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The keeper of cataclysms

The Age

Thursday February 3, 2011

mike wilcox

Blizzard's Greg Street tells how World of Warcraft's third instalment is bringing gamers home. IT IS almost six years since the release in 2004 of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment's award-winning, massively multiplayer online role-playing game series for PC and Mac.It remains the world's leading subscription-based game, owing to the success of several expansions that have been released since its original launch. It boasts more than 12 million paying players.The third expansion in the series, subtitled Cataclysm, arrived recently and set a new sales record with 3.3 million units sold in the first 24 hours.World of Warcraft lead systems designer Greg Street says although the two earlier expansions introduced gradual improvements to the game over time, Cataclysm is a major overhaul for the series, both visually and in gameplay."We saw that a lot of the game's old environments were starting to show their age and knew our artists were that much more talented now and they had better tools to work with, so the graphics were one of the priorities," Street says.The development team also decided it was time to shake things up from a storytelling perspective."Having travelled to different environments in the previous Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions, we wanted players to come home but find Azeroth had changed. So instead of it being like a celebratory homecoming, we made it a little more sensational to shock players."The team accomplished this by reviving the menacing fiery dragon, Deathwing the Destroyer, which last appeared in Warcraft II and has returned to wreak devastation and reshape the once-familiar world.Street says the team's aim was to play heavily on the nostalgic factor of the game's origins by appealing to players who haven't picked the game up for a few years, as well as giving the dedicated fan base a fresh take on the world they know well."It's also a huge challenge trying to satisfy the fans, then also having something for first-time players of World of Warcraft," he says."We try to approach it by keeping the game mechanics relatively simple but with a lot of depth ... like with really famous board games like chess, where the rules aren't that complicated, but you realise there is a lot going on when you get up to the expert level."Unlike graphic artists, who make the game look beautiful, and programmers, who get things up and running, Street says his job was simply to make the game fun to play."I think one of the things I enjoy most is just the nature of working on an online game like this," he says. "We can often get changes into the game pretty quickly."So if we find a bug first thing in the morning, it can often be fixed in the game online by midday, which is really rewarding."With the kind of games I used to work on before Blizzard, when we wanted to make a change, it would be literally 12 months before we'd see that change in players' hands."

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