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Interview: Blizzard quest designer talks World of WarCraft: Mists of Pandaria

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Blizzard Entertainment used its annual BlizzCon fan festival to tease fans of its massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, World of WarCraft, with the latest expansion to Azeroth. Dave Kosak, lead quest designer for World of Warcraft, talks about what’s in store for WoW fans with this latest expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria.

“We have the Pandaren race and the Monk class, which lets everybody live out their martial art movie fantasies,” said Kosak. “That alone is pretty crazy. We have new dungeons and raids. We have a new challenge mode for dungeons that allows people to really play through and test their skills with timed dungeon runs and have some bragging rights afterwards. This new expansion will allow people to level up to Level 90, which fans are very excited about it. And we’re introducing a new pet combat system.”

Kosak said the new pet battle system is a great way to engage players who wouldn’t be into hardcore raiding.

“This is something to get them engaged with the world,” explained Kosak. “They can collect pets. They can really do something. It gets a lot of gameplay out of it that isn’t hardcore. At the same time, I think our hardcore content is some of the best in the industry, absolutely. We really do try and appeal to a wide variety of people. I think it shows over time.”

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On top of that, Kosak said the team has been able to push the visuals beyond what Cataclysm was able to accomplish.

“We have absolutely one of the most gorgeous worlds we’ve ever built in World of Warcraft,” said Kosak. “The continent of Pandaria is absolutely stunning. The world that they inhabit has very Asian-inspired, lush environments. It’s going to be a lot of fun to explore.”

Blizzard originally introduced the Pandaren race in Warcraft III. They’ve always been part of the World of Warcraft mythology. Kosak said they’ve been one of the most requested features from players over the years. When Blizzard asked players, “What do you want to see?” By far, the most common answer was they really wanted to see Pandaria.

“We’ve been excited about bringing this to life for a long time,” said Kosak. “We’ve waited until now. We’ve really brought them to life with a whole continent and a whole world. The Pandaren people are just cool. They’re just really interesting and fun to play with. They love life. They embrace life to the fullest. They eat hard, drink hard, play hard, and fight hard. It’s a really fun culture to really explore and find out more about.”

Kosak said that one of the things his team has really worked with on this expansion is changing up how they define classes and how they operate. Blizzard has is completely revamping WoW’s talent system.

“We’re allowing people to have much more clear and concise talents to choose from,” explained Kosak. “You get some really cool choices. Everything you need is going to be given to your class. The choices you actually make with our new talent trees are all very meaningful. That’s a really interesting change that should bring out a lot of cool gameplay options for players.”

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Since the launch of Cataclysm, Kosak said the WoW team has been trying to solve the problem of how to keep players engaged at max level. For example, if a player gets his or her character up to max level but they’re not into raiding, what kinds of things can they do?

“We played around with some ideas in the Patch 4.2, where we had the Molten Front questing area,” said Kosak. “It was this progressive questing area with daily quests that were randomized every day that you really adventured through over the course of several weeks. That was really popular with players, and we really liked it as well. We’re incorporating that into Mists of Pandaria. We’re trying to make it so that when you hit the max level, you’ve got lots for your character to do and you have lots of progression like that that you can play with. That’s some of the feedback we’re getting from Cataclysm that we want to do more of.”

Blizzard is offering a new Annual Pass for WoW players, which includes a free digital copy of Diablo III. But Kosak believes the game has staying power on its own, as evidenced by Blizzard’s ability to keep an active subscription base of over 11 million gamers worldwide.

“I think there are a lot of things that we can credit for why people stick around,” said Kosak. “I think our art style is a really big part of it. The World of Warcraft engine is not technically super advanced, so it can run on a lot of different machines. What really sells it for people is this timeless art style that’s just beautiful, fun to play with, and fun to explore and be a part of. You can keep coming back to it. The game looks fresh, even though it’s eight years old now. I think that’s a big part of it. I also think part of the appeal is we really continue to try to have content for every segment of players. We’re trying to give even casual players more things to do.”

BlizzCon remains an important part of the WoW developer’s continued relationship with these games, both hardcore and casual.

“Every year I come to BlizzCon and what I’m most excited about is just the energy,” said Kosak. “We’ve been working on this expansion for a long time and haven’t been able to talk about it. To actually be able to put it out there and see how people react to it, it gives us a lot of energy. We get a lot of ideas from it too. We get a lot of great feedback.”

Kosak said the fan festival allows his team to get to judge what people are latching on to with the game and what ideas people are really getting engaged with, so that Blizzard can build those into the expansion. PC gamers will be able to explore the Mists of Pandaria in 2012.