Eurogamer: What were the criteria for you, when you were deciding which zones needed a complete overhaul?
Alex Afrasiabi: That was one of the first things we did - generate a list. And it turns out that it starts at level 1 and goes down to level 60 in order of importance. But with that there are some complications, there are certain zones that fall in the middle of that range that we felt were fairly terrible in terms of flow or questing or whatever it might be. The Barrens comes out as one of those zones.
So our main criteria was making sure that the experience from 1 to 60 was up to the standards of Northrend. And then just triaging that list and figuring out that, at the end of that list, once we get down to the Silithus and Wintersprings of the game world, while they're really cool zones and we'd like to spend more time on them, they're probably not as important as a Barrens, because they're at that point now where you could probably go to Outland.
Greg Street: I'm very excited about the low-level experience. I think the quest designers have done a great job of making the players feel important and making them feel heroic even at low levels.
I'm really happy with what we've done with the way we notify players that new skills are available and kind of celebrating gaining a level, things like that. It just feels streamlined and polished, and we hold players by the hand a little more rather than just throwing them into this ocean and saying, "Learn to swim!"
Eurogamer: I'm excited about the idea of starting again. WOW's always been about the levelling for me, the journey.
Alex Afrasiabi: Are you a Horde player?
Alex Afrasiabi: Cool. I think you'll have a good time. I think you'll have a good time regardless, but the Horde twist is... interesting.
Eurogamer: When it comes to the dungeon and raid design, do you think you've got that sorted, or do you still feel the need to explore new ideas there?
Alex Afrasiabi: Always. Absolutely. That's always been one of our driving forces behind raid and dungeon design, which is keep it fresh, keep changing it. Which is kind of strange, because most design actually doesn't work like that. But dungeon and raid design is a different beast. You really want to be careful that you don't remain stagnant.
That's a big risk, sometimes you fail, sometimes you don't get the desired result or effect and sometimes you anger the players, and we don't want to do that. But at the same time, we understand that had we not changed our raid design from the Molten Core days, people probably wouldn't be raiding today.
It's interesting, because the Molten Core model was completely functional. Pretty simple raid, right? Big zone, bosses, trash, loot. And while the fundamentals haven't really changed, the way that we approach raid design and the way we do make raid design system changes has completely changed.
Eurogamer: What's the overall aim of the broader changes to the raid philosophy - the ability to split 25-man raids, the flexibility on lockouts? What do you want the change to the raiding scene to be?
Alex Afrasiabi: We want a raid to be a raid. We don't want you to feel obligated - and when I mention certain things that we viewed as failures, Coliseum's one of those zones that we have mixed feelings about. The design itself was really cool, we liked a quick raid which was really the intent of it.
But something we learned, it was a harsh lesson, was: four lockouts. That had some pretty negative repercussions, because to maximise, if you were a player that was min-maxing the zone or min-maxing your character, which a lot of raiders do, you had to run that zone four times. The whole purpose of it being a quick, short, cool, fun raid was obliterated.
It also started making less and less sense to have this division between 10 and 25 raiding in terms of loot item levels. It actually caused some issues for us in terms of tuning as well, because it's very difficult for us to tune a zone knowing full-well that there are two tiers of items right off the bat... So how do you tune for that and still make it challenging for all groups? Difficult. So we ended up having to make 10-person raiding easier, for example, and we did that consciously.
And so it was causing some tuning problems, it was causing some psychological issues I would say from a raiders' perspective in terms of, "Is my 10-person raiding worth less than 25?" We don't think so. We understand the logistics of putting a 25-person raid together, there are some hurdles to overcome, but we think that the disparity was too great.