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Crafting a Perfect Release: From Shattering to Cataclysm

Bow Down To Us: WoW • Home

December 13 2010

Crafting a Perfect Release: From Shattering to Cataclysm
by Lodur

Blizzard Entertainment has always crafted games that have resonated with fans, and their hit MMO World of Warcraft has been going strong for six years. Recently, their third expansion for this game was released; Cataclysm. The build up to the release is something that was long planned, and perfectly executed. It was crafted so perfectly that it drew players back in who had long since given up on the game.

So how does one craft the perfect event?

The Seed

At Blizzcon 2008, before the release of Wrath of the Lich King, the developers at Blizzard informed us that not only would we be able to kill the Lich King in their next expansion, we would be facing down a big named villain from the RTS story line; Deathwing. Fans in the audience cheered loudly, and it was obvious the excitement present over the prospect of facing such an icon.

A little over a year ago, when a content update to WoTLK brought us access to Icecrown Citadel, things started happening. Earthquakes began to plague the lands of Azeroth. It started with small quick tremors at odd, irregular intervals. Players first noticed it in the halls of the citadel as dust and debris filtered down from the ceilings. Most wrote it off as the citadel itself shaking as we approached the Lich King himself.

After that, the quakes spread. Stormwind City began to quake, and Ogrimar trembled. Blizzard issued no official statement on these quakes for weeks. The quakes began to become more frequent, and then Blizzard made a statement on their forums that this was all part of something much bigger… something yet to come. They didn’t mention what it was however, and just left it at that.

The Buildup

Over the course of the next year, the quakes became more frequent. Against the backdrop of the quakes, two events were shaped that were answers to questions long since asked over the course of WoW’s long lifespan.

Why didn’t Gnomes and Trolls have their own starting areas? Gnomes and Trolls had long since been secondary races attached to the bigger stronger races. Gnomes lived in the city of the Dwarves, having lost their home, and the Trolls lived in Ogrimar with the Orcs. Blizzard released a short term event in where the Gnomes attempted to take back their lost city, and the Trolls went to unseat an evil influence and claim their islands.

Shortly after this event, doomsday cultists began to appear inside of Stormwind and Ogrimar speaking of the coming destruction of the world. The doom-speakers were roaming the cities and attempting to recruit citizens into their numbers. The leaders of the cities tasked players with finding out what they were up to. Players then thwarted their recruitment plans by posting warnings, disrupting speeches and infiltrating the cults numbers.

In essence, minor quests began to pop up in the two major focal points of the upcoming Cataclysm expansion. The plot of the cult revealed, players were brought right into the midst of the story. Also at this time, in both major cities, the faction leaders were meeting to discuss the aftermath of the Lich King’s death, and the more frequent earthquakes, now plauging the lands.

As if that were not enough, elmentals of all four types—fire, water, earth and wind—could be seen spawning in almost every zone of Azeroth and Outlands. The world itself seemed to be in a state of distress.

A week later, players were asked to aid the Earthen Ring. Like the Cenarion Circle, this is a group of neutral Shamans who are working for the betterment and survival of the entire world. Players were asked by the Earthen Ring to either retrieve the Tablets of Earth for the Alliance, or the Tablets of Fire for the Horde. Players participated in an event where an enemy cultist attempted to steal the tablets back from the respective couriers. Players were also tasked with subduing rogue elementals that found their way into both Ironforge and Orgrimmar.

A week after the tablets were obtained, the activity of the cultists got out of hand. Players were tasked with searching citizens, looking for signs of malcontent. Players were also given the opportunity to place members of the cult attempting to infiltrate the city populace under arrest. After doing a little house cleaning, players were then sent back under cover into the cultist’s camps. Their job was to steal a book of incantations the cultists were using in their summoning rituals. Players then took the book to the cultist altar.

In a moment of Sam Raimi proportions, players used the wrong incantation to stop the ritual before the cultists could complete their task. After stopping the ritual, players were then sent to Outland and the Throne of Elements to speak with either Gavan Frayfeather or Thrall about the elemental events happening in Azeroth. This quest complimented the events contained in the novel The Shattering, by Christine Golden.

The last week of the event were the culmination of a month’s buildup. Through the work of the cultists, the denizens of the Elemental Planes finally gathered enough strength to attack the capital cities. Orgrimmar, Thunderbluff, Ironforge and Stormwind all came under assault by various elementals. Players fought back in order to take control of their cities and drive the elementals back to their home plane. After successfully defending their cities, players were tasked with going to take out the various elemental generals responsible for the attacks. Accompanied by their faction’s leaders, players fought against Kai’ju Gahz’rilla, Crown Princess Theradras, Grand Ambassador Flamelash and Prince Sarsarun. Each boss was contained in a special instanced version of Zul’farak, Mauradon, Black Rock Depths and the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj. Players were rewarded with loot on par with the current 10-man raid content, and the praise of their leaders.

The Payoff

Once again feeling safe and secure, players went about their business as normal. It was at this time though, that the Shattering occurred. Deathwing tore through the elemental planes and back into Azeroth, beating a path of fire, death and destruction everywhere he went. The world itself was reshaped, entire zones changed forever at the coming of the aspect of death. Quite literally everything changed. Every zone’s geography was altered at least slightly; major cities like Stormwing and Orgrimmar underwent massive changes, and the entire world players had grown to know over the last six years was changed. New mobs, new quests, new flight paths and everything in between waited for players when they logged in. It was to pave the path to the release of their new expansion less than two weeks after the Shattering.

Blizzard was going to forever change their game world. Everything about it was to become more refined than it had been over the course of its many years. Players were drawn back in by the events leading up to the breaking of the world, and brought back to explore life after the Cataclysm. Blizzard did a fantastic job not only of drawing players back in, but rekindling a sense of excitement in players who had long since lost that feeling of elation and wonder with the game. Veterans and new players alike flocked back to the game just to see what all the commotion was about. It was the promise of everything we knew and expected being thrown out the window and being rebuilt that rekindled the flames of curiosity and enjoyment in us. It was the events that perfectly framed the breaking of the world, drawing players into the drama and story of a world in jeopardy. It was a perfect, world changing event the likes of which no other game can hold up to at this time, and will serve as an inspiration for those that follow. This event was long in planning, but ultimately created such a sense of wonder through its perfect story balance and fed our sense of excitement so well that it will be something others are hard-pressed to recreate or imitate.

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