World Of Warcraft
There's Just something about World Of Warcraft. Whenever you see a screenshot, you just know that it couldn't possibly be from any other game. Perhaps it's the bright colours - a few shades off being garish - that give the environments a slightly comic-book feel. It's certainly something that Chris Sigaty, producer on WOW, is musing about.
Our artists took a while to come up with the style, then they had an epiphany, Chris explains. There's something about the proportions in the game, the art and the style that's reflected in everything. It's very unique. You could break it down and say this is snow, or this is desert, but everything has a particular flavour and character which you don't see in other MMORPGs." WOW might be stylish, with its epic landscapes that stretch from snow-capped mountain ranges to parched deserts, but it certainly isn't particularly realistic. As far as Chris is concerned though, there's no reason why it should have to be.
There was a great post in one of our forums where someone was arguing against WOW, saying that realism in a MMORPG was better. One guy defended us by posting up two pictures. One was a photo of these two German guys on a raft going down a river, and it was very realistic. The other was a painting from the 1600s of men on a boat with waves crashing all over them. It was stylistic and epic, which is what we're all about.
When it comes to being epic, the WOW team has a lot to draw from. Much of the inspiration for the environments and details in the game have been taken from Warcraft III. The team has done a fantastic job on it, enthuses Chris, who was also the producer on WC3.
There was this very established universe to work from, and they've done so many things where they've captured the character of that world. For example, in WC3 you fight these creatures called the Narga, which are these lizard-mermaid creatures. You learn that they're related in some way to the night elves. In the game, when the night elves swim, they do so in this very serpentine way. It's a really subtle thing, but having all this rich, rich detail in the background allows for little things like that to be put in.
And as any devotee of Blizzard's previous titles will tell you, it's the little things that make the games the classics they are. WOW looks set to join them.
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By our calculation, there are 100-odd massively multiplayer online games currently in development. And no doubt many more that haven't been announced yet. Of these, most will never see the light of day. The market for online smiting just isn't big enough, and besides, a lot of them are crap. (Just for fun, let's name a few: Caeron 3000, Ages OfAthiria, Frontier 1859, Gladius Online...) By the same token, there are very few online games that are guaranteed success. This, however, is one of them, partly due to the fact that Blizzard games are played religiously in the heartland of online gaming (South Korea), and partly because Blizzard is a guarantee of painstaking, polished-to-a-sheen quality. What's more, Blizzard's first venture into the massively multiplayer arena is probably its best looking game ever.
The game-world has a brilliantly solid and chunky feel to it and a cheerful, cartoonish quality accentuated by jaunty angles and the trademark bold colour scheme. The sheer imagination in the creature design is also brilliant. Forget spiders and skeletons - here you're talking giant fish, dinosaurs, razor-clawed scarecrows. It's still a traditional fantasy world at its core, but handled with such creative abandon and humour that it has none of the po-faced tedium of many fantasy games.
The gameplay may still be straight down the line questing, levelling and item-collecting, but unlike most of the fantasy worlds being built out there, this is one we can't wait to explore.
If You're Reading this, most likely you're just like us: you've played World of Warcraft, maybe for hours, grinding to 60 or 70, then decided it wasn't for you (after realising how much time you'd spent in Azeroth) and promptly quit. But everybody - even those who played it only briefly - feels the itch from time to time to return and see whether the world's biggest fantasy MMO has changed - only to find that it's still the same, charmingly addictive hamsterwheel it's always been. With every update there's a little tweak or polish, and depending on how long you've been away, varying levels of changes make it appeal to anyone, from casual manbabies to full-on neck-beard veterans.
If you gave up before it was released, The Burning Crusade changed a great deal. There were two new races added - the Blood Elves and the Draenei - but the most notable alterations were to Blizzard's design philosophy. While some of the original zones and dungeons had quests that were badly spaced and flowed in an irksome fashion (Ashenvale, for example), Burning Crusade areas were beautifully crafted. From the lower level areas such as the Ghostlands to the Hellfire Peninsula and Zangarmarsh, WOW became far more pragmatic and geared towards clusters of quests. And 60-70 was, for all intents and purposes, a great deal more fun and dramatic than the relative slog from 30-60. This included bombing runs that had you riding bats or gryphons and dropping explosives on huge crowds of enemies, and the Hellfire Citadel, a multi-level instance towards a final raid against Magtheridon of Warcraft III.
After The Burning Crusade, patch 2.3 led WOWs developers to tweak every level between 30 and 60, and re-tuning most quests to reward more experience. They also, after leaving it rather sparse after release, filled in Dustwallow Marsh with a series of 30+ quests, which filled a gap once hastily covered with grinding instances. Suddenly the Scarlet Monastery was no longer a source of RSI, and the Hinterlands were an enjoyable romp that scored you a level or two - especially with the several Elite troll-killing quests now being soloable.
Battlegrounds and PvP were also established and expanded a few months past release, with the Arathi Basin, Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley battlegrounds allowing players to war with each other from level 10 up. This was later expanded into Battlegroups, with players from different realms tearing each other apart and gaining honour, which can be turned in for special armour and weaponry.
Between Tuesdays and Thursdays, Blizzard also introduced Holidays, rewarding victories in a rotating set of battles (including those from the expansions) with cash and reputation rewards. This was very effective in : retaining the 70 crowd prior to the release of Wrath of the Lich King at the end of 2008, alongside daily quests that intertwined with the heroic (ie much harder) dungeon quests.
I Players are allowed to complete 25 daily quests a day, with each one giving a certain amount of money and Badges , of Justice, which can then be turned in for higher-level equipment This allows .non-raiders to gear themselves up without having to guild up. The badges aren't totally limited to the heroic dungeons, with some rewarding you with gold and reputation for normal dungeon-crawling, but badges are available only for the top-tier grinders. There are even cooking and bonding quests throughout Outland and Northrend that reward you with faction-related currency to cash in for special gear.
We reviewed Wrath of the Lich King recently, and made a point we're repeating again: WOW has become the FIFA of the MMO world. There isn't much innovation, but it is one of the slickest, consistently playable games out there. There's little danger that servers are going to be downsized (in fact you'll have to queue to get on the popular servers) and we predict that there'll be a two more expansions in WOWs lifetime - more if subscriptions continue to rise above 11 million.
The question you want to ask yourself is how much grinding you can take. While The Burning Crusade was an original, fun-packed expansion, Wrath of the Lich King repeated the 'kill this, do that' mentality without much that was new. If you stopped playing after Crusade, you'll most likely return to find you're playing much similar content Unless you can scrape up a group of 10 people, World, of Warcraft isn't stunningly different to how it was two, or even four years ago - it's just a lot slicker and a lot easier to get into.
We'd still recommend it to new players, as it's well-made and undeniably addictive, but if you've taken less than a year's break from the game, there's not a great deal that's changed - for better or worse.
It A Large orc statue to his left, Blizzard producer Shane Dabiri in front of him and lead game designer Jeffrey Kaplan to his right, Will Porter discovers the true story behind World Of Warcraft. Now, in the wake of the announcement of the Burning Crusade expansion, he lets the men in the know do the talking. Shane's got the goatie since you ask...
Dabiri: "Tlie original idea came about six years ago: a lot of us were playing MMOs, so we just thought why not make one? Tlie debate at the time was over what kind of MMO it would be and what world we would put it in. We have all these great universes that we based our RTS games around, and Diablo (which was already an RPG), so we decided to just tap into what we already had. People had already experienced the RTS side, they'd fought these battles - but they hadn't actuaily been able to explore these worlds."
Why Not Starcraft Or Diablo?
Dabiri: "At the time, we were all very much into fantasy-type MMOs and we'd only just finished doing StarCraft: Brood War- so we had this real excitement about the Warcraft universe because we hadn't touched it in a while. There's so much history behind it, there've been books about it, we've even done paper-and-pencil role-playing games - it's a universe that really has a dear place in our hearts and that's why it was the route that we decided to take."
Building The World
Kaplan: "Most of the concepts in the creation of Azeroth came from our creative director Chris Metzen - he's the keeper of lore around Blizzard and he started designing maps based on previous maps and lands. We started figuring out the landmass, figuring out the different areas and asked ourselves questions about the places, the races and the stor. Then we moved onto concept art and getting everybody excited about it We looked at it as if we were building a real, existing place - but it really all started with just one simple idea."
Dabiri: If you look at the different RTS games we've made, then you can see we did a ton of lore in those, but there are things that we never touched on - like women in the game, for example. There were a few women characters in the game, but we really didn t have a lot about them, and we didn't have religions in the game or the origins of the races either. So we replicated a lot of what you saw in the RTS game, although there was a whole world that wasn't there - it was up to our imaginations to come up with new things to do for say, the Titans or Ogrimmar - a lot of this stuff had been talked about, but we'd never worked out exactly what they looked like and where they came from."
Kaplan: "It's definitely a set universe, but it's a universe that we've created so if we need to bend it, we don't have to go and ask permission from a license holder. We can do whatever we want with it, as long as we keep true to the spirit of the world. If we need to change things around, we'll do it"
Dabiri: "There's a recent example of the unexpected: the plague. We'd implemented a new dungeon which included a spell effect called 'Corrupted Blood'. It was a spell that did damage to you, and if you came near other players, the spell effect passed on to them. The idea was that this spell existed only in this dungeon, but there was a bug and it got out. Players went back into towns and were spreading it to other players. We quickly resolved the issue, but what surprised us was that on the game's forums, players were like: "Wow, what a fantastic world event! The day the plague wiped out Ironforge!" We got calls from the CDC - the Centre for Disease Control - saying: "Hey, what's all this about the disease in your game? We want to look at the simulation data -it might help us in a real-world situation." We kept saying: "No, no, no, it's just a bug! We fixed it, it's just a game!"
Kaplan: "It showed us that players have a tendency to live in this world and see things that happen as part of it. We had some angry customers calling us saying they just died, but it did give us some ideas for some possible real future events."
Easter Eggs When It Isn't Easter
Dabiri: "One of our designers wanted to do some secret content, so there's a lot of stuff in our game that players have to discover - and when they find it, they think it's awesome. Like the first time you see the sea giants and they bend over and fart and the bubbles come out. Plus, a lot of the emotes for players were thought of because when you're fighting a monster, you don't want it to just stand there. So, every now and then it'll do something crazy, like a skeleton will take his head off and toss it in the air. It's so that players have a few things to discover above and beyond the regular levelling up."
Customers Are Always Right
Dabiri: "Right now, World Of Warcroft is exactly what we wanted it to be when we shipped, and even to this day we're just evolving it even more. We always listen to the customer feedback though, so a lot of the systems that are in place now are based on player demand - like the necessity for more PvP in the game, which is why we added Battlegrounds and the honour system. With the latest dungeon that we released, Zul'Gurub, we had a lot of players who said they didn't have time to go into a 40-man raid and spend hours playing. With Zul'Gurub, we wanted to bridge the gap between doing a 40-man raid and doing a five-man dungeon. There's this idea of casual level 60s, somebody who only has an hour or two to play, so we wanted to give something to this type of player so they could progress within the game. A lot of the reputation-based quests in the game are based on feedback from players who wanted content they could do themselves."
Favoured Races And Professions
Kaplan: "I love my gnome, my gnome is awesome. And I love my undead character as well. I play all of the races, but the one I've most recently played tends to be my favourite."
Dabiri: "I play a priest. It's interesting - we've had psychologists call and ask us to tell them how many people play as these different classes, and to ask those players if there's a certain personality they tend towards as a hunter or a warrior. So I thought yeah, I sort of have the personality traits a priest would have - I like to help people, I want to be the guy that makes sure everybody stays alive, and as a producer on the team that's sort of what I do anyway - I help people out. It was interesting to make that parallel."
Dabiri: "Leeroy was awesome! After we'd seen the movie, all you could hear that day from office to office was: "LEEROOOOY!" At one point, we even considered putting the ghost of Leeroy Jenkins in Blackrock Spire. That's the sort of stuff that's just endlessly entertaining, we just love it."
Dabiri: "There's this quest that you do right at the entrance to Dun Moragh with these Dwarven riflemen at a shooting range. They start shooting at the targets and shooting at each other, and one of them shouts out, "Now I got my boomstick!" or something like that. I hadn't realised the sound team had put that in yet, and when I was doing the quest I heard that and thought it was hilarious. It just shows that there are so many little areas in the game with so many intricate details.
"We spent the last five years building this stuff in, and that's one thing I think is lacking in many games: the attention to detail. You can tell that every zone was tenderly painted, every rock and tree individually placed, you go into a building and see books, and pots and pans - somebody visualised and placed all of these things. The quests follow the same route too - you may have noticed the little parodies we include like peoples' names and references to previous games: players really dig that. They pick up on those, and there are an endless amount of them in the game. It's what makes this game really special; it's deep and far more than just levelling up, finding items and increasing your abilities. It has a lot of cool and funny elements to it. it's almost like watching an episodic TV show and you're waiting to see what happens next, waiting to see how we'll surprise you."