WoW Wednesday: Warcraft 3 and the Consequences of Blizzposting

Remastered games are a touchy aspect of the video gaming industry, especially when it comes to ‘classics’. We all know the type; those games from the 70s through the 90s that defined a lot of modern gaming conventions and flavor. The Crash Bandicoots, the Goldeneyes, those ones that took drastic curves and changes to, or reinvented old¸ formulas that up until that point had been bedrock concepts. As such, its hard to look at remastered titles without some form of controversy.

There are a myriad collection of opinions, of course. Some take umbrage with creative choices in revitalizing older games. Others fear for the ‘integrity’ of their game; when you change and update everything, including voice lines of old, you lose a major part of what made that great to begin with. Take, for example, the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy. This is, in my opinion, one of the best remastered classics to date. Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon are pulled off to an absolutely beautiful degree. I did, however, heavily dislike the remastered Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage (or Return to Glimmer for the Europeans). I felt, and still do feel, that a lot of the nuances and characterizations in the voice acting (and there is a LOT for every world) were lost in the translation to the up-rezzed graphics and tighter controls. It tars what is otherwise one of my top five favorite games of all time.

Then the controversy grows and transforms when, as a studio, you are already one rife with controversy. That came full force in the face of Activision-Blizzard and Blizzard Entertainment when they announced Warcraft 3: Reforged. The concept, at its presentation during Blizzcon 2018, was simple. Taking advice from Korean Pro-Players during their recreation of Starcraft: Remastered, a visual update was a fundamental necessity, without changing the game entirely too much.

Warcraft III: Reforged
But that wasn’t what Blizzard decided to do.

Instead, with the game already quite some time into development, they announced they would ‘Reforge’ the Warcraft 3 experience. In addressing this Blizzard is of course infamous for only debuting games when they are in a polished state; far along enough in development that artwork is mostly complete and the final stages of level development are occurring. Diablo 4 is a fine example of this ‘Blizzardposting’ phenomenon of being an open and well-developed secret for years but having its existence outright denied to the discredit of news reporters and analysts up until its announcement. Then suddenly, and with great furor, so much information is released at once that it’s nearly deafening to take it all in.

As such it is quite safe to say that an extensive amount of work was already done for Warcraft 3: Reforged. There was, however, a very small problem. Rather, two of them.

Over 15 years the lore of the Warcraft universe has gotten extensive. This is both good and bad; more lore means there are more possibilities to play with when making content. More stories to tell, more worlds to explore, etcetera. But more lore means more things to manage. When you build an expansive world on rather linear foundations you can quickly run out of room to explore. Characters have changed over fifteen years and evolved. There is, in many ways, a need to rebuild and recreate the stories of these characters to better reflect their motivations and status. Blizzard Entertainment have done these “soft retcons” for years, most recently in the Chronicle series of books (and then later another post retconning them into being written from the ‘perspective of the Titans).

Warcraft III: Reforged
Then we return to the problem of Warcraft 3 being a classic game in every sense of the word. This was the RTS that built the foundations for the modern Warcraft universe and fandom. Many people’s first memories of Warcraft are playing this game. To say that several pieces of dialogue, cutscenes, and levels are truly iconic is an understatement; to this day the words of Arthas as he murders his father ring as powerful to me as Darth Vader’s famous, “No, I am your father!” The audio of the entire scene is one of, if not the, most fundamental moments of the universe’s lore.

So Blizzard announces Warcraft 3: Reforged to an audience who go excited. Then they announce that they will be reworking famous scenes and pushing previously underwritten characters like Sylvanas Windrunner into the spotlight. This will, on the large, require total re-recordings of most if not all characters in order for the audio quality to match. Christie Golden, a largely celebrated author and member of the Narrative Team, is set to head the rewrites. However, after mixed opinions on her Battle for Azeroth tie in novel, “Before the Storm,” some concerns are quietly mentioned by the community.

In large this created a rift between the ideal ‘Blizzposting,’ announcing and debuting a mostly together product, and the community. While there was disquiet, eventually this grew into a fever pitch post-Blizzcon 2018. Simultaneously, the World of Warcraft team and Blizzard Entertainment on the whole faced an incredible amount of backlash over the poor systems and release of Battle for Azeroth. In response to growing community outcry, Blizzard announced they would drop all the narrative changes in Warcraft 3: Reforged.

This turns over a host of problems. A very large host.

Suddenly the game has to be changed in several areas. Every piece of work built around Golden’s updated ‘soft-recton’ narrative now has to be scrapped and remade. While no deadline was announced, the pre-orders found in the launcher promised a ‘December 2019’ release window. The entire game now has to be reset onto the ‘original’ Warcraft 3 path. This includes gameplay, audio recording, programming, and, the most time-consuming part of all, the cutscenes. It is at this point, inevitably, where corners begin to get cut.

Thankfully, a ‘return’ to the original narrative means that older cutscenes can be reused. Frankly, the up-rezzed HD remaster of Arthas returning to Capital City is absolutely phenomenal, as is every other original cutscene. Each of these ‘cinematic cutscenes’ has stood the test of time remarkably well.

However there are several ones, based on in-game rendered models, that do not. The infamous fight between Illidain and Arthas at Icecrown is a fantastic cutscene from the original Warcraft 3. It is one I recommend to every potential cinematographer to watch as an example on how to do quite a bit with very low-quality resources. The fight in Warcraft 3: Reforged, however, is lacking in almost every aspect. From stiff, clunky model movements to a distinct lake of lighting and shadows (something that often plagues several parts of the game), to just strange cinematography. While longer than its predecessor, its clear this cinematic was in large part attached to the Golden narrative. Coupled with its missing music this relic feels unfinished.

A sentiment echoed by day one players of Warcraft 3: Reforged. Despite a largely untroubled and smooth closed beta, as well as a well-documented multiplayer beta, bugs have numbered in the dozens with Day 1. The list includes save-erasing bugs, large-scale crashes, portions of the campaign simply missing from the game, maps not loading, unit models not functioning, enemy AI clipping through terrain. There is, frankly, far too much to cover in just this article. The individual cases begin to blend together with other typical bugs expected of a Day 1 launch (which tend to be largely graphical).

Warcraft III: Reforged
The problem, however, arises with the general feelings of frustration with Activision-Blizzard in general. After it was announced that the Reforged portion of this remaster was being dropped players became disenfranchised with the game in totality. This was driven on the backs of multiple problems through the lifecycle of Battle for Azeroth and distaste about the impromptu closing of the Heroes of the Storm E-Sports support, not to mention the terrible announcement of Diablo: Immortal. Issues only grew with the public outcry of several internal Blizzard employees and accusations of mistreatment. Then the mass layoffs of PR staff in Ireland and Europe tainted further perception of the company. Now, with feelings of resentment about the finale of Patch 8.3, public opinion is at an all-time low. All of this compiled together to create an interesting conundrum in the community.

This creates two fundamental and diametrically opposed phenomenon with Reforged’s instance of ‘Blizzposting’.

The first is one we all know well; The Hype Train. Warcraft 3: Remastered is, was, and shall be a fantastic idea. There is no reason why this in its totality cannot work. Every single aspect of this problem is in and of itself a fantastic concept.

Then we come to all of the negative. The problem with Classic games is they are, in some aspect, emotionally untouchable. Things can be added, developed, and explored to create new additional content. But changing anything, even minutely, can have violent and vile reactions. Added to that the incredible amount of ill-will generated by issues related to its MMORPG counterpart, and Warcraft 3 needed absolute emotional perfection in order to achieve greatness.

Such is the problem with ‘Blizzposting’. With Triple-A products there is no time for large-scale delays or developments, not when performance has failed. Battle for Azeroth, as admitted by its team, is a failure for Blizzard Entertainment. Nothing new, commercially speaking, was released by the company throughout 2019. Warcraft 3: Reforged could not be delayed, not with the next game release potentially being World of Warcraft: Shadowlands in late 2020. But there is no way, two years out, that the Reforged team could have anticipated anything that happened. Late into their development cycle, and with a deadline already in mind, they had no idea that all of this would snowball into an effect that would tarnish opinions of the game’s creative direction. Thus, attempting to cater to mitigate, the work-cycle suddenly and irrevocably suffered. Without a success to work from, Reforged could not be delayed for polish. But such is the problem with ‘Blizzposting’.

I am, by no means, saying that Warcraft 3: Reforged is a bad game. It is, in my opinion, a game that is built on the legacy of a great one. However, it has, and will yet inevitably, suffer in some part due to the whims of ‘polish.’ By restricting it down to an announcement so late in its development cycle, and having to make unforeseen changes with an unknowable locked in shipping date, the game was never going to be as good as it could be. Sadly, Medivh could not be the Guardian of Reforged, but perhaps as the days trundle on, more work will be done. Its fate, after all, may lie across the sea…

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