Delve into the mysteries of Azshara with game designers Craig Amai and Dave Kosak, who talked with us about the Horde's northward expansion and the rise of the Bilgewater Cartel as part of our ongoing coverage of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Adventure, conflict, and, of course, profit await those who enter the newly re-imagined Azshara!
Q. What was the original concept for the zone?
A. Azshara has always been somewhat barren in terms of content, so our original plan was simply to fill in most of the unused space and then take some of the quests that spanned multiple zones and move them completely over to Azshara. The zone itself was a bit of a blank slate, so this approach seemed obvious from the very beginning.
While discussing our goals for the overall flow for Kalimdor, we started to heavily consider when, where, and how goblins would be introduced to questing on the continent. We realized that we were in sort of a dilemma because, at that point, four out of six Horde races were being routed through the same 10–20 leveling experience in the Northern Barrens. It was only then that we decided to retrofit Azshara as an alternative zone for level 10 through 20 Horde characters and make it a goblin hub.
Naturally, once goblins got involved, things sort of exploded.
Q. Who will be using this zone (what levels/factions)?
A. Azshara is designed for level 10 through 20 Horde characters. Goblins will be encouraged to level in this particular zone because it expands on their story and sheds some additional light on already established characters. Orcs, trolls, and tauren will be able to choose between Azshara and the Northern Barrens, based on their personal preference. (Hint: Pick Azshara!)
Q. Without giving up any spoilers, what's the general storyline for this zone? How has it changed from the original design?
A. Having recently gained the mantle of warchief, Garrosh Hellscream is preparing for war to claim all of Kalimdor for the Horde. The goblins of the Bilgewater Cartel, headquartered in Bilgewater Harbor, are playing their part by building war machines, constructing weapons, and establishing a massive naval harbor within sight of Orgrimmar. Meanwhile, the night elves aren't content to sit idly by; they fully intend to challenge this unwelcome occupation in Azshara and hopefully stymie a conflict that would otherwise be carried deep into their forests.
Amid all this tension, the Bilgewater Cartel is also out to make a name for itself in true goblin fashion. What is the best way to show solidarity? Reshape the Bay of Storms into a giant Horde symbol! From there, a secret lab, an extensive rocketway, and a "pleasure palace" with its own golf course are just natural leaps in goblin logic.
Overall, players will find that very little remains of the Azshara of old. The Hydraxian Warlords have departed. Azuregos is missing. Xylem's tower still stands, but Xylem himself seems to have stumbled upon something that has quickly driven him insane. And while clumsy explorers continue to be eaten by the local giant-life, the goblins have developed a method to make such an unfortunate circumstance practical and, yes, profitable.
Q. How has Orgrimmar's relentless expansion altered the lands of Azshara?
A. Orgrimmar now has a massive gate leading north into Azshara, and the canyon that winds into this gate will give players a brief look at the war machines being wrought from goblin ingenuity and technology. The rest of the zone expands further on this promise of destruction. The middle of Azshara includes the new Bilgewater Harbor, which acts as a naval port for the entire Orgrimmar fleet, launching boats and zeppelins to carry out Garrosh's vision for the future of Kalimdor and beyond.
Q. What have the goblins of the Bilgewater Cartel, now aligned with the Horde, done to reshape Azshara in their (or Trade Prince Gallywix's) image?
A. A quick glance at recent cartographical surveys of the region will show that the goblin commitment to the Horde cause is strong. Azshara is now the largest terraforming project on Azeroth! Whether it's sculpting the terrain to promote Horde propaganda, moving an entire mountain to pillage the minerals underneath, or slapping the face of the trade prince on a nearby crag, there's no question who wears the pants in Azshara these days.
Q. What do you think is the most exciting new addition to the zone?
A. Well, there are super-intelligent raptors, a haunted bulldozer, a crack squad of goblin commandos, a hunt for Azuregos, an insane mage with countless apprentices, rat riding, parachuting from an exploding tower...
What if we just say that the most exciting new addition to Azshara is the entire zone?
Q. You mentioned earlier that Azuregos is missing, but now he's being hunted. What's going on there?
A. Strangely, Azuregos has disappeared, and no one seems to know where he flew off to. After that last group of bloodthirsty adventurers came through on some sort of quest to make a now-useless quiver, he's just been... well, he's gone, and there have been whisperings of someone in Bilgewater Harbor who will pay handsomely for information on his whereabouts.
Q. What goes into redesigning a zone like this?
A. We wanted to maintain the original color palette and fall-foliage theme for Azshara, but beyond that, it was a complete rework from the ground up. Artists began the process by creating some incredible landmarks, including a giant cannon centerpiece for the new city and an entire "pleasure palace" complete with the goblin equivalent of Mount Rushmore, which just oozed goblin flavor. Level designers then reshaped the environment, literally moving mountains, parting waters, and erecting a colossal, zone-encompassing rocket freeway. We then worked to complement the new scenery by adding a bizarre array of quests befitting the unique and crazy capitalistic culture of the Bilgewater Cartel.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect about implementing all of these changes?
A. Not using our new terrain phasing technology to blow up everything. Self-restraint doesn't come easy.
Q. What should players do or go see first?
A. Players should ideally start at the beginning, near the rear gate of Orgrimmar, and then follow the quest series from there; it'll lead you on a nice, smooth ride of awesome. Or, if you're the impatient type, head straight to Bilgewater Harbor, take a stroll through town, and grab some lunch at the local crustacean shack.
Q. So, last question. Bilgewater Harbor: great port town or the greatest port town?
A. From its roots as a humble "city-in-a-box" to the bustling metropolis it is today, Bilgewater Harbor straddles the line between myth and legend. At least, that's what the brochure says.
The orc commanders might argue differently, though. It isn't exactly easy to maintain discipline in an otherwise lawless city where every vice you can imagine is available for just a handful of silver and debauchery is half off.
Thank you, Craig and Dave, for taking the time to sit down and speak with us about the work you've done to revitalize Azshara as an epic leveling zone in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm!