Developer's test zone : Development

Let's introduce myself. I'm Aléquia Moowisle, still mage, still gilnean, and still assisted by my old dwarf friend, Saouline. Some of you might remember me ? I had written a report about the history of Old Outland, which was published here a few weeks ago. It consisted of analyzing a pre-release version of the zone in order to deduce elements about the final version of the zone.

This time, I'm not going to talk about a zone you can find ingame, but a zone that's never been officially accessible, despite its constant evolution following the game itself : I'm talking about the "test" zone of the developers, also called "Development". This report is going to be longer than the one about Old Outland, since there's much more to show.
But before we start, you may wonder what a "test zone" actually is ?
It's a place, normally closed to players, where game developers test the game settings and mechanics before applying them to playing maps.The advantage of these zones is that they can be easily remodeled to match the tests. However, it's not their only role... They're also the occasion for developers to have fun, especially at Blizzard ! Everything is possible in a test zone, that's the general principle. But we'll talk again about this later.

These zones are very often removed from the final game to stay forever in the archives of the company. Sometimes they become legends among players, taking the name of "level 0" for example.Fortunately for us, Wow is in the second category.
Moreover, World of Warcraft doesn't have one, but dozen of test zones ! They're generally separate instances, and each of them has a special function. For example, there's Collin, Development, CraigTest, ExteriorTest, Test, ScottTest, QA_DVD, etc.

Some of them are empty, like Collin or CraigTest, some have a little more consistant content, like Exterior Test.I'm going to take Exterior Test as an example : it's an instance, divided into two zones, which were mostly used during Wotlk Development to test a more efficient way to create mountains like the ones in Storm Peaks.

However, as I announced earlier, today I'm going to talk to you about the biggest and the most famous of these zones : Development.Does someone know Development here ? No ? Actually, this zone was known before Wotlk under the names "Designer Island" and "Programmer Isle". Like GM Island, those two islands became legends, and I'm sure some of the older players here have already heard about them.

Of course they existed ! But they took different shapes as updates went on.
During Vanilla Wow alpha and beta, they were on Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms maps. Some rumors say that there were npc dropping epic mounts and other test objects... I couldn't check that at the time, but according to some sources I consider reliable, it is not true.

Afterwards, they were cut from the continents, and put together in a separate instance called Development. It's the famous map number 451.

Since everyone is waiting for it, I'm going to make a quick visit of those two isles, the way they were in version 2.3 !
I'm going to start with Programmer Isle, which is a little less well known that the other one. This island is a patchwork of several subzones which are : a test version of Elwynn forest, normal Elwynn forest, and untextured test zones.

You're not quite visualising what I'm saying ? Maybe the minimap will help you :

You can see that Elwynn 2.3 subzone is at the up right of the island. Elwynn test zones cover a big part on the left side, and the other zones are flat.
It's a test zone, so developers haven't made any particlar effort to match textures at the border of the subzones, which gives an... interesting result.

But Programmer Isle is mostly famous for its objects/buildings !
It's important to know that once an object model is in game data, it's very easy to duplicate it on a map. If you're used to Warcraft3 map editor, you surely know that kind of things. Developers had fun displaying here and there on the island unusual Warcraft buildings.

Near the center Northshire abbey and a moonwell can be found, in the south an Orc barrack and another Northshire abbey, a few basic human towers, a mage tower and a bridge on the west, and finally a Temple of Atal'Hakkar in the north. Here are some screenshots.

The character you've seen earlier on the screenshots is a "humanscale-male". It means that this nice guy helps developers to define the size of their buildings and mountains according to a standard human. Alpha and beta zones contain lots of these little models. There's one for each race, and you can admire them in Wow Model Viewer in World > Scale.

It's interesting to note that these buildings keep their "Area Name", which means it's their original floating name that pops on the screen on entering them. It's quite suprising to see "Northshire Abbey" displayed on top of the screen knowing you're absolutely not in Northshire ; moreover, it allows to join the general channel with the corresponding name. In other terms, thanks to that it's possible to talk to people being in Elwynn Forest, while being on Programmer Isle !

This island was precisely used for tests on Area Names. There a sort of valley, near the Temple of Atal'Hakkar, where several Area Names can be found on a very small zone. Their names are : Jeff SE Quadrant, Jeff SW Quadrant, Jeff NW Quadrant, Jeff NEW Quadrant. I know your curiosity is endless, and you're probably going to ask :
- Well, who is Jeff ?
And I'll say that I absolutely don't have a clue. It's probably the name of one of the game developers, which are commonly used in Development tests, but I'll detail this later.

I'm now going to tell you about another tool developers use to create a zone. Textures on the ground are composed of 4 layers, rarely used at the same time. This tool allows developers to change locally a layer on a terrain. Why is it useful ? To simply write indications on the ground to remember where to place objects, etc. And there are lots of things written on Programmer Isle !

I can talk about the word "Fast" near the abbey at the center of the map, or "Still" close to the Temple of Atal'Hakkar, but the most well-known expression is "Chow is my love Monkey". This sentence revealing developer's love for monkeys was deleted, and then added again on Programmer Isle for an unknown reason. I personnally think it has a link with a more global Kael'Thas project, but shhh, let's keep silent about it.

I think I've talked about everything on Programmer Island, so let's turn to the second island, which is more famous : Designer Island.
But first things first, I'm going to draw your attention to an artwork that raised a lot of questions at the time.

It is still in Wow classic credits, and has the name "Dragon Isles".

Before Wow, this name Dragon Isles can be found only once, as a Warcraft 2 multiplayer map, which had the shape of a dragon, and has at first sight nothing to do with the artwork. It could be found somewhere else later... but I'll come back to that.

There were lots of theories about this place. Some think it's Nazjatar, the temple capital of the Nagas, founded by Queen Azshara to honour of Old Gods, and which is near the Maelström. This speculation comes from the tentacle like aspect of the building, that reminds of the old Gods and underwater Nagas' world. It is generally called the castle or temple of the Dragon Isles.
The credits artworks represent something that can be seen ingame, and this one is no exception to the rule ! It is true that this building never officially appeared ingame, but it is on Designer Island since the release of the game, and has become its symbol.

This island is a perfect replica of Westfall as it was before Cataclysm, where all the trees, buildings and objects you can normally see there would have been removed.
Instead of that, developers added the huge Dragon Isles building and various testing things.
Here is the minimap of the island, which should help you to see it all better :

You can easily see the main building on top left ; the three small buildings on the left are caves, and are also called Dragon Isle in game files ; there's also a zone on the right that contains barracks, a tower and an inn ; and finally a sort of grid on bottom right.

Designer Island is a test zone, so a zone where... tests are made. For example, the grid was used to test a specific property of textures. 
This place may also have used for ore tests, where each tile would have corresponded to a different ore, but it is yet to confirm.

Let's take a closer look at the center of the island, which is to say the three caves and the huge Dragon Isles castle. All buildings on Dragon Isles have this in common to have textures... Or actually no textures at all. Colors are directly included in 3D structures, and don't come from image textures like most of the models ingame. You've seen a glimpse of it earlier on my screenshot of the main building : all those buildings are covered with monochrome textures with flashy colors, most of the time hardly getting along together.

Nevertheless, I'd say this is what makes the place beautiful.
I'm going to make a quick visit of the three caves. Each of them has a huge shell above the entrance, and their shapes remind of underwater caves. Despite these common elements, inside they're totally different, and each cave is unique.

The first one, the lowest, is quite large inside and has dominant colors like white and grey for walls, and green and yellow for the ground. It also has lots of stalactites, stalagmites and stalagmite columns, as well as many light effects. This cave ends by a big part of it hanging in the air.

The second one, which is in the middle, is the shortest one. Regarding colors, its interior looks like the entrance, i.e a light beige, a red ceiling and grey walls/pillars. Like the first cave, its end hangs in the air, but this time the cutting is sharp and the surroundings are a little buggy.
It's only a theory on my part, but I think this cave and the previous one could have been used as an inspiration for some Vash'Jir caves ; I'm especially thinking about the one under L'Gorek.

The last cave, which is the highest, has the most difficult to find entrance since it's behind the castle, but it's also the longest of the three. The path is far narrower and tortuous, and colors, which are flashy yellow and red for the ground, red for ceiling and grey for walls, are a pain to the eyes.

It ends with a platform once again hanging in the air, decorated with some green statactites.

It's interesting to note that this cave goes litterally so deep in the map that it goes "outside the instance", and it's impossible to reach the end. Every instance in Wow is based on a 64*64 grid. Every tile being or not activated according to the instance size. Where a non-activated tile is reached, a blue wall stops the character from moving forward. That blue wall can be seen while playing when the game hasn't finished to download data.

Generally, accessible terrain for normal instances is located and activates only the center tiles of the grid. The instance where the two islands are is a little special, since accessible terrain is located at the corners of this grid ! That's why the cave can leave the grid and thus go outside the instance. There's the same thing for GM island, which is at the extreme upper left corner of Kalimdor.
That's a little bit technical, and maybe not very clear, so here's a representation of that grid :

Let's now talk about the main course, the big "temple" from Designer Island !
It has two entries, one quite large that forms a hole near the shell-like shape which is the base for the building, and another one higher, accessible by a slope, that allows to enter the upper part.

The first entrance leads to a big hall textured with a "so soft" mixing of orange, green and purple.

The second entrance is far more interesting. It allows to go into the sort of tower with red covering located at the front of the building.
Contrary to the caves and their typical rounded shapes, or "natural" look, this hall has a far more "sharp" aspect and geometric shapes.
The interior is monochrome orange/green-orange, and shapes can essentially be distinguished thanks to the light effects and the reflections of the place. The stairs have a unique appearance and a quite original "triangular" architecture.

The hall can be left from the roof, and it leads to a path on the crest of the shell used as a base to go to the inside of the pink castle at the top of the building.

The interior of the castle mostly presents the same shapes as the previous one, but the organisation of the place is very different. It's divided into three parts : the first one is the room where we enter, the second one is behind the stairs, and the last one is hidden under the second one, and accessible through a hole in a pillar.
The colors, from green to purple, are far less aggressive.
The secret room is built so that it emphasises a huge window leading to... twisting nether ? Damn Kael'Thas.

The visit of Designer Island is over, but this report isn't !
The instance containing both islands was removed from the files when wotlk was released, so is it the end of their story ? Not exactly.

At the beginning of 3.0, there was almost nothing left of the existence of both islands. Actually, one thing remained from the Development instance, but not the least. It was the instance minimap... which revealed the existence of a huge map being the size of three Kalimdor continents put together. It was then called Development's minimap
(the one that is just below is the Cataclysm one, but few things have changed between Wotlk and Cataclysm versions).

Imagine a continent where there would be three cloned Storm Peaks one after the other, where a big "VCLand" would be written on a ground the size of Dragonblight, where there would be a Warsong Gulch looking like Winterspring, where the whole history of Northrend creation could be followed and where lots of Blizzard's weird ideas could be found ?
You would obtain Development continent.

This minimap brought many different theories. For example, some of the zones could be unknown Emerald Dream subzones. Unfortunately, since only the minimap was available, the investigation couldn't really go further. You can see Programmer Isle and Designer Island in the upper left and right corners, which proves they hadn't disappeared !
It's also fun to notice a giant black dragon present since 3.0, drawn on the ground ; doesn't it remind you someone ?

(Ok, you have to imagine it a little)

This continent remained like the Graal for a very long time for explorators. It could offer dozens of hours of explorations !
But the map seemed totally inaccessible from Blizzard headquarters, and many people tought no one would never be able to get there. As you can guess, and gladly, they were all wrong.

Around the release of Cataclysm, Development was available for around one hour, before it was immediately deleted. People who were able to visit it at the time (yes, moreover it's a difficult exploration) are a troll's handful of people, and I'm one of them.

However, the version of Development that was made available is far from complete, but it still allows many hours of exploration !
Of course, I'm not going to make a full visit of the continent, just some of the places. Some of the following screens haven't been previously shown.

Northrend theme is all over in Development, since it was used as a support test for the creation of the whole frozen wastes continent.
There are also lots of buildings and terrain tests, from almost all Northrend zones, apart from Icecrown which was developed later.
There are many zones corresponding to Northrend beaches (and more precisely, lots of beaches from Dragonblight). Those who were on alpha and beta may remember that the southern part of the continent was available far earlier than the northern one.

We sometimes find in Development big cuts from Northrend, like for example the whole zone around Azjol'Nerub.
Unfortunately, as I said before, it is not a complete Development that I have.
For most of the zones, only the objects placement has been preserved. What am I saying ? Just imagine a zone of the game, where the ground would have been destroyed but not the trees and the buildings on it. The testing lands for Grizzly Hills and Howling Fjord were particularly affected by this "no more ground" syndrom.

Scholazar and the DK starting zone were more spared on this aspect. It's interesting to note that one of the zones dedicated to Scholazar is a huge beach with small islands and primitive houses at the center. Maybe Scholazar should have had an opening to the see ? But it could also be an unimportant place created at coffee time.

As for the DK starting zone, which instance has the name "DeathKnightStart", it may have been used for the first phasing tests, which is a technique that consists in modifying a zone appearance without having a loading screen. The newborn death knight's quest line was like a big show off for that phasing, introduced as one of the biggest Wotlk innovations.

In complete zones, there's also what I consider as alpha Azjol'Nerub. Nerubian kingdom could have been a full leveling zone, but it was replaced with two dungeons, which are An'Kahet and Azjol'Nerub. This zone, already visible on the minimap, is one of the most impressing discoveries of Development, but I'll talk about it in details in a report on Azjol and Northrend.

There's a subzone in Development where you can see all Wotlk buildings, aligned per faction. Notably, there's the Horde, Alliance, Forsaken of nerubian inspiration, Vrykul's buildings at the top of a cliff, and autochthon Northrend peoples like Kaluaks and Taunkas.
As for surface, the Horde overpowers the other factions (I'm sure this is going to please some of you), but it's mainly thanks to the huge Warsong Hold and Borean Tundra.

Let's leave Northrend behind and look at other places in Development.
Emphasis is put on towns and villages on this map ! I can count at least twenty of them in the whole Development, and they're generally unique. Most of the villages are human ones, since humans are generally the favored tool for tests, and they're also the ones who have the biggest variety of buildings. However, dwarf, tauren and orc buildings can also be found, and far more rarely, night elf ones.

Those villages have the same "no more ground or textures" problem as the Wotlk zones, but for most of them their general shapes can be distinguished. You can find in particular a version of Wintergarde with human pre-Wotlk architecture.

In our cataclysmic times, Development has another great quality. Most of the zones come from before Cataclysm, or even before Wotlk, and were kept as they were before. For example, there's the Dalaran shield and Felwood, but the most impressive is the whole old Stormwind, which is attached to a part of Elwynn forest !

There are other zones in Development, that are more unique in their conception. They always remind of various released or unreleased zones, but they're made in a way that can only be found in Development.
For example, there's a zone strangely looking a lot like Tol'Barad, which uses some metallic models already existing in Shadowmoon, and crowned with several blue twirls that remind of those above Immol'Thar inside Dire Maul. I can also talk about a zone which re-uses all the data corresponding to Emerald Dream, as well as a test building called "ed_dragonshrine_a".

In the same vein, I can talk about a bamboo forest floating in the air. Or, in another fashion, of a village having a green ground covered with flowers. I can continue with a portal close to a black dragon and Qiraji darts. Or maybe a territory looking like GM Island in Cataclysm version, but bigger, would interest you more ?
I can't tell you everything, but it gives you a general idea of all the marvels you can find here. I haven't seen it all myself yet.

When I talked about Programmer Isle, I told you about a pencil locally changing the color of textures used by the devs for testing zones. This pencil can sometimes give... interesting results. Yes, apart from little drawings on the ground, thanks to transparency variations it's possible to stack several layers, giving some artistic results on some zones, like the cliff below.
It's a zone you can easily see on the Development minimap, will you be able to find it ?

Development was a map used to create settings, but it was also a playable map ! Various quests could be done on Development, like for example "Clayton's Quest: Extreme!!" or "Test Quest - Craig" (you can find them on WowHead's database, folllowing these links : http://www.wowhead.com/quest=11402 and http://www.wowhead.com/quest=11425).

But another gameplay test was made on Development, battlegrounds' one. Several versions of battle grounds can be found, like Warsong Gulch totally covered by snow, resembling Winterspring settings. There's also a pre-version of Strand of the Ancients, followed by a Wotlk battleground, maybe the Isle of Conquest, but that was never released with this shape anyway.
I've also found an old version of Alterac Valley, where Horde's barracks looked a lot like the Alliance one, with the same kind of configuration around a bridge !

Development is also characteristic with its original area names. I don't have much to say about this, apart from what I have previously said : it's often developer's names that are used ! I've personally found : - claytonio test area ;
- Designer Island ;
- Bernau's Happy Fun Land ;
- Development Land.
(Most of the zone names were localised/translated)

You can also note that on most of the zones tagged Designer Island and Claytonio Test Area, it's Thunder Bluff's music that is used.
For alliance people like me, who are not familiar with the music I'm talking about, here it is (from 50 sec) :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsXkbM6Jfjg

I then decided to search some of these names, thanks to a fantastic tool : Wow credits. It's also theories, so I'm sorry if there are some developers I've mistaken with others, and I'm even more sorry for the ones I've really found !

I've first found Bernau, which is easy since he's the only one with this name. I then stopped on Collin Murray, Craig Steele, and Scott Hartin, who have the same names as the instances I talked about earlier. There were several people with these names, but I chose these ones since they're all from programming.

I also found Clayton Dubin, Lead QA Analyst, for Claytonio test area.
Then, it's Pat MacKellar, in additional programming, probably for the "patty mac". What is "patty mac" ? You'll know that soon.

And finally, the famous Jeff and his quadrants... He was not easy to find, many people have the same name. Finally, I found a Jeff Chow in programming, with the same name than the famous monkey on Programmer Isle. So, we can see the subtle comparison, probably by one of his collegues, of that developer with a monkey.

Lets' go back to Development. Some of you may wonder what has become of the Programmer Isle and Designer Island ? They haven't moved from their place on the 64*64 grid, but their aspect has completely changed with both Developments of Wotlk and Cataclysm. Let's start with Programmer Isle.

The island has had a complete cleaning of the objects it contained. There are some additions, and lots of things that disappeared. There's in particular a new dark iron building, which is a beta version of Dun Argol city in the south of Grizzly Hills. Textures haven't avoided some changes too, as a flashy green "Patty Mac" appeared.
This "patty mac" is associated to the quest http://www.wowhead.com/quest=9065 ; this quest was used to test the first destroyable buildings which were then placed in zones like Wintergrasp. Those tests happened on the new Programmer Isle.

But the island was also made bigger, with some new zones added to it ! I first see a zone for "drawings" and testings, where developers -- as I have already talked about in this report -- had fun scribbling things on the ground. Then, there's a testing zone for various liquids like water or lava.
Finally, there's another territory that contains a very old untextured version of Shadowfang Keep, as well as the Blasted Lands dark portal.

Designer Island's fat is a little more sad. The island wasn't spared by the "cutting" of Development, and even though the buildings still remain, most of the reliefs and ground textures have unfortunately disappeared.
Nevertheless, some ground has been added at the south of the island. Even though it no longer has textures and relief either, various objects have appeared, like the famous Thunder Bluff's lifts or a zone in the South that looks like the border between Eversong Woods and Ghostlands.

Do you remember the introduction movie for patch 2.4 ? At the beginning of the video, we can see how the sunwell was destroyed, before the plateau, by Arthas Scourge. This little zone could have been used to film this scene, but it's pure speculation.

I'm going to stop here for Development, as I said before, I can't describe it all. The screenshots you've seen are only a small part of the whole Development, which is still at Blizzard for the time being. This continent is still changing, and we regularly receive parts of minimap in updates.
Development is far from useless ! For many zones, Development ground is like a "pre-alpha" version, and is a necessary step for creation. There are many things I haven't talked about, like sky tests. Maybe I'll do it if Development becomes available again one day ?