WoW Factor: How a young Aussie got to have a hand in the epic Battle For Azeroth
Darren and Dusty dish the dirt.
I vaguely recall what sleep was, as a concept, because I'm still banging away at Battle for Azeroth, the recently released World of Warcraft expansion that eats up social calendars. I had the epic task of reviewing Battle of Azeroth (which you can find here), but if you're looking for more insight on the expansion's development, I had the opportunity to chat with two Blizzard folk who made the trip Down Under for launch. Introducing: Dusty Nolting, Lead Character Artist and Aussie local made good, Darren P. Williams, Senior Software Engineer:
Adam Mathew: Let's begin with some basics first, gentlemen. What features of this expansion are you both – personally, as gamers – most excited about?
Darren Williams: I'm really excited about the island expeditions feature. It's a new way of experiencing the core game mechanics – killing creatures, finding resources – but you do it in this way where you venture out to these islands that are slightly randomised each time you visit them. While you're doing all this, you're competing against random enemy teams. We also have a new AI in this expansion where they will behave like players – they'll sneak right up behind you and stab you in the back, etc. It's just a really fun way to play the game. We're really excited to see how players will respond to it.
Dusty Nolting: For me, as I play WoW, I just love seeing the new places in an expansion, you know? Fresh cultures to explore. So I'm all about seeing the troll continent and the new seafaring nation. I can't wait to have players dig through those new facets of the world.
AM: In terms of audience, who would you say you're most aiming for? How do you strike the balance of trying to entice newcomers and retaining the interest of the hardcore?
DW: Well that's something the team is very conscious about. We're catering for many different types of players. With the island content we mentioned earlier, it's a piece of content you can enjoy with two random other players, or with friends you know. It's low barrier of entry stuff. Our quests, obviously, are our bread and butter – you can experience them by your lonesome or in a group. Or you can just encounter people along the way and hopefully you make friends as you're doing the same task. We've got lots of different types of content for lots of different types of players. Whatever amount of time you have to play, there's something there for everyone.
AM: So hypothetical. You're a newb who's just bought Battle for Azeroth, you have no mates, no clan, you boot it up, you see that you can boost one character to 110. What do you do, personally? What character would you create?
DW: So when I first played WoW, I had a background in [the RTS] Warcraft. So I went Tauren shaman. I think a brand new player to this will see all of the classic fantasy archetypes that they want there – they could be an elf mage, an orc warrior, you name it. When new players boost their character they'll get an intro experience where they get to really handcraft the core abilities of their class before they jump in. We think it's a great way to get into the game and not be overwhelmed with all of these abilities. In no time they'll be in the core gameplay loop of doing quests, finding creatures and from there they can branch out to all these plethora of other features.
DN: I'm in the same boat as Darren here. Came from Warcraft III and I've been Horde for a long time. I love the Tauren as well and went shaman, too. But as far as what players can do these days, it's easier than ever to get into WoW. We really take you under our wing and teach you. We make it easy for people to understand and introduce them to their desired character and class in an awesome way. We want you to get hooked and continue to explore what it is to be [your character] in WoW, to want to be a part of the story.
We make it easy for people to understand and introduce them to their desired character and class in an awesome way.
AM: My experiences with the expansion have been great so far, but there was some controversy in the lead-up. You had the stats squish, a perceived Alliance vs Horde bias and some folks didn't warm to the new Orc clan allied. Were you expecting backlash?
DW: Well, with the stats squish, we were on top of it with the pre-patch – which is where we hope to sort out any issues that come up. We tune the world, which sets us up for more manageable damage numbers, more understandable gameplay. There's a lot of content in the game that we needed to re-balance. There were definitely some outliers of things that were doing too much damage. So we really apologised for that and acted quickly to address those kinds of issues as they come up. That said, we think the game is in a great state right now and we really value the community input to find the things that don't work.
AM: Another thing of concern is global cooldown. For a while there, parallels were being drawn between WoW and Final Fantasy 14 – people were spooked. Some fans thought you guys were trying to slow down the pace of the game. Was that the case? Or was it experimentation that didn't go the way you wanted?
DN: We're definitely not trying to slow down the pace of the game. I think it was more of a streamlining choices that went awry there. We definitely listened to the community there and changed some of the abilities that we had put onto the GCD. Some of the things we looked to address there are the reliance on players using macros to trigger long cooldown abilities all at once. That's not ideal gameplay for someone who might be newer to the game. So we responded to that and brought it back to a place that we're really happy with.
AM: There's a perception in the community that there's a modern WoW and an old WoW. Old WoW wasn't hi-octane gameplay, it was more of a long journey of progression (hopefully) with friends. Modern WoW feels like a different beast with loot systems being more defined by the modern needs of RPG players. I have friends who feel like they're being lost in the transition from old to new. Will that group be catered to in future expansions, or would you perhaps recommend the old guard detach and look to WoW classic instead?
The most rewarding and the most powerful gear obviously comes from a hardest content
DW: Well, we definitely don't want anybody left behind. We built the loot systems we have and the rewards structure to be, we think, the best way to deliver loot for the types of content we have. The most rewarding and the most powerful gear obviously comes from the hardest content – mythic raids. We love seeing people challenge themselves with that but there are many other ways to get goodies, through world quests, dungeons, the heart of Azeroth – which is a great new way of expressing your power. Basically, I think there is a traditional loot system but within that we're always trying to build something new and exciting to give player progression.
AM: So Darren, it's always heartwarming to see local talent snapped up by an industry great like Blizzard. Can you please give me a rundown of your industry journey from little ol' Adelaide to where you are now?
DW: So growing up I was always a huge fan of games in general. I played them, I dabbled in making texture packs for them and I made levels for games like Wolfenstein and Quake. So I did Computer Science and Engineering at Adelaide Uni. During that period, I worked on home projects, too. I wasn't specifically thinking “this will get me into the industry” I was just very interested in programming small games. After Uni it did land me a job at Ratbag Games which was a local studio at the time. From there, I moved around the Australian industry – which, as you know, has gone through a number of changes. But yeah, all the time I was inspirationally hoping to work at Blizzard someday. It was amazing to be picked up. Dream fulfilled there.