WoW's Iconic Wrathgate Cinematic Sounds Like It Was Made With Duct Tape And Glue

Employees standing in for NPCs, repurposed emotes, and creative use of the game's vehicle tech came together to create World of Warcraft's first in-game cutscene.


World of Warcraft players will soon get to re-experience the MMORPG's first in-game cinematic with the release of Wrath of the Lich King Classic, but knowing what all went into the creation of the iconic scene at the Wrathgate might make it even more epic in retrospect.

The Wrathgate was a huge moment in WoW's story, as the combined forces of the Horde and the Alliance battled the Lich King's armies in order to confront Arthas, only for all three factions to be decimated by a deadly chemical weapon unleashed by the Forsaken. It served as players' first face-to-face confrontation with the Lich King, and the events of the Wrathgate led to the death of Varok Saurfang's son and a disfigured Bolvar Fordragon eventually taking Arthas' place at the end of the expansion.

As detailed by WoW's lead cinematic narrative designer Terran Gregory in a new making-of video, despite the scene's importance, the MMO's first in-game cinematic might as well have been held together with duct tape and glue. Blizzard is well-known for its impressive pre-rendered cutscenes, but when it came to using WoW's actual in-game engine to craft a cinematic moment, there was little in the way of actual tools to accomplish the feat back in 2011.

That meant Blizzard had to get creative. They repurposed a camera add-on built for esports commentary into an in-game cinematic camera tool. Employees, including Gregory himself, were recruited to provide voices for various characters, and Blizzard employees even had to stand in as NPCs, as some of the custom-made characters built for the cinematic didn't have the ability to move in ways that were needed. The iconic charge of the Horde up the steps of the Wrathgate was actually accomplished by having a group of 40 Blizzard employees synchronize a charge in-game while performing the charge emote. According to Gregory, around 90% of the animations seen in the cutscene were ones that already existed in-game.

The Wrathgate scene concludes with the dragons of the Red Dragonflight cleansing the battlefield with their flames. Bringing that moment to life required some creative use of the game's (at the time) new vehicle technology. By making the various pillars of fire pilotable vehicles and then attaching them to dragon character models, Blizzard could essentially drive around the scene as they saw fit, making it appear as if dragons were soaring around the Wrathgate spewing flames when in actuality they were just a big fire-shaped car with a dragon as a passenger.

The rest, as they say, is history, a history players will soon be able to relive when Wrath of the Lich King Classic arrives on September 26. Though Wrath of the Lich King Classic is largely a faithful recreation of the game as it was back in 2008, Blizzard is making changes to the classic MMO, even as it struggles to address the influx of new players causing massive server queues on the game's most heavily populated realms.

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