Outland development history
Author : Alequia / Saouline
Let me introduce myself : Aléquia Moonwisle, gilnean mage, and I am going to talk about how the Outlands were created.
So, this article will show what the designers wanted to do, and especially why the Outland we discovered in Burning Crusade was not the same Outland that was originally intended.
We will explore and analyze a place that was never officially open that my guinea-p... assistant Saouline the dwarf was lucky enough to visit ! And doing so we'll see what happened to the Outlands during WoW Vanilla. I will obviously not deaf anyone with thousands of code explaining how every tree was positioned (and honestly, we care about this as much as we care about the King of Gnomes...). We will simply observe several elements, and compare. This will also be an excellent opportunity to review Outland's history.
Oh, and you all know what is Outlands, no ? It is the native planet of the Orcs (called Draenor) who dislocated after Ner'Zhul opened dozens of dimensional portals. The first time we set foot on Draenor was in Warcraft 2, with the Sons of Lothar.
But the first "3D" images of Draenor was in Warcraft 3 : The Frozen throne. We went there with Illidan, Kael'Thas and Lady Vashj to throw Magtheridon out of The Black Temple (originally called The Catacombs), and that was it. Note that all we could see at that time was Hellfire Peninsula, and The Black Temple was there, not in Shadowmoon Valley.
History lesson is over, now let's keep going to what we're here for : how Outland got into World of Warcraft. Since the beta (in 2004, remember), we knew that our dear characters were ultimately going to joyfully gambol in the beautiful fel-meadows of the Outlands. "How's that" are you saying. Well, because of this :
In the MPQ files (containing all the data needed for the client), we could see a sub-folder called "Outland", sub-folder who used to contain all the elements who were supposed to build Outland. Remember, this sub-folder was found a long time before The Burning Crusade, and a long time before World of Warcraft Vanilla was released. It was completed as time passed. Fun thing is, this folder still exists in the game files now, and all of what's within was not used for The Burning Crusade, and so are not used !
But let's go somewhere else now, where things get more interesting. In fact, since early beta (Vanilla beta), an in-game zone was already using some of the elements contained in the "Outland" sub-folder. That means that the first sketch of the Outlands was in Azeroth, and to be more precise, in ... The Deadmines !
This is a very famous exploration (it didn't disappear with Cataclysm) that was outside of the instance. We often call it "The Arcane Dream", but as time goes by, I prefer to call it "Outlands' Rift".
Beautiful, isn't it ? In fact, more than an "alpha Outland", it's a testing area where designers put everything they wanted everywhere they wanted. This zone is not that big, it's only a crater with a few hills. It doesn't have a discussion channel, and when we type /who character_in_this_area, we see it being in a "Unknown" zone.
We first see the red crackled ground, and the texture comes from the "Outland" sub-folder. There is also the floating rocks and trees (also located in the sub-folder), the main reason why this area is so popular. It is also because of the presence of theses floating objects that the zone was identified as an early stage of Outland.
Now, look into the crater. Those pink bowls, don't you know them ?
It is the ancient Dalaran protection bubble ! For the ones that started the game with WotLK, Dalaran was initially located south of Lake Lordamere under a protective bubble, in order to let the magus rebuild the city after its destruction by Arthas and Archimonde. We can still see on this bubble the trees of Hillsbrad.
When Outland was officially announced by Blizzard as the first expansion, it became everyone's main interest. But right now, we'll focus on a specific moment (Vanilla beta), when a new unattainable zone appeared on live servers. This zone was very "Outland-themed" and is usually named "Old Outland" or "Hellfire Peninsula Alpha".
Old Outland was, oddly, not located on a separate instance, but on Eastern Kingdoms map ! To be more precise, on south west of the Eastern Kingdoms. It was inconceivable to reach the zone by swimming, as a huge gap of emptiness filled the space between Old Outlands and the continent, the same way GM Island is separated from Kalimdor.
Those of you that played Warcraft III will be surprised by the similarities between this early Hellfire Peninsula and the Blasted Lands, much more than the final version of the Peninsula. The zone is much larger than the secret place in the Deadmines, approximately like a Vanilla zone.
I have found on the Scrolls of Lore website a minimap of this place so you can see what it looks like :
As you can see, Old Outland was encircled by high peaks and the sea, but they were removed in favor of giant chasms offering a trip deep into the Twisting Nether.
Now I'll try to give as much details as I can about the different elements of Old Outland, what has been kept, what was deleted... Firstly, symbol of Outland, Warcraft I, and all of Azeroth's problems since 30 years : the Dark Portal.
It's located on top of a hill, and using the same model as the one in the Blasted Lands, so no surprise. It also looks more like the one in Warcraft II than the huge one we discovered when The Burning Crusade was released.
The first thing that can be surprising for someone coming from this portal is how vegetation looks : it's dense, corrupted as it should, and very close to the one we saw in Warcraft III. With Plaguewood in the Plaguelands and Silithus, designers often showed us their talent ant liking of this kind of environment.
Let's take a closer look. What do you see ? Yes, mushrooms, mushrooms, flying mushrooms and one again mushrooms... Thinking about it, these mushrooms are one of the main reasons of the similarity of this map and the Outlands we saw in Warcraft III. This mushroom invasion oddly disappeared in the final version of Hellfire Peninsula, maybe to emphasize Zangarmarsh ?
Let's continue our exploration. This « Old Outland » was but a testing map, designers made it playable by the Alliance and the Horde. This means base camps for the two factions : base camps that existed on this map. It's on this map that the actual positions for the two camps was settled : south for the Alliance, north for the Horde.
Historically, the Alliance had garrisons since the Sons of Lothar crossed the Dark Portal, and Honor Hold (Alliance garrison in The Burning Crusade's Hellfire Peninsula) was said to be existing since the end of Warcraft II. On this "Old Outland", it looks more ruined than the actual one. Barracks and towers are destroyed... An early Cataclysm :p
(Funny thing is, the tower with the broken summit still exists in the game. It was moved to a floating rock near the Dark Portal to serve as a little quest hub, one of them involving demon bombing).
Our dear Horde friends (zog zog) are luckier. Orcs are on Draenor since... well, always, it's their home planet after all. They are relatively well established, but unfortunately for our green-skinned friens, the vast majority of the remaining orcs are bloodthirsty monsters, addicted to demonic magic, and it's not in their mood to kill pigs in the Valley of the Trials.
They did build, in The Burning Crusade, their own camp base : Thrallmar. In the Old Outland, the Orc base is intact, and protected by towers.
However, buildings look very primitive, and not like the ones in the Thrallmar we saw in BC. Maybe designers already had in mind the idea of the Mag'har orcs (the ones that didn't drink Mannoroth's blood because of an "illness", and didn't get corrupted) ? To this, we can't answer because of lacks of elements.
Horde and Alliance, that's okay, but I need to talk to you about the third kind of architecture present in Old Outland : Draenei architecture ! Firstly, forget all about the Draenei aka the Blue Light-Loving Octopus. For a Warcraft III player, a Draenei, it was this :
A wonderful inbreeding of Gollum, E.T., and a trash bag.
Draenei race was redone in The Burning Crusade, and is now divided into three categories : the Exodar one (the Blue Octopus), the Broken (the ugly ones, but that can be saved), and the Lost Ones (the very ugly and unredeemable ones). Our Draenei is now a Lost One, those that are killable on sight. The ones that helped us in Warcraft III became the Broken.
Here is a screenshot of the draenei buildings, as they were in Old Outland :
We can see this kind of building in Zangarmarsh, where the Lost Ones now live !
In Old Outland, this tribe would have been either an enemy one (as allies of Illidan), either neutral, but would certainly not have the status of a lost tribe they got in The Burning Crusade.
Let's not forget that the Draenei as a playable race was a thing that was settled and announced lately, even after The Burning Crusade was officially said to be the first expansion. The lore of the Draenei radically changed, and Old Outland is a good example of what would have happened if the Draenei would not have existed as the 5th Alliance race.
This little tour is not over yet, so you, yes you, the one sleeping near the windows, wake up ! I have spoken earlier of elements that were kept in the final version of Hellfire Peninsula. This, is one of them :
Does this remind you anything ? Yes, the Pools of Agonaar. This demon body is well known because it still exists, and I can assure you that it has not moved at all. Today, it is a quest zone, and we fight his son. The only difference... the skeleton is... larger :
This is not all : the tanks, armaments and catapults that are now used near The Path of Glory were in fact created long before The Burning Crusade came out. Here they are, everywhere in the map :
This update of those combat tools is restricted to Hellfire Peninsula, as, if I remember well, they are not used anywhere else.
Inattentive reader, surely you have already forgotten what I said about the Deadmines' Secret. I asserted that we could find some elements from the Outland sub-folder, the same sub-folder used by Old Outland. This is a proof of what I was saying, with reuse of elements found in the Deadmines' Secret (we can see that there are several kind of trees on the floating crystals, amazing isn't it ?)
The rest of the central zone is a non-developped desert. I have heard that, in one version of the Old Outland, there used to be water here, but I have never seen it. I don't have anything much to add there, except that this gives an idea of the area that could have also been used.
When I talked about a « central zone », you should have winced. Yes I have only talked about the central part of the Old Outland, in between the mountains described at the beginning. You need to know that another unknown-zone existed, out of these mountains. Less developed, it is less consistent when it comes to the lore, but it is not uninteresting nonetheless.
First, when we enter the area, we can see the zone-name "Dun Morogh" appearing on the screen. Sadly, I do not have any screens to show you, but maybe, one day, I'll come back. Dun Morogh is not a random name ! In the very long list of the zone names used by the game (I call those area-name), Dun Morogh is the first one :
As this part of Old Outland is not like Dun Morogh, we can deduce that this name was only for testing purpose.
Secondly, the Silithid hives. There are several of them, and they have the same model as the ones in Silithus, but they're black. Black Silithid hives are not very used in the game : there used to have one in Thousand Needles, and, err... That's not the most important.
Their interest is mostly a wish of the designers to put an insectoid presence in Outland. We know that they added in BC-Hellfire Peninsula two races meeting (relatively) the criterias : ravagers and skinners. But nothing that looked like the complex Silithid hives was kept.
In BC-Outland, a little plot was done around Old Gods with the Dark Conclave and Harbinger Skyriss. Maybe these hives could have had a link with the Old Gods ? But this is purely hypothetical.
The presentation of Old Outland is now over.
You all know what happened next : development of The Burning Crusade, and Hellfire Peninsula, who stayed the same today. We can notice that graphic conception of the new Peninsula was inspired by concept-arts and maps from ... Warcraft II ! This goes back even further !