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Bill Roper Interview

/ Jun 15th, 2003 No Comments

WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne is the expansion set to the blockbuster smash hit to WarCraft III. Gaming Illustrated's Executive Editor Sean Gibson had a conversation with Blizzard Vice President Bill Roper to discuss everything about the new title.

Also, Gaming Illustrated will be throwing a HUGE Frozen Throne launch party on July 1st @ 6pm at GameCity USA, San Diego's top LAN Gaming Center. There will be giveaways, appearances from some of the top companies in the computer industry, and a huge party atmosphere.

Q.
Can you give a brief description of how long you've been with Blizzard now and your role in Frozen Throne?
A.
I'm Vice President at Blizzard North, and I've been with Blizzard for nine years now. For Frozen Throne I was on what's called a Strike Team which are high level feedback groups and what we do is provide a sounding board and a reality check to the team to try to bring up issues and discussion. Also if the team has 2 or 3 different ideas on how to do something and are looking for feedback and direction, we help provide that for them. Think of us as high level design and reality check managers.
Q.
What's the overall storyline, without giving anything away, of Frozen Throne?
A.
The overarching storyline for Frozen Throne is that players are going back to Azeroth a few months after Archimond and the Burning Legion are defeated. We have a new threat now, basically where the night elves have kind of vanished back into the shadows to start back the healing of the lands of Azeroth. The Horde have kind of pulled themselves out of things. They have been given/taken over the eastern lands of Kalimdor, where they are making a homeland of their own. In the original Warcraft II, the portal was destroyed and in that expansion we actually destroyed their entire planet. We got a little crazy there (laughs). They've not had a place to call their own for a while in our history, so, in the Frozen Throne the element with them is that they've kind of pulled away from the Undead, Night Elves, and the Humans to go build their own homeland. In fact to reflect that, we've given them their own campaign, so there's two campaigns in this expansion.

The Humans are under the command of Jana Proudmoore, and they are basically tied up safeguarding the last remnants of the failing human alliance. Of course there's Arthas and the Undead, and he is driven in the storyline by visions of an ancient artifact that's the Frozen Throne of Icecrown. It's a very powerful ancient device that he wants to assume for himself to give him massive power so he can have the ability to take over all of Azeroth. There's other forces in the world still that want that for themselves, namely Illidan the Night Elf who was freed at the end of War3, and he was kind of a new contingent of evil called the Naga, which is a new race we're introducing. They're also going for the Throne. So, through the storyline that encompasses the Undead, The Night Elves, and the Humans, there's a huge race for this object of power, with the Night Elves basically being represented by their evil side, being Illidian.

The Humans are basically caught in the middle trying to stay alive and stop the other sides if they can. That's the "Frozen Throne" campaign. There's another campaign for the Orcs, and that one is really special because not only is it separated from the other storyline, it's also been done very differently. The Frozen Throne campaign drives much the same way that the campaigns in WarCraft III were driven, a story told in sequence. The Orc campaign is designed to take advantage of the things we can do with our revamped world editor. It's very RPG intensive and really kind of pushes the limits of putting RPG elements in an RTS game. It plays very differently, has a different flow to the story, and I think that players will get to see not only an expansion set but also an expansion to the WarCraft universe. We tell more story in the same amount of space.

Q.
Is it possible, with everything you've created for this expansion pack, that The Frozen Throne won't be the final Warcraft 3 expansion pack?
A.
We never close off the possibility, but for us whenever we do an expansion I like to think that we almost over delivery from what everyone expects from us. But it's really important for us to truly make an expansion have a lot of meaning. We don't just want to put three scenarios and a new map on a disc and called it an expansion set. We want to bring something new and something different into the game and the Warcraft world. We haven't talked about doing another expansion pack.

Traditionally we've done an expansion pack like crazy, then moved on because we finally exhaust all the ideas we could get into WarCraft 3 (in this example), and the development team has done everything they can to cram every last bit of gaming goodness into it. I really don't know, we don't have plans right now to do another expansion, but I'll never say never. It depends on if there's a brainstorm that came up to do something new and different that we've not done already.

Q.
You've added some new heroes, will they be introduced in the single player campaign, and how will they affect play on Battle.net?
A.
Well in the single player campaign we introduce the new hero types as characters. So in fact when you first start the game out the first race you play are the Night Elves, and your chasing Illidan. We start by introducing The Warden who is the new Night Elf hero, and so really what you get to do is have an introduction to new concepts of the world, but also introductions to the new characters through a strong presentation. However as you go through the single player campaign, that hero ramps up against several segments of that campaign so really get to play with what their new abilities do. We've done a lot of work to build challenges that are set up to be addressed by specific hero abilities.

All of that makes for a better storyline and a better campaign, and then at the same time get you very familiar with that hero so when you go onto Battle.net you have a much higher facility to play. As far as how it affects Battle.net I think the single biggest thing it does is that it gives players more to play with. You've now got 1 more hero and 2 more units, plus whatever rebalancing we've done. We now also have neutral heroes – 5 in total – that anyone can have. So no matter what race you play you actually have 6 new heroes (per side) to play with. It really opens up strategic options and makes the game more fluid and fun.

Q.
What are some of the new units given to the three races, and which ones are your favorites?
A.
Each race gets 2 new units and really I think that the nicest thing about that is that we took a lot of time on trying to address gameplay issues with the units. A lot of focus is on how they affect the gameplay and balance so one of the things that was nice about that is that we looked at deficit in one of the races and then one of the new units that's a part of that race could address that. For example, with the new Orc hero, one of the problems we wanted to address is that the Orcs don't have a low level means of healing. Healing in their technology tree is fairly high to get to. The other races have some way right when you're starting out to get some level of healing. We had originally balanced the Orcs to be a lot tougher to counter that, but we found that limited the direction when you started playing the Orcs. People would follow one direction when building up because you had to have a big grunt patrol so you could take damage and not worry about healing. We want to give people more options than that, so with the new Orc hero we gave him a healing spell that he could use. Suddenly we found Orc players using new strategies, which is great.

We did the same with the Dragon Hawks in the Blood Elves (human army), because humans had a real hard time taking over strongholds that were well fortified in places surrounded by water. There was no way to get in and take the pounding from the towers, so the Dragon Hawk units are able to lay down a magical fog that obscures the vision of the towers so they can't fire at incoming units. So now humans have a way to bring in troops and not get them slaughtered. There are literally dozens of small things like those two examples that work, and its not done just through creation of units, but tweaking existing ones in order to open up new tactics for players.

Q.
Has the world editor been upgraded at all?
A.
Sure has. Really I think every element of the game has been touched on an improved. The world editor has had a lot of work done to it, having not just more scripting choices for players but we've also added a lot of functionality. One of the reasons we wanted to break out with the Orc campaign was to show the powerful new things that players can do with the world editor. We know one of the things players like to do is make really cool single player maps or multiplayer maps that are story focused. People have been trying to push the RPG element so one of the things we've added specifically is this ability to make a custom campaign and to link maps. What that means is to make the events on one map effect the state of another map.

So, if there was a big chasm of fire that had 2 points of a magical bridge, but there's no way to activate it because I need a key, maybe as I adventure around and play different parts of the campaign and I meet someone who tells me the secret of the bridge, gives me a mission, and once completing that it'll activate that original part about the bridge on the other map. So basically you can do things on one map that effects another. It opens up a whole bunch of gameplay possibilities which is great for making big multimap type of scenarios, which is how we focused the Orc campaign. People who enjoyed that element in WarCraft 3 will definitely be pleased and surprised on how we built and improved on the old ideas.

Q.
How many missions are in these campaigns?
A.
I think the final number was 30 for the Frozen Throne campaign, and then the Orc campaign doesn't divide up that way – there are not "X" number of missions.
Q.
Who came up with the hilarious ending credits of WarCraft3?
A.
You know, that was kind of a big giant group effort from all the guys on the dev team. Everyone threw in something, and we've always wanted to do some weird, funny outtake stuff like you see at the end of Pixar movies. Stuff where they break through that barrier … stuff like the end of Jackie Chan movies. Crazy funny things, but we've never had a real opportunity to do that, especially with the cinematic guys because they're cranking out their work until the final hours of the project. So when we realized we could do all this stuff by making in-game movies, a lot of level designers took it upon themselves to make them and got it in.

My favorite is definitely the big rock concert with Arthas, just really funny. Also the one where they re-create one of the original WarCraft cinematic was funny too. Everyone on the team did get to chip in, and we really loved doing it. Not everyone in the company knew that was getting done, so they only put it in when the game was finished. We're in the final weeks of testing, and we told everyone to check out the credits, which usually people test out to make sure they don't crash. So then everyone looks to "sit through the credits" and then laughter ensues throughout the whole office. It was great!

WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne is the expansion set to the blockbuster smash hit to WarCraft III. Gaming Illustrated's Executive Editor Sean Gibson had a conversation with Blizzard Vice President Bill Roper to discuss everything about the new title.

Also, Gaming Illustrated will be throwing a HUGE Frozen Throne launch party on July 1st @ 6pm at GameCity USA, San Diego's top LAN Gaming Center. There will be giveaways, appearances from some of the top companies in the computer industry, and a huge party atmosphere.

Q.

Can you give a brief description of how long you've been with Blizzard now and your role in Frozen Throne?

A.

I'm Vice President at Blizzard North, and I've been with Blizzard for nine years now. For Frozen Throne I was on what's called a Strike Team which are high level feedback groups and what we do is provide a sounding board and a reality check to the team to try to bring up issues and discussion. Also if the team has 2 or 3 different ideas on how to do something and are looking for feedback and direction, we help provide that for them. Think of us as high level design and reality check managers.

Q.

What's the overall storyline, without giving anything away, of Frozen Throne?

A.

The overarching storyline for Frozen Throne is that players are going back to Azeroth a few months after Archimond and the Burning Legion are defeated. We have a new threat now, basically where the night elves have kind of vanished back into the shadows to start back the healing of the lands of Azeroth. The Horde have kind of pulled themselves out of things. They have been given/taken over the eastern lands of Kalimdor, where they are making a homeland of their own. In the original Warcraft II, the portal was destroyed and in that expansion we actually destroyed their entire planet. We got a little crazy there (laughs). They've not had a place to call their own for a while in our history, so, in the Frozen Throne the element with them is that they've kind of pulled away from the Undead, Night Elves, and the Humans to go build their own homeland. In fact to reflect that, we've given them their own campaign, so there's two campaigns in this expansion.

The Humans are under the command of Jana Proudmoore, and they are basically tied up safeguarding the last remnants of the failing human alliance. Of course there's Arthas and the Undead, and he is driven in the storyline by visions of an ancient artifact that's the Frozen Throne of Icecrown. It's a very powerful ancient device that he wants to assume for himself to give him massive power so he can have the ability to take over all of Azeroth. There's other forces in the world still that want that for themselves, namely Illidan the Night Elf who was freed at the end of War3, and he was kind of a new contingent of evil called the Naga, which is a new race we're introducing. They're also going for the Throne. So, through the storyline that encompasses the Undead, The Night Elves, and the Humans, there's a huge race for this object of power, with the Night Elves basically being represented by their evil side, being Illidian.

The Humans are basically caught in the middle trying to stay alive and stop the other sides if they can. That's the "Frozen Throne" campaign. There's another campaign for the Orcs, and that one is really special because not only is it separated from the other storyline, it's also been done very differently. The Frozen Throne campaign drives much the same way that the campaigns in WarCraft III were driven, a story told in sequence. The Orc campaign is designed to take advantage of the things we can do with our revamped world editor. It's very RPG intensive and really kind of pushes the limits of putting RPG elements in an RTS game. It plays very differently, has a different flow to the story, and I think that players will get to see not only an expansion set but also an expansion to the WarCraft universe. We tell more story in the same amount of space.

Q.

Is it possible, with everything you've created for this expansion pack, that The Frozen Throne won't be the final Warcraft 3 expansion pack?

A.

We never close off the possibility, but for us whenever we do an expansion I like to think that we almost over delivery from what everyone expects from us. But it's really important for us to truly make an expansion have a lot of meaning. We don't just want to put three scenarios and a new map on a disc and called it an expansion set. We want to bring something new and something different into the game and the Warcraft world. We haven't talked about doing another expansion pack.

Traditionally we've done an expansion pack like crazy, then moved on because we finally exhaust all the ideas we could get into WarCraft 3 (in this example), and the development team has done everything they can to cram every last bit of gaming goodness into it. I really don't know, we don't have plans right now to do another expansion, but I'll never say never. It depends on if there's a brainstorm that came up to do something new and different that we've not done already.

Q.

You've added some new heroes, will they be introduced in the single player campaign, and how will they affect play on Battle.net?

A.

Well in the single player campaign we introduce the new hero types as characters. So in fact when you first start the game out the first race you play are the Night Elves, and your chasing Illidan. We start by introducing The Warden who is the new Night Elf hero, and so really what you get to do is have an introduction to new concepts of the world, but also introductions to the new characters through a strong presentation. However as you go through the single player campaign, that hero ramps up against several segments of that campaign so really get to play with what their new abilities do. We've done a lot of work to build challenges that are set up to be addressed by specific hero abilities.

All of that makes for a better storyline and a better campaign, and then at the same time get you very familiar with that hero so when you go onto Battle.net you have a much higher facility to play. As far as how it affects Battle.net I think the single biggest thing it does is that it gives players more to play with. You've now got 1 more hero and 2 more units, plus whatever rebalancing we've done. We now also have neutral heroes – 5 in total – that anyone can have. So no matter what race you play you actually have 6 new heroes (per side) to play with. It really opens up strategic options and makes the game more fluid and fun.

Q.

What are some of the new units given to the three races, and which ones are your favorites?

A.

Each race gets 2 new units and really I think that the nicest thing about that is that we took a lot of time on trying to address gameplay issues with the units. A lot of focus is on how they affect the gameplay and balance so one of the things that was nice about that is that we looked at deficit in one of the races and then one of the new units that's a part of that race could address that. For example, with the new Orc hero, one of the problems we wanted to address is that the Orcs don't have a low level means of healing. Healing in their technology tree is fairly high to get to. The other races have some way right when you're starting out to get some level of healing. We had originally balanced the Orcs to be a lot tougher to counter that, but we found that limited the direction when you started playing the Orcs. People would follow one direction when building up because you had to have a big grunt patrol so you could take damage and not worry about healing. We want to give people more options than that, so with the new Orc hero we gave him a healing spell that he could use. Suddenly we found Orc players using new strategies, which is great.

We did the same with the Dragon Hawks in the Blood Elves (human army), because humans had a real hard time taking over strongholds that were well fortified in places surrounded by water. There was no way to get in and take the pounding from the towers, so the Dragon Hawk units are able to lay down a magical fog that obscures the vision of the towers so they can't fire at incoming units. So now humans have a way to bring in troops and not get them slaughtered. There are literally dozens of small things like those two examples that work, and its not done just through creation of units, but tweaking existing ones in order to open up new tactics for players.

Q.

Has the world editor been upgraded at all?

A.

Sure has. Really I think every element of the game has been touched on an improved. The world editor has had a lot of work done to it, having not just more scripting choices for players but we've also added a lot of functionality. One of the reasons we wanted to break out with the Orc campaign was to show the powerful new things that players can do with the world editor. We know one of the things players like to do is make really cool single player maps or multiplayer maps that are story focused. People have been trying to push the RPG element so one of the things we've added specifically is this ability to make a custom campaign and to link maps. What that means is to make the events on one map effect the state of another map.

So, if there was a big chasm of fire that had 2 points of a magical bridge, but there's no way to activate it because I need a key, maybe as I adventure around and play different parts of the campaign and I meet someone who tells me the secret of the bridge, gives me a mission, and once completing that it'll activate that original part about the bridge on the other map. So basically you can do things on one map that effects another. It opens up a whole bunch of gameplay possibilities which is great for making big multimap type of scenarios, which is how we focused the Orc campaign. People who enjoyed that element in WarCraft 3 will definitely be pleased and surprised on how we built and improved on the old ideas.

Q.

How many missions are in these campaigns?

A.

I think the final number was 30 for the Frozen Throne campaign, and then the Orc campaign doesn't divide up that way – there are not "X" number of missions.

Q.

Who came up with the hilarious ending credits of WarCraft3?

A.

You know, that was kind of a big giant group effort from all the guys on the dev team. Everyone threw in something, and we've always wanted to do some weird, funny outtake stuff like you see at the end of Pixar movies. Stuff where they break through that barrier … stuff like the end of Jackie Chan movies. Crazy funny things, but we've never had a real opportunity to do that, especially with the cinematic guys because they're cranking out their work until the final hours of the project. So when we realized we could do all this stuff by making in-game movies, a lot of level designers took it upon themselves to make them and got it in.

My favorite is definitely the big rock concert with Arthas, just really funny. Also the one where they re-create one of the original WarCraft cinematic was funny too. Everyone on the team did get to chip in, and we really loved doing it. Not everyone in the company knew that was getting done, so they only put it in when the game was finished. We're in the final weeks of testing, and we told everyone to check out the credits, which usually people test out to make sure they don't crash. So then everyone looks to "sit through the credits" and then laughter ensues throughout the whole office. It was great!

Sean W. Gibson

Sean W. Gibson

Founder, Featured Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Sean Gibson has been the owner and Executive Editor of Gaming Illustrated for over eleven years. His roles include acting as CEO and President of Gaming Illustrated, LLC and also includes being a reviewer, previewer and interviewer.
Sean W. Gibson
Sean W. Gibson

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