With the latest World of Warcraft patch 9.2 live, we took some time to talk to John Hight and Jeremy Feasel of Blizzard about what is next for one of the biggest MMOs in the world.
World of Warcraft has been on the scene for sixteen years now, exploring all aspects of Azeroth. But Blizzard is not resting there and are constantly looking for new ways to expand the world and add new features that make the game more exciting year by year. The latest expansion, Shadowlands, is just another example of how these updates change the face of the game, expanding on what long-time players love, while giving enough for new players to jump in and enjoy.
Now that the latest update is live, CGMagazine got the chance to talk to lead game designer Jeremy Feasel, along with executive producer John Hight. From the new ways the game will be giving new visuals and areas to explore, to the return of class sets, World of Warcraft is an exciting world to explore, and the minds behind the game have countless more stories to tell.
CGMagazine: World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has really been a big step forward for the franchise and MMOs in general. But how do you hope to keep up that pace of bringing new and exciting things to the game when you keep stepping up what is possible in the universe? Do you ever feel that you have reached the pinnacle of what can be brought to WOW, or do you have to scale it back to give a smaller experience?
John Hight: Glad that you described it as a universe because that’s exactly the way we look at the World of Warcraft universe. If you follow Chronicles, there’s a lot defined there for us and a lot of places for us to go. But then, beyond that, it is almost limitless in terms of the stories that we can tell and whether we take big epic bold adventures into the afterlife as we did with Shadowlands. Or we tell a more poignant tale of conflict between the Horde and Alliance or even individual heroes. I think it’s almost boundless in terms of what we’re able to do. Jeremy oversees a lot of our content development, so pretty sure you’ll hear from him as a developer on how he views it.
Jeremy Feasel: The great thing about the World of Warcraft lore and universe is there’s so many mysteries still to explore, so many things still unexplained. And I think one of the funnest parts of our jobs as developers is setting up brand-new mysteries too. That was one of the coolest parts of going to the Shadowlands and realizing there’s this entire other plane of existence. There’s this whole other group of Titanic level creatures, there was a whole group of creatures called the First Ones, the progenitors that oversaw them and created them. And we’re gonna be able to see some of their grand cosmic architecture when we head down to Zereth Mortis in Eternity’s End here. And I think one of the great things that that brings up is, there are still tons of other mysteries to explore even in the Shadowlands itself. There are all these other afterlives that we’ve never been to that we can always go back to. So, it’s sort of like trying to constantly open more books, even as we close some to make sure that there are always fun spaces to explore.
CGMagazine: You mentioned bringing back class sets in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, how will that work, and what will that add to the experience that people might be missing currently?
Jeremy Feasel: Class sets are definitely one of those things that people have been asking for. And I think one of the reasons is the customization you get out of your character of having something that feels really particular to your class. So, the art team just absolutely went all out this time, we’ve got class sets for all of our classes coming in the Sepulcher of the First Ones raid. They’re going to have two and four-piece set bonuses, and they just looked spectacular to the art of this space, as you’ve probably seen in the video, it’s just fantastic. And so, they had a great opportunity to create something that felt new, different, and otherworldly as our first return to class sets.
But we also want to iterate on the class set system here as well. One of the other things we’re looking at is class sets have traditionally been a thing that was relegated just to the raiding community, and it feels right there. Like the raiding community, it is one of the most hardcore in terms of progression. That’s where your set bonuses really get to shine. But we also want class sets to be something that other people can acquire. So, one of the things that we’re trying out this time around is you’ll be able to acquire class sets not only from the raid, it’s one of the best spaces to get them, but you can also acquire it from the great vault on any of the great vault tracks. So, no matter how you like to play WoW, you can collect your awesome class and get some set piece bonuses. And that means we don’t have to turn off the set peoples and various other content because you PvPers can get them too.
Even if you’re a player that likes to play in the outdoor world mostly, when you’re out in Zereth Mortis, after you unlock a variety of different systems out there, you’re eventually going to even be able to turn some of your non-class set items directly into class set items using a system out there as well. So, we’re looking for a lot of different places to plug in our new class sets and we know it’s something that players have been looking for for a while.
John Hight: Now that’s pretty much in keeping with what we’ve heard from players, they want multiple ways to get at the good stuff. Not just necessarily have to be raiding or doing mythic dungeons, because World of Warcraft is literally the Swiss Army knife of games. You know, there’s something in there for everyone and we want to make sure that there are rewards to go along with their activity.
CGMagazine: As the players of World of Warcraft get older, it’s harder and harder to kind of get that group of people together and be able to play for five, six hours, et cetera, uninterrupted. How are you trying to deal with making sure that people can still experience all aspects of the story in while living the adult lives we are forced to do currently?
John Hight: I’m getting older, and I’ve been playing since the beginning and there is more raid time on my hands, and it’s kind of fun because I’m actually able to raid with my sons. But we do have four different levels of raiding, each with various demands. It gets progressively tougher with mythic because and we take that into account. I think that the boss battles themselves have been set up in a way, with the exception of perhaps when you’re in Mythic, and you’re near those final bosses. But most of them can be accomplished with a few attempts, understanding what’s basically expected of the group. We are also pretty flexible on the size outside of Mythic for raid groups. So, we’ve made a lot of changes to make it easier for people to get in and play, but we still want it to be a challenge, that is one of the ultimate challenge activities within World of Warcraft.
Jeremy Feasel: I think we’ve tried really hard to make sure that the great majority of our World of Warcraft chapter quests either sort of terminate at a raid point or take place outside of the raid. We’ve had chapters that occur even after the raid has already unlocked, it doesn’t require you to do the raid in order to see them. Because even though the raid storyline happens, we also recognize that the players that really enjoyed those aspects of the storyline may not be heroic raiders and they may not be doing heroic raiding, but we want the storyline to be accessible to everybody.
CGMagazine: The new section visuals in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands are looking stunning; I love the designs you got going on. What were some inspirations for those concepts, and how long was the design process to bring that world to life?
Jeremy Feasel: So, we started with Zereth Mortis. We sort of went back to the drawing board of what the initial area looked like that created the Shadowlands. So down here we’re gonna be finding this sort of cosmic level architecture where afterlives are created, where creatures like the Winter Queen and the Archon were created. We’re gonna actually find the forge where they were creating creatures of that power level deep in the Sepulcher of the First Ones raid. That’s one of the raid boss fights, you fight the pantheon of all four of them, but it’s sort of the precursor version of them, like not quite finished versions. We fight these unfinished Archon and Denathrius and Winter Queen. And then you’re gonna fight all four of them at once on a big council. So, when we’re thinking about the space, we were thinking about things like that, like what would a space look like that eventually created other spaces in the Shadowlands. We started with some really big architecture, like the forge of the afterlives in the centre, the cosmic crips are off in the corner. And they’re one of the spaces where Titan-level souls or things of that power level come in their afterlife, they’re centred in a very particular location.
And then out of that, we’re starting to think of this really grand architecture, we’re thinking of what would the original version of Oribos architecture start to look like that was more pristine. What will creatures that use that architecture start to look like, and that’s how we got the Atoma, and then the creative process just kind of bubbles up from there. The character team starts making really cool creatures using a variety of the different art kits, and then we’re seeing how those fit into the world. And if those are turning out to be a little bit more on the mechanical side of things, then we’re thinking about what other mechanisms the progenitors could have used? Are there 3d printing creatures out here, and then that starts to go to the prop team, and then they start working on the different props they could create. Those spaces get across those ideas of what they do in order to create different parts of the afterlife. And then they started working on the language, so then we have the cipher runes that are then integrated into a lot of other things.
That’s a little bit of how the creative process comes together, as we all start jamming on different aspects that we think are cool, after starting with these initial big story beats. And then following that, we wanted to tell the second half of the story because that’s how Zereth Mortis would have worked back when everything was going fine right, when the progenitors were there, and they were churning it out afterlives, making sure the whole machine was all working great. But then it’s been 1000s of years since that was the case, and so bad and crazy things have happened since then. The Atoma, they’re sort of caretakers that they left behind, have been trying to keep things up over the years. They’ve been doing their best, and they’re kind of just constantly running on their existing programming, but as time went on, the different creations of the progenitors down there started taking over the landscape.
So, we’re gonna see that those great progenitor structures that were once there, on one side of the land are now completely overtaken as the catalyst of creation. A life-creating force that was once used to constantly add life to things in the Shadowlands has caused all of the vines and all of the ecologies over there to just overtake half the zone. And then the other half of the zone you’ve got like the recycling center, which was once used to sort of recycle all the different parts of the Shadowlands and its new creatures is now turned half of that zone into just a desolate dust scape. So, you can see you get to see a little bit of the passage of time, after you come up with what those cosmic things do. And then you look back at what would have happened if they would have been here for 1000s and 1000s of years.
John Hight: The process of getting to this point is way back in the beginning, when we were first talking about where are the places that we could go with the next expansion, and we landed on Shadowlands. What’s the story we want to tell from beginning to end? Who are the characters? What’s going to be their conflict? Are there any twists along the way that we want to introduce? And so, the conversation that has led to what is the release of Eternity’s End really began about three years ago. And then those are the high points, and then we start filling in a lot of the details as we go along.
CGMagazine: Now one final question just about the universe and the lore of World of Warcraft. Going into such a massive new expansion, do you have a design Bible to make sure you never cross different concepts? And to make sure that you keep the lore and constant history that you’ve gotten to this point, consistent going forward to this expansion and future expansions?
John Hight: Yeah, we do have a large team that checks out that continuity and that has to incorporate not just what we’ve said in games, but also what we’ve written or what has been written in books, or in other media. And then occasionally, there’ll be something where someone will ask a question and say, at Blizzcon, that requires on-the-spot canonical call on… I can remember one time Tom Chilton was asked to determine whether or not Azeroth was in a globular cluster, and he said, “Okay, yeah it is.” I guess there’s a lot of astronomy evidence to support that based on what they see in the skydomes of the game, but yeah, we do run that. Obviously with running for 17 years, and with so many people working on WoW, there’s always going to be little spots where there might be some inconsistencies. But the team really does a good job of trying to shore that up and make sure that it’s consistent.