Spotting so many trench coats, Stormtroopers, and fairy costumes in one place can only mean one thing: Gen Con is back in town! The convention that boasts that it bled the city of Indianapolis dry of Mountain Dew last year was back in full force at the Anaheim Convention Center here in Southern California over the weekend. While there was plenty to see and do at the show, the real action was taking place at NVIDIA’s booth where Blizzard was showing an alpha build of its latest project, World of Warcraft. GameSpy had the pleasure to spend several hours with the game and some of its designers. To say we left impressed would be a drastic understatement.
To begin, it is important to note the sheer amount of polish that already exists in the alpha build that Blizzard demoed at the show. To clarify, I’ve installed retail products on my machine that seemed much buggier than what was shown. The game, which was being demoed on two machines running at 1280×1024, looked incredibly detailed for an MMORPG. The models, scenery, and lighting were quite amazing, indeed. So when Blizzard Level Designer, Joshua Kurtz said, “Oh, why don’t we turn on the pixel shaders?” and I realized the game was capable of looking even better, I was astounded. To be blunt, World of Warcraft is gorgeous.
Each race has its own special abilities.
After recovering from my initial impressions, I set out to find as much information about the state of the game and its mysterious features as possible. I was especially interested to know: how unique and customizable would each of the game’s eight races be? In the character creation menu, each new model comes complete with options for hairstyle, facial features, skin tone, and facial hair. You’ll be happy to note that you’ll be able to create some extremely unique-looking characters complete with the option to add elements like mohawks, braided beards, spikes, and foot-long handlebar mustaches to your avatar. The race you choose also determines which languages your character will be fluent in. I soon found that my Gnomish partner could not understand my Dwarvish drawl, as the word “Hello” merely sounded like “Dur Otar,” to him. In addition, your character’s race will determine its home city.
Each race begins the game with different advantages over the others. For example, Tauren can perform a “bull rush” attack, Gnomes come with frost resistance, Forsaken can breathe water naturally, and Dwarves can use an ability to search for hidden booty called “find treasure.” I asked one of Blizzard’s Associate Designers, John Yoo, how much time it would take a new character to meet up with a friend of a different race? He said that around level ten — approximately five hours of game time for skilled players — will likely be the amount of time necessary before players will first encounter characters of other races.
Each race will also have access to different animals to mount. For example, the Humans will ride horses, the Forsaken will mount beasts called Nightmares, Dwarves will ride rams, and Orcs will travel atop wolves. When I inquired about what type of animal mount would be available to Gnome players, Yoo exclaimed, “We don’t know yet, but I am hoping its bunnies!”