WoW Q&A with Senior Producer Travis Day and Senior Concept Artist Jimmy Lo
Recently, I had a chance to sit down alongside Chaud from MMO-Champion and interview Senior Producer Travis Day and Senior Concept Artist Jimmy Lo on Battle for Azeroth. Chaud and I took turns asking questions, and they cover a broad variety of topics. Among those are transmog, endgame story progression, developing the stories for new leveling zones, if we’ll ever see Gnome Paladins, and much more.
Below, you can find a transcript of the interview.
Chaud: So, we heard about one War Front today, the Arathi one, what other locations will have War Fronts?
Travis: Um… I don’t think we’re talking about it yet. But you [coordinator] can correct me if I’m wrong?
There are definitely more planned, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say – but they’ll be cool!
Jimmy: We’re all super excited.
Mitch: How many do you have planned? Can you say that?
Coordinator: Is it fair to say that everything is still being tuned?
Travis: Yes, it’s fair to say that. We want to have a number of them in rotation in the final game once all the patches are out.
Mitch: Transmog junkies are kind of wondering about appearances for [off-specs]. For example, Holy Priest staves. Some of them are really cool looking. Will Shadow Priests be able to use those as appearances? ‘Cause some of them look very Shadow-y!
Travis: Yeah, and they’re very spec-specific in their look and their art style. [To Jimmy Lo] How would you guys feel about, just from an artistic perspective, having people cruise around in things that are…clearly not, look-wise, for their spec? Like [Chris] Robinson I could see having a reaction to that.
Jimmy: It’s always been a tough thing to kind of predict what players will do, how [some appearances] will be used. We try to make it spec-specific to try to sell the fantasy and try to make it look as cool as possible.
Travis: There’s two things at odds, which is, we want to give players a lot of freedom, but at the same time, we want to control, thematic class fantasy.
Jimmy: Yeah, to a certain point, right?
Travis: Yeah. So it would be on a very case-by-case basis, I guess. And if there are particular ones we should look at, then we probably would.
Mitch: Like the Void-y Holy Priest ones, as a request.
The first time I saw those, I was just… I loved them!
Travis: Okay! That’s the one we want? Okay, I’m gonna write that down.
Mitch: Thank you!
Chaud: Are Thin Humans going to be an Allied race, are they NPCs, what’s the weird, thin Human model?
[Travis and Jimmy both start laughing]
Travis: Hold on.. Void-y Holy Priest. Okay! I have that, I’ll remember now.
[Coordinator]: If that’s not service, I don’t know what is!
Travis: So, Thin Man and Fat Man are what we call them internally. And no, they’re not intended to be a different race, [they’re] just variants on Kul Tirans. So, generally, when we’re spawning up Kul Tiras on the design side, we looked at using them as kind of our… maybe it’s a little bit like, ‘The big guy’s the bouncer!’ Or, ‘The big guy’s the ruffian who’s got a little guy up by the neck! And then the little guy’s more the scoundrel and they’re always holding daggers or leanin’ up against something,’ and, I don’t know, it just gives us a little more flavor and texture to the world.
Mitch: In terms of the story, were you guys concerned with having… it sounds like Horde being the ones to start the attack. Was there any point where you considered, maybe, the Alliance will be the aggressors to start?
Travis: So… who started it, right? I think it’s interesting – I think what we’ll find, honestly, is that, uh… you guys remember the intro to Legion, where we have the Assault on the Broken Shore, where Varian dies and Sylvanas had… she made a choice, right? She made the choice to retreat rather than letting the whole Horde die up on that hill, which they probably would have. She’s probably not wrong. She sucks, but she’s probably not wrong.
Travis: Alliance, sorry.
Mitch [to Jimmy]: Are you Alliance?
Travis: In coming out of that, I think a lot of the Alliance players were really, like –trying to not swear — were really anti-Sylvanas coming out of that. And a lot of the Horde players were like, ‘Oh no, she made totally the right choice. Actually, the Alliance was just diving to their own deaths. To hell with them, let them die.’
So, I think, in the way that the story’s gonna be told, and the two-and-a-half/three pieces that are coming out ahead of time, where we’re actually gonna see the burning of Teldrassil, and what that’s gonna do is… hopefully leave it open to debate. I definitely think that you’ll come to the conclusion that Sylvanas burned the tree. But…
How much of the Horde is behind that? [That’s] up to debate.
And how much of the retribution is driven by the Boy King trying to prove his manhood, and how much is actually strategic objective? [It’s] also up for debate.
Chaud: Why were the golden-eye options added to Blood Elves, and are there any more little customizations like that coming?
Travis: I think that we’re always looking for – especially with Allied Races coming out – as we go through and we’re looking through, it’s kind of a time that races in general are getting a lot of attention right now. It’s like, ‘What are some new allies that we could find? What are some of the racial customization options?’ or ‘Hey, we’ve just added this for one of the new races, is that really fair to the old [races]?’ You know, maybe we should go back and update this one particular aspect. Really, those are kind of catch-as-catch-can. Going through them all, we’re looking and going, ‘Whoa, this makes sense’ or ‘Oh, this was a past mistake that we should probably fix now, or something we should bring up to speed.’
Mitch: Is there any concern that people are gonna get burned out with leveling Allied Races? Are there any plans to start them higher than 20, reward something other than Heritage armor? How are you guys planning to prevent fatigue?
Travis: We will see. So, 7.3.5 – honestly, I actually, this isn’t one of those ‘I can’t answer and I know the answer,’ it’s actually [an] ‘I don’t know the answer’ – but with 7.3.5, [we had] the first introduction, right? And so that’s where we had the ability of people to play up through the newly scaling world, and had the ability for people to create these Allied Races, see if that was a compelling enough reward for them, see what motivates the player base as far as the future’s concerned. Because we always have ideas of what we think is cool and what we think is motivating and what we would do to get this… We’ll see!
Honestly, as you go through 8.0, we’re starting to experiment with different ways of unlocking Allied Races. Some of them will be, like, organically as you play through, definitely, you’ll end up doing the War Campaign, so, ‘Oh, you got a Dark Iron Dwarf! Cool!’ You know, okay, great. And then other ones will be a little bit more bespoke content. I think as we do that, we might also change up, like, where do they start, how does that start? But again, it kind of depends on feedback from the community and what we see as we go.
I’d love to make it sound like game development is a lot more planned out, but a lot of it, honestly is, we some stuff that we think would be cool and then see how it goes.
Chaud: Will there be end-game story reputation like we had with Suramar? That ongoing, long, Nightfallen thing.
Travis: Yeah, we call that Chapter Questing. So… yes! There will. There’s been a bit of debate on the inside about where that chapter questing best sits. We do have the two new capital cities of Boralus and Zandalar that are largely outdoor-world gameplay space. So, very much an analog that immediately jumps to mind is Suramar, and then [we ask] is that place best served by World Questing, story questing, what do we want to do there?
And one of the things we’ve decided to invest really heavily in is, instead of doing it in the cities proper – although there will be part of it and become more a part of it as we go on — is the War Campaign. It’s basically if you took what we did for Suramar and you stuck that on the back of the Order Campaign, and so it’ll be much more focused on the Horde War Campaign and the Alliance War Campaign. Exploring the opposing faction’s continent, doing work over there, trying to shut them down — that’s gonna be where our chapter questing comes in at endgame.
Mitch: I promised I’d ask on behalf of a coworker [Liz]..
…Gnome Paladins? Any chance [of those]?
[Even more laughter]
Travis: I don’t know, and they don’t let me make those decisions. But… actually, the one thing I will say is that it does seem like we are getting — and this is just kind of almost speaking as a player — we’re getting a little more open about what is appropriate and also as the story progresses things are changing about what is appropriate. I mean, we started expanding into a world where we had a Night Elf Paladin, for example. I could see a world in which this is true someday, but…
Mitch: No plans, but not off the table?
…A Gnome Paladin. I never!
Jimmy: You’re not actually the first to ask about that.
Chaud: With the new Advanced AI NPCs, is there anywhere else in-game we might see that tech used? Like out in the open world or dungeons or…?
Travis: That is… something we’re interested in, yeah. Again, [we’re] curious how players react to it. I think Ion made a very astute observation which is, a lot of people had a reticence to engage in PVP combat because of – and we don’t entirely know, is it the fact that there’s a person on the other end, that they feel that pressure and that sense of ‘Ughhh stress’ when they play that they don’t like? Or is it the behavior of that actual character? And then what’s the right middle-ground, right?
So is there a world in which the next expansion features creatures that are all probably full AI running around? Probably not. That feels a little out of WoW. But is it something that we could introduce on random spawns, rare elites, something like that? You know, that might be an appropriate way to start to thread it into the world.
Chaud: Yeah, it was really weird to see the jumping-around NPCs
Travis: Oh god, those…
Mitch: Those were, the first time I saw them, hilarious.
Travis: Yeah, one of the early prototypes for PVP, we had running on Warsong Gulch to kind of experiment with, can we get a Frost Mage to look like a Frost Mage? And, it starts.. like, there’s that first moment where it jumps, and you’re like, ‘Okay, that’s cute, that’s like what a player would do.’ And then it starts to LOS kite you inside the door and you’re like, ‘Okay, really?’
Not only is it a Frost Mage, it’s a douchey Frost Mage? Okay, well done. Well played.
Jimmy: Advanced behavior!
Mitch: You guys are Alliance, too, so you get to fight against Sneaky Pete.
Travis: He’s a hit, man. So, we played an internal playtest and he would show up at the worst possible times and screw with you like a perfect Rogue. And so, all through our quest pit now, we’ll periodically just [yell out], ‘Sneaky Pete!’
Mitch: As far as the story goes for each individual zone, how much of that do you guys… how much iteration does that go through? What’s the process behind weaving that into the larger narrative? Can you talk about story in general for the zones?
Travis: So that’s… an interesting one, that’s one that I’ve been dealing with a lot recently, so that’s perfect! So, basically, we start off with the premise. Like, the guiding principles, a lot of it almost comes out of key art and imagery of stories we want to tell. And then you kind of take high-level concept stories from guys like Alex and Ion of like, where we want to go, the direction of the story, what is happening in the world, and then these guys [Jimmy], you start to do visual development.
Jimmy: How could we best sell the story through visuals?
Travis: Yeah, and so, you end up with these cool mood boards that, we have Robinson I think did some of the early stuff on Kul Tiras, and he has like, just great pieces of art that’s just… here’s a corner of Kul Tiras at night. You know what I mean? It kind of just has that vibe, and the hanging lanterns. But I think it’s something everybody can look at, because I think one of the dangers in game development is you… War Front is a great example, right?
If you said to somebody, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have War Fronts. It’s this thing, it’s inspired by Warcraft 3. It’s gonna be great, and you’re all gonna love it.’ And then you’d be like, ‘Well, I played Undead in [Warcraft 3], so you know, I’m gonna build ghouls and graveyards…’ and then [someone else] walks away and goes, ‘I’m gonna build treants and all that’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘No, it’s Horde versus Alliance! Didn’t you guys get that?’ Having these things and these visual development story pieces helped everybody to look at and go, ‘Okay, I get it. that’s Kul Tiras.’
So then from there, we move into, ‘What are the stories we’re trying to tell?’ [For example], ‘Who is Talia? Who is Katherine Proudmoore? Who are the influences? What’s working on them? Who are they working with? Who are they working against? What’s the existential threat? What problem are we trying to solve while we’re here?’
And that starts to inform, like.. Kul Tiras, what are they about? They’re about building ships, okay, we know that. How do you build a ship? Well, I don’t know, you’d probably need wood, so we’re gonna have lumber yards probably. We’re probably gonna have heavy shipping and heavy industry. Different areas, rock quarries. We need to get some anchors, iron forging, smelting – and you start to put together what would a cohesive world look like?
And then you start to draw these 2D maps that are basically, I call them the ‘Mario Maps’ but it’s lots of bright colors, and just kind of calling out different distinct areas of, like, quarry probably over here. And then you start layering the story on top of that. You start doing visio flows of how we want players to move through the environment, how we want the story to unfold through the environment, then we move into questing those main lines and the side quests, and getting feedback, and I think, every quest by the time you play it, has gone to about 24 different people. With the express, like, ‘Please play this and give this person feedback on which they will iterate.’ So, it’s definitely very iteration heavy, too.
Jimmy: Yeah, it’s often times going back between, like, design and art, art and design, right? Like, each aspect kind of inspires each other, and then like, new ideas kind of come up, and you kind of feed off of each other. Things start to change, like, ‘Hey, that’s a cool character! Let’s try to weave that into the story!’
Travis: Yeah, one of our primary characters in Kul Tiras actually comes from, I think it was a Hackathon, from one of the artists, who was pitching this whole story arc of a character, and then one of our designers glommed onto it and was like, ‘Whoa! That’s really cool! We can stick her here,’ and so a lot of it is super collaborative.
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah, a lot of kind-of unplanned stuff like that. But that’s what makes it-
Travis: That’s what makes it some of the best stuff!
Mitch: [So who’s] responsible for the creepy girl in Drustvar?
Travis: That is Jackie Wiley, who is one of our quest designers. So that was, uh, she’s actually a quest designer, and she worked largely on Kul Tiras, and then on Tiragarde Sound was where she spent most of her time, on that zone. When Drustvar was first starting out, and we were conceptually talking about it as, ‘Okay, there was this kingdom that was occupied by the ancient Drust, who were the adversaries of the Kul Tirans, and now they’re witches. And [we] kind of did all this, and [Jackie] was like… ‘I got a crazy idea. I got somethin’ creepy!’ And so she just threw that [quest chain] in there, and we all looked at it, and it was kind of like, we have these moments where it’s not unlike the storyboarding and the visual development, on the design side where you play something, and you go, ‘Yeah, I get that flavor. That’s what we’re talking about. That’s the vibe we’re going for,’ and so that was one of first quests we did in the zone, and it really set the tone for, ‘Okay, we all get it now. Hey, go play that!… Okay, do you get the zone now?’ You know, it was kind of that thing.
[At this point, we were informed we only had time for one more question.]
Chaud: With the Heart of Azeroth, you pick the traits. How does that [the traits] change when you change specs?
Travis: So, the goal – hopefully, if we do this right – the goal is to have abilities on the different rings of the tier that are applicable, both generally and specifically, so it is possible you may still have gear pieces that you prefer when you switch specs. And I think that’s kind of an interesting and healthy part of gameplay, right? Is collecting multiple gear sets and having those and having them have specific purposes and roles. [Such as] here’s my PVP set, here’s my tanking set. So I think that’s good. But I think there will be ones where it’s like – trying to think of an example – Frost Bolt! Whether I’m PVP or PVE, that’s a good thing to have 10% increased Crit chance on. So, there will be more generalized traits that are like, ‘Yeah, I like this no matter what’
And then you can get even more generic and you know, spell Crit is increased by 5%. So we’re trying to hopefully get it [where] as you increase in power, they get increasingly specific, but at the lower levels – especially for questing gear – if you kill, like, Totes McGoats in Tiragarde is one of our vignettes, you can acquire a piece, and you can go, ‘Okay, cool, I’m just passively a little bit better. It’s not that advanced, but I also didn’t do very advanced content. I killed a goat, so.. it feels appropriate.’
Thanks again to Travis Day and Jimmy Lo for sitting down with Chaud and myself! Be sure to check out Blizzard Watch’s full coverage of everything we learned at the WoW Media Event, and check back for updates as they come in!
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