World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft

Visit SiteAh, the Blizzard Cinematics Team! With each of their game releases, they push the envelope of computer game cinematic animation; they’re right up there with Square. The latest cinematic to be released is from their upcoming game World of Warcraft.

A year after closed alpha-testing began, the actual game is finally hitting the shelves as a very polished, complete, and remarkably rich online world. The final stress test is currently ongoing, and the free open beta will be starting up when that’s done. So join in and get a peek! The final game will be available on November 23rd! Unfortunately it’s a monthly fee, but for those of you who enjoy this type of game (and it does take a certain kind of person)… holy crap, there’s a lot to see and do, with relatively little of the spirit-crushing grinding that other games have. It reminds me of the old LucasArts adventure games, where they went out of their way to ensure that your experience was less about failure and more about fun. Way to go, Blizzard!

Implementation-wise, there’s a lot to appreciate

The World has a great sense of continuity in its visual design and presentation. Sure, it’s a little cartoony, but it’s the good kind of cartoony: the colors are rich and harmonious, the character designs are infused with attitude, and the environment is astonishing in its sheer yumminess. As you walk around the world, you will be struck by how every hill, rock, and tree seems to be a real part of the world. The buildings and cities are large and impressive, not just stacks of blocks. It’s the first game I’ve played in a while that had such a powerful sense of place…other games feel like bad theater sets by comparison. Other games that evoked that sense of place in me are DOOM3, Half life, and Grand Theft Auto, but those are all rather dark environments. WoW feels like pure fantasy, Disneyland when you’re still a kid exploring all the nooks and crannies on an extended 3 day vacation.

The collector’s edition of the game will have an “Art of World of Warcraft” 200+ page hardcover book! I am thinking of getting it just for the book. Having seen the game evolve from its initial closed Alpha to the current incarnation, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. Entire cities have fallen and rerisen during Alpha and Beta, redone from the ground up.

There are few things of particular note that I think give WoW that extra sense of immersion:

  • The Color palette across the entire world is wonderfully balanced…head and shoulders above the screenshots I’ve seen from EQ2 and the limited exposure I’ve had to Lineage II. While the individual models are nice, they have different color casts compared to the environment, so the visual meshing isn’t very good. It looks like bad film compositing. Secondly, the use of shading in WoW is exceptional in that they don’t just “add black” to get darker tones…they use a nice painterly hue. The result is more vibrant.

  • Just about everywhere you stand in the world looks good…there is very little of that “endless flatness” that kills the sense of world in other games. In any direction you look in WoW, you see some place that looks enticing enough to visit. The way that large mountains are hazily visible through the atmosphere is a nice touch. Large structures provide contrast to smaller ones. The sense of architectural scale is phenomenal. It’s awesome.

  • The best text engine I’ve ever seen in a game! Great kerning and font work throughout the game make this game feel very polished compared to, say, Lineage II’s horrible text presentation. Labels over NPCs and Characters also smoothly scale in size relative to how close they are to you; it’s a small thing, but it preserves the sense of three-dimensionality in the world. A side effect is that you can use it as a relative gauge of size/distance for monsters that reuse scaled-up models.

  • The UI’s polish is very high in general. Everything stays in its place, and on top of that it’s customizeable and extendable through the Lua language. Very neat.

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p>So far, I’ve only made comments on the visuals. I’m less qualified to compare gameplay between other MMORPGs, but I can report I had fun. About six weeks ago I got too busy to keep up my characters, and stopped playing, but it certainly was an entertaining diversion for 10 months.

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