By perculia on 2014/10/31 at 12:55 PM Pacific
By perculia on 2014/10/28 at 12:36 PM Pacific
Battlegrounds and Arenas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By oliviadgrace on 2014/09/25 at 12:22 PM Pacific
In the upcoming pre-Warlords of Draenor content patch, we’re adding a new feature that allows players to undelete characters. But before you delete that character, there are a few limitations we want you to let you to know about first.
Undeleting a character restores all of its enchantments, gems, and items fully intact. You’ll be able to get back into action right away, and your character won’t remember being deleted—we won’t tell, either.
Shhhh. . . .
We’ll be holding deleted character names for a limited time, and the original creator can reclaim it for use on a new character during that time. If you create a new character with the same name as one of your deleted characters (let’s say Flugur), the new character must be renamed, transferred, or deleted to complete the restoration of the original Flugur.
By perculia on 2014/09/22 at 3:18 PM Pacific
By perculia on 2014/09/17 at 11:37 AM Pacific
Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of programming- and engineering-focused articles that, over time, will cover some of the technical nuts and bolts that go into creating and running World of Warcraft.
Before we kick this first one off, a quick warning: What follows is a fairly technical explanation for a graphical-setting change related to anti-aliasing. Most of you probably won’t notice any difference at all—this is primarily for those who tend to tinker with their hardware and graphical settings.
In short, we’re taking strides to improve the performance of World of Warcraft, while also ensuring there’s plenty of potential to further increase graphical fidelity and enhance our support of high-end CPUs and graphics hardware.
For Warlords of Draenor, we made a decision to remove Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) and instead include a new anti-aliasing technology called Conservative Morphological Anti-Aliasing (CMAA). This change is going to allow us to bring some overdue technological advancements to World of Warcraft over the course of the next few years—we’re thinking long-term with this change.
One reason MSAA remained viable for WoW over the past decade was that the GPU had the time and resources to handle it. WoW has been a CPU-bound game for much of its lifetime, but during the Warlords development cycle, we endeavored to change that. A lot of that work involved analyzing the flow of data through our code and making sure we work on only what we need to for any given frame. One example is we now variably reduce the number of bones that need to be animated based on proximity and view (sometimes called level of detail, or LOD), a primary consumer of CPU time. We’ve also added a job system that the engine uses to task out animation and scene management in ways we had prototyped in Patch 5.4, but are expanding in Warlords.
The outcome of all of this is that more than ever before, World of Warcraft relies heavily on a GPU that previously was largely free to handle things like MSAA. We explored a number of options to reconcile this increased GPU demand with the game’s anti-aliasing needs, and ultimately decided to embrace CMAA as our anti-aliasing technology for Warlords of Draenor. As with anything that can potentially change the look of the game, we vetted removing MSAA through our engineering and art teams before coming to the conclusion to swap it for CMAA. CMAA provides solid anti-aliasing at a fraction of the cost in memory and performance. It also integrates well with technologies we have planned for the future, and helps us bring those to the game sooner. We also support FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing), an even lighter-weight solution, as an option for our players using DirectX 9.
CMAA fulfills our goals of providing high-quality anti-aliasing at reduced performance cost, while giving us the extra headroom we need to further improve the graphical fidelity of the game. We don’t have to make any architectural concessions within the engine for CMAA to work, and for Warlords of Draenor we’ve already been able to implement new graphical features like target outlining, soft particles, a new shadowing technique, and refraction—and more graphical features are on the horizon for future patches and expansions.
For the launch of Warlords of Draenor, CMAA is the top-tier graphical setting available, but after release we’ll be exploring more options for players with high-performance graphics cards—and if they provide quality while still fitting into our future technology plans, we’ll take a serious look at adding them to the game.
The graphical future of World of Warcraft is a bright one, and the changes we’ve made during the development of Warlords of Draenor have laid the groundwork for us to continue making the game look better and better far into the future.
Thanks for reading!
By perculia on 2014/08/27 at 3:58 PM Pacific
By perculia on 2014/08/21 at 2:42 PM Pacific
Want to bring your fan or guild site closer to our games? Then crack open a can of awesome with Battle.net's OAuth 2.0 service, which enables players to securely access your site with their Battle.net account and choose what types of data they want to view and share for a more tailored experience.
At our new API development website, dev.battle.net, you'll have access to documentation and premade authentication modules that will enable you to set up user authentication in a flash and then start incorporating Blizzard game data into your site!
The goal of dev.battle.net is to bridge the gap between fan site developers and Blizzard's web developers to create a better web experience for everyone. It's a place for all community engineers to learn and talk about Battle.net APIs (application programming interfaces) so that they can integrate their sites with the Blizzard family of games.
The site includes:
We're also planning further updates to this site, including support for profile APIs and Diablo III's ladders, along with more documentation and a support hub.
So, what exactly can you do with dev.battle.net? Here are just a few of the sites that are already using Battle.net APIs:
Head to dev.battle.net for more information, and then go create! We're excited to see what you come up with.
By oliviadgrace on 2014/07/05 at 6:30 PM Pacific
By perculia on 2014/06/27 at 1:32 PM Pacific
By perculia on 2014/06/19 at 11:37 AM Pacific