John LaGrave Interview
At the tail end of the Instance’s #250 podcast (The Panda Reality Distortion Field), there was an interview of Blizzard’s John LaGrave, Senior Game Producer, with Scott Johnson and Veronica Belmont. Much like I have done in the past, I extracted that particular interview and posted the full 23-minutes on Youtube for posterity.
Some of the more interesting questions/responses:
Q: [...] So what do you say to those just seeing the Kung-Fu Panda style of it right now and not getting the nitty-gritty details that we are all hearing at the conference? What do you say to ease their fears of …
A. Sure, sure, sure. Of course we rely on you guys to give your impressions of what you’re seeing here at the conference, and let them know the starting experience isn’t particularly one… [of that] overly-influencing movie, if you will. What I say is “give us a shot.” Look at what the press is going to say, look at what we’re going to do, look at what we’re going to do through the beta and evaluate on your own.
I mean, what we try to do in Blizzard development is take something we think is going to be awesome, something fun, and make it our own. Make it cool. And that’s our goal here. We’re not trying to make that movie. We’re not trying to make Drunken Master. We’re not trying to do that. What we’re trying is to take elements we like from that, improve upon those and make them our own. And that’s it.
So I would say look at what the press has to say about it overall, and know that if there are aspects that you don’t like… honestly, it’s probably going to change.
Q: [...] This [new expansion] feels like we can breathe a little bit. A little bit of “ahhh, I can take some green tea.” [...] From a development side, did you guys see it as a way to shift tone in a way that is significant but still shifting tone that way?
A: [...] It gets back to what we did and what was awesome about Classic, which was: when you walked into a world you didn’t know about. All you really knew was if you played some of the original Warcraft; you had some notion of Orcs vs Humans, and it’s Horde vs Alliance. And we’re getting back to that theme. [...]
Q: Is there any kind of imperative [concerning mods/websites] of wanting to reign them in, or is it more of an inspiration? (paraphrasing)
A: We’ve looked a mods and went “That’s a great mod, why aren’t we doing that?” [...] Quest Helper and Outfitter [...] we literally looked at that stuff and went “Yeah, we’re retarded for not doing this. We got to do this; this is a great thing.”
There was a rather large, but interesting section about pet battles I didn’t want to transcribe because, well, it’s a lot of text. It starts around the 16 minute mark and it is described as “one of the most complex things we’re ever putting into the game.” Towards the end, John mentions he’s a huge Civ nut, if that makes you feel any better.
Q: [...] Is it to the point now where you guys say “Yeah, 90 levels, yeah you probably seen a lot of this content before, but it has been a while now for a lot of you so 1-90 isn’t going to seem like the work you think it is. You’re actually going to enjoy yourselves.” Was there that thought, maybe?
A: It’s an interesting thought… I must say that we don’t have that thought. But totally valid. One of the things we like about having that neutral race and making that decision is…
When we first made WoW, you know, there was an expectation that you were a pretty savvy MMO player, like that you had played EverQuest, or you played Ultima Online, that you were really familiar with that notion of what an MMO was. And we were also expecting that you mostly knew a Blizzard game.
As we have gotten into a broader and broader spectrum of appeal, yeah, there are a lot of people coming fairly naive into it. And they don’t know Horde and Alliance, what those are and what those mean. And literally being able to play that experience and then as you play through you get more and more information about Horde and Alliance, and making that decision informed as opposed to blind. Yeah, we think that will be a more interesting and better playstyle too.
While trying to figure out what John’s job title was, I found a bevy of other interviews from BlizzCons past. Here’s John a few months before Cataclym’s launch when they undoubtedly knew Pandaren were coming. Here’s an interesting video interview during BlizzCon 2010, but again before Cataclysm – he talks about how raiding was designed for the hardcore in Classic, then how it was made easier via training and equiping players better, and then about how Cataclysm will be much more difficult. Kinda funny given how that played out, eh? Finally, another pre-Cata print interview that has this bit in it:
Gameplanet: And you’ll be going for that “bite-sized raiding” philosophy? We can expect it to be smaller?
Lagrave: Yeah, certainly. In the past with things like Naxxaramas back in patch 1.12 – way, way back then – we were all about making enormous dungeons, right? And the idea was to spend a lot of time going through it, and we “winged” them so that it would be easier to do. You could go through one after the other. Now we want to acknowledge – and we recognise the fact – that raiding styles have changed. People want to go through about three hours of content in a night, maybe even call it quits for the week. So yes, definitely, it is more “bite sized” and that’s just the way the MMO genre has changed.
Just thought a lot of this was somewhat topical given all the recent blog discussion about WoW getting more casual vs more hardcore vs whatever else.
I think listening to these designers definitely gives you a different impression of the process of game design going on than perhaps you get just from internet debates. For example, I think there is no doubt WoW 1.0 was made for a different audience than WoW 3.0 – LaGrave came out and talked about how, essentially, WoW was originally designed as a niche title for people already familiar with EverQuest and Blizzard games.
That being said, I absolutely do not get the impression that these designers approach the WoW as we know it as “catering to the lowest common denominator” or “dumbing down the game” or anything like that. The impression that I get is that these designers would have launched the game as we know it today with its breezy leveling and integrated Quest Helper and so on if they had the technology and knowledge back in 2004 that WoW was going to be as successful as it was. In other words, the game in 2004 was shaped by whose population they were trying to lure away (EverQuest/Ultima), and not what they imagined WoW to be necessarily.