Blizzard Talks Wrath of the Lich King

Blizzard is shipping their second World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, next week, so I took some time to speak with production director J. Allen Brack about a game whose worldwide pool of subscribers is now over 11 million, which is on par with the population of Ohio. When I asked him for a reaction to that figure, he responded: "Itis an overwhelming and humbling experience. No one imagined it would be as big as it has become."

In fact, he said that World of Warcraft remains so popular that many people at Blizzard play it, even those working on other projects: Starcraft II, Diablo III, and an unnamed next-generation MMOG (massively multi-player online game) based on an original property. Internal feedback has even helped the team figure out ways to assist players with overcoming the gameis addictive qualities, which have led some to dub it "World of Warcrack."

"Itis important for us to give people tools to monitor their habits," Mr. Brack commented. "For example, this past summer we introduced an alarm clock feature that you can set up to tell you to stop playing and do the dishes or mow the lawn or whatever else you have to do. We also have account management tools for minors, where parents can restrict how often and when they can play."

Luckily, the holidays are right around the corner, so most players will probably get some extra downtime to experience all that Wrath of the Lich King has to offer, which includes, among other things:

  • The first hero class, Death Knight, which starts at level 55
  • The ability to reach level 80
  • A new continent, Northrend, where Arthas, a human paladin turned Death Knight turned Lich King, sits on his Frozen Throne and directs the activities of the undead known as the Scourge
  • New quests, not just in Northrendis 11 zones but also scattered throughout Azeroth
  • A heroic mode for Northrendis dungeons, aimed at level 80 characters who want new challenges
  • New creatures
  • A new profession, inscription, which includes a requisite sub-skill, milling
  • An achievement system, so you can brag about your accomplishments

When you first create a Death Knight, Arthas gives you marching orders

"There will be more hero classes," promised Mr. Brack, "but we donit know what or when." Hero classes were supposed to be part of the original game, but they were scrapped; the new version is much different from the old one, which was originally designed as part of an epic quest line.

You canit fight Arthas in the shipping version of Lich King, but a future content patch will let you do so, although Mr. Brack couldnit reveal, in typical close-lipped Blizzard style, whether Arthas will live or die. He would confirm, however, that there are no plans for a World of Warcraft 2 (the next-gen MMO is definitely not that), saying that they see plenty of life in the current incarnation. The gameis system requirements have inched up, thanks to the graphical improvements in Lich King, but Mr. Brack said they always shoot for the lowest end of the hardware spectrum possible.

When it comes to taking World of Warcraft to new platforms, such as the iPhone, Mr. Brack said that developing games for the iPhone "is outside our core competency," but he added that the team is talking about creating utilities that will allow players to keep tabs on their characters or other goings-on in Azeroth. There are several free ones on the App Store, such as Warcraft characters and WoW Talent, but Iim sure Blizzard could create something even better. Like Apple, Blizzard always keeps its game plan close to its vest, but when theyire ready to reveal the next great thing, they usually leave their fans in awe.