The Future of Storytelling
Someone recently brought the following to my attention:
It's a fascinating interview with
, but for those not interested in reading the entire article, I was drawn to a particular moment when he says “Storytelling in MMO's is the future”. Considering the limitations of running an MMO in a static, unchanging, endlessly repeating world, I found this to be an interesting philosophy.
I don't know about you, but I must admit, I don't play WoW for the story. If I want to create my own story about characters of my creation within the confines of a pre-existing universe, I'm more likely to play Warhammer or a pen and paper game of some sort (Yes, I do both of these things. That's some serious Nerd Cred).
What MMOs lack that single player games get for free is making sure that everyone is on the same page. If I finally get everyone together and slay
Doom Lord Kazzak
in Hellfire Penninsula, we all know that tomorrow, he'll be back, because not everyone else has killed him. If there was some way to ensure that every player who ever played the game had killed Kazzak, then he could go ahead and not respawn, and no one would think much of it.
Even instances are filled again the second time you enter them, despite the fact that they're instanced for each party, because so much of this game is based on the instance grind. If you only got to kill Illidan once, and he didn't drop the item you wanted, you'd be pissed, right?
Wrath of the Lich King introduced a handy little mechanic. You may have noticed, as you advance through
the Death Knight starting area
, that the zone changes to reflect your agency in spreading the plague. In reality, of course, once you fly back to the necropolis, it flips the switch to ensure that when you go back groundside, you're actually in a different zone, which has been altered to reflect the quests you need to have completed so far. The transition is largely seamless, and my hat goes off to Blizzard for the ability to move away from the static-state MMORPG format a little.
I haven't tested the Death Knight starting zone, so I don't know how it deals with you only completing some of the quests, but the instanced-zones approach is still very likely to fall victim to this. Either it removes your discretion is choosing which quests to complete, or you have the option of moving on to the next zone/stage/whatever without a full understanding of the current situation. As a friend of mine said, story in an MMO is kind of like a Dark Tunnel ride at Disneyland. Everything makes sense as long as you see everything, and never look back. As I said, the instanced-zone trick helps to let you see the effect of your actions on the area that you're in, but it doesn't ultimately solve the problem.
That being said, the storyline of WoW
advanced. With the release of The Burning Crusade, it was strongly implied that the dangers of Rend Blackhand and the Black Dragonflight were dealt with, at least temporarily, and with the release of Wrath of the Lich King, clearly Illidan isn't as much of a pressing concern as Arthas. When, and if (and that's a very big if, I personally don't think it'll happen) Warcraft 4 is released, I can only imagine that Illidan and Arthas will both be dead, and new dangers will arise. If, lore-wise, Arthas really does die, I guess you can imagine that your party did it--but if Blizzard
who did it, it just might ruin the magic for people. I trust them to come up with an interesting way out of the corner they appear to slowly be writing themselves into, but nonetheless I remain curious how they're going to do it.
So how would you do it?
How do you reconcile a constantly evolving story with a world that remains static by design? Do you feel like Blizzard does it well? What are your favorite examples of storytelling in games?
SBMrClean is a part time business jerk, part time writer in the video game industry. He plays horde-side on Draenor, and collects his other thoughts on videogames and storytelling at his personal website
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