r/wow Blizzcon interview Transcript - 2019

Nov 2nd, 2019
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  1. Hi! This is the full transcript of the bullet point post. It has been cleaned up to a *much lesser extent* than the post. The clean ups were largely centered around ensuring WoW terminology was in the right place rather than gibberish.
  3. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  4. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  5. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  6. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  9. ---------
  11. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  13. How reactive is the narrative to fan "adoptions" of minor characters like Zekhan or Sylvanas' standard-bearer? Is that inspiring or encouraging for the team to see the reactions to those?
  15. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  17. Oh, that’s super encouraging. It’s a lot of fun. We spend so much time working on cinematics and in-game stuff, all those things, and sometimes we kind of anticipate “Oh! Maybe the fans will react towards this or this more” and something comes out of nowhere and a Zekhan happens where people are like “That! That's the thing I love!” and it's so fun and, and it does encourage us to be like, “Hey, you know that minor thing that we had here, we can snowball that into something really cool” and do it in a way that still feels natural and like was a part of the story. So we're definitely feeding off that excitement that the fans give to characters like that.
  19. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  21. Can you confirm or deny whether the old gods are dead? We've got a lot of people who think that we've only fought manifestations, and their true forms lie dormant somewhere. Are we maybe going to see more of that?
  23. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  25. Well, the old gods are an interesting case. So we defeated them, you know, we've killed their forms. And you’ve seen Yogg’Saron die, we’ve seen C’thun die. And yet it seems like there's echoes of them that still keep permeating. And, you know, one of the things, if you think about our cosmology and the way that creatures of magic work as opposed to mortals, like mortals die they go to the Shadowlands. If you fought the Legion, you fought demons, if you kill them on Azeroth, where do they go? Back to the Twisting Nether, which is the place where they come from. So if you think about other magical creatures and think what happens when you kill them on Azeroth, where do they go? So there's the potential for things like that to kind of happen. So we try to have this cosmology of the way things work, and that's something that you can apply to other things. And I think the old gods are an interesting case where, you know, we've defeated one version of them and who knows if another manifestation will eventually take place.
  27. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  29. Let’s give you a little time here. What were some of the lessons learned from WoW over the years that helped influence the foundation of WoW Classic and vice versa?
  31. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  33. WoW Classic evolved into the modern game, a lot of that has been from feedback from the fans over the years, but right now they’re games that are kind of like 15 years apart. We're really happy about the success of WoW Classic. We're really happy about the success of Battle for Azeroth and going forward into Shadowlands. But WoW Classic is kind of a thing that we’ve resurrected, and we're going to leave it alone and kind of just go forward with Shadowlands.
  35. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  37. Yeah, I was wondering just about like lessons learned that sort of influenced, like, layering and sharding and load balancing. Things like that.
  39. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  41. I mean, from a technology standpoint, obviously, layering was something that we couldn't do in the original game, so that was something we're able to carry back to help kind of balance the load around the original. There was not a lot of other, you know, things that we really needed to go back and influence on Classic. It's just something we resurrected.
  43. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  45. There's a lot of cool stuff that, you know, the team was playing WoW Classic too, just like everybody else, and you know, there's some really cool philosophical things that we can look back on in Classic and say, “Man there's some really cool stuff there.” And so it's more about, like, taking the lessons of Classic and looking how they, you know, some of them might apply to the game but in a way that fits, you know, Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands. So it's been really great for us as a team to see that and see what people react to.
  47. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  49. From a technical director point of view, can you walk us through the life cycle of a World of Warcraft patch, like what does that look like? I understand that that might take 45 minutes.
  51. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  53. Right, so it actually starts with working with people like Steve to figure out, like, where are we going with the story? And from there we’ll branch out and, even on the technical side, we’ll want to understand like, who's going to be involved with developing the content? Is it going to be level designers creating a new zone? Is it going to be primarily encounter designers and dungeon artists creating, you know, a new raid? And from there we’ll begin to kind of get an idea of, like, the size of the patch and the scope of the content update. We’ll begin to work with designers if there's gameplay features that need to go in. Our engineers will work... Sometimes they'll actually sit with the game designers themselves while they evolve a feature out. And then we'll begin to slowly pull things together; we’ll begin to work with our live ops team to get that build up onto the PTR. We’ll begin gathering feedback from people on the PTR as a team, whether it's engineering related or design related and we’ll begin to make, you know, bug fixes or adjustments based on feedback we're getting from the players. And then finally, you know, we get to the day that's patch day. Thankfully, we've been doing this now for 15 years. We have a lot of push-button abilities that we didn't have back in the day so that we can, you know, mark things live a lot quicker. You know, a lot of the downtime we have on patch days, actually, we get the patch up relatively quickly but one thing we do as a team is internally we will go through and we'll verify like everything is functioning as we intended now in a live environment. We’ll load up our own characters; make sure that they all look good and okay. And when we're doing that, to make sure that when we let it out to as many people that we either, a, have a great experience for them or understand, you know, is there a feature or something that we need to make the community aware of, is either not fully working yet or... That’s kind of the gist of like, what goes through. It's, actually it takes a whole team to get the patch out. The engineers, you know, yeah, we're doing a lot of the coding and the live ops team is doing the actual pushing. But you know, we're bugging designers on patch days, you know, to make data fixes that we can then push out to the live realm. We have a lot of capability to fix things live that’s seamless to players, and we take advantage of that.
  55. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  57. I want to give kudos to Frank and all our engineers because, you know, I think there's a perception sometimes that you know, designers or artists come up with crazy ideas and then engineers are like, “No, that can't work. We can’t do it that way!” But like, all these teams are so, like, if they hear an idea that sounds cool or awesome, they're, like, “Let's work to make that awesome! Let's figure out how to make it work.” So they are such partners in the collaborative process of making really cool expansion features, like, things like Torghast in Shadowlands would not be possible if engineering hadn't been like, “That's an awesome idea. It's complicated and a whole bunch of stuff we need to figure out, but it's worth it,” and then just digging in and making it happen. So these guys are awesome.
  59. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  61. So for Steve, what are some of the characters or storylines that have existed in the WoW lore that have yet to be addressed in game that the team is really sort of itching to do and try to weave in?
  63. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  65. Man. Well, that's that's a very broad and deep question, because there's so many, you know, one of the joys of working in this universe, this IP, is that there are so many characters and some that are just mentioned in passing and some, you know, that have been in books but never in the game, things like that. I think, you know, for example, like the whole Alleria and Turalyon arc that we did in the Argus patch for Legion was an example of: here's characters that we've been waiting a long time to bring back into the game or bring into the game and we just hadn't had the right opportunity before and then here’s an opportunity. So we're always looking at things like that. Calia Menethil is another one that you know, we kind of, she was mentioned in the books and we had hints of her in Legion and she played a very small role. But that was always something that you know, as we were looking at the Before the Storm novel, it just felt natural that that was a character that we could develop there and then bring into the game. So as far as other characters ahead, I think one of the cool things of Shadowlands is that it gives us the chance to look back at some characters, like Kael’thas Sunstrider, and say, “Yeah, he did all this stuff in game before. It's been a long time. What would have happened to his soul over all this time?” like, what, you know, based on the things he did in life, what kind of afterlife is he looking at and how could that affect these events that are playing out in the Shadowlands?  And so that's just a cool example of things that we look back on and bring in. But there's kind of an endless array. I don't want to spoil anything by like, “Ohh, I'd like to bring that one back!” But it's something we think about a lot. You know, we know fans love these characters too.
  67. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  69. And thinking of the future, Steve, actually, you know, works with the directors when we're plotting, like, plans for, you know, we've been around 15 years what happens if we’re around for another 15 years? And hopefully more? We sit around and actually brainstorm and think about that and it's surprising exactly how much story there is left to tell in World of Warcraft that we're not really concerned about that. Because when we begin diving in and looking at the characters, the history, the cosmology... We have a lot of story left to tell.
  71. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  73. It's an embarrassment of riches that we get to draw from, so that's what makes it so fun.
  75. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  77. With BFA, we have the option to support Saurfang or Sylvanas. Do you feel like that was a success? Like, did that work out how you wanted? And might we be seeing more of that in Shadowlands?
  79. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  81. We knew that when we were making Battle for Azeroth that it was going to be an expansion that, you know, tested people's feelings and loyalties. And again, putting these two sides against each other in a way that really hadn't been done to that degree in WoW yet, so far. And knowing that what we were doing with Sylvanas, where she was going into the Shadowlands, again, you know, all this time, she's been doing these things in BfA because we knew where she was going to end up. And it's hard when you can't yet connect the dots for people, you have to kind of set that trajectory in motion. So we knew that, well, it's going to look bad for Sylvanas; people are going to take some of this stuff wrong, but we have to stick to this, you know? We feel like we have a really good story and we want to see that through. But, as we were talking about that, that's where the idea came for, like, you know what, there's going to be people on the Horde side that are really divided about this. It would fit the story, because we were already going to branch into these two kind of sides within the Horde, that what if we let players do that? And it's not something we ordinarily do, but this felt like a really right case to do that. And so, really for the first time, we offered that kind of narrative choice for people to make in-game and I think it was successful. You know, everyone was waiting to see how it would play out and in our 8.2.5 patch when we finally got to see the Reckoning cinematic, the Mak’gora happen, and then kind of the aftermath of that depending on which side you chose. For the reward for the loyalists to be, like, this one-on-one with Sylvanas where she gave you at least a peek into what was to come. We felt like that was a fitting way to end that. As for whether we do stuff like that going forward is just going to entirely depend upon what the story is and whether it makes sense to do so. So it's not something we feel compelled to do. It's something we feel we would do if the situation calls for it. So far in the main narrative arc of Shadowlands there isn't a need for that yet, but again, it's something we have in our pocket if we want to try something like that again.
  83. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  85. So, Frank, with the increased use of sharding and layering has the team revisited older ideas like player housing in capital cities, major cataclysmic events, zone-size PvP arenas, things like that?
  87. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  89. Right, there's a lot to unpack there! You know, there’s a lot of ideas that we seem to talk about a lot and think about, like, when is the right time for that? Or is there a right time for that? I think housing always falls into one of those. Probably not for Shadowlands; doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but it is something that we talked about continually. We experimented a little bit with Garrison's, got some idea of what we liked and didn't like, and that's something we may revisit down the line. In terms of some of those other ideas, sharding gives us some luxury to be able to do a lot with populations in the world, whether… We’re certainly looking at some of the impacts that those have had on some of the events that we did for Battle for Azeroth. And we're certainly learning some lessons from that. It's a technology that, when you think about the lifespan of World of Warcraft, is actually relatively new. And so we're continuing to develop it and we think we’re going to make a lot of progress with what we can do and the types of content we can bring to players as a result.
  91. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  93. We had a hard time narrowing down our questions for you [Frank]. I think both of us work in tech. So I think this one we really want to ask which is like, WoW has a 15 year old code base. What parts of working with that have been the trickiest over time? Like is there anything in the engine itself that is just, like, if someone says, we have to work on, I have this idea and you're just like, that is going to be a nightmare? Is there anything like that, that you can tell us about? 
  95. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  97. Yeah. Interesting. Before I worked at Blizzard, I thought the same thing. Back then it was a 10 year old code base. You know, if you count like the Alpha and everything. So it's like, this is a 10 year old game, and I got there. And I was surprised at how much, when I was going through the code and reading a lot, about how much of it had been rewritten since the very launch of Wow, I'd say at that time was half the code has been completely rewritten. Sharding is a perfect example of something where, you know, we used to have one way, putting players into a zone or transferring across zones, and we completely rewrote to be able to support that. So I'd say the trickiest thing is how dynamic the code is to meet the needs of the game. There's very little, very little code left from the day that we shipped Wow, initially. And that's, that's got benefits to it. And in the sense of it is adaptable, and we're able to do a lot with it. ... So I think it's been quite a ride.
  99. ??? someone, can't really tell.
  101. Now you're finally getting the Auction House out of there with some new code for that so that’s pretty good!
  103. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  105. Some things do take a little longer than others. But yeah, I think the future The auction house is a good example of something that took us a while and a lot of that was just figuring out when would be the right time to make a change like that significant. Visions of N’zoth seemed like a good time to do that.
  107. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  109. So Shadowlands seems narratively similar to Warlords in the sense that you're leaving Azeroth behind a chase an existential threat from somewhere else. Can you give us any sort of hints as to what we can expect from the story of the Shadowlands to set it apart?
  111. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  113. The exciting thing about Shadowlands is that we're going to this realm of magic that is all new and different. You know, even in Warlords, it was still Draenor, we'd seen that and Outland and we saw a different version of it, obviously in Warlords, but you know, Shadowlands is all new territory. It's something that was only, you know, footnotes in our in our history books. In our Chronicles, and things we kind of skirted the edge of at different times and different classes, but we never fully went in there. So looking at our cosmology chart and looking at the opportunities that have presented was something that we were really super excited about. So it was something that allowed us to create this landscape, these zones, these places to go the characters within them that felt new and fresh. But yet when you see them when you look at the style that they have, and the way that they move and the things they do in this world, it would still feel classic WoW, like, Oh, yeah, I see this, this is an extension of the universe. It's not something bolted on, that feels so completely different. And that's really important to us. We want that WoW DNA to flow through everything that we make, even if we go into these fantastic places. So the storyline that we get to play through we get to bring back the kind of more linear narrative arc that some of our earlier expansions had on your first play through and then on subsequent play throws with old so you still get all the benefits of kind of choosing where you want to go and what order you want to do this stuff in. So kind of the best of both worlds for us. So it gives us a lot of chance to look backward and take the best of what we've done before, but evolved in new ways and we're really excited about that. Awesome.
  115. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  117. That kind of leads into our next question. What is one narrative story, one part of the story that you're most proud ... of like, what is ....your, the thing that you that that's just the best... for you?
  119. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  121. And, and all this kind of stuff we worked on or Shadowlands, what are people wanting to hear about?
  123. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  125. um, you know, we didn't want to, to hold you down to any particular choice.
  127. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  129. Wow, that's really cool. You know, for me, I love what I love the big adventures and kind of the, you know, the gigantic opera stage of some of these big battles against, you know, like the Burning Legion, against Argus and all these kind of major things for the things that I get really excited about. A lot of times of the more personal things, so being able to do things like, you know, bring Alleria wind runner back in and then show how her interactions with her sisters You know what, when you It gives that personal side to the universe and those are the things that I kind of really are drawn to and just feel a personal connection to. So it's interesting every expansion is kind of this balance between big picture stuff and then those little personal stories and you know, looking at things like in Legion, the story of Runas and you know that the Nightfallen guy was just looking for that mana crystal and how he falls and you know, you really felt something when he went. So those are the kinds of stories we like to chase and I'm always looking for those things. And we've got a few of those and Shadowlands that I'm really excited about, you know, working with our quest team and talking about ideas, and then we kind of riff on stuff. And then just like last week, there was I can’t spoil what it is, but like there was this, this very kind of when you take all these big picture themes, and you boil them down to something that's very personal and relatable, whether it's you know, fantasy or scifi or any genre, it's just something that someone can relate to. And it would work in any, like, that's what really resonates in my heart. So I get really proud of those moments.
  131. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  133. That's awesome. Just to follow up on that, like you mentioned the Runas quest. You were in the voice acting things for you, did you? There was Jim Cummings, right. Who did the voice of -Yeah. Did you did you get to meet him or work with them, like have any interaction after the fact. And that was really jazzing about the voice acting. So I want to get your thoughts around that.
  135. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  137. Yeah, I've got to I've gotten to work with so many of our great actors or great voice actors. And most of the time just because of the logistics of it. The way that it work is we have a sound studio in Los Angeles that Andrea Toyias our director goes to and she'll work with the actors there. Then I Skype into the session and you know so you But even though there we’re remote we just Andrea and I have a great connection and we really know each other and how we work and stuff like that. And so bringing that to the sessions like with Jim Cummings or just so many great actors it's a real privilege and a treat one of my one of my favorite memories of that kind of thing was with Velen, and when we were doing the the stories between Velen and Kil’jaeden and working with an actor to really dig down into like, Man, this is what drives you now, you two were like brothers so long ago and you've come to hate each other. And now here you are like that, that the pinnacle of everything you've cared about and fought for, and to see the way actors dig down and just bring themselves and inject that into the roles. It's just amazing. And so that's what makes doing the voice actor panels always so much fun because we get to share that, that just that energy and that vibe with the audience. 
  139. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  141. And it was amazing this morning. Great. 
  143. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  145. That was the first time we ever did a live kind of performance of stuff? And I think it turned out really well. 
  147. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  149. It seems it definitely did.
  151. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  153. So what are some of the technical solutions currently in place to help try to maintain faction balance across servers, and as a whole, thinking in features like war modes for example.
  155. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  157. So when a player enters a zone in war mode, you know, the mainline game, it has the concept of sharding, and so we're able to have war mode, shards being their own thing, obviously, separate from non war mode. And we're, we do our best effort to try and balance players that are entering in there. So if we see there is a preponderance of, you know, one side over the other, we may try to put more people into balance. The fact is, you know, there may be more of one faction in war mode at any given time, which is why we get the other faction a bonus, and so rather than sprinkle out the lesser faction across all of those shards, typically what we'll try to do is balance as many shards as we can. And then, you know, some people just war mode bonus.
  159. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  161. Are there any technical blockers preventing users from logging into WoW and Classic WoW at the same time?
  163. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  165. You know, that's something we talk about. And in, you know, it's possible for us to do and it's just something to think about, we continue to discuss, what is the should we allow people to be playing classic, and mainline at the same time, that feels a little weird. But technically, you know, we've explored the options and we're discussing, whether I know is especially poignant during the launch of Classic when queue times are very heavy, you know, we discussed and we want people to be able to play maybe on their mainline account and when the queue pops in classic be able to move over. Now that the queues have kind of stabilized a little bit in Classic. There's maybe a little less pressure on that. But as we think about the future, certainly something that we're going to continue to keep an eye on.
  167. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  169. On one thing you said there was you called call the game mainline is that- 
  171. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  173. Lot of talking over each other here. But mostly Frank. 
  175. We mostly call it BFA and soon to be Shadowlands and this is just how we refer to it internally.
  177. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  179. Will Tyrande become a villain? or will she get justice for people? Will the Night Elves rise above their relentless suffering?
  181. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  183. Wow, well, you know, the Night Elves have taken some shots on the chin, for sure. In the Battle for Azeroth and Tyrande is one of the most beloved characters and in all of Warcraft canon, and, you know, I don't want to speak to datamined broadcasts and things like that, but we will see Tyrande have some conversations with some of our other characters as we kind of wrap up the Battle for Azeroth. And you know it's that's a storyline that we definitely want to pay off and we have some interesting things in the coming expansion that I don't want to spoil but I hope that Night Elf players get to see a new side of her and their culture in a way.
  185. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  187. how do you handle pressure making new characters like till Talanji and Calia Menethil, or maybe characters we just haven't seen before. Making them likable and to have them share the screen with characters that have been established for you know, 15 or even 25-30 years.
  189. Speaker 3 (Steve)
  191. I mean, you know, the way that we go about it is kind of the way that we always have in the game is just give you the player time with them. And again, show how they react to things like as your as they're in know they can give you a quest like anyone can give you a quest and if you read the text that might tell you something about their personality or whatever, but the real way to do that is to put them in situations with you and see how they're reacting to the world around them what the pressures are that are kind of forcing them to make decisions that maybe they didn't want to or you know, face circumstances that they'd rather not and and ask for help. And it's all those nuances of characters and how how they behave when they're put under those pressures that make characters feel real and relatable. And so it's always about getting the player to spend time with them and it worked really well with like Talia and Flynn in Kul'Tiras. For example, we were super proud of that and in Battle for Azeroth and can't wait to do some things with those kind of returning characters that people either know like Kael’thas, or someone like Draka who has only been you know in either in books or like and Warlords a different version of her and so those are opportunities for us to take some of those characters and make them vital again and show different sides of them.
  193. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  195. So there's a lot of speculation that cross faction play could come at some point in the future. If you were tasked with making that possible, what sort of complications would you expect?
  197. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  199. I think the biggest complication would be, you know, Horde and Alliance as a design pillar, that's an important expectation of the community and that kind of work, the very concept of Warcraft, it's not just craft, it’s Warcraft. So I think overcoming that is probably the biggest challenge from a technical perspective, that there's not a lot of issues. I mean, there's probably some things with achievements that will need to be revisited, but these are all solvable problems. I think the bigger question would be, why would we want to do that? You know, and I think there's a lot of compelling reasons that you know from people who've heard, but get you know, core to the game is this Horde versus Alliance
  201. Speaker 2 (Aphoenix)
  203. we had that as one of our most asked questions that we had that
  205. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  207. we figured we knew the answer but it came up a lot so
  209. Speaker 1 (Flap)
  211. You talked a lot about the Auction House rebuild. Can you talk to us about some of the challenges you face with the Auction House rebuild? And is there anything you learned from like the Diablo team maybe with their Auction House?
  213. Speaker 4 (Frank)
  215. We were never going to have like, anything kind about a game like they had like, we're always going to have this in game Auction House. It's a matter of asking ourselves what should the scope be? Should we go beyond server to regional should we go, you know, how we manage the commodity system. And most importantly, when is the right time to do it, we actually had the right hand in the meeting on the technological roadmap early on during BFA, we kind of decided you know, maybe like right in the middle when everyone's kind of involved in the world would be the best time or maybe we should look for, you know, kind of end of expansion thing or we're going to kind of give it some time to soak and give people some time to get used to it before the next expansion would be a better time to do that. So technologically it's a lot of it is just remapping data and, and work, and then try to solve like, a lot of the edge case problems like, what are we going to do with all the auctions on the old auction house? Yeah, you know, so we have to have a plan to let those kind of soak out and then we can flip the switch and put the new auction house so a lot of problems tend to be more logistic rather than technical.
  217. End.
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