With August 14 approaching fast, fans of World of Warcraft are eagerly awaiting the release of Battle for Azeroth, the seventh expansion in the mega-hit MMORPG. WoW was first released in 2004, and in the fourteen years since, expansions and patches have introduced iconic features like flight (Burning Crusade), the dungeon finder (Wrath of the Lich King), transmogrification (Cataclysm), garrisons (Warlords of Draenor), and artifact weapons (Legion).
Battle of Azeroth will introduce two new continents, as well as gameplay features like island expeditions, in which players can compete against artificial intelligence bots in fulfilling objectives.
“Each new expansion we add to the game, we’re looking to expand the core of the game the players have come to know and love over all these years, but also add brand new ways of playing the game, new features, new types of gameplay, new challenges to undertake, and a fresh look at a game that seeks to reinvent itself every couple of years,” says Ion Hazzikostas, the game director on World of Warcraft at Blizzard Entertainment.
But that’s not always easy to do. Take flying, which the team introduced in the game’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade. “That was huge, it really changed the way we built zones and different landscapes and design visually the landscapes too,” says Jimmy Lo, the game’s visual development supervisor, in the video above. We now had to actually think about transition zones and how one landscape transition into the next one.”
Changing those landscapes presented all sorts of challenges, as the team learned when developing 2010’s Cataclysm. “Cataclysm set out with a massive undertaking of actually breaking the world,” Hazzikostas explains. “So it told the story of this great dragon, Deathwing, who burst forth from within the Earth and unleashed chaos and catastrophe across Azeroth. Areas were flooded, areas were broken apart, massive crevices appeared, but what this did, what this provided was a vehicle to remake the original world that had been crafted in 2004.”
Changes need to be implemented while people are still actively playing the game, which is where engineers come in.
“How do we sunder the world out from under the players, make it believable and not mess everything up in the process?,” asks Patrick Magruder, WoW’s lead gameplay engineer. “Because when they logged out, they were above the ground, and when they log in, this exact same position is now inside of a mountain or inside of a fire pit, or they’re high up in space because there’s now a crater where they were.”
“That was, even to this day, I would say probably the single largest task the World of Warcraft team has ever undertaken,” says Hazzikostas.
Watch the video above to hear from Hazzikostas, Magruder and Lo about the evolution of World of Warcraft and every expansion, from The Burning Crusade through Battle of Azeroth.
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