With Pandaren players able to choose either Horde or Alliance in the Mists of Pandaria expansion pack, World of Warcraft's arenas and battlegrounds will soon see an outbreak of panda-on-panda violence. I asked the game's senior game producer Ray Cobo how players will tell Pandaren apart once the fur starts flying.
As new Pandaren players make their way through the starting experience they'll slowly be introduced to the two sides of the battle now encroaching upon their ancient homeland. Once these players reach level 10 they'll have to make a decision about which faction they'll throw they're lot in with.
This means that once the Pandaren come of age they'll face each other in player versus player combat, and the opportunity for confusion arises. When you see a Gnome you know you have to kill it; that's also true for Horde players in World of Warcraft. But what happens when both sides feel the flying fists of ursine fury?
"It's something we consider a lot," Ray Cobo told me during an interview at BlizzCon 2011. "As we progressed throughout World of Warcraft we've definitely wanted to maintain the uniqueness and the look of the silhouette of characters."
The introduction of Pandaren to both sides will mark a heavier reliance on the game's UI for telling friend from foe. "We have a UI enemy that helps players tell if they're looking at an enemy or a friend, and that's evolved greatly over time. That's something we'll be leaning on a little more in terms of the PVP aspects."
Will that be enough? In the middle of a giant Alterac Valley melee, will a label floating over one of a dozen Pandaren heads mean anything? Perhaps additional measures could be taken?
"Who knows? It's something we talk about all the time. We might actually have different types of armour sets that you get as Horde or Alliance to differentiate the two factions."
Panda hair-dye in the barber shop?
It's times like these I'm glad I'm a more of a carebear than a PVPer. We'll see what Blizzard works out as Mists of Pandaria develops. Bear with them til then.