Warlords of Draenor interview with Senior Game Producer Ray Cobo

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Warlords of Draenor interview with Senior Game Producer Ray Cobo
Warlords of Draenor interview with Ray Cobo
Over the hectic BlizzCon weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down with World of Warcraft Senior Game Producer Ray Cobo. Ray oversees various aspects of game design, with a specific focus on the art and design elements of WoW.

WoW Insider: So, the character models we've seen so far look amazing, the dwarves, gnomes, the orcs and draenei, what else are we expecting to see at the launch of the expansion?

Ray Cobo: Well, we're also going to have gnomes, we're also going to have undead, I think we're working on everything we can up to launch. Our hope is to be able to get them all out at the same time, and that includes trolls, that includes draenei. But it comes down to, you know, we only have so many hands in the fire, so we will just have to see what we can do.

So are you able to say anything about the ones that are furthest from completion? The ones that we're least likely to see at launch?

Well, of course the ones that we've seen at the con are the ones that are furthest along, we feel they're kind of representative of the kind of direction we want to go there, and we feel really good about them as a set.
Yes, they look incredible, it's really important for people to understand the amount of work that goes into them, it's far from just skins isn't it?

Absolutely, there's a lot of work that's gone into these, you're right that it's not just skins. There's a number of modelling issues that we've taken care of, we've added a lot of tech that's been developed over the years with stuff like hair and beards and cloaks and all kinds of stuff that's made them more independent, but they still retain some of that soul of the original character that you've come to, like, connect with over the years. So we've really taken a lot of care over this stuff and it's really exciting, and I think they're going to look really awesome.

Is there any chance of revamps for either the Worgen or Goblin coming up, or do you feel good about those?

We feel pretty good about those, we don't have any plans to revamp those any time soon. We feel they came out kind of recently, and that's what's kind of started the whole kind of trend to look back and go "well, you know, we've done these new player characters and stuff like that, the panda, the worgen, the goblin, they're all really at a level that is very Blizzard quality, so we wanted to go back and infuse that into the existing player characters and bring them up to speed. So everybody across the board has the same kind of quality, you know?
Town square somewhere in Draenor

So again on the art side, you've got the whole new continent coming out, which seems to be based on Outland. Are we going to be seeing something with a real Burning Crusade feel as far as armor and zones, or is it something really new?

I think it's going to be a little bit newer, there's definitely going to be some indications of the "past", you know, but I think we really want to focus on starting the stuff from scratch, and start developing the stuff for these new characters from the ground up. There's definitely going to be an Iron Horde influence as well, with the armor, so you'll see some of that as part of a lot of the gear and the items going forward.

OK so obviously one of the biggest things that have come out of the Con have been Garrisons, people are freaking out about player housing, so a few questions. First up, is this something with room for expansion, that could become like a guild house, or is it more like the Farm?

There's definitely room for expansion in the feature itself, I think for Warlords of Draenor we're pretty happy with the setup that we have, but it's continually evolving and we're always looking at ways to make it better. We also love getting feedback from the players which is kind of why we wanted to introduce this feature out to them and to you guys and to get that feedback on what you guys like and are hoping to see in the future and that kind of stuff. The guild thing is definitely an interesting aspect, we have no plans to do that at the moment, but it feels like something that would increase the excitement about making it feel like a place of community and social gathering and that kind of stuff so we're definitely looking into all that stuff as well.

The only negative feedback we've seen is the notion that they're going to be "required for raiding" content, so this notion that people "have to" do it. Is that a reasonable concern?

I don't think that's going to be a requirement for raiding, I think it's going to give them access to additional tiers or additional loot that they wouldn't otherwise have, so as you build your garrison and collect followers and get them to go out into the world and get loot or improve your crafting experience, I think it's its own kind of reward bucket. So the raids or dungeons that you send your followers on to go do for you while you hang out and wait are going to be completely different, the rewards that they bring back are going to be completely different from the stuff that you get from your own character's progression going out doing dungeons. It's totally separate loot buckets.

So the loot that your followers are getting, is that loot that is actually for your character?

Yes absolutely, it's going to help your player character's progression, but ideally it's not the same loot that you will get when you do a dungeon compared to when your followers do a dungeon. We're going to have those completely separate, it just gives you access to more loot. It's more chances on drops.

And is there any PvP potential between garrisons?

You know we were talking about that the other day, wouldn't it be fun to have my followers go up against your followers, do a little battling etc. It is something we're talking about, we don't have any plans to implement something like that yet, but it's something we're talking about in the office and something we are trying to work out the right way to do it and so on.

It'd be like Warcraft in Warcraft!

Exactly! It'd be great, what could possibly be more Warcraft than that?!
One thing that's come up a lot with Mists of Pandaria, and going forward into Warlords of Draenor is Horde and Alliance story balance. Is this expansion pulling us back towards an Alliance story or is this more a Horde focused expansion with Garrosh and Grommash?

Well, there's definitely a lot of orcs involved and a lot of ogres involved in Draenor, there's no question of that, but I think that it's really kind of world-impacting stuff for both Horde and Alliance. So the threat of, you know, this Iron Horde army coming through the Dark Portal and invading Azeroth is really a threat that impacts both Horde and Alliance, so as Metzen mentioned during his opening speech the last time Alliance stepped up it was really to kind of fight this stuff off, and we're looking forward to kind of doing that again. Ultimately it impacts everybody and it's going to be fun to see how it plays out.

But the real thing about Draenor is that it's a very kind of savage place, it's kind of like Australia where 11/10 things will kill you, giants and poisonous plants and everything. I think it's going to be really cool.

I think part of the concern was that throughout Mists of Pandaria, the principal antagonist was an orc, and we're seeing the same again. Or are we moving away from the orc focus?

I think we're going to see Alliance players and Alliance characters sort of come to life through this, and see them really step up to, you know, the threat in the expansion. Part of the reason why we wanted to go this route is that we have some of the most epic villains in the Warcraft universe coming back to threaten the world as we know it, it's really exciting, it's really enticing to see. And it brings back a lot of lore, a lot of story that players haven't really had the chance to go through, so... These guys are pretty interesting characters, they all have their own agenda, some good, some bad, it's going to be a lot of fun.

Is there any link between one of the principal characters in the Warcraft movie being Durotan and the move back to Draenor? Is this just coincidence or is it a deliberate tie-in?

Well, right now the only tie-in is the franchise. The movie itself is trying to establish a foothold and give everybody a sense of where did it all start, how did we get to Warcraft as a place and who are the main players and all that stuff, it's a big kind of intention that the developers have had. Aside from that the game is going its own path and the movie is going its own path but we're very keen on making sure that they tie in lore-wise together.

Another thing that has caused a big reaction is the brand new level 90 thing. We've heard that there is the potential to be able to purchase it, outside of the free 90 you get with the expansion. It makes sense, given how you could just buy multiple copies of the expansion, but is there any notion of locking it behind something?

Well right now we're just really focused on providing the level 90 experience as you purchase the expansion. There's stuff going on, for future stuff, but I think tat right now the focus is on making that a really good experience. A lot of the concern is that there's going to be a bunch of noobs running around who have no idea what they're doing, it's going to be chaos and it's going to be terrible right?

But we've done this before, we've done this with the Death Knight start zone where we've brought players in at a higher level and we've taught them what the Death Knight class is all about over the course of several quests, and you come out of that, and you're like "OK, I get it, I understand how to play a Death Knight. So we're going to do that the same with the level 90 stuff. We'll make sure to clean up your bags and your bars and your talent trees and all that stuff, to where we put you in a position here you're Ina good starting place and over the course of several quests we'll teach you how to play that particular class that you've chosen, that you're going to jump into. Additionally, we have the Proving Grounds feature which, for want of a better word, allows players to wok in a simulator that says "here's how to DPS, here's how to tank, here's how to heal etc."
So we're really trying to take the time to help players to get comfortable with a higher level and to understand the class and the character they play at that level so they can contribute to the group that they're playing with. And of course the real impetus is just to be able to jump in with friends, right? To not have to worry about "oh well, yeah, my buddy wants me to come play Warcraft but that means I have to grind all this stuff, and get all this gear, and jump thirty levels and it's going to take forever, and I just don't have time for that!"

Now it's like, well, we think that WoW is a really good experience when you're playing with your friends, and we really want to provide players the opportunity to do that, and that's really kind of the underlining impetus behind all this stuff. We really want players to experience the new content because we're really excited about this new expansion so that's kind of where we're at.

Can you tell us anything in particular about the start zone? Is it just an adaptation of the DK zone or are we going to see something new?

Well, we're really still working on that, I think that it's not something that's super-fleshed-out at this point, but I think it's really something where returning players or players who haven't played WoW before feel like they're coming out of this with a good understanding of how to play that class or how to play that role and what are the abilities associated with this particular character and that kind of stuff. So I think that we're going to end up in a good place.

And is it going to be skippable for those who know how to play the class?

Possibly. I mean I think what we want to do, we don't want this to be a grind, we don't want this to be a drain on the player, we want it to be enjoyable. This is kind of why we're gong back and looking at your bags and all this kind of stuff, we're trying to make it easier for players to play the game and have fun and not worry about the mundane stuff or you know, the stuff that makes you go crazy!

There's obviously the element of the financial side of Warcraft, we've heard that the Battle Chest is now up to Cataclysm, are there future plans to condense it down so that the process of buying the game is a simpler one for returning or new players?

We definitely want to go down that route, we're working with our partners and our marketing partners, our internal business partners in general, I mean, my focus is mostly on the game, so I don't have much visibility on that stuff, but we really want to make it as easy as possible for players to get into the game from that side as well.
We've got the confirmation now that there isn't going to be a 5.5, we've heard about 5.4.1, but we've got a while to go, are we going to see an expansion before summer?

Well, I dunno, that's a great question, I wouldn't say there's no patches coming out between now and then, there are certainly things we want to preview and share with you guys before the actual expansion comes out. We still have the trial of Garrosh to get out there and show people, although there's kind of been spoilers on that already, we all know that Garrosh escapes! Crafty little guy... but I think that we want to tell that story, we want to set that up so that when the expansion comes out you understand where you are, you understand where we're at on those things.

We also want to incorporate the item squish prior to the expansions o that players get used to it and we get feedback on that and are able to adjust as needed. That's kind of one of the great things about World of Warcraft is that we can evolve the game and stay in close contact with the players.

There was a bug that appeared in-game recently, quickly hotfixed, where you were able to get into downscaled dungeons, more than just an item squish. Is that a feature that's coming up?

Not at the moment, but we're really focused on making the item squish a positive experience, so that you don't feel you've been debuffed, by any means. It's still going to feel the same, so if you're playing the game by percentages it's still going to feel the same and act the same, it's just that we think that numbers like 500,000 DPS and such were a bit too much. And yeah there are definitely limits to what we can do!

Was there any idea of downscaling level at all on top of the item squish?

We spoke a little about that, about the idea of downscaling players so they could go back and play old content with friends and that sort of stuff, um, we're still toying around with it to make sure that it works well but that's kind of as far as we've got.

Yeah, Tom (Chilton) and Cory (Stockton) mentioned at Gamescom that it was ready to go but you guys couldn't work out the rewards.

Oh yeah exactly. So we think the experience is there and it's definitely something we want to roll out, we're trying to figure out how to make it compelling for players to do that and how do we make it fair for both parties to get what they want out of that.

Another thing that's come up in Mists as a bit of a criticism is the absence of 5-man content after launch. So we've got about the same number of dungeons coming out at the start of Warlords of Draenor, but is there a plan to up the level of 5-mans coming in through the expansion?

It's certainly possible, we haven't really nailed down the patch cycle yet for Warlords of Draenor, but we definitely want to provide that level of content, we've heard the players, we've heard that they want that so we definitely want to provide that within the expansion itself. And we're kind of going from there, we still have things like scenarios that are kind of group-level content, so, it's hard to say at this point, but we're definitely going to aim for that.

One thing that came up at the panel this morning was the complete absence of daily quests in Warlords of Draenor, what do you feel is the replacement for that content?

I think a lot of it is still focused on the scenario content, and something we've done recently is the Timeless Isle, which we feel got a lot of positive feedback. It still wasn't like daily content, it was a little more free-form, you know, you could go out and fight epic battles with monsters, and I think that's something we want to continue going forward. The dailies felt a little overbearing for a lot of players, I totally said we should put a slide up saying "2000 new daily quests" but that didn't really fly!
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