In issue 201 of Game Informer, we've got an interview with long-time Blizzard veteran Rob Pardo, where he shares some great and surprising stories about the creation and evolution of World of Warcraft. We also got a chance to talk with a more recent addition to the company, Jeff Kaplan, who was hired in 2002 just as development of World of Warcraft was ramping up. Kaplan had some fantastic insight into why the Warcraft universe has become so popular, why it's remained a PC-only franchise thus far, how they decided on 40-person raids for World of Warcraft, and how the series might evolve in the future, including when we'll see more in-game cutscenes in World of Warcraft.

Check out the full interview below!

Game Informer: I know you were a big EverQuest player, so I’m sure that made it exciting to begin working on World of Warcraft. Were you a fan of the Warcraft franchise before you joined Blizzard? Had you played any of the real-time strategy Warcraft games?

Jeff Kaplan: It’s really ironic, because I was not an RTS gamer at all. Then I came to Blizzard during that time period of May of 2002, which was right when Warcraft III was in the final stages of crunch. I joined the team, and my first assignment was playing Warcraft III and doing nothing but playing Warcraft III. I had to get to know the game like the back of my hand. I played Warcraft III for weeks and weeks, crunching and working late hours. It was awesome. It was a great sort of trial by fire coming into Blizzard and getting to know Warcraft through Warcraft III. That was my experience.

GI: That sounds like a pretty awesome first week of working, coming in and being told, “Hey, play Warcraft III. Non-stop.”

JK: It really was. Not only to play it, but to play with the guys who were making the game. I was not a heavy contributor on Warcraft III. In fact, I think I have a credit of “additional testing,” which is basically just the luckiest guy who got to hang out with all the guys doing the real work. It was a lot of fun getting to ask those guys what I should be doing when I got beat. It was really cool.

GI: If you had to sum up the story of the Warcraft universe for someone who’s never touched a Warcraft game, what would you say?

JK: Warcraft is an epic fantasy adventure that spans tens of thousands of years. It involves many different races and raises questions of “Who are we?” and “Why are we on this planet?” -- this planet being Azeroth, not our own. I really think that sums it up. More than anything, the focus is on Horde versus Alliance, which goes back to the title of the first game, Orcs vs. Humans. That tension between two great armies is a big part of the Warcraft universe as well.

GI: The reason I ask that, of course, is that the World of Warcraft movie is in the works. Do you think the Warcraft lore can appeal to non-gamers as well as the very large crowd of gamers that it’s appealed to already?

JK: Totally. One of the things that Warcraft has going for it is that even though it’s set in the fantasy genre, it’s a very accessible intellectual property in so far as we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We constantly pay homage to current events. We make a lot of pop culture references, which I think makes it a very inviting and safe universe for people who are not traditionally fantasy fans to get into.

GI: You mentioned that when you first came to Blizzard, you started off working on the tail end of Warcraft III. How soon after you got there did you start work on World of Warcraft?

JK: World of Warcraft was in production when I joined the team. They already had an engine in place, and they had some great prototyping for what the world looked like. The team had been busy for about two years by the time I joined. They had a good infrastructure going, the client-server setup was running, and the art style was already very well-defined. Warcraft III had definitely borrowed some resources from WOW, but soon after Warcraft III shipped, it was quickly back to all hands on deck on WOW.  There was a rejuvenated sense of focus after Warcraft III was out the door. We knew we had to make World of Warcraft great.

GI: You’re primary job with World of Warcraft was world design, right?

JK: That’s correct. I actually joined the World of Warcraft team as one of the two first quest designers, specifically to create quest content and to design that system. The other quest designer was a really great Blizzard veteran by the name of Pat Nagel. He and I worked in collaboration with the lead designer to design the quest system and start making some of the first quest content.

As WOW progressed from there, I got very involved with all things PvE with the game. When it came to dungeons, I helped formulate the vision along with some of the other guys as to what our dungeon experience and raid experience might be like. I worked very closely with our creative director, Chris Metzen, who was sort of the keeper of the flame when it came to the lore of Warcraft. I tried to apply his vision in a game design sense to world design and world building. I was kind of a medium between Chris Metzen and our level designers and our environmental artists.