Thursday, November 14, 2013

Across the Universe

Would you trust these men with your expansion?

I am aware of at least one person who, as a result of last week's Expansion news, has cancelled their subscription.

This was a deliberate move, based purely and simply on the decision of the individuals above to base our next adventure 'in the past.' According to my now ex-playing friend, using time travel as a means to extend Garrosh's current storyline isn't simply pointless, it's a criminal waste of the massively expansive world that the game has already created. It's what 'bad writers' do when they've run out of decent ideas and they need to extend the shelf life of their product. This person's exact response when I asked them why they'd unsubscribed?

'This Expansion has jumped the shark.'

If you're not familiar with this term, let me use Wikipedia to enlighten you:

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in a desperate attempt to keep viewers' interest. Its name is taken from a scene from a late-season episode of the sit-com 'Happy Days' when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark on water-skis.

The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort's evolution loses the essential qualities that initially defined its success and declines, ultimately, into irrelevance.

I have to say, I can see the point.

This exchange has set me thinking ever since the weekend: mostly because I'd still not decided if I like the concept of the new Expansion's setting myself or not. Reading Matthew Rossi's take on the Lore behind this yesterday, I find myself reassured that he's come to pretty much the same conclusions that I have: there IS canonical justification for all of this looking at previous events, especially on the back of  the conclusion to Cataclysm. However, justification is all very well and good, but is that enough? I got unreasonably invested in Pandaria's lore, pretty much by accident, and I think the only conclusion I'm prepared to draw after all this time is making snap judgements based on two days worth of Powerpoint presentations is never wise. I need to see this Expansion on my screen and experience it in my head before I pass any kind of judgement.

I also realise that, at least this time around, the Lore isn't nearly as important as it was.

That's quite a sea change for me, considering I wrote fiction on the back of my response to events in Pandaria. I was the person in tears when Aysa rescues Ji from the Horde and they leave the Siege together. Why, this time around, am I really not that bothered about finding an emotional investment in what's coming? I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that I have absolutely no-one to become attached to in what I've been shown, apart from my own character. This is a male-dominated past, not one of the major players of which have seen has anything to lend themselves to me in terms of interest. However, this may all change before Expansion launch... but part of me doubts that will come to pass, simply because of what I already know to be the lore. So, that leaves me with a choice: do I need to have a strong storyline to ensure my engagement? I didn't care about the game's narrative, let's be honest, at least until Wrath, and that eventual engagement had NOTHING to do with female protagonists or sympathetic characters. The Wrathgate changed everything, and should that kind of moment emerge in Warlords, the possibility remains.

At this point, there's something with far more personal significance that is occupying my interest.

It is my own character that has become a specific focus in the general scheme of things and that's caused a shift of interest that I don't remember experiencing at any point in the game's history. I'm pretty certain that's an indicator of a different level of investment, because Blizzard have unintentionally managed to tap into possibly one of the most important, subliminal reasons why I continue to play the game: my own primary protagonist.

This is MY dwarf :D

It's really rather surreal: when I stared at these visuals for the first time, I realised this is how I think my Dwarf LOOKS LIKE NOW. In my mind, when I load up my hunter, this is how I imagine she appears, in my mind. Blizzard have simply taken my understanding of the shortfalls of the gaming engine and are updating the visual look to match with my pre-existing expectation, and that is enough to make me want to keep playing until I can see the results of their efforts on my own screen. Once the allure of that wears off... well, then we might have a problem. However, that's where the updated UBRS and Garrisons and the new approaches to questing might have a way to get their hooks into me... the method by which I have been captured to keep subbing is distinctly different this time around. I have no illusions about this, but I feel I need to be honest. Part of me refuses to argue the jump the shark counterpoint because... well, time travel's a difficult one. I love to go visit the past, but I'm not sure I want to live there. I like my life going forward, not forced to look back.

This is one Expansion I'm going to need in my hands before I start drawing any kind of narrative conclusion.

However, I'm still nowhere near ready to call it a day. The prospect of fighting in familiar territory but in a different frame of reference isn't enough to put me off, but there is distinctly more disquiet in my mind than there was. The fact old zones remain untouched and unaffected by existing events is a continuing concern. The understanding that 'old' instanced areas are slowly being updated and removed from their original contexts... all these tweaks without a proper re-do, because people demand 'new' content... this remains the world everyone travels through to reach the End Game, but I understand very few people ever stay there. There is also the very real possibility that if time-travel happens for Draenor, we may end up getting alternative-Universe versions of other areas rather than amending the places that still exist, simply because it's fitting the 'quicker Expansions' timescale we're now working to. In the end, we won't know how this works until we see it. It looks great, however, and it's going to arrive with more speed than anything else that has preceeded it.

At least I won't have long to wait to make a decision.


dobablo said...

If WoW gets as many post-shark expansions as Happy Days got post-shark season I will be a very happy bunny.

Demeternoth said...

OMG "I was the person in tears when Aysa rescues Ji from the Horde and they leave the Siege together"

I've not got that far into SoO. I am more determined than ever to complete the raid though. That's the best bit of story EVER.

Beshara said...

I was also very concerned at first about this expansion's lore, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is necessary for us to go through this. For the Time Travel part, I think of it as when Garrosh is sent back in time, an alternate timeline is created as soon as he arrives, therefore any changes are on the alternate reality/timeline and do not affect us at all. When they invade our timeline is affected because they are coming to our timeline.
As a Horde player since Vanilla, I was very worried that we were being sent to fight our Heroes of old. We have cities and continents named after these figures, and now we have to go fight against them? But now, I realize that this is necessary for the Horde. The Horde needs to confront it's past and determine what we truly stand for. I was one of the players that liked Garrosh in Cataclysm as Warchief, and was very saddened to see him go down his father's path. I am hoping for some closure, because too many good Orcs died because of this Ideological conflict.On Alliance side this is a great chance to study the Draenei of old, and I am excited for that as well.
As for what we've seen for characters, keep in mind that the old RTS only had male characters at first, or mostly male. I am willing to believe we will see some strong female characters, some we already know and some we have never met. i am cautiously optimistic about the lore we are going to be delving into.

Katherinn said...

It's jumped the shark because they want to push their movie.
My take: They announced a director in Jan, postponed Titan officially a few months later, moved most assets to create a filler expansion(s) which is why it doesn't change the present storyline.
I did mess with the demo, lackluster on the Alliance side. There were not the throngs of people clambering to play it as for Mists. This is telling.

Corv said...

Short lines at BlizzCon can also be attributed to the presence of two new, high-replayability demos to compete with. Additionally, the Draenor demo was extremely light, consisting of a few dozen quests, a single dungeon, and no new class or race to demand appraisal, and further burdened with the ever-growing awareness that summaries will be present via multiple online outlets within hours. It is the fifth expansion for its game: that fact alone robs it of novelty, regardless of its own merit. Those merits, from plot to interface to features, were almost entirely absent from the demo.

Draenor may have problems, but I find little worthy of concern in the size of its queue.

Dahakha said...

I think the thing that makes me angry the most is that Blizz spent this whole expansion, a WHOLE YEAR, building us up for the next Burning Legion assault through Wrathion's questline. He was preparing us for something big, something that needed us in top shape, fighting fit to stand up for Azeroth, and he needed us to be ready ASAP.

This? This is not what he was preparing us for. This is not the reason we needed all those legendary items he gave us. So the next year or so of Warlords, will be time where we forget all this buildup, all this preparation. Even if the Legion threat happens NEXT expansion, most people will have forgotten Wrathion, until he pops up to say "hi guys, we've got incoming, you ready?" and we reply "huh? oh, yeah that's right".

What a waste.

I'm actually seriously considering omitting Warlords from my fic with Akabeko. My characters just...won't go back in time. They'll miss everything, and since it all happens in another timeline, it'll be as if nothing ever happened.

kennyg said...

We don't know who has helped Garrosh escape into the past yet do we? My guess is Wrathion, Blizz are too smart to not drop a big story line like that.

Epiktetos said...

It was briefly mentioned during Blizzcon. I won't mention the name here in case others don't want to know yet but if you watch some of the panels from the first day, there is definitely a name brought up.

R said...

Both related and unrelated at the same time. Fun read if you want a bit of background about the original Jump the Shark moment and the fallout (or lack thereof) for Happy Days.

The lore choice they made for WoD is my one disappointment for the expansion, I'll admit that up front.


I suspect a significant portion of the original Vanilla WoW audience consisted of players who'd played at least WC3 if not WC1 and WC2. That is, those who have already, to some degree, played through the events that WoD is going to change. The Warcraft universe has a lot of history that predates the WoW release and there isn't a heck of a lot of in-game reference to those events short of a few stories here and there. It's just the past.

I think it would be fair to consider this a re-hash IF:

a) We'd played through the original events in-game in WoW and were just going back to experience a different timeline in the same timeframe (brain hurts), or
b) If you count WC1/WC2/WC3 content as fodder for "original use" to be re-used.

A) didn't happen and B) is a real stretch, WoW has been out most of 10 years by now and I'm sure a lot of players in WoW now weren't even ALIVE when WC1 and WC2 (and maybe WC3) were released so chances of them having played are slim/none. However, I'm guessing your friend falls into the B category so it's at least a ... semi-fair reaction even if I don't think it's a reasonable one. And if they haven't actually played through that content? Sigh.

Anyone making decisions about WoD at this point based on a few slides and little besides is being silly. Even if they planned to cancel their sub when WoD came out that'd be one thing but cancelling it now when that content doesn't even exist yet just means they were looking for an excuse to cancel. More power, hopefully they find their joy elsewhere and if not, WoW isn't going anywhere... certainly not back in time, apparently.

Blizzard has been relatively clear (as clear as they can be when wibbly wobbly timelines are involved) that we shouldn't be considering WoD a time travel expansion from our perspective... we'll be on Draenor as it exists there NOW, today, sorta (maybe), dealing with the changes that Garrosh wrought. We aren't going to be going back in time to stop Garrosh from changing history, we're going to be going there to save Azeroth NOW. Today. Ish. Kill or be killed, as old-school plotline as exists.

Jump the Shark. Psh. If Cataclysm wasn't the jumped shark then WoW is immune to the label. And yeah, it's entirely possible that Blizzard is going to ham-fist this expansion into a full-on WTF by the time we get there but I think they have too much pride to let that happen. They have a pretty good idea of what they're doing and they have a lot more invested in the game than we do, both personally and professionally. I'll trust 'em until I have a solid reason not to.

Jonathan said...

"Anyone making decisions about WoD at this point based on a few slides and little besides is being silly."
This. A thousand times this.

For those bemoaning that this isn't the Burning Legion, consider that not every plotline is revealed in advance (spoilers, sweetie).

Getting annoyed with people who can't see that using time travel as a narrative device doesn't have to make the narrative ABOUT time travel. A certain 50-year-old franchise has often worked best when its time machine is just a way of getting into the action and a way out at the end.