Author: Blizzard toyed with 'always online' idea for Warcraft 3

By John Keefer, Oct 01, 2012 9:00am PDT

It's Monday, and that means more stories from David Craddock's upcoming book, Stay Awhile and Listen, a behind the scenes look at Blizzard Entertainment. Today's revelations deal with the creation of the Blizzard cinematics group and the autonomy that group enjoys from the rest of the company, as well as a look at a Heroes of Warcraft model that never quite made it off the drawing board.

Imagine a cinematic ending where the development team has no clue what will be in the video until they see a final version.

"Today, Blizzard fans look forward to the company's cinematics almost as much as they anticipate its games," Craddock said. "However, the idea of devoting an entire internal team to cinematics took time to catch on and remained disconnected from the game development process. Diablo's opening cinematic was made late in the production process before the story was finalized, consisting of a brief tour of a derelict town that may or may not be Tristram, shots of monsters roaming a dungeon, some mysterious force sliding the lid off of its sarcophagus, and several close-ups of an important-looking-but-never-used sword sticking out of a hilltop. Without much of a story to work with beyond 'Kill Diablo,' the video was created more to set a mood than to kick off a story.

"About midway through StarCraft, a proper cinematics team formed at Blizzard Entertainment, where all cinematics but one were created," he said. "The team had almost total creative control over all game cinematics, even those used in Blizzard North's games. The ending of Diablo, where the hero stabs the gem into his own forehead? Blizzard North had no idea that was going to happen until Blizzard Entertainment sent them a copy of the video."

The Diablo ending cinematic was not Blizzard North's idea.

The always-online concept was tossed around back in the time of Warcraft 3. Blizzard wanted to come up with a way that players could not cheat.

"The decision to store critical game data on internal servers rather than players' hard drives was an idea Blizzard had toyed with during spitball sessions for WarCraft 3," Craddock said. "The team lead wanted to do something a little different, so he came up with a design entitled Heroes of Warcraft, a RPG/RTS hybrid where players controlled a hero who had special abilities, and a small squad of companions. The game would eschew economics and base-building in favor of pitting squads against each other in tactical combat.

"The Heroes of Warcraft model provided the project's lead developer the opportunity to attempt creating a cheat-proof game: because players would control no more than 10 to 12 units each, Blizzard could store all critical data on its servers. Without direct access to that data, players could not hack the game to give themselves advantages over other players. Ultimately, the team decided that a squad-based game with no resources or base-building strayed too far from the series' beaten path. They decided to return to WarCraft's 'gather resources, build bases, crush enemies' roots, and threw heroes into the mix to change things up a bit."

Future stories from Craddock will include behind-the-scenes details on the Diablo games, StarCraft, the Warcraft series and World of Warcraft. Craddock and Shacknews will also bring you a week of book coverage during the week of October 29, featuring an in-depth interview with the author and a full chapter from his book.


Author David Craddock has been working on his book about Blizzard Entertainment since mid-2008. Entitled Stay Awhile and Listen, the unauthorized book talks to nearly 80 former employees, including those who used to work at Blizzard, Condor (later Blizzard North), and Silicon & Synapse (Blizzard's original name when it was founded), as well as people who had regular dealings with Blizzard head honchos Mike Morhaime and Allen Adham. Shacknews is pleased to offer a steady stream of stories from the book each Monday leading up to October 29. The book launches early next year. and will be published by Digital Monument Press.

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