The Warcraft franchise first appeared in 1994 with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. 10 years later, World of Warcraft came out and changed the landscape of video games.
World of Warcraft has been around for 14 years now, and through several expansions it has continued the story that began over two decades ago. The next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is slated for release on August 14.
Mail Esports spoke to a few Blizzard developers, Gary Platner and Terran Gregory, about how to keep an evolving narrative for that long.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the latest expansion and it will release on August 14
“14 years old is a generational age,” said Gregory as he reflected on the release of the original game. He is the director of the film project and therefore spends his time bringing stories to life on screen.
“We’re talking about 2004. The temperature of the video game world and the types of stories that were told in video games… a lot of historical storytelling games weren’t released yet.
‘World of Warcraft has existed throughout evolution. We have found that storytelling inspirations are very different from what they are today.
“It would be fair to say that the way the story felt in Vanilla was a lot more of a hyperbolic, comic book fantasy story. It was exactly what was needed for the time, it was successful and people looked to it.
“Over the course of a decade or more, audiences shifted more to thoughtful and compelling storytelling, and we were able to begin to evolve, follow suit and say more with this game.”
While World of Warcraft doesn’t have the same number of players it did at its peak, it’s still the most popular MMO around. Some people have stayed for the long haul, while others back and forth with each expansion that passes. The teens who started playing Vanilla are now adults.
Of course, WoW is also finding new players all the time. There are young people who can play the game now who weren’t even alive when it was released.
“I constantly see on Twitch, the new, younger generation coming in and embracing WoW,” said Gregory. “” Oh look, someone just discovered this game last year. I’m like “this is amazing!” I love it. ‘
But demographics are going the other way too.
“My parents both play,” he continued. “They’ve both played since Vanilla, every expansion. My mom actually raided Black Temple when it came to current content. It was more hardcore than I had ever been. I was like “mom you make me look bad!” ‘
This expansion focuses more on the ongoing conflicts between the Horde and the Alliance
“We have matured with our audience,” said Gary Platner, senior outdoor level designer, who was working on WoW from launch. “The intrigues have followed suit over the years. Things have progressed and changed as our audience has changed.
“I’ve been a fan from the start and never imagined the loyalty and depth of story we can really get from these last three expansions.”
Blizzard has always been known for its storytelling. Even in the late 90s and early 2000s, the company was creating characters that people really cared about. Many Warcraft characters from the day are still around today, although often in a very different form.
“Daytime soap opera television,” Gregory said. “Whatever your opinions on this, watch what they do. They run for 20, 30, 40 years. How do they do this when the average TV show is 5-7?
“There’s a formula they use and it’s like a braid. For each character that comes out, you create one and you can’t do them all at the same time. The WoW story over the years has been the same.
“Garrosh Hellscream was the first example of someone who got braided during Burning Crusade, then moved to the center during Wrath of the Lich King. And then Cataclysm rose to prominence, then Mists of Pandaria, the story was resolved.
“All the while these things are happening, so the question is, which characters become important, what comes out. You have to change that in terms of community engagement and make the story feel like it doesn’t get old. We think about it all the time. ‘
It’s not just the overall narrative that Blizzard needs to keep fresh, it’s also everything in the game. Gregory told me another anecdote he heard from the game’s quest designers.
“They said every quest in the game has a unique name… really think about what that means. This means all quests from Vanilla up to Legion. Thousands and thousands of quests.
“So now they’re challenged when creating Battle for Azeroth. “Type in the name, taken. Type in the name, taken.” They have to get together and say “guys, come on, we have to find a name for this quest”. They’re starting to get really innovative, but they have to, because how do we avoid what we’ve done before? “
Blizzard storytellers want to focus more on characters, creating a deeper narrative
In terms of the story, what came before is one of the biggest challenges Blizzard has faced with the new expansion. In Legion, the combined forces of the Horde and Alliance travel to the planet Argus and confront Sargeras, the lord of the Burning Legion.
“Where do we go from here?” »Said Grégory.
Instead of trying to outdo itself in terms of the fantasy, epic story, Blizzard is trying something a little more emotional, more personal.
In Battle for Azeroth, the Horde and Alliance return to Azeroth, for once with no greater common foes to face. The Lich King is not threatening, there is no giant dragon to defeat, the Burning Legion does not rain terror from the sky.
The two factions have always been at odds and argue all the time, but now that they’re home and have a chance to breathe, they realize they have a lot of history to go.
When it becomes evident that the Azerite escaping the planet thanks to Sargeras possesses very powerful properties, an arms race begins, the factions become more territorial and engage in all-out war. If one of them gets ahead, it could mean the extinction of the other.
“There’s this existential threat that faces both the Alliance and the Horde, and leads us into the new expansion,” said Gregory.
From what we’ve seen so far, from the opening cutscene shown at Blizzcon last year, and the various other videos we’ve seen recently, the big explosive battles are still here. But Blizzard is also focusing on those involved in the war. It is focused on their progression as characters.
If there’s anything else Blizzard is known for, it’s the high-quality cutscenes they produce, from full-fledged, pre-rendered CGI cutscenes to the smallest “2.5D” animated art videos they produce. have carried out. I asked how they decide where to put the resources for these projects. Why does Saurfang get a six-minute Hollywood-worthy video when Jaina has something simpler?
“I think for any given cutscene we want to make the right choice at the right time, also considering what we are capable of doing at that time. It’s always the right fit for the story, ”said Gregory.
With 2.5D videos, which started a few expansions ago, Blizzard likes to tell part of a character’s story and try to connect players a bit more to the characters.
“We wanted to continue this,” he said. “These characters who are going to be really important, tell a little more about their internal thoughts. So we were able to do Jaina’s and Sylvanas’s, and there’s one more to come.
“I think as far as the Old Soldier cinematics we released, it was something that we had never done before. The high-fidelity CGIs, the pre-rendered cutscenes, they’re usually only relegated to to one by extension, the intro. We just had the opportunity to do another, and this seemed like the right place to do it.
“We saw the big Blizzcon intro, and it’s the day before. It’s immersive and gives you a little more insight into these characters, that was a big part of our thinking. We knew some players were going to feel exactly what Saurfang felt, some players were going to feel like Sylvanas, and we wanted to use this story as a vehicle to remind them that this is war.
“From the start, we’ve always wanted to have that brain emotion out of the game, and we’ve just gotten better and better at that,” Platner said. “I think the culmination of all of this effort over the years has really come to Battle for Azeroth.
“Not just on 2.5D and our pre-rendered CG, it’s in the game, it’s in everything we do. We’re going to make a barrel or a box and it’s done in a way that tells a story. It has to be built by someone and it’s there for a reason. Everything is there to tell the story, to support the world, to support this story.
“I like watching all these reactions from people, this emotion that we have, and it brings emotion to me, because I feel like we did. This is the point where we hoped to be. It’s not the Legion invading … it’s deep, and it works. ‘
The passion that the people who work on World of Warcraft have for the game and its history is clear, even after all these years. It is this passion that has made it the most popular MMO around, and it is this passion that will keep it going for many years to come.