Art is important to Blizzard. The offices of the World of Warcraft developer, currently working on RTS sequel StarCraft II, are plastered with it. Vivid, colourful and extravagant concept art is hung everywhere. The offices even have a curator, part of whose job description is to ensure that huge floor-to-ceiling pieces are displayed around the campus. One such piece is in the canteen - a jolly painting of drinking dwarves by Samwise Didier.
Didier is art director at Blizzard, and a veteran of the company's early days. His bold, humorous style has set the tone for much of the studio's output, not least the look and feel of the planet's most popular virtual world. He also draws cover art for the World of Warcraft comic and the albums of Swedish power metal band Hammerfall, and sings (or rather, bellows) in Blizzard's terrifying in-house band, Level 70 Elite Tauren Chieftain. (L70ETC's imposing body of work includes Rogues Do It From Behind and the mighty metal anthem I Am Murloc.) You can see examples of his work in a gallery at the Blizzard art site, Sons of the Storm.
On our recent visit to Blizzard HQ to play StarCraft II, we sat down with Didier to discuss what makes Blizzard games look like Blizzard games.
Eurogamer: When did you join Blizzard?
Samwise Didier: I started with Blizzard in 1991, when we were still under the name Silicon & Synapse.
Eurogamer: So you're old school...
Samwise Didier: Yes. Old.
Eurogamer: What was the first game you worked on?
Samwise Didier: An iteration of the Lost Vikings. In the final game there were three Vikings, in the one I worked on there were about twenty. It was very much like Lemmings. And then I went on to work on Rock N' Roll Racing and Blackthorne, and then really started hitting a lot of the PC games, when Warcraft came out.
Eurogamer: What are your personal influences? What was it that got you drawing when you were a kid?
Samwise Didier: It would definitely be Conan comic books that got me started. The Conan books with Frank Frazetta and John Buscema artwork. Mostly Marvel stuff, I mean I liked DC as well, but Marvel comics specifically just had that look that really started getting me into comics. And then the Hobbit movies, the old animated ones that were done back in the 70s, those were instrumental to me. I still think a lot of my dwarves look like the dwarves from those movies, just because that's where I learned to start drawing fantasy back then.
Eurogamer: The Warcraft and StarCraft worlds have a lot of archetypes in them... Orcs and elves, space marines and mutants. How can you make sure they look distinctive in your games, rather than generic?
Samwise Didier: Well, take our Orcs for example in Warcraft. Orcs are bad guys, but in our game they're not really bad guys. They were at one time, but we really push their whole kit to be, you know, bringing back the old ways of their shamanistic roots. They're no longer these demon-infused battle-crazy guys, they're more working with nature and becoming one with the elements.
Same with our Terran marines. Everyone's seen space marines, right? Well, we've tried to push ours to have a sort of - I always call it a biker/cowboy mentality, you know they're kinda gritty, they're kinda Old West in their sayings and the way they talk, some of them have Southern accents, sort of hillbilly-ish. We really tried to make our marines distinct that way. I don't think a lot of people have that - they're super good guys. We kinda have ours be a little bit shady. Their basic background is that they were all prisoners.