With World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Classic, fans are invited to re-experience a pivotal turning point in Warcraft history- the first expansion for one of the largest MMOs ever made.
We caught up with Patrick Dawson, production designer on World of Warcraft to talk about the launch of Burning Crusade Classic, and taking on the forces of the Burning Legion more than a decade later.
The Legion, Just As Burning As You Remembered It
One thing some people might have noticed is that World of Warcraft has changed quite a bit between the two launches of Burning Crusade, 14 years apart. When something as dearly beloved as the original Burning Crusade is re-released, there’s often a lot of anxiety that developers would feel the need to tweak it to fit modern sensibilities. Thankfully, Patrick says that’s not the case with Burning Crusade Classic.
“Our goal was to deliver the burning crusade experience that people remember to them. The only changes we’ve made are the ones that really just fix anything that was drastically imbalanced, or severe bugs that existed back in 2007 when it existed. We haven’t made any modifications other than that. The principle is always deliver the authentic Burning Crusade experience for players”, he says.
It’s not just that they didn’t actually add new content, Patrick says it’s more of a fact they they didn’t want to. Being on the dev team for the original Burning Crusade, Patrick says that what they shipped back in 2007 was very much the game they wanted to make, so there wasn’t a temptation to go back and chase any white whales.
” I was here for the original development of Burning Crusade back in 2007 and we were quite ambitious. I think we accomplished all the goals we had with things that we did want to get implemented and out to the players”, he says. “So when we took a look at it this time, knowing how vast those features were our goal was to simply make sure we deliver the same feature set to the players. I dont think there’s been a time where we said you know what, its missing x or its missing y. It’s just more that the world has been missing Burning Crusade, And that’s what we really wanted to bring to players”.
Improvements Under The Hood
While the content of the game would be near-identical to Burning Crusade’s original release, Patrick says the game is far from just repackaging an old product. While on a content level the game wouldn’t change much, there’s a lot going on under the hood with Burning Crusade Classic:
“One of the things we wanted to do with Burning Crusade Classic and Classic era rather than just simply re release what we had, we wanted to do it on modern architecture with modern technology, all of those things”, Patrick says. “That’s where we’ve been spending all of our time, making sure all our old data and all of our old rulesets still work on today’s systems. And today’s systems are a lot more reliable, a lot more scalable, they’re a lot less laggy, it’s a lot more crisp. So its bringing that experience that people have grown accustomed to to a version of the game that people remember with this tremendous nostalgia”.
He also addressed the phenomenon that often plagues remasters of older games, specifically in that fans remember a game being different simply because of the circumstances of that time. You see it all the time, with titles like Demon’s Souls seeming almost glacial in a post-Bloodborne world. Patrick says while they can’t control fans feelings, the team are doing their due diligence to make sure Burning Crusade Classic is as close to the original as they can get.
“What we have is a reference client which is the original version of the game, and that allows us to go back and fact check and make sure we’re hitting the mark of what the reality of it was back in 2007. That’s how we do those things to make sure that we’re hitting a bar”, Patrick says.
One of the benefits of the new technology is the ability to fit more players on a server. Patrick mentioned to us that with the new technology, they can implement one change that will definitely help returning players capture the first major highlight of Burning Crusade, the Dark Portal again.
“We’ve done a lot of launch tests on our PTR to make sure that we all go through the dark portal together. In Classic Era, we developed a technology called layering which allows us to get more players on a server so that way there’ll be fewer people waiting in queue to play. And then we’ve talked about how that first hour experience is right- a lot of people waiting outside in Blasted Lands waiting for that portal to open, and then going through and then what happens once they get through and how we’re gonna navigate that from a tech standpoint so that people don’t get disconnected or lagging or anything of that sort”, he explains.
That being said, even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Patrick says that contrary to what Illidan might think, the team have considered this possibility.
“We’ve prepared,- that said, sometimes stuff happens. We have a world class live operations team that’s on standby, watching everything 24/7 making sure that everything’s fixed if anything goes wrong. We’ve done our due diligence and preparation so I’m excited to see where it ends up”, he says.
The Beloved Burning Crusade
By virtue of being the first major update for World of Warcraft, it stands to reason that a lot of players would hold The Burning Crusade in high regard. Patrick says that as a result, they’re definitely aware of the possibility that some people might only want to jump in just for Burning Crusade content, and introduced one of the new changes coming to Burning Crusade Classic, a pass that lets you skip vanilla Classic and go straight for the shiny, demon-blood infused content.
“We ended up creating the Dark Portal pass which is a way for people who havent been playing classic to be able to enter the Dark Portal alongside their friends with a boost to level 58 with some basic necessities to get through there. That way if you want to have that same moment you won’t need to go through that level up process of getting ready to go through the dark portal, you can just simply enter alongside your friends”, he says.
Having shipped the original Burning Crusade, Patrick also shared some of his excitement for Burning Crusade Classic, saying he can’t wait to see the fruits of he and his team’s labor.
“You know whats weird? It’s been 14 years since it came out, It’s been a long time. I remember the feeling leading up to BC back in 2007, I’ve been a long time player of WoW, that’s never stopped for me. That passion, that desire to play has never stopped. More than anything, I’ve wanted to play that game as a player”.
“The thrill of working on it was tremendous, but just knowing what was beyond the Dark Portal as a developer, I just wanted to get in there and play it. Even after 14 years that still exists in me. I still cant wait to just get in there and play it. Having worked on it and having spent so much effort trying to make this come to pass has been fantastic and its such a rewarding experience for me. The ability to get to do it again, I can’t wait. It’s gonna be great”, he adds.
Getting Feedback from The Community
It’s not like Burning Crusade Classic had been developed in a vacuum, either. Patrick Dawson says that the team had been using their Public Test Realms (PTR) to give themselves an avenue to collect fan feedback on how they were doing with the game. Surprisingly, a lot of the game’s feedback skewed to getting the game even more faithful to its original release, even rolling back actual Burning Crusade’s nerfs on some bossfights.
“One thing that we learned from releasing classic a few years back was that really interacting with the community and hearing about the things that were important to them was a core development principle we’ve had when developing Burning Crusade Classic as well as Classic era. As we’ve done our PTR testing as well as the past week where we’ve released our pre-patch for Burning Crusade Classic we’ve been hearing lots of feedback that we’ve been acting on for sure”, he says.
“One of the big pieces of that was even before we went to the PTR a lot of players were asking us to do things like, ‘hey the raids we’d like them to be closer to their original versions’ “, he says. “One of the things we did in classic was to have all the raids be in whatever their final state was. And that would often occur after we lowered the health/damage of some of the bosses. So for Burning Crusade Classic we decided we were gonna go in and have the original versions of the health and damage of some of the bosses”, he adds.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re going to drop Burning Crusade as it was at launch, bugs and all.
“Now some of the things that we didn’t wanna put back in were some of the bugs with the bosses that made it feel a little skewed to some of the classes. Things that we had changed there remained changed. But the versions of the boss we have are the pre-nerfed versions of the bosses, that was something that we heard through the community feedback”, Patrick clarifies.
While Patrick says they’d be listening to the community, he clarified that it’s important to listen to the whole community, not just a specific type of player. He explained this was especially important for the game’s content roll out, since not every player was rushing to be World First on every boss.
“I was impressed by the cutting edge people that went through classic and folks defeated Ragnaros within the first week, for example. Most raids were beaten in this race of how many hours would it take to defeat them rather than how many days or weeks like it did back in the 2005 era”, he says.
Of course, not every player chooses to engage with the game this way. Patrick acknowledged that even if a community’s most vocal subset are the ones who clear the game in a week, they still have to consider more casual players.
“Players are definitely engaging with the content more quickly and aggressively than they had prior. The thing is that’s not all players. There are players out there who maybe take things a little slower, level a little bit more casually with their friends and approach things with a little more laid back perspective. It’s all one big community and what we look at are phase transitions and how we view those is based on the community as a whole, not just the top end that’s defeating the raids in a week”, he adds.
“There’s plenty of things for those folks to do like continuing to acquire the best gear by going back to those raids or trying to make it faster and do speedruns or engaging with the new arena system that we have if they wanna be ultra competitive in PvP .Maybe some other people that are taking their time, continue trying to beat that last boss. And we don’t wanna advance the content too early that they don’t get that chance to have that exhilarating feel of defeating Illidan or Kael’Thas or Lady Vashj in their original element so. Really we’re gonna monitor the community and how fast they defeat this and that’s when we’ll choose to move it”.
Playing The MMO You Want To Play
The other thing he noted was that at the end of the day, they were making this game for a specific audience, namely those that wanted to revisit a decades-old MMO. While it was great that WoW Classic was doing as well as it was, they weren’t gunning to be a mass-appeal kind of game. According to Patrick, they have a very specific vision for Classic, one that won’t overlap with retail World of Warcraft.
“The classic community is large and thriving and the reason we made Classic was for the people that really wanted classic. Our goals for that was to create a real exact replication of what that game was, which is why we’ve been saying no changes for so long”, he says.
“I feel like we were successful doing that, and the community has confirmed that for us which is great. Now what we have is almost a museum piece, if you wanna go back and play WoW Classic it is there waiting for you. Its included with your subscription, there’s no barrier for getting in there. Just go play and enjoy”, he laughs.
He also reminded players that your World of Warcraft subscription covers both flavors of WoW, and that the cops won’t be called on you if you decide to poke your head into one or the other.
“I think it’s really what you want as a player. Does traveling to an otherworldly version of WoW’s death land sound cool? Try Shadowlands. If traveling to an ancient planet that’s been sundered by the forces of the Burning Legion appeal to you more? then Burning Crusade might be for you. Either way it’s all included in one subscription so come and join us.”
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