As I promised in the interview with Greg Street and Cory Stockton, here's a look inside the creation process of a dungeon like Ulduar. It's cool to have a better idea of what each dungeon goes through before players get their hands on it, and even some insight into the way the dungeons and encounters are designed!
Walk us through the creation of a raid instance like Ulduar. When do your various teams come into play, and how much influence do they have on tasks they're not directly involved in during the creation process?
Cory: As far as the kickoff goes for Ulduar... Ulduar was something we were working on all through Northrend, and we kind of realized that we had the content we wanted to ship it. Then we're sitting there with Ulduar, so we had some time to go back to it and beef it up from what we originally had planned for Ulduar.
We kick off, you know... brainstorming names, story, we have Alex Afrasiabi telling us the background, what we need to get across to players. So we kick off there, and it comes to a level design phase where we lay everything out in 2D. You've probably seen this at BlizzCon; we use these 2D illustrator maps to plan the layout of the whole dungeon, figure out where the bosses are gonna be, what we're gonna do.
From that point we talk about it more, decide we like what we have and start building it in 3D in what we call a "block out." The block out is just a really basic 3D form of the dungeon that we can run around in and see what the first stage is like. With Ignis, we knew how the fight was gonna be with the water pools on the side, how far we wanted players to have to drag the adds into the pool.
So in an instance like that, we're able to lay out all of that in 2D to get a sense of feel for units of measure, and then we get it into the basic 3D form and we can actually go in and spawn him, you know we didn't have his model done yet right, but we could spawn him there and get a feel for if there needs to be any changes before we get the final art going. We do that individually for everything in the whole place to lay it out, figure out how much space we need for the fights.
From there we get the encounter team involved. The encounter team comes in and we have meetings on the actual fights individually, and at the same time the art team begins working on final art. Those two work side-by-side from there until the end of the dungeon, or the production time, whatever that might be. Some dungeons that are smaller, we can kick out in two-to-three months, but something like Ulduar that's huge can take more time -- up to four-to-five months.
And during that time, they're working on the fights in Stranglethorn Arena spawning Razorscale there, fighting him, getting it down for how it's gonna play out and what he does while the art is being built for that room. As things start coming in, we'll start putting things together... we'll start placing the creatures in the actual instance and do internal testing.
Everything goes through testing here, we have a QA team that does that, but we test everything ourselves in 10-man form with the encounter guys, Greg is in on that, Tom Chilton, Alex Afrasiabi, all of us. So we go through as players and get a feel for it. From there it's just tuning, we get feedback after every session and work on tuning everything.
Then it goes on to Greg's team where the item art is getting hooked up, filling out the achievements, which all of those falls under Greg's team.
So could an item guy go up to the encounter guys and say "Hey, I have this awesome idea for a boss fight," or a class designer say "This room would look really awesome with a pink elephant ghost hovering near the ceiling."
[Greg Street laughs]
Cory: Oh 100%.
Greg: We're super collaborative here, our offices are full of very open people and we're talking to each other a lot. If someone gets this crazy idea about something and champions it can often get it into the game.
Cory: A lot of times we'll see a model come in from art and they'll end up creating a weapon the creature is holding and one of the item guys will say "oh I want to drop that," and at that point a task will go in, the artist goes in and rips the weapon out of the creature's hands, scales it down to fit the races in the game and we'll actually use that as a weapon.
Like with Razorscale when we saw his model we decided we wanted to get a mount for that. We had no idea until the art came in for him, and we saw it, and it looked so good we decided we had to get it in as a mount. So a lot of times things just happen... we try to plan as much as we can, but sometimes we end up getting things, and we all play this game just like anyone else. So there's a lot of things like that, that come out even though we didn't start with it planned and using it makes it feel so much better.