Monday, November 26, 2012

Coffee With Fake Developers

Q:  Who are you?

A: My name is Herman “Flinger” Brown.  I am the lead poop designer for World of Warcraft.

Q: So what is it that you do?

A: World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game with many intricate game systems and a tremendous amount of background lore.  I am in charge of all the poop-related aspects of that.

Q: But poop is a small part of the game.

A: Well, in Mists of Pandaria, we’ve done a top-to-bottom revamp of our cooking system.  There are a lot of new banquets being prepared in the game.  And when people are eating fried carp cakes, there’s going to be a lot of pooping.  At this point, about 17% of World of Warcraft’s quests involve poop.   Poop actually interacts with a wide variety of game systems.
This expansion has seen a considerable expansion of my role, because we’ve incorporated a poop-themed NPC race, the Hozen.

Q: The Hozen are monkey-people.

A: Yes.  Poop monkeys.  Poop is integral to Hozen lore and culture, and it was very important that this rich brown thematic material was included in the gameplay elements as well as the story elements.  So, for example, when there is an attack like “Fling Filth,” I will be coordinating with the art team and determining what sort of animation we need to create for a fistful of monkey poop hitting the player in the face, and I will also be in touch with encounter design to discuss what sort of damage effect and splash radius makes sense, given the texture and consistency of this particular enemy character’s feces.

Q: But poop is just poop.

A: That’s far from the truth.  Monkey poop is very different from something like dragon poop.  You don’t want to see a rhinoceros dropping little bunny pellets, and we have a lot of decisions to make that most people wouldn’t even think of when we incorporate the poop of mythical creatures into the game.  

Does dragon poop come out in a viscous even patty, like cow dung? Or is it full of bones and hair like owl poop?  Does a vampire pop a squat like a regular person, or does it spray a stream of liquid filth like a bird or a bat?  It’s a humanoid, remember, but it is on an all-liquid diet.  We’ve got new creatures called cloud serpents in Mists of Pandaria, which are like dragons, but not connected to our dragon lore.  Should they poop like dragons, or should their poop be different?

Q: I don’t really see why that matters.

A: It matters a great deal, actually.  We’ve even got a daily quest that invites people to explore the poop of cloud serpents, which turns out to be full of carnivorous maggots called Siftworms.

Every time the quest team or the story team or the encounter team has a question like this, they bring me in on the meeting, to make sure all our decisions about these things are consistency.  I guess you could say I am in charge of poo continuity.

Q: How did you get this position?

A: Well, I was the junior designer on the quest team during “Burning Crusade,” and when the lead designers were shown the Nagrand area populated with Clefthoof buffalo-rhinos, somebody commented that those things probably just spent their time crapping all over the landscape.  Somehow, the clefthoof poop idea stuck, and they assigned me to make a quest about it.  

The Nagrand quest invited players to get elbow-deep into those clefthoof piles looking for magic beans, and, as a reward, we let players put the beans in their mouths. They liked it so much that we added a quest to Hellfire Peninsula in which an NPC asks the player to help out with retrieving some keys his dog swallowed.

These quests proved to be very popular, so when Wrath of the Lich King came around, I submitted ideas for about a dozen more poop-related quests, including the beloved outhouse line in Grizzly Hills, which invites players to gather ingredients for a magic laxative. 

By Cataclysm I was dealing with poop full-time.  We wanted to integrate poop back into the 1-60 leveling experience.  I’m especially proud of one quest from the Alliance “Rambo” questline in Redridge mountains, where we invited players to smear fox poop all over their faces.  

We also had some new races, which meant we had a lot of decisions to make.  Some of the Tol’Vir people of Uldum have been turned into stone sphinx guys. Do those guys poop regular poop, or do they poop rocks or something?  To say nothing of shale spiders.

And there were a lot of decisions to make about Deathwing.  Does his poop have chunks of metal in it? Is it on fire? He’s such an iconic character, so it was very important to get his poop right.

With the Hozen and the wider variety of poops in Mists of Pandaria, of course, I’m busier than ever.

Q: Tell me about your role in developing the Hozen.

Ghostcrawler called me into his office and told me it was time to really step up to a more prominent role on the team.  He handed me some concept art of a monkey-guy, and a couple of pages of lore information, and he asked me to look at it, and come back to tell him what sort of dialog this creature might have.

I went back to my desk, and I got myself a big cup of coffee, and I worked through the night.  

The next day, I went back to Ghostcrawler, and I pointed at the picture, and I said: “Ook-Ook!”

He said: “Ook-Ook?”

And I said: “Ook-Ook!”

He looked kind of disappointed. He said: “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”

And I was kind of caught out, because I thought that was pretty good.  But then, off the top of my head, I said: “Me gonna ook you in the dooker!” And he smiled.

That was maybe the best day of my life.

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