We just got the chance to sit down with Alex Afrasiabi, WoW's Lead World Designer, and pepper him with questions about Cataclysm. There was such great stuff in our chat, I thought I would just share it verbatim. Most of what we had to talk about deals with the lore of the upcoming expansion, as well as how players will interact with the end game story in Cataclysm.
Quest!: What will be the Wrathgate equivalent questline as we’re stepping into Cataclysm? What’s that huge memorable moment that everyone’s going to be talking about?
Alex: There are several of them. It’s kinda weird. We didn’t do the kind of single machinima Wrathgate style for shipping Cataclysm, but we did do them in the Goblin and Worgen starting areas – so that’s two right there. Those are big moments, but right when you first start – one thing that we wanted to make sure of is that all your entrances into the zones her huge. If you’re a fresh 80 Alliance player when you go to Vashj’ir, and the Kraken – that huge sea monster – grabs the ship. We just want to have a lot of epic moments. If you’re a Horde player on the zeppelin heading to the Twilight Highlands and you have Garrosh there. There are crazy moments, you know, huge huge introductions to the zones.
Then we have amazing moments within the zones themselves. Again, I hate to refer to Twilight Highlands, but when you go to Iso’rath, which is this, I don’t know if you guys have seen this yet, this tentacled point of interest where the Old God corruption has seeped through. Every time I see it I just freak out, I’m like ‘I can’t believe this is in our game.’ It’s just amazing. I geek out just looking at it. I just feel bad. I mean I wish our actual raids of Old World gods looked this good, and we have it just outdoor in a level 85 zone. But that’s how awesome this expansion is, I mean, just regular stuff is just amazing.
So there are tons of those moments, I mean, when you right Ragnaros in Hyjal, it’s just another place where I’m like have you guys seen this room? I’ve been doing raids for the last six and a half, seven, years, and we have yet to get a raid that looks this awesome. And here it’s for a solo player to get to go out and punk down Ragnaros. There are just so many of those epic, epic moments weaved in with the story. You know Deepholm, you go to the Maelstrom – which is a point of contention, I know, amongst the players – I thought that was the most epic thing in the world. I rolled in and I see Thrall there channeling the power of the elements to try and contain this thing. The Maelstrom is just churning away. There are just so many other – sorry, I’m just geeking out here.
Quest!: No that’s good. That’s the point. That’s the reaction that we have playing Cataclysm. I feel that you gave us the game back. I started in March of 2005, and that moment when I stepped out of Stormwind for the first time into Goldshire and realized that this was no longer Anarchy Online, that I have entered a fully immersive world. I feel that way playing through the beta – in fact I had problems going back to the live servers. You gave me that game back, and so I have to thank you for that.
Alex: Our pleasure.
Quest!: You mentioned the Goblin starting area. We’ve gone through it a couple of times now, and we just had our family go through it and the end result quest chain has shifted. We wanted to ask about why Deathwing was introduced at the end. It felt nice and cohesive the way it was before, albeit a little twisted knowing that you’re the one that destroys your own society. Why is it now that Deathwing is doing that?
Alex: So that’s interesting. When you’re kicking the footbomb – that didn’t test well, and there was a lot of confusion amongst the player base. You weren’t really causing it, but the Goblins all thought you did. It was just a coincidence, because it’s all falling apart all around you the hole time. I mean it does feel like “oh my god that kid lost his footbomb in the volcano, and that set off the whole eruption. It just wasn’t resonating with the players. I thought it was funny. So we wanted something that couldn’t possibly be missed and also tied into what was happening to the rest of the world.
Quest!: I can understand that. It’s interesting that the players didn’t react to the original ending. For me it really hit home the Goblin culture and exactly how they react to that. Our favorite moment is as the volcano that’s exploding that gentleman that’s standing on the side of the road selling molten rocks. This is Goblin. How do Goblins fit in the Horde? That’s how they fit in the Horde.
Alex: Yeah, if it’s not nailed down – and even if it is – they’ll sell that too.
Quest!: Yeah it feels a little disjointed, by I can understand where you’re coming from. And I can appreciate the original questline too because I was there.
I wanted to talk about the character progression with mostly the Horde characters. We’ve all our big huge heroes that all seem to be infighting now. You’ve got Garrosh at odds with the Trolls and Vol’jin, and you’ve got Sylvanas doing all sorts of weird, shady things in Gilneas. Is that a story that we’re going to see play out in Cataclysm, or will it be a larger arc that progresses as the expansions hit? The Horde seems to be fracturing while the Alliance are getting stronger.
Alex: You hit it, absolutely. It’s a huge deal, right? The Alliance is getting stronger and more cohesive. Varian is coming out as the king he should be, as the figure for the whole Alliance and not just the Humans. The Horde is becoming more splintered and fragmented and I think that’s a problem. As Chris Metzen said yesterday in the Lore panel, you’ll love the Horde when you have to fight for it. And I think you will. There’s big things brewing, and you’ll see a lot of those occurrences happen within this expansion – you already are in Cataclysm – and those will be expanded upon. There will come a time, maybe outside of this expansion, where the chips will be down.
Quest!: It’s a large story to deal with in just one expansion set. That’s the kind of thing that you could build an entire separate game out of so I can understand what you’re talking about.
We’ve been watching how the expansions have been designed as they went along, and way back in 2007 when The Burning Crusade was announced, there were these rumors of Goblins and Worgens being added to the game at that point as the new races. Was that the original plan and then it shifted towards Outland? You were talking about the disjointed timelines with Outland and then Wrath of the Lich King. Was Cataclysm originally intended as the first expansion?
Alex: No. I think Cataclysm wouldn’t have fit in 2007. You have to build up the world before you can break it.
Quest!: One day I was walking around in Dalaran and I accidentally clicked on a fountain and suddenly I see the end of the expansion. It shocked the hell out of me. I’m like ‘I’m not supposed to be seeing this.’ Two parts basically: Will we see more of allowing the rest of the raiding community to experience these cut scenes, and the second part is: Will we have warnings?
Alex: It’s tough because, especially if you’ve played all of Wrath and you did the Wrathgate event you’ve sort of been initiated into what the storyline was and you felt like you felt part of the story. There’s an expectation, I think, to have some form of conclusion, you know, some type of closer.
If you don’t raid, it kinda sucks, because you can hear about it or you can YouTube it, but it’s not the same, so we wanted a way that we could bring in that moment that doesn’t spoil it for a server that hasn’t legitimately taken down the Lich King while making it feel like an event of sorts… and to allow people within the game to experience it. It’s still gamey, clicking on a fountain and you got a movie, it’s kinda weird, but it’s not “I go to YouTube and do it.” We really wanted to keep it within the game. We can put warnings on there, or give you gossip options to do through to reach it or something.
Quest!: Will there be open world bosses?
Alex: No. Obviously it’s something we wanted to work within the game. We wanted the concept with the game to support it. But as we continued to add them, it became more and more obvious to us that it just wasn’t going to work within the confines of the game. We have instances for a reason.
Quest!: Is there any plan for a guild coalition system for those smaller guilds that are allying together to raid, etc.?
Alex: Well the system needs to support it first. Once that happens, we can certainly see that happening. It’s something we’ve talked about. We’ve made huge strides in this expansion, especially now that there’s no difference between 10 and 25 mans. That right there is much behind the impetus to do 25 mans now being gone. You can now do 10 player raiding and not feel like you are being left out. Now we do have weird situations where you have a 14 player guild full of active players, what do we do? Well you could do a coalition for that, but then you worry ‘how do we get credit for our guild?’ I mean I understand where you’re coming from. We’ll look at it.
Quest!: Is there anything that you wanted to make sure the readers know that we haven’t covered?
Alex: I feel like I’m a broken record at this point, but it’s important enough to say one last time: I totally get max level mentality. I’m that guy. I want to rush, I want to get through it all and start raiding, you know, start dungeons. But this expansion feels to me, I mean, it’s our greatest work, and we’ve done so much to the world. Slow down. Enjoy the game and take it in.