13 Sep 2010

Inspiration for A World

I recently had the luck to visit Avebury for a weekend. It’s a fantastic place if you like to get away from it all – there’s no wi-fi, no mobile phone signal. The whole area feels like it’s some kind of Bermuda Triangle for modern data communications, which makes it perfect for those who crave a little peace.

While I was there I did a little exploring. There’s a stone circle that surrounds the town, a barrow den on a nearby hill and a large stretch of heath and farmland. It felt a lot like the Arathi Highlands, you could just imagine Forzuk lumbering around a raptor-filled countryside.

I think this is probably part of the great thing about the world of Azeroth. The place feels magical, with all the elements that you’d expect to see in a high fantasy setting. Yet at the same time many of the places seem to be familiar to us, as if they’re just reflections of our own world seen through a distorted carnival mirror.

It’s common for artists and worldbuilders to draw on inspiration from the world that surrounds them for zone themes, building and architectural ideas, and even the cultures and beliefs of entire races. Games like Warcraft are littered with cultural references that are instantly familiar.

It’s also interesting to flip the question around. Ask someone what their favourite zone is and they’ll probably mention Zangamarsh or the Netherstorm. It’s almost as if the places that are completely fantastical – that have no root in the real world – are the ones that appeal to us most. But without places like Ellwyn Forest, you wouldn’t have any contrast or any way for these zones to be seen as truly distinct.

Just as good a question is to look at the places that haven’t yet featured as inspiration for places in the game. It’s a very hard challenge to meet – it almost feels as if the worldbuilders have covered almost every type of terrain and mimicked almost every suitable architectural style. The only notable exception is the traditional Japanese architectural style, the dramatic Himalayan mountain passes and the rice fields of China. I’m going to hazard a guess and predict that some of these may feature in a future Panderan expansion.

Other than the Far Eastern theme, are there any other places that remain untapped? Greek and Roman styles have largely been used for Titan architecture, while Aztec themes run throughout the Troll architecture. Even Egyptian and Babylonian styles have been picked up for use in Slilthus and beyond. There aren’t many places left on the map that haven’t been covered.

That said, I’m not sure if the next Warcraft expansion is about exploration in a geographic sense, but rather digging deeper into the history and lore behind the creatures and zones that inhabit the world. It’s a chance for us to be wowed with the story, instead of being purely drawn in through eye candy.

Faced with the new zones that have emerged in Cataclysm, would you have done any different? Are there any places left in the real world that have yet to be used? Are there any bits of lore that would work well, if only they had a place to tell it? Put yourself in the worldbuilder’s shoes and see what you can come up with.

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