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Joystiq interviews J. Allen Brack


Intrepid reporter and all-around cool guy Kevin Kelly over at Joystiq scored an interview with J. Allen Brack during the festivities at BlizzCon 2009. Just in case you're not aware, J. Allen Brack is the lead producer for our beloved World of Warcraft, having joined the team back in 2005. Kevin's a pretty smart cookie, and managed to get some great insight into the game from Brack. The interview's worth a full read, but there's a lot of insight that's worth spending some time talking about.

It's not any surprise that Brack told Kevin that there's no end in sight for WoW, and that he expects the game to survive at least another 10 years. But Brack immediately followed up by saying that Blizzard has changed the way they view the franchise novels recently. Back in the day, it seems, they just let authors go wild. "Go off and create a kind of story in the world," Brack told Kevin. Now, however, it seems like the creative team is spending more time trying to make sure the novels reflect what they plan in the game, as well as vice versa.

Brack confirmed that Blizzard still keeps an eye on what other games are doing, and will bring that into the World of Warcraft by giving it their own take. That comment reminded me of the discussion about upcoming Fishing changes in Cataclysm, and how the new fishing system was inspired by Animal Crossing.

One of the most interesting insights, however, came when Brack admitted that there was a lot of debate about what the next expansion would be. "We have definitely iterated on our quest process," Brack said. As a result, it became that much more compelling to go back to the old Azeroth, and update it as part of the growth of the game. Opening the Greymane Wall became about exploring new things in that old world, even while supporting a new iteration of the low level experience. But, still, a lot of this can be considered Blizzard making an effort to keep the game accessible to new players.

To understand how Blizzard helps keep the game available to someone starting fresh, walking in off the street, it helps to know that there's a static, certain amount of time Blizzard wants you to spend going from level 1 to max level. "We also adjust our leveling curve on a pretty regular basis," Brack said. Whenever they release a new expansion or end-game content, they go back and review the current levelling process. If they feel the growth time has gotten too long, Blizzard will revise it to help keep content accessible.

Brack confirmed a handful of different sources whose feedback helps the designers make decisions about the future of the game. Most of them you'd probably expect: they hear from the forums, internal feedback, and even playtesting groups. Brack especially gave a shout out to the Community team at Blizzard, saying that they particularly help collate feedback from the fans on the forums.

I'm kind of surprised we haven't heard more questions about what happens if you don't buy the expansion, but Kevin has us covered there anyway. He asked Brack what would happen if you opted to stop picking up expansions with Wrath of the Lich King. "The idea is not that there is the old world that is untouched and then there is the new expansion-only world," Brack said. And while he didn't give any specifics, we can probably guess that even people who don't pick up the new expansion will see Deathwing's effects on the World of Warcraft.

Organizationally, though, Brack reiterated a philosophy that Ghostcrawler has echoed in the past. "We have one team and it is over 140 people, and it is a World of Warcraft team," Brack said. Maybe I'm just a corporate organizational dork, but this kind of thing completely warms my heart. I love listening to the powers-that-be-at-Blizzard talking about how everyone's on the team and how they're all in it together. It really makes me wish I could be part of that, and gives me an incredible amount of respect for those guys.

Despite only raising the level cap by 5 levels in Cataclysm, J. Allen Brack feels that the new expansion will be the largest one they've released. That viewpoint makes a lot of sense, when you consider they're basically redesigning the entire game. New rules, new races, and a brand new Azeroth which has been razed by Deathwing. That's a lot of content for everyone to cruise around and check out. It's certainly ambitious, and Brack says, "there is a huge amount of level up content, it is just not max level up."

Like I said, take the time to look through the entire interview. It really seems like Brack was excited to share insight about his game and experience, and I think it made for an incredibly entertaining read. My favorite portion, though, when all is said and done, was when Brack confirmed his thoughts on Grunty the Murloc pet. "We just want to do something that was really cool," Brack said, "and so that is how Grunty kind of came to be. It was like, 'Wow. That is really cool.'"

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