deathwing might run amok again during the expansion?
(Laughs) I don't think it's likely for capital cities. One thing we wanted to do was really establish that Orgrimmar and Stormwind are the capital cities for the various factions. That's what we put a lot of energy into doing. Obviously, Orgrimmar got a huge facelift. But we put in an equal amount into Stormwind in terms of artist time. When the expansion lands, and people can fly over the city, the work will become apparent. Converting Stormwind into a flyover city was about a year of work. And about a year for Orgrimmar. So I don't think it's likely that we'll touch Undercity or any of the other cities right now.
Any plans for Outland and Northrend (zones created in the previous two expansions)?
We have started to talk about what we need to do because there's currently no congruity between the story that we are telling in Cataclysm and the one in Outland. It feels a little weird to have the whole "Deathwing is back and has destroyed the world" and then you walk into Outland and you're like "Hey! There's this guy, Illidan". We don't exactly know how we're going to tackle that yet, but we definitely want to find a solution.
The Looking for Dungeon (LFD) feature of Wrath of the Lich King was one of the expansions' highlights. Are there any plans to introduce cross-server raids?
The LFD is probably one of the things I'm most proud of. It is a true game-changer and has really done amazing things for the game. I think it's a fantastic feature and we have definitely talked about extending that to raids.
There's a couple of problems that are specific to raiding that are different to dungeons. Dungeons are far more casual in terms of the player skill you need to be successful. There's also the raid lock-out issue: how do we handle the player that you need to have in order to be successful? You do two bosses under the new system, then the raid falls apart.
There are some ideas we have. The new raid lock-out system we have would help facilitate a raid finder. I think it's possible we would do a cross-server raid system. I don't know what it would look like exactly.
Cataclysm is bringing shared loot and lock-outs between 10- and 25-man raids. Is this a continuation of Wrath of the Lich King's policy of letting the more casual player see more of the endgame? And do you intend to carry this on throughout the expansion?
Well, we've evolved the raiding philosophy with every expansion. And we've tried to make changes based on what we did before. The origin for the shared lock-out was not "Hey, let's make raiding more casual". It was actually trying to solve a couple of problems that existed with the Wrath raiding locks.
For instance, you would do your 10-person raid and then you would start working on your 10-person heroic and that was pretty challenging. Sometimes you would work for days, kind of like in the old pre-Burning Crusade days where you would spend days or weeks on a boss before you got it down. You got the boss down, you got loot, and it was an incredible feeling. Then, the next day you would get into a 25-person raid, and half of them had never been on a raid before and you'd kill the boss on the second attempt, and you would get the same loot that you'd spent days and weeks getting on your 10-person heroic.
So, while there was more players required for the 25-person version, the effort did not feel like equal work. That was really the seed of doing something different for Cataclysm. Doing the shared lock-out is our attempt to try and equalise that. The extra effort required for the 25-person version will be rewarded by giving more loot.
It's a contentious issue, and frankly, it's contentious every time. What I can say is we're going to try this and if there are problems or it's not working out the way we expect then we'll make changes.
Wrath of the Lich King brought many excellent changes like dual-speccing and the Looking for Dungeon finder we talked about. But one aspect I, and many others, didn't enjoy so much was the rise of gearscore culture. Are there plans to tackle this? Or are Blizzard happy to leave it to the players to sort out?
It's a tough issue, because you've got the people that feel like gearscore is the end-all metric of how things should work. And then you've got the unpleasant use of it, the raid or party leader who says "People without gearscore x cannot enter this raid/party. I'm not going to play with people of that gearscore." It's definitely a issue.
Our feeling is that that proverbial horse has left the barn. And there's really no way to put that genie back in the bottle. So the question is: what do we do about it? It's not nearly the resolution of the add-on, but to have our own gearscore helps bucket people of similar gearscores together, so that there is not the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
Excellent stuff, Thanks for your time.
No problem at all. Enjoy the game.