We spoke with Blizzard’s Darren and Dusty while they were on tour Down Under to chat more about the release of World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion, Battle For Azeroth.
Darren Williams is from Adelaide, Australia, and is the senior software engineer – gameplay, and Dusty Nolting is the lead character artist on the new expansion Battle For Azeroth.
How did you both wind up working at Blizzard?
Dusty: “I went to art school and got a degree in computer art. From there, I got an internship working on a small game at a company based in Atlanta. Afterwards, I got hired by an indie studio, and we worked on two games that were never finished so there’s not much to say on those. I’ve always had in the back of my mind that Blizzard is where I wanted to end up. Everything I did was with that in mind and the rest of it was timing and looking for my opportunity. While I was in Texas, Blizzard contacted me to do an art test, which I did, and I was incredibly lucky to be hired on WoW. I’ve been there for about eight years, and here I am today, sharing my experience with you.”
Darren: “I’m from Adelaide, and when I was growing up I always played a lot of games and wanted to work ion games and I didn’t really know how to do it so I was always dabbling with projects in my own time. I went to Adelaide University and studied computer science, and I applied for a local studio and was lucky enough to get a job there and get my start in the industry. Similar to Dusty, my aspirations have always been to Blizzard, I’ve always played their games. I worked in the Brisbane industry for prpbably 3-4 years after that, and eventually decided to try my hand and applied at Blizzard and they flew me out and I got the job on World of Warcraft – which was amazing. I’ve been here – like Dusty – about eight years, and I’ve worked on every expansion since Cataclysm. I’ve worked on spell effects and animation, the programming for that, lots of stuff. I’m really happy to be back in Australia. It’s great to come back and, being originally part of the industry here, come back and talk to everybody.”
How do your roles at the company tie in with the new expansion, Battle For Azeroth?
Darren: “As you work on WoW, you get more and more expertise in all the different areas, which has meant I’ve been able to be across a lot of the game’s systems. In Battle For Azeroth in particular, there’s a lot of character-related stuff; we have new allied races, and new character customisation. I worked a lot with Dustry to help get that into the game. I also worked a fair bit on itemisation, and the new loot methods. I’ve also been involved in the new Azerite armour system, which is new to this expansion, and a new way to power up your character. My role has definitely changed – I’m doing a lot of coding, but I’m also interacting with a lot more teams on a daily basis.”
Dusty: “I’m the character artist, so what I do day-to-day is work with a team of other character artists, and we create all the armour, all the weapons, all the creatures, characters, and mounts; and, specifically for Battle for Azeroth, lots of awesome new trolls, dungeons, naval officers, witches doing death magic, stuff like that. So that is usually my entire focus.”
What were some of the biggest programming challenges in Battle For Azeroth?
Darren: “One of the things I mentioned working on is the new allied races; we’re always trying to add new races to the game where it makes sense. One of the new Orc tribes we’ve added have a different posture you can choose, an upright posture. This is something the fans have been wanting for a while, and it made sense to add that in this expansion. It became available in our pre-patch and it was great to see all the players go into the barber shop and basically get chiropractic surgery and become upright. It’s such a seemingly simple thing for the players but there’s a lot of work between Dusty and I; working out how we’re going to add those models to the game, how to keep the memory, and making sure it runs on all kinds of machines. There’s a lot of work and it’s really great to see the success and the players response to that.”
Is there any work you have to do behind the scenes when new patches come out that people wouldn’t really think about?
Darren: “Yeah, we always do a lot under the hood. We’re always improving our servers so that we can support more and more players in the same area, and more and more large scale combat and battles. For example, the intro for the expansion just opened recently, which is the Battle for Lordaeron, and that has a big battle between the Horde and the Alliance. Supporting that and making it run smoothly is a big endeavour for the programming team, also the art and design team; larger and larger scale things happening in-game. It’s really rewarding to know all this hard work to make that run well on machines is paying off.”
Can you tell us more about the heritage armour sets?
Dusty: “When you find and recruit like an allied race, they’re brand new races you never seen before, so it’s really cool that you are able to see, what do they normally dress like? What do they normally walk around in? So we thought it was key and really important to give you access to some of these heritage armour sets so if you go and start from, I believe level 20, and play through the entirety of Warcraft all the way to the max level you unlock their heritage sets, which are some of the most grandiose armour sets we’ve made. For example, the high mountain Tauren – they have big giant totems on their back. The void elves have these cool void-looking armour plates that look like they’re going off into outer space or something like that. It’s definitely a prestige thing. Not only do you have to unlock the new race but you also have to be dedicated and level up that race and so it‘s a great reward to show off your commitment to that new race. I converted my main Tauren to a high-mountain Tauren. I really love the new heritage options.”
Dusty – can you tell us why you love the molten corgi so much?
Dusty: “I don’t know – just the idea of it sounded so great. This little flaming dog that emerges out of a volcano. That, and corgis are kind of a mainstay dog here at Blizzard. We’re allowed to have dogs running around on campus and there are so many corgis it just fit so well. It was just a great little creature to make. We’ve also had some dog cosplay events at Blizzard and people have even dressed up their dogs in the courtyard.
Finally, once the expansion is live, how do your roles change?
Darren: “For me, the expansion will go live in North America and Europe at 3pm on Monday Atalantic time, so I’ll be back for that, and almost all the engineering team will be on deck to play the game and be ready to support any issues that come up. It’s a very exciting time, seeing how the players respond; we’re up and watching streams of top players playing the game and seeing how they’re responding. We’re fairly reactionary on the first day; everything should go smoothly, we’ve done a lot of planning and testing, but we’ll mostly be on deck ready to support anything and we’re really excited about the simultaneous launch with Europe now.”
Dusty: “I’m coming in from the art standpoint, you know just because this expansion Battle of Azeroth will be officially out, there are still many more epic creatures, over-the-top characters, new heroes that need attention, so we’re going to keep moving forward in providing even more content for you to pursue as this war campaign continues on, and that’s what we’re going to keep working towards.”