After Vice President of Creative Development Chris Metzen introduced the next World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, during the opening ceremony of Blizzcon 2011, a bit of controversy ensued.
Glance through any set of World of Warcraft forums and it seems the WoW community has become somewhat divided over the expansion. Some players are very positive on the newly added Pandaren race, which are basically beer-brewing kung fu-fighting panda bears (not to be confused by the Jack Black films of similar title). Others, on the other hand, seem to have some pretty negative opinions about the pandaren and the expansion in general; they seem to worry about the potentially cute-and-cuddly implications of giant pandas, especially given that the pandaren previously showed up as an April Fools’ Joke created by Blizzard for Warcraft III.
But during the World of Warcraft Story and Lore panel Saturday, Metzen was unequivocal about the pandaren and this expansion’s place in the greater WoW lore.
“This is no joke,” Metzen said in response to a question about whether Mists of Pandaria would see more serious story content. “This is not a throw-away silly-silly ha ha funny expansion set; it is absolutely the next vital chapter and as things ratchet up, they’re gonna get really gnarly.”
Metzen explained at length the birth of the pandaren race and said that the WoW developers had been thinking about a way to make use of the race for some time. He also mentioned the genesis of the pandaren as a passion project by Lead Artist Sam Didier.
There’s no way we’re gonna build an expansion set based on an April Fools Joke. What you guys may not know is, our senior art director, Sam Didier, started drawing these guys years ago. It was just a passion project for him, and he painted all sorts of pictures of these guys and nobody really thought we would really include them in Warcraft — it was just what he loved drawing. And so he had crazy panda shamans and his artwork was off the hook. And I remember, was it in Warcraft III, we included Chen Stormstout in Frozen Throne, maybe, in the Orc campaign? Was it after that? I can’t remember anymore. But these guys are not a joke. This is an idea that we’ve been thinking about for years. It’s one of our favorite flavors of Warcraft. It’s not ultimately really silly, it’s just a little lighter.
But the context of what’s going on where they live, the context of what’s happening in the history of the world at this time: serious as a heart attack. They’re just really chill about it. This is no joke. This is not a throw-away silly-silly ha ha funny expansion set; it is absolutely the next vital chapter and as things ratchet up, they’re gonna get really gnarly.
The idea is, as things get super-crazy in the world between red and blue, the pandaren are going to be part, ultimately, of the solution because they just think differently than most of us do — they’re a little more far-sighted. So they’re really going to make a difference in the history of the world; it’s definitely not a light, throw-away expansion set in any way. Like Dave said, come on the ride with us. Be patient, but don’t jump to conclusions about how thin the idea is. It is not — it’s about as rich a kit as anything we’ve put out so far and it’s definitely got its intrigues and its dangers and its drama. It ain’t armies of the dead and it ain’t demons fallin’ out of the sky, but it’s definitely gonna have some flavor and some teeth.
During an interview with Game Front, Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak, who also was on the panel with Metzen, echoed the sentiments that Mists of Pandaria may seem more light-hearted, but it’s just as important to the overall WoW experience as the previous expansion sets.
“I think a lot of people that aren’t buying into the idea right away don’t realize the depth of the race. They remember an April Fools’ joke, right? They don’t really remember what’s actually there,” Kosak said. “I actually think the pandaren as a culture are really neat. I would encourage you, if you aren’t really climbing onto the idea, to check out what’s there, what’s in the game, because the pandaren are fascinating, they’re fun — they live hard, they work hard, they play hard, they drink hard, they nap hard. they don’t do anything halfway. So they’re a very fun, very lively, vibrant people.”
Kosak also said that a playable pandaren race is “by far” the most asked-for World of Warcraft feature among fans. He also said that Blizzard is very excited to bring the pandaren into the greater WoW universe.
“There’s a couple things we really liked about it: one, it’s a cool culture that players are excited about. Two, it gives us this opportunity to do this land and this environment that we’ve never done before and in an amazingly beautiful way. Our artists and exterior designers have done this amazing job creating this absolutely beautiful world that’s so much fun to explore. We also love the idea of just changing it up a little bit. Cataclysm was a very dark expansion. It was pretty heavy, heavy stuff. So we really wanted to give players a change of pace and give them something to explore and interact with, in a brighter, friendlier environment.
“We’re excited about it because we’ve wanted to do this expansion for a long time, and now the time is perfect.”
Follow Hornshaw on Twitter: @philhornshaw.