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Given that WOW is free-to-play for the first 20 levels, did you have to cater to the newcomer demographic of gamers in Mists any more than in past expansion packs?
SM: Yeah, well, when we design an expansion for one of our games, we don't really think in terms of 'we want to hit a certain demographic' or 'we want to target a certain type of player'. We concentrate first and foremost on making a fun game for ourselves - we're all gamers - and making something that we as players are passionate and excited about. With Mists Of Pandaria we just got really geeked up about it; the world, the Far Eastern themes, the new class and all the opportunities Pandaria would give us to tell an awesome story.
Some of our previous expansion packs had these huge strong villains or events that threatened to destroy the world. With Pandaria, the local population are pretty peaceful. They enjoy a good meal (laughs) - that's really what they're all about. You, as the player, in either the Horde or Alliance, are the antagonists who bring the conflict into their lives. It's a pretty different feeling to what we've done in the past.
Do you think the level cap on Free-to-play on WOW will be raised in the future?
SM: I really don't know the answer to that question. [Free-To-Play] is something we evaluate from time to time and we'll have to see what happens in the future.
PC Gamer discussed the expansion with lead systems designer Greg Street:
PCG: That actually feeds into my next question, because there are a lot of us, you know, like the day one, November 2004 people. And we’ve gotten into this cycle of, “I’ll come back for the new expansion to maybe check out the new quests, then unsubscribe and go do something else.” What kind of stuff is there coming in Pandaria to keep people like us around longer?
GS: Like I said, now the experience should be, you level up, but you don’t feel like, “Okay, I’m level 90. I’m done. I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of the expansion.” We have a lot of activities to do at level 90. For starters, the quest content continues on. We have a whole zone that’s basically a max level zone with tons of quests.
We have daily quests representing a whole lot of different types of activities. From fighting off the bad guys of this expansion, to learning to ride a could serpent, which is our name for the big Asian dragons that you find flying around, to growing your own farm. So, really diverse activities there. We have a new way of playing with friends called scenarios – really small dungeons or group quests where you get together with two or three people and kind of bang it out in 10 to 15 minutes.
We have challenge modes, which are an entirely new way to see the dungeon content for players who want to real challenges. And there are just a lot of goodies around the world. There are these rare spawns that have rare loot that you can only find by killing that individual creature. And we also have the loot itself scattered around the world. So sometimes you’ll just come across a hunter’s shack or a sword in a stone, or some kind of lost Panderan item you can just pick up off the ground.
And finally, AusGamers had the pleasure to interview lead encounter designer Ion Hazzikostas:
AusGamers: With the previous expansions you’ve had a lot of pre-existing lore to hook into and a lot of big lore characters such as Arthas and Deathwing, but with Mist of Pandaria you’re creating a lot of new lore and a lot of new characters. So how do you make it relatable to the players and make them feel like they’re still adventuring in the World of Warcraft and not something that’s been tacked on the side? How does it blend in with the existing stuff?
Ion: I think that’s one of the great challenges, but also one of the great opportunities of this expansion, since we had something of a blank slate when it came to the continent of Pandaria itself. Really I mean, I think what we’ve done there is try to weave together themes of exploration and discovery with the more familiar Warcraft material of Horde and Alliance and the conflict there. So what brings you to the shores of Pandaria, it is this conflict, this big open war between the Horde and the Alliance. But as you arrive you’re introduced to and meet the new races; you meet the Pandaren, and you meet the Jinyu and the Hozen and you learn about the threat posed by other enemies like the Mogu and the Mantid. But while all this is going on, you still have the familiar reference frame of the Horde and the Alliance forces that you came with, and they’re setting up camps throughout the continent as well and the stories that are unfolding are very interwoven with that basic background.
At the same time, its definitely a journey of exploration and discovery and going to these places that look quite different to those that players have seen before. It was a conscious decision for us when we were planning out this expansion and deciding on what it was going to be, to go in a slightly different direction from the last couple of expansions. From Burning Crusade onwards there has always been like a grand existential threat to the world; it was, ok, the Burning Crusade is going to destroy the world, now Arthas is going to destroy the world, now Deathwing is going to destroy the world, and in every case you have to stop them and Alliance and Horde usually end up working together to prevent those threats. But in the original World of Warcraft, in vanilla WoW back in 2004/2005, there was no single villain on the box, it was just about exploration and discovery. A number of the places that were in the original game were of course direct references to things that had been seen in the RTS games, but others were largely invented. There’s no Silithus for example in Warcraft 3 but players had a lot of fun going through Silithus and learning about the Qiraji and fighting those threats.