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Thread: MoP Press Tour -- Interview with J. Allen Brack

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    MoP Press Tour -- Interview with J. Allen Brack

    Last week, at the MoP press tour, we got the opportunity to interview J. Allen Brack, World of Warcraft's Product Director. In this interview, we asked him about the rate of patch releases in MoP, PvE Scenarios, MoP's raid offerings, and more!

    Read on after the break for the full interview transcription, plus some questions not included in the video!


    TankSpot: So a lot of the stuff we’ve seen so far with Mists of Pandaria, with the focus on “getting the War back into Warcraft” etc, it seems like PvP is becoming a major focus. Is that accurate, or is that just the storyline that the game is taking?

    J. Allen Brack: I don’t think it’s accurate that we’re focusing more on PvP as to exclude PvE. I think there are definitely PvP elements that we’re introducing, but I think it’s much more about the story and the tone that we’re gonna have with the expansion as opposed to any kind of specific content or system decision.

    TS: The Annual Pass was extremely successful. Are there any plans for a future Annual Pass after the 1-year term is up on the current one?

    JAB: We haven’t talked about that. I think the WoW Annual Pass came out of just sort of thinking about the opportunity for Diablo coming out, and thinking there’s gonna be a lot of loyal WoW players who want to play Diablo and thinking about how to make that a compelling offer. Will we do something like that in the future? I’m sure we will. What is it? I have no idea. We haven’t really even started thinking about what that would be like.

    I think people might say “Hey, we need to do a Starcraft and WoW [annual pass]”. I don’t know that that makes too much sense. I think the venn diagram of overlap between Starcraft players and WoW players may be a little bit smaller than Diablo.

    TS: World of Warcraft has been out for 7 ½ years now, and obviously in development even before that, but still extremely successful. How does the game having been around for so long, and so established at this point, affect the sort of design changes and direction you need to take the game?

    JAB: I think that kind of goes back to how we ended up with Mists of Pandaria as this expansion. We’ve done three expansions in a row where there’s been a focus on a huge, malevolent evil -- a huge bad guy who wants to do terrible, terrible things to the player. We wanted to change the tone of that, and say “Hey, we’re not gonna focus on this bad guy as the ‘big uber’”. We’re going to focus on a new land, and it’s about exploration, and it’s about adventuring in this new land. It’s about “what’s over the next hill, in this new continent I’ve never seen before?” with the background story of “we need to claim this territory, and we need to harvest resources from it, because we need to fuel our war machine back in Stormwind or Orgrimmar.” So that’s kind of going back to your first question about the PvP aspect of the storyline. It’s much more about the land grab, and if you sort of think back to colonial times with the discovery of the new world and what happened there, that’s the kind of pieces we’re thinking about.

    TS: One of the things that was mentioned during the presentation earlier, Chris Metzen was talking about how the “box product” was going to basically be the theme that’s been talked about so far with the voyage to Pandaria, and then content patches would be furthering the story beyond that. What kind of release timeline do you think that would be along the lines of? One of the things that had been talked about around patch 4.1 was the idea of “smaller patches, more frequently” and that kind of fell by the wayside with Dragon Soul and so on. Is that something you guys want to get back into?

    JAB: It’s definitely something that we’re interested in. I would love for us to be doing patches significantly more often. Right now we’re averaging about every 4 months. I would love for us to do more frequent patches than that. I think it’s kind of hard for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that we’ve got a lot of history of WoW, and there’s a player expectation and a community expectation of “What does it mean for us to release a patch?”, but I’m very interested in changing that dynamic and changing that expectation so that we can have big patches, we can have small patches, and we can have medium sized patches which we don’t really do right now.

    TS: And then obviously when you have a smaller patch people go “Is this all that was in this patch?” and then you have a big patch and they’re like “Why did you wait so long?” I’ve been around the community a couple times myself, I know exactly what they do.

    JAB: Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of feedback we get.

    TS: So PvE scenarios were talked about a little bit. I’m still a little unclear on the idea. When they were originally announced it sounded almost like a public quest sort of thing, like out in the world you’d come across these and have to do something, but from the presentation it sounds like they’re going to be instanced.

    JAB: Yeah, they’re going to be queued. You’ll queue up for them and they’ll be instanced. The difference is, when you think about dungeons, sometimes we’ll have a dungeon that’s just a very small hole in the ground, and then you go in and you’re in the dungeon. Our thought right now is that you won’t have very many dungeon-type things -- you’ll actually have this area in the world that you’ll learn and have a quest from and maybe it becomes a scenario for you later on, or something in that area becomes a scenario for you later on. But you will queue and you will be matchmade with various players in order to complete scenarios.

    The idea is that it’s a very small, kind of 20-minute little adventure that happens irrespective of role. So there’s no real consideration for tank, or dps, or healer. It’s just “are there 3 people who want to do this 3 person scenario? Great!” and they’re on their way to the scenario.

    TS: So it’s more of a drop in/drop out, sort of instant “I’ve just logged in to World of Warcraft and would like to play” sort of thing.

    JAB: Yeah, exactly.

    TS: Along those same lines it was mentioned that there was going to be a relationship between the scenarios and the Brewmasters, like finding Brewmasters out in the world.

    JAB: So that’s an example of a specific scenario, where you have that Brewmaster who’s trying to make the special ale. That’s just one specific scenario. But there’s a lot of different ideas that we have for scenarios. The thing that we talked about back in the day was like “What if there’s an invasion of Goldshire, and the gnolls are invading and you have to save the children while the gnolls invade” in this little Goldshire scenario. That’s something we could definitely do. That doesn’t really have anything to do necessarily with... like, whatever comes up that makes sense from a story perspective for a scenario and is going to be a fun adventure for players, we can do that with that system.

    TS: It does seem like something that you guys can put together a lot quicker and easier in certain situations, so you guys can put them out more often. That’s the impression I got.

    JAB: Yeah, I think that’s something that we’d love to do, is to figure out how to release scenarios a lot more frequently.

    TS: It was mentioned in the presentation earlier that there would be 3 raid instances and 14 bosses, which is a very nice number I’m personally very happy with as a raider. Is there anything more you can tell us about that? It seemed like it kind of got glossed over in the presentation.

    JAB: Yeah, that’s because we haven’t done a lot of the work yet, and so we’re reluctant to commit to a whole bunch because things may change for us, but we’re working on spawning out the dungeons, we’re working on spawning out the various raids, and building those out. Those take many, many, many months to be built out from an artists’ perspective. Then we’ve got all the itemization, and all the character art that has to happen, from weapons, and armor, and bosses, and trash mobs that we have to make and dress up in order to make that happen.

    We also have a new raiding philosophy that we haven’t finished designing yet and haven’t really talked about. How lockouts are gonna work, how are valor point caps going to work, that type of stuff. We haven’t really spent all the time we need to really figure out what that’s going to be for this expansion yet.

    TS: So you are in discussions about possibly changing how the raid lockouts work?

    JAB: Sure. I think we’re gonna look at how the 10/25 person lockout worked as a shared cooldown. Was that the right decision, or do we want to do something different? I don’t really know what the right answer is yet. We haven’t decided.

    TS: You also mentioned that you’re doing LFR right out of the gate.

    JAB: Yeah, so that was something that we thought would be really successful with 4.3. We’re really happy with the performance of it. We’re really happy with the idea of having this easier mode that you can just kind of get in, and be matchmade automatically, and go on and be successful with. And then having the normal mode for players to do and then the ultra heroic for the hardcore guys, and have special rewards for those and those type of achievements.

    TS: Awesome. Yeah, just as a side note, tier 11 was one of my favorite tiers of raiding ever, and I actually think that it would have been almost perfect if there had been that LFR mode also because that would have given the more casual players a lot more to do.

    JAB: Totally.

    TS: So everything looks to be at least mostly along in development. One thing mentioned during the presentation was that 4 or 5 of the zones are already fully quested out. Does that mean we could be looking at a beta sometime soon?

    JAB: It does, yeah. We’re still trying to figure out when the beta is actually going to happen, what the rules for that’s going to be, how we’re going to invite all the people that are going to be invited into the beta, but it is something that we’re interested in getting into players’ hands as soon as possible. We’ve got zones that are fully quested out and we feel like we’ve got a couple in the pipe at this point. We’re starting to think about “when can beta be, what can be the timeframe for that? What do we need to do in order to get ready?”

    TS: That brings up another question. Like I mentioned earlier, there was like a million people who signed up for the annual pass. How does that go into beta?

    JAB: <grinning> Uhh, I don’t know today... <laughs> but I will be smarter later as we figure that out and kind of decide and discuss exactly how we’re going to do that. It’s definitely going to be the largest beta we’ve ever done for any Warcraft expansion, so on one hand that’s very exciting, on the other hand... how do we get a million people in? I have no idea right now, so that’s definitely something we’re talking about. We’ll figure it out.

    TS: It’s almost like, “How would you like to launch World of Warcraft again?”

    JAB: Yeah, it’s a pretty challenging prospect actually to think about that many people all wanting to play at once.

    TS: One thing that a few of us have been talking about is the idea of World of Warcraft as an esport, especially since Starcraft 2 has been so immensely successful as an esport. Is that a direction that you see the game moving in at some point, or trying to help facilitate?

    JAB: I think we do try to help facilitate it, and we do try to help have it grow. It’s challenging because, from a design standpoint, we are not in the same league as Starcraft in terms of competitive [play]. There’s a lot more dials in Starcraft in terms of competitive tuning and that being what that game is about than there are in our game. So I think Starcraft will probably be a superior esport, but we definitely have interest in WoW as an esport. We do have the Blizzcon finals every year, we do have the qualifying tournaments, and we do have the WoW arena pass which allows players to instantly compete in a pure, even skill type basis for that stuff. So, it’s definitely something we’re excited about and try to invest time and energy into.

    TS: Has there possibly been any thought along the lines of putting like a... well, now we have cross-realm matchmaking especially with the BattleTags system coming into place. Has there been any thought into putting in like a spectator mode in that sort of situation?

    JAB: We have. It’s challenging to do, and then it opens up all kinds of questions like “How many spectators can you have? How does that work? How do you control yourself? Are you just a floating camera?” So there’s a lot of things that come up as ideas for what the potential challenges for that are. But yeah, we definitely would like to do that. It’s something that Starcraft does better than most games out there. The replay system is incredible.

    TS: Yeah, I actually cast Starcraft matches myself from time to time, so it’s something that for the record, I’d love to push World of Warcraft in the esport direction.

    JAB: Yeah, so I mean... like right now we have the videos as really the only way to do it because we really don’t have the ability to kind of capture footage, and capture stuff in the way that Starcraft does, because Starcraft was engineered from the very beginning to have that. WoW was not, and so the technical hurdle on a replay-type system in the vein of Starcraft is crazy challenging.

    TS: So the female Pandaren model looks great. Actually, the first thing I thought when I saw it was “Well, that looks like a female Pandaren” which I’m pretty sure is what everybody was going for with making a female Pandaren, so...

    JAB: That’s great to hear. It’s one of those things where you talk about it and debate a lot in terms of where that right kind of balance is. I’m super happy with the model as well. I think it turned out fantastically. There’s definitely a subjective element to it, if you think about “What does a female Pandaren look like?” That’s kind of a weird question to think about from an artistic perspective, so yeah. I’m really happy.

    TS: Is there any possibility of maybe the pre-Cataclysm player models getting some updates?

    JAB: That is something that’s been on our list and the list of the art director for many years. We would love to do that, because if you look at like the Cataclysm, or even the Burning Crusade -- the blood elf and the draenei models -- they’re just so much better than the original models. So we would definitely like to figure out a way to have the time to do that. One of the problems is our character models are probably one of the hardest things for us to do, because they’re your player, so everyone has a lot of opinions. Some of them are subjective, some of them are objective, and it just requires some of our most skilled artists that we have to do it.

    TS: Yeah I actually played an orc back when there was the orc shoulder model bug, so there was like two months where I was like...

    JAB: Sad panda.

    TS: It just looked so incredibly wrong.

    JAB: Sad panda has a whole new meaning now...

    TS: You can actually play a sad panda if you want.

    JAB: Yeah.

    TS: Speaking of pandas actually, I had a level 85 Pandaren Monk that I was playing around on earlier, and I noticed that there was still a lot of like “what is this world, where have we come to” when I was questing around... as a Pandaren, who presumably would know what Pandaria was. Is that something that is just going to kind of happen, and is just kind of weird, and we kind of have to deal with?

    JAB: Yeah, it is, because the idea that we have for the starting Pandaren is that they start their life, and they grew up on the turtle, and then they migrate to Pandaria. So native Pandarens, who are on Pandaria, will obviously have knowledge of the world, but you, as a new Pandaren, coming from having lived on the back of a turtle your entire life, don’t have any knowledge of that traditional home.

    TS: Is there anything new coming for the World of Warcraft Remote in the future? Personally I was looking at the Pet Battle system and going, “I would love to play that on my iPhone” or something like that.

    JAB: I think that’s a good idea. It’s something that we definitely have talked about and I would love to do someday. We did introduce the guild chat as the most recent feature we’ve introduced to that. Pet Battle is definitely something we’ve talked about.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Wow, it will be a long, long time before this launches - I don't like the sound of "many, many, many months"; it seems like they have concept done but none of the leg work.

    We're looking at DS for a long time.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2008
    The background music makes it very difficult to hear what is being said.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Ugh. What's with the music. Can't hear anything else!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Great interview. But sadly, I have to agree with others about the music. It's nice on it's own, but not great as a background for the interview. Please, please consider lowering the volume or not putting it there at all... especially for us who don't come from English speaking countries and need to pay extra attention to understand the people you interviewed. Thanks.

    And thank you for bringing us all the fresh news

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Yeah, you need to tone down the -pH, very hard to hear him. As for the Pandaren being ignorant of Pandaria, I think of it like this; ethnically Chinese kid who grew up in America is just as lost in China as anyone else would be.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2009
    What's with the music ? Rly, tankspot ? rly ?!

  8. #8
    Apologies for the audio. I'm bad at interviews

    Hopefully at least the text is acceptable!
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  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2009
    You think we're going to be Dragon Souling until November/December? If that's the case, I can see a sharp drop in subscriptions in late Q2 into Q3 while people wait for the release.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2011


    Lots of interesting stuff here. But lets focus on the negative. I have worries when Blizz says they are going to focus on the exploration part of the game. When they redid the world for Cataclysm they attempted to do the same and failed miserably. To fill the void of the the old areas of Azeroth the placed in quest hubs for the new classes and for new players of any class. That was good for current players leveling alts as many of them made goblins or worgens, but what Blizz didnt do was make a real reason for anyone to occupy those areas afterwards.

    Essentially they shrunk the world down to Stormwind and Ogrimmar. Before Cataclysm at least some of the population hung out in Iron Forge and Under City. Cata created a void three times the size of the one they were trying to fill. What good is exploration if you see it all the first time through. What good is all the effort put into a zone if there is no reason to go back to it. Most areas if you go to it, will be just you and a large handful of farming bots.

    I just dont have faith that Blizzard will come up with anything to keep the areas populated, even in the Panderia zones. There looked to be hope when they said they would add events, but that was killed when they said they would be cued and instanced. In two expansions they managed to create an instanced world similar to the original Guild Wars in an open world. I don't see how they can keep saying the things they do and keep getting the opposite effect of their said efforts. Maybe instead of stealing good ideas from other games and ruining them by making them cued content, why not try stealing their game designers so that they can someone to come up with good ideas for them.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2009
    I still keep some toons in IF and Dal - I really like them much better than SW. I miss when IF had lots of people.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Haaang on. So the annoying music was intentional to prevent your questions from being audible?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    -_-', no he's saying he's bad at interviews, meaning he hasn't had much practice on how to set up the audio to properly capture the voice of his interviewee's.

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  14. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    But why not just post the interview without any music? Surely that's easier which means it's a more appropriate thing to do than adding music?

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    Why post the interview with no music? The question can be switched back that way; because he wanted to.

    Lore's using Negative PH music, which is Mike B's music, in his video. Why he is using it is probably better for him to answer that; I personally think it's to give attention to Mike B's music myself, but in the end, it was Lore that decided to put the music there.

    It'll be fine for some users; others may be thrown off like yourself. It's a hit/miss thing and he decided that he wanted to put music in. The quality of the interview was possibly lower but Lore might not have known just how much it would sound disjointed. To him, it might have sound fine and you could still hear it. To me, I did not have any problems or wasn't distracted by the music and heard what the answers were to the questions well enough, albeit the quality was a little poor.

    It's a preference thing honestly.

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  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Hey guys, just wanted to check in and say that the music was put in by my choice since I was the one who actually edited the video. I apologize for some of the issue you guys have in hearing some of the interviews. Believe me when I say I did EVERYTHING possible to bump up the audio as loud as I possibly could in the editing software I use.

    I even went as far as bringing down the music to -40db, but in the end I guess it wasn't enough. In the end I choose to leave the music in the piece because it was a format thing I used across the board with both Tankspot and Wowhead's videos, but will consider leaving it out the next time around.

    Thanks for your concerns

    -The Editor

  17. #17
    Hello!!! Good post!!!!!!

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