Powering up and exploding onto the scene: Goblins vs Gnomes, Hearthstone’s first expansion, has been officially EXPLODING revealed today at BlizzCon!
Goblins vs Gnomes throws players smack dab in the middle of a rivalry between cunning goblin engineers and their eternally-tinkering gnome counterparts. These pint-size foes don’t always have the upper hand over the myriad mechanical contraptions they cook up, and the results can be . . . unpredictable.
Over 120 New Cards
The expansion brings a slew of brand-new cards that are ready to wreak a wealth of mechanized havoc on your opponent: Our own tinkerers and explosives aficionados have assembled over 120 new cards that will be sure to throw a wrench in your opponent’s gears—literally. Check out a few of the wild and wacky inventions that have been engineered for your collection below!
Meet the Mechs
The new expansion brings with it an all-new minion type—Mechs. Much like the Alarm-o-Bot and Harvest Golem, these quirky contraptions have been built to pack a creative spring-loaded punch to your game. Goblins vs Gnomes will introduce both neutral and class-specific Mechs, so prepare for things to get interesting*!
Big Trouble, Little Packages
Stirring up trouble this December for Windows®, Mac®, and iPad®, Goblins vs Gnomes cards will be available by purchasing Goblins vs Gnomes-specific card packs in the in-game shop with either gold or real money, whichever you prefer (same pricing as expert card packs). As with Curse of Naxxramas, Goblins vs Gnomes cards will be made available in your Arena picks as soon as the cards have been released; even if you haven’t added them to your personal collection!
Prepare (Your Kneecaps) for Battle!
We hope you enjoyed this early look at Hearthstone’s first expansion—Goblins vs Gnomes. Stay tuned for further details right here on our brand new Goblins vs Gnomes page here! Keep an eye out** for the expansion in December!
*We take no responsibility for damages if things get too “interesting”.
**Please wear safety goggles at all times when engaging with Goblins or Gnomes.
If you haven’t heard, the first expansion for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft will feature the zany, brainy, delightfully surprising chaos that inevitably occurs whenever there’s a contest of wits between Azeroth’s most diminutive denizens: it’s Goblins vs Gnomes!
Hearthstone senior game designer Ben Brode, game director Eric Dodds, and senior producer Yong Woo took to the panel stage on Saturday to talk shop about Goblins vs Gnomes, and what we can expect when we get our mitts on the new expansion once it’s released.
Senior Game Designer Ben Brode
Ben kicked off the panel to discuss Hearthstone’s first year with some interesting stats, ranging from what are the ‘best’ and worst’ cards in Hearthstone, a bit of a post-mortem on Curse of Naxxramas (pun intended), and the role that randomness plays in games (including Hearthstone), which is what we’ll focus on here.
Randomness and You
Randomness has been the source of much ire in the Hearthstone community. Whether it’s seeing an opponent draw the perfect card at just the right moment to foil our plans, or Tinkmaster Overspark turning an opposing minion into a Devilsaur when we really need a chicken, randomness can be frustrating. We’ve all had a moment when we felt like we played masterfully, only to have victory snatched away by a single moment of bad luck. It’s easy to feel like the existence of any randomness in a game means that skill matters less.
Take a look at this graph, where games of pure luck where there is no skill required are on the left, and games that are purely skill-based with no random elements are on the right. Many players feel that Hearthstone, and all games for that matter, falls somewhere along this spectrum:
In reality, that graph is totally misleading because the relationship between luck and skill doesn’t work like that. Luck and skill are independent, and a given game can have different amounts of each. The real situation looks more like this:
Every game you can win or lose falls somewhere on a graph like this. Tic-tac-toe has no randomness, but it also requires almost no skill. There is no Tic-tac-toe world championship, because once you know “the strategy” every game ends in a tie. Some games that are extremely luck-based (like Monopoly) very rarely have moments where you can exercise your superior skill to win.
Chess is a classic example of a game that includes a lot of skill and no randomness. However, at the highest levels games like this often require massive amounts of memorization, since games often play out in the same way. Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest Chess players of all time, actually proposed randomizing the back row of pieces to help solve this problem with high-level Chess!
That leaves the games that feature both high randomness and high skill. Games like Poker . . . and Hearthstone! While any particular hand of Poker is random, the best players still win consistently, and Hearthstone is no different. Look at players like Kolento, who place highly in tournaments over and over again.
Games in this high-randomness, high-skill category have two really cool attributes. First, you are constantly presented with novel situations. If every game of Hearthstone was like the last, it would be easy to memorize a game plan and just execute it over and over again. Instead, randomness makes it necessary be quick thinking and solve new problems in every game. A Hearthstone game is more than one turn, and to win consistently, a player must act and react to changing circumstances turn after turn to make the most of what is happening in a match and set up a victory. In this case, randomness actually increases the amount of skill required to perform well, precisely because it can throw a wrench in our plans and forces us to think on our feet.
The second great thing about this type of game is the frequency of awesome player stories. When you need one specific minion to win a Brawl or you lose, and BOOM: It all goes down exactly right—your Armorsmith survives and you manage to turn the game around with an incredible play! That’s a great story! Randomness increases the excitement and frequency of these memorable events.
This combination of novel scenarios and crazy player stories is a huge part of what makes Hearthstone a TON of fun.
Game Director Eric Dodds
Game Director Eric Dodds then took to the stage to talk about the new Hearthstone expansion: Goblins vs Gnomes!
A Hearthstone Expansion!?
That’s right! An expansion! Over 120 cards packed with Goblin and Gnomish awesomeness. Need something blown up . . . or transmogrified . . . or flattened by a gigantic, ridiculous, smoke-spewing engine of destruction? You need look no further, the mayhem has arrived!
Sounds Great! But Why Goblins vs Gnomes?
There was definitely some discussion before the Hearthstone team settled on Goblins vs Gnomes for the first expansion. First, the team looked at where Hearthstone had already been. The first Hearthstone Adventure, The Curse of Naxxramas, took place in Kel’thuzad’s dread, dank, and dark necropolis: Naxxramas. The team injected Naxxramas with a healthy dose of snarky fun using a Grobbulus-sized syringe, but at its heart, Naxxramas is still a pretty serious place about creepy undead stuff with a doom-and-gloom theme.
The team wanted to do something very different for the first Hearthstone expansion. Something more light-hearted, colorful, and a little zany. And, as always, it had to be FUN! Goblins and Gnomes are famous for their wonderful inventions, and they also have a unique way of inspiring passion! Some people love them and all that they do. Some people would rather see them all zapped by their own creations. Whether these diminutive demolitionists are your favorite thing and you play them every chance you get, or the pint-sized puntables are your first target for total annihilation, Goblins vs Gnomes has something for everyone! Goblins vs Gnomes cards are packed with crazy creations that will expand player deck options in huge, delightfully surprising ways.
Of course the REAL reason we went with Goblins vs. Gnomes is the song:
Goblins are known for their business acumen and their love of big explosions, and definitely not in that order. At the heart of Goblin engineering lies a deep, overwhelming desire to see things explode. Sure, ideally that means the enemy, but that’s not what you’d call a strict requirement. As long as someone is getting blown up, then your average Goblin will be happy.
Conversely, what Gnomes do, they do FOR SCIENCE! While Gnomish inventions are less likely to leave smoking craters, they are significantly more likely to turn innocent bystanders into poultry. In fact, it seems like a lot of Gnomish engineering is a combination of the wackiest technology imaginable and a hefty dose of ‘turning-things-into-other-things probably-by-accident.’ Odds are, rather than blowing something up, a Gnomish invention will usually just leave the unfortunate target wishing they’d been blown up.
While they’re often at odds, Goblins and Gnomes combined their engineering know-how to crank out a brand new board for Hearthstone: Goblins vs Gnomes. While the technology has proven too disastrously unstable to allow operation at BlizzCon, you can be sure that when Gnomes vs Goblins arrives, the devices scattered around the edges of this board will be working spectacularly in ways that probably bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to what was originally intended.
While Goblins and Gnomes are at the heart of this particular contest, the real stars of the show are the crazed mechanical creations that they’ve built. Goblins vs Gnomes brings with it a new mechanical minion type: Mechs. Many of the new cards are Mechs, or interact with Mechs in interesting ways. Each class also has its own Mech-based cards that help ensure that making a deck featuring Mechs prominently will be viable, and that they’ll fit well even in non-Mech focused decks. Some old favorites that clearly have been Mechs all along now have a shiny Mech type bolted onto their cards as well. Finally, and possibly most importantly: GIANT ROBOTS!
Of course, not all Mechs are automatons. Some Mechs have pilots, and when the Mech is destroyed, the pilot hits the big shiny red eject button, parachutes onto the field, and carries on the fight! Usually that’s a lower cost minion than the original Mech, but Sneed left his old shredder behind when he was defeated in the Deadmines, and only a Legendary minion could possibly master those controls. Of course, which Legendary minion was in the cockpit varies wildly. It could be Lorewalker Cho . . . or it could be Ragnaros! Sure, Rags might have some trouble scrunching down into the pilot’s seat, but don’t overthink it. All things are possible WITH SCIENCE!
Got A Spare?
Goblins and Gnomes love tinkering. A thing isn’t good until it’s been bettered with a few engineering “improvements”. That love of tinkering is reflected in Goblins vs Gnomes with Spare Parts cards. These 1 mana spells are acquired in a variety of ways, and playing those cards lets players improve an existing minion just a little bit, or maybe inconvenience their opponent at a critical moment. While they can’t be added directly to a deck, a random Spare Part can often be acquired when certain minions join the fray, or are dismantled, leaving useful bits and bobs in the crater where they used to stand.
Of course, other cards will also be added that aren’t Mechs, Goblins, or Gnomes. To give you a taste of what we mean, we submit the Warrior’s Bouncing Blade spell in the “Only a Goblin would think this is a good idea” category:
The Best Deals Anywhere!
So how do you bolt Goblins vs Gnomes fun onto your collection? You’ll be able to get Goblins vs Gnomes packs for the same cost (in either gold or real money) as the existing Expert Hearthstone packs. If you’re already sitting on a hefty stockpile of dust, then you’re in luck! You can also craft Goblins vs Gnomes cards for the same dust costs—based on rarity—as the current cards. Just wait until you see what happens when you open a Goblins vs Gnome pack!
Senior Producer Yong Woo
On the subject of seeing, Yong Woo took to the stage to talk about another exciting feature that will be arriving alongside Goblins vs. Gnomes. . .
It’s Better With Friends
One of the things that we realized early on while working on Hearthstone is that it’s a game that is just as much fun to watch as it is to play! Whenever one of us is in a really good game, the whole team will gather around to watch, talk about Hearthstone, and chat about cards and deck concepts.
It’s a really great experience, and it’s one of our favorite ways to play Hearthstone: surrounded by friends. It’s also the reason why we’re so excited when Fireside Gatherings bring players together to play face-to-face and hang out. Of course, sometimes your friends can’t be in the same room. Sometimes they’re not even on the same continent! That’s one of the things we love about the Blizzard community: we’re always making friends from around the world.
With that in mind, we’ve been working hard on another feature. It might be the number one most requested feature since the release of Hearthstone. . .
That’s right! We’ve been working to make Spectator Mode a reality. You will soon be able to watch your friend’s games as if they were sitting right next to you when the explosives start flying in Goblins vs Gnomes!
Sounds Great! But How Does It Work?
After Goblins vs Gnomes comes out, when you bring up your Friends list, you’ll see a new Spectate button next to your friends who are playing games. We wanted to make using Spectator Mode as easy as walking behind your friend’s computer, so watching their game is as simple as clicking the Spectate button!
Once you’re watching your friend’s game, it’s almost as though you’re sitting in front of their computer. You can watch them hover over their cards and minions as they ponder their next move. You can see them point their targeting arrow and follow along with their thought process. You can even see the emotes the players are using. It really feels as though you’re playing the game, but there’s a Spectator Mode indicator on the bottom-left corner to remind you that you’re just watching, so no matter how badly you might want you, you can’t take over when your friend misses lethal!
On the other hand, as a spectator, you have full control over what you’re looking at. As the game progresses, you can hover over cards and minions to get full card text and the details on buffs, and you can also check out the history to see what happened before you started watching!
We Love An Audience!
When someone is spectating your game, you’ll see an indicator on the bottom left to let you know that you’ve got company. It will show you how many of your friends are watching, and who they are. And of course, if you’d rather not have spectators, you can set Spectator Mode to invitation only, and even ‘kick’ unwanted spectators from your game.
We’ve received a lot of requests for a good way to cast a match between two players without having to stitch together multiple streams, so we also wanted Spectator Mode to be useful for casting tournaments. So, Spectator Mode will support spectating two players at the same time. You’ll be able to view both players’ hands, and casters will be able to keep tabs on both players from within a single Hearthstone client.
That’s All. . . For Now!
That’s all these Hearthstone heroes had for us at BlizzCon, but you can be sure that there’s more exciting Goblins vs. Gnomes gnews coming before its release this December, so keep your goggles soot-free and keep those transmitters pointed in this direction to stay tuned!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.