DesMephisto Cinematic Development Interview with Terran Gregory and Marc Messenger
In his very first interview,
spoke with World of Warcraft Lead Cinematic Narrative Designer Terran Gregory and Cinematic Director of Story and Franchise Development Marc Messenger about cinematic development within World of Warcraft. Terran Gregory. Together, they work on the many in-game cutscenes, game trailers, raid finales, real-time content, and announcement cinematics like the
Dragonflight cinematic trailer
which premiered earlier this month.
The interview is packed with great questions about the process of cinematic design from inception to realization, a few hints as to what we might see in Dragonflight, and what goes into unintentionally creating new fan favorite characters, so be sure to give it a listen!
We've got some bullet points below, but check out the full 30 minute interview for additional context and information.
The developers didn't see the hype around Zappy Boi coming; they were already working on
by the time players saw his first appearance in the
Battle for Azeroth cinematic trailer
, so it was incredibly exciting to see how much players liked the character they had already started using more!
They don't consciously try to elevate a character to that level, it's just a function of the story they're telling. For example, the banner-carrier (affectionally called "Tink Tink") was there because there needed to be someone standing next to Sylvanas to hear her whispered words during the
. They're mainly there to facilitate the story, but the team still tries to invest these characters with some emotional equity, which was the intent with Watcher Koranos in Dragonflight. There's a power to a character showing up in a cinematic though, instantly propelling them into fame - Mathias Shaw is a good example as a well known but not overly popular character whose fame exploded as he began showing up in Battle for Azeroth cinematics.
How do you make a homecoming to a place you don't know? The cinematic team first started talking about Dragonflight almost 2 years ago, it's meant to be a homecoming for the dragons, but it's also a place the player has never been to. That's where Watcher Koranos came in, as a vector there to welcome them back.
Dragonflight bears resemblance to Mists of Pandaria as a breath of fresh air. Certainly there will be threats and conflicts, but the first flavor of Dragonflight will be a step back and opportunity to discover again. Each expansion has its own personality, which the cinematic team works with the game team to realize and condense into a few short minutes to get excited about.
Core themes for the Dragonflight were homecoming, the idea of the land awakening, and Koranos as sort of an "every man" going on a personal journey. The intent of the cinematic was to show his struggle and make it feel like he cares about calling them home, and hopefully the dragons rediscovering their home will feel more emotional due to that connection.
When they started working on the cinematic a year ago, the community hadn't yet latched onto the idea of a dragon-themed expansion, so there was an intentional slyness in not actually showing the dragons until the very end of the cinematic - focusing on Koranos instead. It was supposed to be something of a surprise moment, but they couldn't have really known a year ago that people would already be expecting dragons, though they're pleased with the way it turned out nonetheless.
These announcement cinematics start over a year before the actual announcement, during which the game team is still working on the previous (our current) content, and sometimes that results in a new narrative which might require changes within the cinematic. This results in an incredibly iterative process, and the movie they start making rarely resembles the movie they end up releasing.
Over nine releases of the game, they have to try new things to create variety, and try to incorporate player feedback wherever possible. The N'Zoth finale was driven by new tech allowing the player character to feature inside cinematics and a long history of player feedback which said it felt bad to see an NPC step in and "kill steal" the final victory... but just because its based on player feedback doesn't mean it'll always succeed. Some people really enjoyed seeing their character, but others didn't like that it focused on their individual character as opposed to the entire raid team working together to defeat the Old God. There will always be some degree of differing opinions, but they try to strike a balance, which makes it an iterative process in which they try different things - we see that in the Jailer's pre-encounter cutscene, in which the entire raid team runs across the bridge to confront him.
WoW has been evolving, slowly but surely, over the years in every facet.an 18 year old game presents unique challenges compared to a new game which doesn't have so much history and so many existing layers to take into consideration. WoW didn't have in-game cinematics when it launched, in-game videos were introduced with Wrathgate, and Legion introduced real-time in-game scenes videos with simple scenes like
. They caught on, so we saw more of them during BfA and further refinement in Shadowlands -
Anduin holding the line in the Maw
was a cobbled together "experimental rocketship," but represented a major new step forward. The Judgement of Sylvanas was done entirely in real-time, so well done that a lot of people were convinced it was an actual pre-recorded in-game cinematic, which is a major success in their eyes that they're looking to carry forward into Dragonflight.
There will be a Shadowlands: Afterlives series for Dragonflight. They were just in the recording booth earlier today! They were wonderfully successful and the team loved what they added to the game.
The blue light in the water during the Dragonflight cinematic was intended to be simple bioluminescence rather than Azerite. The land is waking up, it's been healing after everything Azeroth has gone through over the last few years - Sargeras' sword, siphoning corruption with our Artifacts, N'Zoth's influence. Azeroth
healing, and vibrancy is returning to the world. There were small details that not everyone picked up on though, such as the little nebulas in the clouds as Koranos is trying to pull the tower blades shut - you see little glimpses of the aspect colors to show they're still out there in the distance.
A lot of time has passed since the dragons left the isles, and those who remained were cut off, with many falling to despair and time - they didn't know if the dragons died or were ever coming back. Despite his missing arm seemingly reference Tyr's missing hand though, the decrepit watcher seen sitting on the throne in Dragonflight is not Tyr, just a nameless watcher lost to time. Tyr fell in Tyrsfall in Tirisfal.
The Saurfang series of cinematics were hugely popular in BfA, but a similar series wasn't intended for Shadowlands and not currently planned for Dragonflight. The cinematic team love doing them, but each expansion is different and it comes down to what that particular expansion needs - the most popular things to get out into the public consciousness. It's a bit of an experiment, and they don't want to fall into a trap of expectations - feeling like they have to or are expected to always so many of the same types of cinematics each time. The Saurfang series just happened to align very perfectly with the story they were trying to tell in Battle for Azeroth. They'd love to do something like it again, but if they felt like they had to do it
time, they'd have a lot less room to take risks and experiment with new types of storytelling.
It takes around 9-11 months to make a 5 minute cinematic - from first iterative talk to final delivery. They've gotten a bit longer over the years due to becoming more story driven than they used to be -
Cataclysm was more of a trailer
with a very simple premise, while the
Battle for Azeroth
announcement cinematics were actual narrative scenes. 9.2 also had a couple longer in-game cinematics, but the intent isn't just to always make longer cinematics each expansion, so much as to take the right amount of time to sell the scene. Sometimes that means fitting 10 pounds of story in a 3 pound bag, while other times they need a 7 pound bag.
Regarding why Shadowform doesn't persist through real time cutscenes - on a game engine level, it isn't actually your character so much as a cloned scene and local actor. They're intended to inherit all elements of the characters appearance, like enchantments or form, so maybe this is a bug they can talk to designers about? Game development is a weird amalgam of a lot of different pieces coming together, and little things you'd never think about may end up making or breaking different elements.
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