World of Warcraft’s iconic visual style explained

Thursday, 16th August 2012 14:57 GMT By Nick Akerman

World of Warcraft possesses one of gaming’s recognisable exteriors, but how did it get that way? A former Blizzard exec reveals all.

“If you consider the artwork of the Warcraft series, you’ll see that the colors are shockingly loud in comparison to, say, Diablo, where only in a dim room is it truly possible to see the beauty of the art,” former Blizzard exec Patrick Wyatt told Kotaku.

“The bright, cartoony art-style was different from the style of many other PC war games of the era, which hewed to more realistic color palette.”

Wyatt also suggested games previously worked on by members of the team had an effect.

“Part of that difference can be explained by the past experiences of our artists, who had worked on several Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis console titles, where games required more dynamic colors since televisions of that era were so much worse at displaying colors than PC monitors. Console games on TVs, which had lower pixel resolution and color bleed, needed high-contrast artwork to show well.”

Not all of the reasons for WoW’s style are so simple. Wyatt says Allen Adham, the company’s co-founder, “used to stalk the halls of Blizzard turning on lights and opening window-blinds.”

“His view was that most folks play games in bright rooms, so our artists should be authoring our games to play well in that environment,” he explained.

“He argued that it’s easy to draw artwork that reads well when viewed in a dark room with no outside light can distract from the monitor. But when computer art is competing with bright lights it’s much more difficult to see. And fluorescent bulbs are the worst form of light available – the cold, flickering glow of their tubes tires the eyes and washes out colors.”

“So the lights were always on in the art rooms to force artists to compensate for terrible lighting by creating art that accounted for those conditions. These working conditions chafed on some of the art team, but ultimately led to artwork that stood out compared to products of the day.”



  1. Se_7_eN

    ::Yawn:: is Guild Wars 2 out yet?

    #1 2 years ago
  2. TheWulf

    Is ‘iconic’ the word that cool kids are using for ‘characterless, flat, and lazy’ these days? WoW has always had a chronic lack of both artistic direction (aesthetics) and graphical fidelity in equal amounts.

    See, if World of Warcraft had been released in ’96, I could have bought it being impressive at least, but it wasn’t. I’m sorry, I just have an adverse reactions to the level of complete and utter bullshit that Blizzard are capable of.

    Let me make a point…

    World of Warcraft was released in Nov ’04, almost ’05. Guild Wars: Prophecies was released in April ’05. Uru: Ages Beyond Myst was released in Nov ’03 (a year before WoW).

    Now for some videos…

    World of Warcraft – As it originally looked. It’s painfully bad in every department. The graphics clash horribly, the colours remind me of old CGA palettes, the textures are horribly blurry messes, the animations are wooden, and it just generally looks horrendous, shonky, and awful. Apparently that’s ‘iconic.’

    But that’s the best that that period had to offer? Hahaha. No.

    Guild Wars: Prophecies – This is the original Guild Wars released just half a year after WoW. Yes, all in-game footage. It looks amazing by comparison. Higher quality textures, better animation, but most importantly a cohesive art direction that means it’s aged well even to today. Unlike WoW.

    But Guild Wars was released six months after WoW, you say? Not a fair comparison? Okay, let me show you an online game that was released a YEAR before WoW.

    Uru: Ages Beyond Myst – I apologise for the music. Anyway, all in-game footage and a tremendously beautiful game. What you’ll notice immediately is that the game has better animation quality and higher resolution textures than WoW. And the art direction means that the game is almost unreasonably pretty.

    So… WoW’s ‘iconic’ style? It’s more like WoW’s fucking awful style, because they were too lazy to do any better than that. There are billions of examples of truly iconic art direction out there, and were I not limiting myself to online PC games, I’d drag out stuff like Ico.

    Blizzard: So full of shit it hurts – them.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. roadkill

    Great read Wulf! And OH! that Guild Wars movie brings back awesome memories. I think I’m going to listen to the Prophecies soundtrack for a bit. :)

    #3 2 years ago
  4. DSB

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Hybridpsycho


    Holy fuck someone is a fanboy.

    WoW had something that Guild Wars didn’t btw, which is a BIG thing for alot of people.

    A COMPLETELY open fucking World, no jumping between “zones” or between instances to get to places.

    Also WoW is actually and has always been very smooth on the eyes. People trying for to good graphic in MMOs tends to fuck up on SOME points. Age of Conan was great looking though.

    Not hating on Guild Wars, it’s a good game. But please stop being such a fanboy and bring Guild Wars up as soon as you see WoW.
    Also stop hating on Blizzard, you don’t play their games? Fine, but please stop whatever it is you’re doing. :)

    PS: They weren’t lazy with WoW, if you had any clue at all about what you actually see when you look at WoW and Guild Wars (grahpic wise and programming wise) you’d realise that. Until then back the fuck down.

    #5 2 years ago

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