I got the honor of being asked by Beckett MOG to visit Blizzard’s Headquarters in Irvine California for an all day presentation and hands-on for World of Warcraft’s latest upcoming expansion Cataclysm a few weeks ago (I couldn’t tell you at the time due to an NDA). I begged my boss to take the day off from work, drove up to Irvine, and spent 2-hours in a private Q&A with 20 other guys and gals from the press and seven of WoW’s most influential minds. After that was over, we spent an hour eating lunch with the PR guys in the Blizzard cafeteria, and then got a 5-hour hands-on session with the latest build. During that time, we toured the facility and each spent 20 minutes with a different person for a one-on-one interview. Unfortunately there was a moderator, so we couldn’t just ask anything… hehe.

I wrote a 2800 word article, which will be featured in the next issue of Beckett Massive Online Gamer covering all the changes you’ve no doubt already been reading about on MMO Champion and other sites, which also includes a 600-word writeup on the new Worgan starter area. Be sure to pickup a copy at your local newsstand when it comes out!

I also wrote a short writeup of the Goblin starter area, which has been available for some time in the Alpha test, for IGN’s WoW Vault, which was published last week.

Read on for an Interview that I did with Lead System’s Designer, Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street, that can only be found here on my personal site! The first part of the Interview that focuses specifically on Ghostcrawler had to be omitted since it will be published in the next issue of Beckett’s MOG (he called forum trolls assholes!!), but the rest that focuses exclusively on the Cataclysm expansion has been published below.

Sprawl: Why these two races? There is no pretty race, so to speak, as a few of my female friends have pointed out.

Ghostcrawler: We started with a really long list of potential races of the two sides and when it came down to it the horde didn’t have a little race kinda like the gnomes. Goblins have a little bit of the comedy relief there. They can be a little bit of silly, but they can be vicious too, which kinda gives them a little bit of a twist that I love. We really like the Goblins for the Horde. They weren’t a race we had to create from scratch like the Draenei. Players, everyone knows what Goblins are.

Then on the Alliance side, we wanted something that would bring a little bit of darkness. Part of the fun that our quest designers and storytellers have is the Forsaken on the Horde side because it is not always clear if they are on the same side or not. They are kinda doing their own thing a lot. We thought it would be fun to have a race like that. The other races of the alliance tend to be so united that we wanted to have someone in there that is causing a little bit of trouble. And we kinda thought having a monstrous Worgan who is a little short-tempered and a little bit feral.

Sprawl: I was actually just playing Goblin starter area just a little bit ago and I noticed that a lot of the quests are getting away from that “kill 10″ or “collect 10″ and your starting to use newer mechanics. How do you keep it fresh?

Ghostcrawler: We just have very, very talented quest designers and they have been doing this long enough that they can create, and kinda know what feels old and stale, and what is new and exciting. But then they also know to pace it a bit. We can’t have too many crazy quests in a row or it gets to be a bit exhausting. Like some of the feedback that we heard about the Goblin area start zone is players saying, “You know, sometimes I just want to cast frost bolt. You aren’t letting me kill things often enough.” So we are trying to get things a little more back to the norm.

But you know, it really has been a fun zone to work on because we can do some really different styles of quests with them.

Sprawl: Have we redone all the quests throughout the entire Azeroth in the case of revamping hubs and redoing whole level experiences for other races?

Ghostcrawler: Yeah, the whole thing. We made sure to hit all of the start zones for everyone. Now they aren’t quite as epic as the Goblin and Worgan start zones. We didn’t do quite as much with the crazy phasing and things like that, but they are very different than they used to be. And even players that played the Draenei and Blood Elf start zones for the Burning Crusade will find that now the Human, Worgan, and Undead start zones are even better than those in terms of telling an exciting story and having meaningful question progression and things like that.

I talk a lot about Westfall on the Human sid, it’s just one of the best zones in WoW now, in Cataclysm. Players are just not going to believe what is going on in that zone.

Sprawl: Any hints?

Ghostcrawler: It’s entirely new.

Well, storywise, what has happened is that king, the new king has done a lot of good for Stormwind. Although some of his policies has caused some pain for his citizens as well, and Westfall has kinda become a place where the malcontent has gone. There are a lot of poor people, lots of transients. The zone is now filled with hobos. Some of them are upset and protesting, and some of them are just trying to find their next meal. And there is this lawlessness that almost seems like it’s going to erupt into a civil war or something like that.

That is a lot of what the Westfall story is.

Sprawl: Are you guys considering giving us flying sooner now that people will be leveling up and playing in areas that can support flying?

Ghostcrawler: Well we are going to let all players fly at level 60. I think if they purchase the Cataclysm box, they will be able to fly in the old world at 60. They won’t have to get all the way to 80 first before it will unlock. As they are leaving to go into the Burning Crusade content, they will be able to fly around a little bit.

Sprawl: A flying spell? I saw the developer use one in the demo earlier.

Ghostcrawler: No, we are still sticking with mounts for now. We have the druid that can use a spell to fly and we want to be careful not to overdo that because players really like collecting mounts.

Sprawl: In the presentation we saw earlier, we touched on all kinds of things like the new rated battlegrounds, but we never really touched on Arena. Anything new coming for the players interested in this form of progression?

Ghostcrawler: We are not going to make a new Arena map yet. We’ve got to make sure that we are very careful with adding these as we’ve had growing pains trying to add Ring of Valor to our existing stable arena maps. So we’ll probably add new ones eventually, but for now we want to stick with focusing on our PvP balance and how to integrate the new rated battleground system. It’s going to affect it somehow. We don’t want arena players to feel as though they are being forgotten or that they are the bastard or something like that. We want to provide a really good game for people that are into that.

Sprawl: In the new rated battlegrounds that we were talking about, are they a separate but equal way to progress as Arena?

Ghostcrawler: Yes, while you needed what we used to call Arena points we are now calling Conquest points. Basically you get Conquest points for winning Arenas or winning rated battlegrounds and then those buy the same gear.

Sprawl: And honor is still…?

Ghostcrawler: Honor is still honor. Think of it as the equivalent to Frost to Triumph badges we have for the PvE zone. One buys like the best possible gear, and one buys kind last season’s gear but are useful if you need to fill in the gaps or if you are a new player coming up.

Sprawl: Tell me more about the Conquest system. Is it you kill people and earn points?

Ghostcrawler: You actually need to win the battleground to get points. You will get a small amount for losing; I think a few points for losing. We don’t ever penalize your rating for losing because we recognize that even though you are kind of putting your own team together, it is a lot harder for you individually to affect the outcome of a 25-player team as it is on say a 3-player Arena team, so the points only go up. They can’t really go down until you are at the very, very high end. And we don’t want players to feel like it is a grindy affair.

One of the things I really like with Arena is that you can do your games and be done with it. You don’t feel like you gotta do another game, and another game. We want that feel with rated battlegrounds. We expect people to say pick Saturday night as their rated battlegrounds night, and finish them up and be done. And if they haven’t earned their maximum points that week, maybe they will do an Arena to fill in the gap.

Sprawl: And the seasons are analogous to the Arena season?

Ghostcrawler: It’s all a part of the same season. There is basically a PvP season now. At the end of your season, all of your current conquest points will turn into honor points, and then you can start earning new conquest points.

Sprawl: A lot of the UI changes in the expansion, at least from our point of view, seem to come from the addons that we use and love. When are you guys going to bite the bullet and incorporate the entire Armory so I can stop tabbing out?

Ghostcrawler: Yeah, a big one is inspecting other players. It is really painful and has a lot of limitations as to how far away we can do it whereas if you can just tab out and go to the Armory, it is a lot easier to inspect anyone, so we’d love to integrate the data from there. We have to be really careful for security reasons letting too much HTML spill into WoW. There is a bit of a barrier there for now, but we think about it all the time. Now that we have a real Battle.Net team, we can support that kind of stuff. I predict we will get a lot more of that going forward, but I don’t want to promise anything for Cataclysm. Things like the Mobile Armory that we’ve recently introduced, we want to do a lot more of that hopefully.

Sprawl: What was it about the Path of the Titans progression system and the Guild Talent trees that were introduced in previous BlizzCons or press events that motivated getting rid of them?

Ghostcrawler: Well those were the kind of designs that sounded great on paper. We think about stuff a lot before we get to the implementation phase and we thought those ideas were pretty solid but when we started to get into the implementation phase we found that there were things that just bugged us a little about them.

With Paths specifically, we were worried about the pressure for players to level up too quickly to get to the end point, because some feel like now that they leveled 80-85 they would now have to complete this extra level of progression before they can “start having fun”. We didn’t want players to say, “We can’t go into battlegrounds or I can’t start raiding yet because I’ve got to finish. Even though I’m 85, I still have to do these other steps.”

We were also worried about making it enough of an option to players and not steps that were mandatory. And we were also just worried about sticking a whole new system on top of a complicated game already. The further we got into the development of Paths we realized what we were really talking about was offering Glyphs in a way that is better than the current Glyph System.

Part of the problem of the current Glyph system is we have say 30 major glyphs for a class but you can only choose 3. Picking 3 items out of 30 just feels really weird because there are 90% that you can’t use. We think a better system would be if there were 6 types of glyphs and every time you were choosing 3 out of 6 or 3 out of 10 where you’re not excluding so many. And that way you’re not always trading off. If you’ve got the glyph of Sinister Strike that makes Sinister Strike hit harder anything that affects an ability you don’t use as often is going to seem unattractive. It just can’t compete with that, and if it does, it has to be like +10000 because you use it so seldom or it’s not worth it.

A better way to have done the glyphs in the first place would have been allowing you to choose the Glyph of Sinister Strike as your Major glyph, but then you have these other choices of glyph where you aren’t necessarily competing power vs. power. You can pick more utility or defense for other uses. The more we really started working on that, the more we realized we were really just focusing on Glyph content itself. So let’s go ahead and get Glyphs to where we would like them first and let’s keep the path of Titans idea, because we like it, but we will get to it maybe in the future; Maybe a patch or 5.0, or something like that.

Sprawl: If you had to put a number to it, what percentage would you say Cataclysm is complete?

Ghostcrawler: Wow… that is a really good question. Um…

It depends a lot on what you are looking at. In terms of zones, the Twilight Highlands and Uldum are not completed yet to the point where if you went there as a player, there is no quests, there are no NPCs, they aren’t even there yet.

Classes are a lot further completed, but then we spend a lot of iteration on the classes. I might say the class spells and talent trees are 90% completed. We are down to finishing up Hunter and Mage, but we iterate a lot of them through the course of beta whereas a zone like Uldum is done, we’ll move quests around and NPCs, but we aren’t going to take the Pyramid and slide it around. That kind of stuff just usually doesn’t happen at this phase.

We are different parts done. A lot of the Art isn’t done yet; a lot of standing art for creatures and items still. For just content, we know what a lot of the problems are. There aren’t a lot of risks, just things like getting the art into the game.

Sprawl: So what hasn’t been touched yet?

Ghostcrawler: I’ll have to think about that for a second. We’ve gotten both battlegrounds working. We’ve gotten 5-man dungeons. Raids? We haven’t done a lot with raid balance yet because a lot of that depends on classes that aren’t stable enough yet. We are still making big changes to tank survivability and healing. We have ideas on how the boss encounters will play but a lot of those spells and things like that haven’t been done. So that isn’t completely there. Archeology… that’s not yet playable in the game. We know how it’s gonna work but we are going to iterate on that a lot. But players will probably start the beta without Archeology.

Sprawl: Achievements are really successful and it really seems like Archeology is playing along those same lines but adding more rewards?

Ghostcrawler: Absolutely! People that like Achievements will like Archeology. Achievements feel kinda meta-gammy and doesn’t always fit. You can’t say “Why does my Tauren care if I complete this achievement?” You can a bit more with Archeology because it exists more in the game space, but we think it will appeal to the same type of player that says “Well, I got this bar and I gotta fill in this bar”. It does offer some power games as well. It won’t feel as mandatory as maximizing your Leatherworking to get some recipe.

Archeology will be like cooking or fishing where players will dabble in it. Some will take it very seriously and try to finish it, and some will just never touch it. I have characters that have 1 out of 500 cooking.

Sprawl: How is the story going to progress from where we are now with the Lich King to this whole Cataclym with Death Wing? Do I face Death Wing at the end?

Ghostcrawler: You will face Death Wing. You won’t face him at the end of 4.0. He will be our version of the Lich King. You will be facing off against some of his minions, certainly Twilight Dragons and the Twilight Hammer, which is this whole organization that has risen up to support Old gods and Death Wing specifically. There are going to be major villains, as well as a huge Elemental story as a part of Cataclysm. The Elemental Gods escaping from their planes and being unleashed upon Azeroth. There are elemental gods that are kinda on your side, like the Water Lord, and there are some like Ragnaros that are the enemy of the player, that you will have dispatch.

We are going to be doing the Fire Lands raid in 4.1. So that is when players will go back, instead of Molten Core, they will go back to Ragnaro’s home castle and fight him on his own terms. Much more powerful, with better graphics.

Sprawl: As you are working on this expansion, what thoughts, ideas, or even development goes towards the next expansion?

Ghostcrawler: Oh yeah, we start joking about it already about what we are going to do for 5.0. And is it a new class, or do we add a new races? Are we going to go to level 90 or 95? We try to start that early. One of the things that will happen is that pretty soon the level artists, the dungeon artists, will be done with their stuff and then the encounter guys go in and start working on the boss encounters. But the dungeon designers, the artist themselves, will be finish and so they can sit around for three months doing nothing, or they can start in on the next. We will have additional raids and even additional zones for Cataclysm but it really helps us if they can get a head start on that and that they are not sitting idle waiting for us to decide. At this point we still have a lot of very broad ideas. Is this a new continent? Where are we going to go with it?