Greetings, and welcome to another edition of Artcraft! I’m Chris Robinson, senior art director of World of Warcraft, and for this second entry I’ve gathered a group of Warlords of Draenor developers to talk a bit about Garrisons—specifically, how our artists are working closely with the game designers to ensure that the visuals we’re crafting support their design goals.
We’re not really going to get into the details of how Garrisons work here, like specific mechanics of their design. Think of this more as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into our art process with two of our groups: our dungeon art team, which is responsible for all the Garrison's large buildings, walls, gates, and so on; and our prop art team, which is focused on the profession buildings and all of the awesome details you’ll find inside of them.
Before we get to that, first we'd like to talk about a few aspects of the art team's relationship with the game designers. We’ve asked Lead Content Designer Cory Stockton to talk a little about how the Garrison works, and how design and art come together to get something as massive as Garrisons into the game. Here’s Cory:
"Hey Everyone! The Garrison feature is going to be a huge part of your core experience in Warlords of Draenor, so it’s really exciting to get a chance to talk about it. As Chris mentioned, it's a massive feature with a lot of different moving parts, one of the biggest of which is the visuals—and that’s where our art team comes in. We knew we wanted the Garrison to feel like a big new feature, but we also wanted to keep it familiar, like bringing a piece of home to Draenor. There is just something about running into Stormwind or Orgrimmar that evokes that sense of faction pride, and that’s exactly what we wanted out of the Garrison. The art team was able to work with us to deliver brand new art that still evokes those feelings from our faction capitals.
Nailing the look is just one part of the process though. A big part of the feature is being able to increase your Garrison’s power over time, and we wanted to make sure you see that reflected in the art. This means that all of the Garrison buildings have to have multiple, and increasingly epic visual upgrades. The plot system used for Garrisons—which allows you to customize your layout and place buildings anywhere—presented a unique challenge for the art team, since even though a building needs to look more epic at each upgrade, it couldn’t actually change shape at the base. Check out some of the under-development examples below.
—Cory Stockton, Lead Content Designer
The Dungeon Team: Making Old Look New... or Is It New Look Old?
Hi there, I'm Wendy Vetter, lead artist for the World of Warcraft dungeon team, and next I'm going to give you an inside look at how we’re bringing the Garrison buildings into the world.
When working on the Garrison, we decided to start with the Alliance buildings first, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on today. When we first began, we thought, "Wouldn’t it be cool for players to get to have some of the original buildings from back in Elwynn and Redridge in their Garrison? Our resident Concept Wizard (actual title) Jimmy Lo ran with this idea of a “trip down memory lane” by bringing back a lot of those early buildings, and we worked on trying to keep a lot of familiar parts of the buildings intact while updating themwith new textures.
After trying that idea out, we began to notice the buildings were looking too familiar—it wasn't epic enough, and wasn't looking like something you’d expect to see in this big new feature. So we updated the recipe to "extra-crispy"—and that meant going far beyond a new coat of paint on an old asset.
Click on all the things!
We didn't, however, ignore the past—we built upon it. Keeping the original spirit of the old buildings, we began exploring new designs. We created fresh silhouettes and pushed the individuality of each building, creating visually exciting upgrades as you progressed. This way, when you get that first shack you call a Lumber Mill—an oversized crate with some sticks and a dull saw in it—you're excited, but you know there's lots of room for improvement. As you build your army and finally get that third-tier Lumber Mill though, you feel like a badass ready to fight back against the Iron Horde.
I have to say I love, love—did I mention LOVE?—the Mage Tower. The library invites the player to grab their favorite book of spells (mine is Beatrice’s Magical Exploits Into the Wilds of Wildervar), wrap up in a blanket, plop on a nice soft chair with their favorite pet sitting on their lap, and read till the light of the fire dims to crackling embers. When we’re creating the art, we actually use small stories like that as a way to guide the scene. We use lighting, material choices, silhouettes, and carefully crafted details to invite the imagination of the player to look beyond the pixels and textures, and bring their character into the world. I like to think of the buildings as characters themselves, each with a personality, from the little nicks on a doorway, to the warm hearth in the Town Hall.
We hope you feel right at home when you step into each of these places.
The Prop Team: Showing a Story
I’m Eric Browning, the lead prop artist on WoW, and my team is responsible for props, FX, and initial set decoration. For the Garrison, we’ve put more emphasis on the “set decoration” aspect than ever before, giving us a much better sense of how well a particular kitKit
Short for “style kit,” this refers to an overall story the art should be consistently conveying. This helps to achieve a cohesive look as multiple artists contribute individual elements to a larger piece. is working right from the start. I’ll let the three of the artists working on them explain a bit more.
“One of the most powerful aspects of an artist’s mission is storytelling, and working to fill the space in the Garrison has allowed us to really focus in on that. Decorating a particular set or building provides an opportunity to communicate a lot of information about how the space is used and how it was made, and all the pieces come together to help convey an overarching theme. Little nuances and details in the props can help give the player context into what’s happening in a particular area of the game, and ultimately, really help to tell the story of an entire zone.
We approach each of these tasks on both micro and macro levels—evaluating how each smaller piece comes together as a larger whole. This is where the real challenge lies, since we don’t want to visually overwhelm the player—but at the same time, we're giving everyone the visually striking, high-quality level of art they've come to expect from World of Warcraft.”
—Jordan Powers, Associate Artist
“In Warlords of Draenor, your Garrison is your fortress—a foothold in a savage world, and ultimately a place to call your own. One of our main goals with the Garrison was to really bring some life and sense of purpose to the characters who inhabit the world, and to make them feel like they belong in their environment. What that entails for us as artists is to brainstorm, develop, and refine a scenario that not only gives a narrative to a particular space, but helps make the player feel like the world is cohesive and real. We strive to give each set of props—what we call a 'kitKit
Short for “style kit,” this refers to an overall story the art should be consistently conveying. This helps to achieve a cohesive look as multiple artists contribute individual elements to a larger piece.'—logical treatment and placement so that the NPCs look as if they truly belong there. In doing so, it hopefully allows for a more visually rich and rewarding journey for the player.”
—Eric Braddock, Associate 3D Artist
“For the profession hubs, we wanted the player to be able to experience leveling up their chosen professions not only with skill points, but also visually through their Garrison. As the player progresses, each profession hub will level up, and the associated building will become more visually impressive. We treated each profession hub as an opportunity to describe the NPC who works there—how neat or messy they are, how they might work, and how they’ll grow with you as you level up your Garrison. We also thought it would be fun to throw in small hints of different races that might be associated with certain professions, such as draenei for Jewelcrafting or dwarves for Blacksmithing, to tie in the many races that give the World of Warcraft its depth and history.“
—Jay Hwang, Senior 3D Artist
One More Thing
—Chris here again, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this closer look at the buildings for your Garrison. While we focused on Alliance Garrison this time around, we’re definitely making a lot of great progress on the Horde counterpart, and look forward to giving you a more in-depth preview in a future episode of Artcraft. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at what you can expect. See you soon!
Chris Robinson (@artofcgrobinson), senior art director, World of Warcraft. Mage Tower and Lumber Mill by Rhett Torgoley, senior artist, and Lianna Tai, associate 3D artist, with direction from Wendy Vetter, lead dungeon artist; Lumber Mill concept by Jimmy Lo, senior concept artist; Storehouse by Jordan Powers, associate artist; Enchanting hub by Eric Braddock, associate 3D artist; Jewelcrafting hub by Jay Hwang, senior 3D artist, with direction from Eric Browning, lead prop artist.