Tagged: Artcraft

Quote from: Blizzard

Hello and welcome to the Blood Elf edition of Artcraft! We know that many of you have been waiting for this update, so I’ll just provide some quick background and then get straight into the imagery.

We’re aware that it’s not ideal to see a mix of older player character models next to newer player character models, especially when you happen to be a player of the Blood Elf variety—and we’re working as diligently to remedy that situation as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. We don’t have an exact ETA for when you’ll see these in-game, but we’re happy with the direction of this update with regards to the model and textures; we’re now focusing on model and texture variations, as well as rigging and animating. We’ve streamlined the process quite a bit, so hopefully (knock on wood) those things will go smoothly and we’ll be able to roll these out quickly.

Senior Artist Dusty Nolting is focusing on the female model—here are his thoughts:

The Horde has classically been about brutes, blood, and thunder. The Blood Elves bring a bit of subtlety to the Horde, and I think that was one of the most important aspects of the Blood Elves to maintain. For the female specifically, something we did often was move things around in small but deliberate increments, to make sure everything was just right. It’s the delicate details like her nose shape or fingertips that represent the most challenging parts of upgrading the female.

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Senior Artist Joe Keller is focusing on the Blood Elf male model. Here’s what he had to say about his approach:

The male Blood Elf already has a lot of character with his easily recognizable pose and stylish hair. Our update just gives us a chance to define and focus on that. His anatomy, facial features, and hair will all get an update while still maintaining his iconic look, bringing him to the level of the other new character models.

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Thank you for taking the time to check out where we are with these updates. We’re excited to get these models in the game, and are working hard to make that happen as quickly as possible—though as ever, quality is paramount, and presenting the best, most highly polished work we can will always come first.

Thank you, and Shorel’aran!

Quote from: Blizzard
Artcraft - Level Design Part 4

Hi, I’m Chris Robinson, senior art director of World of Warcraft. In this last installment of this four-part Artcraft series, WoW community manager Bashiok sat down with a few of the level designers who created Nagrand to pick their brains a bit more on the process of creating the zone.

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Hey everyone—so for all the peoples out there, go ahead and introduce yourselves, and for fun, name a zone you’ve worked on in the past.

Victor: Hi, I’m Victor Chong, senior level designer, and people probably remember Vale of Eternal Blossoms in Pandaria.

Ian: I’m Ian Gerdes, level designer on World of Warcraft, and the zone I was probably most involved with in Mists [of Pandaria] was Isle of Thunder.

Ed: I’m Ed Hanes—I’ve been at Blizzard for 13 years, and the first zone I ever worked on was Ghostlands for The Burning Crusade expansion.

Kevin: I’m Kevin Lee, a four-year vet here at Blizzard, and I worked on the Jade Forest in Pandaria.

Damarcus: Hey there I’m Damarcus Holbrook. I’m the new guy, so all my focus has been on Warlords; specifically for this discussion, the exterior of the Highmaul Raid in Nagrand.

What were some of the specific challenges you had with creating Nagrand?

Ian: I think a lot of it was trying to preserve the original layout as much as we could. Nagrand was kind of the one zone that was never really as wrecked as the other zones were from being shattered. It’s kind of blue skies and green trees, and there’s not fel energy everywhere. So I think trying to preserve some of the landmarks and maintaining the spaces was something we really wanted to make sure remained intact—while still making sure it feels new to the player.

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So you obviously had to do some translation of the Outland version. How did you decide how to fill in the areas that were previously destroyed?

Ian: We wanted to preserve some of the silhouette on the world map, so that it still felt familiar. I know Tanaan Jungle was similar in some respects where the edges were broken away, but we still wanted to retain what was Hellfire Peninsula. It was the same for Nagrand. We had a little bit of freedom, however, because there were some parts of the zone that were more obviously destroyed than others, like the southern edge of Oshu’gun and the western border. There were some ogres hanging out there, but nothing substantial in terms of structure, so we decided to add the Raid over there, because it felt like it would be a good extension of the story that fit with the timeline. It ended up getting quite a bit bigger than we had originally planned for. It’s pretty impressive as a zone point of interest (POI) that you can see from a distance, and really breaks up the skyline.

Ed: The biggest challenge was giving a fresh look to something players are familiar with. It’s definitely a zone that players who had that experience in Burning Crusade know; there’s a defined image that comes to mind of what that zone is and what it’s about. A lot of people remember the Nesingwary stuff—the sweeping plains, the angular trees, the floating rock islands, the Throne of Elements. It was one of those zones that was around where a lot of people were hitting their max level, and so it’s got that association with it as well. So that was a huge challenge, figuring out how to keep it fresh while keeping it familiar.

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Any stories from Outland people might remember represented in this new old Nagrand?

Ian: On the mountain range north of Nagrand, in the Burning Crusade version, as you were going to Zangarmarsh there was an orphanage that…

Victor: Yeah…

Ian: …it was a little… creepy. There’s an NPC there, and I think they’ll be making a return. I actually just put a cage in at the Burning Blade POI today, so I’ll be talking to [the quest team] to see if they want to do anything with that. Corki was certainly one of the more memorable quest lines in Nagrand.

Victor: The Ring of Blood is coming back. It’s a bit more upgraded, but the visual style is very similar.

So you put a cage there, but want to go talk to the quest designers. How does that work as far as who is designing what? How much of it is your team coming up with the story of an area, and how much of it is the quest team bringing it in?

Ian: It’s bi-directional. Sometimes we’ll have a cool idea and they’ll latch onto it, and sometimes they’ll have the cool idea and we’ll latch onto it. It’s definitely a partnership.

Victor: We spend a lot of time with the quest designers, specifically on coming up with really interesting ideas. This expansion specifically is doing a lot of vignette stuff…

Sorry, what’s a vignette?

Victor: It’s an internal term we use for a cool little area or thing you stumble across, something that’s not necessarily part of the main quest line. We’re putting a lot more Easter eggs into the zones this time around, so it doesn’t matter if players find them or not…

Ian: But it’s cool for them if they do.

Victor: We’ve added a lot more vignette stuff, and I was working with Kurt Sparkuhl, a quest designer, on how I could add hidden stuff on the tops of mountains. So we have a lot of vignettes where players have to figure out how to get up there without just being able to walk up. It’s stuff like doing some jumping around to get into an area, and then when you get to the top, you find a goblin with a glider that’ll let you glide to specific areas that aren’t normally accessible. Then if you get through all of that and land on a specific spot, you’re rewarded with whatever the prize is there from a chest or something. We’re doing a lot of that, and Nagrand was a good test bed for those kinds of things.

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What’s your favorite area or detail in the zone?

Victor: There are a lot of very cool things we did in Nagrand. For me specifically I did the whole canyon area, so there’s like three big canyons within the zone.

Ian: And that’s kind of a callback to the original zone. . . .
Victor: We originally weren’t even planning to do that stuff.>

Ian: It was kind of an iteration of the process, because we had originally gone super crazy with the rolling hills, which looked fantastic, but we needed something to break it up.

Victor: That’s actually kind of an interesting story. The first thing that comes to mind for Nagrand was the rolling hills, and the big open grass areas where you were just killing animals—that was a lot of fun and really stood out to me. I started doing a very elaborate rolling hill layout, where every hill is perfectly molded and you have these perfect views of the zone from every angle. Most of the level designers thought it looked great, but when the quest designers looked at it they thought, “What are we going to do with all this open space?” and it didn’t work—it was just too big of an open area. And so when you start looking at the elements of the zone there are trees everywhere, and I think [lead quest designer] Craig Amai said that what he remembered wasn’t the rolling hills, but the canyons, which was surprising to me. Turns out, it was actually a zone full of canyons. It got me thinking about why I never really remembered these canyons, and looking back it’s that they were pretty bad; there wasn’t really any good gameplay there. Spawns were far apart, they were very narrow, and if you accidentally fell down into one they were just this annoying trap you couldn’t find your way out of. So I looked at what I could do to make them better—made them wider, added multiple sub-zones within them, and added more pathways in and out of them. They turned out really well and we ended up adding two more of them.

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What do you want players to experience when they enter Nagrand for the first time?

Victor: I’d like them to see that it’s familiar, but that this is definitely a different time, and that the Warsong clan is here. This is their place.

Ed: Familiar but new. It’d be awesome for people to feel like it’s familiar, but that there’s a lot of new stuff, that it’s a new experience and not just the old Nagrand that’s just been touched up a little.

Could you tell us more about some of the POI’s, how they developed, and what kinds of inspirations were taken from inside and outside of World of Warcraft?

Let’s start with the Warsong clan camp.

Ian: The idea originally was that the Warsong were nomadic, and seasonally would move from the highlands to the lowlands. The idea being that the flood plains would indeed flood, they wouldn’t want to hang out there, and they’d move up to higher ground.

Victor: We ended up using the canyon to illustrate that while their city is both nestled in the canyons and up above them, it still feels like a cohesive city. There’s a river that goes through the entire center of town, but it’s dried out, and it’s supposed to show that when it’s the rainy season it would fill up, so we still tried to pull off that same feeling. We also have where Garrosh is supposed to be sitting in his throne there.

How about the Highmaul Ogres? How did they influence the zone, and how did you try to create a sense of history?

Ed: They were originally supposed to be in the background of the Warsong. However, as the kit was developed, we had a bigger and stronger art push on the look of those guys, and they became a much bigger presence in the zone. Now most of the max level content is focused around them, with that kit being so robust that we were also able to use it in other zones. Their culture actually expanded, I think, as people got on board and dug the vibe of this kind of elevated status of ogre society and their seat of power, and it spread across the expansion.

Ian: Yeah, I think the idea for them was kind of the twilight of the Roman Empire, where their society used to be very grand, and you kind of see how it’s devolving as you look at Frostfire and the Stonemaul. Kind of how ogre society is getting more brutish and less sophisticated and the Highmaul are this last remnant of what they were, or what the Highmaul still are.

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Victor: It’s interesting too, because when we first started it was all Warsong—we had this giant Warsong warpath, this giant road, and then we ran into what we called orc fatigue, where the entire expansion just had too much orc. Which fits thematically and makes logical sense, but from a gameplay standpoint gets boring really quickly. So in that process the ogres got elevated quite a bit.

Ian: You get kind of a layered history too, where the ogre empire used to reach across all of Draenor—but over time it’s deteriorated, other races have moved in, and so Victor did a really nice road treatment where you have the sort of ancient and broken ogre tiles, with the newer Warsong paths crisscrossed on top of it.

Ed: And we knew we were going to have the Highmaul Raid, and so once the art started taking shape for that we were able to pull pieces out of it—like this wall or column looks really cool—and were able to use a lot of that to build out their story in the exterior environment.

Tell us more about the Highmaul Raid.

Damarcus: It’s the stronghold, the final stand for the ogres to hold their ground. The orcs are pushing against them, but they’re holding out. You and your friends roll up through their arena first, and you get some cool options on how you want to progress through the first few bosses before you get into the big keep.

Ian: It’s a little less linear than newer raids have been, so it’s kind of a throwback to that old style of non-linear raids and choosing which way you go and which bosses you want to kill in what order.

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So is it as open as, say, Firelands?

Damarcus: Actually, so this was the first thing I really got to work on at Blizzard. I ended up making the exterior areas of the Highmaul raid and working with the team who made Firelands—so I looked at that a lot and worked with them on how exterior design works for raiding. Ed and I jammed on layout a bit and we kind of thought a triangular layout would work best where you hit the first boss, and then have three options before coming back in before you get to the keep itself. The layout itself works really well.

What’s about Oshu’gun?

Ed: Kevin is really the guy who worked on a lot of it, but we knew it was one of those parts of Nagrand that we needed to keep. We also of course wanted to do something different with it, and one of the things we pitched early that stuck was to give it to the orcs. They’re there right now, but before that, there was a nice forest wrapping around it, and there are still some remnants of the impact when it crashed into Draenor.

Kevin: We wanted to draw on the crater vibe, to make it look a bit more raw—like this had happened recently versus how it looked in Outland. We also wanted to still have some of the runes around it kind of for the nostalgia factor because that’s how we all remember it looking. You can also go inside of it as part of a quest chain, and into an orc cave inside. It’s one of the main quest story lines and will have a lot more meaning to people when they play through it.

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Finally, tell us about the Throne of Elements.

Ian: We really wanted to try to preserve a lot of it. Originally we had it elevated, where it was halfway between the top of the mountains and the lake surface, and the idea was that with the destruction of Draenor, it crashed into the lake. But it blocked the shot of the iconic waterfalls behind it, and there were some other technical constraints, so it ended up more as how we all remember it. Also up top on the Elemental Plateau where people probably remember farming motes, there were elementals kind of sharing a space, but we wanted to break that out into four distinct areas where each is represented. So for the fire area, the ground is all dried out and scorched, the water elemental section is where the waterfalls are up above the throne, and the earth and air sections are nearby.

Ed: Real estate–wise it commands a bigger presence than it did previously, for sure.

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Hey there, Chris again. So this wraps up this exterior level design series, but this is by no means the end of the line. We hope that we’ve been able to provide a bit more insight on what it takes to create a zone in World of Warcraft, and look forward to seeing you make your way into Draenor. We’ve put a lot into trying to create some truly epic environments and experiences for those of you who take up the challenge of fighting back against the Iron Horde. Until next time, thanks for reading!

The WoD Beta Is Ending On Monday!

Quote from: Blizzard
The end of the Warlords of Draenor beta test is upon us. As of Monday, November 3 at 4:00 p.m. PDT, the beta realms will be taken offline and players will no longer have access to the beta. But before we bring down the realms, we’d like to invite all beta testers to join us at 2:00 p.m. PDT for an end of beta event. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll trade bad puns, and probably let loose just a little chaos too.

We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to test the beta, provide feedback, and break ground with us on Warlords of Draenor. While this is the end of beta, it’s not the end of the road as we prepare for the final release of the expansion on November 13. We look forward to seeing you there as we push through the Dark Portal once more and explore all that Draenor has to offer.

Artcraft – Level Design continues with part 3!

Quote from: Blizzard
Artcraft: Level Design Part 3

Hi again, I’m World of Warcraft senior art director Chris Robinson. In this third installment of this Artcraft series, senior level designer Ely Cannon explains a bit more about the level designer’s role in bringing World of Warcraft’s landscape to life.

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Hi, I’m Ely Cannon, a senior member of the level design team for World of Warcraft, and I wanted to talk a little about the role that World of Warcraft level designers play in developing the visual style for our zones. On the WoW team, we look for artists who also have design experience, or designers with art skills, for our level design team. This is essential to our process since each level designer is ultimately the gatekeeper for the visual style and tone of the zone he or she is working on.

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This process starts with the pre-production work for a zone. Working with an environment artist, the level designer will help guide and define the scope of environment assets needed. These assets include terrain textures, trees, bushes, accent plants, rocks, etc. The range of models and textures needed must address not only the main zone look, but the sub-environment types needed to break up the zone. Not only that, but the textures must do this all while bringing the concept to life and remaining within the capabilities of our game engine. It can be a challenge, and often is.

Take, for example, the new Nagrand. Not only does it encompass the environment that you know of as the Nagrand from Outland, but it also contains new areas, like a wetlands and a higher-elevation arid region. These disparate environmental themes could clash quite jarringly if not handled with care. To keep the zone’s development moving in the right direction, the level designer and the environment artist need to constantly discuss shape language, color, diversity, scale, mood, model usage, and ultimately, the visual tone of the zone as a whole.

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The environment artists make the models and textures, and the level designer sculpts and paints the terrain, places the trees, rocks, and bushes—all the while considering gameplay and both the art and design direction. A typical day for our level designers will include decisions about the overall look and feel of a zone, as well as paying finite attention to detail, like how one plant looks when placed next to another plant in the scene.

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Nagrand in Warlords of Draenor is a good example of the color relationships between textures. The vast sweeping savannahs of verdant green which make up a large portion of Nagrand presented a particular challenge: how can we get color depth into massive green fields while staying true to the concept? At first glance, the fields and rolling hills seem to be simply green grass—and lots of it. On closer inspection, you’ll notice a carefully selected range of green tones used to render the savannahs of Nagrand. Each of the green tones is a unique grass texture which is meticulously blended with the others in the set to create the effect seen in-game. Likewise, the sub-zones in Nagrand diverge from the main zone color scheme in very specific ways. These were defined early in the process to ensure that players would experience a diverse range of environment types while playing through the zone, and ultimately when they return for max-level content.

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Our artists and designers work together to build and iterate on zones quickly, creating huge play areas with a consistent level of visual quality. In the last segment of this Artcraft series, you’ll learn more about Nagrand and the challenges in building the zone from five of our level designers: Victor Chong, Ian Gerdes, Ed Hanes, Damarcus Holbrook, and Kevin Lee.

Quote from: Blizzard
Artcraft – Level Design Part 2

Welcome back to our ongoing Artcraft series that takes a look at the environmental and zone design for World of Warcraft. I’m senior art director Chris Robinson, and today senior level designer Michael McInerney is going to take us through a more high-level design overview, again using Nagrand from Warlords of Draenor to illustrate our level-design philosophies.

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Hello, I’m Michael, and I’ll be providing insights on some of the thought processes that go into designing an iconic zone like Nagrand. Our approach to level design begins with asking many questions, and defining the answers. The one big question we always ask ourselves is “what is the story we are trying to tell?” This usually keys off the initial pitch—in the case of Nagrand, we wanted to convey that this was the sweeping pastoral home of the Warsong clan. But we also needed to determine the specifics of how we were going to communicate that visually to the player.

The obvious answer to how we tell their story is to put their homes within the environment. But that’s not the only thing that makes a place a home. The Warsong are fairly aggressive and confident, so when you first enter the zone, you’re not so warmly greeted by their war banners and fortified towers. We also knew the Warsong clan were wolfriders and traveled in large packs. This was something we could show with the large beaten-down roads that their war bands travel along. Their home base is nestled into a wind-carved canyon, and has subtle references to an Orgrimmar long past, with buildings and living spaces shaded by cliff sides. We also knew that the way they care for their wolves says something about their culture, and is noticeably different from the reverence for them within the Frostwolf clan. We illustrated that by using animal pits to get across their relationship with their wolves, instead of integrating them into the villages as the Frostwolf would. All of these elements come together to paint a different picture of the Warsong and give them character.

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Nagrand also had some equity we wanted to explore; players have experienced a shattered version of the zone in Outland, and this was a unique opportunity to provide a contrasting look. Giving places a sense of history is high on the list of zone design philosophies. Some of the more obvious ways to tell a zone’s history are with ruins, when they make sense. The Highmaul ogres were once a great power in Nagrand. Now they are on the edge of oblivion. All that’s left of their once great civilization is scattered remnants, as evidenced by their crumbling towers and roads you find throughout the zone. It’s not a coincidence that the area they occupy in the zone doesn’t exist in Outland.

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We also wanted to touch on the floating islands, one of the classic visuals of Nagrand everyone remembers. We needed to figure out how could we could capture that vibe and still tell a story. One way was to create geography so delicate in places you could imagine it snapping off and floating into the sky—fel energies notwithstanding. The sweeping arches and impossible rock formations also lean toward that realm of magic, without fully committing.

The player experience, and the way a player feels when they are moving through the environments is something we’re always thinking about. Moving from zone to zone, or even within the subzones and small microcosms we create, can dramatically impact someone’s perception of their progression and the game world around them. Stay too long in one area and it can get very tiresome, but move too quickly from one to another and it can feel overwhelming. We work very closely with the quest designers to move players through the world so they can experience a dramatic environmental change at the best possible points, or when we feel they could enjoy a change of scenery.

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The challenge with Nagrand was creating enough variety within a theme while maintaining an organic feel. This is a zone that is essentially grassland, but we knew we couldn’t fill a space this large with only fields. Developing an ecology that feels fresh and real is an important tenet of designing a world. Mountains flow into valleys; the edges of a forest blend naturally into open fields. The high points are dryer with scrub bushes and dead trees. The low points are lush, sometimes flooded with water. The riverbanks are a subzone in themselves, covered in reeds and thick vegetation. These areas all offer variety yet stay within the fantasy we are trying to deliver.

The way the NPCs occupy the areas should also make sense. The panther-like Saberon live in roughed out caves below the rock arches. Herds of Clefthooves roam the fields. The Highmaul for the most part occupy the mountainous areas. These relationships to the environment tell a story without any reading required.

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A great zone is one that, upon entering, you immediately “get” the fantasy of, and years later you still remember that moment, and I hope we’ve achieved that with the latest incarnation of Nagrand.

Tomorrow, senior level designer Ely Cannon will explain more about the role of level designers in the creation of a zone.

Artcraft is back! This time the series is about the Draenor level design!

Quote from: Blizzard
Artcraft – Level Design Part 1

Hi, I’m Chris Robinson, senior art director of World of Warcraft, and welcome to a special edition of Artcraft focused on environment and zone design. Previously we showed you what it was like to create the Spires of Arak from a purely art-focused perspective, but over the coming days we’ll be releasing a series of articles focused on exterior level design, using Nagrand as a focal point. You’ll be hearing from the team who works with the artists, as well as the quest designers, systems designers, historians, and more to craft and create not only the zones we adventure in, but the visual story that is told about these locations and the creatures and races that inhabit them. For this first article, I’m pleased to introduce Julian Morris, our lead level designer.

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Hey everyone, Julian Morris here, lead level designer for the World of Warcraft exterior level design team.

Exterior level design is the process of designing and constructing the zones of World of Warcraft, from Azeroth to Draenor and everything in between. Our team has planned, plotted, and designed the rise and fall of ancient cultures, as well as shaped mountains, forests, seas, lakes, rivers, roads, ruins, and every land feature imaginable. In addition to the land itself, we also design and create cities, towns, and Battlegrounds (with the random exterior dungeon or two in there every now and then, too).

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The level design team is a hybrid of both art and design. We work hand in hand with the quest design team to build the environmental stories that support the content that defines Azeroth’s lands, cultures, and conflicts.

We also work every step of the way with all of the art groups on the Warcraft team. Working with the environment art team, we sculpt and paint the landscapes to create the rich, vibrant settings that form the foundation of the world. Within those spaces we work with the dungeon team, designing and constructing the thousands of camps, towns, settlements, and cities that provide the unique architectural beauty that anchors all of our cultures and creatures to the world. These locations in turn provide the scenes and staging for the finely crafted set dressing—the tables, chairs, books, and more—that our prop art team creates.

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Level design binds the vision of many groups together, and it takes the passionate effort of all these teams to create an incredibly detailed, hand-crafted experience.

The zones of World of Warcraft are their own main characters that come to life before our very eyes during development. In this series, we’re going to draw back the curtains a bit to show you more on how we approach world-building and how we breathe life into a zone.

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Join us again tomorrow as senior level designer Michael (Mac) McInerney gives you a deeper look into the level design of World of Warcraft using Nagrand from Warlords of Draenor.

Patch 6.0.3

A new patch is coming, which will bring along many more bug fixes!

Quote from: Blizzard
We’re planning to release a patch tomorrow that will bring the live game up-to-date with the version currently being tested on the beta realms. This includes a number of fixes and changes to address issues we’ve identified since the release of 6.0.2, as well as remaining assets and content to prepare for the launch of Warlords of Draenor. As we’ve done in prior expansions, our plan is to not require a launch-day patch, and have a smooth transition to the new expansion in North America at midnight Pacific on November 13.