Pondering the Cataclysm with Blizzard's J. Allen Brack


It's a crazy time for WoW fans. We're all looking to forward to the Cataclysm expansion that's coming in early December, and this morning's patch will change Azeroth forever . To make sense of everything that's happening--and see how the development team is feeling with Cataclysm just around the corner--we sat down with J. Allen Brack, Blizzard's Production Director, earlier this week to find out how everything's progressing, where it's all headed, and why he just can't stop making boxes light up.

PCG: Let's start simple: what exactly is happening in the big 4.0.3a patch?

Brack: [Today] is basically the day that the world is going to change. So, right now, everyone has two copies of Azeroth on their hard drive. They have the copy of the world that they've been playing for many, many, many years, and then they have the differences between the old version and the new version. The big thing for 4.03 is to change what data we're using, what data we're referencing. When you get 4.0.3a and launch the game, you should get the new intro, the new login screen, and you'll log into the post-shattered world.

PCG: Even if this patch isn't bringing the new races and the new zones, is this patch--the reshaping of Azeroth--the bigger change for players, you think?

Brack: I do, because the number of zones that you're going to get, and the number of zones that are going to change is just hugely significant. You'll be able to experience that immediately. Additionally, all the new race/class combinations that we've talked about, those will go live with 4.0.3a and the shattering as well. You don't have to have the expansion to get those. So if you want to roll the Tauren Paladin or the Gnome Priest, then you'll be able to do that on the day that we release 4.03a.

PCG: So for you personally, is there a race/class combo you've been itching to try?

Brack: I've played a lot of classes and I've played Warrior, but I'm thinking of doing more Warrior stuff. Maybe a Blood Elf Warrior, because they haven't been able to be Warriors up to this point, and that's exciting. And obviously everyone is excited about the Night Elf Mage.

PCG: What do you think players are going to do first after this patch and after Cataclysm goes live?

Brack: Well, I think most will take their main character and start working that up to 85. You'll have some people that want to do a race change to either the Goblin or the Worgen, which we're not restricting on day one. And you'll have people who want to start a legitimate path to basically being the Goblin or Worgen, enjoying the new race experience. The new race experience for both those are the best new starting experience we've ever done, and that includes the Death Knight, which I thought was very cool. So, I think a majority of people will be doing the 80 to 85, and then there will be a second segment doing the new race, and the new race combos.

PCG: There's a lot of exciting stuff for players, but as a developer, what's the most fun part of seeing the patch and expansion go live?

Brack: Well, there's just an intense satisfaction whenever you've got something you've been working on--I mean, we've been working on Cataclysm for close to two years now. So the idea for players to actually get to start experiencing that… You have some of that in beta, where you get to sort of unleash it, and you get your fans and friends giving feedback. That's a great moment, but then actually having it on the shelf, and having people “doing it for real,” as the case is… that's a really exciting piece, and a really exciting time.

There's also, I think, one of the more appealing aspects for doing Cataclysm was this idea that we get to go back to the old world and make things right. Make them the best that they can be. Being able to redo Azshara, and making it really exciting and really good for once--that's awesome. Having the questing being triple-A in Darkshore is just incredible and awesome to think about.

PCG: Yeah, when we 've talked before you often mentioned that, as the developers at Blizzard, you were your own biggest critics, and you loved being able to go back and remake the world to make it greater. Are you content with it now? Is it as good as it can be, or do you still see things that you want to tweak?

Brack: Oh, there's never any part of the game that we feel is perfect. We always have things that we'd like to do. If we had five more years to go back and work on the old world we would do it, and it would be the best old world ever. But, would there be stuff that we could still do after that? The answer is absolutely. So, no game is ever what any one developer wants, and there are always ways to improve. Particularly at Blizzard, where our whole culture is based around this iterative development, based on working in passes and making things better, you know, there's always more passes you could take to make things better.

PCG: But you're pretty content with the way it is? You don't have any misgivings with putting it out the door the way it is now?

Brack: None whatsoever. This is the best expansion that we've ever done, and it's the best content that we've ever made by far.