Inside Blizzard with Preach Gaming - Creating a Dragon Isles for Everyone
vor 18 tagen
Preach Gaming has released another video following their
trip to Blizzard HQ in California
, which included an inside look at the workings of Blizzard Entertainment and interviews with several key developers. This latest video covers the creation of the Dragon Isles in the so-called
Third Era of Warcraft
More interviews are already being released on their
, though promised to reach Youtube in the coming weeks as well.
When Mike first started to look into Dragonflight, he noticed a fundamental change in how Blizzard has approached its development. And he wanted to get a real insight into the developers - the people who are actually making this game happen and building a world for us to live in. In this video, Mike will go behind the scenes into some of the key features of Dragonflight, including: the new talents, dragon flying and dungeon/raid design.
Creating a new expansion is a collaborative effort, and it takes risks. Dragonriding was one of those things that's hard to predict how the fans will react. Making WoW isn't a treadmill, it's a recipe that changes every time you try to make it. As executive managers and producers, their job is to give them everything they need to make the magic, along with some guard rails to support them. The process is to support the creatives in what the game can and should be.
The team has always wanted to go to the Dragon Isles and playable dragons have always been a popular discussion point, but there are a ton of ideas that fans and developers want to see make it into the game. When brainstorming new features for the expansion, one process for feedback was a voting system to see what employees are most interested in, then compared to community discussions. They like to do community surveys as well, but have to be careful, so that they don't spoil anything.
A theme of the Third Era is throwing out the old playbook. Many employees started years ago with rules in place as to what should be in an MMO, but a lot of that is going away. This isn't a new change though, Dragonflight is the result of a 2+ year journey inside Blizzard Entertainment.
Class and Talent Design with Brian Holinka and Graham Berger
In an online world where people share information and games form their own communities, the team expected that "cookie cutter" of "copy/paste" talent builds would become common, but it's also an opportunity for people to try new ideas outside of the box and buck the trend.
There will always be a group of players who set their talents and never change them again, but that's fine. Not everyone wants to swap things up regularly. That idea led to the inclusion of starter builds, which have been fairly well received, even if they aren't always the most optimal setups.
Classes had become very curated, with few choices or differences between players of the same spec - this was "easier" for the dev team. The new system puts a lot more power into the players hands, as well as freedom to define their character. Even the leveling experience feels fundamentally different, getting a little bit of progress with level up.
By Mists of Pandaria, the old talent trees had started to become bloated and cumbersome, with each expansion adding more on top of the previous one. It was getting overly complicated, and the idea at the time was to simplify things down to "meaningful choices".
Coming out of Shadowlands launch, particularly after the release of Classic reintroduced the concept of talent points every level, spell ranks, and so on, revitalized the idea of talent trees in the modern game.
When making the system, they specifically set it up to grow for several future expansions - adding new talent points or abilities. They tried several different approaches, but separating talents into two trees made everything much more manageable.
The talent trees were intentionally built up as a "greatest hits" of existing spells and abilities, pulled from soulbinds, conduits, azerite traits, legendaries, and so on. While there were plenty of brand new whacky ideas to add, they wanted things that felt fresh, but familiar, rather than scaring players away from the classes they know and love. As they continue to iterate, future expansions will probably add more original ideas.
Dragonriding with Ion Hazzikostas, Morgan Day, and Tina Wang
One of the tenants of design for Dragonflight was reexamining everything players have been asking for, and double/triple check that they're making the right decisions. In some cases, that involved overturning core philosophies about what should/not be account wide, the importance of investing in character progression, and so on. Maybe those things were right for the game 15 years ago, but they're not making players happy today.
One thing they heard from players was that there may be something they love, but something they hate gating them from doing it. In the past, Blizzard stubbornly held to the idea of integrated activities - that you shouldn't be able to just do one thing (raid log), but players weren't happy with it. Flying was one of those points.
The vibe of the whole Dragonflight expansion is meant to be a breath of fresh air and wide open exploration. They knew from the start, that none of it matters if the first five seconds doesn't make you think "this is awesome."
From the beginning they thought, is it even possible to make an expansion about dragons without flying? That led to them thinking about flying as a system, and how a new version of it could allow players to engage in the world in different ways. The old version was really just "swimming in the air" without anything really special about it, but there's something meaningful about Dragonriding causing players to engage with the environment.
Dragonriding has added a lot of gameplay depth over traditional flying, which has been embraced by art and level design teams - adding accessible peaks and interesting points of interest to discover while flying. Valdrakken being one of the highest points in the Isles was also a part of that, as its where players will bind their hearths and gives them a convenient launch point to head in any direction or zone.
The sense of speed was another interesting aspect of zone design. Westfall is a quarter of the size of Eastern Plaguelands, but feels much bigger than it actually is, due to most players experiencing it without a mount. The Dragon Isles is the biggest continent ever created in WoW, as they wanted to create something worthy of dragons, with the Azure Span measuring more than twice the size of Eastern Plaguelands, but the speed at which you travel while Dragonriding has a profound effect on that size still feeling traversable.
Another aspect of world design was the use of negative space. Around the time of Battle for Azeroth, the team started to realize how everything started to feel very clumped and cluttered, without a whole lot of space for amazing vistas and views of the world, which is something else they strived for in Dragonflight.
Quests Design with Paul Kubit and Maria Hamilton
There's a lot of freedom in quest design, and although there are many serious moments, they want moments of silliness and hilarity. Zone to zone, there's a large swath of feeling throughout the Dragon Isles; much of the Ohn'ahran Plains is focused on the story of the Centaur and their serious society, and then you're getting up to magical hijinks with Kalecgos and Khadgar in the Azure Span.
There was a questline in Cataclysm's Burning Steps in which the Dwarf Oralius spoke of seeing an imaginary character. Thinking it funny to add an in-game easer egg, the designers added a shapeshifting NPC, Captain Winky, regularly cycling through different appearances underneath the ground.... until players found a way to pull the NPC into the open game world. Although it took several years before players discovered it, the abuse was quickly fixed.
The quest team wants different people telling stories, creating more culture and variety into the game. The main story is more or less bullet pointed out, but local stories have much more freedom for the designers to add their own beats. Gameplay and pacing is also a factor, to ensure they're telling the story through gameplay and it matches what you're supposed to be doing. But then, it's still World of Warcraft, so killing stuff is still important and they need to find a place for combat to happen.
Rather than randomly pulling ideas out of a giant pot, the quest designers generally split into zone teams, with a level design point, a narrative point, and so on who all collaborate in order to figure out what should go into each. Some oversight will help ensure there's not too much overlap or reuse of ideas, but sometimes they'll come up with a cool connecting story, like sneaking the Tuskarr into Waking Shores - representing them differently to reflect the fact that they've been cut off from the main tribe in the Azure Span.
Many of the solo features of the game are still designed with the idea of other players in mind. Despite the battles being solo, even the Brawler's Guild was group feature, with the intent that players would spend some time watching others succeed or fail, place some bets, or enable collaborative bonuses for each other. Fishing is another activity that is done solo, but often feels better in a group - Dragonflight leaned into that aspect with fishing holes, lunkers, and ice hole fishing.
The team talks about questing hot spots a lot, places or things that will draw players together in the same world space. Public events like the community feasts or great hunts, and even rare mobs are all parts of that.
Some players see questing as a means to an end, a hurdle to speed over in order to reach the end game activities, but there's no such thing as the average WoW player. Everyone is interested in different things - some love to soak up the lore and read every bit of quest text. They try to design for both, entertaining for those who want to read every line of dialogue, while still understandable and enjoyable for those who speed through. A lot of that comes down to environmental storytelling, along with spoken dialogue or important quest titles to help explain the ongoing story, even for those who don't read all the text.
The team tries to have a good breadth of content for everyone as well, experimenting with different cadences for players who can only log on once a week, as well as those who log in every single day. This is always a work in progress though, and players don't always do what you'd expect, so the team is looking forward to seeing how players react to content in Dragonflight. Withered Army Training was an example of that - a haphazard feature held together by the tools of the time, but proved so popular that it helped lead to the creation of new tools used to create scenarios like the Death of Chromie and Horrific Visions. Ideas are super easy to come by, but eventually a decision has to be made as to where to focus.
Cutscenes can serve a lot of different roles. Zone finale is a big one and kind of the classic example, but they can also be used for setup to help a big moment land, or as an interlude in between story beats. Back in the day, quest designers created their own (such as the Hidden Master in Mists of Pandaria), but they now have a professional cinematography team creating them and continually learning what does and does not work in World of Warcaft. There's a cadence to it: you can have too many cutscenes, or cutscenes that are too long.
Dungeon & Raid Design with Morgan Day and Tina Wang
On the art side, there was a desire of returning to home after Shadowlands, taking inspiration from WoW Classic and well loved aspects of Azeroth. The first pull in Vault of the Incarnates is a dragon assault, pulled from Grim Batol, but featuring molten giants reminiscent of Molten Core - which made sense for the Dragon Isles being a continent full of primal power and the Primalists themselves being elemental themed.
They tend to look at dungeons as holistic experiences, with any one dungeon representing one theme, which is fine for players spending 20-40 minutes in there at a time. Raids need to be more diverse, half of it may be made up of a single main theme, but then there are separate pieces like Sennarth's ice spider cavern shaking things up, to keep the zone from feeling too one dimensional.
There have been functional changes with the way players interact with dungeons. They still want immersive and cinematic elements in their dungeon, but have moved away from a lot of mechanical aspects in order to make everything work smoothly in the modern game. If players need to loot a key to open a door, what happens when the player holding that key leaves the dungeon? You may not have to collect the
Stab der Prähistorie
to open the way to
in the new Uldaman dungeon, but the Lost Vikings still play that unlocking role in the Legacy of Tyr - ramming into the pillar to crash open the door for you.
The Mythic+ aspect also plays a factor, as players try to find ways to optimize the downtime time, and they don't have to worry about inexperienced players matching with experienced ones, trying to figure out who has the staff and if they know where to use it.
From an art perspective, they try their best to create their own sense of immersion within the dungeon environment as well. Uldaman is full of murals telling their own stories, which many players will overlook, but might happen to discover their fourth, fifth, or hundredth time through. Some of the team's favorite dungeons are underground labyrinths in which players can completely get lost in, while others are big open outside zones which eschew the typical hallway - boss - hallway design.
The team tries to look at dungeons from a holistic perspective, to make sure they have enough variety across all of them. Content and systems are also very tied together - build diversity tends to shrink while pushing an infinite scaling system, and so they want to create opportunities for different archetypes to be successful. It's not a coincidence that Maldraxxus dungeons had small pulls and big lieutenants to help emphasize single target specialists, while other dungeons were built differently. If every dungeon fit into the same mold, then players would be forced to as well.
Hard to answer specifically, but Holly Longdale wants us to feel like we're living in Azeroth. They might not yet entirely know what that means yet, but that's the dream to chase. Their goal is to be better, with everything they do.
For the franchise, WoW is the tentpole game. That's where the new storytelling, zones, races, and characters come from. John Hight wants the team to double down on the story of WoW, invest in the characters, and have long term planning across multiple expansions - create big arcs beyond just one expansion at a time.
They're giving the creative team more opoprtunities for storytelling than they've done in the past, and they have far more people working to do it than ever before.
Long term, they're looking at new technology and social gaming are going in the next 5-10 years, and how it can be incorporated into WoW.
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