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Episode 1

To kick off our BlizzCast series, we’ve decided to begin where every great Blizzard idea begins, at the concept level. To speak with us we have Samwise Didier, our Art Director and concept artist to many of the popular Blizzard icons you’ve grown to love such as the Pandaren, Fel Orcs, Dark Templars, Zerglings, and many more. We’ll be chatting with Samwise on how he came up with the characters he did, as well as what it is like to work on both the Warcraft and StarCraft franchises.

Be sure to view the transcript to see all of the artwork.

Featured Artwork:

Karune: Welcome Blizzard fans from around the world. My name is Kevin Yu, your Community Manager, also known as Karune on the boards. Today, we are kicking off Blizzard’s new BlizzCast series, designed to take you, the fans, behind the scenes into the World of Blizzard. In each episode, we’ll be showing you a new facet of what it’s like working here, bringing on guest speakers, interviewing your favorite devs, taking you guys on tour with us when we go out to conventions and events, and, more or less, just bringing you greater insight into the process of how Blizzard makes its games.

For our first episode, we’ll be starting with an interview with our very own art director, and concept artist, Sam Didier, where we’ll be talking about what it is like to concept art for both the Warcraft and the StarCraft franchise. Following that, we’ll be having Drysc interview our lead designer for World of Warcraft, Jeff Kaplan, about the latest tidbits in regards to Patch 2.4, highlighting on the Sunwell Plateau.

[ 00:14 ]
For our first interview here, we have our Art Director, Samwise, also known as Sam Didier. He’s basically responsible for a lot of the prominent characters that you guys have seen in World of Warcraft and StarCraft as well. So we’re going to be talking about a few of those units with you guys and also we’re going to find out about how Sammy got involved in the video game industry.
[ 01:16 ]
So, how did you get involved, actually?
Samwise: I saw an ad in, it was either like the Orange County Register or the Penny Saver, something like that that was saying, it was a little tiny ad -- two sentences -- you know: “Make Art For Video Games.” And, at the time, I had the glorious job of being head usher at a movie theater.
Karune: Okay.
Samwise: And, I’m like “You know what? I could stop drawing on all the bathroom log sheets and the time sheets at the movie theater and I could actually draw art for video games.” I’m like, “Well, it’s in kind of a cheesy little paper; it’s probably not going to be anything really cool.”

And, so I went there and, I showed up and the first person I see is Frank Pearce, who’s actually kind of the receptionist by default because his desk was right by the door and I walk in and he’s kinda, he’s got a gruff voice and he’s like “Can I help you?” and I’m like “Yeah, I’m here to see Allen Adham.” And he’s like “He’s busy. Do you want to see Mike?” and I’m like “Uh, sure.” And so that’s when I met Mike Morhaime and my portfolio basically consisted of a couple of sketchbooks and then a bunch of framed pieces of art that I didn’t have time to take the art out. I just brought in the frames and everything. You know, it was like ready to hang art.
Karune: Nice.
Samwise: And so I met them and they seemed like they dug my art and they offered me a job that day and that was back in the early Jurassic Period. 1991? I think, yeah.
CROSSTALK
[ 01:34 ]
Karune: So you’ve also had the pleasure of working with both the Warcraft and the StarCraft franchises, both of which are heavily popular in the video game industry. How do you feel about working in those two genres? Do you have a preference of which one you like more or how is it like jumping between franchises and genres of art? If there is a difference.
Samwise: The only time that it’s difficult is when you’re working on both at the same time. But like, you know, if you’re working for three or four months on StarCraft, that’s cool, because, you get the StarCraft style and you can work on it. But when you’re like jumping back and forth between the projects, you kind of run into trouble like “Oh, that’s looking too Warcraft-y” or “Oh, that’s not Warcraft-y enough. You’ve been working on StarCraft too long.” So, that’s about the only difficulty with it, but as far as which, you know, both of them are awesome to work in. Fantasy and sci-fi are both great genres.
[ 03:05 ]
Karune: How would you kind of describe Warcraft art versus StarCraft art?
Samwise: Well, the Warcraft art is a little bit more over-the-top, you know. That’s why you see people running around with giant shoulder pads and their weapons are two-handed weapons but they’re carrying them one-handed. Each hand has a giant two-handed weapon. Warcraft is really, like, hyper-fantasy, you know, real high concept fantasy. There’s machinery and guns involved in Warcraft and then with StarCraft it’s a little bit more, like a little bit dirtier, you know. Everything’s not as polished and shiny. There’s a little bit more grit to the texture of the art.

The stories are a little bit – there’s not as much humor, there’s a little bit more serious tone to it. And it’s a little bit more, I don’t know, not realistic, but it’s a little bit more closer to modern-day sort of thing instead of Warcraft, which is, you know, just completely out there and you can do whatever you want. StarCraft is a very focused universe.
[ 03:57 ]
Karune: Got you. So, let’s actually take a look at some of your Warcraft and StarCraft pieces. Here we have the Pandaren.
Samwise: Ah yes.
Karune: So tell us a little bit about the Pandaren. How does a panda get into the fantasy realm?
Samwise: Well, it started off, you know, a bunch of years back when I had a daughter, right. And, when she was born, for Christmas I usually draw a picture for my family. Like a personal one. And so I did, for that picture, for some reason, I decided to do like a panda guy because, actually, also like “Samwise,” “Panda” is my nickname because I’m kind of a big hairy bear dude, but I’m not very fearsome. So I got the nickname “Panda.” So I drew a picture of a panda with a little panda cub on the shoulder and that was the picture for Christmas, that I gave to all my family. And “Oh, it’s because he had a little kid. He’s getting soft!” You know? Whatever. It’s for the family. I had to do something that Grandma would like.

But so we put that up in there and everyone was like “Oh my God! A PANDA RACE? That’s kind of cool!” And I’m like “Are you kidding me, really? You want to see pandas in Warcraft III or whatever?” So, we made like a whole fake April Fools page with different units and all that and people, you know – we thought people would be like “NO WAY!” – and everyone actually liked it and when they found out it was an April Fools joke they were like “Aw, that sucks.” So we’ve kind of just dropped little bits of panda stuff. Like I do that all the time in my pictures. I’ll hide a picture of a panda face. Like it was on Illidan’s blades, back in the day, just put it on there. See if anyone noticed. And they did. Good job, guys. Two points. And ever since then it’s just been kind of a thing. We’re like “Oh, you’re the panda guy.”
Karune: That’s awesome, though, that it finally did show up in Warcraft III and the taverns and such. As an actual playable hero.
Samwise: Oh, the Brewmaster, yeah? He’s actually a cool character. I wish we could see more of these little guys.
[ 05:12 ]
Karune: Yeah, definitely. So, let’s go with the next piece that we have for StarCraft II, the Dark Templar, is a huge favorite. A lot of people were comparing it to other sci-fi figures as well. What do you think about the Dark Templar? How did you change the way, conceptually, it was looked at from StarCraft, the original?
Samwise: Well, I don’t know exactly what the story guys are doing, but whenever I do a picture, I have my own kind of story in my head, to start off with. So, basically, what I thought is, the Zerg, or, sorry, the Dark Templar were on Shakuras, and there are Zerg on it now. So now these Dark Templar after the Protoss came, some of the Zerg came with them and now they’re like, “We’ve got to defend our homes.” So, this is actually where you get to see some of the Dark Templar people besides the Zeratul guy. Zeratul is like a secret-agent-type-ninja guy. He’s got the face mask and the one long lethal blade and all that. He’s like kind of a special character.

Well, in StarCraft, all of our Dark Templar were like that because we didn’t have time to make another character for that so we just went “Yep. Everybody’s this guy.” So, in this one, the idea was to show a little, like another version of the Dark Templar, like the Dark Templar aren’t necessarily that one ninja guy: they’re a race. So that’s why we tried to incorporate units like the Stalker and the Dark Templar here are more like hardened soldiers that’ve been battling Zerg on their home world. That’s why they have these, kind of the Zerg bones on their body. They’re kind of like trophies they have. Where the Protoss have kind of the gold armor, the Dark Templar have a more like a bluish silver and instead of the blue crystals like the regular Protoss have, the Dark Templar have like these Zerg bones and banners and stuff like that. And that was just like the idea for coming up with the Dark Templar and then I kind of wanted to give them a different weapon type, just to make them not so much like they’re Protoss guys.

The Protoss guys, you know, have the two-hand blades, the Zealots. Well, let’s make this guy, you know, a little different. We’ll keep Zeratul with the hand blade because he’s cool like that, you know. You don’t want to change Darth Vader. But for the Dark Templar themselves let’s make them look like they’re a little bit more, they just have a different weapon kit, they have different armors than their Protoss brothers.
Karune: They definitely look a lot more hardened, I guess.
Samwise: Yeah.
Karune: Been forced to adapt, I guess.
Samwise: Right. I know, again, some people are really, really in to the new Dark Templar. Some people don’t like it. You know, I’m like that too, when I see movies and they change something about a character I was really into; it ticks me off, too, so I mean…We’re still working on it, and if it turns out that the idea doesn’t pan out, we have no problems redoing art here. We do it constantly, I mean, not one piece of art that we have in the game is final until the game ships. So, if you love a character, awesome. If you hate a character, don’t worry: we’ll probably change it.
[ 07:14 ]
Karune: True that. Alright, for the next unit we have the zergling. I know everybody’s been just dying to hear about Zerg. So, could you tell us a little about how the zergling has changed compared to StarCraft I or just about this concept piece in general?
Samwise: Well, we took the basic shape and style, and the elements of the zergling that everyone liked, the little small hoppy guys, mouth full of teeth and claws and all that and, when doing the concept, it’s like, “Okay, yeah, this is cool, we got a zergling. It’s a little bit tweaked different than the original one but it’s like, what’s new about this guy?” So, the idea was, “Well, hell, let’s put on little wings so then when they leap and they’re swarming, they could fly up and attack stuff and jump on top of buildings and do all that. Now, whether that gets in the game or not, who knows? It’s just the concept. But that was the idea, seeing swarms of these guys running around with their little wings and “prrttt prrtt,”, flickering around and stuff. So...
Karune: I can see there’s some bullet holes and stuff in the wings as well.
Samwise: Yeah, this one got lucky. It’s just through the wings.
Karune: Nice
Samwise: But that was basically the idea. Was to take, you know, sort of a cool character from StarCraft and then give it the next level up. Like, not changing what it is. Like everyone who looks at this won’t say, “What the hell’s that?” you know. It’s a zergling. You know what it is. “It’s a zergling, Lester, a different kind of zerg.” You know, we decide to add wings. It’s StarCraft II, baby, you know. We don’t want to be doing something we did ten years ago and just doing a 3D version of it.
[ 10:09 ]
Karune: So, how would you recommend that other people, like artists, get involved in the video game industry? Or just getting involved to become artists, you know, full time?
Samwise: Right. Well, for getting into the industry, I would totally recommend taking any kind of courses in Max or Maya or any other 3D programs because that’s how games are made now. Unless you’re doing Flash-based games, you know, stuff like that, you’re going to be doing 3D. So get involved in that. Even if you’re just a concept artist like some of the guys on our team, we really want guys that can do, a variety of things. Like our concept artists on our team, we can all model, we can all texture. We may not be as kick-butt as some of the Blizzard cinematics modelers, of course, but all the characters in StarCraft II are made by our concept guys and our texture guys and stuff like that.

I guess another thing too would be try to be really well-rounded. You know, a lot of places just want a guy who’s a texture artist and all and that’s great but, if you can, if you’re just a texture artist but then you can also model stuff and texture your own things, then, all of a sudden, you’re worth more. Like “Man, we can count on this guy to do whatever.”
[ 11:35 ]
Karune: Alright. Thanks a lot Sammy for spending some time with us to talk about all this.
Samwise: No problem, man. Take it easy.
Karune: Alright.
Samwise: See you guys later!
[ 12:51 ]
Drysc: Welcome to the World of Warcraft portion of the first ever Blizzcast. I’m Drysc, from the World of Warcraft Community Team. Working behind the scenes, actually is Bornakk, to keep all this running for us. Today we’re going to be talking about the upcoming 2.4 patch which features the Sunwell Plateau raid instance, and to help explain some of that, Lead Designer, Jeff Kaplan. Welcome Jeff, how’s it going?
Jeff: I’m doing great. Excited to be here.
[ 13:22 ]
Drysc: Really good. So tell us a little about Sunwell Plateau, like where it fits in as far as progression, I guess, in Burning Crusade. It’s obviously a raid dungeon – is it coming after Black Temple?
Jeff: Sure thing. The raid aspect of it is definitely a progression from Black Temple. We’re tuning it for people in Tier 6 gear, however there’s not an attunement on the front door. The first three bosses are accessible by everybody however they will be tuned for Tier 6, but there’s a lot more to Sunwell Plateau than just a raid dungeon too.
[ 13:45 ]
Drysc: And what kind of reputation are we looking for? Is there going to be a reputation associated with Sunwell Plateau, or is it Aldor/Scryer?
Jeff: There’s a reputation associated with the whole Sunwell Isle. So the Isle has not just the raid dungeon, which is the Sunwell Plateau, but it also has a five person instance which is the Magister’s Terrace, which can be normal or heroic, and there’s also a whole hub of quests that are going to be daily quests and that hub actually gets built up by the players over time. And there’s a reputation associated with all of these things called the Shattered Sun Offensive. And what that is, is the culmination of the Scryer and Aldor storyline. The two groups have finally banded together, a continuation of that scene that was playing out in the inn in Area 52. They’re now banded together to drive out the Burning Legion who are inhabiting the Sunwell which has been re-ignited. So we think it will be really exciting – Shattrath, a lot of the NPCS will be changed that were previously either Scryer or Aldor specific to Shattered Sun Offensive NPCs, so blood elves and draenei like those soldiers out front by the flight masters – you’ll actually see them change. So it should be pretty cool.
[ 14:18 ]
Drysc: What’s the gear level that you’re going to be getting out of Sunwell Plateau, is it an actual Tier 7 or equal to Tier 6, I guess?
Jeff: It will be definitely a tier above Tier 6 so Tier 7 gear, however there’s not class specific sets in terms of armor looks. There definitely will be class specific armor and armor set bonuses, but the looks will be shared across armor type. So for example, plate will have a paladin version and a warrior version and there will be some colour differences there but it’s not a completely unique look between the two.
[ 15:33 ]
Drysc: And that’s kind of like AQ was to some degree.
Jeff: Yeah Ahn’Qiraj 40 although we really are planning to do the itemization a lot better than we did with Ahn’Qiraj 40 so people can rest assured.
[ 16:12 ]
Drysc: Ok, let’s go back to the five person dungeon. What’s the difficulty of that? Where’s that kind of fall in line, I guess, with the other five persons’? What’s the gear that they’re going to expect to get out of it.
Jeff: The all important ‘what’s the loot?’ question.
Drysc: Right, right.
Jeff: Difficulty-wise we’re tuning it to be a max level dungeon, so level 70. We expect it to be a more difficult max level dungeon but not by much – around the difficulty, I would say, of Shadow Labyrinth or Shattered Halls – somewhere around there. It will also have a heroic mode which will be on par in difficulty with our other heroics. In terms of loot, what we’ll be dropping in the normal version – you’ll get one fifteen dungeon blues off the first three bosses, which is just normal level 70 dungeon loot. But the last boss will drop a one ten epic item which is on par with a Karazhan epic, with a lower level Karazhan epic. In heroic mode they’ll drop lower level Karazhan epics off of every boss, and the final boss will drop an item that’s on par with a Prince Malchezzar Karazhan epic, so a really good epic item at the end of the heroic.

We realize because this dungeon is coming later in the sort of Burning Crusade cycle it’s very important that the loot be relevant to people who are playing the game now, and for people who came into Burning Crusade late, this will give them the opportunity to have a little bit of a catchup to all the players who have been doing the Arena or participating in our PvE content, so it’s kind of win-win, or if people want to gear up an alt really quickly this will be a good place to do that. And of course because it’s only a four boss dungeon, the five person one is, it’s not like you can fully equip a character in this type of gear, there are only so many slots represented.
[ 16:26 ]
Drysc: And just to change gears to I guess a broader overview of 2.4, what else can we expect? You mentioned some daily quests obviously associated with Sunwell Plateau. We looking at any sort of other content aside from the people that are getting into the raids, obviously the five person dungeon stuff is going to be great for almost anybody, but is there anything else that’s going into 2.4, I guess?
Jeff: There’s going to be a lot of little things in 2.4. Right now 2.3 went live recently, so we’re evaluating class balance. We don’t want to do any drastic changes in 2.4 until we see how some of our 2.3 balance changes played out. So you can expect changes there. We’re doing other small things like raising the daily quest limit. Right now it’s at ten quests per day. We’re blowing that out to twenty five quests per day. It was never a design limitation, it was more of a technical limitation on how many things that we could track on the server at any one time. So that will open up a lot of content for players, just being able to do more daily quests per day.

And then we’re also looking into many small but really beneficial user interface improvements – to give a very tiny, small example, we’re improving the ready check, so when a raid leader clicks on the ready check button, everybody who has raid leader or assistant raid leader privileges will be able to see who’s responded ready and who’s afk and who’s not ready. A little bit more responsiveness and feedback and assist them. A lot of things like that going into 2.4.
[ 18:18 ]
Drysc: Well thank you very much, this has been Jeff Kaplan, I’m Drysc from the World of Warcraft Community team and thank you for listening.
[ 19:56 ]
Karune: Thanks a lot everyone for joining us in our first ever BlizzCast episode. Because this series is designed to take you, our Blizzard fans, behind the scenes, we want to hear what you guys want to see, as well as any other feedback you’d like to send us. Please send the feedback to blizzcast@blizzard.com

On top of that we do have some goodies for you as well. We have 12 Logitech G51 5.1 surround sound speakers along with some StarCraft II hats sitting here in the Community Room looking for a new home. So I’ve decided I’ll be sending these out to twelve lucky winners who send us feedback email. More details and rules will be on the Blizzcast webpage. I look forward to reading your responses and hope to have you guys join us in our next episode, in which I hope to steal some time from our Blizzard lore guy, Chris Metzen, and perhaps some of the original Diablo II devs for some quick questions.

This is Karune, your Community Manager, signing off.
[ 20:12 ]