Third World of Warcraft expansion Cataclysm launched last night and, as has become tradition, Blizzard staff fanned out across the globe to field questions from the media and sign game boxes for excited fans at midnight launch events.
Yesterday, a freezing, foggy London played host to game designer Dave Kosak and lead systems designer Greg Street. Street is known to the WOW community as Ghostcrawler, the bullish, plain-speaking custodian of character class balance. In other words, he's the numbers guy, and the one who has to read all your moaning on the forums.
I met the pair to talk about the community's reaction to what must be the biggest, most fundamental revamp in online gaming history, whether they can make expansions more quickly, what fighting the new big bad villain Deathwing will be like, whether they consider Star Wars: The Old Republic a threat, and more.
Eurogamer: One of the unusual things about this expansion is that a lot of the work you've done, you've already released, effectively for free, in a patch: all the class revamps and all the new old-world content. How do you feel it's gone down?
Greg Street: Oh it's been great, yeah. It's been amazing. And we were fortunate that, technically, the rollout seemed to go very smoothly, so we're happy about that.
Eurogamer: Was the patch quite a big technical challenge?
Greg Street: Oh, it was gigantic. Before, we've always had new continents and the players would start in the old place and then go to the new place. This time we had to literally change it under their feet and hope that everyone got moved to a safe place and they didn't fall through the world or lose all their mail or their quest log or anything like that.
Dave Kosak: The response has been great. There's been such an emotional response. I was reading a blog and someone saw that Taurajo had burned [Camp Taurajo is a small village for low-level Horde players in the Barrens area], and she was crying...
Eurogamer: Do you know what, I did that quest yesterday and it did choke me up a bit.
Dave Kosak: Yeah, it's kind of meant to pull at you because people are familiar with these locations and they've got an attachment, and they've seen them destroyed. I love that, I love that we're getting that kind of a response.
Eurogamer: And as far as the class changes and the UI changes and so on go, does the community seem happy? Or have they already started moaning?
Greg Street: Well, with the classes they always moan about it, it's never done. But I think overall, the talent tree changes we did, particularly the focus at level 10, getting to pick your specialisation then and feel like, I'm an Elemental Shaman now, not 30 levels from now when I get all the tools I need... That's been very well received.
Eurogamer: Obviously online games are always changing and evolving, but Cataclysm really highlights the issue that, once you've made a change like this, the old game ceases to exist, it's gone. You can't pick it up off the shelf and revisit old WOW. Do you keep old builds of the game? Have you got a secret server where you can play classic World of Warcraft?
Greg Street: We do, we can go back and look at old builds.
Eurogamer: Do you feel any regret that players can't have those experiences any more?
Greg Street: Um... I think it's kind of mixed. On the one hand, the theme of Cataclysm is change, Deathwing coming out of the ground and destroying things.
There's two kinds of changes we did: one was to fix things and make them better and fix problems we had before. The other was to maybe shock players a little bit that something that was dear to them has changed or been lost. To make it feel like this was an epic event...
Dave Kosak: Nostalgia is very powerful, so you remember all these great things about the game. But if you actually go back and play some old content, there were some terrible things in there. There was a lot of work, there were a lot of quests that took you all over the world.
So now people will just have those memories and they'll be strong memories of the old content. They'll remember the good stuff. Hopefully.