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Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan on Warcraft's Past And Future

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.

Comments
  • nice Interview.  i really love the art style in these games.  I wish Star Craft got more attention.

  • First!

    And I have to say the thing about WoW lore being easy to get into for anyone is very true. I have had some people scoff at other fantasy games but for some reason WoW clicks with them.

  • *sigh* I fail. Anyways completely missed the 4th page and I have to disagree there. There should be a opition for 40man raids as there something thats nice about running that many people. At least it was in WAR where either me or a guildie were running close to over 100 people.

  • Gotta love when "first" posts aren't first.

    Nice interview though Phil.. learned a few things I did not know.

  • Starcraft MMO would be cool.. And I cant wait to pull a Leroy on Deathwing.

  • World of Warcraft is a genre define game that deserve to be noted, I have never play an MMO, but seeing how my roommates play it and how he brag about the game I know he loves it, not to mention everyone keeps on talking bout how other MMO borrows mechanics from WOW.

  • i like the artstyle to but wish the graphics were a little better. otherwise WoW is a great game.

  • Good interview, well done and very professional... too bad that I'm not into WoW. I think I might have enjoyed it more.

  • I miss playing WoW but it is not casual gameplay.  To contribute socially in the game and really enjoy all aspects, consistent quality time has to be put into gearing properly and learning the play styles of the different classes.  

    I had to give it up.  Blizzard has done a phenomenal job with this game!  Proof that you can have an IP run for 15 years it not run out of steam or lose it's fanbase.

  • 2 fails. 1. WOW 2. when people say first and they are 2nd

  • Nice interview. I dig it.

  • kudos to the guy who beat that game....

  • It's nice to learn something about WOW's past.

    ..But I can't shake that feeling in the back of my mind that, somehow, Kotick had a hand in pushing for a WOW movie.

  • Oh yeah, and please find out some more information about Starcraft 2. There's been a virtual drought of information lately, with the only things being mentioned basically rehashes of what we already know.

  • "And do you think the series will remain on PC only?"

    Warcraft 2, released for both saturn and playstation... both consoles :)

  • I wonder what the new MMO is that Blizzard is working on?  I really hope it doesn't overshadow WoW.

  • i still laugh at all the "hardcore" wow players who feel the game has been dumbed down just because blizzard wanted to appeal to a larger fan base than the 13 year old or 40 year old shut ins who play 9 hours a day.  not everyone that wants to enjoy wow has no life and can devote thier entire existence to playing it, please stop your whining.

  • As a retired WoW player, I have to say overall the game is fantastic when it comes to storyline, visuals but you have to be willing to sacrifice your life if you want to "beat" the game like that guy did.

    I think its funny Blizz is making a new MMO, I bet they are going to do something with Diablo because I doubt they could do anything with S.C.--at least nothing we could actually play in 8 years, if we use Blizz's timeline for "release dates."

  • I'm pretty sure Blizzard already said that their next MMO will be set in a totally different world than their three current series. Also, expand to consoles...hate playing on the pc.  

  • I really enjoy playing this game but I will return once Cataclysm is release.

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