Ahead of the major World of Warcraft: Dragonflight update known as Embers of Neltharion, we had the chance to interview Lead Quest designer Maria Hamilton and production director Patrick Dawson (who was at Blizzard for over 17 years) about the new update and World of Warcraft.
This is not a 1:1 transcription of the entire interview, but some of the most interesting parts have been extracted, and we had to cut some discussions on the Furbolg language task, which were impressive.
Gamereactor： In general, can you explain when you do these updates that aren’t full expansions but do expand the narrative, are they planned at the same time before the expansion, or do they start development after the expansion is released?
Hamilton: I think all those aspects, sometimes we know what we want to do, we know it seems like a good time to expand out. Sometimes, when we’re in the process of developing an extension, we realize that this is a cool thing we can do. We don’t have time to do this for the extension, but let’s put it in the patch ASAP. We listen to player feedback. We do plan ahead and keep track of when we want to do what, and if we have a graph of everything we do in each patch, maybe we move around a bit.
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We fill in very early on, and then we just tune in and see what the players like and what the players don’t like as we expected. In general, I’d say game design is iterative.
GR： Is it that returning to the starting region is not something you would normally do is because you thought of it in the first place, or is this a case where you don’t want to create a whole new region and you can just reuse the old one?
Dawson： Well, for the Embers of Neltharion, we actually have a whole new area, the Zaralek Caverns. For the next update, back in Forbidden Reach, we’ll be back in the Drakthir starting area, that’s for sure. We’ve done this in the past, so it’s not unprecedented for us to revisit something familiar. But for Embers of Neltharion, Zaralek Caverns, it really is the shining pinnacle of new places we all explore. It’s an underground area with vast, open caverns filled with cool biomes.
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GR： Overall, and especially for this extension, do you think the design has become easier or harder, especially related tasks? Because the World of Warcraft universe has gotten pretty expansive?
Hamilton: I think we have a lot of different ideas. We are largely infinite in what we can decide what to do for a task. When we tell our high-level stories, obviously we want to hit certain beats. We’re trying to tell a specific story about some specific characters, which is more constrained.
When we’re telling stories about new places like Dragon Isles, places we’ve never been to before, and areas that have creatures that have lived in those places for a long time, it allows us to do what I like to call local stories , these are quite large, and we can think very freely about what makes sense, and we want you to learn about this area and these people who live in this place. super fun. You can see they have a lot of diversity. You see in Dragon Isles local stories some of us get called out,“Wow, what an amazing story. I didn’t expect this”, that’s because we sat down our quest designers and narrative designers and thought about all kinds of things. We get all sorts of stories, a lot of diversity, based on their lived experiences, their own culture and the things they do.
So I would say, as a quest designer, doing quests for World of Warcraft is really fun. You can go many different ways. It’s such a big fantasy world with lots of little nooks and crannies. If you want to really explore something special, or something you really love – there’s room for both in our local stories.
GR： Do you have one team for the main story and then one team for all the smaller stories, or do you do it as a team?
Hamilton： We are all one team. On the mission design team, when we sat down to figure out who was going to do what, we tried to make sure we were very transparent and talking and collaborating with each other as we planned our storytelling. We have specific people who might be assigned to work on campaign chapters where they’re doing high-level stories, but they might also be working on some local stories as part of their work building expansions or building updates. This is a team. We worked closely with the narrative team and the worldbuilding team because, of course, we wanted to make sure the world reflected the story as well. We want to make sure they are very bonded. But it’s a team doing all of these things.
GR： When you take down a well-known faction and then it becomes the main focus of the entire expansion, do you feel like it’s very restrictive, or do you think it actually gives you more pillars of storytelling and worldbuilding?
Dawson： No, I think for me, dragon flight in particular, it’s rooted in the core fantasy of Azeroth, it’s a pillar of World of Warcraft – so it’s a good idea to explore that lore and push it forward a bit The opportunity to actually participate in some of the reasons World of Warcraft is so special. For me, that’s certainly a huge opportunity, and we’ve seen players and fans just love revisiting dragons, and the feeling of wrapping around those aspects and really focusing on this part of the story and the lore. It’s really enjoyable to watch.
Hamilton: What I’m trying to say is we want to be very respectful of the lore we’ve built. You know, we want to make sure we’re thinking about impact – we have history here, we remember history, and we want to make sure that’s something we’re thinking about. But at the same time, we have the opportunity to dig further or discover more, so it’s not as much of a limitation as a guardrail. It’s good to have some structure.
From there we can see how we can expand or how we can provide more nuance, or how we can help explain different perspectives.in particular“Wait a minute and listen”The quest, which has been called out many times, we try to show a different perspective than before, but we make it very personal, which is liberating. I don’t know anyone who’s going to say, oh no, don’t let me expand and bring the feeling. So we’ve done it a lot, and it’s been great for the players. So that seems like something we’d like to do again.
GR： Do you feel like players feel differently about this expansion, it’s a little bit different than some of the previous expansions that were a little bit separated from the main world of Azeroth, you have to go to completely new places, your actions don’t Influence your home world and you still have a safe zone to go back to?
Dawson： I think players like different things. We’ve certainly been to different places and tried to explore different philosophies in the game. I think there is something for everyone out there.
I think especially with this expansion, it’s a perfect time for us to get into this part of the story. I think the surrounding things that come out of this are also very pleasant. Riding a dragon, I think, is a good example. It’s really revolutionized the way people interact with the world, and the stuff we’re traveling around is a pretty big positive for the game, and players seem to love it.
Hamilton: Plus, I think dragons are pretty cool. Like this is epic high fantasy, right? They’re dragons, how could you not want to, you know, want to tell a dragon story. So I know, I know. I’m super excited to do this because of the dragon.
GR： As far as the main villain goes, we go from one to three, isn’t it hard to just invent not only the villain, him or herself, but go on to invent the whole scene?
Dawson： There are several aspects to what you want to do. If you look at the popular media out there, TV, James Bond, whatever, sometimes there’s a bad guy who exists just for the story. Sometimes, the bad guys are around for much longer. I think we’re looking to build both. The first release of Dragonflight had a short-lived villain. Great story, great understanding. You understand motivation. You see why this sucks, you have to stop her, and as a result, you’re setting up three new villains that you’re going to take on. And those villains may live longer and have longer stories.
Hamilton: As Pat said, some of our villains are complex, and when they’re complex, you know, we probably won’t finish this expansion. We might pull them out later because we want to build them up and make them do their complicated stuff. We’re actually chasing Commander of the Sundered Flame, also a villain. We didn’t spend a lot of time on it, and that’s the opportunity Return to Forbidden Reach gave us. So we try to mix it up and think about it and think about how and how and where we want each villain to get his due.