With massively successful PC MMO World of Warcraft celebrating its fifth anniversary, and the overarching Warcraft real-time strategy game series its 15th anniversary, there's plenty to talk about. Of course, Blizzard's series of games has always been beloved by gamers, but matching the success that WoW has found in the marketplace is a task that few franchises are up to.
It's difficult to remember at times, but Blizzard had humbler beginnings. To chart a course all the way back to the company's origins, back when it published console game titles for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, Gamasutra spoke to Samwise Didier, the senior director of StarCraft II and art director of the first three Warcraft games, and J. Allen Brack, production director for World of Warcraft.
In this in-depth interview, the two reflect on the company's history, the evolving style of the Warcraft series, the position the company finds itself in in the overarching Activision Blizzard culture, and even the future of geek culture in the mainstream -- with video games and fringe film now at the top of the cultural heap in many respects.
One of the things that's most interesting about Warcraft is that it is borne entirely out of games, not an external license, and now is an extremely successful setting that spans genres. How does it feel to have helped create such a huge property?
Sam Didier: It's actually kind of like watching your child grow. I've fathered many illegitimate children, Warcraft being one. You create this thing, and you have all kinds of great hopes for it, but you never really know how far it's going to go.
Warcraft started out as this small game. Not a lot of people knew about it, but the people who did were really into it. I took a lot of pride in that. And now that it's kind of grown into this gigantic, nation-wide, worldwide entity, it blows my mind that there are people out there who know more about this game than I do. They'll let me know when I'm incorrect. When I'm stating some fact about the Warrior class, they'll go, "Oh no, that got changed in this patch." "Oh. Okay."
It's really a cool feeling, though, to know that something that we created here as a bunch of dorky guys and girls could become something everybody knows about. When we first started making the games here, people would always ask us if we made Street Fighter or if we made Doom. And nowadays, when someone finds out that I work in the game industry, they go, "Oh, did you work on World of Warcraft?" I always say, "No, I didn't work on it," because otherwise I'd spend the next three or four hours arguing about how come we changed this spell or altered that class.
So, your answer hasn't changed, but your reasons have.
SD: Yeah. [laughs]
J. Allen Brack: For me, it's pretty humbling, honestly, to be part of something so huge. In terms of Blizzard games, I have only worked on World of Warcraft. I worked at other places before, but I was always a fan of the Warcraft series. I learned how to use a null modem cable for Warcraft 1.
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Same here. My friend and I used to play Warcraft 1 all the time via null modem.
JAB: Yeah, exactly. So, for me, it's been really a dream to be able to play the Warcraft games for so long, and then to work on World of Warcraft. It's very humbling and very much a dream job.
Sam, you've been at Blizzard since before Blizzard even moved into PC games, right?
SD: Yeah. The first games I worked on were like Lost Vikings and Rock 'N Roll Racing -- all of our Nintendo and Sega games.
So as someone who was involved in the art direction of Warcraft for its entire history, I'm curious how much intention you guys had behind the evolution of its tone. From the original game through Warcraft III, then WoW, there's been a big shift -- more exaggerated and stylized, for one thing. Were you consciously trying to distinguish it from its influences?
Sam Didier: The influences are pretty clear -- Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings. We're all big comic book fans. But the actual art style evolved more out of us being comfortable making our own games. When we first started with Warcraft on the PC, people said that nobody on the PC liked action games or anything like that. They were saying, "Oh no, the PC audience is older, and they like slow-paced games and more realism in the graphics and storylines."
So we started off with Warcraft being kind of tame. It was a little bit more like medieval Europe -- your classic castles and farm buildings and stuff like that. Once that games were a success, we kind of started putting a little bit more of our own flavor into it. Warcraft II had a lot more humorous elements.
I remember the Orcs got more defined in that respect.
SD: There was a lot more non-typical European kind of medieval chivalry-type stuff. That's when we started throwing in ogres and dwarves and goblins and elves. And as we progressed to the [Warcraft II] expansion and Warcraft III, we really started asking, "You know what? What do we want to do with this? How do we want this style to go? We've pushed the comic book look, the bolder colors, into it. What do you guys want to do?"
That's when we really started pushing the art style we wanted, because we knew that the first couple games were successful and that we had a fan base. Now we didn't have to hold our cards close. We could kind of just start doing the crazy things we wanted to do. Hero [units] were coming out and there were all sorts of other things like that, so we really got to flex our creative juices.
But we always had bulkier, heavily-proportioned guys, and the colors, I think, were more primary -- reds, blues, yellows, things like that. We didn't have too much dull gray and dull brown. It was a little more vibrant, I believe, from the beginning.