25 years of Warcraft: the story that transcended two genres in video games.
“So, we were playing this game called Doom 2.”
Samwise Didier might have hidden a serious face behind long hair in the best style of a Viking metalhead, but his first response on a comfortable sofa brought a slight playful smile to his face. The first sign of how much fun he was talking about the universe he helped build so much.
“And we love that game,” he continued after a short pause to analyze the reactions of everyone around him. “So with Doom 2, we thought about how to do this in a fantasy world.”
“This was the birth of Warcraft as a property of Blizzard,” noted the artist. And he himself, Samwise Didier, would be one of those responsible for bringing to life the universe that has been present in video games for 25 years and helped to establish two different genres in the video game industry.
The beginning of fantasy
Samwise is no stranger to those who have already looked at something in the Warcraft series at least once. His illustrations created the look of most of the characters we know today in the franchise – like Illidan, Thrall, Jaina, Arthas and many others – and his artistic thinking has driven the entire transition that the series has gone through since the first game in 1994.
But the tasty part of the story is that Warcraft: Orcs & Humans started to be planned on a Dungeon & Dragons wheel. And, in the middle of a fantasy cauldron that included that spice known as Lord of the Rings and folklore all over the world, the series started to draw in a way that was different and with a special touch from Blizzard itself.
“When we created Warcraft, we wanted to do something like archetypes,” explained Didier. “We all know what a human is. We ‘play’ with humans every day. And most people know what an orc is, or what is an elf, or what is a troll. They are common in mythology , in culture and folklore. We have trolls in Scandinavian mythology, elves are in a variety of historical mythologies, so we started to have these elements that people already know and put in our games “, continued the art director.
But there was an artistic work to leave the conventional figure that everyone already had of these elements of mythology. “You can see this progression where, in Warcraft 1, we didn’t have many elves. In Warcraft 2, we have the guardian elf, which is very atypical and scary. Warcraft 3 we made the night elves, nobody had ever heard of the elves before Blizzard brought it in. We took something classic from the fantasy that many people know about and brought it in the way that if someone tells their parents about elves they can answer ‘oh yes, elves, I’ve heard of them!’ “
“So we put on the Blizzard seal and made our elves instead of bringing the traditional elves with long hair that are usually blond or, you know, running around in the forests. Almost as if we took the black elves with the forest elves and mixed the They worship the moon, they go around at night, they turn not into a hawk or something, but into crows, bears, something more primitive. We made these elves look like part of nature. normal elves are, but we take it and take it towards Blizzard. “
“The same thing with orcs. Orcs are usually just wild, brute, instinctive, they plunder opponents, they brutalize human communities, things like that. And we slowly pull our orcs to the point of introducing a guy named Thrall and he would orcs from demonic influences to become closer to the shamanistic nature that orcs have. They are friends, Thrall and Jaina are friends, they help save the world together. Orcs don’t save the world in fantasy, they usually destroy it. they are part of the evil. We made them and put our seal on the most classic things in fantasy, “added Samwise.
And the fantasy was about to become a legend.
The first phase: real-time strategy
The creation and establishment of the Warcraft franchise took place in a genre that, in the 1990s, was growing in the game market. Known as real-time strategy, or RTS for the most intimate, the goal here is to collect resources, establish your base, form your army and, in the end, finally defeat your opponent.
The view is usually “from above”, allowing the player to easily view and control their units and buildings even in the most chaotic situations of battle. This was thought differently in the third game of the franchise, which brought the first versions with a vision “on the shoulder” of a hero in an almost revolutionary system for the genre. Unfortunately, this ended up being canceled for the series, but the story about this version you can find below in the Voxel report.
- Special: the ambitious version of Warcraft 3 that never saw the light of day
The games of this first phase were:
- Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, released for PC in 1994;
- Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness released for PC in 1995; expansions: Beyond the Dark Portal, The Dark Saga and Battle.net Edition;
- Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, released for PC in 2002; expansion: The Frozen Throne
The challenges of the time
Samwise recalls how difficult it was to put his ideas into action with the limitations of the time. “The biggest challenge starts when we were very limited by technology and what we could do,” recalls the artist. “We worked on a program called ‘Deluxe Paint’, or ‘D-Paint’. And we had to build things using 16×16 pixel or 32×32 images, and each group could only have 16 colors. Our color palette was really limited ”, he added.
“So we went through Warcraft 3 where we were no longer limited by color and were already using 3D art. The cinematics took a leap in quality, our story expanded and got bigger. Leaving aside that art needs to look like what it should be, there are many things we need to do. ”
The challenge, from then on, was to control all the ideas that came to mind. “People love the night elves, the trolls, the dwarves, but we need to think and prioritize some races. Which ones should we choose? ”, He reflected.
Race limitation was also the topic covered by Chris Sigaty and Bob Fitch, two of the programmers responsible for Warcraft 3. In the beginning, the team had thought about 12 races to debut in Reign of Chaos, but little by little the ideas started to fall into place. four main races that are still in the game today: the Alliance of Humans, the Horde of Orcs, the Night Elves Sentinels and the Legion of Undead.
In the same transition from the second to the third game in the series, the team also had ambitions to do something completely different. The game itself had left the upper vision to something closer to the player.
“The way it worked was very different,” explained Sigaty in an interview with Voxel. “You built heroes and only heroes could be controlled. Everything he saw you could click on and add to your army. But you couldn’t move the camera anywhere you wanted, just where the hero was going. So the vision worked just by switching from hero to hero. The game was in third person about that hero and the camera was limited only by the horizon ”, tried to explain the executive.
All this you can see in the Voxel report on the team’s ideas for the first version of Warcraft 3. The most curious thing about this initial proposal is that, although it was discarded, it was very similar to Blizzard’s next maneuver to reinvent the series.
Stroll through Azeroth. Control your hero. Camera limited by the horizon. This all came close to World of Warcraft.
The second phase: MMORPG
The series underwent a drastic change in 2004. The strategy left the stage to enter immersion in a world full of challenges and missions for the players. It was the arrival of World of Warcraft, one of the online RPG titles with millions of players connected at the same time and divided into the two main factions of the war: the Horde, led by the orcs, and the Alliance, with the leadership of humans.
And the goal? Explore the world, strengthen your character and fight the dangers with your friends. Like the strategy-based start, this was not new to the market, but World of Warcraft had a different way of approaching players through inviting missions, a captivating world and unique reward systems. Little by little, World of Warcraft involved its warriors more and more in battles.
In the following 15 years, the original game received seven expansions with new missions, raids, dungeons, races, areas to explore, developments in history and other new features.
- World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, released in January 2007;
- World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, released in November 2008;
- World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, launched in December 2010;
- World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, launched in September 2012;
- World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, released in November 2014;
- World of Warcraft: Legion, released in August 2016;
- World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, released in August 2018.
An explosive change
“And one of the biggest moments I remember being super excited”, started Chris Sigaty, “was that after delivering Warcraft 3 we had the opportunity to test the first World of Warcraft build we were working on. And we saw the world on a scale, we could look and find the massive buildings, you are running inside a tent and you see everything on your scale ”, explained the representative who also worked on several titles in the franchise.
“It was an incredible experience. We knew at that time that Warcraft 3 fans would love that. We had no idea that people outside this circle, even more, would like it too ”, he confessed.
Some figures help to demonstrate the gigantic impact that World of Warcraft has had on the industry. Critically acclaimed with an average of 93 by Metacritic at launch, the game was the best-selling title for the PC in both 2005 and 2006. The peak in subscribers was in 2010, when more than 12 million players had active subscriptions. In 2014, Blizzard also revealed that more than 100 million accounts were created in the game.
“This was a great moment for us, actually. You know, leaving a vision centered on strategy for so long and then moving to an MMO. Before it was a competitive game with cool campaigns, but I think the competition was behind World of Warcraft was a new level of all this, having guilds and all these people playing together, it was such a big change “, he completes.
“We were completely unprepared for the level of success that World of Warcraft had,” confessed production director Kaeo Milker, misaligning his thinking about when the team realized that they had something special and different in their hands. “The game was sold out for months and months. Nothing was built for this scale that WoW had. It took us years to achieve that,” he adds.
Refining or present
15 years later, World of Warcraft continues to put Horde and Alliance fighting among themselves and against the greatest dangers that Azeroth has ever seen. But, unlike presenting major changes only in one expansion, the development team has been betting more and more on large updates with dozens of new features within the same expansion. This is the case with Rise of Azshara, the latest content pack within the Battle for Azeroth expansion.
One of the topics most covered by the current development team is how to win back the old players of the game and bring newcomers in a convincing way to Warcraft’s full of fights and intrigues.
“One of the things we definitely want to do in Rise of Azshara is to make it easy for new players to get directly into the content,” explained Jeremy Feasel, responsible for World of Warcraft game design. “It will be very easy for them, especially when they unlock the global missions and also the essences. It will be very fast. He will have a great increase in power, he will be able to see the incredible cinematics, visit the cool places we have, a lot” .
“Rise of Azshara in terms of the amount of content simply adds a lot more to a player arriving now for the first time. He will have a lot to look for and many ways to improve the character,” he reinforces. And this is in line with the new mechanics that integrate the game between the period of expansions, such as the essences that deliver the most diverse powers to players and a “mega-dungeon”, a kind of exclusive raid for only five players.
Contact and constant conversation with the community are vital in this process. “The challenge of putting all this content into Rise of Azshara in many cases was that we had to think about what we are going to add back in Battle for Azeroth. Some of these systems are updated as we think and we have taken feedback since they left “, completed the designer.
Thus, players help guide the team’s decisions and, in larger cases, even bring a new product to the table.
Reliving the past
World of Warcraft Classic is the result of many, many requests from players to Blizzard to bring back the original WoW experience as it was at launch. After 15 years of updates and modifications, the game is no longer the same. Cities were different in 2004, mechanics were different, exploration was constant. And this edition came to rescue that story and deliver it to the players.
“Something that is very good about WoW Classic is that it is attractive to those who have played before because it has a lot of nostalgia. But it is also attractive to new players because it is very different,” explains Brian Birminham, chief engineer on the World of Warcraft Classic team . “It offers a different way to experience World of Warcraft. The pace of combat is different, it is more focused on enemies alone, more on exploration and discovery,” he adds.
Exploration was constant and dangers were everywhere. The players had to walk together to carry out the activities – which nowadays has simply converted to a waiting line to enter a resort or raid.
“About the world specifically, he was always a character in World of Warcraft. He always was. But it is very different in Classic versus the modern,” reinforced Patrick Dawson, production director of the classic version.
“One of the things I have a little nostalgia for today is when people were going to raid. They had to travel together especially on a PvP server for the instance together. There was a danger in that. In fact, I remember one day being playing as Alliance and I decided to go and kill my friends’ guild while they were going to the Molten Core. Me and three other people hid at the entrance to the place and when they entered we simply murdered them. “
Many characters who are now impactful in the history of Warcraft had their first appearances back in 2006. Saurfang, for example, starred in a special cinematic World of Warcraft a few days ago looking for none other than Thrall, the former warlord of the Horde who was there is a long time missing from the plot. But the orc was not always in the spotlight, and even so, in the WoW Classic he was already in Orgrimmar, the capital of the orcs, receiving allies before Thrall and defending the city from its worst enemies.
“Saurfang is who he is now because of the WoW Classic,” recalls Patrick. “When the Alliance went to that city to make an attack just to kill Thrall or something, Saurfang was there cutting up about 12 people at a time. That was legendary. That was from the story itself. That created this figure that, it was supposed to be this great character that has gone through more than 15 years of history. Classic made it special “, he added.
But it’s not just World of Warcraft that is going through a period of reinvention in the franchise’s studios.
Warcraft 3: Reforged, the remastered edition of the third title, was announced at BlizzCon 2018 with a proposal to revive the strategy game that is still played in championships around the world and customized in the craziest ways possible. And, about that, Voxel can attest with certainty: there are many mods that you don’t even know were possible in this game.
- Warcraft 3 and the crazy world of Chinese mods you need to know
“Warcraft 3, I remember playing it a lot,” opened Patrick again in nostalgia. “What he did was create this world for us that we wanted to explore and not just the RTS mode. We had tremendously cool villains like Arthas, Arthas is my villain preferred by the way, but also Kael’Thas, Sylvanas, Jaina, Uther … ”, he paused when Brian, his production colleague, contested that Sylvanas was not a villain – after all, today she is the Horde Warrior Chief. They both laughed at the ironies that the story of World of Warcraft often brings us, but they are prickly as they show when you and your friend are separated by the Horde and the Alliance.
“But also these great characters, Thrall, Rexxar … This world that we created left the feeling of ‘I want to go in and explore this’, right?”
And he is right. Millions of people exploit it to this day – whether riding a mount through the skies of Kalimdor or controlling dozens of soldiers with the precision of a true strategist. Two different styles interconnected by a single objective in mind: to win the war. And in 25 years, it continues to be fought.
Unforgettable moments by the developers
“One of the funny things is that the team that made Warcraft 1, 2, 3 and StarCraft is made up of the same people. So people said ‘when are you going to make StarCraft 2?’, But we were still working on Warcraft 3 at the time. And when they wanted Warcraft 3 we were looking after StarCraft. ”
Samwise Didier, art director for the Warcraft series, joked about fans ‘impatience with the series’ continuations. And that which he and his gang still helped in Diablo, take a breath!
“My first discovery was the night we launched World of Warcraft. We were signing copies at an event inside a local electronics store. We had done this for Warcraft 3 with several people, but on the night that WoW it was released we were signing the boxes. And there were hundreds and hundreds of people skirting in a row around this giant building.
“And that was the first taste that this was different. Things had changed. We went back to the office and took all the copies we had because the game had been sold completely. We took them to the store so people could buy them too. . “
Kaeo Milker, production director for Heroes of the Storm with participation in Warcraft 3 and the development of World of Warcraft. On that occasion, he was signing copies until four in the morning. And he also thinks that the series’ shoulder pads are very small.
“My first memory was one of the times that I went to BlizzCon and I could see Warcraft 3 being played live among professionals with the whole crowd cheering. That was really incredible.”
“Another one, which is a little personal, is that I built artificial intelligence for Warcraft 3. So any situation that I see someone else playing against the computer, it’s kind of watching me play against them indirectly. ‘go, go’. It’s really amazing to ‘play’ against people even when I’m not really doing it. It’s a lot of fun. “
Bob Fitch, chief engineer of Warcraft since the beginning of the franchise. You must have already won many games against you in Warcraft 3.
“The other I remember is watching Warcraft 3 go professional. We also had that feeling with StarCraft, when you see the professional circuit coming up, and I met a guy who is still a great friend, Grubby, as but when I met him he was only 16 years old and he was already dominating, he became this great player who played in China, traveled to Korea several times. And this is a very special memory of Warcraft 3 for me, making a loop so close with him.
“I love the level of skill that these guys have, some even kind of inhuman, but they are very incredible. We never thought the game would reach that level. And when we look at them playing we wonder ‘do we really program for that? ‘,’ did we test for that? ‘”
Chris Sigaty, executive producer on the series and vice president of Blizzard. He is also a lover of several Tower Defenses that appeared in Warcraft 3 and then populated the games on his smartphone.
The expanded universe of Warcraft
Over the 25 years, the Warcraft series has featured several games and expansions in the general culture that we all know. Below, we list all titles that also explored Blizzard’s war universe:
- Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, released for PC and mobile in 2014;
- Heroes of the Storm, released for PC in 2015 with characters from the franchise taking part in strategic and team battles against other heroes from the Blizzard universe.
In addition, the Warcraft universe was portrayed and expanded in culture in different ways, which are:
- 1 collectible card game
- 3 board games
- 16 books, including comics
- 1 film, released in 2016
* The journalist traveled to the Warcraft Summit in Irvine, United States, at the invitation of Blizzard.