Warcraft Retrospective: A Blog Post Series (latest issue: #30, 2024-06-23)

I did once cross paths with an RPer who subscribed to a monotheistic take on the Light, by means of belief in a singular figure best summarized as the Abrahamic God we know from real life. As I recall, WC1’s lore was the basis for their character’s belief.

Apart from that lone incident however, not really no. Not the stuff that has been retconned since those days anyway.

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I think what survives from WC1 resides in character backstories, really. Though with that said, my eccentric mage is definately inspired by the Warcraft 1 Conjurer. :mage:

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I’ve finished reading the first part and now I’m in the middle of reading the second, and I just -had- to come over and comment in between how much I’ve really thirsted for this kind of deep-dive content into something like WoW that I love so much. You write so well, keeping me as a reader really enthused and interested to carry on reading.

Wishing you all the best writing more of this, I know I’m going to enjoy the ride as long as I can! x

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Echoing the sentiment of other people in this thread, absolutely love this style of nerdy analysis and it’s completely up my street. Really looking forward to the next entry! I don’t religiously roleplay much at all anymore but I still check out these forums and I’m glad I do just for this.

That water elemental you included a picture of, despite not wanting to know I decided to do some research. The drawing actually looks a little like a sculpture: Undine by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. Undine’s being mythological creatures associated with water and water elementals! Might be a stretch but possibly the reasoning behind the design there, or part of it.

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Very interesting read and great job with the continuation!

It was also very interesting to see that the whole “unreliable narrator” trope which sort of frowned upon today in the current setting(or at least its implementation) was present back then already, but done in a bit of a different way.

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That’s the crucial difference, and well noted — I’ll make sure to mention it in future posts.

Warcraft 1 used the unreliable narrator trope* to present two sides that had incomplete knowledge of each other and were operating based on their best guesses so far; a narrative reflection of the metaphorical fog of war.

Current Warcraft books use the unreliable narrator trope to retcon away previous lore that gets in the way and to be as noncommittal as possible about new lore, so that it can be retconned away at a moment’s notice in turn. After all, continuity exists to enhance the story, not to tie the hands of creators.


* I wonder if they first decided that orcs were incapable of intelligent writing because, after all, they were clearly stupid simplistic barbarians — and then they realized they needed an in-universe writer for the orc side, and for this reason, created Garona of the Thousand Retcons and explained her ability to write intelligently by her not being a full orc.

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Another major difference in its usage is also how its portrayed and written I feel. Warcraft 1 seems to make it very clear right away that they are written in-character, by a person in the world with their own biases.

Current Warcraft many times doesn’t do that. It presents stories and even books written as a normal book or story, viewed and presented by a omnipresent narrator, but then afterwards(in interviews or statements) claim that “actually, the book and narration was by X thing or person, we just didn’t say.”

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I think its also that early Blizzard, in Warcraft in particular, just really likes…well, chest.

Most of the women characters in Warcraft’s earliest artwork and character models (including in warcraft 3) often have very revealing clothes, shapely figures and prominent chests.

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That’s probably the other piece of the puzzle as to why it’s depicted that way. Not to try and defend or attack that kind of thing, that’s definitely nothing exclusive to Blizzard though; the fantasy of the 80s and 90s is probably as famous as it is because of the impossibly jacked men and the questionable clothing choices of the women.

I find it quite endearing really until I remember the allegations and the types of weird men - and almost always exclusively men - that were designing these things… then it starts to become a touch problematic.

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Oh yes, I was going to add that actually. It’s nothing that stands out compared to typical “generic” fantasy or even games at the time, or gaming history.

I’ve said it before, but with the controversies at Blizzard, it was interesting to look back at at least WC3 and see that it was a very male-dominated company.

The credits sequence in WC3 features maybe 2-3 women and they are either secretaries or in HR.

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I’d love to talk about this more but I don’t want to hijack this thread and use it to talk about such a heavy topic lmao.

I will say generally though that for all its problematic elements, I do really love the early days of Warcraft. Whilst it may be considered “lazy worldbuilding” or terrible storytelling, I do quite like it - from the perspective of a roleplayer - when things are left intentionally vague and things are almost dictated just by vibes or aesthetic. — This was my main gripe with Shadowlands, frankly. I think not knowing about what happens after death or in the afterlife is far, far, far more compelling than knowing what happens; you can write countless stories about the uncertainty, but only really one story about certainty.

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Personally, I don’t think the early Warcraft lore is lazy worldbuilding at all. If anything, it’s more lore than I expected for this kind of game.

That was still an age when story was considered to be of secondary importance in video game design. Most video game stories at that time were just thin excuses for the gameplay. John Carmack said about Doom, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

Compare the Warcraft 1 manual to the manual for Heroes of Might and Magic 1, which came out a year later. Despite having significantly more complicated gameplay, HOMM 1 basically has an Excuse Plot: four warlords vying for power in a fantasy land. We get a vague backstory for one of them, in the form of in-character letters, but not the other three. Most of the manual is dedicated to gameplay mechanics, and the buildings and units don’t have flavor lore like the Warcraft ones.

https://dn790003.ca.archive.org/0/items/Heroes_of_Might_and_Magic_I_Manual/Heroes_of_Might_and_Magic_I_Manual.pdf

The WC1 developers didn’t strictly need to go into the extra effort of writing down all this backstory, surprisingly elaborate for a mid-1990s video game. They didn’t need to write in things completely irrelevant to explaining the gameplay, including sequel hooks like Medivh’s mysterious dark powers and the identities of the Shadow Council. But they did it anyway. And — though I’m getting ahead of myself — WC2 followed on this foreshadowing, and how.

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My small sidenote comment for this is that later HoMM lore is absolute bonkers insane up until HoMM 5 when it becomes one of the most generic fantasy plots & settings to ever be created.

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This reminds me of a Tom Scott video I watched a while back talking about TV intro sequences and the little details that were wholly unnecessary being included by passionate artists and writers: the concept of “bothering to make a compass spin” if you’ve seen the video. A lot like how for the LoTR movie franchise a lot of armour, props, etc were designed in excruciating detail despite being almost invisible to the camera. For all their alleged faults, you cannot deny that the passion was clearly there in these early games.

That point about story being “secondary” in older games actually resonates with me quite a bit. I find myself struggling to enjoy a lot of modern MMO titles these days because of how I expect to consume story; I’m not old I swear, I just grew up on games that released before I was born LOL. Final Fantasy 14 is extremely popular and that - for lack of a better way of expressing this - is an RPG and, in many ways, a television show first and an MMO second.

WoW’s focus since arguably Cataclysm has been increasingly placed upon an ever expanding narrative that plays out around the main characters and with the Blizzcon announcements it looks like they’re going to take a FF14 approach to storytelling. I’m unsure how to feel about this. I am probably very much in the minority of people: I don’t enjoy heavy narrative content in my MMORPG, I am a big fan of external lore sources like books (so long as it matches what I’m seeing ingame), and I am a huge proponent of having storylines be told through a cinematic rather than super long and winding questchains; one of my main criticisms with FF14’s MSQ is how I feel like I’m consuming a great story, but the gameplay is just me walking from NPC to NPC to NPC to trigger a new cutscene, sometimes without actually doing any combat for upwards of 45 minutes.

Sorry to hijack your thread again and talk about something that may not seem relevant, but I think it’s worth thinking about really. Warcraft has changed in many ways: Warcraft 3 is a brilliant narrative focussed title, World of Warcraft comes about and shifts the focus very much onto gameplay and worldbuilding: multiple stories playing out across the world, no super strict narrative, etc. The WoW of 2004 and even as early as the WoW of 2007 are completely different in how the lore is consumed. Maybe I’m being a little too charitable here, but I don’t envy Blizzard and I almost sympathise with them when it comes to the lore. I can imagine it’s painfully difficult to continue innovating a 30 year old narrative and keeping it in touch with the original “vision” or “vibe”, especially in an era where vagueness just isn’t what is expected anymore.

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And yet I remember HoMM 5 more fondly than I do 3, which is often hailed as the best one by many Heroes players. ( If only, their undead were scarier than in 5, and their Necropolis theme, hooo boy, that one scared little old Des as a kid).

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Damn lintian, this was a genuinely good read. Keep it up !

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Just want to leave a little note on this that wc1 literally came out 29 years ago.
The chances you engage with someone using lore straight out of that game I assume is probably going to get shorter as time goes by.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a person using lore from this game, afaik at least

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Even meeting people who use the RPG lore has grown really sparse. I’ve had more encounters with people in recent years using other lore(so from other franchises) than WC1 or other older lore from before WoW.

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Fantastic read as always Lintian.

As for narrative storytelling in WoW, all I will say is that if I have to see one more cinematic with people talking about their feelings I am going to have a stroke.

Kalec and the rest in the last cinematic unironically come off as Starfield NPC’s.

Warcraft Retrospective 3: Warcraft 1, the Orc Campaign

https://lintian.eu/2023/11/23/warcraft-retrospective-3/

Excerpt:

The screenshots in this post are made at a resolution of 640x400, but Warcraft 1 was designed to run at resolutions as low as 320x200. Therefore, on the screenshots, every apparent square “pixel” is actually a block of 2x2 pixels. Under these constraints, the artists succeeded in making the units and buildings as distinctive as they could. The bright green skin of the orc units immediately distinguishes them from both the environment and the human units. You never get confused which team is which.

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