We normally publish our Afterwords interviews shortly after a game is released, but with MMOs, that concept doesn't quite make sense. These games continue growing and changing until...well, until another expansion is released. With the recently-completed patch 3.3, Blizzard's hit MMO World of Warcraft has finally reached the conclusion of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. We figured this would be a good time to check in with WoW game director Tom Chilton about some of the decisions made in the expansion.

Read the full interview to find out what hero classes almost got chosen to be added instead of death knight, whether or not we'll see any other new content before the Cataclysm, and how Blizzard is preparing for that next expansion.

I wanted to begin with a sort of “state of the union” question. How is Blizzard feeling as you wrap up the Wrath of the Lich King content and move toward the next expansion?

We’re feeling good. As far as wrapping up Lich King content goes, I’m happier with the way the Lich King fight and all of Icecrown leading up to it has turned out compared to anything we’ve done in the past. It’s quite a bit more epic than what we did with Illidan. It’s a cooler climax than Naxxramas back in the day pre-Burning Crusade. I’m happy with how that’s come along. In general, it’s been an awesome expansion. I think players have been pretty excited about it.

With as many death knights as there are in the game now, I sometimes forget that they weren’t there at one point. As the first hero class, death knights were a huge addition to World of Warcraft. What was the process like for introducing this new character to the game, and how difficult has it been to balance them?

Definitely a difficult process. Obviously a lot of that is because of the balance complexities that get introduced by creating a new class. We always knew that we wanted to add more classes to the game, and we had a variety of different ideas for what classes to do. With Burning Crusade, we felt that it was a little too early to introduce a new class. With our second expansion, it seemed like good timing.

When we knew that it was going to be a Northrend-based expansion, we started thinking about character classes that would make sense within the context of the expansion. Among those were the death knight, necromancer, and the runemaster, a character class from one of the Warcraft RPGs, pre-World of Warcraft. Those were our primary contenders.

As we fleshed out the concepts a little bit, it felt like the death knight had more going for it than the other two. It was going to work out better both in terms of how well it fits with the Lich King expansion and also in terms of how it fills some extra need in the game. Obviously, you can make the argument that there still aren’t enough tanks around based on Dungeon Finder queues, but I think it helped. There are people out there playing death knight tanks.

So you do still plan to introduce more hero classes at some point in the future?

It’s a possibility. We have that idea in mind still for the future. We know that we probably would not be able to support introducing a new class with every single expansion, just like we probably wouldn’t be able to support having new races with every expansion. It’s a good candidate for the future, but exactly when that will be or what expansion it might be in or what class it might be is too early to say.

Wrath of the Lich King also brought some graphical improvements to the game. I know you’ve always tried to keep a balance between looking good and being able to run on a wide variety of computers. I’m curious about how you’ve maintained that balance during Wrath of the Lich King, and, particularly as you move forward with an expansion that’s going to be re-doing visuals on a lot of the original game world, if you expect the system requirements to keep climbing.

I can’t speak for sure as to the final system requirements for Cataclysm. It’s too early to say. There’s a possibility that they could go up a little bit, although we would still be talking about machines that are many years old being able to run it at this point. We try to make sure that we support older machines, and we’ll continue to do so. But an older machine today is less old than an older machine when WOW first shipped or when Burning Crusade shipped. If you make that assumption that the system requirements will creep up a little bit, there’s more we can do visually, but we’ll see.

We know that we’re going to introduce things like the improved water. Water’s been one of those things that we’ve never been entirely happy with ever since the original version of the game. It’s what we were able to do with the system requirements that we were satisfied with at the time. As technology advances, it gets easier to do a better job at that kind of thing. We’re pleased so far with how that’s been coming along.

Like you mention, a lot of the old world will also get a facelift, not only for new technology but also for new techniques. Our tools and our level designers have just got better at making the zones. They’ve been doing it for a long time. They have a better idea of how to do things that look really awesome efficiently.