This past week, two developers on the WoW: Classic team sat down with German magazine company, Computer Bild. They answered some key questions about the development of WoW: Classic and the motivating force behind creating it. You can find the complete interview here, although it is entirely in German.
For those that don’t speak German, here is a rough translation of the interview (given by Google Translate):
COMPUTER PICTURE GAMES (CBS): Why do players want to return content almost 15 years old? Is that just pure nostalgia? Or is there more behind it?
Brian Birmingham (BB): “World of Warcraft Classic” has a lot of unique gameplay to offer. Classic’s gameplay is the challenging exploration of a hostile world, and you need to turn to friends and teammates to help you accomplish your tasks. In “WoW Classic” one succeeds only with effort, ingenuity and cooperation.
A perfect example of this is the manure browser from today’s “World of Warcraft”, which did not exist during Vanilla “WoW”. In the current “WoW”, players can sign up for their lunch break in the group search and then focus on what’s happening in the instance. In “Classic”, what happened before you even entered the dungeon was part of the challenge: you had to find a group by chat, communicate and join the team as a team.And when you’ve gone through this process with your fellow players and then successfully fought your way through a sprawling dungeon, it created a different kind of interconnecting social momentum. The next time you wanted to go into an instance, you were most likely looking for the same players. All of this was part of what made the original “WoW” experience unmistakable. And we want to preserve that in “WoW Classic”.
Omar Gonzalez (OG): This bond between the players was in part due to the lack of fine tuning that the classic “WoW” had compared to the modern “WoW”. For “WoW Classic” this is a critical aspect we want to preserve. Yes, we are aware that there may be friction between players trying to master more difficult content. But it was this friction that made groups and guilds weld together to tackle the various challenges of the game together. Later, we came up with other ways to build that social dynamic in WoW.
Another big difference between “WoW Classic” and other classic games: there is no way to dig out old “World of Warcraft” installation discs, disconnect from the Internet and just gamble. When you play a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing (MMORPG) game, you are not only interacting with the mechanics of the game, but with thousands of other players. The two “M” in the word “MMORPG” are an essential differentiator. “WoW” players crave “Classic” not only for nostalgic reasons, they also have – just like us – a strong desire to rejoin a fellowship of like-minded players looking for a special kind of gaming experience. Not only are we restoring a game, but also a once-familiar fabric in which adventurers from around the world must band together to survive in a dangerous world of power, magic, and secrets. As Brian said, the spirit of collaboration was a hallmark of the classic “WoW”. There were deliberate design decisions that prevented players from being completely self-sufficient. If you wanted to defeat dungeon and raid content, you had to find allies – or at least convince others that you would make positive contributions to their groups.
CBS: What was different about Vanilla times in “WoW” than in today’s version? Not only from a playful point of view, but also in terms of emotional and immersive aspects?
BB: The most immediate thing I can think of is the challenge in the free game world. Leaving the city was scary! Even a harmless-looking creature could be an extraordinary challenge. In the current expansion “Battle for Azeroth” you are a powerful hero, who already has many achievements. The game world also has its own challenges, but that’s not usually a problem. In “Classic”, however, you’re an adventurous novice in a dangerous and hostile world that still has much to learn. This difficulty drives you to rely on other players who help you – and that in turn drives the emerging social connections. You start to learn who you trust and who you can rely on, and who might use you for your own benefit. Gameplay also requires that you try many different skills and strategies to deal with unexpected situations. At Blizzcon 2018, many people were surprised and delighted to rediscover how scary it was when a second Murloc attacked you in battle, because that often meant that a third was not far away.
OG: “Battle for Azeroth” today benefits from over a decade of additional polish. “WoW Classic” is a much rougher game with more difficulty and friction in its game systems. But we do not see that as a problem, but as one of his strengths. Take, for example, the achievement of the maximum level. In the “WoW” Extensions, we use the level phase to the new maximum character level to tell the story of each add-on and to provide a context for the world. Once you reach the maximum level, the game really starts. Your character gets stronger by collecting new items and finds allies in the guild and dungeon browser groups, dives headfirst into the next raid to defeat the strongest enemies. In “Classic”, leveling while experiencing your adventures in the world was a big part of the actual game. The world itself was one of the main characters that played an important role in your hero’s story. In today’s “WoW,” quest content is more of a fast-paced, curated and story-driven experience. In the classic “WoW” quests are more open and free. The players found their own ways through the world, developing strong connections to the world and the other players they encountered along the way.
BB: I totally agree with you. I talked to one of our game designers about it, and he said that the modern “World of Warcraft” is about learning a big story about the game world, while “WoW Classic” was about having your own story discovered. I remember the day my friends and I decided to spend a whole Saturday clearing out Maraudon. Usually, people have completed this dungeon in three wings. Since none of us played a healer, we searched one, and people always asked us if we would do the purple or orange part of the dungeon. A good part of the day was spent finding healers for the different wings. But we kept going and completed the whole thing in one day so we could easily teleport to the bosses in future rounds. I think we called it “Princess Runs” because Princess Theredras was the last boss of the instance. I also remember that when we teleported with the group for a “Princess Run,” we fell down a waterfall and fell into a lake. Actually, the water should catch the fall, but sometimes that did not work and we died from the fall damage. (Grins)
CBS: What other personal experiences do you associate with Vanilla?
BB: One of my favorite memories is leveling an undead warrior in Silverwood, where there were werewolves everywhere. Among them were patrolling sons of Arugal. These were much harder than the standard enemies and usually deadly until they reached a higher level. So, when I was questing in that zone, I had to pay attention to where the sons of Arugal were just walking around and maybe one was approaching me. When I saw one from afar, I had to weigh: am I hiding from him and losing some time? Or am I taking the risk of completing my current task quickly? If I got caught, it was frustrating! But this sense of fear and danger in the world is something that I like to remember from this time. And the feeling of relief and achievement when I successfully avoided the sons.
OG: I really liked how the world interacted with the day / night cycle in Lohenscheit. During the day it was a safe haven, but dangerous at night! Besides, I have to think about pancakes. No really! Pancakes! After raid evenings, some of my guildmates and myself, all living in the same area, met in a local 24-hour diner. It became such a regular ritual that the staff not only had our usual table ready for us, but had already served the drinks. There we reveled about new reached milestones like a certain boss first kill or analyzed evenings where we have endlessly wiped at an opponent. We put the fight right on the table: the ketchup bottle was the boss, the healers and ranged fighters were supposed to gather at the maple syrup bottle, and the melee fighters were the sugar packets – because they were disposable and easily replaceable. (Laughs)
BB: That’s fantastic. My guild used to meet for milestones like the first kill of Ragnaros at “Philippe’s” in downtown Los Angeles. Some people came down from the Bay Area to meet us all. It was a really fun time!
CBS: What are the biggest challenges for you in restoring the “WoW” version 1.12?
BB: The biggest challenge is to integrate classic gameplay into our modern infrastructure. So much has changed in the last 14 years in terms of patches and distribution, account security, hardware, cloud services, and more, and we want to make sure that people who want to play “WoW Classic” are through the game and not be challenged by the installation process. Starting point is our modern codebase, on which we then play our old game data, so that our modern servers behave essentially like our classic servers. This does not work perfectly because the data has changed in shape and the parts do not fit. So our job is to smooth those links and teach them to work together to create authentic gameplay while preserving our modern infrastructure.
OG: I came across a very early code that I wrote when I started as a software engineer.As I am now much more experienced in my job, it was a great challenge for me to ignore my instinct, “clean up” my old work where it was not absolutely necessary. Many of our players have not only loving, but also very specific memories of how certain game mechanics work. A big part of our job is to reconcile the memories with the workings. It has been found that in many cases our memory was faulty or incomplete. Therefore, it is important for us to have an original build of 1.12 internally, which we can use as a reference. A concrete example of this was what happens when a sorcerer summons a demon while he has already summoned one. In the Blizzcon demo of “WoW Classic,” the demon did not disappear at the end as the spell began to work. In “Battle for Azeroth” the pet is despawn at the end of the spell. Many players reported this as a mistake or at least saw it as a contradiction to the original functioning of the summon, so we checked the problem based on player feedback. While many bug reports entered by players are correct, it turned out that this is not the case here. After a thorough review of our 1.12 reference code, we found that we had correctly replicated the classic behavior and that the demon pet actually disappears at the beginning of the spell.
BB: Yes, some of my own memories were also inaccurate. I thought the Warrior’s Charge would always get you into battle the way it does today. But it turned out that the charge (Rush) in “Classic” only activates the automatic attack, and only the offensive momentum actually triggers the fight. If you attack a neutral creature and turn off the Auto Attack while your character is still heading toward the enemy, he will come out of the Stun and then walk away as if you were not there , When I verified that on our reference server, I was shocked – but it shows that one’s own memory can be fooled after over 14 years.
CBS: How far are you in developing “WoW Classic”?
BB: We were very excited to present our progress in a demo at the Blizzcon and to be able to show our players the Barrens and Westfall in their classic looks again. We’ve shown players up to grade 19 for all classes, demonstrating that this approach can work.There is still a lot of work to do, including dungeons, guilds, and the auction house. But the basic parts now fit together. We are very confident that all active “WoW” subscribers will be able to travel to “Classic” from the summer of 2019.
OG: Over the last few weeks, we’ve been very focused on adjustments based on the feedback we got from the Blizzcon demo.
BB: Yes, the community was really helpful. We are blessed to have such enthusiastic and passionate fans!
CBS: Should “WoW Classic” be a success, do you also consider servers for “The Burning Crusade” and / or “Wrath of the Lich King”?
BB: There is still a lot of work to do to get “WoW Classic” done and everything is focused on that now. We’re always interested in feedback from the community, but currently have no plans for the time after the launch of Classic.
OG: We are very focused on delivering the best possible “Classic” experience. How “Classic” will evolve and change after launch is a discussion that will take place in cooperation with our community after the launch.
CBS: Do you want to get rid of “WoW Classic”?
BB: The classic “WoW” remains a great game that will appeal to both new players and players who have played it before. While we’re proud of all the enhancements, upgrades, and refinements we’ve added to “WoW” over the years, some gamers have longed for the distinctly different, often harder, style of play that “WoW” once identified.“WoW Classic” fills this gap. Many of today’s players have missed the classic “WoW” when it hit the market. We look forward to giving them the chance to see it the way it once was and to experience the challenge of exploring World of Warcraft. Personally, I can not wait to show it to my children.
OG: As great as the original “Word of Warcraft” was, what really made it special was the players. This project is in many ways a tribute to where many players started. “WoW” opened a new chapter in game culture at the time, and we want to create it not only as a faithful replica of those who played it back then, but also as a gateway to the past, available to a whole new generation.
CBS: Thanks for the interview!