Pondering the Cataclysm with Blizzard's J. Allen Brack

PCG: So, when the patch is live, is that when players are going to start moving back to the old world, heading back to Orgrimmar and Stormwind instead of hanging out in Dalaran, or is that going to happen when the expansion actually hits?

Brack: Um, I think you'll see both. Certainly the big thing that's going to happen on 4.0.3a is the portals from Dalaran will vanish, and there will be an auction house there and trainers there, and that's true for Shattrath as well. So that's a pretty significant change, and that's one of the main reasons people hang out in Dalaran as much as they do. They have this easy access to everywhere. You will see people that still hearthstone there, because they have some last minute things they want to do in Northrend as they migrate back.

PCG: Which I'm very excited about – the new Orgrimmar looks incredible.

Brack: Yeah, it's awesome. Stormwind and Orgrimmar just got a crap-ton of love from the art team this time around, and a lot of other teams as well. Going through and making those cities flyable was a huge undertaking, and we're excited to see the player reaction.

PCG: Yeah, I can't even imagine. Was redesigning the capital cities one of the most difficult changes in the expansion?

Brack: I think those two cities [Orgrimmar and Stormwind] were the places that we spent the most time. We had multiple artists work for a year on each of those cities, just a huge amount of development time to work on just one thing. Certainly in terms of time that's where we spent the single largest percentage of it. But we're expecting those to be the new hubs, and so they need to be great, look great, and be really, really functional. It's time well spent.

PCG: I'm really curious how it works on a technical level: when you put in the new terrain, do you just throw everybody up in the air, generate the new terrain, and let them all drop down? Are we going to log into corpses everywhere?

Brack: Great question. We actually talked about that a lot. What we do, as part of the transition on the server, is move all the players to a safe location. The nearest safe location, and the nearest safe location we can move you to is a graveyard, because we know that it's a safe place. Every player will log in and be at their closest graveyard. They won't be dead, but that's where they'll be.

PCG: That's a much better solution. So, a few quick questions, with all the new flight paths being added and moved, will players need to run around and pick them up again? For instance, will a player who already had the Crossroads flight path have whatever the new equivalent of the Crossroads is?

Brack: Yes, they'll have the new equivalent. There will be new ones to learn, but the goal was not to reset the knowledge that players had, or create a giant pain for players in terms of where they were, and where they needed to go. We tried to transition a lot of the existing places to make it work.

PCG: Great. So what's the reaction been to the in-game events leading up to the Cataclysm so far? It seems like you're learning from the problems that players had with earlier events.

Brack: Yeah, that's really interesting, and it's a really kind of dynamic. In the zombie invasion for Lich King, for instance, we had some people who just wanted to play the game, and said, “This is just getting in the way, take it out.” On the other extreme, you had some people saying, “Holy crap, this is something completely different, I can actually turn into a zombie and kill guards and quest givers. I can grief other players legitimately; this is the greatest thing ever.”

There's a huge, different spectrum for those events for the different types of people, and riding that line is really tough, honestly. Like I said, we tried to do something that felt epic, like a real invasion, and certainly felt like it would cause the world to change significantly, but if you [don't want to participate and] just want to play the game because you're lower level, or just not interested, go right ahead.