It’s a big day for the Warcraft franchise, as Blizzard has officially released Warcraft III: Reforged, which is billed as a “full-scale modernization” of the RTS classic.
The PC title features the base game, Reign of Chaos, as well as The Frozen Throne expansion. The graphics and sound have been given an modern update, while there are new and improved social and matchmaking elements through Battle.net and user-generated content tool through the improved world editor.
In addition to the base game, you can pick up the Spoils of War version that includes new skins for Arthas, Cenarius, Jaina, and Thrall, as well as in-game bonuses for titles like World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Diablo III.
To learn more about the origins and specific details of Warcraft III: Reforged, we spoke with lead producer Pete Stilwell. In a wide-ranging interview, Stilwell talks about topics like why Blizzard chose Warcaft III for a remaster over some of its other titles, how the team at Blizzard is honoring the original design while revamping the story and other elements, and what the studio has done to make Warcraft III: Reforged stand out as more than a nostalgia-grab.
Stilwell also speaks about how it is a “blessing and a curse” to have such a dedicated and passionate fanbase, and how Reforged aims to appeal to World of Warcraft fans who want to know more about the origins of the Warcraft universe. “Most of them probably don’t know the origin story,” Stilwell said of the millions of World of Warcraft players.
Check out GameSpot’s full interview with Stilwell below.
Going back to the start, why did you choose Warcraft III instead of some of your other properties for a remaster?
There were a few factors here. We had just come off of StarCraft: Remastered, so we’d put together a very RTS-focused team – so this was a natural transition. It almost followed Blizzard’s own transition of making one into the other. We already had the right team for the job.
Then there’s also the fact that we wanted to, first and foremost, do service to the largest communities that still existed with our older games. There’s plenty of games in the deeper catalogue that we probably could have gone to that would be easier. If you were doing it from a timeline perspective, it might be more logical to start with the first Warcraft or something like that.
But Warcraft III still has a massive community in both the competitive and the creative scene, especially with custom games. One of the other fortunate things I’ve gotten to do in the leadership of this team is travel the globe and talk to our players. And while we were in Korea, talking about StarCraft, it made us more aware of how strong the custom scene still was, especially with Warcraft III there.
And then it’s just a hop, skip and a jump and suddenly you’re in Shanghai talking to people there and they’re saying, “Yeah, StarCraft’s great, but what we’re really all about is this Warcraft III.” And I think it was just a natural progression on many fronts.
What are you doing to honour the original design while also revamping the story and art and other elements?
From a gameplay perspective, it’s largely the same.
From a visual perspective, Warcraft has continued to evolve since the original, and since the Third War was released. So, we drew on elements of Sylvanas and Jaina and all these other strong characters who have continued to evolve for their models in Warcraft III: Reforged. For a lot of them, it was their debut moment in Warcraft III and because they had all of 200 triangles to work with, there wasn’t much definition of what people looked like or how they behaved.
We looked around at all the amazing stuff other folks have done – be it the books or the comics or the games, all of the cool stuff that’s out there, and tried to draw inspiration from that to pull the strands together.
As far as other elements, again the custom game community is so strong and does so much cool stuff. We did a lot of research into what they wanted, and we looked at the creative ways they’ve found over the years to solve problems.
We’ve done a lot of things under the hood that the average player may not directly benefit from, but hopefully when a map maker gets hold of it, they’ll be able to make a cooler map with more performance, or can support more people. A ton of effort has gone into the fact that this community is really what has given this game legs and we want to re-energise them for the next marathon, if you will.
What kind of technical work was required for this? It looks extensive!
This was Blizzard’s first 3D game. That’s one of the things that we undervalued going into this. StarCraft was Blizzard’s last major 2D game and they’d been doing it for years. They knew the technology and they were super good at it.
Warcraft III was the result of a lot of experimentation. We have engineers like Jay Patel and Colin Murray, who helped build the original game, come in and help us with Warcraft III: Reforged, and they look at their code and go: “Oh, what was my young self thinking? We know better now.”
In terms of the gameplay, are you making any changes compared to the original?
The fact of the matter is there’s a good abstraction between game logic and game rendering. Most of our efforts went into game rendering and trying to get modern 3D standards in there, versus the game logic, which largely remains untouched. “Gameplay First,” one of Blizzard’s best core values, is still really about, “How does this feel? Does it read as Warcraft III?”
If you’ve played Warcraft III before, you’re going to loosely remember the way units moved and things like that. And if you’re a hardcore player, you’re going to have it ingrained in your DNA at this point.
Authenticity is really in that gameplay logic, which we tried not to touch. Whenever there’s risk there we do a lot of testing and get it in the hands of pros or get it in the hands of folks on our team who are advanced players to make sure gameplay is intact.
Part of what makes Warcraft III so enduringly popular is its passionate and communicative fanbase–what can you say about your fans and what their support means to you?
The short answer is that our fans are why we do it. The fans and the fact that they’re still playing this game and are voracious about what it represents is what gave life to this team. It’s also our compass. It’s a blessing and a curse sometimes, but it’s mostly a blessing to have people who know the game so well and have such an expectation. It does make it more difficult to change and to evolve.
“Our fans are why we do it.” — Stilwell
But that’s also part of the conversation of what our agenda is as a dev team and as a group. And first and foremost, it’s to preserve these games. The cool thing with Warcraft III is because we can extend the editor and keep the original game the way it was for all intents and purposes, we get to put the tools back into the hands of the community where they can help navigate that next chapter.
The game is now updated with Battle.net functionality and support–what kind of work did this require and what does it allow for that you couldn’t have all those years ago?
The original games on Battle.net were very different – there wasn’t much functionality beyond the social aspect of Battle.net. Modern Battle.net now has even better social interaction because we can now be in a group chat together. You can be in one game and I can be in another and we never lose contact. That’s awesome.
Additionally, it means that your multiplayer experience tends to be more in league with other games that Blizzard makes, for example, matchmaking.
Do you envision Reforged to appeal mainly to fans of the original game? Or to new players who might have played WoW and now want to learn more about some of the lore origins?
We hope it’s both. You can go boot this game up, choose to play in what we’re calling “Classic” inside of the client, and you’ll see all the original models, and play the original campaign. You can have that experience, and we even have guys on the team like that who believe the only thing we needed to do is get this inside of Battle.net so you can install it more easily. And then there’s the rest of us that are like, ‘Wait, look at the size of World of Warcraft’s player base”. Most of them probably don’t know the origin story.
That’s what this is, the kick-off to World of Warcraft. For example, seeing Eastern Plaguelands come out of Andorhal is just one of the core moments that are part of the story of Warcraft III. With WoW Classic last year showing the passion around this IP, the hope is those same folks will want to experience the “prequel” that is Warcraft III.
Because if you missed it, there’s over 60 missions, there’s hours and hours of cutscenes. There’s so much story and getting to see some of those characters who are giving you quests in their origins is really powerful if you’re a fan of Warcraft.
As I understand it, the voice acting remains the same in Reforged. Can you explain the decision to keep the voice acting the same?
Part of this has been galvanising our identity of what our team was going to be.
When we went to BlizzCon 2018 with the Warcraft III: Reforged demo and showed off what we could do, we were actually taken aback by a lot of the community’s response to it. Some asked, “what are you doing messing with this thing?”
If we’re saying that we’re using the community as a lodestar, as a guiding light, then we need to actually own that. We decided as a group that it isn’t our job to take it that far.
We as Blizzard should own our experience and we decided as a team, that means it should be more in concert with that classic experience.
Remasters and re-releases seem to play on the appeal of nostalgia. Longing for a time gone by. So how have you gone about creating Warcraft III: Reforged to be more than a simple push at people’s feelings of nostalgia and instead something that stands on its own in 2020?
To me, the real modernisations have gone in that direction of handing the tools to the community. A lot of that is in the editor, with new art, new triggers and new Lua support, for example.
Obviously, the visual facelift and the integration of the game back inside of modern Battle.net is important, but there is no doubt there is a nostalgia play here and that is why we kept the original VO and things like that. We hope it’s a bit of both ultimately.
Reforged has been available for some time now in a testing phase–what kinds of feedback have you received and how are you going about changing the final game?
With the multiplayer beta, a big part of what we’ve done is changed this game to a new server infrastructure and again, get it onto modern Battle.net. There’s a lot of risk there. Somebody playing in a different part of the world can’t necessarily be emulated without a beta because the backbone they connect to that reaches our servers might have some weird switching station that we don’t understand and can’t test for adequately here. We have to get this out into the hands of the players to really know the state of an online experience.
That was the focus of the beta – to find those weak spots and shore them up. Especially with the custom games, we’ve got somewhere in the neighbourhood of one billion custom games that have been published in the past 15 years. We are well aware not all of them will work day one and that some old bugs and exploits have been fixed. Because the custom online experience is such a hub of this game, creators could have time to see their maps breaking and start to make fixes and things like that.
One of the big pieces of feedback from the reveal was that the art style look sort of mishmashed from the new HD character models and how other parts of the game stayed old. What’s your reaction to that, and have you updated the game now for its final release?
When we went to BlizzCon with the demo, we wanted to get feedback and first impressions. It was very work in progress. I think every single thing we showed at BlizzCon has undergone some iteration and that’s natural. One of the things that we were having difficulties with at that point was the lighting. We had overblown it and that’s why there’s these really stark shadows.
If you saw the entirety of the game, you’d realise that really bright light works well on Lordaeron Summer, but as soon as you start getting into the caves or all these other tilesets that are important parts of this game, you find out quickly that it doesn’t work. Once we figured out those values and level set, the most important thing at this point is if you put the original colours of the original tilesets next to the new ones, they match. They’re very in concert in the right way, in that it’s got higher fidelity and it looks great and it’s benefitting from these new systems we brought in with physics-based rendering. It is not exactly what we showed that very first time, but most of us in the community and on the team agree that it’s where it should be to be Warcraft III.
What can fans expect as it relates to custom games and the map editor?
The things that will help beyond what I’ve already talked about inside of the editor itself, is that we made unique assets for everything. One thing we understood with the campaign was that when you’re looking at the same Dreadlords or the same Paladins, all standing there side by side, they are identical except the little glow around their feet is a different colour. We thought “we could do better than that,” especially when the custom community is sitting over here thirsty for assets.
They can’t necessarily hire a group of artists to make assets at this fidelity and giving them more was going to be beneficial for everyone who plays custom games. So, we dogfooded ourselves by adding a lot more to the campaign in order to feed back into the custom game community. Then for the online experience, we revamped the lobby system, so getting in and out and finding the right game is a much better experience.