BlizzCon 2018 - WoW Classic Interview with Brian Birmingham and John Hight
Developers Brian Birmingham and John Hight from the WoW Classic team have sat down and provided an interview at BlizzCon 2018 to talk more about the upcoming Classic WoW! Below, we have highlighted important points and transcribed the interview. John Hight is an Executive Producer for WoW and Brian Birmingham is the Lead Software Engineer for WoW Classic!
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There are no current plans of developing any future content past Patch 1.12, or an eventual transition to Burning Crusade.
There will be no phasing or cross realm zones in Classic.
Sharding is not confirmed, although it is a likely possibility, as a way to control server populations.
The continuous fan requests are the reason Classic is now in development.
There are no members of the Nostalrius team working on Classic WoW.
The lightning in the demo is not final - It is still being adjusted to look closer to the authentic version.
The demo is pretty close to where the internal versions of Classic development are.
The Classic Team was able to create an authentic 1.12 version, which is used as comparison to further improve Classic WoW.
There are no plans to change class balancing in Classic WoW.
The development on WoW Classic started about 2 years ago.
Walljumping will not be possible in Classic WoW.
Character services are not currently planned, but services like Realm Transfers could be added in the future.
If Realm Transfers are ever added in Classic, there will be no transfers between Classic and Modern WoW servers.
You will not be able to transmog Classic WoW drops on Modern WoW characters.
You might not be able to add players on Battle.netfrom the opposite faction in-game via right clicking their character portrait.
40-man raiding is not being changed.
Do you plan to roll out future patches and expansions?
: What do you mean by future patches and expansions?
Like when Classic launches, there could be a certain point where you could transition to Burning Crusade.
: Oh, I see. Right now we're focused on WoW Classic. We're really excited to hear what the community thinks about it, we wanna see where the passion is, but we're certainly open to other ideas and we wanna hear what the community thinks about that, but right now we're staying focused on making sure we recreate the authentic Classic experience.
Regarding Sharding in particular, there was a blue post released yesterday talking about the possibility of Sharding in Classic. Sharding has always been a very contentious topic within the community. Have you guys sought out any alternatives to accommodate server load like population caps or quicker respawns or anything like that, in lieu of sharding? Is there any you could avoid sharding?
: I'm glad you asked this question as this is a really complicated topic. It is something that is contentious and I understand why people are passionate about this. One of the things we're really committed to, and we're really trying to focus on, is to create that authentic social infrastructure, that authentic sense of community, people knowing who you are on the server and knowing who everybody else is on the server, and so, when we say sharding, I wanna be clear that's a term that is often overused and misunderstood. And we're gonna have some more communication in the months to come and what the differences are between that and other systems that are very similar to it and might have similar effects, and we're looking at what options are available to us. There's a lot of technologies going into Battle for Azeroth that have similar kinds of effects, and one that I wanna call out that a lot of people confuse with sharding is phasing. And there is no phasing in Classic. Another one is cross-realm zones, and there are no cross-realm zones. And so, when we talk about the possibility of sharding, it really is a possibility that we want to investigate and look at, and see what we can do to make it work. We will have more information about it in the months to come.
A while back, J. Allen Brack mentioned to people who wanted Classic that "You think you want it but you don't", basically because of reasons like all the changes that people have noticed over the years being implemented into the game. So, what made you change your mind?
: There's always the danger, when you have this nostalgia view of something, that when you bring it back into a more modern era, you know, when we have things like high-resolution graphics and a lot of conveniences that we have added through modern WoW, in some ways to make it easier to the players or to take out some of the work out while playing, that people who are playing today, experiencing what people experienced 14 years ago, will find not as attractive. And I think that's sort of where that statement came from, in the sense of there's this nostalgia and we don't really want to ruin that nostalgia for you. But the really cool thing about it is that we can support both of these worlds. We are in this very unique situation where there's a game that has been evolving for 14 years that will continue to evolve, we will continue playing for another 14, 15 and beyond, and actually, when before that game finally ends, we're asked to bring back that original experience, and we can do it. And probably only we can do it in such an authentic manner. So, what led us to doing it? Honestly, it was mostly the fans. It was continuous feedback, continuous requests, attempts from fans to resurrect it on their own way, so that's what prompted us to do it.
Speaking of that, do you have any of the Nostalrius team members working on Classic WoW right now?
: We do not.
Back on the topic of phasing and sharding, you speak about different terminologies, that you might see sharding as phasing and this and that, and that's one thing that we discussed on the ClassiCast podcast last night. I think it doesn't really matter what people call them, what matters is what they see, and I think that whether you call it phasing or sharding, what they see is people being taken out of the world. And we're playing World of Warcraft, and it ends up not feeling like WoW when there's no people in the world and I feel like it might be something to look at for the future or whenever, but we're pretty involved within the community, we get a lot of feedback from people and my personal mingles is that, to be able to kinda translate and be able to get what people are saying, however way they say it, and kinda make it easier to understand. And I think that at the end of the day, a lot of people think that sharding is not Vanilla, and its something that people feel like it takes away a lot from the game, to the point where people are really upset to see it in the Demo, and I understand that you guys wanna put in a demo that's appealing to the eyes, like you wanna hide some UI elements but they're kinda still there. One thing that came up is the ability to LFR, it doesnt work, you can't see it normally, but that's an example of "hide this for now then we can go back later to clean it up after the demo when we get a real release out". I guess that's just more of a message I wanted to convey. People are worried when they see stuff like that. Not necessarily bugs, but design decisions that are not necessarily Vanilla.
: That's one of the things we want to make sure we address, that's one of the reasons we put up that post on the community forums. We want people to know that just because you see it in the demo today, it doesn't mean that's exactly the way its going to work. This is a demo and we wanted to make sure that for the demo, people want to focus on the fact that we restore the original abilities, we restored the original quest content, we restored the original terrain at the areas, and we want to make sure that everyone had a chance to see that's in. And obviously, the feeling of community and a large population coming together is something that we want to recreate as well. That's not something that could've been conducted to people seeing everything else in the demo, we want people to have the chance to see that. And as you said, this is a demo, it's a very different situation from live, and so we made different decisions to the demo than what we would have done for live.
: We really wanted this to come out next summer, and we realized that we needed to tell our fans where our progress was, and what better way to tell you the progress, than to show you the progress? And so, we leave some of those hooks in the demo, so we can get the demo on the show floor and on people's homes and we didn't wanna cause any alarm, that people would say "oh wait a minute". Just, you know, a refacing of modern WoW. But believe me, they're going through every little detail to ensure that you have an authentic experience, down to making DX12 match the lightning the way it was 14 years ago.
So you guys are adjusting the lightning? The lightning on the demo right now is not what we're gonna see on release?
: We have been working on it and it's a lot closer than it was, so if you come to our panel today, you can see where it started, and what we have done so far to get the lightning to where it is today, and we will keep looking at it. If there's specific things you guys see as different, that's one of the reasons we're so excited about the passion the community brings us, is that now that we can show you this demo, you know we're bringing it from modern WoW and bringing it back in time, and every change we make brings it closer to how it was authentically back in 2006. We hope that you guys help us find out things that are slightly off, and point it out to us, and let us know which ones are the most important.
What was the most frustrating part of the development? Was there a part of the process that made you go "Man, we don't wanna do this part again"?
: I can't think of anything that was particularly frustrating. There has certainly been some challenges along the way and we're gonna give some examples of that on the panel later, but just to give you some examples, the terrain lightning, there are some format differences in the terrain that didn't look right when we started to restore them, and we had to go make changes in the code so that it would correctly read the terrain. In that case, we actually changed the terrain so that it would match the new engine, but then it looks correct in-game. This is a perfect example of, even though we have the original data, if we frontloaded it into the modern game, it wouldn't look right. We made changes to it to make it look correct, even though the actual data is different.
Are you going to make any changes to the network?
: We used the Vanilla network, and we aren't gonna make any changes to the network stack. We are adding improvements from modern networks though, so if you input modern code today, you will be able to keep it as it is. That's one of the things that we're excited, that we can start with that code done, so that we can keep all those improvements.
: One thing that we may be deviating from the original experience is that we want a lot more stability on the network side, and hopefully we will reduce the queue times that you might have experienced back in the day. No guarantees of that on day 1, though, as there will be a lot of people coming in, but from that point on, that's one of the reasons we want to go with a modern network code, and hardware as well.
About Battle.net Functionality, any changes you had to make so it works on Classic?
: I would say that was pretty straightforward work. There's been little changes like making sure that the actual Battle.net client could distribute both versions of the game simultaneously, and we have great partners helping us maintain the application.
Have you determined what server population caps will be? Back in Vanilla they were between 2,500 and 3,000. Are you considering raising those or keeping them as they were back in the day?
: That's actually not how it works, it's not an exact cap like number of players online, but we're looking at those as the kinds of things we were talking about, trying to find out solutions to provide a level of stability and also a sense of overall community.
: We certainly have the ability of providing a higher realm population than we had back in the day. The good news is, we can dial it, trying to put in everyone that we can before the server CPU is melted.
Would you say that the demo is a pretty accurate representation of where you guys are development wise, or are you much further in internally?
: It's pretty accurate.
One of the problems from private servers is that they are not able to properly categorize some of the functions from back in the day. Did you guys run into any issues with rebuilding the code to do that?
: We were very fortunate that we were able to recover so much of the original data, and original art, and original source code, that we were able to put together internally an authentic recreation of 1.12 that we're able to compare against Classic WoW. So we are able to actually do those side-by-side comparisons to say, "this is what it actually looked like". And of course, there are all these problems like exploitative behaviors that are allowed, or crash bugs, things like that, and of course we don't want to ship that version, and that's why we're taking our current approach, because we have the original code and we can use it look them side by side and tell how it looked like exactly. We can look what it looks like now and point the differences and make the changes to make WoW Classic look more and more like the authentic version.
Class Balance was obviously all over the place back in the day. What will be your approach on making things that were terrible, not so terrible?
: Are you asking if we plan on doing any rebalancing on Classic classes?
Not necessarily, just wondering if the approach is going to be something like leave it as is and maybe ask the community like "Hey, this class/spec was absolutely garbage and terrible. What if we made it not so terrible after like, however many months or years from now"?
: We don't have any plans to make changes to any of the balancing in 1.12. We're starting with 1.12 because we feel like it's the most complete and balanced version of the game that was available at that period. That's where we're starting at, because we feel like it was very complete. I don't wanna say that we wouldn't listen to the community, obviously because the community's passion and feedback are really important and we really believe that every voice matters. We're always listening. But we do wanna make sure that we get this authentic recreation, because if you want the modern balance changes, we have those in Battle for Azeroth. If we wanted to get what we would do today, we have that. It's already available. But we don't have what we did back then, and we wanna give back people what we did back then, especially on things like class balance and that authentic gameplay experience and those authentic gameplay systems the way that they worked.
: Those of you that managed to hang on your tips and tricks from the era, you're gonna see a flood on the internet on those. We've been checking on those to make sure those are still good, because people will be diving into "wait a minute, what did I need to do for this?"
: Some of the challenges we've had through restoring is having those places that wouldn't fit in the code, and we're working so they can fit better, and sometimes, we will find things that do not work the way they are supposed to, and we want it to work correctly. That's another thing that we will approach the community so that you guys will help us find those things. It's a very large, very expansive game. There is a lot of ground to cover. So, if we missed something, let us know. Please help us and assume we want to know what's wrong! That's what we want! Help us find it.
So would you say that the Demo is an accurate representation of what the game will be? There are some bugs like Shaman able to use 2h weapons without the proper talent, or debuff slots.
: There is a lot of work to do. I would say that if you're seeing little differences, it is probable that those are things that we haven't finished yet. Because we're planning on releasing Classic in Summer of 2019, we have a lot of work to do till that date. And so, some of those things you're saying like Shaman equipping 2h weapons, if you're able to equip them without the required talent, then that is a mistake.
How long did it take for you to get Classic WoW close to 1.12?
: I don't have an exact date there. It was all a lot of little different pieces coming together for a long period of time. It wasn't a single person working on something for a long period of time with a start and end date and a number of engineers assigned to it, it was a research and development project that on the side from a variety of engineers working together.
When did the entire project start?
: About two years ago.
Are we going to have features like walljumping and exploring out of bounds in Classic?
: Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure we're not gonna have walljumping, and the reason for that is because we have some modern movement enforcement and exploit detection code that prevents things like walljumping.
Will we have services like realm transfers and race changes in Classic?
: We want to examine those on a case-per-case basis, but right now we don't have any plans to announce any of those. Some of those were available back in Vanilla, so we wanna go through those in the future and see which ones would make sense for Classic. We want to create an authentic experience and there were authentic needs to do things like character transfers. This is one of the examples that we might implement in the future, but there are no plans of announcing those right now.
: As a caveat, if we add Realm Transfers, you will not be able to transfer between Classic and Modern WoW. We will keep those ecosystems sacrosanct.
What about transmogging, will you be able to transmog in Modern WoW items you obtain in Classic?
: These are two completely different characters. You will be able to communicate with your friends playing Modern WoW, or people playing other games like Overwatch, but you will not be able to move your character over to Modern WoW.
: And items that you get in Classic WoW will not be transmoggable by your characters in Modern WoW.
One of the main concerns for people is faction collusion, and you're already allowed to talk to people from the opposite faction via Battle.net or even third party programs like Discord. A concern from Modern WoW is that, right now, you can right-click someone's portrait from the opposite faction and add them on Battle.net, and that opens up a lot of communication. Is this something you guys plan on removing entirely?
: We have had internal discussions about this, we're thinking about that.
Do you plan on making any changes to the raid system? Like 40-man raid, is this still going to be a thing?
: Yes, 40-man raiding is still a thing! We're bringing them back exactly as they were in the Vanilla era. That is a very important part to restoring World of Warcraft.
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