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Q&A: Blizzard's Jon LeCraft

Hours before The Burning Crusade launched in Europe, one of Blizzard's senior designers talks about the expansion's development.


World of Warcraft needs few introductions nowadays, and the launch of the game's first expansion has been one of the PC's biggest talking points in the past few months. To find out a little more about the decisions behind The Burning Crusade, we got some time in London with one of the game's senior designers, Jon LeCraft, in the build up to the game's UK launch.

GameSpot UK: There are a lot of people playing World of Warcraft right now, so how many of the 8 million do you expect to invest in the expansion?

Jon LeCraft: I personally expect it to be pretty high; I can't imagine not buying the expansion if you're playing the game. I'm in a guild, where they don't know who I am, and everybody said yes, although one guy said he couldn't afford it. I told him it'd be worth skipping a few meals for. [Laughs] Seriously though, I do think it will help our numbers, because there are people who have taken a break, who'll come back and check Burning Crusade out.

GSUK: The game was delayed from December to add polish--did that go well?

JL: Yeah, definitely, and that time was really well spent--I'm glad we took that time. Not only were we able to polish the content, but we were able to add in some stuff that wouldn't have made it otherwise.

GSUK: What kinds of things?

JL: Mainly a lot of quests and making sure the outdoor content was a lot of fun. We took different philosophies when we were creating the monsters, and we wanted to make sure that everything was reactive, or would change your gameplay style somehow--to make it more dynamic really.

GSUK: Quests in MMORPGs seem to have limited scope in terms of a variety of style. Is finding different ways of getting players from one place to the next a challenge?

JL: Yeah, mostly the quests are there to make sure you're doing something while levelling up, so you don't feel like you have to go randomly kill a thousand of one type of monster--although some people do. The quest designers are always trying to find some new way to make it cool, but not too complex. We don't have branching quest lines for example, but we do have a nice solid reward at the end, keeping it simple, keeping you traveling, and so on.

GSUK: Accessibility has been a significant factor in World of Warcraft's success, but keeping dedicated players online is also important. How difficult is it to balance the two?

JL: It's fairly difficult. You end up creating content that can be frustrating to the casual player if they stumble across it, so you have to introduce a couple of steps that you have to achieve before you can even access it. But generally for the more hardcore, it's the "difficult to master" part, and those are a lot of fun to design--it can be challenging, but for the most part that's where we have loads of fun.

GSUK: The level cap's been raised--why did you decide on making the new cap 70?

JL: With a lot of those things we try to go with what feels right. We discuss all the possibilities and try to determine what the expectation is, what would feel too long or too short. There are a lot of gut instincts that we go with, and then there's the side that we want to have enough levels because we want to include this much content, so there's a few things in the decision.

GSUK: With the two new races, did you have fun making the starter areas?

JL: Oh yeah, we haven't made a starter area for two years, so it was a lot of fun to go back and make those and improve on our old philosophies, and make them really different looking, too. Of course, we also tried something different with the blood elves, because you hit the city before you hit the other areas.

GSUK: You added more to the professions, including jewelcrafting and specialisations to tailoring and alchemy--will crafting become more central to the game moving forward?

JL: Yeah, a lot of those options were added so that you'd feel there were meaningful choices in selecting your craft, especially the "bind-on-acquire" armour and weapons. Some of those, I don't even think they have parallels in the game right now, although they still require you to go to the dungeons and get "bind-on-pickup" items and so on. But we also wanted people to be able to differentiate themselves more, and say "Hey, I'm a Spellfire tailor," and so on.

GSUK: What impact do you think the new, lower raid numbers [25 players instead of 40] limit will have on raiding guilds in The Burning Crusade?

JL: I think it's going to reduce the numbers of some guilds, or they may have to put some people on the sidelines, who may in turn decide to leave and start new guilds. It is going to affect their memberships for sure, because not everybody will be able to go on a raid. But everybody's role in the raid is now more meaningful; that's one of the reasons we did that. In some encounters in the past, you could have about 15 people in the raid that could just about be doing anything, so it should be more beneficial overall.

GSUK: It's been said previously that there's the potential to go on making World of Warcraft for another 25 years. Are you happy that there are enough different directions that you could go in with that?

JL: I think that's a pretty good estimate. We've got the longevity in the game, we own the world, the creative rights, so we can go in all kinds of directions. There's just a lot of lore and areas that exist, in Warcraft 3 and so on, that we haven't even touched, not to mention all the ones that we might end up creating. Although I do think we'll try to touch upon the ones that are in the previous lore first before we go on and make something new, like we have with Outland.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

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