Shadowlands Zones, Covenant Armor, and Character Customization Interview with Art Director Ely Cannon
09/07/2020 alle 13:59
Here at Wowhead we look forward to previewing all of the new zones and customization options each build, so it was a real treat to sit down and interview Ely Cannon, Art Director for
World of Warcraft
. We learned about the process behind creating the distinctive Shadowlands zones and covenant armor sets, as well as received insights on the revamped Mail Ardenweald set, customization options like blue eyes for Blood Elves, and the challenges behind creating Sylvanas' new look.
Shadowlands Press Event Coverage
News & Updates
Potential Class Wide Artifact Transmog
Account Wide Legendary Power Recipes
Changing Covenants Should be Easy, Changing Back Should Be Hard
Rune Carving - Legendary Armor Crafting
Change Gender at the Barber Shop, No Longer a Paid Service
New Class Animations on Character Selection Screen
The Final Boss of Shadowlands
Pathfinder Based on Renown Instead of Reputation
No Bonus Experience from Heirlooms in Shadowlands
Save Famous Characters from the Maw
The Maw Max Level Questline
The Maw Max Level Zone Preview
Venthyr Covenant Campaign Preview
Sinfall Covenant Sanctum Environment Preview
Covenant Sanctum Systems - Upgrades, Many Resources, Transportation Network
Rune Carving - Legendary Armor Crafting
Soulbinds Progression Breakdown
Covenant Adventures: Missions Evolved
Dangers of the Maw - Eye of the Jailer Levels
The Maw Zone Preview
Abominable Stitching Recipes
Venthyr Covenant Preview and Ember Court
Night Fae Covenant Preview and Queen's Conservatory
Necrolord Covenant Preview and Abomination Stitching
Kyrian Covenant Preview and Path of Ascension
Covenants System Preview
Soulbinds and Conduits Preview
PandaTV and Ion Hazzikostas Liveblog
Lordmons with Morgan Day - Pantheon of Death & Unlocking Legendary Powers
Warcraft Radio and Patrick Dawson Liveblog
Judgehype Insights with Patrick Dawson
Morgan Day and MrGM Liveblog
Zones, Covenant Armor, and Customization with Ely Cannon
Ion Hazzikostas - End-game Loot, Utility Legendaries, Droprates
Highlights from Ion Hazzikostas Group Interview
Shadowlands Lore with Steve Danuser - Elune, Sylvanas, Calia
Sloot Interview with Paul Kubit
HazelNuttyGames Interview with John Hight
Tonton Interview with Ion Hazzikostas - Open World Lag, Swapping Covenants, PvP Power
Lapi Interview with Ion Hazzikostas - Weekly Loot, Covenant Tuning
We’ve now explored all of the outdoor zones and dungeons in Shadowlands, and there’s so much variety and stunning backdrops. What are the challenges in creating zones that give off an otherworldly vibe but are still recognizable as World of Warcraft?
You hit on it, that otherworldly vibe is the thing that's the most challenging. Something that's traditionally been straightforward for us is to create terrestrial places like Stormheim, Azsuna, Stormsong Valley. These are places that are easy for us to wrap our heads around because they are places we've experienced as humans. Then you get to someplace like the Shadowlands which is meant to be a transportive experience and is taking you to someplace otherworldly... we still need the same basic building blocks in that we need things that function like trees and rocks, things which we understand work from a building perspective, but evoke a different thematic experience for the player. That's always the challenge - how do we thematically represent the building blocks so we can create good gameplay and world design that's fun to explore, that has an underlying sensibility that people can understand. And how can we do it in a way that is very
For example, in Maldraxxus, one of the big challenges is that there aren't any trees in the zone. We had to find elements that served that same purpose on the screen - vertical forms to break up the horizon lines. And we ended up with a bunch of interesting solutions, these insect hives that sit up on these creature bone legs. There are bone tumors growing out of the landscape that are like mushrooms but not quite, and then you have fungal spaces in the zone. For us, it was about what types of elements can we bring into the space that are thematically appropriate for this flesh and bone space? But are also elements that give us the same sort of opportunities for world building that we would be traditionally used to, so we can create good, evocative, fun-to-play spaces. That's really the big challenge - how do we transport someone to an entirely different place but make it feel familiar enough that it's something you can believe and want to spend time in, vs feeling alien and not understandable.
Ardenwald is interesting because it's otherworldly but it has some clear Emerald Dream influences based on the story, so it's interesting to see a zone that's different but also ties to Azeroth. Which ties into my next question - what were the influences behind each of the new Shadowlands zones? Were they existing WoW zones, death-themed concepts in WoW, or IRL places outside of the game?
It's a mix of all of that really. Even in the case of Ardenweald, one core concept was a celestial treescape with stars. That was an idea that was part of a brainstorming session back when we were thinking about Drustvar actually. We were thinking about Thros, and one thought was 'let's make a celestial canopy where it's always night but the stars are actually within the canopy on the undersides of the trees.' That concept was so powerful that when we talked about Ardenweald it's one of the first things we brought up. It's a way to give the forest something extra. So it can be stuff like that, carried forward from previous ideas which we maybe didn't use then but were cool at the time.
We also use real-world examples. It might be that some of the bone tumor forms in Maldraxxus are loosely based on some rocks around Laguna Canyon. Our artists are out drawing all over the place with plain-air paintings. They definitely bring those influences from the real world onto what they are doing in the game. There are a lot of diverse sources for those ideas and we try to cast a fairly broad net in the beginning to make sure we have a plethora of ideas to pull from, and really through collaboration and iteration and conversation, we try to pick the funnest, coolest idea.
We typically will arrive at these evolutions of something we have done in the past. Ardenweald is a great example of that. We love doing forests and this is another forest, but we want it to feel unique. There are different states of the forest - the fully deprecated sections were anima is completely gone and disintegrating, as well as the in-between states where it's waning and starting to go into fall. Showing those seasonal changes in the zone is a way to make it feel different than previous forests.
Yeah it's interesting to create a fantasy world and show something new, but then on top of that show how the anima is hurting this world you just set up.
A lot of thoughts go into that - what are the systems, the natural systems behind things, and how would these places evolve over time? Having some of the story in your mind as you're creating it allows you to create something that feels more believable ultimately.
New to Shadowlands, players upon leaving Oribos have a
special gateway animation
transitioning to another zone instead of a loading screen. What was the artistic decision between removing the loading screen and what was the team aiming for with the animation style?
One of the goals was to get rid of the loading screen. We want to keep players in the world as much as possible, an immersive experience that doesn't have jarring breaks caused by loading screens. Here was a great opportunity to do this in a more unique and interesting way. We effectively do have a player that's on a mount, so instead of showing you a a loading screen we show you this interesting effect that adds a narrative element to your travel. Like, the story we're trying to tell is that Oribos exists in the center of the Shadowlands, and these other realms aren't necessarily right there by Oribos. You need to travel through another plane to reach those places. And that travel transition is one of the ways that we wanted to show and emphasize it is a journey between the planes of reality.
What is the process for choosing what sort of customization options each race gets? We've seen a steady stream of updates for each race, with some updated over several months such as Orcs getting their fist round in April and then another round today in July. Are some races revisited to add more options pending community feedback?
We try to make choices for race customization that are appropriate for their race, ie Night Elf hairstyles and ornamentation core to their fantasy. Of course, some races have gotten more customization that others, and we make those choices vey specifically and we try to make use of our resources the best possible way to make sure we provide the best possible value for our time.
One of the biggest pushes we made was for the humans specifically. We put a lot of time and effort into creating as much diversity as we could. The humans in our game are far more representative of the humans in our world, and it was an opportunity to let players truly represent themselves in game. Similarly, with the other races, we're looking for those opportunities as well to add diversity and player choice. Shadowlands is about player choice and agency, not only customization for characters but in your choice of what covenant you choose, the fantasy of who you choose to align yourself with. The customization choices can be very personal for people and we hope the covenant choices have a similar effect.
The Night Elf ones were particularly exciting because with the hair vines and jewelry you can replicate the iconic Night Elf appearance from concept art, and with the scars, specifically the one called Teldrassil - we've gotten a lot of feedback from players that it means a lot for them to customize their appearance in a way that reflects their character's story from BFA.
It's rare that we get an opportunity in the world to have the stories we're telling impact how players represent themselves, and that is really poignant moment. Teldrassil is an important moment for Night Elf players and then having a skin represent you are a survivor of that. It was important, and it's nice to see the community respond positively to it.
We’ve now seen
all the core races receive a sizable revamp and even some Allied Race tweaks
. Will character customization updates continue as frequently throughout the beta, or will the majority of changes be limited to the alpha?
We're working vigorously to get the majority of customizations done for ship. We potentially will make more customization in the future, but we're focusing on getting as much into the game as we can right now. I can't really talk about what future plans would be for additional customization options but certainly we're trying to get the majority of customization options in for beta and absolutely for ship.
According to a dev interview Ion gave several months ago, Blood Elves were originally unintended to have blue eyes in Shadowlands, but later on that decision was reversed following team discussions. If the art department was involved, what was the reasoning that led to blue eyes being added for Void Elves and Blood Elves?
This is another place where there was a race, High Elves, in the game which hadn't really been represented on player characters. Blood Elves were the closest, but had felt green eyes. It was an opportunity where we had a number of elven races, and we could tie it back to their roots, letting players choose where they want to align and what fantasy to play out. We did have a lot of discussion about it, ultimately we might do more in the future, but for now we're providing the option to have a few High Elf customizations available.
Besides the Blood Elf and Void Elf eyes, are there any other notable customization options that weren't originally planned, that were added pretty late in the process?
We provided more
for both genders. That wasn't planned initially but as we started to look at it and evaluate what we had achieved with the few we've done, it became apparent that it's a powerful choice for both genders. So we've leaned into it a bit more and added it to more races.
With all the diversity now possible in player customization options, we’re curious if the new customization options will also be reflected on Shadowlands NPC appearances? And will existing NPCs around Azeroth (like Stormwind NPCs from Cataclysm) receive new appearances reflecting the new diverse customization options?
As with any tool we have available with us, designers will make use of it for current or future content. That may include going back to the old world, when new vendors are added, and customizing and updating some of the old NPCs in the world. But it depends on the time involved and what our bandwidth is. Our focus is always on the next expansion and the content coming up to provide the best possible game, but certainly having those available gives our designers a lot more to work with, and I would expect to see more of that diversity and customization represented in the world going forward for sure.
Has any new tech been developed for customization options or transmog in Shadowlands? For example, earlier in Battle for Azeroth, we learned about the new tech to make creative back pieces like the Wrathion backpack. Are there any plans to expand on this further, or are there any other sorts of new tech that went into appearances?
Nothing at the moment I can talk about for appearances. But there has been new tech added to the game in other places. One type of new tech I think is awesome is sky tech called SKyScenes which allows us to throw
3D objects into the sky
. This is how we're achieving Torghast's exterior. Typically we'd have to model a full tower there, and now it's easier to achieve and offers more flexibility to do cool things with our skies. The skies are one of the major things we've been pushing on over the last few expansions. Something we've realized over the years is that the sky occupies a large part of the screen real-estate. We have cool tech that allows us to do awesome tech. It's one of the things I've been most excited about.
The covenant armor sets are gorgeous and innovative with creative references to each covenant’s culture. What are the influences behind each covenant’s armor set? Was any armor type/covenant combo challenging to design? And any insights on the Mail Ardenweald set as it was the only site to receive a total revamp during Alpha?
As with many things with our game, there's always the potential it will change. That
was one we weren't sold on early on during the alpha. We did continue to work on it and
made something we feel more-strongly represents the fantasy of Ardenweald
and that type of armor.
That's always a challenge - you have Cloth, leather, Plate, Mail - and distinguishing mail from leather can be had, and mail from plate can be very difficult., When we have to make armor that is specifically themed after a zone driving the armor design, it becomes doubly complicated. For the mail set, it was a real challenge to create something we felt hit the target as far as fantasy, but what we ended up with I'm very happy with.
As far as thematically what drove those things, for Ardenweald we tried to pull cues from the zone, like insects from the Gorm, there are definitely wood and nature themes from the zone elements. And trying to do things that make you feel like you're garbed in a similar style to the fae creatures like satyrs and
. A lot of the choices in all the zones were driven in a similar way, so in Revendeth you'll see elements from the PC armor sets incorporated into the covenant armor sets to make it feel like you are wearing the same stuff, but slightly different versions to be distinguished from the NPCs. But similar motifs and colors so it feels like it's coming from the same place.
In Maldraxxus, an early thought we had was that the skeletons would grow these spiked bone protrusions for their shoulders, and the metal plates were jammed onto them. You'll see some of that playing into the armor sets, specifically the
plate armor set
. One of the things I'm most looking forward to!
Designing Sylvanas' New Look
We’ve seen some fan-favorite characters receive updates this expansion. What is the process behind updating a famous character’s appearance for a new expansion? Players on Wowhead are really interested in the choice behind Sylvanas’ new spiky armor as well as Kael’thas reinvented.
Let's start with Sylvanas. I mean, all of these characters don't just belong to Blizzard, they belong to everyone in the community who loves Warcraft, it's a big responsibility when we change something, they retain their core character. Sylvanas should still look like Sylvanas, just in different armor. She's entered a different point of her life. One of the major things that we did want to do with her was to give her the appearance of having come into her power finally. She's no longer hiding behind being the Banshee Queen or the Dark Ranger, she is the Sylvanas we have been waiting for, and she has the armor to prove it. We know where her alliances lie for the first time. So with her, once we decided story-wise what was happening with her and where her alliances lie, the armor part was fairly easy.
The thing that becomes difficult, is that with her, the armor tone was very close to her skin tone. So one of the things we had to do was make subtle changes to the color of the armor and her skin so they had enough contrast against each other, while still fitting into her traditional color and value space. An obvious solution would have been to start changing her skin color, making it more pink or more purple, but that would go against her nature as the undead creature that she is. We have to be conscious and careful of making those choices. These characters belong to everyone and we want to make sure that we're making good choices for the whole of the community that loves and celebrates Warcraft. Sylvanas is one of the most favorite, most iconic characters of all time, loved or hated. We have to be very cautious that we're doing the right thing by Sylvanas and make sure that she looks the same while telling the next part of her story.
For Kael'thas, I mean,
... he was fairly easy because we see him in a very particular situation which implies a certain look for him. He's still at his core Kael'thas, but themed for the narrative arc he's involved in.
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