Blizzcon 2011: Pandaren are ‘Not a Joke Race’ in World of Warcraft

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.

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6 Comments on Blizzcon 2011: Pandaren are ‘Not a Joke Race’ in World of Warcraft

Mozer

On October 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm

I actually liked the darker atmosphere of Cataclysm to be honest. My biggest problem with this expansion is that its something new. I’ve always felt WoW did better when basing the story lines off something already present in the lore. I really do hope they deliver. I really do.

Brewmaster

On October 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I gotta say I am glad about the inclusion of the pandaren. Finally finally they included the pandaren as a playable race. This is what WoW fans have been asking for years ever since the april fools joke, they got a taste of it in the frozen throne expansion, they also got the panda monk companion which was another taste. Now they are coming up as a full playable race. This is what all that panda loving has come to and I love it. I am slightly happy but a little doubtful about the expansion itself, as warcraft has never really had a “light” tone per say. But definitely it should provide a similar feel to stranglethorn vale, if a little friendlier at first. I am really looking forward to this and i hope to God Blizzard delivers.

chromicat

On November 1, 2011 at 2:02 am

The pandaren are so exciting, I absolutely love them! I believe it’s a little unfair to draw comparisons to Jack Black movies etc., if Blizzard had had the chance a few years ago, they would have included the pandaren before Kung Fu Panda etc., but I am glad they waited. Now they have the technology and art to pull them off perfectly.
@Mozer, the pandaren have had lore for years, it’s been in the warcraft universe since Wacraft III, so I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say they’re doing an expansion on something entirely new because it’s not.

Fred

On November 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

A passion project for the lead artist? That was the excuse we got for why WoW looks like a kid on crack did the graphics. They need to stop that crap.

Kai

On September 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Funny stuff, the panda cameo in Warcraft III was not even close to cool enough to merit a full playable race, buddy has every right to make fun. It’s bloody stupid regardless of wether or not the movie came out first. There gonna lose subs, and rightly so.

Cascade

On May 10, 2013 at 6:47 am

I left because of this “joke” and haven’t returned since.

Maybe they need to revisit their means of determining what their customers what.