The Lost Drafts: Garrosh in UBRS

So if I’m remembering things properly, this is something I came up with back when I was trying to imagine a more traditional heroic narrative for Garrosh. This coincided with an idea about trying to come up with stories that would try to nail down a canon “victor” in the various dungeon and raid narratives, much as Blizzard themselves did when they “gave” the Onyxia kill to Varian in the WoW comic.

Those two elements together resulted in me re-writing the dialogue from the Rend fight in UBRS, for the sake of setting up the idea that Garrosh is the one who ultimately takes Nefarian down for the Horde.

Not sure if I’m going to do anything with this, but the chief thing I liked was a) Nefarius being snarky and b) Rend playing a role in Garrosh’ eventual heel turn.


Rend Blackhand: Well, what do we have here? Grom Hellscream, back from the dead?

Garrosh Hellscream: Have you gone blind in your other eye, Dal’rend? I am Garrosh, son of Grommash.

Lord Victor Nefarius: And my name’s Victor, son of WHO GIVES A DAMN.

Garrosh Hellscream: You serve the humans now, Dal’rend?

Lord Victor Nefarius: No, you brown buffoon, he serves ME. And so will your corpse. Release the whelps!

[Chromatic whelps rush into the arena, Team Garrosh kills them.]

Lord Victor Nefarius: Not bad! What did you say his name was, Rend?

Rend Blackhand: Hellscream, my lord. His father was a great hero of the Horde, until Thrall stabbed him in the back.

Garrosh Hellscream: That’s not what happened, Blackhand!

Lord Victor Nefarius: Look, I’m sure this drama is very serious for you both, but I don’t care. More whelps!

[More whelps. Go Team Garrosh!]

Lord Victor Nefarius: This is trying my patience. Get down there and turn these interlopers into mincemeat, Rend…

Lord Victor Nefarius: … or else it’s YOU on the menu.

Rend Blackhand: At once, my lord! I’ll tear out their spines with my bare hands!

Garrosh Hellscream: Ha! Come down here and die, Rend!

[Rend shows up riding Gyth. Nefarius buffs Gyth.]

Lord Victor Nefarius: Taste in my power!

[When Gyth dies…]

Lord Victor Nefarius: Well, back to the drawing board. Farewell, Rend!

[Nefarius poofs.]

Rend Blackhand: Master! No!

[When Rend dies…]

Rend Blackhand: Hellscream… listen to me…

Rend Blackhand: Thrall is… a traitor to our kind!

[Garrosh chunks Rend! FATALITY]

Garrosh Hellscream: It was you who was always the traitor, Rend.

Garrosh Hellscream: We’re not done here yet. I want to find out what that human is up to…


 

Like I said, might pick this up, might leave it be. But it was a nice gem to dig up while going through my old drafts.

 

Builders

So right now, Overwatch has two heroes classified as “builders” which are Torbjorn and Symmetra.

Now, why these two are builders should be pretty obvious: both of them are centered around constructing objects on the maps. Torbjorn drops his automated turret while Symmetra can place her array of small point defense turrets as well as her teleporter pad.

Of course, there are other characters who’ve got some deployables that need to be considered:

  • Junkrat places his steel traps, concussion mines, and his ultimate Rip-Tire fits the bill as well.
  • Mei’s Ice Wall and the drone she throws for her Blizzard ultimate arguably count.
  • Soldier: 76’s biotic field emitter is a short-term deployable.
  • Widowmaker’s Venom Mine definitely counts.
  • Winston’s Barrier Projector definitely counts.

So, it might help to define the rules that narrow down abilities that might help to qualify a builder hero.

  • All of Junkrat’s deployables have a critical difference in that they are temporary. The steel trap doesn’t reset, and everything else he does literally explodes. So it’s easy to disqualify Junkrat as a builder (esp. given how his whole kit is oriented around wanton destruction).
  • With the exception of the Venom Mine, all of the other deployables are also temporary in nature, but centered on their duration rather than on being explosives.
  • The Venom Mine is also temporary in the same manner as Junkrat’s steel trap: it’s permanent until it does its job.

Contrast this with our two builder heroes:

  • Torbjorn’s turret does its job (shooting at stuff in line-of-sight) until it is either actively destroyed from taking damage or destroyed by Torb deciding to deploy another turret elsewhere.
  • Symmetra’s turrets do their job (spraying close-range targets with laser goodness) until they’re destroyed. Her teleporter pad does it’s job until it runs out of charges or it’s blown up.

In both cases, the stuff that builders drop are more permanent than even the semi-permanent deployables that Junkrat and Widowmaker use because they repeatedly perform their function instead of only functioning ONCE.

Hence, we can establish a rule that builder heroes deploy materiel that repeatedly performs a function until destroyed (or until an arbitrary number of charges greater than one are depleted).

One could also argue that because Torb/Symm both drop devices that then stay fixed in the world, that means that all builders should have that as a rule. I’m not certain that’s as critical, especially since it constrains the design space a bit.

With that in mind, let’s brainstorm:

  • Feedback Drones: A friendly player gains a drone that hovers alongside them. The drone will fire at enemies who hit the player, but has a limited number of shots before the drone is depleted. The drone itself is indestructible.
  • Aid Station: An automated Caduceus device that targets the nearest hero within a short range and delivers a consistent healing stream. Destructible, maybe 50-100HP.
  • Gel Slick: A slick of friction-negating fluid. Enemy heroes that step into the slick maintain their momentum but can’t change direction. Great for tricking people off cliffs or platforms.
  • Spy Drone: Provides vision and notification when an enemy passes within range.

Of course, all of this is moot since that recent patch that deleted the “builder” tag from the team build tips, but hey, it’d be nice to see more heroes dropping deployables.

Azeroth Warriors: Romance of the Seven Kingdoms

Man, what does a mash-up of Dynasty Warriors and World of Warcraft even look like?

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is this: the whole point of Dynasty Warriors, by and large, is to showcase these heroes from about a 90-year period in 2nd-3rd century China. And these heroes are, to a great extent, fantastical versions from a story that’s already a romanticized version of actual history, which is why they can wield ridiculous weapons and wear impractical armor. It is, however, also an opportunity to showcase characters who normally wouldn’t have been forces on the battlefield, especially in the form of women characters, as well as playing with other elements like sexuality, fashion, and demeanor. And it’s all wrapped up in this overarching spectacle of over-the-top combat where a girl with an oversized yo-yo and an exuberant personality goes around smacking faceless enemy footmen away like a petite version of Sauron from the opener to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Azeroth Warriors: Romance of the Eastern Kingdoms

Two factions (and Other because, y’know Other):

Alliance

  • 4 First War: Llane Wrynn, Lothar, Mara Fordragon, Khadgar
  • 6 Second War: Uther the Lightbringer, Magni Bronzebeard, Alleria Windrunner, Terenas Menethil, Genn Greymane, Gelbin Mekkatorque
  • 6 Beyond the Dark Portal: Turalyon, Kurdran Wildhammer, Falstad Wildhammer, Danath Trollbane, Vereesa Windrunner, Rhonin Redhair
  • 5 Third War: Kael’thas Sunstrider, Jaina Proudmoore, Othmar Garithos, Muradin Bronzebeard, Gavinrad the Dire
  • 9 Post-Third War: Varian Wrynn, Bolvar Fordragon, Anduin Wrynn, Maraad, Brann Bronzebeard, Yrel, Aysa Cloudsinger, Moira Bronzebeard, Tyrande Whisperwind
  • Total: 30

Horde

  • 7 First War: Gul’dan, Blackhand, Kilrogg Deadeye, Azuka Bladefury, Orgrim Doomhammer, Durotan, Draka,
  • 7 Second War: Rend Blackhand, Maim Blackhand, Kargath Bladefist, Grom Hellscream, Teron Gorefiend, Zul’jin, Gazlowe
  • 2 Beyond the Dark Portal: Ner’zhul, Dentarg,
  • 10 Third War: Thrall, Eitrigg, Cairne Bloodhoof, Rexxar, Rokhan, Sen’jin, Vol’jin, Nazgrel, Drek’thar, Broxigar Saurfang
  • 10 Post-Third War: Garrosh Hellscream, Varok Saurfang, Zaela, Lor’themar Theron, Sylvanas Windrunner, Ji Firepaw, Nathanos Marris, Jastor Gallywix, Liadrin, Cairne Bloodhoof
  • Total: 36

Other

  • 3 First War: Medivh, Garona, Cho’gall
  • 3 Second War: Aiden Perenolde, Daval Prestor, Tirion Fordring
  • 1 Beyond the Dark Portal: Mo’gor
  • 6 Third War: Arthas Menethil, Illidan Stormrage, Maiev Shadowsong, Kel’thuzad, Darion Mograine, Renault Mograine
  • 6 Post-Third War: Magatha Grimtotem, Akama, Inquisitor Whitemane, Katrana Prestor, Victor Nefarius, Lilian Voss
  • Total: 19

Look I’m not saying I’d pay money to try and recreate the character select screen from Dynasty Warriors 9 with all of these characters and the main reason I’m not saying that is because this is a LOT OF ART.

Classic Servers and the Flavor Matrix

I’ve always disliked using the term “vanilla” to describe pre-expansion WoW servers. There are a number of reasons for this.

Just to get this out of the way first, I don’t prescribe to the ideas that “Classic WoW was Better” or “Modern WoW is Better.” They are different, just as every expansion has been different, and my perception of their quality isn’t the point here. I’m saying that calling Classic “Vanilla” ends up framing the discussion in a bad way, because people carry how they think about ice cream into how they think about Classic WoW, and that fails for a number of reasons.

1. Classic WoW was not “vanilla”

It does a disservice to the experience of Classic WoW. That game was a remarkable microcosm of MMO iteration and content delivery done at what feels even now like a breakneck pace. “Vanilla” frames it as being plain and lacking in more than the most basic, default flavor, and that doesn’t accurately describe how rich the world was, from the diversity of the zones up to the wild dynamism of the raids.

Yes, you can have high-quality top-shelf vanilla ice cream, but no one is talking about that when they say “vanilla.” You can talk about Classic forming the basis for the game just as vanilla forms the basis for ice cream flavors, but there are so many ice creams flavors that straight up don’t use vanilla as an ingredient that it falls apart. “Ice cream” is the format, and “vanilla” is a flavor. “Classic WoW” describes a series of iterations of a game, while each successive expansion title describes THOSE iterations of the game, because even looking at the differences between 2.0 and 2.4 are striking, even if they aren’t as momentous as the differences betweeen 1.12 and 2.0.

Which one of these is the vanilla Iron Man armor? Think about it.

Which one of these is the vanilla Iron Man armor? Think about it.

2. That’s not how flavors work

It frames the discussion of classic servers as a spread of ice cream flavors. In the modern, developed world, you can go to the grocery store and find rows of vanilla next to rows of chocolate chip, pistachio, rocky road, peanut butter cup, low-fat and sugar-free iterations of all the above, and that’s barely scratching the surface of the flavor spread. The key thing is that unless you’re looking for something really esoteric, you’ll ALWAYS find vanilla. It’s always there, along with plenty of stock of the other accepted standards.

That doesn’t accurately describe MMO iteration and it fails as a metaphor, because the whole point of WoW’s iterative cycle and the imposition of expansions is that the old model gets replaced with the new model. For the flavor metaphor to work, you’d have to imagine a world where one year, you’ve got vanilla and THAT’S IT. The next year, you’ve got mint chocolate chip and THAT’S IT. Vanilla stops existing completely, and mint is where it’s at, and if you want vanilla, you’re just living in the past, maaaaaan.

3. You can’t get that flavor anymore

By framing Classic WoW as vanilla, it creates this illusion that people just want something that you can easily get again, and that’s not the case. Getting to walk into Molten Core at level 60 stopped being the same as Classic once Patch 2.0.3 hit the live servers and introduced all of the expansion’s class mechanical changes. That experience couldn’t be replicated without using an emulated server and an old client. (PS, that’s how pirate servers work.)

For the ice cream metaphor to work, it’s like saying that handmade vanilla ice cream and mass-produced vanilla ice cream taste exactly the same. Anyone who’s sampled both knows there’s a difference, and whether that difference is meaningful enough to declare one or the other as being higher quality is purely a matter of opinion. But the bottom line is that calling Classic WoW vanilla gives the impression that it’s still accessible when it really isn’t. You change the ingredients or the process and the end result is different.

So by saying “you can just lock yourself at 60 and play Molten Core forever if you want” it’s disingenuous, because so many other aspects of the game have changed that your engagement with the game content in 1.12 vs. your engagement with the content in 6.2 are hardly able to be reconciled with each other.

4. Vanilla implies a choice of flavors when there is no choice

The experience of eating a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a plain cone is going to be different from eating a banana split that has scoops of vanilla with cherry syrup all over it. Yeah, both things have vanilla in them, but when you can’t isolate the vanilla component from the rest, it’s no longer a fair comparison. The imposition of expansions is Blizzard’s mandate that the only way you can get vanilla is in a banana split, and not in just a cone.


At the end of the day, using “Vanilla” to describe Classic WoW fails. The particular experience that a player has interacting with a game, or their memories of how they interacted with a past version of the game, should not be compared with a dessert you can buy in a store for a few dollars. Calling it ice cream removes its meaning, its importance, its significance.

You don’t remember the free vanilla soft serve you had after lunch at Jason’s Deli because it’s ice cream. You probably remember the chocolate fondue you had after dinner at the Melting Pot, but not because it’s ice cream.

… yeah I just wrote 900 words on ice cream and Warcraft. Come at me, bro.

Remix the Factions (REDUX)

In the process of doing some clean-up, came across this thing that I don’t think I ever posted here.

Even if I did, I feel like there’s still discussion to be had about the merits/flaws of a four-faction system vs. the two-faction system we ended up with.

Look, I just really like the idea of the Forsaken being “undead EVERYTHING” and high elves being able to join any faction. And Frostwolf worgen because tell me that ain’t perfect.


 

Something I consider to be a fundamental flaw in the design of World of Warcraft was the sentiment that “orcs vs. humans” needed to be preserved as a core value of the game. It’s handily demonstrated in Warcraft 3’s opening cinematic that the conflict between the orcs and the humans (and consequently the larger gathered factions of the Horde and the Alliance) is small potatoes when a dangerous third party enters the fray; quite frankly, I think WoW should have run with that ball instead of dropping it for the sake of Red vs Blue.

With that in mind, I think that WoW should have had a four-faction structure, to mirror the four different campaigns we saw in WC3:

  • Thrall’s Horde, consisting of the orcs, trolls, and tauren,
  • The Grand Alliance, made up of humans, dwarves, and gnomes,
  • The Forsaken, made up of free-willed undead of all races,
  • and the Night Elves, basically going alone because their druids can shapeshift into anything.

Critical differences? You can defect. If you want to be a night elf that fights for the Alliance, there’s a method to do that. If you want to be a Forsaken Tauren who goes to bat for the Horde, you can do that. Hell, if you want to reject the four players factions altogether and go to work for the Twilight’s Hammer, you can do that.

This also means that when you introduce new races into the game, there’s a great deal more fluidity in their narratives. Blood Elves/High Elves make sense joining pretty much any faction after the destruction of Quel’thalas, but they also make sense as an NPC faction dedicated to rebuilding Silvermoon and reclaiming their former glory. For races like ogres and goblins, you’ve always got different clans/cartels willing to align with any faction if the price is right. For the draenei, they’d have a different reason for every faction; joining the Horde is about helping the orcs reconnect with their noble history on Draenor, joining the Alliance would be about connecting with other adherents of the Light, joining the Night Elves would be about protecting their new world, and joining the Forsaken… well, undead draenei being all grumbly about being rejected by the Light in undeath would be perfect, no?

Even the worgen would make sense on any of these factions; for the night elves it’s the Druids of the Scythe; for the Horde it’s Frostwolf orcs who are taking their natural lupine connection a step further, for the Alliance you can stick with Gilneans and for the forsaken it’s a) dead Gilnears who had the curse and/or b) the Sons of Arugal.

A Response to Janet McNulty re: TPM

Some context, as in the original post, wherein the audience is asked to just get over how awful The Phantom Menace was in preparation for The Force Awakens.

I’m posting this response here because for whatever reason, I can’t post it as a response on the author’s blog, and it’s too long for an FB comment, so here goes. You are STRONGLY advised to read the original post for context.

Here goes:


 

I want to offer some responses, with the full disclosure that a) I’m not expecting to change your opinion on the film and b) I’m not really asking you to suddenly forgive all the people who didn’t give this movie a fair shake.

1) Jar-Jar: To a great extent, it’s a combination of factors that makes Jar-Jar so hated. First, he’s easily the most ridiculous character introduced in a Star Wars film to date; no character in the original trilogy was as prone to pratfalls, nor had as nonsensical a manner of speaking. Jar-Jar caught a lot of people off guard because they had no context for him from the original trilogy. Ultimately he made a very poor first impression and never recovered from it, if you were coming to TPM from having watched the original trilogy.

On the other side, if you’re watching the film without that prior context, Jar-Jar might still come across as infantile in his humour, but even then, he’s there for comedy relief in a film that was largely dealing with a fairly complicated plot. If you’re George Lucas and you want the film to excite a young audience, someone like Jar-Jar is almost necessary so the kids don’t have their eyes glaze over at all the politics. And that was the reaction for Lucas and his crew while making the film: Jar-Jar was testing well with kids (especially Lucas’ own kids) and no one found him too distracting from the rest of the flm. The problem ultimately comes from fans of the original trilogy getting whiplash from how unexpected Jar-Jar was.

2) Lack of emotional attachment: I feel like this is a more nebulous issue, but again it has to do with how expectations of people coming from the original films conflicted with what Lucas ended up putting on screen. In the original trilogy, our model for a Jedi is old Obi-wan Kenobi, replaced later by Yoda. A lot of the dogma around the Jedi Order, and how they straight-up abstain from emotion to avoid the Dark Side, was never expressed by those two characters: Obi-wan, as played by Alec Guinness, was warm and amiable when it served him and manipulative when it served him, and Yoda was an old trickster first, and a wise warrior second. Qui-gon Jinn, and later the rest of the Jedi Order, came across as cold and unfeeling, and especially as the trilogy continued, there was a lot of work done to tarnish the idea of the Jedi that had been set-up in the original trilogy so effectively.

I say all of this to indicate that I don’t think the negativity is necessarily about the audience not feeling attached to Qui-gon, or the audience being upset that Qui-gon doesn’t seem to have an emotional interest in Anakin, but more that with Qui-gon being presented as the iconic Jedi Master of this film, he leaves people feeling cold, which is not at all the sense we got from old Obi-wan or Yoda in the original trilogy. Additionally, the midichlorians concept came completely out of left field, and similar to Jar-Jar, it felt like it upended a lot of preconceived notions about the Jedi that had never really been challenged prior to that point.

So it’s not really about Qui-gon, but about the portrayal of the Jedi as a whole, and Qui-gon gets most of the bad rap for that because he’s the iconic Jedi who is on the screen for most of the film.

3) Anakin: I think when it comes down to it, no one bought Jake Lloyd’s character. He’s eight years old, he’s a mechanical genius, speaks multiple languages fluently, is the only human who can pilot a podracer, came about through immaculate conception, charms a queen who’s twice his age, and all of the scenes demonstrating his anger issues were edited out of the film. Anakin came across as unfailingly perfect, and that was just too saccharine for anyone to take seriously.

When Luke pilots an X-wing against the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, we feel like we’ve been on a journey where he’s built up to that moment pretty well. By contrast, Anakin gives a poor first impression and, by the time he stumbles into a setpiece space dogfight at the climax of the film, he doesn’t feel like he’s earned that moment. Making him older would have helped with some of that sweetness, but a lot of what Anakin did was act as an avatar for the setpieces in the film that gave Lucas the opportunity to showcase his special effects innovations. Anakin ultimately didn’t feel like a person.

4) Plot holes: I’ll try to take these one at a time.

  • a) Midichlorians: As I said earlier, I don’t think the issue is as much that people didn’t understand the concept of midichlorians, but instead that it didn’t fit with how the Jedi had been characterized at any point in the entirety of the Star Wars universe up to TPM. To an extent, it’s the way that it dispels part of the magic of the Force that’s more aggravating than the concept of space bacteria.
  • b) Palpatine as a manipulator: You’re right that Palpatine manipulating people really shouldn’t be that unbelievable. I wonder if people were upset about it because it again deflates the effectiveness of the Jedi when they couldn’t sense the great disturbance in the Force that Palpatine himself would be at the center of.
  • c) Anakin’s mechanical hobby: This feels like another expression of how much of a Mary Sue character Anakin comes across as, in addition to shoe-horning C-3PO into the film. Put another way, I don’t think the complaint is as much that Anakin, being a slave, wouldn’t have had time for his hobbies, but instead that no one bought the idea that 3PO started as a garage-built protocol droid that we saw identical mass-production models of multiple times in the original trilogy AND earlier in TPM. Part of 3PO’s entire character was predicated on him being an assembly-line constructed interpreter, but it seems dissonant that Anakin would be able to construct a perfect replica of that from junk on a backwater planet.
  • d) Lack of continuity: This seems like an odd complaint. There would have been no dramatic reason to reveal Vader being from Tatooine in Episode 4. It’s not something that fit into Luke’s arc, and Luke was really the star of that show.

5) Darth Maul: There’s two responses when it comes to Maul. First is that he encapsulates a ton of surprises about the Dark Side of the Force (“an evil ALIEN dark Jedi?”) but he’s also incredibly cool, because martial arts and double-bladed lightsaber. I imagine a lot of the people who are upset with the lack of Maul’s character are coming from the position of “we wanted more Maul in the movie and it sucked that he ended up dying to Obi-wan.” Which helps to explain why Maul ends up coming back in the Clone Wars TV series.

The other response is more behind-the-scenes. Ray Park was hired because his skill with wushu allowed for a very cinematic and crowd-pleasing performance, and because adding this dimension to the lightsaber duels would dramatically up the ante from where they’d been in the original trilogy. The difficulty was that Park’s accent made him difficult to take seriously (and from seeing his speaking roles in later works, he’s really not a particularly good actor when it comes to drama) so it was much more effective to make him this nearly-mute antagonist who was just something of an evil force of nature. Again, because Maul popped off the screen so wonderfully, people were disappointed to see him come to an end so readily, especially when it was a bit of a big deal when Vader was able to just fly away from the destruction of the Death Star in Episode 4. Maul appeared poised to be the new Vader for the prequel trilogy and that just didn’t happen.

6) Too much CGI: To an extent, yes, there are people who just get taken out of their immersion when the film just looks completely unreal. And you’re right that getting bent out of shape because a director went for digital effects over practical ones in the modern era is basically shouting at the waves at this point.

That being said, Lucas was always a special effects innovator first and foremost. The special effects in the original trilogy were part of what really rocketed that part of the film industry to the forefront in the late 70s/80s, and Lucas and ILM were always a huge part of that. The part where I feel like the “too much CGI” argument holds some water is that there are certainly moments in the prequel trilogy where it doesn’t feel like we’re looking at something that’s real anymore: everything from the actors to the sets to the props is digital, AND LOOKS LIKE IT, so the artificiality of everything becomes too much to bear. And if we’re not hooked into the film because of an emotional bond to the characters (and we’re not, because so few of the characters in this film give us anything to connect to) then it feels like we got all hyped up for an ILM tech demo, and not the rolicking space epic we were expecting.

7) Lucas did it his way: I’ve never heard of the notion that Lucas didn’t like giving up creative control for Eps 5/6. My understanding (and sadly I don’t have a direct source to link on this) was that both writing and directing Episode 4 was too exhausting and he simply didn’t believe he could pull off doing it on another film at the time. Overall, though, you’re right that Lucas basically had no one telling him “no” while he was making the prequels, and the results are what they are.

Closing Remarks

All that being said, the purpose of film critique (or any kind of critique, really) is generally centered on whether a film contributes something beneficial and/or new to the world. The fact that an entire generation had been groomed on the original trilogy meant that there was no way that the films could have lived up the expectations of the audience, but I think there were a lot of critiques that came from a honest craft standpoint, asserting that there were functional problems with how the films were structured, cast, and written. Lucas is in his element when it comes to shot composition and special effects, and he knows who to trust when it comes to music, sound design, costuming, make-up, and editing, but the performances and the script are where the soul of the film comes from, and those ended up coming across so poorly that the films felt soulless.

It’s from that soullnessness that a lot of the amateur critique and fan outrage comes from, and that tends to drown out all of the other more reasonable critiques of the films. People are trying to find anything they can to express why these films left them feeling so empty, and they’ll latch onto continuity problems or Jar-Jar’s awkwardness or an immersion-breaking amount of CGI as vehicles for doing that.

I guess the best way to wrap this all up is to say this: you’re not wrong for liking TPM or the prequels as a while. If they worked for you and fed your creativity, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

By the same token, I don’t think people are wrong for disliking the films either. There’s a lot of reasons to be disappointed with them, and while some of those reasons are ill-informed, some aren’t. Ultimately, if the film fails to entertain when you watch it, that first impression is never going to leave you, even if you come to appreciate elements of the film later. There’s value in coming out of a film feeling like you could have done better; maybe that feeds your creativity to write an original work, or it feeds your desire to write your opinions for the benefit of others (because as the film critic industry demonstrates, people listen to critics, for better or worse).

That said, there’s value in coming out of a film and feeling like you went on a fun ride.

Thank you very much for writing this critique, and I appreciate the opportunity to offer a response, which I hope did not come across as condescending or ignorant of your sensibilities as a creator or consumer of content. I look forward to the Force Awakens and will be interested in your thoughts on Abrams’ interpretation of the story. Take care. ^_^

How Much Dungeon Is Too Much? Too Little?

The core issue I have with this response is that from a design perspective, it appears to ignore the principal reasons why the “superdungeon” design used frequently in Classic WoW was replaced by the “instance hub” design used in Burning Crusade and afterward.

  1. Players got lost in superdungeons like Blackrock Depths. It wasn’t laid out in an intuitive way.
  2. Spending 3-5 hours clearing 5-player content wasn’t conducive to a playstyle where a normal dungeon was something you could do casually over a lunch break.
  3. The art assets and encounter design manhours invested in creating 5-player content were similar to the resources invested in a 10/25-player raid, and yet raids were intended to offer greater staying power as content.

Hence, the instance hub design in BC addressed all of these problems at once.

  1. Dungeons were inherently more linear, and the frequency of divergent paths or optional bosses was far lower.
  2. Constraining boss counts to less than 3-4 made lunchbreak runs more feasible for a somewhat coordinated team.
  3. Reusing art assets allowed encounter design to be the chief delineating factor between the dungeons rather than visual style, which put more pressure on the encounters team to churn out unique fights but freed the art teams who generally seem to have a longer turnaround on generating deliverables.

Because we’re talking about a paradigm shift that has largely been maintained in expansions since BC, I think it’s safe to say that it’s probably the paradigm that Team 2 intends to stick with for the rest of WoW. To be fair, though, asset reuse has been set aside in lieu of making fewer dungeons that are nonetheless unique in their visual style AND encounter mechanics. The fact that this has resulted in fewer dungeons proves the point of the instance hub concept, which is that art resources are expensive.

I think the concern about the world feeling stitched together is completely valid, but I’m willing to accept that feeling principally because it means the developers have to strike a compromise somewhere between an immersive and believable game world and a world where players don’t have to spend a lot of time traveling before they get to gameplay.

Put another way, the sense of being in an immense and immersive world isn’t the core objective of the game; instead, the core objective is combat on a diverse set of stages, and in providing a mostly seamless transition between those stages, the game world must shave some corners. I still think Blizzard does a great job with the scope and fidelity of their zone/instance design, but I know not everyone agrees with how much they choose to invest (or not invest) on that particular aspect of the overall design.

The Tragedy of Ordos

Word of the Waterspeaker’s vision spread across Pandaria, circulating among the wise of the many races. Soon it reached the ears of Ordos, a high shaman of the yaungol, and without delay he sought the counsel of Niuzao, the Black Ox and guardian of the west.

“Great One,” pleaded Ordos, “fire shall rain from the sky! We must rise to face this threat and defeat it!”

The Black Ox was unmoved. “Do not let your fear guide your actions, friend. Stand against that which threatens you, and you will see that from courage comes fortitude, but from desperation comes only despair.”

The high shaman misliked Niuzao’s counsel, however. He consulted the elemental spirits, telling them of his fears: that this wretched fire would come down from the heavens and blacken the steppes that the yaungol called home.

The Spirit of Earth echoed the sentiments of Niuzao: “The mountain does not break before fire, but instead weathers the storm.”

The Spirit of Water cared not for Ordos’ fears: “There is no fire that water cannot extinguish. Let this rain fall! We shall wash it away into steam.”

The Spirit of Air merely laughed: “Let us ride the winds to the far-flung corners of the world! We can rise above this fire and remain free of it for all time!”

At last, when he spoke to the Spirit of Fire, Ordos finally heard agreement: “A rain of fire, you say? What blasphemy is this? Fire is our domain. No one else may wield it save by our will!”

Ordos was overjoyed. “Then you will aid me? Shall we fight this fire with fire, together?”

“We shall,” said the Spirit of Fire, “though there will be a cost. You must give yourself wholly to the flame if you are to be the agent of the Fire Lords. But if you do, you shall be a force unlike any other on this world.”

Ordos agreed, and together with the Spirit of Fire, preparations were made. When the Eternal Brazier was complete, Ordos stood before it and prepared himself, knowing that if he did not embrace this power, his people were surely doomed. Already the rain of green fire had begun to the north.

Then Ordos stepped onto the Eternal Brazier and entered the will of the Fire Lords. He writhed in untold agony, his very being alight with flame, and in his mind the Spirit of Fire exulted: “yes! You are the avatar of the Fire Lords! Bring destruction to these infidel invaders! Let naught but embers remain!”

Ordos fought through the torment, driven by his certainty that without his sacrifice, the yaungol would perish. And as he waded into battle against the invaders, the purity of his flame overcame their depravity. Day after day he burned and yet he could not be overcome, until at last the invaders withdrew from the blackened plain where he stood.

His every breath was pain and fire, but nonetheless Ordos looked back towards the Steppes, and saw the Black Ox standing on a cliff, unshakable. In his mind, he heard the words of Niuzao once again: “You will see that from courage comes fortitude, but from desperation comes only despair.

Strange mists began to coalesce around the Steppes, and Ordos could see that they stretched all over Pandaria. He ran, desperate once again to return to his home, but his battle with the invaders had drawn him too far away.

As the mists closed in, Niuzao stamped a mighty hoof, and a piece of the Steppes broke away from the land and came to rest in the sea. Ordos came to rest on that island as Pandaria faded into the mists, and recognized what he had done: if he had listened to Niuzao and stood with courage and faith, he would be hidden behind the mists, safe with his people.

Instead, Ordos had given in to his fear, and let his desperation drive him to a pact with the Fire Lords, for which he knew he would suffer forever.

Upon that timeless isle he built his temple, waiting for the time when his agony would at last come to an end, and he could return to the land of his ancestors.

Remixing Draenor’s History, Part 1

Similar to how I once manipulated the Zandalari narrative, I wanted to take some cues from Warlords of Draenor to tweak the history of politics on Draenor. Principally, it’s about trying to justify the world we see in WoD with the world we originally saw presented in Rise of the Horde, which was in turn a big iteration on how the world had been characterized during the Warcraft RTS series.

I want to start first with the arrival of the draenei, because that’s where I think the more interesting narratives for Draenor really start. So we’ll cover this section from an in-universe perspective, and then I’ll break into some analysis for why this serves the overarching narrative of Warcraft.


 

The War of the Exiles

 

The draenei didn’t intend to land on the planet they called Draenor. They’d fled their previous planet much more hastily than usual, which left D’ore, K’ure, and K’ara depleted and left the draenei with very few options on places to crash-land the Genedar. Normally they chose planets without sentient races, but in this case, they landed on a planet with a very old civilization already in place: the Gorian Empire.

At first, Velen sought to approach the ogres diplomatically, informing them of the dangers of the Legion and the inevitable invasion that was sure to catch up with them. However, the Imperator was taken with the magical technology the draenei possessed, and in typical ogre fashion tried to kill Velen in order to subjugate the aliens and take their power for himself. Velen, of course, saw this coming, and the draenei defended themselves.

The ensuing war taxed the Gorians immensely, because their magic simply wasn’t as refined as what the draenei had practiced for millennia. And that magic helped to make up for the difference in brawn and numbers between the draenei and the ogres.

In addition, the Gorian patricians had built their empire on the backs of a drudge race called orcs. Within the downtrodden orcs and their shamanic traditions, Velen saw an opportunity, and ordered his rangari to help foment rebellion against the ogres. The orcs, having been subjugated for so long that they barely had their own culture anymore, gladly joined the fray once the promise of freedom was on the table.

Between the draenei’s superior abilities and the massive numbers of the orcs, the Gorians were swiftly beaten into submission and surrendered. The draenei, to the surprise of the ogres, didn’t want to conquer them, but instead demanded that the orcs be granted their freedom, and of course that the ogres wouldn’t dare to try attacking the draenei again. The Gorians agreed, under the condition that the orcs would be given the savage northern continent where the draenei had landed as their new home.

When the orcs landed on the southern shores of Nagrand in the juggernaughts granted to them by their former captors, their first act of freedom was to set those ships on fire, ensuring they would never go back to their lives as slaves to the ogres. The draenei, seeing the fierceness of the orcs and their elation at their independence, left them to their own devices, leaving the door open for trade but not wanting to give the impression that the orcs had traded one group of masters for another.

Over the next few centuries, the orcish diaspora throughout the northern continent led to a loose clan structure. Instances of internecine warfare over local resources brought about the institution of the Kosh’harg festival as an opportunity for peace and cultural exchange. And as the clans stayed out of each other’s way and developed their own individual subcultures, that loose connectivity seemed set to continue.

All the while, the draenei kept to their holdings in Talador and Shadowmoon Valley. The rangari kept watch everywhere, but the draenei knew that when the Legion came (and come they would) they were better served to be concentrated together for the sake of safety. And no one went into Arak; the arakkoa were content to let other races have the rest of the continent, but the Spires were sacred, and otherwise impenetrable if you couldn’t fly.


 

Analysis: 

The chief mechanism of this origin is to lend some additional gravity to the events that happen later on. But it needs a bit of additional context first.

On Azeroth, we saw a similar master/slave dynamic between the mogu and the other races of Pandaria, where the mogu subjugated the pandaren and basically beat the culture out of them. The pandaren, after overthrowing the mogu dynasty, had the August Celestials to offer guidance and help them establish a new culture for themselves. On Draenor, the orcs only had themselves, so the culture they created is, to a great extent, a shadow of the culture they knew under the ogres: authority comes from strength, victory and personal honor are highly prized, and it’s more important to die gloriously than live in disgrace.

Consequently, the orcs were always waiting for the other shoe to drop with the draenei. They never trusted the draenei’s altruism, because it was so incredibly alien to them; ogres never do something unless they stand to profit personally, whether it’s through wealth or food or ownership of something. To the orcs, the draenei had to have an ulterior motive. The fact that the draenei were strong enough to beat the ogres but chose not to dominate them never made any sense. And the fact the draenei stayed so aloof from the struggles of the orcs (which the draenei did so the orcs could have agency in their own destiny) was interpreted as arrogance at worst and ignorance at best.

So when Kil’jaeden (through the guise of Rulkan) convinces Ner’zhul that the draenei are surely a threat and the only way the orcs can survive is to destroy the draenei wholesale, Ner’zhul doesn’t have to work too hard to sell that narrative to most of the orcs. “They’re just like the ogres, watching us struggle and die for their own amusement. They let us believe we’re free, but they’re keeping us from realizing our destiny.”

Ultimately, the orcs aren’t inherently evil. The abuse they suffered at the hands of the ogres, however, made them suspicious, and Kil’jaeden was able to play upon that suspicion to make them his cat’s paw. And the part where he was creating a proxy army that would play into Sargeras’ plans for Azeroth was really just icing on the evil Legion cake.

As a corollary to that, Grom’s declaration that the orcs will never be slaves is representative of the orcish racial narrative more than anything else: in WoD, all Garrosh had to do was spell out that Gul’dan was selling them into slavery and that was a more compelling argument. Taking that as an inspiration for orcish culture in the MU, that offers a few important critical notes:

  • Part of the lethargy of the orcs after they were beaten in the Second War stems from the group realization that they had become enslaved to warfare at large, and the Legion in particular. Aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms they suffered, there was the mental anguish that self-reflection brought on. You can see that reflected in Eitrigg and Saurfang and even MU Grom, to a certain extent.
  • It helps to drive home how ogre-like (read: heedlessly evil) the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans became during the Second War. Keeping slaves for bloodsport (i.e. as the Blackrock/Dragonmaw recruits did with the Theramore refugees in the Siege of Orgrimmar) and the many gross abuses of Alexstrasza and her brood show that while they had a racial narrative that was opposed to slavery, the influence of their circumstances allowed some subcultures to develop that were okay with it.

The final point: Kil’jaeden’s manipulation of the orcs was not just about using a local force to do the Legion’s handiwork, but instead a gross inversion of the draenei’s own kindness and altruism. If Velen and his followers had taken the Legion kool-aid, they would have just subjugated or obliterated the ogres AND the orcs. Choosing the “virtuous” path had just left open an avenue that allowed Kil’jaeden to visit their long-overdue doom upon them.

He’d love the poetry of that.


More remixing the history of Draenor to come. Let me know what you think in the comments. 

 

Re: Artifact Chains & the Broken Isles

Kinda have a few random thoughts I wanted to get down. This is not going to be terribly organized because, without going into too much detail, the next couple days are going to be kinda stressy and hectic. So this is me trying to clear the decks in my head a bit, which means a bit of wordsplatter about the Artifact weapon chains coming in Legion and some miscellany about the Broken Isles within the context of Azeroth as a whole.

Artifact Weapon Chains

Something we can automatically tell about the Artifact chains, at least from what little we’ve been told so far on the class preview blurbs, is that all of them are going to involve going to some old and new locations in order to perform some of the steps necessary to acquire the artifacts themselves.

Without coming up with an exhaustive list, we’ve got what appear to be Legion-inhabited world(s), Icecrown Citadel, Karazhan Catacombs, Dalaran, somewhere under Tirisfal Glades, the Terrace of Endless Spring, and Light’s Hope Chapel, aside from a bunch of new locations in the Broken Isles themselves. We can probably assume that this is going to be a lot of solo scenario-driven questing that uses assets that are otherwise used elsewhere in the game. But it’s pretty interesting to consider that there’s a team of quest designers who sat down to generate 36 unique experiences that are meant to deliver on an epic, personal and meaningful story about an artifact weapon of immense power.

It’s just surprising to me to see that they don’t seem to be trying to find ways to use multiple locations for the same artifacts. From an asset creation standpoint it’d be more profitable to do it that way, and yet if the existing blurbs are any indication, we’re not going to see much duplication if any. Depending on how long these artifact chains are, it’s really a pretty broad amount of content that’s going to be wrapped up in this.

The disadvantage, of course, is that for players who really only focus on a single main character, that means the rest of the questing experience has got to feel full. Players who alt at all run the risk of being overwhelmed, but players who don’t alt are at risk of feeling like the content is once again not thick enough if the artifact chain fails to deliver.

At the same time, I think this is a good experiment for Blizzard to embark upon w/r/t content creation and I really want to see how it turns out when they double-down on it.

The Broken Isles

Okay, so, here’s where I start waxing poetic about the shape of the world of Azeroth.

Part of the immersion problem I’m having with the Broken Isles right from the get-go is the part where they don’t really seem to be a group of broken islands. Thal’dranath and the Broken Shore? Sure. But aside from that, all the rest of the territory in the continent appears to be largely contiguous… y’know, like a continent and not an archipelago. Someone says to me “Broken Isles” and an archipelago of really damage landscapes is what comes to mind, and that’s without considering how the Broken Isles have appeared previously in the game canon.

Now, of course, it’s easy to argue that Blizzard has got every reason to diversify the expansion content, especially when it comes to building on places that only had a bit of representation in the RTS games; not all of Draenor was a dry red wasteland, just as not all of Northrend was an arctic hellscape. So if the Broken Isles are really more than just a cluster of islands that were barely big enough to hold some Stormreaver bases and the Tomb of Sargeras (and some random ruins from Suramar) then quite frankly that’s perfectly fine.

The other problem I run into when it comes to the Broken Isles is the part where we haven’t really got a compelling reason as to why this place hasn’t been on the map until now. We all knew Northrend was in the world when WoW started, but no one went there because the Scourge owned the place. The whole narrative about Pandaria was that a) everyone on Pandaria thought the rest of the world was wiped out in the Sundering and b) anyone who could remember that Pandaria even bloody existed in the first place couldn’t find it because Shaohao’s mists hid it from everyone. So those places had a pretty good reason to be off the map.

The Broken Isles are probably slightly west of the Maelstrom, occupying the space between it and Vashj’ir. It just starts to strain credulity that something the size of the continent we’re seeing in Legion would be completely missed by all of the air and sea traffic headed to and from the Eastern Kingdoms. And we’ve been given no indication that the continent has been concealed as Pandaria was or is as out of the way and outright hostile as Northrend was.

And overall, when we look at the conceit we’re being given for the expansion (find the Pillars of Creation hidden in the Broken Isles in order to seal the Hell Rift that Gul’dan tore open over the Tomb of Sargeras) then the questions just keep coming. Why were the Pillars localized to this particular area of Ancient Kalimdor? Isn’t it convenient that these areas survived the Sundering/Shattering so effectively? How do the Pillars relate to the Halls of Origination in Uldum and bloody HOW can the Titans’ technology be so distributed across the surface of the planet with no discernible connectivity between them?

It’s possible that some of these questions get answered, but it’s also possible that a lot of them won’t be, in lieu of focusing the narrative on the fight with the Legion in the expansion. But with how many links are getting drawn between the Broken Isles and past content, it’s interesting to consider the possibility that we won’t see things like ruins of a Stormreaver base from Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, or anything about why Deathwing didn’t go to his own lair and chose to flee into Deepholm instead.

None of that impacts my excitement for the expansion, which is still pretty high. It does drive home the idea that the method Blizzard has used for worldbuilding in WoW basically requires a certain malleability, and consistency in certain areas takes a backseat if it gets in the way of gameplay. Which is ENTIRELY Blizzard’s prerogative, and I don’t say this to impugn what they’re doing at all. It takes a certain kind of nerd to even notice that something doesn’t add up, because in a lot of cases it has got exactly zero impact on the story being told.

I still believe that aside from all of the other ways that I feel rewarded for being a part of the world of WoW, I’m always going to appreciate the opportunity to watch it evolve and change over time, and really get a sense for what a long-form development looks like from the outside. It’s really remarkable, and it’s hard to articulate why.

That’s likely a whole post unto itself, though.