Making WoW – Challenges of Filming a Game Trailer, AMA with Author John Staats

Making WoW - Challenges of Filming a Game Trailer, AMA with Author John Staats

Last year, John Staats published The WoW Diary, a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of vanilla Warcraft. Today we’re bringing you another essay on vanilla development from Staats, so sit back and enjoy the nostalgia!

This week’s essay is Challenges of Filming a Game Trailer, discussing the issues faced when the dev team had to create early cinematic footage for vanilla WoW.

Have any questions on the essay or vanilla WoW development in general? He’ll be checking out the comments section and answering them, so you may learn something new!

A million years ago, I designed and built half of the dungeons in vanilla WoW. If you have any questions about making the game, I’m happy to answer, here on Wowhead. – John Staats

“Everybody get back to their places!” Mark Kern shouted down the hallway. After spending two hours filming a scene of characters running together downhill, everyone’s patience was stretched thin. A dozen or so people were trying to film scenes for a gameplay trailer (to accompany our announcement), and no one liked the results. “Get ready! One, two, three—go!” After a few moments, groans and recriminations erupted. “Who didn’t go?! We have two people not running!” Onlookers quietly chuckled and shook their heads at the debacle. Shane Dabiri was on the other side of the building, filming in a cinematics office. Someone leaned into Shane’s temporary recording studio and explained that not all the actors in the game had speakerphones. Once again, shouts carried through the office hallway directing the actors to return to their places. While the programmers shut their doors, the easily distracted artists gathered to watch the train wreck but just as quickly grew bored watching the process. As in movies and television, the majority of the time on a set wasn’t filming—it was an exercise in waiting for everyone to get ready.

On the screen, about a dozen or so team members had orc and human characters dressed in our newest armor pieces. Devs considered it cool to be in-the-know about the latest features, cheats, and art assets, so everyone was on the lookout for the latest fashion statements. If someone knew about a new helmet, they’d put it on to show off.

News traveled to Shane’s makeshift studio that someone had crashed and couldn’t log back on to the server, and there was no way to know how long it would take for them to get back into the game. He talked into his phone, which conferenced to half of the actors. “There are too many orcs, some of you guys have to be human!” After a brief standoff, someone relented and changed to a human character. “We need to get the sun on the horizon!” someone said on the speakerphone. “Shane, make sure you reset the time of day before you yell ‘action.’”

We learned after losing an entire day to filming that we needed a smoother camera. Our game’s frame rate was great, but the in-game camera was for playing, not recording, and its jittery mouse-controlled movements didn’t look very slick. Days later, after programmers delivered a smoother joystick-controlled camera, the footage was reshot, yet the results only supplied a few seconds of in-game footage.

Days later, Shane played the recorded footage with overdubbed combat sounds and Victor Crews’ music score from Warcraft III. For the first trailer, we decided to cut down on the choreography and just show characters standing or fighting in place. We saved the bigger battles and choreographed “Braveheart charging scenes” for a later gameplay trailer when the game was more robust in features and art assets.

Blizzard veterans knew that our screenshots were under intense scrutiny by the fans, press, and industry peers, so we too over-analyzed everything. We were also wary of reusing icon art borrowed from Warcraft III, which had considerably more public exposure. We worried our game wouldn’t look robust if fans recognized the same icon art (we were later relieved to learn fans liked seeing familiar icons). We also held back on all our game’s details. We didn’t want to give away too much because of the PR mistakes we made with Diablo II: When the game finally released, everything about it was already old news.

Allen Adham sat with Shane at his desk in the hallway and perused hundreds of screenshots under consideration for the impending ECTS announcement and upcoming magazine spread. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the dev team knew when Allen was at Shane’s desk, it was a time to check out new things! People gathered behind them to eavesdrop and, of course, to offer their unsolicited opinions. Allen and Shane remarked on the beauty of the screenshots. After a while, Allen got up to leave and said to the crowd behind him, “I would give anything to be a fly on the wall in the EverQuest offices after they see these screenshots. You guys should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

If you found this essay interesting, consider purchasing The WoW Diary on Amazon:

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