Originally the Warcraft 3 team, with the help of writer Christie Golden, were going to rewrite some story elements of Warcraft 3—changes that would help bring a "renewed focus to a few central characters that we thought deserved a little bit more time in the limelight," Pete Stillwell, Warcraft 3: Reforged senior producer, said last year at BlizzCon (opens in new tab). Key characters like Jaina Proudmoore and Sylvanas Windrunner would have been given more "camera time" in Warcraft 3 Reforged.
However, over the last year unhappy fans have been vocal about that decision. Their continued persistence lead the Warcraft 3 team to scrap the story retconning, as Robert Bridenbecker, executive producer and vice president at Blizzard Entertainment, told Polygon (opens in new tab) in a recent interview.
But it wasn't because the fans weren't open to story changes. It was because they knew it meant changes to the original voice acting—and those fans love the original voice acting.
Matt Morris, senior 2 game designer on Warcraft 3 Reforged, told me the team backed away from retconning the story to WoW because fans wanted to hear the original voice actors and sound effects. "Sounds from clicking on the grunt to hearing Arthas and Illidan's voice, that was what they didn't want changed." If the team was able to change the story and still preserve how the voice actors sounded all those years ago, maybe the fans would have been open to story changes. But because fans were adamant about keeping the original voices, it made the team think about how else they could connect Warcraft 3 to WoW.
They ended up redesigning certain locations in Warcraft 3 to match what exists today in WoW. The look of locations like Silvermoon, Stratholme, and Dalaran had evolved in WoW while they remained the same in Warcraft 3. "We spent a lot of time leveling up the looks and the aesthetics of these missions so that players familiar with the Warcraft story can say, 'oh, this is where this event happened' or 'I raided here.'"
It's a clever way to create strong player connections by tapping into their WoW nostalgia. "You remember audio really well," said Michael Scipione, Warcraft 3 Reforged game designer. Our ears pick up easily on differences in the way something sounds to how we originally heard it. Cover songs fall into this category, for instance (and if any one remembers how Brittany Taylor from the TV cartoon Daria sounded in the first few episodes compared to a season later, that's another good example.)
"You can just say 'it's not quite right,' and then you start reevaluating whether or not it's really the thing you remember. What we want to do is preserve and restore these classic games." That allows players to make those connections buried in their memories faster, and make them have a greater emotional resonance. "You remember the emotions that they said as they said it."
Of course, some changes are not only good, but also necessary. One of the big overhauls to Warcraft 3 Reforged is the multiplayer matchmaking system. Back when the game was first released, wins and losses were tied to a single account. So, if you played with one race all the time, got really good, and then switched to another race, the game would pair you up with other players at the same level of your best race. As a result, players would often create alternate accounts to practice with other races so they could be matched appropriately.
What Warcraft 3 will have now is a per-match race ranking, which sounds kind of similar to how players are matched up in games like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. "You can say, OK, I'm really good at orc, but I want to try out human. So when you go human you'll also be paired up against other people who are like, well, I'm also just trying human out."
The developers have also made it easier for modders by adding support for Lua, a coding system that modders use most commonly today. Originally, Warcraft 3 only supported JASS, a super old coding language that barely anyone uses anymore except for the OG modders that learned it back in the day. "People now might find that they can do things that they weren't doing before because they didn't know how to do it in JASS," said Moore.