Almost 7 million subscribers worldwide get their online roleplaying fix thanks to 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and the smash sequel Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. The two real-time strategy games that launched an empire and several million digital ships, but even if you alternated between defending and attacking Azeroth like it was your full-time job in the ‘90s, there are a few details about the fantasy world’s early years you might well have missed in the melee.
1. WARCRAFT WAS INSPIRED BY (AND MODELED ON) DUNE II ...
GameSpot’s retrospective on real-time strategy games notes that Dune II, the 1992 release from Westwood Studios and Virgin Interactive and one of the most advanced PC games to date, can be “largely credited with revolutionizing” strategy game. Its detailed focus on resource management “essentially established the conventions of the real-time strategy genre.” Patrick Wyatt, who headed the creation of Warcraft for Blizzard Entertainment as its producer and lead programmer alongside designer Bill Roper, wrote about the game’s development and the central role that Dune II played in the earliest stages for Kotaku:
Along with the other folks at Blizzard I exhaustively played [Dune II] during lunch breaks and after work, playing each of the three competing races to determine their strengths and weaknesses; and afterward comparing play-styles, strategies and tactics with others in the office. While the game was great fun, it suffered from several obvious defects that called out (nay, screamed) to be fixed.
2. ... BUT MADE IT EVEN BETTER ...
The result of Wyatt and Roper’s experiments—Warcraft: Orcs & Humans—used Dune II’s framework and fundamental features, but it also had a host of new specs, including faster gameplay, a large selection of maps for fresh in-game locales, significantly more resources and management methods, and the option to play both sides in the magic-infused conflict. IGN wrote that Blizzard, the then-unknown company behind the game, “took niche genres and brought them to the mainstream in ways no one would have ever thought possible.”
3. ... AND ADDED A GAME-CHANGING MULTIPLAYER WRINKLE.
While Warcraft was a Dune II clone in many ways, it also introduced multi-player mode to real-time strategy games, thereby establishing a standard for future titles. Via local network or modem, players could now battle each other remotely rather than toy with early artificial intelligence that let players take on the computer. GameSpot wrote that even Warcraft’s AI didn’t make for much of an opponent due to its general strategy to “blindly [attack] whatever it can find,” making it “easy to distract and lead astray with decoy units.”
4. THIS BREAKTHROUGH WAS TRICKY SINCE THE OFFICE HAD NO NETWORK.
“While I was building a game that would be playable using modems or a local area network, the company had no office LAN," Wyatt said. "So when I started collaborating with other artists and programmers, we used the ‘sneaker network,’ carrying floppy disks back and forth between offices to integrate source code revisions and artwork."
5. WHEN PRODUCTION BEGAN, THE GAME HAD NO SCRIPT.
The game’s infamous dialogue—which was composed on the spot—wasn’t its only impromptu feature. In the same interview, Wyatt explained that, with the “singular goal” of making a better Dune II in mind, “development of the game began without any serious effort to plan the game design, evaluate the technical requirements, build the schedule, or budget for the required staff. Not even on a napkin. Back at Blizzard we called this the ‘business plan du jour,’ which was our standard operating methodology.”
6. THE COMPANY’S NAME EVEN REFERENCES ITS PLAN-FREE METHODOLOGY
Before launching its first Warcraft title, Blizzard Entertainment—then called Silicon & Synapse—decided it needed a name with more pizzazz before marketing its big project. After considering “Chaos,” the company chose “Blizzard” as a pleasant but accurate representation of its work style.
7. THESE AREN’T YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S ORCS (NOR J.R.R. TOLKIEN’S).
As TVTropes.org points out, while J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series first drew the orc figure out of mythological obscurity, named it, and gave it a shape that remains today, Warcraft established an orc of a different color. Unlike Tolkien’s aimless monstrosities, Warcraft’s orcs—displaced natives of the exhausted Draenor realm—are examples of the archetypal “Proud Warrior Race,” have been referred to a “Green Klingons,” and have an “extensive honor system [that] may be inspired by the Japanese, the Norse, or other ‘warrior’ cultures.” Although the original game’s orcs were more of the “mindless killing” variety, soon greater detail was added to orc culture in subsequent series entries, and would have been even more flushed out in the canceled Warcraft Adventures, sometimes referred to as “the lost chapter.”
8. WARCRAFT’S ART WAS INTENTIONALLY SIMILAR TO WARHAMMER’S.
Wyatt explained that the Blizzard team had initially hoped to license Warhammer’s popular brand, but that, when their attempts failed, they settled on using artwork that was heavily inspired by the tabletop game series instead.
9. SOME PEOPLE THOUGHT THE INSPIRATION FLOWED THE OTHER WAY.
Wyatt acknowledges (as with his team’s borrowing of the Dune II framework) that Warcraft’s characters have a lot in common with ones in Warhammer:
Years after the launch of Warcraft, my dad, upon returning from a trip to Asia, gave me a present of a set of Warhammer miniatures in the form of a skeleton charioteer and horses with the comment: 'I found these cool toys on my trip and they reminded me a lot of your game; you might want to have your legal department contact them because I think they're ripping you off.'
10. THE GAMES REFERENCE MOVIES, MUSIC, AND MONTY PYTHON (A LOT).
In addition to utilizing key advances from other game series, the Blizzard team has included nods to favorite films, bands, video games, and even comics in Warcraft games starting with its first title. The Warcraft cheat codes “sally shears” and “there can only be one” recalled a character from novelist William Gibson and the fantasy film Highlander, respectively, while the Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness codes “every little thing she does” and “makeitso” gave hat tips to the band The Police and the show Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The later release Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne takes the pop culture cake for its numerous references to songs, comics, and novels (including The Lord of the Rings) and adapted or direct quotes from over two dozen movies, including the cheat code “TheDudeAbides,” eight lines from the Star Wars films, and six from Monty Python and the Holy Grail alone.
11. ORCS HAVE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE (WITH POSSIBLE ROOTS IN TOLKIEN AND MONTY PYTHON).
Fans have made guides to help decode the language of Warcraft’s famously babbling orcs and their favorite phrases, and some have compared it to the “Black Speech” tongue in Tolkien’s series. The Orcish/Common dictionary in the book clearly takes inspiration from a Monty Python skit in which a man using a faulty English/Hungarian phrasebook attempts benign statements and ends up saying dirty ones.
12. WARCRAFT’S BIGGEST INNOVATION MAY HAVE BEEN ITS STRONG "PERSONALITY" ...
While early Warcraft titles were memorable for their technical accomplishments, fans also kept coming back for the magically medieval game’s charm, wit, and detail. Carefully designed human and orc units got fresh if clicked on repeatedly, for example (respectively saying, “Why do you keep touching me?!” and “Stop touching meeee!”), and the fantasy world quickly filled with backstory, characterization, and wisecracks from the series’ various installations, novels, and other media.
At its peak a few years ago, World of Warcraft—the series’ massively multiplayer online version, live since 2004—had 12 million players around the world, who collectively accounted for over a billion hours of gameplay. As Complex pointed out for the game’s tenth anniversary, the cultural impacts of the series’ (perhaps) final frontier are widespread and highly varied.
13. ... WHICH HAS LED TO ITS INCLUSION IN ACADEMIC CURRICULA.
Thanks to the series’ massive popularity, a number of schools have integrated Warcraft lore into the fabric of different courses, partly to interest young gamers and partly because of available material within the game. The WoWinSchool program has been implemented in at least 12 U.S. and Canadian schools for teaching “writing and literacy, mathematics, digital citizenship, online safety and other 21st-century skills.”
One teaching duo has even connected World of Warcraft back around to its alleged roots in Tolkien’s universe: “Students read [The Hobbit] on their own time, and then look for parallels between hero Bilbo Baggins and their own WoW characters, [and even write] short stories based on their characters to explore topics like empathy and failure.”
14. THE ORIGINAL GAMES MAY MAKE A COMEBACK SOON ...
The first two games in the series tend not to work on modern machines, but there may be good news soon. In 2013, Blizzard production director J. Allen Brack mentioned at Blizzcon that a member of the team is working to make the first two Warcraft games accessible to fans again in some capacity, due to popular demand.
15. ... BUT LIKELY NOT BEFORE THE FILM VERSION (FINALLY) DROPS.
Universal Pictures plans to release the highly anticipated film, directed by Duncan Jones, June 10, 2016 (just in time for a fierce summer season).