For the Lore!

I’m a lore junky. For those who knew me back in my EQ days, they would attest to that. I used to run trivia contests using my intimate knowledge of the game’s lore to entertain. I even had devs of the game ask me lore-based questions, which, for me, was a highlight of playing that game. However, as EQ progressed, the lore changed. Now, when a game lasts as long as EQ has, you have to have growth to the lore, and no one would look askew at you if you occasionally revamped some lore based on, perhaps, some “old hidden scrolls that have just recently come to light” or something. That’s good storytelling. Because that was one of the reasons EQ had such immersion – it told a fantastic story. Around about the third time Kerra Island’s back-story was completely written, I came to understand that the story had been left on the cutting room floor. One of the most interesting complaints I see from WoW lore junkies is the way a major element of the lore is being completely re-written for Wrath of the Lich King.

Dalaran, a city sealed off and clearly visible in the original WoW as the place under the pink bubble, is going to be a central city in the next expansion. The lore of WoW, which I’m only passingly familiar by choice, I admit freely, states that this city was destroyed and then locked behind this bubble while it rebuilt. It seems somewhat unreasonable to have it both locked under the bubble and floating around a frozen continent, but this is the same game that brought us giant, peaceful (mostly), light-wielding aliens.

I read an interview on F13.net where the infamous Lum talks about narrative, which is a fancy word for telling stories. To quote, he says…

I like to think there’s a reason things are happening. If I’m being told to kill ten wolves, I want there to be a reason to kill those ten wolves, I don’t want it to be just because I have to fill the quest journal to get quest number 32 out of my journal and get five more XP. I want it to be because there’s some reason the wolves are attacking the town.

I very much agree. I do disagree with his assertion that WoW tells a good story. Some quests do, but a great deal of them are humor related, which is something I personally enjoy but does not tell a lore-related story. Especially original WoW has a lot of self-centric quests that only affect themselves. This is besides the obvious parts, such as that skyguard prisoner you released will be captured 30 seconds from now and re-released, for example. Take the Netherwing series, the faction one. After you complete it, Illidan shows up to congratulate you, realizes you’re a fake, and then you make your get away on a double agent goblin. Yet you can head back over and they still think you’re a high-ranking orc. While it’s profitable to continue doing the Netherwing quests (most of them are the biggest payoffs for the least amount of work via dailies around), it seems like I should be back to hostile with them, or at least no longer clothed in illusion.

Maybe it’s because world changing stuff is Hard Work. EQ tried it with the Sleeper. Don’t wake the Sleeper! Oh, but we tried. Eventually, someone did. The worldwide scripts completely failed the first time, and the second time it worked in some zones and not others. Vox and Naggy emoted that they were getting ready to do the nasty. Skyshrine groaned. A few other zones had people shouting about various things. But nothing really happened…it didn’t work. So they scrapped it, and it never ran for the other 20+ times Kerafyrm was awoken. And the idea was never tried again. There was a change to the dungeon though- the loot table changed (and I don’t mean on the revamp that happened a few years later). This caused much drama on many a server, perhaps another reason it’s never been tried again. But for those 50 or so people, they did something to actually change their world that would not reset, would not respawn in 20 minutes, would not be done again. As far as their gaming resumes are concerned, they were pioneers. Trailblazers. And are in a very small group of people who actually had an impact on a persistent game world’s lore.

Which begs the question for EQ players…are we in Their World Now?

21 thoughts on “For the Lore!

  1. Tipa

    I was part of a three group raid that woke the Sleeper on Stromm. Boy, were we ever reviled for that. Dragged over the coals. Why? Because the top guild on the server was farming gnome skin masks and scepters of destruction and using a Legends account (which allowed free, unconstrained server transfers) to transfer them to other servers, sell these items that no longer dropped on those servers for millions of plat, then sell the plat for real life money.

    Farming Sleeper’s Tomb was their JOB (well, farming in general). I wonder if farming in EQ1 pays enough to live on anymore?

    Anyway. I’ll have the screenshots forever. Kerafrym got stuck on his way out of ST and never did make it to Skyshrine.

    I still think it was a blast to have one-time events like that.

  2. Appiah

    I hear you and have always sought storyline continuity in MMO gaming. Does it make sense that Lalia goes right back into the Barrow-Downs 10 minutes after I just lead her out?!? Well, kinda, because she is enamoured by this fictitious prince she is seeking. I’M ONLY SAVING YOU ONCE THOUGH!

    LoTRO and Guild Wars both both come close to continuity by having game changing events using instances. For example, in LoTRO as a human, you spend your first foray into the world in a personal instance where the town of Archet is burned to the ground. When you exit the personal instance and enter the lowbie area (and subsequently the public world), the town is still a charged mess. Another example is Strider’s “instanced” room at the Prancing Pony. Enter it during the appropriate questline/timeline where he is supposed to be in Bree with the hobbits and you can interact with him. As soon as you hit the point in the story where he is at Weathertop and beyond, you are put into an instanced room without Strider.

    I believe this concept could be extended to further help. I think it was Vanguard that wanted to instance characters (NPCs) within a public world (Advanced Encounter System).

  3. Cybercat

    EQ2 did do another “one time only” quest with the Frogloks. Before Frogloks are playable, a serverwide one time only quest had to be completed.

  4. Oz

    That was EQ2, which I never played, but you’re definately correct. Did that ever “work”? I heard that it was bugged horribly last I followed it, and I left Sony shortly after that.

  5. Zubon

    Horizons was also supposed to have world unlock events, like when faeries were added to the game. Sadly, it is Horizons, so it is not as though anyone has memories.

  6. Silvanis

    I think Dalaran is the least of the lore problems WoW has/will face (Illidan is my major gripe lore-wise).

    Given that both EQ and WoW have failed to keep true to their original lore, is it just something that can’t be done in a large, successful MMO? And given that both have had large problems with their world changing events (Sleeper in EQ, opening the Gates of AQ in WoW), is it posible to do those world events that we love in a large MMO?

  7. Simond

    Blizzard’s take on the quest lore is that the timeline of completed quests is based around the character and not the larger world so that once you’re freed the prisoner, killed the marauding band of foozles, acquired the macguffin or whatever then it remains done from your characters point of view (hence why most quests aren’t repeatable).

    It’s just a shame that none of that is actually reflected in the gameworld when even EQ2 had a little bit of that functionality – I can think of one quest right away in the Erudite newbie zone in Freeport which involved setting up a magic ward over a hidden meeting spot and after you had finished the quest that ward would show up for you whenever you went past that spot.

  8. yunk

    If you’ve read the books there’s tons of things in the game you don’t notice when you don’t know the lore. Many are not arching storylines sometimes it’s just people and places, or yes jokes.

    The hard part about taking Warcraft lore seriously is that Blizzard doesn’t seem to take it very seriously. I don’t get very upset over changes (Though it bothers me when people say “wow has no lore” or “wow lore doesn’t matter” when they admit they don’t know it or never read any of it )

    I always figured when we go to Dalaran it would be a Caverns of Time instance. Seriously they really should just make more of those, they were some of the most fun for anyone that read any books.

    To Silvanis’ point above, yeah I think games make it hard to stick to lore. Look at how the LOTR movies were different than the books, because things that work in books don’t work so well in movies, and also how LOTRO is different than the books. You have to give players challenges, and for the game to keep going the challenges have to get harder. So at 80, will Illidan be a chump? That sure doesn’t make sense. Maybe the nature of games, especially long running games, does indeed make it impossible to stick to any lore.

    I mean how much farther in WoW can we go? The only guy left to fight is Sargeras.

    One quest that I always thought was funny was rescuing the troll in the Hinterlands from all those female elves. As soon as he escaped, a a few minutes later he was back there again. I thought he was deliberately getting captured so he could get tortured by elf women.

  9. Keb

    The only world changing event I can think of that kind of went successfully (there were lag issues) was in Star Wars Galaxies and that was the battle of restuss where the town of Restuss was turned in to a battleground as a result of various actions from all the players no matter what level or proffession (soldiers waged ground battles, Pilots tried to control space sectors, space minors mined resources in contested zones. Crafter crafted materials for the war effort).

    It was based over three stages each stage carrying on until the quests from each faction were completed. It involved both the space and ground game together and for once brought in a feeling of Galactic Civil War. The only thing lacking was that the actual reward for winning this one time world changing event, a measly badge.

  10. Cybercat

    Playing through the newbie zone in EQ2 in Ruins of Kunark last night, I found quests I did had a lasting effect (at least for me). Some examples are that there is a collector of different types of plants, after completing quests for him, the plants you are collecting for him actually appear, AND stay around him even if you come back at another time, log in or out. There are a few more instances of this and I’d be interested to see if it persisted up to the higher levels.

    So there is at least one game attempting the things portrayed here.

  11. Relmstein

    MMOs nowadays want to be solo friendly and as a result have to include a large amount of quests for leveling. It would be very hard to tie every quest into a game’s lore without creating some large plot holes. Still I think WoW did a good job of creating some nice epic quests that tell part of the game’s lore.

    Battle of Darrowshire (Eastern Plaguelands)
    Sort of a precursor to the Caverns of Time where a Bronze Dragon disguised as a gnome helps you change recorded history.

    Tirion Fordrig
    An exiled knight who gives you a questline that reveals the beginings of the Scarlet Crusade.

    Princess Bronzebeard (Blackrock Depths)
    A questline that ends with you finding out that the Black Iron dwarfs have kidnapped the princess of Ironforge. Make your way to the end of the dungeon and fight both the Dark Iron King and the mind thralled princess.

  12. Oz

    Sure, those are great examples, but besides the few posted above, there are not a lot of game altering changes. I guess WoW has tried some things – my characters get Ogres to dance with them on demand and not attack since they became Kings of the ogres, and the skyguard salute and compliment me as I walk by – but it worries my inner lore freak that the backstory is so quickly tossed aside.

    Like I said, I’m not detailed familiar with Warcraft’s lore, but did we have to fight the second-to-end guy right away? Or was that a knee-jerk reaction to put such a high profile character as a target in order to lock in the market? Why not an only slighly explored area of Warcraft lore, like the Emerald dream? From what I’ve managed to find, it’s as big as we want it to be, and you can have just about anything in it. Or wherever the Worgen came from? Seems like there’s other stuff you can do before putting up your ultra lore-defined villian as the target. Because, if you do, you just have to make a badder bad guy. If you’re already standing on the top rung of the ladder, it makes that next bit a little too hard to reach.

  13. Cyndre

    Blizzard has said that they will write new lore based on the game and how it porgresses going forward. So saying Illidian is the biggest bad guy, is to say ‘biggest bad guy written about to date…’

    This isn’t some long dead author of a storyline like JRR Tolkien, Blizzard can bend and grow the lore as they choose since its still being written.

    The real tradgedy is what LotRO does with their game, after the One Ring gets destroyed and the Age of Man begins… How do they explain all the elves and hobbits and dwarves running around after that?

  14. Coherent

    Lore IS the most important element of an MMO for me, and it has to be compelling, consistent, evolutionary and responsive in order to be effective.

    WoW has great lore, but doesn’t really use it that well in the execution of the endgame.

    World changing events are hard, and might even be impractical. You would need a HUGE writing staff to be able to craft new quests on a regular basis for all of the existing content.

    One solution? Community warfare and politics as endgame, the way EVE does it. But this is a bad solution by itself.

    Probably the best solution will be some combination of user-generated conflict and hard-coded lore. Fewer live servers would help greatly. If you have everyone in a single universe, it’s much easier to control lore chains and world events than coordinating them simultaneously on 100 different server shards.

    Heck, if everyone is in a single universe, you can have a three-shift live team that manages world events in real time, allowing everyone in the universe to participate in major lore events as they progress. Single-shard universes are the holy grail of MMO technology.

  15. Coherent

    So you can see that the most serious lore limitations are primarily technological.

    When everyone can reside in a single universe, more compelling living-world content becomes financially feasible for the operating company.

  16. Julian

    As a writer, it’s not terribly difficult to write engaging and evolving lore assuming you’re any good at the writing. If as a writer you plan the lore like you plan any other of your stories, the possibilities are basically endless and you can put in as many world-changing events, big or small, as you want.

    Problem is that the rubber meets the road, and when it does you realize that it simply doesn’t work. It’s not so much a technological problem. I don’t think we *lack* the technology or the knowledge to build truly dynamic worlds at least as far as large events go (funding and maintenance of all this is another issue though).

    The problem is that dynamic worlds are essentially (n) people reading a “Choose your own adventure” book, all given the same decision power.

  17. Ryan Shwayder

    The issues are not really technological, they are limitations of either:

    A) The medium. It’s a massively multiplayer game. There is a massive number of people, all with an equal right to work toward what they choose (no, I’m not saying people who play 5 hours a week deserve as much as the people who play 20. Tangent over).

    B) Production. It takes a lot more effort to make a dynamic world. You write one quest and the player can choose between three paths of doing that quest. You now have 1/3 as many quests as you could have by not doing that.

    Both of those can go a lot deeper, but I won’t bother for now. My real opinion is that I love lore. I think good lore is essential to making a cohesive and believable game world, and it makes the experience significantly deeper and more meaningful. I also love the concept of player choices and dynamic world events (even one timers, thank you).

  18. Jezebeau

    The difficulty is in making events non-exclusive without being repetitive. A world-changing task locked out by the first team to accomplish it is no fun for anyone but the bleeding-edge hardcore crowd. On the other hand, the collective stockpiling of massive amounts of resources (read: AQ event) is fairly boring and mostly passive. Large events with hundreds of players in coordination are unreasonable with technological limitations, and events requiring hundreds of players in smaller teams would likely come across as “collectively raid X dungeon Y times”. Sad to say, but the most fair change is one not initiated or completed by player efforts, but then, that’s not a dynamic world.

  19. Coherent

    @Julian: But “Funding and maintenance” is THE problem, not just a side issue. Everyone wants live events, but nobody’s willing to pay the ~$50 per month to pay for live actors and a live realtime lore team and all of the infrastructure that it would require to provide support for live events across 100 servers. Not to mention the overcrowding and server lag of 7,000 people trying to participate in a realtime event simultaneously.

    We *DO* lack the technology to do it cheaply and efficiently enough to make it profitable. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but that would require someone creating the software and hardware to do it then, which is exactly what I’m saying.

  20. Gilthas

    One example of a world-changing event in WoW was the opening of the gates to Ahn’Qiraj, unlocking two shiny-new (at the time) raid instances. This was triggered by completing a massive, world-wide, set of gathering quests, together with an end-level questline (which had some nice bits of storytelling, or at least, cinematics). And it did change the state of the server (if only very locally).

    It also showed the problems with doing this with the technology of WoW: about 500-700 characters were gathered in front of the gates, resulting in massive lag and minor server-side rollbacks (I saw the gate open three times.. well .. 2.5 times, due to that lag).

    Still, it was fun.

  21. Nethwering Farmer

    I have to say that WoW does have some excellent storylines and many things tie themselves together quite well. I will agree though that things like the netherwing series totally don’t make sense, I would have almost preferred to have been hostile with them permanently after finishing the storyline there.

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