Why The World Of Warcraft Has Such Bright, Cartoony Graphics

The Warcraft franchise looks like its entire world was made from children's balloons. It's nothing but big shapes and bright, bright colours. Love it or hate it, it's become an iconic style, something that's helped World of Warcraft not only run on anybody's computer, but look unique in doing it.

But have you ever wondered why Azeroth and its people look the way they do? When so many other fantasy games, Blizzard's own Diablo included, opt for styles a little less "Saturday morning cartoon"?

There's a couple of very good reasons. And they date back all the way to the development of the very first game in the franchise, Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans.

In part two of his big look back at the making of the landmark RTS title, former Blizzard exec Patrick Wyatt says "If you consider the artwork of the Warcraft series, you'll see that the colours 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. The bright, cartoony art-style was different from the style of many other PC war games of the era, which hewed to more realistic colour palette."

"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 colours since televisions of that era were so much worse at displaying colours than PC monitors. Console games on TVs, which had lower pixel resolution and colour bleed, needed high-contrast artwork to show well."

That's one reason. Makes sense! The other one's a little stranger.

"Another reason was at the behest of Allen [Adham, Blizzard's co-founder], who charged all the artists with drawing artwork in bright conditions. He'd regularly 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 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 colours."

"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 (all?) of the art team, but ultimately led to artwork that stood out compared to products of the day."

Art that, the odd imitator aside, continues to do so today. You can read more of Patrick's fascinating look back at the link below.

The Inside Story of the Making of Warcraft, Part 2 [Kotaku]


    Kotaku reporting on story originally posted on Kotaku.

      Yeah it's pretty sad.

    I thought it was just so it could run on anyone's PC (kinda like Minecraft) you catch more potential players that way.

      Def no, graphic "look" has limits to it's link with system resources, engine optimization is where the biggest draw is, WoW will go from muddy looking to looking very good (imo).

      Look how pretty BF3 is and it can run on some low tier hardware (i.e consoles) and FB2 isn't optimized very well.

        Indeed. WoW looks really bad on low tier settings but through everything up to top tier settings and it looks stunning.

    After playing SWTOR for about 3 months I jumped back into WoW with the Scroll of Resurrection promotion they had, I got upgraded to Cataclysm, given a free level 80 character and a full speed flying mount... and I just spent a day exploring the world, reminiscing on all the fun I had playing the game on and off between 2005-2008... but more importantly after playing SWTOR for a few months I was just blown away how amazing the game still looked.

    There were no jagged edges, AA actually worked. The world was smooth, the engine was stable... I had an absolute blast and I thought the game just looked soo much better than SWTOR.

    I'd really love to get back in as a casual player, even if I just spent a month exploring regions... I actually have an old time card still floating around, I should probably use it and relive some glory.... Maybe later in the year, when I have a bit more time (hopefully).

      Um are you serious? Are you running SWTOR on Ultra? WoW top end comes nowhere near SWTOR, Im sure your going to say I am running it on top, but that comment proves you arent.

      SWTOR medium settings looks cartoony and WoW but once you get higher into the settings you see just how beautiful the game is.

      Im not a SWTOR fanboy, I played WoW since release till last year and even with the upgrades to its graphics the game is still far behind a lot of games, but that's a big der cause its older than every other MMO pretty much.

        Yes, I was running SWTOR on Ultra, but the killer for me was the anti aliasing and the constant FPS dips for no apparent reason (not to mention mega dips on Ilum)... When I loaded up WoW I just enjoyed the style much more than SWTOR because of the smooth objects and the smooth engine. The biggest difference was the textures, swtor textures were superior.

    the brightness thing is always frustrating with portable gaming. Some games as soon as you step outside irl and are in a dark area in game your lucky to see your characters hair swimming around a black nothingness

    If you go and have a look at the Warhammer table top miniatures of the time you will see where the brightness comes from.

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