AMA Recap - John Staats, Blizzard's First 3D Level Designer, on Early WoW Development
World of Warcraft Diary Kickstarter
launched earlier today, smashing its goals with $100k raised in a few hours. As part of the Kickstarter promotion, creator John Staats published an
essay on Scholomance
yesterday on Wowhead, and now today he is running an
AMA on Reddit
. As WoW's first 3D level designer, John Staats has many interesting tidbits to share on early WoW.
Below we've highlighted some of the highest-upvoted replies, but he's still going strong eight hours later answering questions, so definitely check the
full AMA out
In these highlights, he talks about the Emerald Dream, Dragon Isles, guild castles, player housing, and Karazhan. We also learn surprisingly that quests were not intended to be a way to level in early development! Want to learn more about Classic WoW development?
Support the Kickstarter
to get your own copy of the book.
That damnable jump in the wailing caverns, was that working as intended?
Yeah, I tried somethings in WC that sucked. That jump was one, the mushroom maze was another. It was built LONG before we had gameplay, so we didn't know that jumps and mazes sucks so bad. Scott Mercer told me years after I'd left the team that he'd removed the maze (thank god!). I was happy, but he was afraid that I'd be upset. So not upset. Scott rocks.
Are secrets in maps something that’s planned? Are there any secrets that have yet to be found?
At the bottom of Ahn'Qiraj temple, I cut into the wall the word, "Lisa." She was the receptionist at the time and is still dating my officemate, Dana Jan. You can't see it unless you've loaded it into 3D S Max (or any wireframe viewer).
Dana at one point put in "poo-dads" into the Ogre mounds in Loch Modan but I think someone might have removed them. I talked about them in my book. :P
Which is the best designed dungeon in the game that you either worked or didn't work on?
BRD was my best dungeon. I'm not crazy about the last 3 rooms (they were tacked on at the end and look it). I wish I'd had a chance to do Shadowfang. I'm a HUGE Ravenloft fan, but generally, i was always jealous whenever someone worked on a dungeon...I wanted to be the person to build it...the only exception to that was the Undercity. I had no clue what to do with and was AMAZED but what Dana and Jose had accomplished.
Was there anything cool you tried to make, but ultimately ended up abandoning because it couldn't be fully realized in the game?
I made things that looked cool like the Dragon Isles temple but wasn't good for gameplay. I made a pitch for guild castles, component pieces would attach to them as they'd level up. They were real world castles that guilds would compete over by completing raid content, PvP battles, events. It just annoyed me that WOW didn't have many castles (and I wanted an excuse to build one since Aaron Keller (another level designer) got to do Shadowfang. #Jealousjealousjealous
Thanks for doing this AMA. What were the original intentions for the Emerald Dream and Azshara's Crater?
Emerald Dream was a high-concept zone. It was suppose to be dream-like and high-level...but it looks just silly in-game. That's a common trip-up in game development, some things sound cool until you see it in game. Azshara Crater was a PvP zone, if I remember correctly. I think we went with Arathi Basin instead as our next battleground and never went back to AC.
On the preview above, a neighbourhoods arrow is on the original version of Stormwind. Was that a planned idea for player housing originally? I wasn't around until WoD, so a glimpse into the past is super neat to see.
Yeah, Stormwind even had a green portal, I think that was supposed to be a placeholder for player housing. I don't know when it was ever removed. I rebuilt Stormwind for Cataclysm, so maybe I was the guy to remove it, I can't remember. But yeah, it was absolutely for player housing.
As someone who started raiding during TBC, Karazhan remains one of the most iconic raids of all time (as evidenced by Return to Karazhan). I personally loved the Chess battle and the general whimsy of the dungeon. How much fun was it to work on that and has the environment changed since significantly? It feels like that type of event no longer gets included in more recent raids/expacs.
The chess event was quest designer Pat Nagel's baby. Week after week went by when he'd complain that he's spent way too much time on it. I'm sure he spent 99% of his time debugging things, which also was probably whey it wasn't included in recent expansions.
I built the floorplan of most of Karazhan, then move to model the exterior. Aaron Keller actually modeled the interior. I can't remember if the chess room was his idea or mine. I'm a chess nerd (college chess club member, yo!) but Aaron might have swiped it from Harry Potter. I dunno. I think it it was my idea but Aaron definite built the room (and Pat had the pleasure of debugging it).
Can you speak to some of the ways the zone design facilitates players moving through questing patterns in smooth ways? Has the process and interplay between the teams responsible for those things changed and adapted as time went on?
Drastically changed at the beginning. Quests were originally just navigation breadcrumbs to familiarize players with areas to grind. They were NOT intended to be the way to level! We learned from Vanilla WoW that linear zones like Darkshore or Felwood suck, because the travel time to quest turn-ins was that much longer. Now that designers know how players will behave in zones, it's easier to coordinate with exterior level designers. Before, the landscapers were just making zone to beautify areas more. These days, I imagine its more rinse and repeat--but that said, devs are very inventive whenever they're in rinse-and-repeat situations.
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