MMO-Champion - Artcraft—The Spires of Arak
Artcraft—The Spires of Arak
Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Artcraft. I’m Chris Robinson, senior art director on World of Warcraft, and today our environment team is going to give you a look at one of the zones we’re creating for Warlords of Draenor, as well as share some insight into how we approach creating environment art. Take it away Gary!

Hey, I’m Gary Platner, lead environment artist on World of Warcraft. I direct a team of artists who help create the world . . . of Warcraft. We shape the land; texture it; place the trees, rocks, and buildings; and design the “sets” where our quest team will later place the “actors.” Today we’re going to be showing you some of what's going into the creation of the Spires of Arak. This location that would later become known as Terokkar Forest, but in Draenor-terms, this zone is the home of the regal, sinister, and flighted arakkoa.

One of the best parts about working on WoW for me is when we first start a new exterior zone. Creativity reigns, and almost anything goes—it’s real blue sky stuff. When we started working on Spires of Arak, we only had some basic ideas: tall rocky spires jutting out of a dense forest. So we got together to talk about what that might look like, and soon afterward, artist Jimmy Lo started making concepts.

Based on these concepts, we could tell right away that this zone was going to present some unique challenges. The biggest one was how we were going to build the large spiky rocks that would give the zone its distinctive look. We had two basic methods in mind to create those spires. Some of us thought that the best way would be to make most of the rocks as 3D props instead of using our terrain editor to sculpt the landscape into tall spires. 3D props have some distinct advantages, since building a prop allows for the creation of fully 3D objects of any shape, which gives us a lot of design freedom. The downside is they tend to be difficult to blend into the landscape in a natural-looking way (see the original Blade’s Edge Mountains in Outland). They’re also much more difficult to iterate on as design needs change. If instead we used our terrain editor to create the spires, that would allow us a lot of freedom to iterate on zone layout and design without needing to fidget with large pieces of premade geometry, with the potential downside of not being able to do the concept justice.


Our design team wanted to at least give the terrain editor option a chance, so they embarked on creating a proof of concept to see how well it could work. A lot of us contributed to the Spires of Arak, but ultimately Matt Sanders (exterior level designer) and Kelli Hoover (environment artist) were tasked with creating the zone. Kelli gathered resource material and started to do some paint-overs of our concepts in order to unify a distinctive new color palette. Meanwhile, Matt created the proof of concept in our editing tools in order to test ideas for creating large spiky rocks with the exterior terrain editor.

Kelli gathered a lot of reference pictures, paying special attention to color and mood. She then slightly recolored Jimmy’s concepts to model different times of day.


Then Kelli moved on to testing texture ideas by creating rough and quick block-out textures, which aren’t intended to look final but help give us an idea of color and detail. We can paint these rough textures over the landscape and do various tests to help us see how they interact. We can also see how the textures change and distort as they are painted on steep mountain terrain.


As you can see here, Matt and Kelli experimented with different textures and geometry in an attempt to duplicate the concepts from Jimmy.

Kelli and Matt discovered that using a striated rock texture would actually work better than a simpler rock pattern, and the striations give the impression of upward movement. These linear texture shapes would also bend and stretch well over the exterior terrain creating a really unique look for the zone.

Once Matt and Kelli finalized their demo zone and we agreed that everything was heading in the right direction, the real work could begin. Now the whole zone could be completed using the style and techniques that worked in the small demo zone. They’d still have to work out the look for some of the smaller subzones, though, like dense forests, beaches, and a massive thorny bramble where the Shattered Hand orcs dwell.


Last but not least, we’ve prepared a short video for you to demonstrate the various steps involved in creating the Spires of Arak. Thanks for tuning in, and we look forward to sharing more with you in the future!

This article was originally published in forum thread: Artcraft—The Spires of Arak started by chaud View original post
Comments 68 Comments
  1. Designer's Avatar
    It is annoying as most of Wow spikes look quite the same. You have great tools to create what you like, but no, there is always spikes and hills that look quite the same as always.

    There should be more randomness to it, and procedurally form cliffs to look like something in nature.
  1. Chin Music's Avatar
    What happened to the twisted trees and blue leaf canopy? They got the spires right, but the colour scheme doesn't jive with the concept art.
  1. Tristaris's Avatar
    Actually really liked this video! Looking like a beautiful zone, and to see it come together is awesome.
  1. thilicen's Avatar
    Nice to see how it's all "hand-painted". Makes me appreciate it that much more. Looks great!
  1. Bobislost's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Designer View Post
    It is annoying as most of Wow spikes look quite the same. You have great tools to create what you like, but no, there is always spikes and hills that look quite the same as always.

    There should be more randomness to it, and procedurally form cliffs to look like something in nature.
    well it's hard for it to not look similar when it needs to look similar to outland
  1. Mr Chaos's Avatar
    Would like to see more underground areas than the same old above ground tree's and loads of hills. In WoD with no flying i can see myself trying to take shortcuts running up hills and hitting invisible ledges.
  1. Designer's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Bobislost View Post
    well it's hard for it to not look similar when it needs to look similar to outland
    You have a good point, but on the other hand Outland was supposed to be created from scratch. Why not make it look way more awesome than before? I can accept some variation to the landscape when the theme stays the same. But that video looked like it is all about the same old technique of creating hills again. It is really easy to do some spikes. Just keep pushing mouse on one point and the tool raises land. It is totally different video game to create many kinds of rocks, boulders, and other wildy stuff. Now it looks like somebody raised some land with a tool, tweaked it a bit, and then applied some fancy pattern. Even the pattern is repeated, not procedural, I guess. I mean, tool raised a bit tweaked land covered with repeated pattern is so last decade.

    Also the exploration experience is not so good, when you keep trying to figure out can you go up here or not. In Pandaria you mostly could not, as the area was a bottle. So I wanted to get somewhere but ended up humping hills because I didn't know can I climb it or not. There were not so much exploration in it than blindly humping every hill there was in the area.

    And the hills and paths you could climb or walk on, look so ordinary and cartoony. There was not so much of exploration in that either, as you could clearly see that yeah there is a path, just walk on it, or yeah there is relatively flat, you can walk on it. If you see a hill, it is propably too steep to climb and propably also doesn't lead to anywhere useful. Ok there has been also hills with reasonable exciting walkways, but in general if you see a hill, it is propably just a useless boring hill, raised with a tool and tweaked like all the other hills.
  1. Kaprin's Avatar
    Looks really good. I love seeing the process. Go art team!
  1. sebun's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Chin Music View Post
    What happened to the twisted trees and blue leaf canopy? They got the spires right, but the colour scheme doesn't jive with the concept art.
    You are thinking Terokkar, which is represented in WoD by Talador, not Spires of Arak. There's nothing left of Spires of Arak in BC Outland.

    See here for Talador
  1. Kryos's Avatar
    The engine is really limited. There is no way to create structures like this:

    or even that
  1. Raysz's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Everything Nice View Post
    oooh, first reply! More looking forwards to the next character model though.
    Me too. Really interested in the new models. Don't care much for the scenery, never liked Outland or TBC as a whole really.
    One of the reasons I'm not really looking forward to WoD.

    The new character models are very nice so far though.
  1. Kryos's Avatar
    The scale looks wrong compared to the artwork. Those spires are hill sized. In the artwork they are massive and the trees are blue:


  1. Zoaric's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Chaos View Post
    Would like to see more underground areas than the same old above ground tree's and loads of hills. In WoD with no flying i can see myself trying to take shortcuts running up hills and hitting invisible ledges.
    I don't mind invisible ledges, just so long as there's no invisible walls.
  1. john duo's Avatar
    its amazing over what ppl now days get hyped about...
    TBH the end result of this video is nothing like the concept art...the ground should be more darker and the trees should allmost block out the sun like an evil forest,
    but what i see , for me , resembles the barrens : light brown color on almost everything , a tree here and there and some flora on the ground...

    its amazing how quick & easy it looks in the video to design a zone when you have such an advanced design tool, a brush and a click away and ppl get hyped about it rather than thinking
    what else is there in WOD besides new zones that takes so much time to do? and what about those x-titan programers that blizz said will join the wow team? isnt that supposed to
    quick up things ? yet it seems we might gonna break the long ICC record...
  1. OmniSkribe's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Kryos View Post
    The engine is really limited. There is no way to create structures like this:

    or even that
    Actually no. They can create mountains like in picture or in Skyrim. If you look at Skyrim ground it's the same as in Wow, it's a terrain grid with plopped meshes on it.

    Look at the mountains in Skyrim, they are meshes created and placed separately. The same method is used in Vale of Eternal Blossoms cliffs for example. You can check them out and will notice that green cliff itself is just mesh.

    Why Blizzard use is rarely I don't know, but they use this method and engine allows them to do so.
  1. Rocheku's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by john duo View Post
    its amazing over what ppl now days get hyped about...
    TBH the end result of this video is nothing like the concept art...the ground should be more darker and the trees should allmost block out the sun like an evil forest,
    but what i see , for me , resembles the barrens : light brown color on almost everything , a tree here and there and some flora on the ground...

    its amazing how quick & easy it looks in the video to design a zone when you have such an advanced design tool, a brush and a click away and ppl get hyped about it rather than thinking
    what else is there in WOD besides new zones that takes so much time to do? and what about those x-titan programers that blizz said will join the wow team? isnt that supposed to
    quick up things ? yet it seems we might gonna break the long ICC record...

    Its the same people that scream like teenage girls and smash their piggybanks as soon as Blizzard pumps out another Store item, While Blizzard leans back in their office chairs laughing their asses off.

    There is absolutely nothing new thats gonna shake things up a bit for the next expansion. No real exciting feature at all. Garrisons? Farm 2.0. New models? Long overdue and doesnt add any new exciting gameplay. Mythic raiding? Not the first time the setups of raiding got changed. On top of that: recycled lore, removal of flying mounts cuz you know, "immersion gaise!" like adding aerial dangers and obstacles is hard to implement.

    I unsubbed a while ago and am still waiting for anything exciting that will change my mind. But so far all i see is an expansion that might aswell have been labeled as a giant patch.
  1. dmcraanen's Avatar
    It's because they feel the meshes don't merge well into the rest of the environment, and I agree. Played a number of MMOs and I can't help noticing that WoW landscapes that are made solely with the landscape editor feel a lot more natural and smooth, even though its engine may be old. I would've liked to see them make the spires taller though, but obviously the taller they are the wider the base the less spires. Sadly. Overall looks good - I agree the trees ought to be blue and plentiful. They told us it'd be swampy and dark underneath them, so go go give it.
  1. Rorcanna's Avatar
    Yes yes, nice zone, now show some more models! .

    Also still waiting on word from Zangar Sea, the concept art for that place was amazing beyond words. Hope they haven't scrapped it completely.


    Quote Originally Posted by Rocheku View Post
    Its the same people that scream like teenage girls and smash their piggybanks as soon as Blizzard pumps out another Store item, While Blizzard leans back in their office chairs laughing their asses off.

    There is absolutely nothing new thats gonna shake things up a bit for the next expansion. No real exciting feature at all. Garrisons? Farm 2.0. New models? Long overdue and doesnt add any new exciting gameplay. Mythic raiding? Not the first time the setups of raiding got changed. On top of that: recycled lore, removal of flying mounts cuz you know, "immersion gaise!" like adding aerial dangers and obstacles is hard to implement.

    I unsubbed a while ago and am still waiting for anything exciting that will change my mind. But so far all i see is an expansion that might aswell have been labeled as a giant patch.
    "I'm not excited for something, so nobody else should be either since my OPINION is the right one".

    That's what I read from your post. QQ more, people will still be legitimately excited for this new expansion since, guess what, not everyone agrees with you.
  1. Designer's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by dmcraanen View Post
    It's because they feel the meshes don't merge well into the rest of the environment, and I agree. Played a number of MMOs and I can't help noticing that WoW landscapes that are made solely with the landscape editor feel a lot more natural and smooth, even though its engine may be old.
    I think I agree on the mesh not meshing well. If I remember correctly, some forests had some mesh that looked like there were two patterns on top of each other but looked artificial, because they didn't mix well.

    Quote Originally Posted by dmcraanen View Post
    I would've liked to see them make the spires taller though, but obviously the taller they are the wider the base the less spires. Sadly. Overall looks good - I agree the trees ought to be blue and plentiful. They told us it'd be swampy and dark underneath them, so go go give it.
    I have said before that it would be nice to get one zone that is for example one huge dungeon or something. It could be for example one huge spire with forest all over in the base, and you need to find a way up inside the spire.

    They did large dome like structure in water zone, but though it were large, it was not well designed. Better design would have been to have rooms and stuff going on, it is boring to get one huge dome.
  1. brt2pp's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Masternewt View Post
    BETA!!! Oh, no, wait ... just more pointless information and some random JPGs. Such fun.
    you won't get into beta anyway so why so hyped about it ?

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