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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

WoW Insider interviews Tom Chilton on Patch 3.1

Now this is by no means the first time we've interviewed World of Warcraft's Lead Developer Tom Chilton (aka Kalgan) but we though with the recent release of Patch 3.1, this would be the perfect time to sit down with him and get the 411 on Blizzard's plans for their latest patch.

WoW Insider: Blizzard seem to be treating each major patch as more of a mini expansion, what are the reasons for this?

Tom Chilton: I would say the biggest reason is because we're always pushing ourselves to do as much as we can in every patch. We're never really satisfied with what we have in the patch versus what we didn't have. Maybe the developers get a little out of control - but in a good way as that's good for players. More than anything else we want to make sure that in a patch we have content for everyone.

We feel like one of the things we didn't do so well in the past was to deliver content for everyone, we would deliver content for different parts of the player base at any given time like a 25-person raid or a 10-person raid or here's a new battleground, back in the day of Arathi Basin. However we didn't really hit everyone at the same time so we're trying harder to do that while at the same time maintain our pace of Expansions ... our blindingly rapid pace of Expansions.

Why did you decide to implement the Argent Tournament?

The Argent Tournament we saw primarily as a more Azerothian style event. We've got a lot of world events, like in-game holidays, at this point but we're going to continue to improve those and refine them and we will add more of them over time. But we wanted to spend a little more time doing something which was a little more Azeroth.

So we built the Argent Tournament and we knew that with a lot of our world events, we wanted them to be very solo friendly, very casual player friendly but we didn't want it to feel like another set of daily quests that were the same as any other daily quests people where already doing. We wanted to make sure the activity felt a little bit different and kind of new and fresh so that was one of the reasons behind doing the Argent Tournament the way we did and it's part of how we came to the idea of doing jousting in-game.

Does the Tournament have a role to play in Wrath or it is just a bit of fun in Icecrown?

Well it's certainly going to be carried on in 3.2 as we continue to expand the Argent Tournament. How much farther it goes beyond that is hard to say at this point.

How do you maintain a balance between changing long-standing game play mechanics (for example reducing hearthstone cooldown to 30 minutes or adding dual specs) and not giving the players everything they want?

Well, we have this very thick skin, maintained over a very long period of time! I guess in some ways our design philosophies have become less hard core over time or at least we're finding ways to figure out what 'hard core' really means versus when it's just annoying. There are a lot of things about world travel and talents ... philosophies which we've decided are just not friendly enough to the player.

When we developed them, we were being more friendly to the player than any other game out there and we felt like, you know, it's probably even more restrictive than it needs to be. The hearthstone decision itself, part of that is because for a long time in the game there's been a bug called ghetto-hearthing where you can effectively hearthstone by going into an instance and leave the party.

Well. we were fixing that and as a side effect of our ability to queue for battlegrounds from anywhere, because it needs to return you to the place you where when you came out of the battleground, so the logic the instances use to decide where to put you when you come out is smarter than it used to be. It seemed like it was almost by virtue that we got that bug fixed but we felt like players were really used to being able to go to Dalaran or Stormwind or wherever their hearthstone is set a lot more often than we originally anticipated. We wanted to make sure that the game suddenly didn't feel a lot more cumbersome because of that bug fix.

What can you say about patch 3.2 and beyond?

Well, I guess I can tell you there's a battleground and some more stuff in the Argent Crusade! I would say the biggest thing would actually be the [additional content coming to the] Argent Tournament itself so that would be one of those things to look towards. Also, inevitably, there's going to be Icecrown Citadel and the confrontation with Arthas further down the line.

Why has it taken so long to implement something so simple as having mounts swim in water? Is this linked to some thing bigger or just a much-needed fix.

Yeah, that's another one of those evolving kind of philosophies, but we also got some extra time to animate those mounts so it looks like they're actually able to swim. We always found it really kind of annoying that you'd run through a puddle of water that was knee-deep and be dismounted. I think it's one of those polish things that probably would have been better if the game had always been like that, but now was the time for us to be able to do it.

Are you still working on the new dances and druid forms promised way back?

Yep, we still have animators working away on that.

Are you surprised by the success of Wrath and the popularity of new content, like the Death Knight class and Wintergrasp?

I guess yes and no. The expansion, as a whole, we all had a really good feeling about right from the start. We felt like, you know, it was a great package that it was going to be really feature rich. We had high expectations for ourselves and it would be unfair to say that we didn't expect it to do well.

At the same time, it's humbling how strong a response it's gotten from the fans. Also I'm very pleased to how the introduction to the new class has gone. There was a lot of concern, both internally and by the player base, that adding a new class could potentially mess up the game and we tried to make sure we were diligent about paying attention to things which could lead to problems for the game.

I guess my feelings about Wintergrasp is more mixed, I think that in some ways it is extremely cool and it has gotten us some of that feel that we wanted out of world PvP. On the downside, it's so difficult for us to design around an unknown number of players so part of the disappointment is that we're still struggling to support the number of players that participate.

At times, during prime time on the bigger servers, it can really slow down quite a bit and we don't feel like that's an acceptable play environment situation.

In the wake of the success of Death Knights, are you going consider introducing more Hero classes?

It's definitely very possible that we'll do that in the future. Certainly we view that Death Knights have been a success. We do feel that there's still a limited number of classes we can introduce to the game before the classes start becoming more of the same. We're being very careful not to go too far too quickly, we want to make sure we pace ourselves and that we make really smart choices about when and how we do that.

Why introduce dual specs? How do you think these will change one player's versatility?

Well, I guess never say never, I mean a couple of years ago, I couldn't imagine we'd ever do dual spec. We always wanted the talents to feel like very meaningful choices to players and that there wouldn't be infinite flexibility, at least not without a cost. At the same time, the way the game has involved and players participate in multiple area of the end-game and the way in which those end-games are totally different, we're talking about raiding versus PvP or solo daily quest farming and being the healer in your raid. All those different ways in which people play the game, it really just got to the point where we felt like it was a necessity. It wasn't something we could turn a blind eye toward anymore.

As far as tri-spec goes, I hope not! From a design perspective, just because I still want to maintain as much integrity as I can regarding how having a spec and choosing what you're going to do is important. Also the UI gets more and more cumbersome and the game gets more complex. Again, from a design standpoint, the game begins to feel like you have three specs, why not just have all the talents? Once you have everything, it stops being about character customization, which is what it was always intended to be.

Is there a feature in another MMO that you admire and would like to see in WoW?

Sure! Right now, for example, we don't have a housing system. Other MMOs have it and it's a system that we've talked about since before the launch of the original WoW. We've talked about housing and how we'd do it and how it might work for at least five years.

Is it something you're actively working on?

No, we're not working on right now, but it's incredibly complex to do right and we're not sure yet if it's going to be the right thing for WoW in the long run. It has major implications for the game itself and again I wouldn't go out of my way and say never but it's not on the immediately of things to do.

Well thanks for taking the time to chat to us.

My pleasure.