Desperately Seeking Cataclysm

Since August, there's been a flurry of speculation about the release date of Cataclysm which refuses to die down. From what I understand, most of the guesses are fueled by player need. This is comical to me, for players to base development estimates on what "should" happen to minimize their boredom. I think we all know by now that Blizzard does not skimp on features to make a random deadline, so trying to dream up a timeline based on the needs of the fickle player base is pretty silly.

That said, I don't think anyone has given much consideration to how much time Blizzard needs to create all this content they've promised. They are revamping every zone in the old world and reviewing every quest. That is a ton of work. They're also adding new zones with new quests for the 80-85 folks. So what we're going to end up with is Vanilla WoW + half a WotLK in one expansion. We just heard about this expansion two months ago. Somehow it's going to be finished and fully tested in six months? Ha, I say.

While a lot of folks seem to have been dazzled by all the demonstrations that were presented at Blizzcon, I'll tell you what I saw. Mostly smoke and mirrors. The Cataclysm trailer showed overhead views of maybe six zones. It showed a few snippets of maybe 2 new dungeons. We saw basic concept drawings of a handful of new monsters. We saw actual in-game footage of the two new starting zones, which pretty much had to be completed in order to provide playable demos at Blizzcon. During the panel discussions, we saw mostly static screenshots which were probably mock-ups.

Based on this, I assume that the goblin/worgen starting zones are probably mostly complete. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the bulk of the Dev time leading up to Blizzcon went into those zones to make sure they were functional for the show. The rest of the new Cataclysm stuff is probably in the early development stages. I don't know how many of you followed the GCD presentation given by Blizzard in Austin, but I did. It was my understanding that artwork is one of the first phases of content development.

So when we see artwork, we're likely looking at the beginning of the production cycle. I don't know about you, but I saw an awful lot of landscape in the Cataclysm trailer. What I didn't see was objects, mobs, or interactivity of any kind beyond the goblin/worgen areas and existing content shots. At best I saw a handful of transformed zones, I could only solidly identify three (Barrens, Darkshore and Desolace). How many zones are in old Azeroth? I count 18 in Kalimdor and 23 in Eastern Kingdoms, not including cities or expansion zones. Out of 41 zones, we saw overhead views of maybe six. Personally, I take that to mean the others are in lesser stages of completion. Certainly they can't be more complete or they would have been featured in the Cataclysm trailer.

We also saw artist drawings of a handful of new monsters. I don't think I need to point out how skimpy that is, so we can probably safely assume that not much monster work had been done prior to Blizzcon. Surely if they had some shiny 3D models of monsters, we would have seen those in the trailer instead of pencil sketches. We also saw some dungeon shots, which may or may not have been the same dungeon. Some of them were oceanic looking and others more volcanic, so I'm gonna call that two dungeons. Still, we had no monsters or objects of any kind. We can probably assume that no boss or trash fight mechanics have been added, since the dungeons were empty. Based on the Dungeon panel at Blizzcon, I'd say that pretty much matches the first phase of implementation they described.

As for Archaeology, the new Path of the Titans, and the guild system revamp - they were kinda sketchy on details. In fact, I might go so far to say that they might not be finalized in terms of design. But based on all the new features being added and the fairly limited amount of work shown in the trailer and panels, I'm gonna call Cataclysm at best 25% complete as of August. If we can assume the bits we saw at the show were reasonably representative of actual progress, there's still a good 60-75% of the work remaining to be done. I'm not saying that most of this stuff hasn't been planned out and designed on paper, but they still need to be brought to life.

There are probably folks out there who have no problem believing that this can all be done in six months. I mean, once you have a blueprint, how hard is it to knock out? To answer that, let me run some other numbers by you. There are 37 designers for WoW. Thirty seven people to revamp 40+ zones, retool 1400 vanilla quests, create five new zones and all the quests those will need, come up with eight new dungeons with regular and heroic modes (in addition to revamping SFK and Deadmines), redesign the guild system, implement the Titan Path system and add the new Archaeology profession. There are 32 programmers and 51 artists who will be supporting this work by creating the tools and the artwork needed to put all this content together. But the lion's share of this expansion will probably fall on the 37 designers. That's a very small number of people to take on a task this huge. When I laugh at the predictions of a winter or spring release for Cataclysm, this is the main reason. I just don't think it's possible for a small team like this to finish and fully test a project this big in six months.

Here's my more realistic timeline: Once Patch 3.3 goes out the door sometime in November or December, they'll spend a good six months or so implementing the bulk of the Cataclysm changes. Then in roughly May or June they'll launch a Beta, with tons of new info coming out that will keep us busy drooling for a while. The beta will run for 2-3 months, and we'll get a release sometime between September and November of next year. I would estimate a pre-Cataclysm patch coming out around July or August with the expansion going live sometime in the fall. When you think about it, that's just over a year from announcement to release - pretty reasonable as far as I'm concerned.

I know, I know. Why don't they just hire more people or pull from other departments to make this go faster, right? Hiring more people usually doesn't work when you have a tight deadline because you have to train all those new people. I'm sure the training requirements for the WoW team are steep, which means every day (week, whatever) you spend training a new person is a day YOU are not working. When you're in crunch mode, this is counterproductive. If they really plan to shoot for a spring deadline, they can't afford to waste weeks training a bunch of new people. The other solution would be to pull help from other projects. In this case I doubt that would happen, StarCraft II and Diablo III are high profile products in their own right. I can't see management approving the poaching of talent for one project to the detriment of another.

Much as we might not like to believe it, our boredom during the December-June period probably won't be much of a factor in their development schedule. Player boredom doesn't give them a bigger team or more hours in the day. It's possible that they might take pity on us and invent an extra patch just to give us something new to do. Then again, an extra patch would take focus away from Cataclysm, which would affect the release date even more. Frankly, I'd argue to just let us be bored. Perhaps some of us will take a break from WoW and try other games. When Cataclysm does come out, we'll be that much more excited to have our WoW back ;)

17 comments:

  1. I'm pretty happy with a year (or even a little more) from announcement to implementation, and have speculated on a release date around the same time as yours. It would be sort of nice to be able to do Tricks'n'Treats on a spanky new lvl 1, but if I can have a lvl 20 by Xmas (for whatever the pet present is) I will still be in orbit. And if I can't... gives me more time for Loremaster on other toons!

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  2. good read... thanks for the interesting post... Keep them coming!

    David Warlock
    http://warlockguide.org/

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  3. So, why did they kill Ulduar so early? There was no need to do that.

    Most guilds didn't even try the hardmodes by the time they got obsoleted by the tournament.

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  4. Kring: I'm not sure why they brought out ToC so quickly, unless they were feeling pressure from the hardcore peeps. I feel like this whole expansion has gone by fast in terms of raiding. My guild is still working on UD-10, so everything above that is out of our reach for now. I've actually been running harder stuff with some other folks, but for casuals I think this progression pacing isn't realistic. I suspect most casuals are still working on regular UD, as you said. Which means most won't see ToC/IC until sometime next year. Perhaps that's the real plan, to get all the content out and clear their plates for Cataclysm while all of us are still working on the slew of raids they tossed at us?

    Quixota: I agree with you on the achievements and I have the exact same plan for when things get boring next summer. I'm going to work on Loremaster and some of the classic achievements before they go away :)

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  5. I've assumed from the beginning that Blizzard would time Cataclysm's release similar to past expansions.

    Each of them was announced, and then released roughly a year and 2-3 months afterward. No reason for Cataclysm to be any different (at least, no reason for it to be "omg faster).

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  6. I think one of the problems with using players for beta-testing is that some of them appear to think they've played the finished product and are now ready for "new" content again, and are unfortunately then the most vocal about being bored... fortunately those peeps seem to be in the minority, but unfortunately they are *very* loud about it.

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  7. There's a part of me that's impatient because of stuff I ALREADY have planned, even though Cata's nearly a year away. I doubt once my shaman gets to Outland I'll play him for a while, and will instead try another new class. The main ones I have in mind are a rogue for my eventual Worgen and a warlock, but with the Warlock revamps that, as I understand it, aren't coming 'til Cataclysm there's part of me doesn't want to spend a while getting used to how they work only for it to be all change.

    I expect I'll get my DK through to the end of Icecrown and get my Shammy to 60 first. With me having started to do dailies on my main again (I've got half an eye on a Mekgineer's Chopper, but truth be told I don't see it happening :() that should all take a bit longer and then when it comes to making a decision on another alt I guess I make a call based on how long Cata's liable to be.

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  8. Did you read this sentence from Ghostcrawler?

    > It's an item level problem. If we added another
    > raid tier to Lich King, we couldn't just keep
    > avoiding avoidance and avoid it for every tier
    > going forward.

    So... There will be another raid after Icecrown before Cataclysm?

    Or. They realized that the fucked up with obsoleting Ulduar so fast and taking it into consideration to create another raid for LK after Icecrown?

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  9. I'd think that was a theoretical extra raid tier. I don't see what there'd be after ol' Lichy, unless he escapes Icecrown and you have to chase him to his intergalactic battle station, made of saronite and corpses.

    ....

    Actually that sounds awesome.

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  10. Maybe a tournament to celebrate that we beat the LK. :-)

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  11. a tournament?does that mean i have to suffer through the god-awful aspirant quests again? /cry

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  12. Hehe. It's kind of ok if you have an old character who can use the city rep. But for newer chars which were created after the reputation revamp in 2.something, it just sucks. :-)

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  13. Maybe the Scourge will host their own tournament.

    "Take THAT, Fordring! We've got abomination jousting! Anything you can do, Argents. Anything you can do..."

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  14. Blizzard doesn't skimp on features to meet a deadline? Dance Studios?

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  15. Heheh - you make a good point Dwayne. Although I could argue that the Dance Studio falls into the category of "fluff" and therefore is expendable. Dropping it from a release doesn't harm anyone, so when crunch time hits that's exactly the type of feature that gets axed.

    Frankly, I'm not sure why they ever promised it in the first place. Designing your own dance moves is more of a Second Life type of feature and is way more user-customization than we get in any other part of the game. We can't change anything about our clothing and we have zero ability to modify stats on our items, so why would they create an "emote" customization engine before tackling core items like our gear? I'm not surprised we haven't seen it yet, I suspect someone was chemically impaired when they made that promise ;)

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  16. They dropped SSC/BT from the initial TBC IIRC.

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  17. Your dates are kinda in line with what I figured too. I figured about 4ish months from the drop of the last patch. Since technically 3.3 is the last patch, I estimated Juneish for the 4.0 "pre" patch. Mind you, with the way the Icecrown gated experience is going, I could push that upward to about late July, which would put Cataclysm August-Novemberish, with my personal guess being September/October. But this is based entirely off of rough estimates as to how the last two expansions have gone.

    I also thoroughly believe they have far more of Cataclysm done than they've even shown. While your theory makes sense, they've been talking about how many mistakes they made when WoW first came out for a long time. I'd guestimate MOST of the old world revamp is done, so the primary focus is on the new content. And I'd bet they started the old world revamp around the beginning of Wrath.

    /end two cents ^_^

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