4 COMMENTS
8 Jun 2014

Warcraft: Skip to Next Track

wownope

Back in October 2013, I quit World of Warcraft. After a year or more of playing action-focused MMOs like Guild Wars 2, TERA, and WildStar, Blizzard’s MMO felt slow and dated. I’d developed a taste for a newer, more active style of combat, and felt that a return to hotkey bashing was just boring.

This was actually the third time I’d quit: my first time was partway into Cataclysm, when the long wait for new content coerced me into reconsidering my subscription. I returned for Mists of Pandaria, only to quit again once I hit level cap, after I discovered an endless sea of daily quest grinds waiting for me. My final return was for the Timeless Isle update, where friends tried to persuade me into gearing up and playing again. But, by that time, my opinion had been thoroughly tainted, and I only lasted a few months before cancelling again.

That said, Blizzard always had a way of drawing me back in: freshly baked lore. I’m a sucker for a good story, and I’d come back time after time to explore what each new expansion had to offer. Of course, Warcraft’s monolithic pace of updates meant that other activities needed to fill the void – social, PvP, raiding – anything that could give me a reason to log in night after night. If you look over the history of this blog, I’ve no doubt you’ll find more.

This time, I won’t be going back. For the first time since World of Warcraft was released, the story doesn’t interest me.

When I originally signed on for WoW, I felt that there was an epic storyline unraveling in front of me. It was a tale of heroes, battling against impossible odds against a time-hardened enemy. It was a story of courage, defiance, and spirit. The world Blizzard had created fired the imagination of millions of players, led to the establishment of an amazing blogging collective, and helped me discover many amazing, opinionated people.

Today, Warlords of Draenor comes as a disappointing story update, taking us across lands that we’ve already seen, just at a different point in time. It squanders the attention of the audience, saying “Hey, I know you want to get on with the serious business of Argus, Xoroth and the final defeat of the Burning Legion, but we want to indulge ourselves on a whimsy.” Instead of continuing with the arc that they’ve had in motion for years, WoW’s creative team want to go back in time and find out what happens if one of the most crucial points of history went a different way. It’s a thought experiment made into an expansion, an indulgence of minds that should know better.

This indulgence might be symptomatic of wider issues with the creative team at Blizzard, the result of which is that many former fans feel excluded from a world they grew up with. For me, it offers a story that I’m no longer interested in. My line of Collectors Editions will end with Mists of Pandaria, and might someday resume with future expansions that actually push the story forward. Right now though, it seems like Warcraft is trying to jump the shark.

My gut feel is that Warlords of Draenor is brought about by two merging desires: to delay ‘ending’ the arc while millions of players are still interested in what’s going on, and to explore the already-rich culture that Blizzard has built up around their orcs. The result is an expansion that’s been described to me as “Dudebros of Draenor,” alienating small but significant groups of fans in the process. Not only is it disappointing, but it’s also unnecessary, with other arcs emerging as one ends.

If there’s anything that I hope comes from Warlords of Draenor, it’s that the studio learns from the experience. That it brings in a respect for the players and fans that choose to spend their lives in Azeroth. That a humbler Blizzard emerges, devoid of the aloof arrogance that has been seen of late. That a new dialogue opens up where player concerns are addressed, rather than being dismissed by a corporate machine. These are all core skills that the studio used to be very good at, but which – just like with the story – they seem to have lost their way.

Time will tell if Warcraft manages this – and I have every hope they will – or, like Happy Days, the shark-jumping moment is just the beginning of the end.

 

4 comments, add yours!
Tags: ,
2 COMMENTS
3 Feb 2014

In Memory: Judy Freeman

It seems like yesterday.

After blogging about MMOs for the best part of two years, I’d landed my first paid writing gig, producing features and the occasional bit of news for ZAM. It was a dream-come-true for me; a chance to learn how to create professionally, and to put those creations in front of a huge audience. I was alive with innocent excitement. The Editor-in-Chief at the time, Christopher Tom (now doing a superb job over at Riot), introduced me to the team.

Including Judy Freeman, the copy editor.

I was paranoid. Would my words be up to scratch? Would my distinctly British sense of humour translate across the ocean? Would my eccentric idioms be struck down by the stern gaze of this unknown entity? I needn’t have worried. In her own words:

As I see it, my job is to make my writers look great so I polish and burnish. My goal is to forever remain invisible to the reader. If he/she can see my work I have failed. I will never ask you to write in my style but will do everything I can to make yours glow.

Writers often say that they write for an audience, and mine was Judy. Over the course of a year and a half, I’d try out ideas on her. Test the waters, see if something worked. Sometimes it was a huge success, like the time I wrote a preview entirely using an in-game narrative. Other times it ended up being redrafted and refined, like some of my very first interviews. But she was always there, being encouraging and supportive. I never had much confidence in my own ability, feeling like a pretender, but Judy lent me hers.

She also taught me a lot about American English. People stateside are never keen, but they are sometimes eager. Groups of people – teams, corporations, studios – are singular, not plural. Drop the u here and there, slide in the z occasionally, and it all works. Even if she had to correct me regularly. There were the times when I was scrambling to meet a deadline or embargo drop, and she’d work late into the night to have it ready for publication in the morning.

Even after I moved on to pastures new, we still caught up occasionally. Sometimes by Skype, sometimes by email, just to shoot the breeze. She’d tell me what she thought of Downton Abbey, and I’d grimace inside at what she’d think of the UK as a result. But it was all good-natured. She was still working away with her collection of red pencils, sharpening articles as an unsung hero.

Last week, Judy died. Cancer has robbed the world of a good friend, mentor and muse. I have no words – and she’d probably laugh and gently mock me – but grief and loss. She touched almost everything I wrote, but her influence on me went far beyond it. Judy made me think more about the craft of choosing and placing words together than anyone.

Judy had been at ZAM/Wowhead for over 5 years, with countless writers on numerous games. It’s staggering to think just how much she worked on, yet always being fresh, inquisitive and passionate about the content she pruned and polished. I missed her when I moved on, and I miss her even more now.

Thank you, Red Pencils. For everything.

2 comments, add yours!
Comments Off
20 Nov 2013

Luxuria Superbia: A Fontaine Fondle

I’ve never wanted to wash my hands after playing an iPad game. That is, until I’d played Luxuria Superbia. At first glance it reminded me of rhythm roller-coaster Audiosurf, although perhaps with a seedy seventies vibe. The truth, it turns out, was even more peculiar, with my fingers playing as unwitting servants to the sultry demands of a digital flower.

Continue reading

Comments Off
Tags: , , ,
5 COMMENTS
16 Nov 2013

Mister Sparkles Mini: The Winners (Part 2)

At the end of October, I asked for people to design me a golem in order to win a Mister Sparkles Mini. The response has been overwhelming, with so many incredible responses. I really was amazed by the work everyone put in, and it made choosing some winners incredibly difficult.

As I mentioned before, the incredibly kind folks at ArenaNet gave me some extra codes, so I’ve got five Mister Sparkles Minis to give away. Without further ado, let me share the winners with you!

Continue reading

5 comments, add yours!
Tags: , ,
30 COMMENTS
25 Oct 2013

Design a Golem, Win Mister Sparkles!

Zojja_01_concept_art

Earlier this month, I ran a competition where you could win a Mini Mister Sparkles for Guild Wars 2. But there was a catch: to enter, you needed to design a competition that someone else could win. It was a little fiendish and so very meta, generating a huge number of ideas. Well done to everyone that took part, and congratulations to the winners!

I still have five more Mister Sparkles Mini codes to give away. After taking the best entries from the previous contest, I think I’ve come up with a fair but flexible way that you could win one of the remaining codes.

Update: The competition is now closed, and I’ll be announcing the winners early next week. Thanks to everyone that took part!

Continue reading

30 comments, add yours!
Tags: ,