Warcraft at 25 - Memories & Stories
When I stop to consider that Blizzard is pulling out all the stops for the 25th anniversary of Warcraft and the 15th anniversary of World of Warcraft, it makes me shake my head that it’s been so long. Admittedly, Warcraft has always been part of my gaming life, if not playing, at least by knowing it was there since my first fledgling days as a gamer. Let’s not forget that looking at those two numbers gives me pause and wonder how it is that I got so old.
Blizzard will be pulling out all the stops for what promises to be a huge year for the Warcraft franchise. Players have Warcraft III: Reforged to look forward to, celebratory events in WoW and, last but not least, the launch of Classic, something that many have been eagerly anticipating for a good long while.
Last week, I had the opportunity to head out to Irvine, California to participate in a media event to outline some of the first details about the Warcraft celebration. I had the chance to chat with members of the Classic and Battle for Azeroth teams as well as spend some hands-on time with both. I viewed a “mini-museum” dedicated to Warcraft’s history. In short, it was a whirlwind, but one packed with new information and exciting celebratory details.
I also had the privilege to speak with Principal Software Engineer Bob Fitch and Senior Vice President Chris Sigaty. Both were there in the earliest days of Warcraft. It is here that I’ll start my reporting on the event will begin. While both have lofty titles today, each was crucial to the development of the RTS series. Bob came to Blizzard in 1992 and Chris in 1996. With each having such a long history with Warcraft, the stories they told of the earliest days are absolutely the coolest gems of company lore.
For instance, the Warcraft Orcs & Humans that you know today didn’t exactly start out that way, according to Bob. When asked about Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, Bob spoke about how the idea came about in the first place.
“We had just finished The Lost Vikings and we needed something to make. We were playing a variety of other games and we knew we’d get inspiration from other games we were playing, but we didn’t know what it would be. So we took a look at what we were playing. We were playing Dune II. We were playing Lemmings. We were playing things like Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island. We loved all those.”
Bob continued, “So I was told to go write an engine that will do a game like Monkey Island because we’re going to make a game like that. So I started programming away. We started shifting because, hey, we really liked Dune II so why not take the Vikings from Lost Vikings and shrink them down really small like Lemmings and put them into an RTS environment like Doom II. Then we’ll have Vikings in Viking Wars. That’d be the game: Viking Wars.”
As the developers reflected on a Vikings-based RTS game, they began to see limitations on that particular theme.
“How many ideas can you get for Vikings to do things?” Bob laughed. “We’ve got the guy with the shield and the guy with the bow, but how many other ideas are there. Can we just include some elves? How about some elves? Let’s put them in. That’s cool and we can do these things with them. Maybe some dwarves and goblins, orcs, dragons -- then it was turning into this whole fantasy thing. So, yeah, let’s do that. Eventually, it morphed its way into the Orcs versus the Humans in an RTS environment and have them attack each other. So it sort of started here and ended up over there.”
Those days were simpler too, both in terms of story and in terms of how the development cycle began. After all, no one was sure that Warcraft would actually go anywhere or in what direction it would go. Developers added their own flourishes here and there, sometimes without letting anyone know. Remember those exploding sheep? Yeah, Bob did that.
“There are people building the games that are inspired by whatever part of the story they’re working on. They insert some of their passion into it, but no one ever knows. No one ever says, “Go do the thing”, they just go do it!” Chris laughed.
According to Bob, making the first Warcraft games was something similar to a choose your own adventure type of thing. Devs didn’t always know what was going to come next or what would be written on the next page.
Chris expanded on that by saying that everyone at Blizzard in those days played Dungeons & Dragons so everyone, especially Chris (Metzen), had stories to tell. It was his job to build the world and he made sure that, as the game grew, everyone knew where everyone was, what they were living in, what the world looked like. Then it grew with the Old Gods and that it’s a shattered and broken world and so forth. Warcraft II and, later, Warcraft III expanded on those ideas.
“Chris (Metzen) really realized he needed to expand from Warcraft I where everything was very black and white, good versus evil and that sort of thing. It started to transition to ‘oh this has got to be bigger’ and the world had to open up. At Warcraft II, Chris started to broaden his thinking and started to consider that maybe there would be a Warcraft III.”
Warcraft kept growing with Warcraft III being the point where Blizzard achieved critical acclaim from players around the world. The world had expanded and some of the series’ biggest names became the stuff of legends: Arthas Menethil, Jaina Proudmoore, Sylvanas Windrunner, Kel’Thas Sunreaver, Thrall and many others. It was the right time for WoW.
Over the years, Warcraft has touched on other Blizzard IPs including Heroes of the Storm and the zany and non-cannon Hearthstone which both Bob and Chris work on. “WoW and Warcraft are serious games. They have their fun moments, but the overall tone is a serious one,” Chris explained. “With Hearthstone, we can joke and just have crazy fun and spend time with mirth. We have crazy characters that are tied to Hearthstone, but nowhere else. We have this IP, this franchise and the world allows those kinds of things through different types of games.”
Speaking to these two about the history of Warcraft and the parts they’ve each played in it led me to one final question: What is your favorite memory ever, the thing that when you think of all your years with Warcraft stands out above all others? Both struggled to find one thing (or in Bob’s case, two!), but finally settled on an answer.
“For me,” Bob began, “it has to be something BlizzCon-ish, really any one of the many times when I’m reminded how big this all really is. I got to contribute to something that millions of people really love and I can’t even see the back of the room when I’m up there on a panel. My mind is blown every time.”
“Oh!” Bob continued, “The very first time a box of Rock & Roll Racing cartridges arrived at the office. I pulled one out and thought, ‘Wow, I made this! It blew me away.”
Nodding, Chris said, “For me, it was the first time I ran around in WoW on an internal build and I was looking up at things and seeing them as they are. I’d been building from a top-down perspective and here I was looking up at a massive tree. It was an amazing moment and I could see how this would change everything.”
It’s been an exciting quarter century and one can only wonder what the next twenty-five years will bring.
Stay tuned for more coverage about the Warcraft 25th Anniversary and the World of Warcraft 15th Anniversary!