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Lore Almighty

Editorial By Aaron Roxby on November 01, 2006

Lore Almighty: Lore and Storytelling in MMOGs (Page 2 of 2)

I understand that comparing over seventy years of comic book continuity to a game that has been out for barely two years might be jumping the gun a bit. But really, the comic book analogy only goes so far anyway, because MMOs are not comic books. For the most part, one does not play a video game to be told a story, one plays to participate in and ideally create the story themselves. This leads to a very different set of concerns in game writing. Let us look at the Draenei again. Within the established Warcraft continuity, leaving the Draenei alone and allowing players to create the little Steve Buschemi turtle monsters would have perhaps worked better in terms of lore. But, really, was anyone looking forward to creating one of those things as an avatar. Playing as an Eredar certainly seems much cooler however; it wouldn't make a lot of sense having Demons in the Alliance. So, Blizzard compromised, did a bit of retconning and came up with a basically reasonable back story. Is it a great story? Not particularly. Does it get the job done? Sure. The important thing to realize is that World of Warcraft is not the story of Thrall or Onyxia or Illidan or any of the big name characters. Wow is millions of stories. For me it is the story of a handsome Human Paladin who roams the countryside with his pig, Mr. Wiggles, trying to find a decent Scholomance pickup group so that he can finally get his epic mount. For someone else it is the story of a Troll Hunter, or an Orc High Warlord or a gold-selling level one Gnome Rogue. Will the story of a space-faring Demon Shaman be cooler than that of a little froggy-Ewok thing? I like to think so.

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Star Wars Galaxies has been a shining example of what not to do with an intellectual property and the way that it handled Lore was no exception. The decision was made early on to set the game between Episodes IV and V because, to paraphrase one of the devs, it was "the coolest time period". Hey, you will get no argument from me on that point. This, however, led to a whole slew of problems. Given the game's time period, Jedis had to be practically nonexistent, since Vader, Mara Jade and Boba Fett were spending a lot of their free time killing Jedis. I don't have nearly enough space here to go into SWG's whole Jedi fiasco. If you are unfamiliar, just type "SWG", "Jedi", "Holocron" and "Pre-NGE" into Google, or visit the SWG forums here at mmorpg.com. Long story short, it was a mess largely created by the designers' attempts to balance both lore and compelling game play. In the end, both lost out.

PVP in Star Wars was similarly at odds with Lore. At the time between A New Hope and Empire, the rebels are still a small band, largely in hiding. The empire is all encompassing and powerful. In SWG however, the Rebels outnumbered the Imperials by a huge margin. To compensate, SOE initially gave the Empire some truly impressive weaponry. A single Imperial with three AT-STs could easily take on a few parties of Rebel players. Rebels complained that this wasn't balanced because, well it wasn't. Once again, the needs of the established lore and the needs of fair, compelling game play found themselves at odds and once again, neither interest was served.

Bioware had the right idea with Knights of the Old Republic. By setting the game far outside of the established Star Wars continuity, they were given the freedom to create a truly compelling game that ended up feeling much more like Star Wars than Galaxies ever did.

Ideally, a balance should exist. There should be a way to give the player the most compelling experience possible, while at the same time not contradicting the established story. However, in the event that balance cannot be found, I think it is important to realize that these are games first. A small change in the mythology of a universe is a small price to pay, if the result is a better overall experience.

This is an exciting time for video game writing. The linear storylines of old adventure games are being cast aside, while things like emergent game play are giving players the ability to really feel like their decisions are affecting the game world. As games become more complex, they are slowly starting to develop their own sense of identity. There are a lot of ways to have a story told to you, but only two ways for you to experience it for yourself.

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE!

As a special treat for those who made it to the end of this somewhat rambling missive, I am including my list of other possible ways to describe old school Draenei or Lost Ones.

  • Zombie Kermits
  • Martian Hobos
  • Green Michael Rookers
  • Fungus Orcs
  • Smelly-looking Fire Marshall Bills
  • Ick!
  • Glowy-eyed trash-apes
  • Mummy Kong
  • Yoda, after getting totally buffed but then kind of letting himself go
  • Gremlin Bag Ladies

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