Feature Article

World of Warcraft Devs Talk Patch 7.2, Helping Solo Players, And The Possibility Of Flowing Capes

Around Patch 7.2, The Tomb of Sargeras' Launch, Blizzard's leads discussed making a game that fits players' schedules, and whether or not our capes will ever blow in the breezes of Azeroth.

World of Warcraft Patch 7.2 The Tomb of Sargeras has been live for a few weeks now, and while the development team continues to refine the experience (a round of hotfixes went live just earlier this week), one accomplishment still stands: This is the largest non-expansion update yet to Blizzard's MMO.

Just prior to the 7.2 going live, we talked with Travis Day (senior producer), Ryan Shwayder (senior designer and content supervisor) and Morgan Day (senior designer as well as Dungeon and Raid design lead), both about their hopes for the Tomb of Sargeras as well as the process of creating content for the game.

GameSpot: You guys must've been crunching really hard to get this one out the door.

Travis Day: Things are very smooth right now. We're actually feeling great, things are in a really good place from a production standpoint. I started the initial planning for this and the whole patch schedule for Legion back around February or March...Part of our effort is trying to get things planned early and make sure we can actually meet the cadence that we have been trying to get the content out. And that's so we can avoid having to to any kind of crazy crunches or anything along those lines.

I've talked with the team about that before and it sounds like you guys are able to maintain this crazy level of content without killing yourselves or your team. How have you been able to maintain this pace?

TD: Of course, everybody looks at me, as the producer. [laughs] I think it's a couple of different things: we've been growing the team over time, so the team is continuously getting bigger, and so it's able to, obviously, support more content. The other thing we've been doing is really focusing on improving our skills and improving our planning on how we lay these patches out and how we develop for them.

So the team is getting more efficient and it's getting larger. But with a product like WoW; some of us have worked on console games before, and you have everything leading up to ship and there's the big release, and then the whole team figures out what to do next. But there's always something to do next for WoW. There's always some big important story to tell or content to deliver. And so, it's really important to us, from a production standpoint, that we set a realistic and acceptable pace, both for the players and for the dev team, because this is definitely a marathon and not a sprint.

It's also been a really busy time for Gaming in general. Here at the Game Spot office, and some things have ground to a halt because of the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I remember Jeff Kaplan in an interview talked about how, when he was working on the WoW Team, I think it was Battlefield Vietnam release, where the entire office took a week out to just play this game. Has Breath of the Wild had an affect of the development or what you guys are spending your time playing in your free time?

Ryan Shwayder: [laughs] No, I don't think so. We're all gamers at heart, and we game all the time. So something coming out just means maybe we shift which game we're playing at the time, it doesn't actually mean we stop what we're doing and suddenly start playing games. We play them pretty much every single day. We're still gamer-nerds, even though we make games for a living.

Morgan Day: We've all had a lot of experience figuring how to balance loving video games and having to hold a job and everything else. [laughs]

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What is one of the things that you feel like hasn't gotten quite as much attention about the Tomb of Sargeras patch coming up on launch?

RS: Really one of the things we haven't exactly highlighted is the idea of, on Broken Shore itself, the idea of a dynamic environment; like a dynamic ebb and flow of the content on the Broken Shore.

One of the things we always wanted to do with the world quest system, which we weren't able to do throughout the entire Broken Isles--we were able to do it in some spots--is make the areas that the world quests take place in, change out their population, change out what is happening in that area at the time of the world quest. And that is one of the things we've been able to do on Broken Shore, because it's not a level up zone, we don't have to worry about the population changing out and making it impossible to do the quests you are supposed to be able to do.

So with that in mind, we've tried to make it so every time you log in, every day that you log in, and go to Broken Shore or go to Broken Isles, you don't know exactly what you're going to do. You get in, assess the situation and see how you're going to take the fight to the Legion today.

It does feel like with Legion that this is contained to the island, as opposed to something like Cataclysm where you had these far-reaching effects that affected all of Azeroth. Is that more of an intentional thing? Do you think that the effects of the Legion will be felt more broadly in Azeroth at any point?

RS: One of our overriding philosophies of Blizzard is concentrating the coolness. And as soon as you spread out the different pieces of content too wide, it actually becomes a little overwhelming to players. We saw in the pre-launch, we had those invasions that took place across several parts of Azeroth, and then decided partly for the fantasy, partly for the story, that the Legion was going to focus on the Broken Shore and its immediate surroundings, being the Broken Isles. That was partly because we felt that the gameplay lends itself very well for that.

MD: One of the big ideas with the patch is that we are going to return to the Broken Shore and reclaim the Broken Shore. It's where the Legion expansion really started. The way you launched the Legion was you went to the Broken Shore, you fought Gul'dan and all these big bads, and we had a major loss. We lost Tirion, we lost Vol'Jin, we lost Varian; huge losses and we had to retreat. So this patch is all about the continuation of that story and driving that forward.

Something that is interesting though, also in this patch are the Class Orders. The Class Orders are a huge part of, "Why we are going to succeed where we once failed." To your point, a lot of times with those Class Orders, we do go re-visit those other places. In the Monk class order with this patch, you're going to re-visit Stormstout Brewery. Those are really great opportunities to spread players out; remind them of how big and alive this world is and you can see the progression of, "Oh, the Legion has actually been spreading their tendrils out a bit."

RS: Yeah, it's a little better to focus when players are going out of their way to go to these other parts of Azeroth rather than have that spread at all times. It's really just in the interest of the player experience more that anything.

Have you though about giving players of other Classes the ability to, at least, visit these Order Halls for the different Classes? Not necessarily to be a part of them but at least to experience that stuff in-game, for Halls other than their main Class (particularly for more casual players like me).

RS: I think when the story is appropriate, we've allowed that a couple of times Death Knights in the Paladin Order Hall I'd say "visited" very loosely. It was a lot more aggressive that a visit [laughs]. But to me, coming as a player, I'm kind of answering as a player rather than as a developer here; that's part of the magic of them, part of the charm of the Order Halls, is that there is something out there that isn't for me. Like it's special for that Class, and I've even internally and externally met characters of different Classes, just to kind of visit them.

And as we have been going through the development of Legion we've also tried to improve alt play. So, making Artifact catch-up mechanics, updating the Legendary system, giving account level achievements for things like The Suramar dungeons, so if you unlock them on one character, you can do them on others. And eventually once you get pathfinder part two and can fly, all of your characters on that account can fly. So, we're trying to ease the way in; make it friendlier for Alts. It'll allow you to go into those Order Halls of course, if you make an Alt.

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With Patch 7.2 it feels like a lot of the changes are kind of geared towards more hardcore players; as someone who does a lot more solo, casual play do you feel like this is something that can continue to appeal to people like me or to people who don't necessarily have as much time week to week to commit to the game? To be able to still play casually and enjoy all this new content?

TD: One of the things we're all really proud of with 7.2 is that we're providing a lot of content. It's the largest patch that we've every done in WoW, and to your point there's a lot of different players of WoW, there's a lot of different styles of play. And I think were actually appealing to all demographics. We have things in here like Pet Battle Dungeons for those who like to log in and do their Pet Battles. We've got a whole new World Quest. The outdoor world players, those who don't like to participate is hardcore dungeons or raids, have something there. We've actually updated the item rewards that you can get through World Questing, so that you have this whole progression path open to you, that can take you even further than it did before, if you're just a World Quest player. With flying, there's a lot of people that enjoy flying. Professions have continued to grow and now you can craft legendary items through your profession.

There's a lot of content in here and I think, depending on what kind of player you are, you'll find something in 7.2 that speaks to you and speaks to your playstyle.

Even in PvP, we're starting the new season and so everybody can start working towards getting their new PVP rewards. You might argue that that's for the hardcore PvPers but we also introduced PvP Brawls. Its a Brawl system similar to what we have in Hearthstone or Overwatch where we have these kind of wacky rule sets, these custom spins of classic battlegrounds or old holiday battlegrounds. Just fun ways to interact with the game and also fun ways to interact with PvP systems. Like, maybe if you're not a PvPer, this Brawl might appeal to you. So, I feel like we're actually trying to broaden the number of things that would be interesting to you supporting all the content we did in Legion and more.

RD: I'm actually probably the same type of player as you are. You know I work at Blizzard, so obviously that takes up a lot of my time. But I also have a family and I always prioritize my family so that means that I don't play games as much as I did when I was in high school, when I'd skip going to classes and just play games [laughs]. So it was actually a major motivation in the design of a lot of the features in this patch.

You can do almost everything on Broken Shore either alone or with a few people you can find as you're going. There's places like the Sentinax feature, which is a kind of a cool escalating command ship attack on a particular POI which moves around. You can go in there without even grouping if you want and just participate in that alongside other players.

You can do the World Quests by yourself if you want, but there are going to be other players around. The Legion assaults that take you out to other parts of Broken Isles are also largely solo-able until the very end when you get a traditional three-person scenario which you can queue up for alone if you want. As you're doing that you can actually continue to progress reputations after you hit exalted. That threshold seal gets another patch. So you can continue doing your Emissary quests and continue getting rewards for that reputation. And during the assault, those World Quests actually count towards the Emissary,though it changes what World Quests are available while that Zone's being assaulted, you're still making progress.

So there's really a lot of stuff you can do as a player who just kind of wants to jump in for half an hour, which is often one of the things I do. I'll play for thirty minutes, an hour at a time, and you'll be able to have a lot of fun and make a lot of progress.

MD: The expansion's launch was only the beginning, right? That's been our message from the beginning of Legion launch. Not only was it a huge expansion, but we had a mission to deliver content to players at a good pace that is fun and fresh and engaging. That's really what this patch harps back to.

We have all these pieces of content. I love dungeons, where once I would look forward to a patch thinking, "Oh, this is the Dungeon patch, right?' We additionally have a dungeon in this patch as well as flying updates, a whole new zone, and all these other pieces of content. The Raid is in the patch as well, but like we've discussed in the past, for the players who are still working their way through Nighthold and who are pacing it out loud, we've learned you don't have to tie the patch to the raid. So we can have the raid there and ready to release and give it to the players as it feels rewarding to them.

Something else that I think has been a nice addition from the more casual side have been the micro-holidays. Have you guys felt those have been successful?

RD: I think we enjoy them as much as players do. They're a mix of fun, off-kilter goofy stuff as well as touching moments. So, I think they've been very successful. As far as the future of micro-holidays, I don't think we can really talk about anything beyond what we've already talked about publicly, but it seems like the players are liking them.

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TD: One of the goals more than ever with the Legion, and one of the advantages with an MMO, is that you have the ability to create this living, breathing world that not only do you interact with NPCs, but you interact with other players and so things like micro-holidays and things like a lot of the content that we've done in 7.2, continues to support the kind of dynamic experience that you expect from an MMO. And it's really playing to the strengths of World of Warcraft and helping to augment that feeling of, "There's always something new today. 'There's always something interesting." And you have that sense of discovery and wonder when you engage with the game and try and figure out what you want to do today. And Micro-holiday support that.

This is a weird question, but one I've seen brought up in the forums is whether we're ever going to get flowing capes. Now that you know belts and some other things have a little bit more life to them, will capes ever flow?

TD: [laughs] So with 7.2, I wouldn't say this one of our hard key features exactly, back of box, but we've definitely brought a lot of things to the game that are technology updates. One of those is armor 2.0 which allows us to do full geometry-based armor sets which we're going to see in tier 20 from the Tomb of Sargeras, which is going to look really cool. Along those lines some of our artifact appearances are now physics based flails, and that's really cool. And I can see that a natural evolution of that would lead us down the path where things like flowing capes would become a possibility, but...I have no actual ability to promise flowing capes at this point. [laughs] It is a cool idea though, and I would also love to see...one of my favorite comments was Redditor saying "Wow! Valen has really stepped up his eyebrow game because he's got these big eyebrows that are flapping in the wind, and I'd love to see that too!"

Is there anything else you guys wanted to touch on?

TD: One of the features that I've seen both in interviews and also just in players who haven't actually experienced it on the PTR is the building system. It harkens back to things people may be familiar with, the build up the Isle of the Thunder King or the Molten Front, but when we get to the Broken Shore and, spoiler, establish our foothold on the Broken Shore, we're basically inhabiting these ancient Night Elven ruins. And amongst these ruins are these three buildings. I've heard people say, "Oh is this Garrisons on the Broken Shore," or, "What's going on here?" What is actually happening is these building had ancient purposes within this city. And we're going in as a region, meaning North America, Europe, or China, on a region-wide level but cross faction, we're contributing resources that we're acquiring in the Broken Shore and the Broken Isles. And as we contribute these resources were building these buildings back up to their former pristine states.

Now, once they're fully constructed, and this can take anywhere from a week, to two weeks, to three weeks--it depends on what players are contributing, and it's a player-driven decision what buildings are going to be up in their region. Now when that building comes up, it's actually going to unlock additional content in the Broken Isles for players to go and experience. They have these static things that they unlock when they come up, but they also have these dynamic buffs, so these buffs are like, "Hey, you have a chance to get double Artifact power off of a reward," or "Now all of your mounts have water walking on the Broken Shore." Fun perks that switch out every time the building is up.

What's fun about the system is that once players have constructed this, they have this content unlocked and this helps to drive that dynamic feeling that we're getting on Broken Shore. The building will eventually get counter-attacked by the Legion. The Legion will attack it. You can defend it for a time, and then eventually the building will fall. So then, as the building is reconstituting itself, or is on cool-down if you'd like to say it that way, then you are able to contribute to it again and that dynamic buff has switched out to another dynamic buff, and meanwhile players have been contributing to another building and maybe that one's unlocked, and that one's contents up now. So I think that this is one of the, maybe, less understood and more dynamic driving forces behind the Broken Shore experience. It's something we've never actually done before.

How are the buffs decided exactly?

RD: There are...numbers involved...[laughs]. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas for what they could be. Of course some of these ideas went completely off the rails because that's what I like to do. But really, it's determined somewhat randomly, but its a rent-controlled randomness. So you aren't going to see the same buff back to back, but it draws from this pool of different buffs that you can get per building; and it rotates through and makes sure it doesn't hit the same one every time.

And this is something that you're actively involved in. This isn't something that you could potentially control through the companion app?

TD: Correct. You're actually contributing resources to it, you and all the players in your region. So, not only will it be interesting to see what individual players choose to contribute to, but also what they get their Guilds to contribute to and their whole region when they rally. So we might be in a situation where on launch, we have Europe really focused on the Nether Disruptor while North America is really focused on the Command Center, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

RD: One of the key points is that we don't have an Emissary for Army of the Legionfall, that's the new faction that you're helping found. Effectively, as you're experiencing the content out in Broken Shore and Broken Isles and you're getting these resources, that's what you use to then contribute to the building. And each time you contribute to the building, you actually get a cache. So instead of doing an Emissary that's specifically says, "Do four World Quests," this is, "Go play the content, go have fun, come back, put in your resources to contribute to the building, and then here's your immediate reward," In addition to the longer-tail reward, which is getting that thing built.

We've allowed players, I think, in the past like on Isle of Thunder--there were building that got built over time, which was not exactly player-contribution based, and we have done player-contribution based things, but I don't think we've ever done exactly this. We've never had it rotating out over time and allowing players to choose between different buildings and have all the different content and buffs that come along with them each time. So it's fun on our end, a little experimental, but I think players are gonna like it and we're looking forward to hearing the feedback on how it goes.

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Justin Haywald

GameSpot's Managing Editor and part-time stunt double for Elijah Wood.
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