|Oh look, some words.|
In amongst a metric ton of fabulous stuff late last night, which includes all the new models in the Beta and some fantastic new tools for website designers to partner with Blizzard came the short story above. It has been published to act as an introduction to Warlords, as a way to bridge the gap between the end of Pandaria and the start of the new Expansion. Like the 'War Crimes' novel it provides information that cannot be given in game, simply because there isn't enough time to do so... and you know what, I'm just going to stop there, because this is where my head starts shaking and I realise that, like it or not, my favourite game is still failing to grasp a vital lesson in the business of narrative storytelling.
It's also really beginning to show its age too in this department, which is odd considering the technical innovations this Expansion is clearly embracing with both hands. New character models, different approaches to questing, a determined effort to make the game 'fun' and 'engaging'... all of these things are front and centre, and I must applaud the people in charge of the development for clearly taking the time to stop and listen to players and provide them with what they are asking for, what they crave from a game in the Modern World. All of this is what players want, and presumably the novels and the short stories are too, considering the number of people who clearly read them. I'm told it is all about an emotional investment from the novels that you simply can't get in game because of the restrictions of the media... except I KNOW that's not true. This game is capable of that, I've seen it, and you don't need novels or short stories to produce it. You simply need to grasp which stories MUST be told.
I mentioned the emotional impact of the Wrathgate Cinematic earlier in the week in my Gaming questionnaire, and it is a perfect example of picking the right part of the story to tell. When I lamented this issue and the need to provide people with yet another story as explanation to Mr Alt last night he replied I'd made the exact same complaint at the start of Pandaria: it shouldn't need an extra level of narrative to allow players to understand why they are doing what they are, that should be provided to you when you enter the game. You don't go watch a movie and then have to read a book to explain what you've just seen, it should be a self-contained experience... and then we find ourselves in a world where lines blur and immersion becomes less about how good one source of entertainment is and more about how willing a player is to make their own decisions outside the virtual world.
What it does highlight is that someone making this game feels that perhaps we need more than we have online to make real sense of what they are presenting us with. What isn't clear is if this is now a deliberate part of the 'gaming' experience or not.
|Hooked on a Franchise.|
An Expansive Fantasy Universe is not a new concept: go look at Marvel for proof that you can pick and choose your elements from within such concepts and still link disparate elements of them together. I doubt a lot of people who watched this movie even know that there's an intrinsic link between it and the Avengers (no I'm not spoiling you go find it for yourself) but the way in which Marvel are using elements inside seemingly unrelated movies to build up for a bigger tale down the line is nothing short of genius. This is the kind of storytelling that becomes ultimately compelling, that draws the viewer into the action, where the background story doesn't need to be understood in detail, just presented along the way. The biggest single problem Warcraft now suffers is that, like it or not, there's just too much lore. Picking and choosing stories has become almost impossible, which some could argue is one of the reasons why we're seeing a reboot of an existing storyline into an 'alternative' Universe, because it allows us elements of old and new without the need for sticking to the existing script.
In that regard, giving players more words to digest could confuse matters more in the long run. It doesn't help either that in a game where developers refuse to change huge portions of content, that lore remains as an unchanging example of what has come before. Efforts to move on the storyline have met with limited success too, as is testament from the Cataclysm 'redevelopment' from 1-60. If I believe what I'm told people just don't want to live in the past, they need new content to thrive in... which then makes the nostalgiafest Warlords is rapidly developing into a bit jarring in context. It is at this point I decide that it is time to invoke Occam's Razor and decide that the simplest explanation is probably the one that's right. Why do we keep being given extra source material to read instead of being provided it in game?
Because if it was, no-one would play it because the background isn't what the vast majority of players are in Azeroth for.
What makes me saddest of all, at least in this case, is that there is a perfect place to have provided all the details players need to understand the background of this story 'progression', but from where I'm standing it appears to have not been considered. Whatever the reasons for our sixth month delay: training new people, hardware issues, the alignment of the planets... it doesn't matter, someone could have set up a couple of flashback sequences in the Escape from the Dark Portal sequence to contain this information. Kadghar could reference it while we're investigating the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands, there could have been a scenario like Theramore to add some flavour... but with the way this Expansion has been built, it seems clear that some parts of the 'story' have been given greater significance than others. When time is money (friend) it is probably just easier to spend your hours on balancing the classes than worrying people get your narrative without doing some homework. This makes people like me very sad, but as I am very much in the minority, that's just fine.
Telling stories matters, but in the scope of this Expansion what now is far more pressing is actually taking the action live. I can only hope that after two expansions of after the fact exposition, Blizzard might already be listening and planning the transition to the NEXT Expansion with a little more thought.