World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic interview with Holly Longdale and Patrick Dawson

Burning Crusade Classic was announced at BlizzConline, taking World of Warcraft Classic into its first expansion, for those who want to experience, or re-experience the joys of going through the Dark Portal for the first time, heading into Hellfire Peninsula, and promptly getting squished by a Fel Reaver. I sat down with lead producer Holly Longdale and production director Patrick Dawson about Burning Crusade Classic and moving along with what players want.

This must be something you’ve been pretty excited about for a while. How does it feel to finally have it out there?

Holly: Yeah holding that news back has been a challenge for all of us because we’ve been excited about it for a really long time and been working on it since shortly after Classic’s launch and when the community was asking for it, it seemed like the right thing to do so the team you know while we were supporting everything in WoW classic and making sure we got our new content out in the patches we were also starting to work on converting three-quarters of a million rows of data into our modern code base and setting up our reference clients. So we have older versions of the various patches from Burning Crusade running and it’s a labour of love as engineers go back and make sure what we’re recreating now is faithful to what was made then and yeah it’s been really difficult to not shout from the mountaintop that we’ve been doing this for a while but we’re really excited to be able to share the news now.

Sometimes I talk to people and they ask me now like “Why Classic?” Can you explain what it is that draws people to it?

Patrick: Where to start? I think the biggest thing that I want to communicate is the feeling of community and the feeling of family. World of Warcraft became more than just a game for everyone who plays it, whether you’re playing in Shadowlands or Classic. Burning Crusade and WoW Classic specifically were amazing moments where people just came together and it became more than just a game. Now that said there’s a lot of awesome gameplay features in here for people too: there’s a giant world to explore it’s vast and it spans both grounded real-world fantasy and extra-planetary fantasy since you’re going through this dark portal into a world torn asunder and Outland. There’s something there for those people for people who are interested in a bit more of a challenge we have really difficult and challenging content with heroic dungeons which were added in Burning Crusade as well as raids for new players I think one thing that really appealed about Classic and even Burning Crusade now is that there’s not a lot to catch up on. It was the start, it was the beginning so it wasn’t so intimidating to come into a world where there was 17 years of history and even though you don’t necessarily need to know that much about that history like it’s still a block for people even though you could just jump right into Shadowlands if you wanted but Burning Crusade really reset that moment for people where it’s like this is the first major expansion, you haven’t missed out on anything and you have that opportunity to jump in now and not miss out on it, so please come back this is the perfect time.

You talk about working on the old codebase and the legacy codebase, what kind of challenges does that present to the team? Or is that a whole 10-hour discussion?

Holly: Yeah it could be. Pat was a technical director before he became production director so he could literally spend hours talking about the details. The challenges are more around how we address a modern market and how to play today so for example, you know we’ve created a lot of optimisations that you know the game is more stable than it was then. Our focus is to make sure that we have the best play experience, again you know with huge populations making sure that you know we enabled some optimisations in Classic with Ahn’Qiraj so that we could get more people in space than you could historically and some of these are very tactical improvements like in Burning Crusade Classic, for arena teams we’re going to add modern matchmaking. So behind the scenes it should feel very true to Burning Crusade but on the technology side there’s a lot of effort being made to make improvements where we can, but make sure we retain that nostalgia of what Burning Crusade was then.

Patrick: I will say too, the key of working with a legacy codebase, the secret is we don’t. We work with a modern codebase. So that’s actually an important part of this too we start from today’s code. We have 17 years of improvements and stability and everything that we’ve put into this game to be as healthy as it can be and we want to start there. What is legacy or older is the data. World of Warcraft is a very data-driven game which was just excellent for us because we could take the existing code but the legacy data and just make sure that the code can read that legacy data. So a series of conversions have to occur for that data to work in our modern engine but that’s effectively the development effort that we’re going through right now to get all of that up to par with what modern players expect in a modern codebase. Fortunately, we also did this with Classic so that’s not a completely new exercise for us so we’re able to do this a little more quickly this time. Beta’s right around the corner so hop in and see how the game feels and how it plays and let us know how it’s going.

Can you discuss the shift from when Classic was first announced a lot of people were pushing for it to be as close to vanilla was and now things have shifted to yes we know this is old, but we like a few things the way they are? How did that kind of design philosophy migration happen?

Patrick: Yeah ‘No changes’ served us very well, that was the right decision for Classic to provide that as true-to-life authentic experience as we could. What we found was that people do play the game differently today than they did back then and we want to recognise that and that’s allowed us to open our minds a bit to say hey, for Burning Crusade, maybe we should do things a little differently and recognise that difference in how people play and that’s why we’re open to making some of these changes like let’s provide some more challenging raid bosses to people and use the pre-nerf versions of the boss.

What was it like watching raid progression going through Classic? Did you have expectations of what was going to happen with the raiding race?

Holly: *laughs* Players are surprising and you know when Classic launched there was no way to know how it was going to evolve or that it was going to explode like it did. But the players are so different now you know, even inventing their own gameplay like with speed runs and we didn’t see that then. So it’s been really incredible to see it evolve and you know we will grow with the community and support them in their efforts and and how things do evolve and change

Patrick: I think the initial time it took to kill Ragnaros back in 2004 was like 70 days, something around there and in the 2019 release of Classic I think it was four days. So you can tell the community is a little bit different now than it was then.

what would you say the biggest changes for burning crusade classic versus burning crusade several years ago?

Holly: There’s a bunch of things like you know with the introduction of Paladins and Shaman on opposing factions to level the playing field it did come to light that the Horde Paladin Seal of Blood was significantly better than the one that the Alliance Paladins had. And this again comes from community feedback as well as our own experiences but we felt that it was appropriate in the vein of levelling the playing field that we would give Seal of Blood that the Horde Paladins have we would give a version of it to the Alliance Paladins which is going to be called Seal of the Martyr. They’ll get it at level 70 whereas the Horde Paladins get their Seal of Blood at level 64. Likewise we’re giving the Seal of Vengeance that the Alliance Paladins have to the Paladins on Horde at level 70. So we look at tactical things that seem appropriate to change, like in Arena we use the modern matchmaking system, we are taking out spell batching to make the gameplay feel more crisp and these are all quality of life improvements not fundamentally changing Burning Crusade and the gameplay experience people had in 2007.

Working with old data and looking back, has that changed the way that you think about maintaining all databases and all codebases have you gone to the rest of the company and said hey I might need this in 20 years please please track every change you make and document it properly.

Patrick: Honestly a lot of modern tools for game development are really good at that anyway so being able to restore to a point in time isn’t too challenging. I think the challenge is that often times you don’t want to restore to that point in time. Like I don’t think anybody was interested in playing the exact 2007 version of Burning Crusade it had stability issues, it had resource issues, there was lag at times too. People want a modern version or modern take on that so the challenge isn’t necessarily restoring back to that point it’s it’s giving people what they demand and expect today but hitting all of the nostalgic feelings and moments and memories from what that game was.

Holly: One of the really awesome things too about being part of World of Warcraft with you know the team overall: Classic and Modern is that even some things we’ve found in recreating Burning Crusade and Classic has we’ve found and implemented and improved things that then get moved over into the modern game so it’s a really amazing collaborative effort with a lot of engineers having frequent discussions about like you know looking at how something worked then and how it could be improved and in some cases it does apply to the modern game as well.

Do you have any specific examples?

Holly: There’s a lot for example like with Ahn’Qiraj we created some optimisations in how we can bring a lot more people into one space, around three times as many and those optimisations have been shared with the modern team and these are all tools that the team can use if there’s a need for them.

Are you going to be playing the same class when you play through Burning Crusade Classic are you going to branch out and try something new?

Holly: I’m a completionist so I always play a Night Elf Hunter, that’s always my main and it has been since i started playing in 2004. But like I did the first time, I’m going to play a Blood Elf Paladin and I’m going to make a Draenei Shaman as well and level those up just because they’re there and I love every piece of content in Burning Crusade

Patrick: Boy that’s a tough one. Look I’ve played a Mage forever, I’m gonna play a Mage I can’t get away from it I’ve tried other classes but I can’t flip the switch to have that feel like my main. But what I do to engage being a completionist too is playing alts all the time. I’m kind of interested in playing a Rogue and maybe getting the warglaives someday. You know I like the concept of healing heroic dungeons that feels like a fun thing to me maybe I’ll try a Priest out. There are lots of different things I could play and I’m looking forward to doing all that but yeah Mage is just home for me I’ll stick with that for sure

How did the idea of progression servers and classic era realms come about?

Holly: So after Classic launched we saw a huge ask from the community to move on into Burning Crusade Classic and we believe that the majority of players are going to evolve into a Burning Crusade Classic so it made sense to make that transition into Burning Crusade Classic as simple as possible. So with all the current servers just like in 2007 the server you’re on will evolve into the next expansion. At the same time though there was a lot of players and we still hear this continually that don’t want to move on they want to remain in the Classic era and stay in that space and level up new characters and also do PVP or whatever they choose.

It was very unique to be able to offer both, it’s not something that’s very common even when you know we explore nostalgia to be able to offer that and it’s been an incredible journey to be able to make that decision and be able to serve both of those types of players and you can do both. I have a level 60 I’m going to move on into Burning Crusade but I also have a number of alts level 30s level 20s that I want to keep with my friends that we all grew up together on Classic and those are sort of our quiet time progression when we go play together so I’m going to be doing both myself and I also have my level 30 um that I’m going to want on both servers so with our clone service I’m going to be able to play my character. We’ll call her Holly I’m going to be able to play that character on both Classic era and on Burning Crusade with my friends and it’s a really unique opportunity to be able to provide that. Again, it’s all serving the community it’s what we were asked for.

What kind of cadence are we looking at for the content patches?

Patrick: So that’s something that we have a general idea of how long we think it’ll probably be, but ultimately we’re going to respond to the community’s pace and how they’re doing with this. There’s a certain amount of time that we want people to be able to collect the gear that they want and then have them breathe for a second and use the gear and enjoy it before we move the group on to the next phase. It’s not exactly like “okay the last boss died in Karazhan, it’s time to open up the next phase!” it’s like “hey we feel like people are ready for Serpentshrin Cavern and Tempest Keep and then we’ll open it at that point. We’ll keep doing that along the way, we took that same approach with WoW Classic and that felt like it was a pretty reasonable pace there so I think we’ll continue that same philosophy.

Of the Burning Crusade content what are you looking forward to the most?

Holly: My answer is different every time I think about it. For me, there are a couple of things, the dark portal moment on launch day when everyone’s just waiting for that moment to jump through. Probably shortly after that getting stepped on by a Fel Reaver um and then flying. Flying to me was just as a new mechanic and a new way to travel. I’m an art fan and I’ve always been a huge World of Warcraft art fan and just being able to see the world from a different perspective and see all the corners that I run to because I explore every inch of every zone, usually to my own peril but to be able to see a different view of that I’m really excited about it. Yet on PVP servers, I’m not excited about someone like Dawson coming and killing me. Death from above we call it.

Patrick: For me um uh i’m a little more on the hardcore side of things the the two big things i’m looking forward to is arenas. Competitive PVP was something that was new in Burning Crusade and it really helped evolve the PVP in World of Warcraft into a complete esport too so i’m looking to relive that moment and see how people engage with arenas and the viewing behind it. The other big one for me is having been a pretty active raider forever, Burning Crusade had some of the most interesting raid fights and iconic raid fights that we’ve ever done whether it be throwing tainted cores on Lady Vashj or going through the five phases of Kael’Thas in Tempest Keep or going to slay illidan and collect those warglaives there is something awesome always around the corner that is non-stop in terms of raiding fun for me personally so I’m looking forward to that.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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