Archive for April, 2012

Rule One of Storytelling: No Spoilers!

Spoilers for World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings below.

This is going to be a shorter than normal post, but it’s something I really do need to get into.

You see, Blizzard Entertainment has dropped a huge amount of information about their upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, Mists of Pandaria. The expansion will place a heavy focus on the conflict between the two factions of the game, and the final patch will feature the Siege of Orgrimmar, where the leader of the Horde will be removed from power, forcibly. His head may or may not remain intact.

This is not leaked information. This is not guess work or datamining audio files. This is not even content that is being developed yet, it’s at least a year out. This is, quite literally, Blizzard going out to the fan sites and saying “This is how our next expansion ends!”

Yeah. Think on that for a moment. The makers of the biggest MMO in the world are saying “We care so much about our story that we’re telling everyone how it ends, before it’s even out!” Every single one of their users that cares to find out (thus, the ones most likely to care about the story) will know what the end result of the story is.

Let’s look at Lord of the Rings. Fairly early on in the story, the reader/viewer learns that the main storyline will be traveling to Mount Doom to cast The One Ring into lava. While it would be a spoiler to say that the ring gets thrown into the lava, it wouldn’t be a very big one. An epic ends with evil being defeated. Who knew?

That’s the kind of story Blizzard has dealt with the last few expansions. “There’s a big evil thing that wants to destroy the world! Someone must stop it!” Saying that said big bad dies is a spoiler in the same way that it’s a spoiler that the main character of a TV show doesn’t die in a random episode.

But this isn’t a “Big Bad” plot. This is a war plot, and neither side can be called villainous. Even the most monstrous faction leader in WoW at least has a relatable reason for their actions. Prior to their announcement about how the expansion would have ended, there was really no idea how the war would end, which side would be victorious or at least on top when the dust settled.

If that kept going? Blizzard would have a situation where the players had no idea who was going to win. If the Alliance won a town at one point? Players would wonder if the Alliance might win after all. If the Horde killed a pivotal character, it might be looked at as the turning point for the war! It gives every action meaning, weight, purpose!

And now? That’s all gone. The Horde are either going to lose the war, or turn on each other, and more likely the latter. Every Horde victory from here on out is going to either be a Pearl Harbor, where it’s there to raise the stakes and show how dangerous the Horde are, or it will be a costly, Phyrric victory giving a bit of dark irony to the piece. And every Alliance victory? Well, that’s the pivotal battle that puts the Horde on the defensive, leading down the road to the eventual supremacy of the Alliance, or maybe its another straw for the camel’s back, pushing the Horde closer and closer to civil war. Even if the Alliance loses a lot, everyone will think of it as worth the losses, because that’s how the story ends: With a victorious Alliance.

All tension, all mystery has been drained out of the story. Imagine a “LOST” or an “X-Files” where the audience already had some idea of the ending. Would they have lasted a single season? Half of one? Imagine a Lord of the Rings where you know from the start that Frodo will fail to toss the ring into the lava, but Gollum will make it happen anyway. How would that color the journey? Wouldn’t the sacrifices made throughout the story feel meaningless, because the hero failed in the end?

Hell, imagine a Star Wars where, from the first moment of the first film, we knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and would eventually help Luke kill the Emperor.

Because, while the are a lot of things that will keep a player playing, one of the biggest elements has always been “How does this all end?”

And now? All Blizzard has left to fall back on is the execution of that story.

Good luck, guys. You’ll need it.


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