WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|09.20.12

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WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
Dave Kosak talks Theramore, dailies and more
Mists of Pandaria is a gigantic undertaking of an expansion that has subtly reworked everything that was painful about Cataclysm and turned it into a fun and interactive work of art. Responsible for much of that is Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak, who graciously sat down to chat with us about the changes, and what went on behind Mists' development to make it the expansion we've all been waiting for.

What makes Mists so fun? The substantial revamp to endgame, and the crazy number of quests and content to complete. The key to Mists is the sheer amount of quests and content to play through, presented in an interactive and entertaining environment designed and executed by Kosak and crew. Read on if you're wondering where that that world event we were expecting went to, what exactly happened to the Jade Forest, or how dailies are going to be less grind and more fun.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

The Thereamore scenario just came out on Monday. Can you tell us a little about the development of that scenario, and why you chose to go with a scenario over a world event?

The actual development of that scenario -- we created a scenario team, and that was one of their first projects, was to do that scenario. Why we wanted to do that scenario, it actually stems from when we were talking about Jaina, and this was a long time ago. We were talking about Jaina and what to do with the Jaina character. She and Thrall have very much been in a kind of peacekeeper kind of role, they were trying to keep things cool between the Alliance and Horde.

If we wanted to ramp up the war in Pandaria, if we wanted to really ramp up the Alliance and Horde war, we kind of had to do something about the peacekeepers. So we talked about kind of freeing up Jaina the way you might move some pawns aside on a chessboard so that the queen can come out and start doing some damage. How do we free up Jaina to really participate more actively in the story? And we came up with the idea, why don't we do something devastating -- that's kind of really where Theramore comes from.

It really sets a tone -- we have what's otherwise a very light expansion, but with this core sort of heavy dark heart of war, and so we kick it off with this terrible event to really show how bleak the war can get. It also frees up Jaina to do some more interesting things in the lore now, kind of levels her up as a character, and we can actually start to do cool things with Jaina Proudmoore again.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
So we had that idea, and something that was very important to me -- OK, sure, now we have a great novel about Jaina and her response to this. But I really want to make sure that people can experience these kinds of things in game, and really not have to read the book in order to get some of the main lore things that are happening in the game. So we talked about being able to kind of live through that exact moment, that Theramore battle itself as both the Alliance and Horde. And that's how the scenario idea came in.

We decided to do this -- give people a sneak preview of the content of the expansion by dropping a scenario in the week before it goes live. That actually was probably an unfortunate decision by us, because people compare it to -- they wanted a big world event again, they were expecting a world event. And this definitely doesn't replace a world event, and I think a lot of people are dissatisfied because of that. Like I see a lot of feedback like that, like "Where's my world event!?" And it wasn't really meant to be that way.

It really was just meant to be a kind of important lore milestone that people could live through. And also a way of getting a kind of cool grab bag of gear to kind of get you amped up about the war, and about the Alliance and Horde theme that we're going to hit with this expansion.

Usually the world events kind of tack a big "The End" on an expansion.

It's hard to have a bigger "The End" than parachuting down on Deathwing's back and beating him up and punching his face! We kind of felt like what we needed was a beginning as opposed to an end, and this is sort of the first dark chapter of what happens next.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

Endgame has had some significant changes in Mists. What kinds of adjustments have you made to the endgame experience?

What we did with Mists of Pandaria is we really tried to look at how people play World of Warcraft, and we wanted to give everybody more stuff to do. So we still have dungeons and raids, because we think that's the most compelling group content you can create in a video game, is really difficult, challenging raids. We added Raid Finder, so you can have an easier version of the raid, so you can kind of see the content in the environment with a pickup group. But we still do encourage you to do this with a fixed raid group, because that's the most exciting way --that's where the biggest challenge is, and that's where we put the biggest rewards.

So we still have dungeons and raids, but we wanted a lot of stuff for people to do that really -- maybe if you're not into dungeons and raids, a lot of people would hit max level and then they would just re-roll another character. And I wanted something for you to do with your character at max level. So we really just doubled down on the stuff in the world that you can do with your max level character. Every faction in the game is now a story and an experience, and something that you can interact with every day, and they'll have different quests for you every day. It's more than a bar that grows on the bottom of your screen, it's a whole story arc.

There's a lot of that to do, and that kind of appeals to a more casual player. And then there's pet battles, for instance. It's turn-based, low stress kind of combat, and it has a big collection mechanic that kind of uses the entire world as a playground. That's something for an even more casual kind of audience. Actually, I think everybody enjoys that. I certainly enjoy the pet battles, I'm a pretty hardcore player.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

I'm totally addicted to the things.

Well it really does kind of suck you in! You're like, "Ehh, pet battles," and then pretty soon you kind of get into it because -- we really tried to build a system where you could discover combos and interesting things to do with your pets. I have a pet deer that is just, just brutal, and I can't wait to fight other people with it, I'm like "Look what I did with this deer!" It's kind of awesome, and it really kind of leads you to decide to try and form that perfect team. You're like "I really need a water pet." And then you go and research the best water pets you can get, and you put together a good team. It's surprisingly deep, even though it's a simple game, and I think that's perfect.

But that goes to, again, giving more types of players more things to do. At the very opposite end of the spectrum, if you're really, really serious player, you want a serious, skill based challenge. So we put together the challenge modes for dungeons, and those are super fun! I mean you need a team, you can't pug it, you can't do a dungeon finder for it. You gotta get four friends that you really trust, that are going to be able to work together and really approach these dungeons as a science and really optimize your gameplay. And it's very, very hard, but it's very rewarding to get the gold in all those dungeons.

Regardless of what kind of player you are in WoW, we tried to make sure that Mists gave you way more things to do. I hope that comes across across the board with this expansion.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

There's a sort of negative opinion floating around about reputation grinds and dailies. What have you done in Mists to make them more appealing?

I think when people first saw that there were lots of daily quests in Pandaria, I think in their minds they sort of thought about daily quests in Burning Crusade or Wrath, where you go to the faction, there's the same three quests every day, and you have to do it a hundred times to watch the little bar grow on the bottom of your screen. And that is not at all a compelling experience, so it's not what we wanted to do. So we really made sure that your experience changes throughout.

There are lots of quests, instead of three quests. In fact, in Vale of Eternal Blossoms there's over a hundred daily quests, it's basically like a whole zone's worth of quests. They change every day, and the area itself changes. So the mogu are attacking the Vale -- they'll attack a different place every day. And then as you gain reputation with that faction, you're sent to do different types of things every day. We try to flow and chain the daily quests together.

You usually do start with defending the hub against the mogu, and then you move on, and depending on what your reputation is they're either send you to do really intense combat stuff if you have a high reputation with them. Or if you're still ramping up, they'll send you to a different area to do something different. And as you set out to gain reputation you unlock different quest hubs. So eventually you'll unlock the Shado-Pan hub, and you'll start doing quests for them.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
In addition to that, on top of everything else, there's a story that plays out, sort of a one-time story that plays out. As you gain reputation with it, you'll unlock chapters of this story that you can play through, until the end, when you do hit exalted. There's a big climactic battle at the end of that faction grind.

The upshot is, it's going to feel very different than dailies did in earlier expansions. It really feels like a story that you can play through with your max level character if you commit some time to it every day. You'll see it progess, and you'll see things happen. We tried to do that with every faction -- every faction has some kind of angle, something going on.

The Tillers have not only individual friends that you can make, who will mail you letters and give you upgrades to your farm, but you'll also have a farm associated with that faction. And you can tend the farm every day, and that ties in to all the trade skills that you can use your farm with. It's very, very cool for crafters. So that gives that faction something cool, and a sense of progression, because you're actually building up your farm as you go along.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
The Shado-Pan have a really neat angle, we created some really tough questing areas for the Shado-Pan. You are sent out with a Shado-Pan companion every day. As you gain reputation with the Shado-Pan, you can unlock additional companions. And we try to give you some strategy there, so you try to pick a companion to adventure with who offsets your abilities. Maybe you pick the healer, or maybe you pick the ranged spellcaster, depending on what kind of character you have.

Interesting decisions like that, interesting things going on, story arcs that play out across all the factions. We tried to make sure that there's something different to do every day. It's got a lot of depth to it. We haven't done anything like that before, with the exception of maybe patch 4.2, where you broke into the Firelands and created a quest hub down there. It's an interesting experiment, and it gives us a lot more gameplay and a lot more things to do with your character, which is ultimately what an RPG is all about.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

Were there any lessons you learned from Cataclysm that contributed to the development of Mists?

Oh absolutely! Every expansion sort of informs the next one. With Cataclysm, there's a couple of big points. We did a lot of cool storytelling with Cataclysm, and we ended up doing some very linear zones. That felt cool, definitely the first time you played through it was really neat to have a story that was presented in that way. But it got a little tiring with your alts, because you had to play every zone the same way every time. What we found was that we sort of swung the pendulum too far in one direction. These really linear things let us do really cool storytelling, but they also felt very linear and static.

So in a lot of ways, with Mists, you're going to see a lot more variety in zones. I always point to Kun Lai Summit as a great example of a zone that's much more open. It's got all these great stories, and you do have that great storytelling that we had in Cataclysm. But there's a lot of different ways to approach the zone, there's a lot of different stories within the zone, different ways you can quest through the zone. It's really up to you how much time you spend there and what you get out of it. It's very cool, I think it captures a good blend between the two of them.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
The other lesson we learned in Cataclysm is that we really want to let people choose their own level of difficulty. We created heroic dungeons in Cataclysm that were very challenging, and that was awesome for the players that had a fixed group that they really trusted and wanted a challenge. It was less awesome for people that wanted to run through dungeons with a pickup group. And they really felt blocked by that content, like it was a hard dungeon, and you had to get the right pickup group, and if you didn't, you couldn't progress your character. That wasn't cool.

So in Mists, you really can pick your difficulty. The toughest dungeons, as we talked about, are challenge modes. That's when you really want to get a group together, and really master that dungeon. But all the other content, you really can kind of pick your own flavor. Daily quests are not relatively difficult compared to raids, compared to heroic raids. Heroic raids and challenge modes are among the most difficult things you can do.

And at no point is anybody roadblocked. Every type of player should have something to do in Mists of Pandaria, which is very different than Cataclysm. Something we took forward. Something we said "Hey, there are people that don't have stuff to do in Cataclysm. Let's make sure we give them lots to do."

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

During the course of the beta, you guys shut down Jade Forest. When it came back, there were massive changes. Why the revamp?

That was quite the story -- it wasn't the whole zone, it was really just the intro which changed significantly. We're always watching players play the game, we're always talking to players, we're always -- we also have kind of our own internal teams that play through. We're all gamers here, we all play through each other's games, and give a lot of feedback.

One of the things that came across was that we're doing this really cool story with Pandaria where there's the sha but there's also this war between the Alliance and Horde, which is bringing out all of this energy onto the continent. Then there's the pandaren, who are kind of caught in the middle. Very, very cool story. And originally we were too subtle with that, it really wasn't coming across in the intro. It was a slow build, and you'd eventually discover all this stuff.

A lot of people weren't quite catching on. It didn't feel like this cool epic beginning to the expansion. And we went back to the drawing board, and I'm really glad we did. Because once we decided "Hey, let's just have this story be huge, right from the get go," that was such the right decision to make. When you play through the beginning of those zones now, there's no question about a war. There's no question that there's a culture clash happening here. There's no question what the sha is, and that we're going to cause all kinds of trouble.

It really sets up so much of the rest of the zone and the rest of the expansion much better. And it's just plain cooler, it's more engaging. I think that that initial visual of the Alliance or Horde gunship looming over this little pandaren town while this war is breaking out all around you, it's so cool, it really sets up the tone for the expansion. It was absolutely the right call.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

So Mists is taking us to a place we've never seen before, exploring lore we've never seen before. How did that development come about? And how do you tie all of that back into Azeroth?

It's hard to say, because we have a whole group of people here that kind of manage the story of the franchise with myself and Chris Metzen and the game director Tom Chilton. We have a lot of meetings to talk and jam about ideas and say "Well, what is this place, and why was it hidden, and who are these people." A lot of the expansion came out of us just defining who the pandaren were. We wanted to make sure from the get-go that it wasn't a matter of every pandaren you meet is either the wise old man or the kung-fu master.

There definitely are a lot of pandaren and kung-fu masters for sure, but there's a lot more to the culture than that. We tried to really populate the world with that. We tried to color the world with that, so you get to meet pandaren farmers, and fishers, and scholars, and you sort of see what makes them tick and what their history was. It's 12-14,000 years of history, so we had to go way back and really answer a lot of questions like why would the pandaren learn martial arts?

And the idea of a revolution comes from this. The idea that well, why do most cultures learn martial arts, it's because they have somebody that won't let them have weapons. So they fight with what's on hand, and that seemed really cool to us. In the act of defining who the pandaren were, and why they were that way, so much of the rest of the expansion came out.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
The pandaren are a really laid back race, they're kind of chill, and a lot of that has to do with the sha, with the fact that these negative emotions will spiral out of control on Pandaria. Sort of as a survival mechanism you've got to learn not to hold grudges, not to carry around your anger. You've got to learn to rise above that. Learn not to let your fear or dread overwhelm you.

The kind of culture that develops out of that ended up being a lot of fun to play with. And so very different than the Alliance and Horde, and that lets us do things where the pandaren asks questions that the Alliance and Horde wouldn't ask, like "Why are you guys fighting in the first place?" Things that just aren't obvious to the factions, because they're so embroiled in this war.

So much of developing this world comes from developing that race, and making that race more than one or two dimensions. Making the pandaren a real three dimensional race that has a whole culture of their own that we get to explore from every side.

And once you start creating that, it just naturally ties back to the rest of the world?

Yeah, exactly. And then we end up with some really neat things. Like if you go way back in the history of Pandaria, then we can start to do things with like "Well, what did the Titans do here, and how is that different than the rest of Azeroth? What happened with the Old Gods here?" And even though there isn't really a lot of Titan vs. Old God lore in Mists, it does inform it. It's way way way under the surface. You can kind of find those little lore gems, those little Easter eggs that show how it was all connected together way back in the past.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

Let's talk about Wrathion -- how did his development come about? He has watchers all over Pandaria, what's up with those guys?

The watchers are fun! If you look really carefully, you don't see the watchers until like level 87 or 88, it's like he gradually gets his teeth into Pandaria and you start to see him. I love the idea that Wrathion, as you saw if you were a rogue, you got to see this first hand, but now other players are kind of learning how he operates. He tries to see everything, he tries to keep tabs on everybody. And you can bet he's got people wandering Pandaria, and whispering the secrets of it back into his ear.

You ask about how the character came about, and I asked people kind of a lot with Wrathion. Because you have to kind of buy into the idea that even within his shell, he was concious of what was going on. He had some kind of awareness of the world. The red dragonflight experimented on his egg, and that gives us a lot of leeway -- I mean they did some crazy, crazy magical stuff to his egg. That gives us a lot of story leeway.

When we had written that questline in the Badlands there, we knew that this would be a cool story thread to pick up some day. But if you really think about how long it would take a dragon to mature and start developing his own thoughts, it'd be a long time. Like decades. And we didn't really have time for that! So I said well, OK -- if we ask people to buy into this one thing, that because of these experiments he can have some self-awareness early on, wow -- what an interesting character that is!

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak
All of a sudden he's so compelling. Because let's see, his father was crazy and tried to destroy the world, his mother was basically raped by the red dragonflight, then his egg was experimented on to sever his ties with his own family -- so how do you view the world at that point? Well, you don't really view the world as a friendly place. You're probably eager to take control of your own destiny, which he does, even before he hatches.

And then you kind of have this thing to atone for -- your father tried to destroy the world. Your father went crazy. Are you crazy? How do you not be crazy, how do you make up for what your father did. Suddenly he's such a cool character! I really want to explore that character. We kind of went nuts with it. So we kind of asked people -- well if you can already buy in to the idea that he hatched from his egg and already started hatching schemes, then there's a whole cool story that can come from that. And we really rolled with it.

That was kind of the genesis of that character. His value to the franchise is he really can kind of stand above Alliance and Horde, and really try and be a good guy, but without all the moral reservations that most good guys have. He really does have the best interests of Azeroth in mind, but his interests may not necessarily line up with our interests. His plan may not be the way that we would think of planning it. That kind of gray area between hero and villain is so cool for us, very cool to explore.

He kind of walks the line between the two.

Yeah! And you're never sure whether you should trust him or not. It helps that we got a wonderful voice actor who really gets that across. He gets that kind of, that air of arrogance and also a little bit of smarminess. You know, like you like him, but don't trust him at the same time. Wonderful, wonderful characterization.

It didn't seem like Wrathion was originally intended for Pandaria at the end of the rogue chain. Was that a last-minute decision?

We figured he'd move on to his next thing, and then we figured out what that next thing was right away! If you watch the recap movie on the website, he's a lot more clear about how he's moving on to a new place.

WoW Insider interviews Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak

I love the Lorewalkers, that you get to keep records of the lore you find around Pandaria. Are you going to add more to the collection as time goes on, or maybe older stories we've found around Azeroth?

We'll see how many people are really engaged in the Lorewalkers stuff. How many people bother to get the achievement and click on all the stuff and watch all the movies, and we'll see how people respond. I think was a great way to a: reward people for exploring and poking around the world, and b: deliver the lore of the area to people in an interesting way. It's kind of compelling to have a pandaren storyteller tell you the stories the way he would tell any other pandaren cub or anybody else, you know? There's this oral tradition of sitting around the campfire telling stories that you get to experience in Pandaria.

I don't think we'll add more stuff to it, to Pandaria itself. But I think that probably when we add new areas, in other patches, they might have a bunch of Lorewalker things to collect in them as well. We'll see. We'll see how people respond to it.

I also see that in game books seem to have made a return!

Yeah! That was something I always thought was important, I mean -- very, very few people bother to read those, which is fine. They're not there for -- they're there for the people that want to read them, and that's cool. So we really wanted to get some more of those in there. I think some of the pandaren ones are pretty fun, I think it's worth finding those. Again, it tells you more about the pandaren people, the kind of stories they tell.

It's funny, because we put them all over the place, but they're so hard to find! It seems like there's never enough. Definitely poke around the inns, you'll find books, hidden around there.

I loved Mylune in Cataclysm. Turns out she was yours! Are there any minor NPCs in Mists that we should watch for?

From my perspective I can't think of any offhand, but I do know that my quest team has littered awesome characters throughout the terrain. You'll find a lot of them -- actually, one of the more major ones was Mudmug. That guy came outta nowhere, and was just so much fun. We had a lot of fun with Mudmug. But there's a lot of hidden cool characters in there. And the Klaxxi -- if you stop and talk to a lot of the Klaxxi, they're all jerks. (laughs) But they're jerks in such fun ways.

Thanks so much for the interview, Dave!

Mists of Pandaria launches September 25 -- are you ready? Don't forget to check WoW Insider for all the latest Mists of Pandaria news.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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