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War Production: Chatting With Frank Pearce of Blizzard

At GDC, Arti Gupta chatted with Blizzard Entertainment’s Frank Pearce about the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well as integrating mobile phone applications to support the experience of their core games and developing for fans new and old alike.

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By Arti Gupta

At GDC, Arti Gupta chatted with Blizzard Entertainment’s Frank Pearce about the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well as integrating mobile phone applications to support the experience of their core games and developing for fans new and old alike.

Arti Gupta: Let’s talk about the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft. I know one of your focuses for this expansion pack was to get new players attracted quickly, include social media aspects in the game, and also try to balance that with the needs of hardcore gamers. How did you do that?

Frank Pearce:

It’s a difficult balance. In terms of making it accessible for new players, one of the most important things we did is to go back and revamp all the starting zones for all the existing races, all the old-school races. That’s really where people that are new to the game go, and that’s where it’s going to make or break you in terms of whether or not you grasp it and love it. But then we always focus on end-game content for our most hardcore players. So we added content that takes players from level 80 to 85, and we’ve got some really great five-man dungeons, five-man heroics and some other great content as well.

A.G.: The game also looks great. What new graphics effects rolled out with Cataclysm? F.P.:

One of the really awesome things that we did recently … was we revamped the water. The water looks amazing now. Before, it was a very tiled, graphical look -- and I personally hated it. You would be on flight paths that would take you out over the water, and you would look down and the water would look horrible. I would be asking, “Why did we put this flight path over the water that emphasizes how awful it looks?” But now our water looks amazing.

A.G.: Shifting gears: Gaming on mobile phone factors is exploding. How is Blizzard handling that? F.P.:

For us, we have so many great ideas to consider that, when it comes time to execute, we just don’t have the resources to do everything we would like to be able to do. We’ve talked about Cataclysm, we’ve talked about Starcraft 2, we’ve talked about Diablo 3. These are all projects that require an immense amount of resources for us to be successful. So for us, when we look at social networking platforms and mobile platforms, it’s more about identifying ways we can enhance the experience of our primary PC gaming experiences and build around that for right now. That seems like something that’s manageable for us and can potentially really enhance the gaming experience.

If you look at World of Warcraft as an example, we have a mobile app that’s called the Armory, and it allows you to browse character profiles. Within the last year, we added a mobile auction-house functionality. You can actually interact with the in-game environment through an interface on your mobile phone and post auctions and bid on auctions and retrieve items from your mail. It’s something where we’ve got a big, long list of ideas that we think we can use to enhance the experience through mobile game. We’ll plug away at it, and I think you’ll see more stuff like that in the future.

A.G.: What can you tell us about other games you have in development? F.P.:

Um…nothing? [Laughs]

A.G.: I was afraid you were going to say that! F.P.:

It’s no secret that we’re working on an unannounced MMO, but we’re not talking about it.

Arti Gupta has worked on software-engineering projects as a developer, architect and project and product manager for more than 10 years. Now she does community management for game development on the Intel Software Network site [disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this website]. Gupta likes reading, traveling and spending time with her family. Follow her on Twitter: @artigupta.

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