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Interview: Blizzard’s Chris Metzen on the WoW movie, Heart of the Swarm, more

Wednesday, 28 April 2010 09:21 GMT By Justin Kranzl

chrismetzen

It’s late in the afternoon and it’s fitting to find the developer known as the Bourbon Cowboy – Chris Metzen – on horseback. Admittedly, it’s a virtual steed; we’ve just walked in on him playing World of Warcraft in his office at Blizzard’s Irvine, CA headquarters. It turns out even the mind behind some of the most distinctive (and lucrative) worlds known in gaming – StarCraft, Warcraft and Diablo – is an achievement junkie, with Metzen trying to nail in-game exploration accolades “between meetings”.

Or at least that’s his story.

Metzen’s title at Blizzard is “vice president of creative development”, which is corporate longhand for being the company’s de facto creative director. Play a Blizzard game published in the past decade-and-a-half, and chances are you’ll experience his stories and scripting, see his art or hear him, as Metzen also undertakes voice acting duties on the company’s games. When customers pick up StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty later this year, much of what they will experience bears his imprimatur. And when they or their friends venture into the next World of Warcraft expansion (Cataclysm) months later, the concept and new game world they will find is spawned from the same mind.

Metzen’s office – like those of many game developers – is a colourful ode to fantasy and science fiction’s creative influence. A scale model of Darth Vader’s head oversees a distracting array of figurines, art and publications. When Blizzard has to counsel staff at its sprawling Irvine HQ, this would be the last place it’d choose. It’s just too playful.

We’re ostensibly here to discuss StarCraft II, however Metzen’s influence ensured the discussion went beyond that. Blizzard’s first feature film adaptation (Warcraft), gaming’s assumption of narrative control in major franchises, and Activision’s recent corporate travails are all topics of frequent discussion outside of the company walls; we were curious to get impressions from within.

VG247: How far into mapping out the second instalment of StarCraft II are you now?

Chris Metzen: We meet on it all the time. We know what the arc is – we know how it starts and ends, we know what all the major characters are and most of the secondary characters, but we’re not quite at the point of having actual mission design, since most of the designers are still cranking away to get [first instalment] Wings of Liberty out. The story team’s well in advance of it, but the dev side is still obviously finishing up this one. Until they really activate, that’s when things really get moving. At this point we’re still largely talking story, theme, kind of roughing-out cinematic ideas and things like that.

The first instalment is told largely through a human protagonist. What differences are there in creating a storyline from an alien perspective – specifically the insect-like Zerg – in the next chapter, Heart of the Swarm?

Chris Metzen: We talk about it often. How do you take really grotesque alien characters and get people to empathize with them? How do you personify these creepy-creepies and make them endearing? We’re still really at the point of constructing these  characters so we don’t exactly know. We’ll feel it out as we go – the one benefit is that the storyline is rooted in the character of [human/Zerg hybrid] Kerrigan. So through her, she’s kind of our sounding board – we can understand and empathize through her. She’s kind of the heart of the whole thing, pardon the pun. She’s the conceptual anchor or the lens through which we see the Zerg worlds and the Zerg mindset. [That said,] we’re still very much in the construction phase.

Are you spending a considerable amount of time on the Sam Raimi-directed Warcraft film?

Chris Metzen: I wouldn’t say “considerable” at all just yet. We’ve been through a number of story meetings, and we’re still kind of getting it together with Raimi and his team and jamming on themes that we want to chase. We’re kinda getting a lot of  values together – what kind of story we want to tell, what do we want people to feel, what is the best way to look at this big franchise. We had had some script iterations previous to Raimi coming on board that were cool, that had some really good bits – sometimes a little too overcooked or a little too undercooked. We’re still trying to feel out that space, so as he came in he wanted to have fresh eyes and look at the content of Warcraft in such a way as to dig out what will <i>most</i> people feel: “Oh, I get it, that matches my expectations when I played.”

You can aim the camera in a hundred different directions in a place like Warcraft so it’s kind of finding that right one. But in terms of division of time, or whatever, it doesn’t take up a tremendous amount of time these days. It’s really just strategic phone calls or strategic meetings from time to time until things really get moving on the Hollywood side.

Some IP holders, such as LucasArts with Star Wars, have spoken of handing the destiny of their canon and lore from film to gaming. Could Warcraft have the potential to do the reverse?

Chris Metzen: The games are always going to be the core canon “franchise” or whatever, but looking at things like Spider-man or X-men or films we’ve seen over time, especially based on ideas that  have been around a long time – since the 60s, or whatever – it’s kind of like a new expression. We’re still dealing with how “canon” will [the film] be. And I don’t have a great answer for that yet, but I think the game side will always be the core experience of what Warcraft is.

My intention with the feature is that it is as close as possible to what people have experienced and what they know of our canon, but we’ll have to see the way it plays out. And I don’t mean that facetiously – we’re still trying to figure it out.

Do you have concerns the film interpretation will disappoint fans?

Chris Metzen: I don’t have specific concerns that weigh at this moment. I have… from the day we decided it would be a good idea to have a movie in any shape… I worry about that stuff constantly. Hell, I worry about it on the games side. It’s all so complicated and fast moving – I have nightmares about screwing it up or just missing the mark. Even a movie that’s 85% good; that’s not 100% good, and our fans are very particular. But the point where we are today, with Sam and  his crew – we’re still feeling it out and I think everyone shares that.

Nobody wants to screw it up: we all want to hit it hard and have it be something that is as resonant and canonical as it can be. But given what Warcraft is, with all these moving parts, we’re going to have to take some liberties here and  there. I’m under no illusions about that fact, but it’s the spirit in which you do that. You know – organic web shooters versus [Spider-man] Peter Parker’s science lab mechanical web shooters. Sometimes you have to break with convention, and I’m sure that we will. I don’t know where or how, but we’re still feeling that out. I don’t have any cause for worry right now, but I can tell you I’m fundamentally worried about screwing it up – but we picked the best partners we could find.

How interested are you in creating points of cross-pollination across Blizzard’s gaming universes?

Chris Metzen: Zerg fossils in WoW, that kind of stuff?

Is that something you could see Blizzard moving more into?

Chris Metzen: To clarify: StarCraft in Warcraft and Warcraft in StarCraft?

And Diablo.

Chris Metzen: And Diablo. I have very little interest in that canonically, but if we do a little funny… For instance, we recently did a little StarCraft in-game pet for your WoW character; it was kind of funny and schticky and stuff like that.

I’m getting looser about that kind of thing – as long as it’s cool or funny, it’s all gravy. But I like the idea these universes really existing apart. For instance I’m a big fan of 80s license – G.I Joe, Transformers – and every once in a  while people do crossover: “G.I. Joe vs Transformers!” and I’m kind of “ugh”. It’s kind of cool, but I’m kind of a purist that way. I like things to be able to breathe and be their own thing so I’m not as hip in really chasing that down, but if we can find fun ways, [if] it’s more of a nod to the fans that really love these ideas, then that’s cool.

You would regard yourself as being pretty fiercely protective of what you’ve created?

Chris Metzen: Oh, I try to be. I try to be. I love these worlds and I’m very sensitive to just how passionate our fans are, because I’m that guy. When I look at Star Wars or the Marvel universe, or whatever things I’m particularly into, I get very geeked out and I don’t appreciate it when people – in terms of your perceptions – screw with what you love. So I’m very sensitive to that with Warcraft, especially since the rate of conceptual turnover is so high. We’re constantly putting out new content, we’re constantly having to retcon ideas to make older ideas work – or kinda seem like that work back in day.

It’s just a constant siege of new ideas and I’m always aware of that fine line between breaking it and making it work – and how that translates emotionally to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans. That’s a crazy thing – even having to compute that while you’re just really chasing art and creating. I don’t want to break it. I don’t want to be the guy that breaks it.

We’ve been doing a manga series with TOKYOPOP which is built to be short stories. Some of those aren’t entirely canon, they’re just fun little vignettes, but in the game product itself, I hate the idea of us totally screwing up or misreading what the fan base will respond to.

What about your other stakeholders? You’ve got Activision, who are seemingly moving out of the ‘sitting in the background’ approach. Do you worry about getting a knock on the door one day saying “We want you to do things a different way”?

Chris Metzen: I don’t know that we’re in any danger of the relationship changing. We’ve got a pretty good working vibe with them so I don’t worry about it too much. We’ve always been very fortunate to have been left to our devices regardless of what corporate situation we found ourselves in.

A few years ago you probably could have said the same thing about Infinity Ward and Activision.

Chris Metzen: Right.

I’m wondering when you see that kind of situation going down does it give you pause, or do you say “That’s a different studio, that’s a different dynamic – it won’t happen here”?

Chris Metzen: [Laughs] Is ‘no comment’ an appropriate response?

I guess I would say that we’ve spent a lot of years building up this brand. The Blizzard brand. ‘Cause tonally it is different – you look at Warcraft and there’s certain themes that pop to mind. You look at StarCraft, and there’s certain themes that pop to mind. And almost at a meta level our little blue logo feels like something. And we’ve spent a lot of time building that up – maybe clumsily sometimes over the years, but we’ve built this place into what it is and we’re all pretty fiercely proud of it and interested in preserving it. And preserving that sense that the community really can trust us to put out the best product we can put out, and that we’re listening to them and want to provide as bitchin’ a game experience to them as we can. That will not change. At the end of the day, that’s about all that matters.

[Pic]

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10 Comments

  1. Gekidami

    By who?

    #1 5 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    I’ve added a note at the top. I’ll fix that in a minute.

    #2 5 years ago
  3. Patrick Garratt

    Fixed.

    #3 5 years ago
  4. Anders

    Nice interview, albeit a bit short. Chris Metzen seems like an interesting guy.

    #4 5 years ago
  5. Erthazus

    Chris is a genius. Thank you Chris for outstanding work.

    #5 5 years ago
  6. Patrick Garratt

    I’m a big Chris fan. I interviewed him last year at Blizzard. Very sharp guy.

    #6 5 years ago
  7. Gadzooks!

    Love or hate the Warcraft series, it’s hard to knock the sheer depth and continuity of it’s lore.

    A Warcraft movie is really dangerous territory. The faithful will pick holes in any lore inconsistency and the uninitiated have a monsterous learning curve ahead of them. They will have to cast a very wide net I think, to make it successful.

    Personally I can’t wait for the movie, but am going to shelve any preconceptions before watching and try very hard to overlook the compromises they will almost certainly have to make.

    #7 5 years ago
  8. Phoenixblight

    @7

    The lore is pick and choose of famous writers such as Lovecraft with the Old Gods. There is no lore every expansion they gut whatever lore was in the previous installments for the MMO to continually make money.

    #8 5 years ago
  9. Gadzooks!

    “every expansion they gut whatever lore was in the previous installments”

    Examples?

    #9 5 years ago
  10. Phoenixblight

    Nelves being mages, Taurens being pallies and priests. The draenei looks.

    Even better:

    http://www.wowwiki.com/Retcon_speculation

    #10 5 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Surgeon Simulator developers Bossa Studios have announced its working on an Apple Watch game called Spy_Watch. Spy_Watch, according to the developer, has players heading up a spy agency which isn’t faring too well. Players will need to train a spy and then send him out on various missions to “reclaim the agency’s former glory.” Real-time […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power hits Steam Early Access next week

    Frozenbyte has announced Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power will launch on Steam Early Access next week. The early access title will run you $19.99/€19.99/£14.99 and you can purchase it come April 21. If the short video above isn’t enough to tempt you, a video showing nine minutes of gameplay was released last week.

  • Journey, Flower, flOw trilogy to be released this summer on PS4 in 1080p at 60fps

    A remastered version of the Journey Collector’s Edition is coming to PlayStation 4 from ThatGameCompany. According to Gamespot, the trilogy will contain PS3 titles flOw, Flower and Journey on one disc, and it will run in 1080p at 60fps. A standalone version of Journey will arrive close to the trilogy’s release on PS4 through the […]

  • Here’s a few screenshots of PS4-exclusive Alienation from Housemarque

    Screenshots for Alienation, Housemarque’s four-player co-op PlayStation 4 exclusive, have been released and you can have a look at them in the gallery we’ve posted. Announced at gamescom 2014, the game features three main character classes, weapon customization, and various team set-ups. The game has players shooting at things with twin-stick gameplay with a top […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront website notes November 17 release, teaser video and first image hit

    The first Star Wars: Battlefront image has been posted, and apparently it appeared on the official website at some point this morning. The game will also be released on November 17, according to the official website’s source code. The release date is noted in the code located in the image below. Props to Gematsu for […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is the fastest selling entry in the series to date

    Mortal Kombat X has sold faster than any other game in the series to date, making it the “biggest launch” in Mortal Kombat history, according to creator Ed Boon. Speaking in a series of tweets, Boon said both the mobile and console versions have “literally millions of players getting online” resulting in the servers being […]

  • Shadow of the Beast reboot resurfaces with some new screenshots

    The Shadow of the Beast reboot, which was announced in 2013, has show its face once more with early screenshots. Screenshots of the Amiga classic remake show off the Karamoon’s desert and the main character, Aarbron. According Matt Birch, CEO and founder of Heavy Spectrum, the team is currently hard at work on the “core […]

  • Halo: Spartan Strike arrives on Windows 8, iOS and Steam today

    Halo: Spartan Strike is now available on Windows 8, Steam, iOS devices and Windows 8 phones. The mobile top-down shooter will run you $5.99. Halo: Spartan Strike tells a new story in the Halo universe set during the events of Halo 2 on New Mombasa in 2552. Those playing on Windows 8 devices can compete […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video shows highlights from the Episdoe Duscae demo

    Square Enix has released a Final Fantasy 15 video which shows highlights from the Episode Duscae demo included with launch editions of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. FFT0 has shipped over one million copies worldwide, and a player feedback survey is available for the Duscae demo until May 19. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is available on PlayStation […]

  • Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since release – SuperData

    PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since it was released on March 24, according to SuperData’s latest report. The figure produced by SuperData is worldwide and comes on the heels of the one million units sold announcement earlier this week. “After the release of the beautiful but terribly short game The […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Mega May returns, Super Smash Bros. update, Mii Fighter costumes

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a Super Smash Bros. update and the StreetPass Mii Plaza games Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler. The update is rather detailed, and a bit larger than normal, and you may wish to pay special attention to the activities listed. Here’s the full update: StreetPass […]

  • Here’s your first look at Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida in Super Time Force Ultra

    Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida is a playable character in Super Time Force Ultra, and today, Capy Games has provided a couple images of the man himself in the game. Yoshida was announced as a playable character in the game during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event back in December 2014. The PS4 and Vita version will […]

  • The wait is almost over – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has gone gold

    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]