"Does anyone know who the three characters in all the BlizzCon announcement graphics are (see posting earlier this week)? One looks just like Thrall, but the other two seem pretty vague... a paladin and some sort of demonic rogue looking thing (maybe an Orc)?"
Great question! I love answering questions that move beyond the glitz and glamour and delve deeper into things. The image in question is pictured at the top of this article for those that missed our BlizzCon 2009 announcement earlier in the week. Each of the characters represents one of Blizzard's different major franchises: Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft.
The left hand guy is Thrall, as you mentioned. Thrall is the Warchief of the Horde, Liberator of the Orcs, Lord of the Clans, Son of Durotan and Ruler of Durotar. He's a bad ass dude.
In the center sits Tyreal, from the Diablo series. He is Archangel of Justice, member of the Angiris Council. He's a bad ass dude.
On the right is Zeratul, a member of the Protoss race from StarCraft. He's a Dark Templar that likes to go around and assassinate people. And while Kerrigan played him like a tool, he too is a bad ass dude.
The links above will take you to wiki entries on each of the characters if you want to know more about them.
Robert M asked...
"Do we have any idea if Power Word: Barrier is going to take the place of Divine Spirit? If it was that high, a Barrier/CoH priest could prove to be pretty nasty and send the other healers home crying."
I agree that it might create some imbalance, however until we see what Blizzard has decided to do on the PTR (soon, I'm sure), we can't really start speculating what the effects of it will be. And just to be clear: we don't know where it'll exactly exist.
Robert M also asked...
"WoW Insider reported that 3.1 was finished according to a Kaplan interview.
Don't all the changes and the 'waves' of class changes lead many to believe that Blizzard is full of bat guano? Or that the previous major patch and expansion didn't go as smooth as they had thought it would at the very least, and they had to head back to the drawing board for a few areas?"
This is another great question!
What I took from the Kaplan interview was that Blizzard has the large points for future patches already mapped out. Ie: They know what they want in 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc... Activision-Blizzard is one of the largest game studios on the planet, they know how to plan things out better than the rest of them. I can tell you from working behind the scenes at a few programming gigs, as well as with my experience here at WoW Insider and the Joystiq network, that we have a plan for what we'll do with the site for the next year. And while that will change over time, no doubt, I could list off several things I know are in the pipeline to be changed here at WoW Insider. The same applies to Blizzard and their patches. They have a very good idea where they want to be a year from now, and stuff is going to change during the passage of time, but they can list off several big things that are in the pipeline.
This is all part of the development process. I wouldn't take it as a sign that Blizzard has had failures. I would take it as the exact opposite. They have zoned in on things that work and don't work, dynamically adapting to the changing environment. They bring out changes, sometimes testing them live (perhaps a little more than they should, granted), and then bring out more changes to compliment those. This is a part of the "Extreme Programming" model that has been popular for a while now. There is some good academic debate to be had about that model, but I'll leave that out since it's not totally relevant to WoW.
The idea, which I think underlines your question, is that Blizzard should come up with a plan and stick to it. And while that works for some things, it's been proven numerous times that the "stay the course" attitude ends in failure – especially in business.