Blizzard’s mighty online world is now almost unrecognisable

Blizzard’s mighty online world is now almost unrecognisable as the game that, just before the new consoles launched, heralded the dawn of a new age.

Blizzard is not an innovator.The Californian studio is a tinkerer, a genius reverse-engineer that can break down any game design and rebuild it better than it was.It’s doing it now with trading card games in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and hopes to yet again with Dota-style arenas in Blizzard All-Stars.World of Warcraft was its attempt to clean up EverQuest-style massively multiplayer online RPGs.The studio took the raw materials of these powerful, yet punishing and unfathomable experiences and sculpted them into a smooth popular entertainment on an unbelievable scale, one which offered multiple levels of depth to suit every kind of player.(If you ask Blizzard’s design chief Rob Pardo what made WOW the hit it was, he’ll tell you it was something as simple as how the game handled player deaths.)

Then Blizzard turned those same processes inwards and started working on its own design, stripping and rebuilding, stripping and rebuilding, pitilessly examining every decision it had previously made and reversing a great many of them.Freed from thinking in stepped sequels and funded by vast subscription revenues, Blizzard showed a remarkable level of self-criticism in an update process that began as soon as the game launched and continues to this day – but that reached its apotheosis with Cataclysm.