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WoWJul 9, 2019 10:20 am CT

The art of Azshara’s Eternal Palace tells the story of the Naga’s evolution

Polygon has posted this interview with Ely Cannon, art director and senior level designer on World of Warcraft, discussing the design of Nazjatar and the Eternal Palace raid going live today. It’s a fascinating read for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is the discussion of how Nazjatar was designed as a living space. Literally, when the Alliance and Horde crash into Nazjatar, they are the invaders — this new zone is not the Naga attacking us on our shores, like we’ve seen before.

“Our goals and desires for what we wanted to see for the Naga and Nazjatar was to be able to show their home city,” says art director Ely Cannon. “We wanted to really show them in the context of where they rooted and lived in their world, as opposed to a guerrilla warfare force or an army that’s invading or affecting change in other areas of the world.”

I think this is simultaneously one of the things I really like about Nazjatar and one of the things that’s most disquieting about it — the heightened sense of alienation we get from its twisting pathways and sharp, terraced cliffs is because this is not a space where anything like us lives. This is where the Naga live, and usually it’s under tons of water, so it’s a space that would usually be swum over instead of walked through. That art direction has shaped everything we experience in the cramped, twisted, unfamiliar terrain of the zone.

The distillation of an awful truth

Another thing Cannon talks about and which I really feel deserves a lot more time and attention is the idea of Azshara’s transformation from Night Elf to Naga as an amplification — that in so changing, she has essentially become an even stronger version of what she was internally.

She’s beautiful and elegant, but at the same time extremely powerful, extremely dangerous, and very much monstrous,” Cannon says. “She’s a mutated, converted, transformed version of her former self.”

The article mentions that Azshara is what N’Zoth might well see as the perfect elf, and how another character’s transformation — the one undergone by Priscilla Ashvane — shows internal life made explicit. Ashvane’s inner monster brought forth, as it were. This is an interesting theme to explore with the design of the zone and the raid — how the objective correlative can be manifested in the visual of the change. I also think it’s interesting that in both cases, this transformation is imposed. N’Zoth changes Azshara into her present form, and Azshara alters Ashvane to her Sea Giant incarnation, someone else essentially deciding who these characters really are.

In both cases, then, this isn’t necessarily how these characters saw themselves — it’s a view imposed by someone else.

An ancient alien palace

One thing the interview makes clear is that the Eternal Palace, as a raid, has several design ideas. Since raids are designed in wings, each wing can be used to emphasize a specific aspect of the broader picture. In Azshara’s Eternal Palace, the Hatchery wing of the raid is useful for showing how much the Naga have changed from their roots as Night Elves, while the Council Chambers are where the Naga carry out the business of rulership — twisted in their own particular way.

“In each of these spaces we’re really trying to leverage the human experience that says ‘What is it like to be in a palace?’ But then… ‘What is it like to be in an evil palace?’ It’s beautiful, but everything is sharp. It’s a little darker, there’s stuff hiding in the shadows. We’re trying to capture those high level moods and emotions.”

The art design of this raid is using what we expect to find and making it different enough to be disquieting — trading on what we expect from a kind of space we’ve seen several times before, using the differences to reveal exactly how far from what they were the Naga have traveled over the past 10,000 years. Whether it’s rooms full of eggs that they hatch from or the constant awareness that this is a space usually underneath vast watery depths, the Eternal Palace is meant to be a place you’re not familiar with — a fully inhuman, liminal space that straddles the boundaries between transformations, where one can faintly grasp N’Zoth’s imposed idea of what perfection means.

The entire raid is harbinger of what the Old God would do to the world, as filtered through the lens of Queen Azshara.

If you want to read the whole interview, head on over to Polygon.

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