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Interviews: PAX East 2018 - On Island Expeditions with Daniel Stahl & Morgan Day

By William Murphy on April 12, 2018

PAX East 2018 - On Island Expeditions with Daniel Stahl & Morgan Day

During PAX East, the Blizzard team was there in full force promoting the next WoW expansion: Battle for Azeroth. We managed to sit down with Morgan Day and Daniel Stahl to chat about some of the new PVE content and systems being added to the game, primarily the Island Expeditions and the Warfronts. Read on for part one of our exclusive interview with Daniel and Morgan!

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MMORPG: Can you tell us your roles on the BfA team?

Morgan Day:  Well, I'm on the Islands team, dungeons and raids.

Daniel Stahl: I'm on dungeons and raids, encounter design.

Robin, MMORPG: So my main question after doing the demo over there was I know right now it's three versus AI, and not like other actual people, and what I was wondering about and I wanted to double check. When it's three versus three real people, will you actually be able to run into the other team, and be able to fight them or something?

Morgan: Oh yeah, for sure.

Daniel: Absolutely.

Morgan: With Islands Expeditions there's four different difficulties, the normal, heroic, mythic, similar to what you've seen in dungeons and raids. And then in addition to that, there's the PvP difficulty, which will feel like a new activity similar to what you've seen before in--

Bill, MMORPG: Can you do like normal PvP, heroic PvP, or is it just like a PvP choice, like you go in there?

Morgan: I believe the PvP difficulty is heroic, is that correct?

Daniel Yeah it's just its own thing, there's only one PvP. But Islands do scale, so as your gear scales it scales you.

Bill: Gotcha, okay, and you'll be matched up with people appropriate to you?

Daniel: It uses the normal matching system.

Bill: That's cool, cause that's what I was wondering because there can be some interesting play about whether you gather resources, or you try to slow down the other team and stuff.

Morgan: Yeah, I'm actually really excited to see what players do, once they get their hands on the PvP mode.

Daniel: I think we just put it up on the alpha almost, correct me if I'm wrong, on Tuesday? So I'm really excited to see, you know, what are the different strategies? What are the different tactics that the teams take? And on top of that, you know, Islands Expeditions are really, really dynamic. There are gonna be at least five different islands that we are aiming to ship with. So this is only the first one that the players have seen. This is more like a jungle environment. But each new island should have very different environmental paths to take.

Bill: Yeah, and then what is on the island is actually random each time too right, from a collection of stuff?

Daniel: Sure, the islands are built such that we look at the, what sort of the ecosystem that would be on this type of environment, so, we think a lot about ecology, like what would make sense to be on a molten volcano versus what's in a deep, dark forest, or what's in a icy, iceberg kind of place, right.

Morgan: So when we look at that we... The reason why you're not seeing them yet in alpha is we're building all of the different ecologies that can be on each one. So while you're seeing crabs and basilisks and all sorts of different things on this island, you could go to an island in a different part of the South Seas and it'd be entirely different life and ecology.

Daniel: But the size also differences. We have some, this is, I think, one of our more normal-sized islands. But we have islands that are bigger and islands that are smaller than this as well. On top of that, you know, like, there are so many other things that make the Islands Expeditions feel extremely replayable. For instance, even just your starting location on the island is gonna change every time you go there right?

You know, these are supposed to be islands that we were given a treasure map. You know we've scouted these islands and said, "there's Azurite over there, go check it out." So then when you land upon the island it'll be in a different location every time, your enemy team will be in a different location.

So even if you've gone through an island and you're like "okay cool there's nodes in here, "I've landed here, I see there's a shrine over there that might give me a buff, and there's a big rare elite over here who has a ton of Azurite on him, but then maybe there's a big Azurite vein that's popped up out of the middle of the island straight ahead. So which way do I go?"

Morgan: Right, and every time you land that might be a different decision. On top of that there's other cool things that we've discussed, there are big events that will pop up, right, so. What you guys saw up here, there's like an elemental invasion that can happen, there's a new weather system that we have created for Battle for Azeroth that, I think we added weather in like patch 1.08 or 1.09, that was a long time ago.

Daniel: It was a long time ago.

Morgan: So we're like, Islands Expeditions are gonna be a great opportunity to add new weather effects that could affect the way you approach the island as well. So there's just a tremendous amount of dynamic events that can happen.

Daniel: It's replayable, like really replayable.

Morgan: And there's all new technology that we developed for this that we call Advanced NPCs, which are... Part of the huge story, the huge thing that we're pushing in Battle for Azeroth is the sense of exploration, right?

Daniel: There's two new continents, there are new allies to bring into the fold, to try to bring into the Horde or the Alliance, and we wanted to really sell that,you know that factions butting-head feel with every Island Expedition, so even if you're not doing PvP islands, there will be Advanced NPCs that can show up, like I'm sure you saw there. There are NPCs that were running around the island that probably didn't quite act like you were expecting them to, right?

They didn't just charge headlong at you and try to punch you in the face until one of you fell over. (laughs)

Which is what most NPCs do in our game, right? These guys were looking at those objectives that were popping up and saying like "okay cool, do we go after that objective? Do we run away from the Horde or the Alliance? Do we run after them?"

Bill: So even when you're not playing the PvP mode you'll actually have; the NPCs will be playing against you as well?

Morgan and Daniel: Yes

Bill: Like a third faction.

Morgan: The enemy NPC teams are, they're very very different than NPCs like you've seen before, and on top of that they all have different unique personalities, and those personalities influence the way that they interact with the island, right?

Daniel: There's an NPC that we love to talk about--

Bill: A Ben Brode NPC? (laughs)

Daniel: Not quite. (laughs)

Morgan: (laughter) "That's a great idea."

Daniel: I dunno about that one, we'll see if he's okay with it. (laughs) But there's an NPC named Sneaky Pete, right? And that group of expeditioners look around, and look to more engage you in early on, in the island and kind of try to disrupt your play.

Or there might be another Advanced NPC group that is more, they retreat more, they run away, they're less combative and are more about like, trying to capture of the Azurite as they can.

Morgan: I would add to that that not only they're built with the personality, and they're not just binary either, right? Even though we do have aggressive teams and we have less aggressive teams, they can also change their mind. They have the ability to say "hey, this isn't working, we're losing, let's do something different, and they can actually adjust on the fly to what's happening on the island.

They can also be really far ahead and decide "okay, let's go harass now." We're not entirely sure what they'll do, because they've been given enough behavior on their own.

Bill: Who designed the AI for that one?

Morgan: Well we have a great development team that worked on these. We took the core root of what was already in WoW, and we tried to decide "okay, how would we build a system that would be able to be more strategic, more team focused."

Daniel: You know a lot of creatures in World of Warcraft really are single-focused on to you, and they're not very aware of their surroundings, so they don't really know that there's an AoE over there, they don't necessarily know that, you know, where their teammates are standing. So these are far more aware, so when we developed it we tried to think about all the different things that we can do with that.

PART TWO COMING TOMORROW!

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.