In November of 2018, we gave you an extensive look at the development of Blizzard’s Warcraft III: Reforged, the remake of Blizzard’s beloved real-time strategy game that set the stage for the World of Warcraft phenomenon. A lot can change in a year of development, so we sat down to chat with production director Kaeo Milker and lead artist Rob McNaughton to talk about how Reforged is different from that last time we saw it, and why the team decided to remain so faithful to the original game.
You guys have been with Blizzard for a long time. Did you get to work on the original Warcraft III?
Milker: This has been an interesting journey because my very first game that I worked on at Blizzard was Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos as a game tester, back in 2001. But as a game tester back then, I got to do multiplayer map design. I got to do voice work. There’s were a lot more opportunities back then. It was like, “What can you do? Alright, go do it and make the game better.” Since then, I worked on StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm, and now I’m circling back around to Warcraft III, so this has been a fun journey.
McNaughton: I started working at Blizzard on Diablo, the first one, and then I worked on StarCraft and then I became lead technical artist on Warcraft III.
Since you worked on the original game, were there things that you wished you could have done differently? Was this an opportunity to go back and fix things that had been bothering you for decades?
McNaughton: I’ll give you an example. Warcraft III was our first 3D game, and computers were pretty sluggish at the time. We had a limited amount of memory and performance was really a problem, so we came up with a game design mechanic that is integral to Warcraft III now, and that is upkeep. Upkeep is a mechanic that keeps your unit count down. Of course, if I was going to make a new Warcraft game now and the sky was the limit, that mechanic would go away. But as it is, it became one of the iconic things in Warcraft III and made us focus on the heroes and gave us more RPG elements. So is has a place in history, and for Reforged we felt like we had to leave it there.
Comparing the new art assets to the original.
What is new for Reforged then?
Milker: It’s actually a different kind of game because we had to rebuild this game from the ground up. Every piece of art has been redone, all of the underlying technologies and engines have been fully updated. We’ve added battle.net integration and more, so this has been like making an entirely new game, but we’ve been true to the original. It’s a different kind of challenge, but it’s something that’s been really fun.
McNaughton: We fully fleshed out all the races and we put a ton of work into the single-player campaign to make it play nicer. It still feels like the old game, but it has a higher level of polish. That’s really what we’ve been spending our time on.
You guys updated the maps too. How much work did you put into reworking some of the maps to modernize or make them more fun?
Milker: Some maps have been overhauled pretty dramatically. A lot of that focus, though, was trying not to change the nostalgia and the flow, but more in streamlining them. We did Warcraft III before World of Warcraft, and once WoW came out, we fleshed out some of these locales in ways that diverge from Warcraft III, so we went back and redid the art on a bunch of maps so that Warcraft III now looks like it does in WoW. We did a lot of visual changes to make sure that the two of them are aligned.
But the story is the same as it was and doesn’t include some of the recons from World of Warcraft. How did you make that decision?
Milker: That was part of this journey too. Originally, the team had rewritten the entirety of the campaign. Warcraft III is the origin story that feeds into World of Warcraft, and the WoW team has taken that and run with it in such a huge way over the last 15 years, so that was the original intention. But as we went through that process, we got a lot of feedback both internally and externally that while we were trying to make sure that some of those pivotal moments were as big as they deserved, it was actually more important for us to stay true to Warcraft III. The way the campaign plays out now, the V.O. and the storyline is actually identical to the way it was originally in Warcraft III.
We know the original Warcraft III team considered creating several races that never made it into the final game. Did you ever consider resurrecting one of those races for Reforged?
McNaughton: We actually had an idea about a demon race at one point in the original game’s development. I’ve heard some other crazy ideas, so I could just go on forever, but at the end of the day, those aren’t Warcraft III. Warcraft III was four races that all feel really different, so that’s what we had to go back to.
What should fans be most excited about with Reforged? Like what would make them want to pick it up if they already have the original game?
McNaughton: Well, the original game will just turn into this right? They get widescreen support, a bunch of new additional battle.net features automatically. But if they wanted to make it look really pretty, they’d want Reforged. To me that’s the thing, now it actually looks nice and modern and you won’t be embarrassed to show your friends.
Milker: To kind of clarify to this, the existing Warcraft III players who are playing the game and own a license for the game, can convert that license to the battle.net license. They can keep playing the game and they’re going to get a lot of the benefits of Reforged. They’re going to get all new matchmaking, they’re going to get some new chat and battle.net functionality. They’ll have widescreen support. Performance is much better now, and those players will be able to queue up and play against Reforged players as well, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds. If you’re a purist and you just love Warcraft III the way it was, it persists, it’s still going to be there for you.
But there is this whole new thing with Reforged, and a lot of love went into the art and the cutscenes. And I think there are millions and millions of World of Warcraft players who never played Warcraft III, and I think this is a really cool thing to go back to the origins of the characters in that world.
I’m personally super excited about the custom map scene. Warcraft III has this amazing community of mapmakers. They are the ones who’ve created entire genres – the MOBA genre came out of it, and Tower Defense. Now we’re releasing Reforged and we’re adding thousands of new assets, including brand new models that never existed before. I’m super excited to see all the new custom maps and updated custom maps that come from Reforged.
Warcraft III: Reforged is out now on PC. Stay tuned for our review, but if you’re curious to know more about how Blizzard was originally updating the game’s narrative, read our interview with Reforged’s writing team.