Since we got our hands on the Warcraft III multiplayer beta earlier this spring, we've had plenty of time to see how the game's competitive side has been progressing. There's little more than a month left before the game is expected to ship, but until now, Blizzard has released very little information on the single-player campaign. And as anyone who has played Warcraft II or Starcraft can attest, Blizzard is quite capable of creating a top-notch story and compelling characters for its games. We recently had the chance to talk to Blizzard's Bill Roper about Warcraft III's single-player game. Read on for the latest details on the single-player campaign and rest assured that there isn't a single spoiler below.
GameSpot: We've had a chance to watch the progress of Warcraft III's multiplayer through the public beta. How far along is the single-player game?
Bill Roper: We're in superhigh polish mode. We're playing all the different levels, going through and making sure everything is as tight as possible. Things have really been coming together. We now have three different difficulty levels in the game. [Warcraft III] easily has the most involved, engaging, and challenging missions I've seen in a RTS. Of course, we have to make sure they're as polished as possible. Bug count is great. Multiplayer is playing great. We're just down to making sure everything in the game is cool.
GS: What's different or distinctive about the approach that Blizzard has taken with Warcraft III's single-player campaign?
BR: The level of characterization. I have people testing the game who are not familiar with the storyline, and they're pulled in by what happens. It really is just like watching a movie. People come in and say, "I can't believe this or that happened," because they're so into the story events. We're not really used to that kind of comment, but it's been utterly fantastic.
The single biggest distinction is that there's so much story, personality, and character. We've wanted to focus on not just how fun the gameplay is, but also on making the individual events [in the story] very compelling.
GS: Most missions in RTS games revolve around expanding and fighting the opposition. Does this mean that the missions are more event-driven?
BR: There are so many different mission types in Warcraft III. [You won't] just go and take down the other guy. There's one mission that is almost like a race to accomplish stuff. Let me try to say this without giving too much away. You are racing against an opponent to do the same thing with different results. There is no element of attacking his base. It fits within the structure of the storyline, it makes sense, and it definitely has strategy.
What's really cool about that is that we move away from it being the same gameplay all the time. It's really moved into what we should do with all kinds of games--and particularly strategy games--which is adding elements that are interesting for nongamers. RPGs draw so much attention and interest because they do engage you--there's an emotional context. Warcraft III is really trying to tap into that level.
GS: What kinds of RPG elements are in the missions? Are there quests?
BR: Sure. Some quests are story-related. Others are there for you just to build your [hero] character and get rewards. We've tried to have all of the fun elements of RPGs without the grind. Strategy games are all about combat, but we get to infuse it with these RPG sensibilities.
GS: When Warcraft III was first announced back in 1999, the concept was even more RPG-like. Now that things are almost done, what is your opinion about how this shift has worked out?
BR: Initially we focused too much on the RPG and not enough on the strategy game. The camera angle was closer, and you had fewer units. Those are the things that changed the most. The original idea we had looked a lot more like World of Warcraft. We wanted to push the role playing, but we did that too much and lost sight of it being a strategy game. We got too into making it a cool RPG.
Expanding the World
GS: What has the 3D engine allowed you to do in terms of storytelling?
BR: The single biggest way is to use the engine to do in-game sequences. We can do all sorts of stuff with the world editor. The camera perspectives are really flexible. [While you're playing,] we [can] pause the action and spin the camera around and have an interactive sequence.
Now we can set up in-game cinematics much better. We have artists, level designers, and cinematic guys all working together on that. It's challenging, and it requires a lot of different skills. With the different camera angles and close-ups, you have to be sure you're using your polygon count well so it will run well on as many PCs as possible. The cinematics have to look good and be interesting. In the end, they really help drive the storyline.
GS: The move to 3D can be a lot of work. Has working in 3D been worth it?
BR: The benefits really outweigh the work. It's been a challenge since it's our first game in 3D. But it's an opportunity to do things we haven't been able to do, like line of sight and changing the way characters look.
The biggest advantage is in the world editor. There are so many things we can do in 3D that we couldn't do before. We can change the size of units, their color, and translucency. When people design their own campaigns and their own maps with the editor, they can really go nuts.
We haven't talked much about the world editor. You can take any map you've done and open it up. You can cut and paste any trigger or element into your own maps. Everything anybody does becomes a learning experience for everyone in the community.
GS: There are four playable races in the game, plus the demons. How do you tell the story as players try the different races? Does it work like Starcraft?
BR: It's one long, continuous, epic storyline that's told sequentially from the perspective of each of the races. In Warcraft II, we told the same story from both sides. The downside is that you have to have a winner, and you want the player to win. It was a little odd, because after the fact, we had to decide one way or the other. In our version of the story, the orcs had won. We wanted to have a continuous story that made sense and that you saw from a lot of different viewpoints.
First is the human campaign, and things progress from there. We get to have a lot of different elements happen during the storyline. For example, one of the things that we do is that characters will appear more than once during the game. You will play as a hero at one point--then later you may see him on the other side. The story has progressed, and he's progressed in experience.
Before, when you were the humans, you saw their motivations. Then as the orcs, you see a different side of things. We're letting people see the story from many different viewpoints. Things are pretty different with the night elves. Then we let you play the traditional bad guys, the undead. It's helping us build a more developed world.
GS: How many missions are there?
BR: There are 32 missions in the game.
GS: To what extent will World of Warcraft build on Warcraft III?
BR: World of Warcraft takes place four years after Warcraft III. Warcraft III grows the world that we can use in World of Warcraft.
GS: How do things tie in with Warcraft II? How much time has past?
BR: It's about a generation later. Three of the heroes you see are actually related to characters from Warcraft II. One hero who helps you, Uther Lightbringer, studied with Lothar, who had led the human armies. Arthas is a hero you play as, and he's the son of King Terenas, who ruled Lordaeron. Then there's Jaina Proudmore. She's the daughter of the admiral of the navies in Warcraft II.
We have this nice mix of having characters that people will be familiar with and having some new faces. It's been a lot of fun looking at the world in a new way.
GS: Is there much humor in Warcraft III? Are there more of those funny sayings when you click on characters?
BR: Definitely those. We always love having the funny stuff happen. I think a sense of humor is really important in a game, and certainly Warcraft III is no exception. There's a lot of humor--not only in the clickable audio but also from the standpoint of how some of the maps are laid out, how units interact with each other in the cinematics, and even how some of the places and items are named. There's a big, bold, epic storyline, but it can't be dark all the time. We've always seen humor as our silver lining.
GS: Earlier you mentioned there are three levels of difficulty. Tell us how that works.
BR: When you start a game, you're on normal difficulty. That's how we normally balance our games. Past that, there's an easy setting and a hard setting. If you fail a mission, you can play it on easy if you choose. That should let anyone finish a game. We know there are people who are not core gamers and want to go through a game and see how things turn out. Instead of having them go find cheat codes, we want to give them the option. On the other side, we want to challenge the hard-core players. [The difficult maps] should be very, very hard. Rob Pardo says he should be the only one who's able to beat those maps. Or whoever else is best at the time. There's a small percentage of players who want that kind of challenge.
GS: Are there already plans for a Warcraft III expansion?
BR: Our ideas on expansions have always been to first see how well the game does. While we think things will go well, I would never want to just bank on how well a game does. The other thing is that we want to sit and play with the game after it's launched. And listen to our community to see what they want out of an expansion. We can't really plan ahead of time. I think that approach did that really well with Brood War. It was really based on feedback from what players wanted. We thought they might want another race, but really they wanted more units and another campaign.
We'll have to sit with the game and see what kinds of ideas we had and couldn't flush out, what kinds of new ideas we have, and what people want.
GS: What's your take on how the multiplayer beta has been coming along?
BR: The multiplayer has been doing great. We've been able to make a lot of patches while the full game development is under way. It's hard to update a beta as we make changes to the full game. I think the team has done a good job of updating it, and I think we've gotten a lot of great feedback from testers--feedback that we've worked into the game.
GS: What's it like to almost have the single-player game done?
BR: I'm really glad to be able to talk about it. I want to talk about the story, and I can't. It's as if I were promoting a movie like The Sixth Sense. I'd be like, I really want to talk about this one thing, but I can't. There are a lot of twists and turns in Warcraft III. It'll be great when it's finally in people's hands.
GS: So the game is on track to ship in late June?
BR: That's what we're shooting for.
GS: Great--we can't wait to play it. Thanks for talking to us, Bill.