World of Warcraft's Samwise Didier talks about finally bringing his Pandaren to life

The newly announced Mists of Pandaria expansion for Blizzard's World of Warcraft finally brings the long-awaited Pandaren race to the fantasy world of Azeroth, and while many players have been waiting to see pandas officially implemented into the game, no one, perhaps, has been waiting longer than Samwise Didier. Blizzard's longtime art director originally created the race in his own art, and up until this release, they existed only in bits and pieces of legends inside the games, as little in-jokes or secrets.

"It's very personal to me," Didier tells us at BlizzCon this week. "It all started with a picture done for Christmas after the birth of my daughter." Since that first piece of concept art, the Pandaren have always been a fan favorite race (combining a heady mix of panda humanoids, Eastern-style religions and mythology, and even beer brewing monks), and while Didier is quick to point out that lots of people are working on Mists of Pandaria, he's thrilled to see his personal creation come to virtual life. "I'm not trying to take away" credit for the expansion, he says, quickly acknowledging all of the creative folks at Blizzard, "however many it takes to make a game. But it's nice to know that some goofy thought in my head, done for that reason, for my kid, turned into this."

Does the portrayal live up to what Didier envisioned? "Yeah, and then some," he says. "There was only a few Pandaren pictures, and most of them were of Chen [Stormstout], a big fat sweaty heavy, beer-drinking Pandaren. Well that's not the entire society. He's sort of the anomaly. He likes to go to the outside world. So what do the normal Pandarens do, what is their normal culture like? A lot of sweat went into designing that."

But Didier does say that whenever the expansion finally arrives, and the race long hidden in Warcraft's shadows finally gets their time in the spotlight, he'll be proud they're there. "It was one of the last things that I really wanted to see in World of Warcraft, which is Warcraft in general," he says, after having worked on some of the most iconic designs in Blizzard's legendary game franchises. "Now I can almost say, well, I think I've done good with Warcraft -- they're finally in."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.