World of Warcraft Interview

GameInformer has published a lengthy four-page interview with Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan about the Warcraft universe, though the RTS titles get little attention as most of the interview focuses on World of Warcraft.
GI: What was your vision for the world design? How did you want to make World of Warcraft different from MMOs that had come before it?

JK: There's a lot of ways to answer that question. On a purely technological point, we wanted to make a seamless world, where when you travel from one zone to another, you didn't get a loading screen. We kind of take that for granted in 2009, but being able to transition seamlessly between zones was a really big deal.

There were other people who we were friends with at other MMO companies, and they'd tell us, (If you try to do the seamless zone thing, your whole world's going to look the same, because you have to keep your texture set within certain boundaries.) That was funny to us, because we had a prototype area of Westfall, Elwynn Forest, and Duskwood, all of which had drastically different lighting and tilesets, and it was up and running and working. We had our proof of concept. We knew we were going to make it work. That was definitely a ground-breaking focus of our world design.

Beyond the technological standpoint, there was also some of our design philosophy. Our idea was that environment or parts of the world could also be a progression indicator for players. New environments are a reward for players. Therefore, we wanted to make sure that each environment was drastically different from the one before it. We also wanted to make sure that each area had a really strong story to it and a strong sense of place.

We also did a lot of reworking the level flow through the zones to make sure that places that felt epic, such as Burning Steppes, took place at epic moments in the leveling progression. To put it into perspective, when I joined the team back in 2002, Burning Steppes was slated to be a level 30 zone, and Hinterlands was slated to be a max level zone. We did an adjustment there where we decided, (Let's take the big, epic volcanic zone and make that a max level zone, and we can drop some of these less epic zones down.) A lot of subtle design philosophy seems like pretty obvious stuff.


GI: But how did you decide on 40-man as the number for raiding in the original game?

JK: It's funny that you ask. To give a bit of background perspective, we didn't know how the end-game was going to play out exactly in World of Warcraft. The best that we could do was to look toward similar games and make some assumptions. At the time, we felt like there were two juggernauts in terms of end-game in the MMO space. One was Dark Age of Camelot, and the other was EverQuest. In EverQuest around that time period, the raiding size was 72 people. In Dark Age of Camelot, they would do these massive PvP fights that I don't think there was a cap on. It was basically (until your computer melts on you) as the player cap. So upwards of 100 people would be PvPing in one area.

Our instincts were definitely to go smaller. We felt like with those big sizes, although there was a hint of epicness in them, the reality was that individual contribution didn't really mean anything when the size got to be too big. Plus it was unwieldy to get that experience to happen from a purely social and logistical standpoint. So we wanted to shoot smaller.

Basically what it boiled down to was an argument between Rob Pardo, Alex Afrasiabi, and myself. Two of us were arguing for 50-person raid size, and one of us was arguing for 30-person raid size. We compromised and picked 40. It's kind of an ironic decision. We don't normally compromise on design decisions like that, but that's how 40 was picked. Rob, Alex, and myself all had extensive EverQuest raiding experience. To be honest, in order to really appeal to EverQuest raiders, we couldn't go too far below those numbers, even if we thought those numbers were too high.

If you're wondering why we then went from 40 to 25, you can only move the community's mindset so quickly. Sometimes you need to do adjustments over periods of time. 40 was a big cut from 72 or hundreds-plus, and eventually the community was ready for another step where we could make the content a little more manageable for everyone.