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.

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