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Feature Article

Warcraft 3: Reforged Seeks To Rekindle Excitement For The RTS Genre

A retelling of a defining chapter in Blizzard's history.

As one of the biggest surprises of BlizzCon 2018, Warcraft III: Reforged brings the series back to its real-time strategy roots. Though the franchise has been firmly rooted in the MMO genre with World of Warcraft for many years, this return to the series' past will offer newer fans of the Warcraft series an opportunity to see what came before the game that changed the franchise forever. In our chat with production lead Pete Stilwell and art lead Brian Sousa, they spoke about their personal experiences revisiting a defining game of Blizzard's history, and their hopes in reigniting fan interest in the RTS genre.

If you want to see more content from Blizzard's big event, including the trailer for Overwatch's new character Ashe, and our impressions of Diablo Immortal, be sure to check out GameSpot's roundup of all the BlizzCon news and reveals that came from this year's show.

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It's been a while since we've seen Warcraft as an RTS. Can you talk about what it was like returning to this genre after the series had reestablished itself as an MMO?

Brian Sousa: From the franchise perspective, I worked on Warcraft I and II. I kind of left Blizzard for a little while when Warcraft III was being developed, but it was exciting playing that game because I didn't get to work on it in the first place. It's amazing to see how much Warcraft III would go on to influence the work in World of Warcraft, so much of it got carried forward into the following game. Knowing some of the stories of how Warcraft III was developed and seeing where Warcraft has come to at this point, it's a great opportunity for us to smooth over some of those rough edges that World of Warcraft has already expanded upon and redefined.

Being able to take Warcraft III and bring all of that lore that has happened over the last 15 years with Warcraft, that's exciting for me. That's kind of the big thing I'm getting out of this, is being able to bring the stories of the origins of Arthas, and Jaina, and Sylvanas, and all of these characters that everybody knows and loves.

Pete Stilwell: The original stories are almost always more fun. I preferred the first Iron Man over the rest of them because seeing somebody coming into their element is more compelling to me. That's the real human story, I think, it's about the journey, so that's what's cool about this. This might have kicked that all off, but its journey is now coming back, and making it relevant for a new community.

We're gonna get this right for the existing community, they're gonna love it. They're going to still have the game they know under the covers, and we want to appeal to new players and a new generation because the lifeblood of a game is a big active community, so we want the competitive scene or the custom game scene to have more people. They can be more creative because the game editor itself is so powerful. We're doing a lot to expand the editor, so if we can put that in the hands of new creative people, maybe they invent another genre of games, or evolve the existing ones. There's just so much latent potential in this game.

It was the end of the era of Warcraft RTS, but like as a statement piece, we're getting to revisit it and hopefully for a new generation, making it look new and relevant, so that it still has that modern day appeal. I think that's a huge opportunity, and I really hope it's well received.

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So this is called Warcraft III: Reforged, as opposed to Remastered. It's very apparent that you're doing much more to this game than with the recent update for the original Starcraft.

Sousa: So, this was an opportunity for us. With Starcraft: Remastered, we approached that and said, "Okay, how can we do this and what does the community want?" The community is like, "Don't touch anything, don't screw it up," and so from that standpoint, we have to make this as close to the original as possible. So that a pro can instantly recognize everything, like this is a Zergling, its attacks, and so forth.

I know everything about the timing on everything. We had to stay very true to that since Warcraft III was the first 3D game that Blizzard did. Those kinds of things, like the timing and everything, that's what we're still kind of beholden to. Although we can update the graphics and we can update the animations, those animations still have to be the same, so that we can play this with the SD version. You can have your HD characters, but the timing has to be perfect, and the animations have the same timing on everything.

I assume that Reforged will include all the expansions and tweaks made to the original. Would you say that this is the definitive version of Warcraft III?

Stilwell: Yeah, we were bad at making that known. It will have Reign of Chaos and Frozen Throne as one big bundle. But yeah, I hope it is.

Sousa: Yeah, I don't want to remaster this again in 20 years. But yeah, this is the Reforged edition. We're looking at the campaign itself, like The Culling in particular. We completely redesigned the map layout and made it look like Stratholme from World of Warcraft because people have been in that location and explored it, the original didn't have any of that. It was a very different feel altogether. It had Greek columns, and it had like weird statues, and a river, and the zoo, and things that people wouldn't recognize if they were from World of Warcraft playing this game.

That was one of the things. We're like, "Well, this should look like Stratholme", so it had a complete redesign with that. As we go through more of the campaign, there's going to be more instances where we do pull on World of Warcraft for influence because they have the lore, they have grounded out all of these characters, all these locations, and they've put so much backstory into just everything. We have a huge library to pull from.

It was very interesting seeing Warcraft III's opening cinematic redone with modern tech. Will all of the cinematics from the original game have that same treatment?

Stilwell: Well, when they made the original cinematics, computers at the time couldn't handle displaying a certain fidelity, and it would have made the game too big then. So they actually greatly reduced the quality of the originals despite making them at a really high quality. We're taking those original and rendering them back up at the highest quality. This one you saw was truly like a ground-up recreation of that original one. The rest of them, well, they used to call it "smacking down" back in the day, where they'd reduce the size and the quality. Brian actually has a story related to some of the ants in the cinematics.

Sousa: Oh, yeah, so we're going through these images that were rendered before they got condensed and smacked down to 640x480, and like I can actually see there's a scene where there's a line of ants crawling on the ground. You never see this in the original smacked version because the quality was so low. Now that we can reprocess these into a higher resolution, the cinematics still hold up.

Stilwell: We are redoing the voiceover. Some people reprise their roles, but yeah, we're gonna re-record everything. We're adding even more languages, so we're going to have 13 languages total, which is awesome, so we can appeal to more people globally. We also have Christie Golden, who wrote Arthas and some of the other books and content around Warcraft, helping us with just cleaning up some of the dialogue before we get in the booth with actors, so that it's a little bit more of the universe and a little bit more solid from that perspective, which is super exciting.

Sousa: And she's helping out with some of the characters that might have been not well developed in Warcraft III, but since World of Warcraft, they're huge names and people recognize them. We're going to do a little bit more with them too, so that we can bring them up and kind of show their origins a little bit better.

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World of Warcraft has been a really strong frame of reference for many fans, as it's the most developed and longest running game of the series. So it definitely seems there's a need for that consistency now--especially with how different Warcraft III looks in retrospect.

Sousa: Right. Some of the things that were done for Warcraft III are either straight up reusing models or texture swaps. When you get into World of Warcraft, the Blood Elves have been completely defined now. I remember, they did the huge expansion with the Blood Elves, and so now we can say, "Okay, this is what blood elf buildings look like, this is what the Fel Orcs look like, this is what the fel orc buildings." Rather than going back to Warcraft III and what they originally looked like, we can go to what World of Warcraft has done and amplify it from there.

Stilwell: And the good news is just like with StarCraft: Remastered, if you're the purist who wants to come and play the original game, it will still be there. You will still be able to go through the the original experience. We even have some folks on our team that are purists like that. The way we strike that balance is by making it an option. Like, you want the original VO, here it is. You want the original game truly, like in the campaign missions, here it is.

Sousa: Well, even with the Reforged UI, we've created a smaller, more compact UI, so you can see more of the screen, and the UI is not as intrusive. But even within Blizzard, it's like 'can I still play with the old UI?' We're like, 'yes, you can still play with the old UI.' We're giving you an option to play with a new one, but if you still like the one that covers a quarter of the screen, you can play that way.

It must be refreshing for you to be able to return to the roots of Warcraft as an RTS. While many fans love all that WoW has done, there is still that portion of the fanbase that wants to see more RTS games in the series.

Stilwell: Yeah, it's cathartic. Having played a ton of both games, playing WoW more recently before going back to War III, you realize the true influence that War III had on it. I wasn't lucky enough to be with the company at the time, but the guys were coming off making that one into the other, so of course, it was baked into them what this world should be and how we can take it to the next level. I think, for most of us, you don't realize how much of that foundation was there until you go back.

Even some of the campaign missions, where there's a little what we would now call a side quest and not just a little distraction on the map. It's almost like an Easter egg in Warcraft III, but you now realize that's in South Shore, or that's in Westfall, and that's exactly like the people that you run into on the cart that have their deeds in Westfall. I'm expecting a lot of players will be like, 'Hey, they stole that from WOW,' and it will be like, 'No, no, no, it was here first.' This is the foundation of that. I think that's what is so cool about it, is seeing how truly interconnected they really are.

Sousa: Yeah, for myself it was surprising to see so much from what I've played of WoW. I haven't played War III for 15 years, but going back through the arc and knowing that so much from World of Warcraft was based on Warcraft III, like, I thought World of Warcraft came up with that. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this all came from Warcraft III.' Now we have that opportunity to bring those to life and glory compared to what the old school used to look like.

Stilwell: And some of that is wrapped up in the tech. Most people probably won't know, WoW's engine was based off of Warcraft III's engine. They just kind of took it, built it up, retrofitted a few things, and suddenly it's the WoW engine. We've kind of taken where they evolved War III's engine, and then ported it over to ourselves and taken a lot of their technology, and now we're putting even more on top of it. Even on the backend, something most people won't see, or understand, or care about, is that these games are so intertwined not just in story, but in actual creation. It's really cool.

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In recent times, the RTS has fallen a bit by the wayside in favor of other genres. Most particularly the MOBA genre, which was ironically started as a Warcraft III mod. With this game, will you be looking closely at how all fans respond to this?

Stilwell: We want to be sensitive to the fact that, again, we think we have such a strong story here. If, for no other reason, we love players of other genres, and not just MOBA, but like World of Warcraft itself is very similar in that you kind of have a central player character, and you have a lot of cool abilities. They're very similar from an archetype, so giving them an avenue to come into the campaign and be comfortable with that and not be daunted by building a city, and destroying the other guy's city, and things like that, are things we are definitely thinking about, and good design challenges for our design team. Again, with that idea of Reforged, of like, let's make a version that those people can come in, really enjoy, and maybe become at RTS player on their second playthrough, where they play the hard setting and really actually get pushed to play RTS.

Sousa: Yeah, Warcraft III did not have the easy mode. It was either hard or really hard, and so now, even me, I remember playing missions over, and over, and over. This is a really hard game, so getting in there and making it a little bit more accessible for today's players, at least, to get into the RTS genre. This RTS has been around for 15 years. It's still around, people are still playing it, so we're not too worried about redefining the RTS because this already has a huge community, right, and we're not looking to change how Warcraft plays. We just want it to be a little bit more accessible and look better for today's players.

So even with the success that World of Warcraft has had over the years, do you still that there's room for a potential sequel to the traditional Warcraft RTS?

Stilwell: I mean, I wouldn't rule anything out, but we don't have any plans around that at this point. Getting this game right, I think, is our priority first and foremost. By that, I don't just mean like shipping Reforged, but like getting the gameplay to a state where people are like, hey, this is done because with SCR, you could look at it and they said, "Hey, you don't need to change balance. We can tell that a really good player of one race is going to beat the other. Not because this race has something cheesy that they can do that an inferior player can best a better one." We want to get Warcraft III into that state too, where it's like, hey, everybody agrees that it's the player and not a benefit of the faction that they were playing.

Sousa: So, yeah, the balance changes that we've been making are very small, focusing on like what makes this hero playable or unplayable? Why do people always play this way rather than this way? We're focusing on getting small changes in there. To hopefully shake up the game a little bit, people will start playing different heroes with different strategies. That will kind of keep the community alive.

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Once this comes out, what are some of your big hopes for the game? It seems like you're in a really interesting position to reintroduce fans to the RTS side of Warcraft, while also gaining a new following.

Stilwell: Yeah, those are certainly things that we're hoping for, to bring new players in, to reestablish what an epic story this is, and what a great game it is. Beyond that, there's so much potential built into the custom game community, and if we're having a bunch of people coming back, and they also explore what other creative people are making with this game, that there's a whole different tale there for people to explore and be a part to. That, to me, are kind of the big pieces.

Sousa: Yeah, because already the mods that people have created, playing the Reforged version will be completely compatible, right. It will just automatically work. Where the community will have to rally around is any unique artwork that has been done by the players themselves that have brought into the games. Those will have to be done, but we're also going to be putting out our tools and some guides, so they can really recreate art and even mod it even more. We're really trying to support the community on this.

Stilwell: I think, if at the end of this we hear the community shout, 'We love this, now we want more,' that will be our ultimate success.

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