Behind the creation of each major game is the work of hundreds, if not thousands of people who sparing no effort do their best to turn lines of code into an interactive journey that we will inevitably remember in decades. Not spared a similar fate and the super popular MMORPG World of Warcraft, the history of which was told by one of the developers of Blizzard John Stats, who published this year the book WoW Diary (WoW Diary). The Polygon edition wrote a short review of the book and in this material we will translate the main excerpts from the article and tell you how one of the most significant games of our time was born from chaos and crunch.
Prior to joining Blizzard, John worked in the largest Manhattan media, earning more than $ 80,000 thousand a year and creating detailed levels for Quake in his spare time, as reported in a short portfolio and attracted the attention of one of Blizzard's creative directors. The development of a major MMORPG was in urgent need of new talent, so John's candidacy was perfect for the role of a dungeon designer in World of Warcraft. John was so attracted to the prospect of developing games that in 2001 he without a fraction of hesitation traded the cozy climate of Manhattan for the snow-covered expanses of Orange County in California and moved to Blizzard for an annual salary of $ 50,000.
But what he could not imagine was the degree of informality in the work environment at one of the major computer game companies. As John States writes in the first chapter of the book, the development office resembled someone's basement, in which half of the light bulbs burned out, the nearest microwave oven with a sink full of unwashed dishes played the role of the kitchen, and the stubborn stains from the food that had been overturned were visible on the carpet. In addition, there was a shortage of furniture in the office, which forced Staats to buy his own chair so that he did not have to share one workplace with colleagues.
Blizzard's offices at the turn of the millennium hardly resemble the company's modern interior, which is full of stylish, spacious and well-lit rooms decorated with expensive statues and artifacts. Blizzard's modern polish and wealth comes in large part from the success of World of Warcraft, which has attracted more than 140 million players in 15 years and is experiencing a new wave of popularity with the release of World of Warcraft: Classic.
World of Warcraft was originally developed by about 40 people, which has doubled as the November 2004 release approaches. In subsequent years, the team has expanded significantly and by this time several hundred people are responsible for supporting the MMORPG. In terms of developer inspiration, the impressive success of MMOs such as Lineage, Ultima Online and 3D MMO EverQuest pushed the company's leaders to create a multiplayer game in which gamers can travel and socialize together.
The main theme of the WoW Diary book is the belief of the Blizzard leadership, led by Mark Morheim, Frank Pearce and Allen Adham, in the idea of decentralized decision-making, especially during the period when the studio was in experimental mode.
"Blizzard's organizational structure was very" flat. "Other companies are much more hierarchical in the usual sense, with many levels accountable to each other, at the top of which is someone with a clear vision of the idea, manipulating all departments like a conductor. But Blizzard did not have a clear vision of the game. The team was more like a jazz band, where everyone got together and solved pressing issues. " - said John States in a phone call with the author of Poligon.
Separately, States notes in the book that the company's employees were really proud of the founders of Blizzard, which was very strange for him at the time, especially "given the politically tense situation on Madison Avenue.
2D to 3D
The development of World of Warcraft was a real test of strength for Blizzard, because at the start of the production process, the company had no experience either in creating online RPGs, or even in developing full-fledged 3D games. In 2001, when the development of WoW was in its early stages, numerous development studios to create 3D games hired people who knew about the development of 3D projects and offered often significantly higher salaries than what was offered by Blizzard.
“Before, we were just joking that they estimate everything so cheaply,” said Staats. But at the same time, he admits that at that time the company was severely limited in resources. According to John, Blizzard belonged to the publishing house Vivendi, but Vivendi did not even think to invest in developers. All Blizzard money went to Vivendi and the company's employees had to pay for their own servers.
As soon as Staats became part of the team and integrated into the team, he began to realize that many seemingly controversial decisions effectively influenced the production process. For example, the placement of producer posts in hallways rather than in their own offices was driven not by a lack of space, but by a desire to speed up the flow of information between different Blizzard departments.
Separately, John States notes that the company's management has taken many steps to create a comfortable working environment where any ideas and suggestions from developers are welcomed in every possible way. For these purposes, managers often invited employees to their place, offering to express any comments and suggestions. However, it was not always possible to establish the proper level of communication due to the natural isolation of some employees.
Tools and Engine
WoW development has been particularly vulnerable to problems stemming from outdated tools and an inappropriate engine for MMO development.
"Technology has always been a headache, which is to be expected for something as big and complex as an MMO," John recalls. Initially, the WoW team ran on the same engine as the team responsible for Warcraft III, primarily due to its simplicity and low cost. However, the further development went, the clearer it was at Blizzard that the games were fundamentally different and the only right decision would be to write a graphics engine unique for WoW. However, not all employees were delighted with this decision, because a fundamentally new technology meant the loss of thousands of hours of work and the need to rebuild the production process from Radion to 3D Studio Max.
“Then and now there were few developers who were ready to give up the work already done. But this is Blizzard's way of constant repetition, learning from mistakes and moving forward, ”writes John States.
The World of Warcraft development system, free of vertical hierarchy, became the main reason why the project was not popular among employees, which caused a number of moral problems. Most of the staff wanted more structured tasks. As John points out, they often just wanted to hear clear directions and work from 9 am to 5 pm
From the earliest days, rework was the norm among the creators of World of Warcraft, which ultimately resulted in a minor burnout of the art department in the final stages of development. Even Blizzard's anti-crisis policy with limited working hours did not help, as most designers and programmers still worked at least 60 hours a week.
And even with all the grumbling and fatigue, most of the staff were fanatically committed to World of Warcraft. “I didn't have a life outside of Blizzard,” says Staats, also noting that it was natural to come in the morning and work late because many people just loved the game and the work they did in the studio.
States believes that the success of World of Warcraft is not based on the game's universe, nor on some grand idea, much less generous funding. The main thing is the company's refusal to follow typical marketing processes and the concept of free creativity. “Game designers have to work with a pre-built gameplay build,” States writes, “and constantly experiment to figure out where this will lead, instead of working with a standard mental visualization model followed by the actualization of the idea using work tools. cool concept, which they then try to "cram" into the game. ""
Blizzard's approach to game development has a number of problems, but it helps the company achieve its goals. Employees are allowed to experiment and solve hundreds of tiny problems for several years until the game is actually ready.
At the end of the book, John writes that World of Warcraft has never been a game with innovative technology or unique capabilities. Rather a gestalt of "meaningful and elegant systems" that, while painlessly achieved, allowed players to enjoy MMOs with impressive levels of depth and longevity.
The Topic of Article: Behind the creation of each major game is the work of hundreds.