INTERVIEW: ‘Wrath of the Lich King Classic’ with Blizzard Devs

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Wrath of the Lich King Classic - But Why Tho

Nearly 14 years ago, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (WOTLK) launched as one of the most highly anticipated MMORPGs of all time. With a player base peak of over 12 million, it is safe to say the promises of eternal glory in Northrend were realized. While the subsequent expansions for World of Warcraft have been successful in their own right, it is no secret that many players herald WOTLK as the pinnacle of the franchise’s storied history. Many even turned to private servers to scratch that itch that only ascending the steps of the Frozen Throne can satisfy. When World of Warcraft: Classic rereleased the original version of the MMORPG in 2019, that same anticipation from over a decade ago began to creep in as players knew it was a matter of time before World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic became a reality. Now with Wrath of the Lich King Classic pre-patch in full swing and the ships for Northrend setting sail on September 26, players new and old have the chance to dive back into one of the highest points in MMORPG gaming.

Associate Production Director Clay Stone and Senior Software Engineer Kevin Vigue joined us and other outlets for an opportunity to discuss how they are bringing 2008 to 2022, changes that players will see in Wrath of the Lich King Classicand to share their own love for the expansion and all it has to offer. The following interview is lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

BUT WHY THO: In the lead-up to the original Classic, there were some stories shared about trying to run the Vanilla WoW on the modern engine and there were some obviously some issues there. Were there any quirky stories that you guys ran into during that process, whether that’s for Wrath of the Lich King Classic or what we got for Vanilla?

KEVIN VIGUE:  One of them that sticks out in my mind is, I was working lining up the creature data and creatures would actually have the correct house values and stuff like that. I thought it got working pretty well. So I went in-game because we had just got our client running. When we hopped into Northrend to see what it’s like and I went to Dalaran, all the creatures seemed to be the right level. So that was good, except they were all error cubes because I had forgotten that there is, of course, another transformation we need to do in order to get their model data and get their textures set up correctly and stuff like that. Except for Rhonin. Actually, Rhonin was showing up correctly for some reason. So while I was there, in order to test that Rhonin’s triggers were working correctly, I did the Algalon quest ‘All’s Well That Ends Well,’ where Rhonin says, “Citizens of Dalaran!” but he says it to a bunch of error cube this time. He was doing his RP to an error cube that was Brann Bronzebeard, ran in and talked to Rhonin, and stuff like that. So that was fun.

One other fun story. The Death Knight starting zone was also a challenge. There are a lot of systems we have to bring back for Death Knights, including their original rune system. The Death Knight starting zone is a really cool experience where you get to play as the villain for a bit, but there are also a lot of complex quests in there and a lot of phasing and stuff like that. But we finally did a lot of work there and we thought it was pretty solid, so we did a team playtest of the Death Knight starting zone. All was going pretty well up until the final battle at Light’s Hope Chapel between the Paladins and the Death Knights, where they face off against each other. And the battle actually went pretty smoothly up until towards the end. They kind of enter this RP phase where NPCs start kneeling and talking and Arthas gives a speech and stuff, Was it Maxwell Tyrosus? Something like that. He’s the guy with the eyepatch and he didn’t kneel down like all the other NPCs did. He stayed hostile and he ran around punching these low-level Death Knights and just killing them over and over while everyone else is having their nice RP moment and doing their dramatic speeches and stuff. So it was funny to see. And I think that was actually potentially a bug in the original Wrath of the Lich King that we then discovered, and we’re like, well, we should fix this bug for this rerelease, so, hopefully he won’t punch anyone incorrectly.

BUT WHY THO: When we’re thinking about things like shared mounts and pets and shared achievements across accounts, can we expect to see more quality of life updates in the future?

KEVIN VIGUE: Yeah. TBD. I think right now we’re focused on, recreating Wrath with the immediate set of potential changes. I don’t want to promise it, but that’s the sort of thing that we would talk about. If we did say account-wide bounce or something like that, what are the implications there? We can potentially enable it and do the work in order to get that working, but, A: how much work is it going to be? And then B: what does it take away? Some sense of building up an individual character or something like that? Is that important to Wrath of the Lich King Classic? And we would also be looking to the community for those sorts of discussions. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, there’s no easy answer to these sorts of questions.

BUT WHY THO: We recently learned that during phase 2 of Wrath of the Lich King Classic we’re going to have the 25-man loot from the non-tier loot go to the 10-man loot table. This is a great quality of life change reminiscent of extra tier tokens dropping in TBC Classic. But for those 25-mans, are we going to get more tier token drops? How are you going to ensure they stay relevant in the same way that you are trying to make heroics stay relevant?

KEVIN VIGUE:  We’re bridging that gap a bit by making the 10-person raids drop Emblems of Valor, the emblems that buy you the slightly stronger gear. So, we’re already trying to help people who are also incentivized to do 10-mans. One thing we’ve heard a lot from BC is that it’s a very different sort of progression style. Players will do 25-person raids as their kind of main way of getting gear. But then they also like to do the 10-person raids to hang out with their friends or gear one of their alts. So that’s something we want to keep encouraging. Give you a reason to do those 10-person raids so that’s the first change.

And then as you alluded to, in Ulduar, the second raid tier, we’re planning on actually changing things about how the raids before Ulduar work. Naxxramas, Obsidian Sanctum, and Malygos 10-person raids are going to start dropping the same loot as the 25-person raids. Both as an extra catch-up for anyone who’s coming in who wants to gear an alt or wants to start with those 10-person raids because they’re easier to form up. For the 25-person raids when we go to Ulduar, we don’t have any changes planned. I think there’s still an incentive to go back to them. They give achievements that are actually separated between 10-person and 25-person in Wrath of the Lich King, so you can go back and get some achievements that you missed out on. But we’re not playing on any changes to the gear at this time.

BUT WHY THO: For people like me who play on Old Blanchy, the smaller cousin that no one really knew about until the server transfers happened and now we’re getting an influx of new players, have you thought about a cross-server arena as a way to allow players who transferred to play high-end PvP on PvE servers like Old Blanchy?

KEVIN VIGUE: It’s something we’re thinking about. We know that the community is also talking about it and when the community talks about it, we talk about it. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons we want to keep things like a sense of server identity in Classic. That’s one of those aspects that keeps Classic feeling as it does: you see the same people regularly and these are the people that you’re then playing with and doing different activities with. That’s something that we do feel is valuable. That said, it is a topic that we talk about. What would cross-play arena look like? How would you even get in a group with people? Is it weird? Does it lead to other issues? Does it break down on that sense of Classic too much? It’s definitely something we’re talking about but nothing to announce at this time.

Clay Stone: I can also add that I play on Old Blanchy and I played on Old Blanchy before the server transfers. It was after the realm transfer started and one of the first messages I saw from a recently transferred player was, ‘Wow, everybody’s so nice around here.’

When listening to Kevin and Clay throughout the interview, it is clear that they are fans before they are developers, as their passion for the game is evident. Their hands-on experience with the game 14 years ago gives them perspective to make this new yet familiar experience the best it can be.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic goes live on September 26, 2022, at 3 PM PDT.

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