The Objective of the Lore: A Multitude of Voices

There’s a certain degree of entitlement that I often see in the community about people who want novel-grade consistency out of Blizzard Entertainment. I’m saying that you’re demanding to have your cake and eat it too, and I want to disabuse you of that notion.

Here’s the thing about lore in World of Warcraft: while you could conceivably compare the scope of its story or the number of interconnected characters to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings   there isn’t really a lot of ground to stand on for that comparison. The main reason for this is because lore in WoW (and also lore in Starcraft and Diablo, natch) is not written by one person.

Let’s go down the list:

  • Big stakeholders in the company’s overall dedication to story like Chris Metzen.
  • Boss-level producers and the game director Tom Chilton who are invested particular in the movement of Warcraft as a franchise.
  • Creative Development’s rank-and-file, both in the form of writers who generate story content like Micky Neilson, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, and Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie (there are a lot more of them) and historians like Sean Copeland, Evelyn Fredericksen, and Justin Parker who are intended to keep all of the story agents in line.
  • Narrative Designer Dave Kosak and other game designers who need the story to move in a particular direction to match up with game design assets like raid and dungeon bosses and character/NPC abilities.
  • Quest designers who are tasked with populating the world with relevant quests that accentuate the main story.
  • Professional writers (i.e. Christie Golden, Richard Knaak, Mike Stackpole) external to Blizzard who are contracted to create non-game content like the books, comics, manga, and the Ultimate Visual Guide.
  • Third parties who are adapting Warcraft into other mediums, like Blizzard’s Team 5 making Hearthstone, the now-defunct Cryptozoic crew who was making the WoW TCG, and Legendary Pictures who’s currently making the Warcraft film.

You don’t have a single authoritative personality directing all of these forces simultaneously, and even as much as people THINK it’s Metzen or Kosak at every turn, it’s not. Even with the existence of the historians, it’s an unrealistic expectation for them to pore over every single line of text in every single work to make sure it all serves the meta-narrative of the game consistently. There are dozens of voices all putting their input into the game at once, and they aren’t even doing it by any kind of committee but instead all independently with oversight from CDev.

The game is too large for one person to keep it all straight. And even if it were possible for the historians to ensure that 100% of the outgoing text passes muster, there’s no single authoritative person to say “now that it’s written it cannot be altered under any circumstances.”

This is the reason why there’s no definitive timeline for the in-game history, and why there’s no definitive encyclopedia for all of the in-game subjects that exist: the designers need to have the flexibility to shape the world to suit the design. The story has to be malleable so that it can support the gameplay. This is why the maps keep changing and continents keep on showing up on Azeroth. And when it comes down to it, when you make things concrete and canon, it limits what you’re capable of doing later.

When you’re writing a series of books and you come to the realization that something in Book 1 is holding you back from something you want to do in Book 3, you can’t typically do much about if Book 1 is already out. You deal with it and the rest of the books proceed as best as you can and you take it as a lesson to plan better next time. But the reason for that is because the story is the only thing in books. There’s nothing else other than the story and it’s internal consistency. No one reads ASoIaF if they’re not interested in story. There are people who play WoW who aren’t interested in story, and Blizzard has to design a game that suits them just as much as they need a game world that’s rich in story. That means gameplay first.

The core of all this is that when people accuse Blizzard of laziness or bad writing, I take some umbrage at that. The objective of Blizzard’s lore mission is to support the gameplay. It’s a single facet of the product’s diamond-like surface. It’s like throwing Guardians of the Galaxy under the bus because you’ve got a bad association with “Cherry Bomb.” Maybe a piece of writing isn’t the strongest (I find Kosak’s “Edge of Night” to be problematic) but if it does its intended task than that should garner a little respect.

Anyhow, /rant.

I’ll Bet Cash Money We Get Ogres Next Expansion

In terms of evidence, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Ogres are the only humanoid race that worked for the Horde in WC2 that hasn’t become playable.
  • Metzen wants playable ogres (or at least did once upon a time).
  • Warlords of Draenor has a ton of situations predicated on the existence of a vast ogre civilization that’s so old it’s in decline.
  • Chilton’s recent comments indicated that new races would be a thing in “some other expansion that is coming up.” Combine with the following:
    • Blizzard has stated that Expansion 6 is already in development.
    • They also identified a second continent on Draenor as the ogre homeland.
    • Much lip service has been paid to the idea that the timejump to Draenor was not meant only to set up WoD but to set up future expansions as well.
      • Expansion 6 takes us to the Gorian Empire for blood and glory. QED.
  • The Horde started off with a bunch of brutal monstrous races, and the races they’ve gotten since have either been a stark contrast (blood elves) or only semi-monstrous (goblins) or the pandaren. Adding the ogres to the Horde at long last gives them another bruiser race that fits the savage sentiments of the faction.

Maybe there are some counterarguments out there (“what do you do about two-headed ogres,” “wtf do ogre women look like,” “dammit ogres are stupid,” etc.) but I feel like all of that can be countered by solid design. The bottom line is that the evidence for keeps cropping up and the evidence against is the same as it was ten years ago.

The big issue that comes up for me is what to do for the Alliance.

  • High elves are the only humanoid race that worked for the Alliance in WC2 that hasn’t become playable FOR THE ALLIANCE. They’re playable on the Horde, and quite frankly there’s not enough reason to have identical elf races on both factions; the pandaren are an exception.
  • Assuming that a playable ogre faction would actually be Gorian ogres, arguments could be made that you could have a separate faction of ogres join the Alliance. This also invokes the Pandaren Exception.
  • The expansion races for the Alliance have all been homeless, lost races, with the main difference being whether they had a choice in it. The draenei are exiles hundreds of times removed from their homes, the worgen homeland got blighted by the Forsaken, and the Tushui pandaren chose to leave the Wandering Isle. Another race of exiles (as in a high elf faction, or any other race for that matter) doesn’t compliment the concept of the Alliance as a league of nations in a mutual defense pact.
  • No other race jumps out at me as a playable contender that could meet the following criteria:
    • Is a sovereign kingdom that mostly controls its own borders,
    • Is made up of bipedal humanoids,
    • Has not already been implemented in game using another playable races’ skeleton (which knocks off the jinyu, mogu, saurok, mantid, and various others).

Now, that’s a personal limitation: just because I can’t think of a solution doesn’t mean no solution exists. I just don’t feel like there’s anything for the Alliance that’s as much of a shoe-in as ogres for the Horde.

Before I leave you, one last thing:

The Pandaren Exception

When it comes down to it, the two factions need to have distinct silhouettes. That means having distinct races that, in turn, have distinct silhouettes. It’s not just a matter of being able to identify a player as an enemy or an ally in PVP (people throw out same-faction arena as a typical counter, for example) but also a matter of that silhouette immediately letting you identify a race, and having that race be associated with a faction helps to build the faction identity. So when you break down silhouette as a pillar by putting identical races on both factions, you’re breaking down faction identity.

In a franchise like Warcraft where “orcs vs. humans” is a core aspect of the narrative, breaking down faction identity and uniqueness is bad.

So why do pandaren get a pass? The best answer that’s ever come out of the devs has been that the pandaren were too cool to limit to one faction. Players on both factions would have rioted if they didn’t get the chance to play a pandaren, and all things considered there was nothing about the race that locked them into being one side or the other. There’s also the statement that just doing one playable race and one starting experience let them focus on their efforts and ensure that the starting experience was as awesome as it could possibly be.

Doing another neutral race would chip away at faction identity. The more races who join both factions, the less reason there is for the factions to be distinct, and there’s less defensible reason to keep tauren from joining the Alliance or have dwarves join the Horde.

And yeah, I can hear people saying “but that’s what I want” and my only response is this: you’ll have to convince Blizzard’s devs that this is good for the game as a whole, which is a lot more work than it takes for them to maintain the status quo.

So the pandaren were a special case. I don’t think we’ll see another neutral race again.

The Swordsman’s Lament

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There’s a particular character archetype that I love that I know will likely never be expressed as a character in World of Warcraft: the martial swordsman.

Now the immediate response is that there are plenty of mans who use swords in the game, and that’s true, but none of them match the archetype I’m thinking of. Let’s debunk each:

Warriors: Ultimately, the archetype aligns the most with Warriors, because it’s the concept of using a sword, not magic of any kind, and not shapeshifting, in order to combat your opponents. Each spec clashes with the archetype in different ways.

  • Protection warriors can use a sword, but this is in combination with a shield. That matches up with a different archetype, and is more along the lines of using both the weapon and the shield as the tools of combat. The martial swordsman only uses the sword.
  • Arms warriors use two-handed swords (among other two-handed weapons) and to a great extent, the temperament of the spec gets close to aligning with what I’m thinking of, but it’s a huge weapon being wielded by a huge bruiser in plate armor. This is also what locks out Death Knights.
  • Fury warriors have the same problem as Arms in that respect, and while they can use one-handed swords via Single-Minded Fury, they’re using two.

Rogues: Ultimately, where the rogue similarity comes in is in the use of light armor and a focus on agility over strength, speed over brawn. But that’s where the similarity ends. The dirty tactics, the stealth, the poisons, everything else that’s the hallmark of being a rogue doesn’t mesh for the swordsman archetype.

So that’s what it’s not, but what is it?

It’s easy to just say “dude it’s a samurai” and call it done, because that’s going to call to mind a very particular silhouette of a swordsman that’s not as heavy as a Western knight. But I feel like that does an injustice to samurai; they were experts with a variety of different weaponry, not just the katana.

I’m talking about a guy who’s an expert with a sword, and the sword alone serves as his weapon. The sword is the delivery method of the man’s deadly skill. That’s why huge two-handers don’t fit the design; in those cases, the sword is more dangerous than the man. The man should be the source of the menace, even when the sword is sheathed.

All that being said,  I completely understand that it would take a momentous amount of work to make a swordsman-type character work. Everything from the Blademaster Hero unit in WC3 has already been farmed out to other classes. Coming up with different specs for the class is notably difficult to do, and to a great extent it crowds out rogues in the same way windwalker monks do currently. Because the visual component is so critical, you’re talking about a bunch of new animations for thirteen races to learn how to do iaido. It’s something that’s visually interesting in duels, but once you start adding more combatants (and when the swordsman is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rogue shoving blades in the boss’ hindquarters) that starts to wear off quickly.

Ultimately, I know this is something I’ll have to go to other games to get. Which, as an aside: it really aggravates me that I can’t do this as a Jedi in Old Republic without being a tank.

Ah well. At least I’ll always have Mitsurugi.

Hellscream and the Orcish Destiny

Parallels are something that I love being able to draw out.

In the WC3 cinematic that showcases Thrall and Grom’s bout with Mannoroth (and Grom’s epic death), the first hint we get of Mannoroth’s presence is him chuckling off-screen. The same thing happens with Mannoroth in the WoD cinematic.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth is expressing his dominance over the orcs; in WC3, he states it plainly, while in WoD, he calls the gathered orcs mongrels and goads Hellscream: “did you bring [the orcs] here just to watch you die?”

In both cinematics, the first attack on Mannoroth fails; in WC3, Thrall’s assault with the Doomhammer gets knocked aside effortlessly, while in WoD, the ballista’d chain meant to pin him down so that the Iron Star could end him gets countered.

In both cinematics, Mannoroth goes down in one hit from Gorehowl. It’s much more believable in WoD, because getting an axe embedded in your skull is more certain of a killing blow than getting it in the chest, especially with as much mass as Mannoroth has. To an extent, this is something that really remarks both on the strength of a weapon like Gorehowl, which has the most mundane of origins, and on the strength of the guys who have wielded Gorehowl.

It’s where the parallels give way to even greater shifts that I get really interested.

In WC3, Grom attacks head-on after he gets taunted by Mannoroth. This sells the idea that Mannoroth knows exactly how to manipulate Grom, and the only thing that goes south for the pit lord is that Grom gets a killing blow in past his defenses. In WoD, if you’re going in with the WC3 cinematic in mind, you expect Grom to do the same thing… but instead he smiles, and you see the catapult fire coming in behind him. This younger, uncorrupted Grom is already acting with greater foresight than his older version; all of this builds to the idea that this Grom is patently more dangerous.

Grom makes sure the Iron Star gets deployed rather than just going toe-to-toe with Mannoroth. Not only does this continue building the “new/improved Grom” concept, but it also demonstrates how the Iron Horde is going to marry the brawn and determination of an uncorrupted Horde with the Blackfuse technology that the Iron Star represents. It’s foreshadowing how much more technological this Iron Horde will be in comparison to the Blackhand/Doomhammer hordes of the past.

Clearly, having Grom get silhouetted against the explosion coming from Mannoroth’s corpse is a callback to the WC3 cinematic, but it’s so important that Garrosh dives in to keep Grom from getting killed. This is a huge expression of the heroic qualities that Garrosh has; your standard villain would probably let Grom die after doing his job, but Garrosh saves him. And while people drawing Back to the Future parallels might argue that Garrosh is only saving Grom in order to ensure his own future conception (which is a self-serving villainous thing to do) that’s dependent on duplicating that franchise’s plot devices.

Garrosh saves Grom because Grom is his father. Garrosh believes in the brotherhood of the orcish people when (and only when) the orcish people are being true to his vision, and that vision is modeled after Garrosh’ perceptions of Grom as his father. Saving Grom from death is emblematic of Garrosh rescuing the orcish people from what he feels was a degradation of their culture.

The other side of it, which some folks have pointed out, is that Garrosh saving Grom represents Garrosh doing something that Thrall failed to do. Thrall’s project in Lord of the Clans was to save the orcs from their bondage, both in terms of the internment camps and the bonds of Mannoroth’s blood curse. Thrall was able to do that, but he failed repeatedly to keep any of the icons of the old Horde alive or on his team; Orgrim died, Grom died, Rend and Maim refused to join him, and the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans both essentially stayed rogue. More specifically, it took Grom killing Mannoroth to finally free the orcs, since Thrall was demonstrated in the WC3 cinematic to be completely ineffectual against the pit lord.

Garrosh is, to a great extent, the  perfect complement to Thrall. Both of them want to embrace the old ways of the orcish people, but both are focusing on different things: Thrall wants a return to a life guided by the spirits of the ancestors and in harmony with the elemental spirits, while Garrosh wants a return to the life of orcs expressing their worth through acts of strength and valor. Both of these are facets of the pre-Legion way of life for the orcs.

Garrosh is not wrong for wanting what he wants. Where Garrosh goes wrong, and the reason he’s ultimately an antagonist instead of a protagonist, is that he wants the unified orcs to express their strength and valor against other equally heroic races. Moreover, by saving Grom and saving the orcs from enslavement, he’s ensuring that the Iron Horde will be empowered to do just that. Which ties in perfectly with Grom’s final line:

“We will never be slaves, but we will be conquerors.”

Thrall exists because of the enslavement of the orcs. Thrall’s name is a word for “slave.” It can’t get more overt than that; Thrall is a representation of what the orcs inevitably became as a result of drinking the demon blood. Grom’s statement (and you can almost hear Garrosh being the guy who planted the concept in his head, Inception-style) defies that future, defies the very idea that an orc like Thrall could ever come to pass, and instead sets the Iron Horde on the path of strength and strength alone governing their destiny.

There’s an elegance to this that I think a lot of players miss out on, and which Blizzard does little to emphasize by having so much of nuance of the game’s story outsourced to novels and short stories. There’s a nobility in the Iron Horde’s desire for self-determination that I think players are never going to see, because the orcs are going to be self-determining through butchering innocents, and as heroes, our job is to stop them. It’s a really different type of opposition than we’ve ever faced before (though there are hints of something similar with Lei Shen’s death line “I was only trying to do the work of the gods”) but I think it’s a bit sad that players are going to gravitate towards killing these guys because of their fat loot without ever questioning if it’s right to kill them.

 

 

Hellscream’s Unbound Ambition

Back when the trailer for Patch 5.4 came out, (exactly a year ago today, it turns out) I wrote a big piece that dug into Garrosh Hellscream’s motivations as a character and how that’s demonstrated across a wide spread of media. It’s fitting, I think to look at the cinematic trailer for Warlords of Draenor  and consider not only Garrosh’ role in the action (and how he’s developed since the start of 5.4) but also Blizzard’s present characterization of Grom Hellscream.

To really dig into the backstory on Grom, you have to understand the origins of the orcs and where they came from. Without basically sitting down and reading Christie Golden’s Rise of the Horde to you, the short version is like this: the orcs were a loosely-affiliated nation of semi-nomadic individual clans who occasionally tussled with each other over resources, and occasionally traded with the unusual draenei folk who’d appeared some centuries before. They weren’t 100% peaceful, but they had their guidance from their shaman, who got their directions from the spirits of the orcish ancestors. This is a pretty self-sustaining system, in that it conditions the orcs to keep doing what their forebears did, and to eschew revolutionary concepts.

When Ner’zhul unwittingly leads the orcs down a path of war against the draenei, the orcs take to it with gusto. They’re a savage people living in a savage world; their coming-of-age rituals have got a high mortality rate; they are a race that praises strength and fortitude, and going to war against another people, even under false pretenses, is an opportunity to demonstrate that strength. And when Gul’dan wrests control from Ner’zhul, the only thing that really changes is that the shaman are becoming warlocks and everyone’s turning green. Ultimately, the orcs have always been a violent people, but no one ever pointed them all at the same target before.

This is why it’s so critical that the turning point we’re shown in the cinematic is when Gul’dan offers the Cup of Unity to the orcs. Grom is the one who pushes to the front of the pack to drink, even ahead of Blackhand, the Warchief, because Grom is someone who already lacks hesitation. Gul’dan needs Grom to demonstrate to all of the other orcs (not just the ones cowed by Blackhand) that the power promised by the blood of Mannoroth will make even the ideal orc into an even more powerful fighter. In the original timeline, Grom does not ask any questions: he stomps up, takes the cup and drinks it. Yet here, in Warlords, he looks to the Stranger for confirmation, and then asks a question.

“And what, Gul’dan, must we give in return?”

This is when you know that everything will change. Grom is not hesitant, he is not fearful. But he’s been warned ahead of time about what would happen if he drank the blood… something that Durotan himself feared to do in the original timeline. Through his question Grom is demanding that Gul’dan be upfront about the consequences, and while it’s played up much more dramatically here than it was in Rise of the Horde, Gul’dan lifting his hood and revealing his green skin and red eyes tell the whole story of the path the orcs are meant to take from this point.

“Everything.”

As an aside, it should be noted that this is a character moment for Gul’dan just as much as it is for Grom. Gul’dan being willing to sacrifice himself for power feels like a statement he’s making about all orcs: “I’m okay with turning green in order to become a god, isn’t everybody?” The way he replies, the conviction in his voice… Gul’dan flat-out doesn’t care who or what gets doomed so long as he’s more powerful at the end of the day.

And again, it’s so important for GROM to be the one that sells this to the other orcs by example. He’s the ideal orc, and Gul’dan is trusting that he won’t ask questions. So when Grom pours out the cup instead of chugging it, it’s the logical result of him getting confirmation from Gul’dan that this is going to be exactly what the Stranger warned him about.

Now, Mannoroth being on the scene is new, and I think that warrants it’s own post, but let’s focus on what Garrosh, as the Stranger, must have done here:

“Gul’dan is going to promise you something you already have.”

“What he promises will strip away everything that is pure and right with the orcish people.”

“He would turn us into slaves for his masters. Will we gain power? A pittance, and the price we pay for it is our freedom.”

“Drink from the Cup of Unity and we shall be the slaves of monsters.”

When I talked about Garrosh before, I talked about how Malkorok may have sold him a narrative about how badass the Horde was before Thrall’s Shamanistic Repentance Train started up. It could be that Malkorok might not have been too off the mark; if what he said bolstered Garrosh into having a vision for the Horde, and if Grom ends up buying into that same vision, then there’s weight to the idea that the orcs always wanted to be conquerors. They just needed the right push in order to realize that, and once they got going on the conquest train, there really wasn’t any turning back.

So by merely extracting the truth from Gul’dan about what the demon kool-aid would do, and by killing the monster trying to push it, Grom saves his people: as a mirror to how Grom saves his people in the original timeline, you can’t get a more stark reflection, except the twist here is the timing.

I want to talk more extensively about the usage of Mannoroth here, but I think I’ve gone on enough for one day. ^_^

 

The Dark Ancients (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday’s post on Akamaggan and Crokuta, here are two more of the Dark Ancients.

Kubo the Candlekeeper

Few remember this rat Ancient, but his efforts during the war against the Legion left a lasting impact. There once stood a great hill near the foot of mighty Mount Hyjal, and upon this hill the demons had constructed a fort from which to launch their attacks upon Cenarius and his resistance. Kubo, the Great Rat, and his children, the kobolds, labored silently but fiercely in digging tunnels under the great hill, intent on collapsing the tunnels and destroying the fort without loss of life. As fate would have it, though, the demons discovered the tunnels, and a battle raged beneath the fort between Kubo and the legionnaires. The Ancient was injured grievously, but the demons were driven back. Kubo knew that the only way to win the day was to collapse the tunnels, but he knew he could not escape due to his wounds. He ordered his kobolds to leave him with a lit brand of fire for his funeral pyre, and once they were safely away, he would bring down the great hill.

No one knew if Kubo died upon his pyre or not, but the hill fell, the land shattering into great chasms in the earth, which became called Darkwhisper Gorge. Kobolds shunned the place ever after, but as a token of remembering their patron, they always carry a lit flame with them.

Now that the Ancient of the Deeps has returned and rallied his children, no fortress that stands upon the earth is safe.

Analysis

To a great extent, kobolds get the short end of the stick as enemies. They’re not exceptionally fearsome, and in a lot of cases they’re just cheerfully laboring at a mine on their own when we, as heroes, come stomping in because there’s something in the mine we want.

I also thought there was an opportunity to really explore why the kobolds insist on keeping candles on their heads: if we assume the idea that these races have dropped in intelligence and culture without the guidance of their Ancients (as evidenced with the quillboar and harpies) then it computes that kobolds might adopt a practice that might persist through the centuries but take on a different, and in this case more ridiculous form. If the kobolds have to subsist through mining, they can’t have one hand tied up holding a torch. A candle on the head is almost clever.

A couple notes: I’m aware that Brann’s documentation stated that kobolds were somehow related to troggs, which is something that never made any sense to me. Creating Kubo would constitute a retcon, but I think Kubo’s got a better story than having an offshoot of an offshoot of a professionally-designed, purpose-built race suddenly gain animal characteristics for no conceivable reason.

Nakhbet the Dirge

In the deserts of Tanaris, at the far-flung edge of Kalimdor, it was said that Death itself roosted, a great black vulture with a shadow a league wide, waiting for unwitting travelers and foolish explorers to find themselves at her mercy. When a messenger from Cenarius arrived seeking Death, she was intrigued. “It is war,” said the messenger, “and where war treads, Death must follow. You are needed.” So Nakhbet the Dirge, Ancient of Death, took wing and flew north to do her duty.

When she entered the fray, Nakhbet claimed many lives, a terror for the demons but a mercy for her allies should their wounds prove mortal. When Azshara’s Highborne saw that Nakhbet had come, they knew fear, but their swollen power gave them pride. They believed that if they could kill Nakhbet, they would ensure that Death would never find their Queen. So they laid a trap for Nakhbet, and the Ancient, intent upon her duty, was ensnared. The Highborne laughed in their victory as they prepared the killing blow, but Nakhbet’s shadow fell over them, and she spoke: “Ignorant fools. You can not escape Death. Your Queen may yet live, but in life there is suffering, and with me gone, none will there be to give her sweet release. Come with me now, and know that your Queen shall curse your names forevermore.”

When the Druids of the Flame brought Nakhbet back into the living world, she inquired as to the fate of the Light of a Thousand Moons. “She has been twisted against her very nature, and suffers still, ten thousand years after the time when I was meant to claim her for the sake of the world.”

“She shall wait awhile yet. As thanks for returning me to life, Death shall serve you. For now.”

Analysis

I’ll admit that Nakhbet is really an original creation for me. I wanted an avian Ancient to round out the four I had (the boar in the front, the hyena in the back, the rat underground, and something in the air) and in keeping with the “animals with negative connotations” pattern, a crow or a vulture made the most sense. From there, a great bird that personified an ominous death through casting a great shadow wrote itself.

At the same time, I recognize that there have been many personifications of death in this franchise: the Lich King is the strongest example, but Yogg-Saron and Deathwing (in his anti-Alexstrasza “Aspect of Death” sobriquet) also played on this concept as well. As such, I wanted Nakhbet to try and represent death in as positive a light as possible: she’s destroying the Legion because for the living to die by alien hands steps on her domain, but she’s also granting a merciful death to her allies when it’s warranted. I also wanted her to treat death as a necessary sequel to life: the idea that she would find the immortality of the kaldorei as abhorrent as Azshara’s naga transformation is something I would love to play with further.

More to come later. ^_^

On War

There’s a bitter irony in waking up to pictures and hype about hundreds of people getting in line at a theatre to watch a cinematic that will almost certainly glorify the genocide of a peaceful people by warmongering maniacs when that kind of heinous violence is actually happening in the real world.

I get it. Warcraft is escapism. What’s happening to people in a video game isn’t a real thing, and because the violence isn’t on our doorstep… indeed, because we’re witnessing real violence and animated violence through the same medium, we can assign all the real stuff a certain degree of unreality. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s survival mode.

I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not a fighter. I’m a designer. I find problems in stories, in designs, and I come up with solutions. Troubleshooting is my training. When I see problems I can’t solve, it bothers me. So when I see the violence that’s happening and I try to suss out why it’s happening, because both the agents of violence and their victims are real people with real motivations, I lock up.

It’s even worse when I look at what’s happening in Ferguson. Maybe that’s not genocide. Maybe that’s something entirely different; whether it’s an abuse of police power or some kind of trumped-up event where an angry mob makes itself out to look like victims, I don’t know.

All I see are problems and the empty spaces where solutions should be.

Someone asked on Twitter what I would do if I were in Ferguson right now. Would I stand with the protesters and stare down the business end of a policeman’s rifle? Or would I stay home as ordered by law enforcement? There are all kinds of answers that flit through my mind at that question.

  • “I have to stay home and protect my family. If I’m injured or killed or imprisoned, I won’t be doing my job as a father.”
  • “I have to stand up with the people against this injustice. If I can’t do that, how can I look my son in the eye and tell him that the well-being of the people is the very thing that all people have to protect?”

Then I ask myself what I would do if Mike Brown were my son and I lock up.


 

I know this has nothing to do with gaming, or remixing. And no, I don’t expect Blizzard to stop their events today because of whatever heinous madness is happening in the world. The show must go on.

I just hope you all can forgive me if the glory of war isn’t something that gets me excited. Not today.

Regularly scheduled programming returning soon.

The Dark Ancients (Part 1)

Back during the Mongrel Horde remix, I mentioned the concept of Dark Ancients who would rise up to empower many of the mongrel races in order to make them a greater threat. I wanted to take an opportunity to expand on that concept a bit.

Some disclaimers before we get started:

  • My initial idea for the “someone” who proposes rezzing Ancients to Garrosh was Fandral Staghelm, but I’ll cheerfully admit that “Firelands was merely a setback” would be too silly. However, the Druids of the Flame as a group concept are easy to keep alive; they just need a new ringleader to be the frontman for the operation.
  • While the troggs were in the concept art for the Mongrel Horde, I couldn’t figure out how to link degraded Titan constructs with the Ancients.

With all of that out of the way, enjoy:

Agamaggan the Razormane

During the War of the Ancients, the great boar Agamaggan was petitioned by Cenarius and his students to fight against the armies of Azshara and her demonic allies. Agamaggan agreed, convinced that if the demons were allowed to run rampant, the world would suffer, as would his children, the quillboar. The great Ancient of Valor tore through the demons, until he faced off with the Legion’s field commander, the pit lord Mannoroth. Their duel was so titanic that it crushed all the life from an entire prairie, leaving it nearly barren, until at last Mannoroth stood victorious over the fallen Ancient.

Raised through the efforts of the fallen Druids of the Flame, Agamaggan has been petitioned anew: the Horde have encroached upon the lands claimed by Agamaggan’s children, and slaughtered them in their holy places. The quillboar have been driven to depravity and near extinction. Even Agamaggan’s former allies, the kaldorei and the children of Cenarius, have been a party to this massacre.

The Ancient of Valor hungers for vengeance and will crush whatever stands in his way.

Analysis

Part of the rationale behind Agamaggan is this: I wanted to take a familiar Ancient, one that wasn’t raised during Mount Hyjal, and show that with the proper motivation, he could be turned into an antagonistic character. There are airs of Okotto from Princess Mononoke here: namely that Agamaggan, in his absence, would return to a world filled with beings who had disregarded their pact with nature. His rage at this injustice would be matched only by his outrage over the sad condition of the quillboar; we know that Agamaggan’s spirit disapproved of Charlga Razorflank’s heinous sacrifices, but we also know that the quillboar fought to resist the Scourge in Razorfen Downs. Even if they are a bunch of savage pigs, they are a god’s treasured children, just as Ursol and Ursoc treasure the furbolg and Aviana treasures the harpies.

So to me, it makes a lot of sense for Agamaggan to be pulled back into the living world, get told a particular narrative about who the villains are, and charge off to smash the crap out of the offending parties, especially when those parties haven’t been friendly towards the quillboar.

As for the sobriquet “Ancient of Valor” I wanted to find a way to characterize Agamaggan’s heroism and his ignorance in one word. It helps that Imperius, the Archangel of Valor in Diablo 3, has the same kind of single-minded stubborness combined with matchless combat prowess.

Crokuta the Bonecrusher

Crokuta answered the call of the Ancients to fight against the Legion for a number of reasons; a curiosity for what demonflesh tasted like; a modicum of concern for her children, the gnolls; and mere bloodlust. After a massive battle in the wastelands of Desolace, she remained behind to feast on the remains of the fallen, and in her gluttony ate too much and fell asleep. That was how the demons found her, and in her sloth they made quick work of her.

Upon her resurrection by the Druids of the Flame and a reunion with her children, Crokuta recognizes that the gnoll champion Hogger was a true exemplar of what the gnolls are capable of. With sacrifices provided by her new allies, the Ancient intends to bestow gifts upon her children that will make all gnolls as dangerous as the Gnoll King.

Once it was said that the gnolls could conquer the world if they could only be rallied under one banner. The Bonecrusher’s banner has arrived.

 Analysis

Initially I wanted to call Crokuta the “Ancient of Cunning,” but when I realized that a cunning god wouldn’t have let herself get caught flatfooted after a meal, I figured the term wasn’t necessary.

Crokuta is female principally because of the legendary qualities of hyenas being able to switch genders; since there don’t appear to be any female gnolls in the game, I felt this was a neat way to introduce one, and spotted hyena social groups tend to be female-dominated anyway, so I figured it clicked. I can imagine drawing some lines with Shenzi from the Lion King only because it’s one of the few places in pop culture where a hyena is characterized, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s an inspiration.

The bottom line here is that having a domineering and cunning and greedy Ancient would help to demonstrate that while many of the Ancients are noble beasts, not all beasts are noble. Hyenas play a role in the cycle of nature by culling weaker animals, but are always contained by the existence of more powerful predators. As an example, I imagined a showdown between Goldrinn and Crokuta where the latter would at first put up a strong fight but by the end show her throat in submission to the more powerful Ancient.

Come back tomorrow for two more Dark Ancients.

 

The ReWrite: Past Scenarios

Much like the idea that player farms could have been a constant feature of the game, I’ve had some fun imagining where scenarios would have fit into the original design and the design of successive expansions. What occurs to me about scenarios is that they’re an excellent way to deliver story in a one-time circumstance, but if players want the option of completing it multiple times for rewards, that’s cool too.

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The ReWrite: World of Farmcraft

There’s a lot to be said for Blizzard’s iterative design philosophy: it means that new features are getting added to the game in each successive expansion, and it means that those features rarely get the opportunity to become stale by doing them over and over again without providing some new form of content.

All that being said, there are certain concepts that have been introduced into the game that I feel would have been really interesting to see if they’d been in the game from the very start. It flies in the face of iterative design to do that, but this is a chance for me to mix things up and that’s pretty much what I’m all about on PW:R, so here we go:

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