Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was a hit right from the very beginning – it received universal acclaim upon release in 2004 after high anticipation and expectation before launch. As a game, it revolutionized what players looked for in the MMO genre, and it remains one of the most widely played online games to date, with a huge following.
It is about the only game to have made any impact in the mainstream. There is almost no one who has not heard of World of Warcraft, even if they have no idea what “twinking” means and think “Azeroth” is a sci-fi author.
But let’s face facts.
Despite a rabid fan following, and a playerbase that simply just doesn’t quit, the graphics are getting a little dated… enough so to be off-putting to the curious newcomer. Many of these were seduced to other temporary “WoW killers” like RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic that have known merely a fraction of lasting population that WoW has enjoyed.
While this may have been of some concern to Blizzard, the clinching factor was that existing players were also clamoring for a much-needed visual update. And so the company has decided to comply.
Images of other updated character models have popped up before, but today Chris Robinson, senior art director of World of Warcraft announced the first of a series of articles on Blizzard’s World of Warcraft blog which the team is creating to bring the public closer to the development of the player character revamps announced earlier last year at BlizzCon.
Robinson promises an inside look at the process involved in doing the revamps, the kind of art issues they’re addressing, and some insight into the future of their plans for the ongoing polish.
And to kick off the series is…
The first look goes to the Human female.
Robinson does warn that future articles won’t always be about revealing a new model, but for this first post in the series, there is no better introduction to the approach the team takes for every one of these redesigns.
Talk about WoW!
The team has managed to upgrade the graphics significantly while still looking like they belong in the admittedly dated game world and engine. Skyrim-level graphics would stick out like a sore thumb, but this comes as a welcome addition without going overboard.
Robinson and the team approaches the model revamps as a sort of “spiritual update” to the art content that currently exists – except they’re redoing them from scratch. This includes the base model, skin tone variations, customization options, hairstyles, etc. for NPCs.
They’ve taken into account a lot of player feedback and requests for new customization and skin options, but the first goal is to make sure that the existing visual content is “brought up to or surpasses the level of quality [players] see in current boss models, the Pandaren, and central NPCs like the new Vol’jin model.”
This means increasing the polygon count (in some cases going from less than 1,000 to over 5,000), more than doubling the resolution, increasing count significantly to support new and updated facial expressions, and retouching nearly every animation for all of the characters. That totals at about 3,600 animations total.
The revamp will also include better character posing and smoother animation.
Do the character models scare you?
For those of you who are worried that the empty, vacant, and rather soulless-looking models are all that you can expect from the revamp, don’t worry. The images shown are a single face option and a single skin tone on the base model without any animation or posing.
“When developing the base model we keep the expression on the face as devoid of emotion or expression as possible, as that allows our animators a greater range of motion when they start posing and morphing the face into different expressions. If we were to put any amount of expression — even a slight smile or mildly angry eyebrows — in the base model, that would carry through to every animation, and we’d end up with some very confused-looking characters.”
What do you think? Are you loving the update, or just find it a little ‘meh’ with regards to today’s standards?