BlizzCon

BlizzCon 2017: Interview with World of Warcraft Senior Game Designer Steve Burke

Blizzard Watch had a chance to sit down with Steve Burke, Senior Game Designer on World of Warcraft at BlizzCon 2017. In Legion, you’ll see his handiwork in the beautiful city of Suramar where he was responsible for the overall design of city. With the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion, his primary focus is the Alliance hub of Kul Tiras. He answered our questions about that aspect of the expansion and much more.

Can you tell us more about the story behind Kul Tiras?

I had my choice of continents to work on and I have traditionally been a Horde player and I’ve made content for both factions, of course, but as tempting as working in Zandalar was this was a slam dunk for me. I was super excited for this. Jaina has been acting a little erratically. Withdrawn from the Alliance. Withdrawn from the Kirin Tor. We weren’t sure what was going on with her. And she has one of the most rich histories. Arthas. Her father Daelin. She’s touched so many big historical moments. Revisiting that with her, getting face time with one of the biggest Alliance heroes as an Alliance player, having her know you by name. All of that is going to be a pretty amazing experience.

But even more, a little over 10 years ago in the Third War, the way that her father died, and the effect that that’s having on her, and the effect that’s having on her mother — I’m not going to spoil anything, but there’s some tension there that will work itself out and I’m really excited for the stories we’re going to be able to tell there.

So, yes, we’re going to talk about Jaina, but Kul Tiras also has a really rich culture in the history of Warcraft. So we’re going to be able to visit there and see how that kingdom works and the dilemmas that it’s having now after losing its great leader Daelin. I think it will be pretty fascinating.

Knowing that Blizzard plans ahead on expansions, is the focus on Jaina in Battle for Azeroth the reason she disappeared for much of Legion?

Sometimes we head off in a direction and learn along the way and change course. And this was a good time for her. Some of it was planned, but alot of it was organic. I don’t think we knew that back at the beginning of Legion that she would be such a big focus that she is now in Battle for Azeroth. We are just getting so good at telling such rich stories and this felt like such a great opportunity for her.

Can you delve more into how the Heart of Azeroth mechanic will work?

The Heart of Azeroth is going to be a medallion. You are going to empower it by collecting Azerite throughout the world through different mechanics like dungeons and raids. You power it up to empower three pieces of armor, your helm, shoulder, and chest piece. This unlocks different powers in each piece based on how powerful your Heart of Azeroth is. So that will make for some really interesting decisions. But it won’t make for painful decisions. If you get a new helm, the power transfers over. All of that is maintained in the medallion. So the new helmet, you figure out what you want to unlock in that so you can make comparisons between the two.

This is going to include raid armor so the player is not forced to choose between armor set bonuses?

Absolutely it’s going feed into raid armor. When you get a piece of raid armor, you’re going to be able to swap right out. Also, you will get improved visuals. Even that same piece of armor will get improved visuals as your Heart of Azeroth grows more powerful.

How is leveling going to work in Battle for Azeroth?

We loved how level scaling worked in Legion. The same technology will be used in Battle for Azeroth. For example, Alliance players will level up in Kul Tiras in any of the three new zones available and when they hit max level the Horde zone will be available to them to take the fight to the enemy.

Are Silvermoon and The Exodar going to be affected by the war in the expansion?

No plans today. With the feature set we’re launching with we’re getting pretty focused on exactly what we’re going to deliver. I won’t say it definitely won’t happen, but it’s not something we’re planning on today.

Will we see the return of the mission table in the expansion?

We are really happy with the way that followers work and we want to see that move forward.

We know artifacts are not making the transition into Battle for Azeroth, but what about the extra abilities they granted?

We are retiring the artifacts in a very epic way that we think everyone will be very happy with. We’re always looking at classes, especially with new expansions. I can’t say for sure they will fold some of those abilities into the classes, that’s another team.

Are Warfronts instance-based or will they be on the World Map?

Right now Warfronts are an instance. You queue up for a 20-man instance. We are focused right now on PvE. We are talking about doing PvP, but right now we need to get PvE right.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from designing Suramar that you are carrying forward into Battle for Azeroth?

There were so many risky things, like the disguise mechanics. That raised so many eyebrows with my bosses. But they played it and the skepticism went away. This is a really great way to reinforce that culture. We’re just getting better over the years at telling stories. It’s one of the luxuries of working on a game for this long is watching how people play the game.

I talk to new designers and talk to them about the players’ bandwidth. They’ve got guild chat going on. They’ve got all the different distractions. Pet Battle. You can get whisked away and join a dungeon battle with your friends at any time. So for a designer the story they are working is the most important thing, but the player has many distractions. Suramar was a luxury because I knew the player was at max level. I knew the player would take their time here. I knew gathering Ancient Mana was a grind but it gradually introduced you to the story of the city. And the quest mechanics of the city complemented the culture and gave you glimpses of “yes, these are a sympathetic people, a noble race that has fallen.” Those are some of the lessons of how we present an area. Ways we can present story to even the most jaded player who just wants to progress.

Any insight into how Professions are going to evolve in Battle for Azeroth?

I’m not on that team, but I talk to those guys quite a bit. I know they like the idea of doing quest content for professions. I think we are going to carry some of that forward for sure. I know they are excited about armor pieces related to the Heart of Azeroth. That’s going to have some significant tie-ins.

While Classic servers sound like great nostalgic fun, the classes were badly unbalanced and it took forever to get simple things accomplished in Vanilla WoW. How do you plan to address those issues?

That is one of those unknowns, it’s too early to tell. I know the spirit of what we’re trying to do is authentically recreate that Vanilla experience with all of its rough edges. Right now we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re very conscious of these issues, but it’s too early to talk about how we’re going to address them.

Have you thought about rolling out the expansions over time on the Classic servers?

We have thought about it and thinking about it.

Finally, a question from Anne, our resident Lore Goddess: Where has Wrathion disappeared to?

Sorry, nothing I can tell you at this time.

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