My first contact with anything Blizzard Entertainment-related was when a kid much older than I found a copy of WarCraft II: Tides of War on our aging PC in the Philippines. I found the fantasy story gripping, but as a child who drew far more than he wrote [a ratio clearly flipped on its head nowadays] it was the visuals that really grabbed me.
A few years later, on my family’s return to Canada, seeing WarCraft III in Best Buy fliers made my eyes widen in awe. These were many of the same races and units I was familiar with, but updated graphically. I spent many of my precious minutes on the internet perusing the game’s website just gawking at the units and buildings before I finally grabbed a copy of my own.
When World of WarCraft was announced I made plans to play it with my friends, though those were ultimately stymied by the subscription fee as well as my family’s move to Thailand. That didn’t stop me from absorbing as much about the game as I could, though. This was a world I was deeply familiar with but expanded to a greater scope than I could ever imagine.
Dota was a game I was, and am, vastly unfamiliar with. The first time I came across it was at an internet cafe in Malaysia, looking through WarCraft III custom maps. While I was very much into the ability to select a wide array of heroes and so on, I had no idea how to play. This was not helped by the fact that I opened it up as a single player game, which led me nowhere fast. It wasn’t until high school when friends of my brother’s spent their time on both Dota and League of Legends that I gained a rough understanding of how things work.
Then, two years ago, the first footage of Valve’s Dota 2 was released and I wrote my response to the developer’s aesthetic choices. My obnoxious penchant for footnotes aside, my main point of the piece was that the game was copping many of the character design choices from the original, a WarCraft III mod as mentioned above.
The top two images on the right are a Goblin Shredder, first in WarCraft III and then in World of WarCraft. Below them is the Timbersaw hero from Dota 2. There are obvious differences, of course, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the latter is taking more than a few pages from the former. It remains a goblin with goggles sitting within the exposed cockpit of a mech that is ostensibly meant to cut down trees.
I’m of the belief that Blizzard has created some fantastic art in the past, and that there are arguably a number of design choices they’ve made that are iconic. I’m not referring to Footmen with their shining armour and their swords and shields, of course, I’m talking about characters like Anub’arak, an insectoid Crypt Lord with a clearly Egyptian influence.
This past weekend was Blizzcon 2013, and I sat at home waiting for the news to pour in, with Heroes of the Storm [hereafter referred to as Heroes] as the game I was particularly looking forward to. This was and is the company’s response to the many MOBAs [Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, etc.], but featuring their own firmly established characters. Which leads to the title of my post.
In my first post I expressed that I very much understand why Valve did what they did. Their core audience was going to be switching over from this WarCraft III mod, and they needed to be as familiar with all of the characters as possible. This was a sequel, after all, and too many visual differences would create a very problematic disconnect. The issue I have now is that the Heroes characters are being referred to as the copies.
In an article on ongamers.com the author describes his “opportunity to play a Pudge or Blitzcrank clone called Stitches for thirty minutes.” The implication there being that the character originating in Blizzard design and featured in a Blizzard game was the clone, the doppelganger in this situation. This was, essentially, a nightmare of mine made real.
The image above contains three generations of a Blizzard-made unit, the Abomination. Ever-present are the giant cleaver, the meat hook, the chains wrapped around its arms, and the gaping belly complete with exposed ribs. Stitches, a hero in the upcoming Heroes has existed for going on nine years, but gamers are certain to, as the article’s author did, refer to him simply as “Pudge.” It’s not even that they’ll refer to him and others by their Dota 2 names, either, it’s that people are actively stating that Blizzard is ripping off designs. Their own designs.
The Blizzard concept artists had the job of creating distinct, iconic imagery in their characters, and I would say that they very much accomplished their goal. The Valve concept artists for Dota 2 had the task of mimicking these Blizzard designs as much as they could without bordering on copyright infringement, and that sort of things just doesn’t garner much respect in yours truly.I noticed it before comparing WarCraft III models and Dota 2 models, but the Heroes footage from Blizzcon makes it that much more starkly apparent. Below is my final image for comparison, Puck the Faerie Dragon on the right and a Faerie Dragon, currently nameless, on the left.
Clearly the men and women over at Valve did their jobs, because there has been zero legal action taken against them over these character designs. I am forced to wonder, though, at what point similarities get too close.
Before I conclude I want to state that I have no problems, overall, with Dota 2. The game has been pivotal for the eSports as a whole with its highly competitive pro gaming scene and Valve, as usual, has made [or, rather, adapted] a very solid piece of work.
To end, and refer back to a point recently made, what I’m really concerned with is people getting credit for the work that they’ve done. Many of these iconic designs originated in Blizzard games, and I would very much like if they were acknowledged for this. The title of this article is definitely more inflammatory than anything else, but I do believe that the many images I’ve embedded speak for themselves. All that being said, I am plenty excited for Heroes, and will do all I can not to let internet comments like “lol what a ripoff of furion even the name” not to get to me. It will be difficult.