For a game that doesn't even have an official release date, World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King feels awfully close. So, with that in mind, we invaded the Activision Blizzard (still feels weird to say that) booth at Leipzig Games Convention last week to quiz lead game designer Tom Chilton and production director J Allen Brack to get the inside scoop on probably the biggest PC release of 2008. Or 2009. Ah, screw it...
VideoGamer.com: We read a recent report from an interview here in Leipzig that the game might slip to 2009. Is that true?
J Allen Brack: That's completely made up. We never give releases for anything.
VideoGamer.com: The headline was the game might slip beyond 2008.
Tom Chilton: No-one from Blizzard would ever say that.
JAB: We never give release dates so any time anyone says it may ship here, it may be that, someone made that up.
VideoGamer.com: Is there even a round about release date for the game?
JAB: There is.
VideoGamer.com: And what's that?
JAB: It is the first Tuesday when it's done.
VideoGamer.com: Blizzard's mantra, that you only release when it's done, has stood you in good stead down the years. Is that something you have ever felt pressure to change from above or is that something Blizzard will continue going forward?
TC: Certainly in the time I've been at Blizzard we have not felt any pressure to change that. We certainly do our diligence to try to get the products out when we feel like they need to be out from a customer point of view. Certainly with our expansions people don't want to wait forever before they get the next expansion. So we try to make sure the amount of content we create is doable for what we think is a reasonable schedule.
JAB: Blizzard has been owned by a lot of different companies over the years. Frank (Pearce, senior vice president and co-founder) and Mike (Morhaime, president and co-founder) and Paul (Sams, COO) all have a good talk whenever a new boss comes in, and say well these are our corporate values, this is our culture, this is what's served us really well. The guys who are in charge of the company always seem to get that. That's really important and that's what we want to keep doing.
VideoGamer.com: And your fans appreciate that, so they know when you release something that it's going to be top-notch.
JAB: That's actually our goal. Something we talk about internally is we want you to, when you install the game know you're going to have a great experience because it says Blizzard on the box.
TC: One of the things that Allen Adham, one of the founders of the company, always said was that nobody ever remembers years later whether your game made Christmas, but they'll always remember if your game sucked.
VideoGamer.com: The Death Knight is obviously the headline new feature. What was the reasoning behind that? Is there a feeling that players want a new class to play with?
TC: Yeah, for sure. Players had been heckling us for a new class for a long time. So there's definitely a lot of desire on the part of players to see new classes. For us we're conservative about it because we always want to make sure that if we introduce a new class that it doesn't screw up the game. It generally tends to be much easier for the fans to say, just do it! But ultimately it's got to be a class that we feel really good about. It's got to have a place in the game. We very highly value our philosophy of class distinction. There's no sense in introducing classes if they're all just going to end up in the same indistinguishable mess of classes, basically. We want to make sure that every class has an identity, has a role. So we're careful about doing it, but we feel like when we do it we want to do it.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to allow players to start a Death Knight at level 55, rather than just say here's a new class that you can start at level one?
TC: Part of it has to do with the character itself. The Death Knight is such an iconic character in Warcraft lore that it didn't feel appropriate for it to start off at level one. It seemed to us that it would be kind of silly if there were level one Death Knights. Also in the context of our game, when we introduce a new class we really wanted to put a lot behind it in terms of giving it a really interesting introduction to the game world, we wanted to do this epic quest story. We didn't feel super comfortable doing that with a character that starts at level one because we have to assume that at level one you know nothing about the game. So we're not very comfortable putting you through an epic quest line that might expect a lot out of you. But at 55 we know you're pretty comfortable with the game's mechanics. We know you're familiar with the process of levelling up and how talents work and all that kind of thing, so we can throw a lot more at you.