The Best of BlizzCon 2011

By the time the Foo Fighters concert had stopped ringing in the ears of the thousands of PC gamers packed inside the Anaheim Convention Center, there was a lot of good news that emerged from BlizzCon 2011. The annual fan celebration for PC games like World of Warcraft, StarCraft II and the upcoming Diablo III painted a very bright picture for those blockbuster titles.

World of Warcraft gamers won’t need to seek out Diablo III, which will launch in early 2012. Blizzard is giving all current WoW players who subscribe to its new Annual Pass a free digital copy of Diablo III, which was playable at BlizzCon for attendees. The developer is taking advantage of the latest PC processing power to bring the new role-playing game to life.

“If you think back to Diablo II, that was a game that was mostly based on sprite technology,” says Julian Love, lead technical artist for Diablo III. “To be able to revisit the idea of doing a Diablo world, but having the opportunity to do it with 3D graphics -- that was pretty big. It seems like it’s old hat that we’re talking about 3D technology. But for this particular franchise, it’s actually a big deal. The other thing that we have available to us is physics and things like cloth simulations that allow us to provide a deeper sense of reality and a visceral impact to the world. Rather than just killing a monster, you can kill a monster and then send him flying across the screen.”

Blizzard is introducing new ways to fight enemies in the upcoming expansion pack for WoW: Mists of Pandaria. The world of Pandaria features some of the most stunning landscapes ever seen in the franchise, especially for those who have the latest PCs. The world is filled with lush, Asian-inspired environments that are home to the kung-fu fighting monks that were originally introduced in World of WarCraft III.

“We’ve been excited about bringing this to life for a long time,” says Dave Kosak, lead quest designer for World of Warcraft. “We’ve waited until now. We’ve really brought them to life with a whole continent and a whole world. The Pandaren people are just cool. They’re just really interesting and fun to play with. They embrace life to the fullest. They eat hard, drink hard, play hard and fight hard. It’s a really fun culture to explore and find out more about.”

In addition to expanding the world of Azeroth, Blizzard is pushing forward with the story of StarCraft II. Heart of the Swarm is the first expansion pack in the popular real-time strategy game franchise that has taken the pro gaming world by storm and become a huge hit with PC gamers of all skill levels.

StarCraft II is adding things across the board,” says Chris Sigaty, lead producer. “We feel like there’s lots of different customers for StarCraft II. There are the players that are into it for the campaign. There are the players that are in there for the super-competitive multiplayer gaming experience. Then a whole group of players in there for custom games and the experience around things like DotA-style games, Tower Defense games, or the Star Jewel game that we released ourselves.”

The development team has added new units and tactics to the game based on feedback from fans. They’ve also revamped how custom games and surface content are seen by players. Rather than having to sift through multiple menus to find content, the new update streamlines the process so fans can quickly find new content and games to play.

“From a features standpoint, we’re adding reviews and rating systems,” says Sigaty. “There’s a five-star system that can help people find quality content. There are lots of different ways to get into games now. We’ve also added a bunch of tools for mod makers so they can make higher-quality content as they move forward.”

The big theme at BlizzCon seemed to be progression. As well as these PC stalwarts do sales-wise once they’re released, Blizzard is always looking ahead to expand and improve upon its game franchises. In a way, BlizzCon offers a great test market for new games like Diablo III and also allows the game developers to connect one-on-one with fans to help steer the direction of new content.

by John Gaudiosi