This August I had the privilege to attend the second exclusive BlizzCon gaming festival at the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) in Anaheim, California. The first BlizzCon was back in October 2005. This year’s BlizzCon highlighted Blizzard Entertainment’s latest works - Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. It also featured discussion panels, tournaments, and merchandising.
Official BlizzCon 2007 Website
Schedule of Events
Starcraft 2 Official Website
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Official Website
Day 1 - Friday August 3rd
I drove to Anaheim and arrived there at 7:30 am. Parking was $10/day (up from $8 at AX 2005). Already, there were people inside the convention center leisurely walking about. Half of the people were wearing their Blizzard T-shirts. One person had a shirt with “PvP Enabled” on the back.
They were chatting about their characters from World of Warcraft (WoW), reading, snapping pictures, playing with their Nintendo DS, and challenging each other in the Warcraft Trading Card Game. http://entertainment.upperdeck.com/wow/en/
The majority of attendees were male, aged 21 and over who grew up on the Warcraft franchise. There were some families, mothers bringing their energetic sons, and lucky guys who managed to convince their girlfriends to come along.
On the left most side of the convention center was the registration lines. The lines were arranged alphabetically by last name. You were able to pick up badges on Thursday from 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm. They were pretty light Friday and Saturday.
Midway was VIP/Press badge pick up.
Exhibits only passes were blue. All access attendee including the concert was yellow. Blizzard Staff workers had green. Along with your badge was a plastic grab bag filled with noteworthy souvenir items.
In terms of cosplay, some sported minor accessories over their street clothes like toy swords, helmets, capes, and tails. It wasn’t like Anime Expo where you felt left out if you weren’t in cosplay. That’s not to say that there weren’t any cosplay at BlizzCon at all. No, no, no.
We started to crowd outside Hall A. It was sectioned off by those red movie theater dividers. People began chanting: ‘Open!’ and ‘For the Horde!’ They roared every time the doors would open as employees were shuffling in and out. Once again there were the yellow shirted Staff Pro that plagued Anime Expo. Also within our midst were camera crew from G4 and Wired. There was some asian girl from Yahoo! Games (Chi-Lan Lieu) saying, ‘Give me a cheer for BlizzCon over here!’
At 9:00, the gates of hell were unleashed. People stormed in lines for BlizzShop (http://www.blizzard.com/blizzcon07/merchandise.shtml) and J!nx Clothing for Gamers & Geeks (http://www.jinx.com/). Alienware, Intel, and Dell teamed up for the Extreme Gaming Tour (http://www.alienware.com/sub_pages/events.aspx), an 18-wheeler truck presenting inside the ultimate gaming PC. Also in attendance: Paypal, Killer Gaming Network Card (http://www.killernic.com/), and Logitech’s G-series G9 laser mouse (http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/mice_pointers/mice/devices/3053&cl=us,en). Finally the ‘Blizzard is Hiring’ booth, the World of Warcraft Board Game, and figurines for preorder.
Near the entrance of Hall A was a Bull Rider and towards the middle left of the Main Stage was American Gladiators Joust. Directly in the middle of Hall A, you can have an airbrushed tattoo. All great activated for the kids.
However, I was surprised to find beer, both Heineken and Bacardi.
In the left corner was the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King test server where you can transfer your character over and give the upcoming expansion a shot. Mid left was Starcraft 2 and a section for Trading Card duels. Far left was a stage for the Blizzard International Tournament Finals for Warcraft 3, Starcraft 1, and World of Warcraft team PvP.
Along the inner walls were food venues. They sold hot dogs for $3.50.
First thing I did was try out Starcraft 2. There were two lines. One for single player campaign. The other 2 versus 2, team multiplayer match. Terran and Protoss only. No Zerg.
I choose Protoss. I noticed right away that there was a hotkey change for probe, ‘E’ instead of ‘P’. Here’s the building requirement chart for the Protoss.
I was playing using all the old strategies from Starcraft 1. You only got 20 minutes to play. So I rushed in the beginning with Zealots and blocked the outside of the opponent’s base with cannons. My ally massed Marines. Then I built a Dark Obelisk and massed Dark Templars. I was able to kill Terran’s giant Thor mecha with ease. Somehow the Terran player I rushed earlier rebuilt with a bunch of air units. Had he come to my base I would have been dead. It ended up being a tie game.
You can tell the veteran players from the newer ones by how they harvested minerals once the game began. Did they individually click on each unit, or did they select them all at once? In other games I witnessed, the Terran had this nasty Viking drop replacing tank drop by your minerals killing off your workers. I also saw another Protoss player teleport cannons under a Phase Prism on the outskirts of the opponent’s base. Of course others just went straight for Carriers. Indeed they’re back. Interceptors and all.
11:00 Opening Ceremony
Main Stage of Hall A, right side. There were 3 pairs of TV panels lined up overhanging from the sides so you could see what was going on. Mike Morhaime President of Blizzard Entertainment kicked it off with World of Warcraft class shout outs. Next he presented some statistics. Since 2005, the population of Azeroth has doubled to 9 million people worldwide. That’s more than the total population of some countries. The World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade expansion sold 2.4 million copies within the first 24 hours which is more than most PC games make in a month. BlizzCon tickets sold out in three days. So only the most dedicated people are here today. Mike acknowledged the people who came all the way from Europe, Australia, and Asia. The winner of the game tournaments will go on to sign contracts with Pro Gamer amounting to $100,000/year.
South Korea was the first to see Starcraft 2. But, in Anaheim we will be the first to play Starcraft 2. He showed a video of the third Blizzard Worldwide Invitational held at the Olympic Gymnastic and Fencing Stadiums in Seoul, Korea. 60,000 people were in attendance. He then reshowed the Starcraft 2 trailer. ‘Hell it’s about time.’
Next, Mike passed it on to the Blizzard Cofounder and Vice President of Product Development Frank Pearce. He explained that they plan to have an integrated voice chat in World of Warcraft: Wraith of the Lich King. Sadly you’ll find out that your hot night elf friend is actually a dude. There will be guild banks with public storage, 10 to 25 man raids, new Death Knight Hero class, level cap increased to 80, new siege weapons and destructible buildings, and the new Inscription profession to enhance spells. They showed the Wraith of the Lich King trailer: ‘But be warned. The land itself will rise up against you.’ Funny how he ditched his female companion. The Opening Ceremony ended at 11:30 with the words ‘Go have fun!’
I ate lunch at Pizza Hut at the Marriot. Ordered a Supreme personal pan pizza for $6.00. There was some other international event going on with people from Africa. Hispanics were waving the American flag.
I took the escalator up to the second floor of the Anaheim Convention Center. Water stations were located conveniently outside the rooms. Opposite of Room 204 were World of Warcraft Guild meeting tables. In the glass casings were displays of Blizzard’s product line, books and strategy guides, as well as unique tid bits.
1:00 Expanded Universe
Panel was led by Chris Metzen, Vice President of Creative Development. To his left Christy Golden (http://www.christiegolden.com/) author of Warcraft: Lord of the Clans in 2001 and World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde last December. She’s also writing the Starcraft trilogy series The Dark Templar. The first book, First Born, just came out May 2007. Shadowhunters is scheduled for November. Currently working on third.
To the right is Richard Knaak (http://www.sff.net/people/knaak/Welcome.html) author of the Dragonlance and Dragonrealm series, Warcraft: Day of the Dragon, Warcraft: War of the Ancients Saga, and Diablo: Legacy of Blood, Diablo: The Kingdom of Shadow, and Diablo: Moon of the Spider. Warcraft: Night of the Dragon is scheduled for release November 2008.
The game setting is like a growing, living entity. It is constantly being updated in real time like our own modern history. Christy, who also worked for Star Trek, noted that Blizzard has been most helpful in supporting her. It took her six weeks to write Warcraft: Lord of the Clans. There’s two way communication from top to bottom between Christy and Chris. They work adjunct, complimenting one another’s ideas. The sum truly is greater than the individual parts. Many of the ideas and characters from the novels are added to the game as quests, such as Taretha’s necklace. The Warcraft novels were described as Shakespeare with Orcs.
Q/A - What about Nova from Starcraft Ghost? (Chris: Yeah…yeah…) The fans have this fascination with Nova even though nothing about her story has been released to the public. She’s like Batman, a superhero wrestling against super villains.
Why not write from the Zerg perspective? It would be like the Hebrew Old Testament.
Monosyllabic. It would difficult to make them still alien yet not sound just like the Protoss. That was their reason for having Duran in Brood War. The Zerg mindset is more directed, lacking jealousy or honor. Kerrigan is the focal point.
In World of Warcraft, say you kill a boss monster in a quest. Are they really dead? Why are they still around in the story? I looted your corpse. Chris: Well…they might come back, only crippled.
Will we see new heroes? Blizzard basically exhausted the Warcraft 3 line of characters. Warcraft 2 is too old. They hadn’t realized they need more characters when they first made WoW.
Garona Halforcen? She’s definitely half Orc, half Draenei (not human). They want to make her significant for the Horde.
What about the Gnomes? Chris: Yea…we don’t talk about them much… They are more for comedy relief and a sense of scale like when you line up all the races in a silhouette. Samwise Didier hated Gnomes. Chris: The trick is to have him draw it himself to get it out of his system. Fairydragons? What are those? Once he draws it, he’ll begin to think the idea is pretty cool. Might have the Gnomes retake Gnomeregan.
What’s next for Diablo? Chris: *sigh* wait and see…we can not confirm or deny…
First conflict that set the whole thing in motion.
The first set of Starcraft books played it safe. They are just now getting deeper into the storyline. Shifted, more edgy
2:30 Blizzard Sound/Music
Russell Brower, Director of Audio. He quoted George Lucas, ‘Sound is 50% of the moviegoing experience.’ It is the way to set the environmental mood and create the illusion of a fantasy world. When you’re playing the game for two hours, hopefully the music will draw you in instead of getting repetitive, making you turn it off. With the ambience you can’t tell the difference between the background soundscape and the music. The original World of Warcraft had 2 hours of music. Burning Crusade 6 hours.
Demos revealing Brian David Farr’s thought process. Eversong. Tuned to the wind. Tritone (the devil’s interval). Be on edge. Stands for the Blood elves, beautiful yet melancholy.
Exodar. Electric tones. Rubbing the top of wine glasses rub to simulate the crystals.
Neverstorm. Rumbling. Thunder/lightning, felt but not heard. Ambience is several layers deep. Subtle.
Q/A - Will you release an ambient soundtrack? Great idea. The soundtrack for the Burning Crusade had a seamless transition between the songs.
What are your influences? Darkness on Xbox 360, Everquest, Halo, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Arc. Even while walking by a construction site you can stop and listen to the sound of the drill.
What kind of training do you need to be a sound artist? They are all active gamers. We create games that we want to play. But they are all also active listeners. You tell stories though sound. Have passion in what you’re doing. They were the ones who acted out comic books to a tape recorder, adding their own sound effects. As you grow you will find your own voice.
There was a live orchestra: harp, violin, drums, guitar, accordion, flute. Preview of tomorrow’s concert. David Arkenstone and his band looked like they came out of the Renaissance Fair. In Rise of the Lich King there will be 1 hour of new tavern music.
They did four songs: keltic, tribal, medieval, and an upbeat traveling song/dance that you’d want to kick your heels to.
But wait, there’s one more. In the Lady’s Necklace quest for the Blood Elves, the reward is not an item but a song. Special arrangement of Lady Sylvanus song, chanting in Elven. The woman had a great tan.
Shindu Fallah Na.
Shindu fallah na.
Shindu fallah na.
By the light.
By the light of the sun.
Children of the blood.
Our enemies are breaking through.
Children of the blood.
By the light.
Failing Children of the blood.
They are breakin thorugh.
O children of the blood.
By the light of the sun.
Failing children of the blood.
They are breaking through.
O children of the blood.
By the light of the sun.
Left BlizzCon at 4:00. Ate dinner at Pho Vietnamese Resturant in Fullerton (http://www.pho2000.com/). Unfortunately, I didn’t go to the afterdark cocktails and see the dance/costume contest.
Day 2 - Saturday August 4th
Today was panel after panel after panel. Unlike Anime Expo, there was more than enough seating to accommodate everyone. No one was turned away.
10:30 Cinematics - How we make movies
Matt Samia, Senior Director of Cinematics with a powerpoint presentation
10 years ago they only had 6 people. It steadily grew to 25-30. The Burning Crusade trailer took 6 months with a team of 30-50 people. Last year 90 people.
Cinematics are done from the beginning of the game production, not at the end as a left over. The core of cinematic production is asset creation (modeling, rigging, animating). You start with a storyboard, quick sketches. Then you ok it with the design team. From the concept art you determine will it work or not. Then perform some color studies.
They showed some Burning Crusade storyboard samples. You could still see the sketch lines.
In Layout, you determine the frame count, FX timing, and construct low poly blocks.
Modeling. Proxy models, motion studies, master mesh. You take baby steps and check each step of the way.
Rigging, the machinery wires, body skeleton, facial muscles.
FX, cloth sim, particle effects, glow, gun fire, water rippling.
Finishing. Shot production, lighting, rendering composite.
In game cinematic *spoilers*
Raynor is walking down a corridor drinking from his canteen. All of a sudden the lights turn off. A voice calls out to him.
Zeratul knells. ‘I bring tidings. The Xel Naga have returned.’ Something about the artifacts. ‘It is the key.’
Zeratul: ‘The key to the end of all things.’
Q/A - What makes the Blizzard cinematics so awesome? What’s the secret ingredient? Talent. Their team is dedicated to making the best thing possible before it gets out the door.
Starcraft 1 featured many cinematic scenes. Will Starcraft 2 have as many? No. They are thinking along the lines of the amount Warcraft 3 had. Starcraft 2’s cinematics will cover more of the story. They spent the same amount of time on the cinematics for Starcraft 2’s than on Starcraft 1. Just that it’s the new technology that makes it look better
What programs do you use? Mudbox, Macintosh, Maya for finishing, Renderman, Zbrush, Adobe After Effects. More than anything it’s talent. Programs are only tools. A person who has never used a program before should be able to pick it up.
In World of Warcraft, there’s no clear spot to have an in game cinematic. Only have trailers at the moment. After defeating a boss perhaps?
Are cigars standard issue? It’s a carry over from Starcraft 1, Warpig.
Will there be a movie combining three franchises? Like an Alien versus Predator. No plans.
Redoing the cinematics in HD is on table.
12:00 Legendary Pictures Warcraft Film
At first I presumed it would be 100% CG. Not true. It will be completely live action. They have been pitching the idea to Hollywood for the past 5-6 years. Hollywood kept telling Blizzard that it wouldn’t work. Then Lord of the Rings came out (That’s it!). The management from Legendary Pictures (http://www.legendarypictures.com/) went out of their way to visit Blizzard HQ in Irvine. From that moment, they knew their partnership would be right.
Now the Warcraft movie is not going to be a crappy video game movie (Super Mario and Street Fighter). They want it to be epic like Braveheart and Gladiator. They want it to be in your top 5 movie picks of all time. They know the fans are saying, ‘Please don’t screw this one up.’ They get that. They want to build something that will hold up while still being worthy of the Warcraft name. Legendary has committed over $100 million to the Warcraft movie. At this time they have a script. No trailer yet. They are still deciding upon a high caliber director. Once the director is set, then they’ll start casting for the roles. There is by far no shortage of actors waiting to work on the movie. They are not going to rely upon big name Hollywood actors.
The film takes place one year prior to World of Warcraft. Fundamental to the storyline is the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. The movie will be told from the window of Alliance perspective (crowd: ‘BOOOOO!!!’). It’s a cycle of warfare that will never end. Thrall will be in the movie as well as a new badass hero. It won’t be about Arthas but will reference the fall of Lordaeron. Of course there will be kick ass battles. The humor that we love from the Warcraft games will definitely add its charm in subsequent script passes. Estimated length 2 hours 30 minutes. Note that the movie is not a role playing adventure journey by a band of heroes similar to the Lord of the Rings. It’s more about domination. It’s absolutely going to be a war movie with huge powers getting out of control. They sincerely want to nail this movie before even considering sequels.
PG or R? Lord of the Rings was PG. 300 R. Depends on the level of intensity. The story will dictate that.
At the end they showed one storyboard art picture. Finished at 12:45.
1:00 Starcraft 2 Art
Samwise Didier, Senior Art Director
* Strong silhouettes
* Exaggerated proportions
* Use bold and saturated colors. Their favorite color is red.
* Dynamic poses. Never just walking. Strut or charge.
* It is never done until the game ships.
Non-Blizzard art piece
Compared to the Starcraft marine in space
Viking = Goliath + Valkyire. Transforms
Concept art. Had to thicken the design in game.
The Colossus will feature spotlight shadows. Night effect.
Thor has wider shoulders in game. Originally it was supposed to always use its shoulder guns. But that would be too powerful. Instead, they made it an upgrade. The Thor would repositions itself, hunkering down with one leg back. You see shell casings fly out when it fires. Originally the Thor was going to transform into a tank. But as we all know giant mechs > giant tanks. Also, Terrans already had the Siege Tank unit. So the Thor’s tank mode concept became the new Siege Tank concept.
Another example of It’s never done until the day the game ships. Last week the Tempest was blue and had drone that fired ninja stars. Because somebody complained, this week they reverted them back to Carriers with interceptors. Next week ??? Strongbad beefy arms. http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail58.html
Spoiler Zerg unit. I broke the news at GameFaqs message boards with this information. Crazy tentacle action? This is not the same as a Nydus Canal. It was a rather incomplete 3D monster. All it had was one giant tentacle in the middle and two smaller tentacles, one above and one below. 3 tentacles total. The tentacles were emerging from the unit sort of like a mouth. The unit itself wasn’t shown. All we had were the tentacles. The other artists were like, ‘How’d that get in there?’
The tools they use are Adobe Photoshop, 3D studio max, and Startools - a program specifically written for them. Starcraft 2 will utilize a new graphics engine with integrated havoc physics. They plan on having facial animation where you could insert a .wav file and it’ll say it.
The Blizzard mantra is to make games that everyone can play. No matter what age. No matter the PC. Warcraft 3 was able to handle 60 guys on screen. Characters were more vibrant. Starcraft 2 will handle 300+ units.
Protoss planet of ‘Bel ‘Shir’. Spiritual retreat for the Protoss. Jungle, temples but all in ruins due to the Zerg. The lush is overgrown. The trees and such they call ‘doodads’.
Terran space platform ‘Braxis Alpha’. Terran mining facility on an asteroid. The artists had the most fun with this. Fetures biodomes.
Dark Templar home world of ‘Shakuras’ from Starcraft 1. Used a photographic reference of the cracks within the sidewalk while in Korea. Also Korean temple floors, hexagons. Composed it into the terrain.
Q/A - Will there be a Firebat? Still working on it but they will be back in even though you couldn’t play them at BlizzCon.
Kerrgian’s evolution. Incorporated more Zerg bits but still kept the same things about her that made her cool.
Raynor currently on the bridge of a Battlecruiser. Would like top have him ride his Vulture space Harley again.
Will there be an art book? Not set, hopefully.
Will there be multiple tile sets? Users can create their own maps using the map editor which will be more powerful than Warcraft 3’s. May put extra units not used in the campaign into the editor. They would like for there to be something similar to a DotA community in Starcraft 2.
2:30 Starcraft Lore
Once again Chris Metzen to the scene. Starcraft 2 takes place four years after the end of Brood War. There’s been no word of anything from the Zerg at this time. Sort of like a Cold War feeling. People are expecting an ultimate attack from the Zerg at any time.
Arcturus Mensk has rebuilt his empire relying heavily on his media propaganda machine. His story has already been told in Starcraft 1. So they want to focus on his son, Valerian Mensk who will take over his father. Will he learn from his father’s mistakes and show beneficence, or will he be just as ruthless?
On the Protoss side, there are the survivors on Shakuras. The Protoss have reverted back to the tribal days psychologically as some High Templar still haven’t gotten over their rivalries with the Dark Templar. Others are impatiently waiting to take back Aiur. Artanus is trying to lead a renaissance to get the two races to amend. Artanus has been promoted to Hierarch. By his side is a new female executor named Selendis(?).
Contact has been lost with Zeratul. He has been going from planet to planet looking for clues confirming what Duran said about the hybrids…
(Chris: That’s my boy!) Jim Raynor, the only honest man in the universe. He lost the war against Mensk. Mensk’s propaganda made Raynor out to be the villain. Raynor is out of money and is losing heart, not to mention girlfriend problems (Kerrigan). He drinks heavily. He hasn’t fired up in awhile. He seems lost, but definitely won’t stay that way for too long…
Raynor will once again be the hero, in search of himself and his mission. There’s also Matt Horner, the captain of the Hyperium from the book The Queen of Blades. He is Jim’s conscience.
All that they say about the Zerg campaign is that there will be shocks. As far as we know, after having killed the remaining Cerebrates, Kerrigan is the undisputed ruler of all the Zerg. They may be a possible Cerebrate not under Kerrigan’s control…
There is no Celebrate/Executor/Magistrate from Starcraft 1. That person died. You know who else is dead. Fenix. (Chris: Get over it!).
There might be a possible cameo of Nova, but they would have to make it fit in the storyline. They want to novelize her series. Maybe even a comic book or TV show. (Chris: That would be sweet!) Certainly they wish to keep the idea alive. The Starcraft Ghost cinematic might appear as a hidden track on one of the DVDs.
Mensk has been developing the dark assasins, like a Ghost++…
What happened to the UED? Didn’t Earth have way more advanced technology and why didn’t they bring it? What happened to the expedition reports? Probably finish it up in novels also.
Why is Kerrigan called the Queen of Blades? (Chris: What the hell did we come up with!?) It is an honorific given to her by the Cerebrate. The Zerg are like a buzz saw. They rip things apart. That is the greatest title for her and it personifies her. She was built to be the Queen of Blades by the Cerebrate.
About the N64 mission. More novels. The Zerg were experimenting with and infesting the other leaders such as Alexei Stukov to unlock their true potential of themselves. It’s a window of the future. (Chris to Andy Chambers: You almost completely pulled that out of your ass!)
There is a larger theme happening. Warning…but it was too late.
Starcraft 2 will answer all of the big questions. But there will probably be 50 more once it is all said and done.
Will you keep the original voice actors from the first Starcraft? Well the VA for Zeratul/Duke is dead in real life. It’s been over ten years for the VA for Kerrigan. They had her in studio and are seeing if she can still do it. They casted another guy for Raynor, who sounds 10x closer to the original Raynor that they envisioned.
Will there be a World of Starcraft? (Chris: Isn’t one enough?) No plans at all.
How did Tassadar met Zeratul? Tassadar was the twilight Messiah of the Protoss. What didn’t get covered in the game will be explored in novels.
Terrans breaking the resocialization process? Wacked identity. Discussed in the opening chapters of the Starcraft: First Born novel.
Left at 4:00. With my Exhibit Only pass, I wasn’t able to see the concert in the arena.
Closing Statements -
Chris Metzen is one busy, busy guy. World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, the novels, and the Warcraft movie. Simply amazing. How does he keep his sanity?