I had the chance to sit down with World of Warcraft Senior Designer Scott Mercer and Software Engineer Darren Williams on the eve of Mists of Pandaria’s release. We spoke about what it is about World of Warcraft that still interests them after eight years, how they keep the diehard November 2004 guys interested and, of course, all things Mists of Pandaria. I’ve compiled a few of the question and answers here, and you can read the full interview on Strategy Informer.
What it is about World of Warcraft that has kept you interested for eight years, both as players and developers involved with the game from its genesis.
Darren Williams: As a player, I love all the different classes, learning about them, leveling the different characters and mastering that class. There’s so much depth there and I always find new things in the quest content.
Scott Mercer: For me, I really enjoy going through the quests and learning about the story and the lore. I’m in a lot of those conversations and meetings and playing through I still get geeked about it because you can talk about it, but actually putting it in the game and seeing it as a player is a completely different thing.
I’ve been working on dungeons and raids for eight years, but even after all that time it still feels like there’s creativity, there’s still things the player hasn’t seen because the settings are different, the themes are different. There are still challenges for us as developers and it’s still a lot of fun making these encounters.
Leading on from that, how do you keep quests interesting for people who have been playing World of Warcraft for nearly eight years? Is there more dynamism to the events and quests in Pandaria, more to keep battle-heartened veterans interested for another year or two?
Darren Williams: People enjoy the quests for different reasons and one of the big things in Pandaria is this brand new self contained continent and the quests lead you to explore the zone. If you’re the sort of person who likes story, if you read those quests in more detail there’s a lot of back-story for the Pandaren race, the Monks and the new enemies on the continent. So, there’s that, plus the way the quests lay out. In the past, in Cataclysm it was kind of linear how you followed the quest chain. We’re offering a lot more freedom now so you can go off and explore smaller towns and do another quest chain there. We’re using phasing a bit differently too so that you can still play with your friends even if you’re on some big phase side quest. It’s still friendly for playing with friends.
Scott Mercer: A lot of it just has to do with, it’s a new world, it’s an exciting place, it’s gorgeous. As you’re playing through you might go over a hill and see this thing and it’s like, wow that’s just gorgeous and you get excited about that. It’s like ‘hey, have you collected 10 pumpkins before?’, yes you’ve collected 10 pumpkins before but you’ve never collected ten pumpkins like this.
Darren Williams: If you open your map up now you see an exclamation mark where there’s something for you to do. So you can guide your own questing experience. You can open the map and think ‘I haven’t been over there’, go over there and find a new town and get a whole set of new quests to do.
The people who were perhaps six or seven when WoW came out, they’re teenagers now. Is there an element of trying to cajole a new generation of gamers into the WoW universe with Pandaria and any future expansions?
Scott Mercer: For Mists of Pandaria we’re not just trying to draw in a new audience. We have this amazing starting experience, on a floating turtle of all things, and you learn about all these important Pandarien characters, so there’s that. But we’re also trying to make it a really amazing game for people no matter what. So for the maximum level player we’ve provided huge amounts of new activities; pet battles, which is a means to expand upon the existing game of pet collection and the new scenarios for three players.
Darren Williams: We have challenge modes as well which take all the level 90 dungeons we’ve got and make an extra hard version of that with monsters that hit harder, the arrangement of the monsters are more difficult and you’re racing against the clock to post the best time to defeat this dungeon. If your team gets a good time there’s cool visual rewards and you get the bragging rights of being on the leaderboard. All of that goes with the exploration we mentioned earlier; the new story, the new Monk class. There’s tons of new content for both new and existing players.
World of Warcraft has changed dramatically since it grabbed the gaming world by the throat eight years ago, is there anything so ingrained into the DNA of WoW that it can’t be changed, but that you would love to change anyway?
Scott Mercer: That’s a very deep question.
Darren Williams: We’re always changing things and making things better. We’re constantly playing and critiquing things and if we see a problem we’ll go ahead and fix it.
So there’s nothing at all you wouldn’t try to fix?
Scott Mercer: I don’t think so.
Darren Williams: The reason that WoW is what it is is that a bunch of decisions that we made 8-10 years ago, a lot of those are still good solutions to the issues at hand.
Scott Mercer: People love the base game, the mechanics of controlling a class and doing things. I’d say that’s deeply ingrained in the DNA. I mean, that’s what makes WoW WoW.