Game Front On Location – StarCraft 2: Heart Of The Swarm Launch (Interview)
As the first week of the long awaited Heart of the Swarm expansion for StarCraft 2 draws to a close, it’s prudent to look back on the night it finally came out. We were on hand for the launch of Heart of the Swarm, both at Blizzard’s famously nerded out campus where we were treated to a no-photos sneak peak at the Blizzard museum’s still unrevealed HOTS makeover, and later at a mall in Irvine where the company traditionally hosts its obscenely wholesome launch events. (See also last year’s Mists of Pandaria launch.) What we saw was a tiny taste of things to come with this summer’s return of Blizzcon, with a competitive game of HOTS played by two noted StarCraft pros, and plenty of fans lined up to watch and celebrate the occasion.
We also had the chance to speak to lead artist Sam “Samwise” Didier for a short conversation about the making of the expansion. We had an interesting discussion about the aesthetics that went into the game, the thinking behind the development of Kerrigan, and what it’s like to shift gears from WoW to SC.
To preserve the way things went down, we’ve posted the interview as it happened.
Game Front: You’re notable for having designed the Pandarians. Can you talk about what it’s like to see your work on Wow become that?
Sam Didier: With the Pandarians, it was fantastic to be in a Blizzard game, more of a sense of actually being part of the lore. Normally we had them in there as sort of an April Fool’s, or as a one-off hero for something like Frozen Throne, or a couple of little goofy things, so it’s really nice actually seeing them in the game.
What really blows me away is that there were maybe 10 or 15 pictures of Pandarians I’d done in my entire life. The WoW team, from those 10 or 15, created an entire expansion, and added to it, did things that I would never have thought of. It was really great seeing it go from something that was almost purely personal to really being part of Blizzard now, being made Blizzard-worthy.
GF: What about the difference between your work there and on Heart of the Swarm?
SD: On my end, the difference is about fifteen percent. What I mean by that is, when we create art for StarCraft there’s a certain look to it. But a lot of that might look too cartoony for our more realistic science fiction games, so we usually scale everything back fifteen percent. So, artists who use Photoshop, (laughs), the difference between a Warcraft red and a StarCraft red is go into the color menu and turn town the saturation fifteen percent. Guys who use 3D models, the hands, shoulder pads, everything like that, scale them down about fifteen percent; now it’s more in the lines of the StarCraft universe. Our texturing in StarCraft is still hand-drawn, but it’s not as reliant on super bold, bright colors, super crazy proportions, it’s slightly more on the edge, about fifteen percent more realistic.
GF: We often hear how creating a game is a huge collaboration between pretty much everybody. Can you tell us if, as the art director, if you had input on stuff like gameplay, how the story comes together, in Heart of the Swarm?
To a large degree, everyone on the team has that, though there is someone who definitely has to be holding the vision. But those guys are cool enough to know that they’re not the only ones who have a good idea. So there’ll be a main story idea that we’ll follow up on, but if someone says ‘hey, you know it’d be cool if Kerrigan did this, or if instead of this guy being a total jerk, he was cool to this other person?’ So they take in all these things, they’re story writers, they’re just like artists. If someone says to me ‘hey, what if we added a cool fin here?’, and I realize that really would look cool. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s a cool idea. If the idea sucks, we’re not going to use, so you can’t get upset, but if it’s cool, we use it.
Not every decision is made by a huge committee, otherwise nothing would ever get done, but we’re all fans of video games, we all know what sounds cool and what doesn’t, we all know what would be fun to play and what wouldn’t, so if someone suggests something, no one’s going to say ‘that’s not my idea, so we’re not putting it in.’
GF: So would you say in your position that you had a lot of input on this expansion beyond your specific job description?
SD: Yeah, sure, I mean, I don’t really recall any specific things. For the next game, there is, but I can’t talk about that. (Laughs) But seriously, there was a suggestion I made that people really took to, so I’m excited. But a lot of times, without making a verbal pitch, I’ll make a picture of something, like the Zerg armorer who creates and weaves all the genetic strands. Looking at that art, that conveys to the writer that ‘he’s kind of big and monstrous, so he should have this type of voice, this type of sound when he talks’. But he has these skinny little arms, you know T-Rexes would laugh at those arms, so maybe that conveys ‘maybe he’s weak and sort of non-confrontational’. So in the game, Kerrigan is like “Back off!” and he kind of shrinks down. Hail to the queen.
So there’s ways to add to the story, even to the design, just by doing the art. If I draw a big badass, the developers aren’t going to make him a quick nimble shooter. I think, you know a picture is a thousand words? Give them 10 pictures and you’ve got a cool story.