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Old 06-28-2016, 02:04 PM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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Blizzard Why Blizzard's Story-Telling Has Deteriorated.

Hey guys, this post was written by me for the Starcraft Legacy forums, but since it does contain some material talking about Warcraft 3's story design process I wanted to post this thread here.

Basically, the post tracks the development teams philosophy (mainly on Starcraft, but also alludes to Warcraft 3) relating to story and its relationship to game-play.

Personally, I believe that the change in philosophy, which I attempt to describe below, is primarily responsible for the steady decrease in story quality.

------------------

A while ago, Polygon did a feature piece on Starcraft's evolution as a game, but with a specific focus on development and story. The same piece (http://www.polygon.com/2015/11/6/967...y-dlc-blizzard) was briefly discussed on these forums some time after it came out. One passage in particular, stuck out to people:

"Among those storylines that didn’t make the cut was a serious "down and out" drinking problem for Raynor. The missions Metzen wanted showed Raynor screwing up in some way, even after players successfully achieved their goal. People would end up hurt, but eventually, Raynor would overcome his personal demons and find redemption."

"At the time, the team was just like, ‘Why? It’s unnecessary,’" Metzen says. "‘I just wanna see things nuked! I want to feel badass right out of the gate.’ That’s perfectly valid. If I were writing a novel about it, it might have been great.


I've been going over a lot of old interviews, presentations, etc by people involved in the development of SC2, and I honestly think that this idea, with little variance, is very pervasive. There's this idea that instead of designing a game holistically, you rigidly adhere to this belief that players care more about jumping into the action immediately than a good, interesting story. Though it's definitely true that gameplay must often trump lore (like in multiplayer for instance) the more you look into how Chris Metzen and Dustin Browder describe the design process, the more you begin to see that it's an issue of priority.

Take this interview of Chris Metzen by PC Gamer (
) starting at 8:05, the interviewer asks about designing story in video games, and Chris Metzen talks about how story was told in a game such as Warcraft 3 vs Starcraft 2.

"Warcraft 3 we tried a much more cinematic take on things, we had these cinematic sequences that wove the whole story together, so we tried a much bigger story on Warcraft 3. And while I love Warcraft 3, there's times when it was a little too top-heavy. When you're stories so woven in and out of all the gameplay, and the gameplay has to change up until you ship the game you have to optimize levels and make it fun, it can be really really top heavy to tell that much story"

"So there was this suggestion, when we decided to build Starcraft 2, there was kind this suggestion of, what if we tried to pull the story a little bit out of the maps and let the level design be what it is, and just faciltate really fun maps, and really just let the story rest in it's own space."

"our games, people tend to want to get back into the action very, very quickly. And so a lot of cinematic content or a lot of story context can become very cumbersome very quickly"


As you can see, there seems to be this self-conciousness with expressing too much story through maps and cinematic content (WC3's story boards, where dialogue took place, also analogous to SC1 characters pausing in the map to have some dialogue, mission briefings, etc) Chris Metzen also briefly mentioned the mission briefings in the Polygon piece

("Our aspirations were much higher in coming back to StarCraft," Metzen says. "Instead of the screen with the portraits yelling at each other, I wanted it to be living. I wanted to be in the scene. Some would argue that we took it too far, photographs on the bulletin boards and the jukeboxes and all that stuff. But we were very different developers. ... It pushed us to think bigger and be more farsighted about the product we wanted to build"

Chris Metzen continues, a couple minutes past that point in the interview, he goes on about how instead of putting story into maps and cinematics, the team instead opted to let the player explore the universe, through the character interactions in Wings of Liberty.

"Kind of like that old Wing Commander idea, where you'd have sets and you move through this set to that, small talk with people, develop relationships... and just be able to explore a bit more of the ship and the universe ultimately. I love that experiment with Wings of Liberty"

Again, we see that the development team seems to push the story further and further into a compratmentalized space. Instead of being central and almost unavoidable (keyword: almost, people should be able to skip it.) The story mostly functions as stricly separate from the gameplay. Which gives the writers even less freedom because they can't put anything jarring in the character conversations, since you need to be able to understand the overall plot without them. Here's the part that I find the most telling though, partially because Chris Metzen uses similar language from the Polygon article, and partially because it's pretty direct in terms of the design philosophy.

"Sometimes you have to way the storytelling, even though we can run very deep with things, even though you can construct and tell very nuanced scenes. you have to remember that the whole reason someone picked the game off the shelf in the first place, is because htey wanted to drive it, they wanted to feel like the center of events. Sometimes that can run counter to your genius, but how does that feel though?"

"You need to stay off the players toes, and remember that the player wants to feel like the center of events."



You see it yet? It's the same language from the Polygon article, there's this idea that players want to feel like the hero of the story, before being entertained and immersed in the story itself. That's where I think this idea of gameplay before story starts to become problematic, it's a gradual progression. Slowly the devs seem to separate the story from the core game, even in the campaign. We see this with the excellent level design of the past three expansions, as well as the poor story-telling. In SC2 game design is driven far more by gameplay, while story follow suit whereas in Warcraft 3, the game design is more of an equilibrium. The maps exist to tell the story and narrative, but game-play and story are valued almost equally and they are forced to meld together.

Now, that's what I have for Metzen, and this post is already quite long, so let me just close off with Dustin Browder, who was game director throughout WoL and HOTS. Here, he's giving a presentation on how E-Sports has affected *cough* poisoned *cough* SC2's development. Especially on story (http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014488...n-of-STARCRAFT) (Scroll down the side bar until you see "Story")

"We do crazy, crazy things, we have this armory (referring to Swann's room in WoL) so you can see these vehicles, you can see the 50-ton siege tank, as big on the screen as you can get it, so when you see the little tiny siege tank in the game, you imagine the 50 ton siege tank in your mind"

"Our units are ants, marines are tiny little guys. They die like flies...I want you to care about Tychus, even if you hate him. I want you to have some emotional connection to him. But in the game he's gonna be this little tiny little ant. So we go nuts with this stuff, we make these insanely over the top comic book characters, he's this tough guy who drinks and smokes, he's ridiculous, he's insane, but when he's an ant, you'll remember him


To close out, I just want to say. I don't think Blizzard has any lack of ability, besides some interns writing cringe-worthy dialogue, much of the same people who made a game as amazing and as immersive as the original Starcraft still work on the development team today. Chris Metzen certainly hasn't gone anywhere (thank god. I love the guy).

Ultimately, the problem is that Blizzard tends to swing the pendulum to far when it comes to feedback. They often OVER-react, instead of making the small, necessary adjustments. In this case, they've heard that players just want to skip through much of the story, and so they reacted by pulling much of the story-telling out of the maps and reducing the amount and quality of dialogue. For those of you (most?) who played the original games, the delivery mechanisms to the story are hugely different, there's almost a 5 minute conversation before each map, and even some dialogue while playing as well.

I know it's crazy, but I do have hope, if we send the message to Blizzard that players do care about story, and that message is heard, than I think sometime in the future things will change, hell, maybe they'll even do a SC2 reboot. You never know.
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Old 06-28-2016, 04:18 PM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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In SC2 game design is driven far more by gameplay, while story follow suit whereas in Warcraft 3, the game design is more of an equilibrium. The maps exist to tell the story and narrative, but game-play and story are valued almost equally and they are forced to meld together.
Yeah, this is one thing I think has really slipped. WC3 felt like a perfect melding of concepts.

Take "The Culling". Interesting, unique mission, where the concept of the gameplay of the mission is DIRECTLY related to how the story works. Mal'ganis and Arthas are competing for the city of Stratholme. But arthas is doing something pretty nasty.

And thus the PLAYER is forced to do something really nasty in a story context. Same as True Colours or New Gettysburg from the original. You're put into this situation where your actions have some context.

If there were missions like this in SC2 I can't remember them. The goals of missions are usually rather nebulous and I think that results in them winding up feeling more formulaic or pat than they actually are. Because the goals of the missions are NOT necessarily story driven.

Legacy of the Void was probably the worst for this, where the people you're fighting don't even have an identity and then everything gets boiled down to fighting random phantoms (the whole thing almost comes down to blue = good, red =bad).

Gameplay trumps story, rather than gameplay and story being sympatico with one another (and enhancing eachother). And honestly, it's become a trend in a lot of games these days. It's not about things being cinematic or deep, it's about the minutae of playing a game being a part of the story.
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Old 06-28-2016, 04:56 PM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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Originally Posted by Aldrius View Post
Yeah, this is one thing I think has really slipped. WC3 felt like a perfect melding of concepts.

Take "The Culling". Interesting, unique mission, where the concept of the gameplay of the mission is DIRECTLY related to how the story works. Mal'ganis and Arthas are competing for the city of Stratholme. But arthas is doing something pretty nasty.

And thus the PLAYER is forced to do something really nasty in a story context. Same as True Colours or New Gettysburg from the original. You're put into this situation where your actions have some context.

If there were missions like this in SC2 I can't remember them. The goals of missions are usually rather nebulous and I think that results in them winding up feeling more formulaic or pat than they actually are. Because the goals of the missions are NOT necessarily story driven.

Legacy of the Void was probably the worst for this, where the people you're fighting don't even have an identity and then everything gets boiled down to fighting random phantoms (the whole thing almost comes down to blue = good, red =bad).

Gameplay trumps story, rather than gameplay and story being sympatico with one another (and enhancing eachother). And honestly, it's become a trend in a lot of games these days. It's not about things being cinematic or deep, it's about the minutae of playing a game being a part of the story.
Absolutely perfect example. Warcraft 3 had a lot of missions like that, were lore reasons led to really interesting game-play mechanics.

I especially remember in the Frozen Throne, during the "Alliance" (blood elf) campaign, you had two custom races, the Naga and the Blood Elves, with their own unique unit compositions. You basically got a completely new form of game-play because of the story.

Imagine if that trend had been followed in Legacy of the Void? Would have made for some really impressive, unique, and most of all fun game-play without having to divert the plot for the sake of map mechanics.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:19 PM
Gurzog Gurzog is offline

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I have skimmed through the thread, But I can only answer the way I feel about their Current two "Big" games (sc2 and WoW):


They are like... Showering/bathing/Force feeding their characters in so much destiny and powershit. That their powers makes them outweigh their flaws. They are pushing their characters into GODHOOD, (see illidan and Kerrigan) and this is a major Character problem. The other part is I dunno. I feel like the feeling of Threat is over for me. The Games "bad guys" have me more "ok lets kill this guy so i can see the nice cinematic and shit" But that is kinda gone.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:28 PM
SmokeBlader SmokeBlader is offline

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I don't I want to remind myself of WoD's existence so I'll just say I loved Vanilla, TBC and WOTLK. And Cata... It's no longer a beaten horse as it's been grinded into dust at this point.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:58 PM
Khyrberos Khyrberos is offline

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Shoo, you. You're much too optimistic for this realm.

Seriously, though, quite an interesting analysis, and some salient points about Blizzard's history. I enjoyed it.
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Old 06-28-2016, 08:06 PM
Undeadprotoss Undeadprotoss is offline

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Shoo, you. You're much too optimistic for this realm.

Seriously, though, quite an interesting analysis, and some salient points about Blizzard's history. I enjoyed it.
Heh, well to be fair I try to be a tiny optimistic because if not my emotional attachment to the series would self-destruct and probably destroy me.

I'm glad you liked it though! I've posted the same thread (with a little variance) on a couple different forums, and I've already got some interesting analysis. Here's one comment you might enjoy:

Quote:
I somewhat agree, and this is something I've noticed as well. Since Cataclysm, Blizzard's MO has been "we want to deliver epic events." But instead it comes across as trying too hard. The game becomes overblown and cartoonish, and the story gets lost.

Really though, the change seems to have been gradual. I started playing WoW in 2005, and I remember reading this NYT article about the game which ended with the following quote from Metzen: "You might spend hundreds of hours playing a game like this, and why would you keep coming back? Is it just for the next magic helmet? Is it just to kill the next dragon? It has to be the story. We want you to care about these places and things so that, in addition to the adrenaline and the rewards of addictive gameplay, you have an emotional investment in the world. And that's what makes a great game."

That sentiment - story comes before gameplay - was echoed widely at the time. I remember reading about all the handwringing involved in whether or not to let druids even be playable (lorewise, they were only a Night Elven and male class), seeing devs talk about the firm reasons behind class restrictions, seeing why the Forsaken start off only neutral with other factions, etc. I remember when both the players and developers took the lore so seriously that Metzen himself had to come to the forums to apologize for the Draenei retcon. And you know what? The seriousness with which Blizzard approached its lore made the game all the better for that.

Since then, the mantra has become "gameplay first, story second", and you can feel it in all their design decisions, from the heavily-optimized zone designs, to the homogenized classes, to the removal of most class restrictions, to the constant retcons and general 'who gives a damn about the firmness of the story' that seems to have guided all of WoD. As Metzen had said, the story is what creates an emotional investment, and as long as they keep punting it into the back seat, the game will keep feeling more than a little empty.
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Old 06-29-2016, 12:37 PM
Shinjiro Aragaki Shinjiro Aragaki is offline

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They are like... Showering/bathing/Force feeding their characters in so much destiny and powershit. That their powers makes them outweigh their flaws. They are pushing their characters into GODHOOD, (see illidan and Kerrigan) and this is a major Character problem.
To be fair. Having overpowered powers isn't really a problem by itself. There are a lot of overpowered characters in fiction and they are still good characters, with problems and such.

The problem is when Blizzard doesn't know how to writte characters with flaws in general. Specially because their own fanbase doesn't like characters with flaws (>See official forums or MMO-C forums. Where doing something wrong equally means that the character is either an idiot or a bad character)
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Old 07-16-2016, 01:32 PM
Ol'Yoggy Ol'Yoggy is offline

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Blizzard always had ups and downs. Some ideas (Kerrigan's redemption, mists of Pandaria) are find on paper and in some cases (the mogu, lotv taldarim) they deliver beautifully. The problem is that sometimes they don't know what to do and try to do both. Kerrigan in heart was supposed to be both conflicted warrior full of guilt and vengeful warrior. As such we got a gal assed version of both. In the original version she would have soared lassara and they would become friends.

Blizzard has been wonderful ideas: implementing those ideas? A mixed bag
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Old 07-16-2016, 02:22 PM
TerrorhoofMayo TerrorhoofMayo is offline

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Absolutely perfect example. Warcraft 3 had a lot of missions like that, were lore reasons led to really interesting game-play mechanics.

I especially remember in the Frozen Throne, during the "Alliance" (blood elf) campaign, you had two custom races, the Naga and the Blood Elves, with their own unique unit compositions. You basically got a completely new form of game-play because of the story.

Imagine if that trend had been followed in Legacy of the Void? Would have made for some really impressive, unique, and most of all fun game-play without having to divert the plot for the sake of map mechanics.
You do get that in LotV though.
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Old 07-16-2016, 02:33 PM
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It's also important to note that some of the major developers that were behind SC1, D2 and WC3 left Blizzard by the time WoW was released. Bill Roper was the guy who changed WC3 from something more like the RPG with RTS-like controls (hi, Dawn of War 2) to the game we know all these years. Devs like him aren't as famed as Metzen, Samwise, Pardo and Afrasiabi, but they all worked hard to make these games into jewels.

Look at this old interview with Roper. He tells about how important the story campaign is, and how he hopes that WC3 will bring the age of character driven storylines to the RTS genre, the same way Half-Life did it to the FPS games.


And I also think that the Warcraft RPG books were a testament to the devs commitment to the lore. Sure, these books have their flaws, but there's such level of dedication to the lore there, that wasn't done by the devs in any printed material till the Chronicle project.

I'm not saying that the lore is necessarily bad at this point of time. Actually, I like a lot of lore developments in WoW era storylines, but it's apparent that the level of dedication to the stories and lore in their games isn't as high as it was back in WC3 or early WoW days.

And we have cancer like:
  • Rule of Cool that stomps common sense and willingness to tell a good story instead of a decoration for something cool.
  • Lack of cooperation between lore team and other groups of devs.
Which leads to funny things like the notion amongst the gameplay devs that lore isn't important compared to their work and that they can screw it up. I totally remember Ghostcrabby and Pardo saying such things. Good to know, that they are no longer around. Oh, and stuff like Blizzcon 2013: Metzen doesn't know what kind of tanks the Iron Horde uses, since it's the job of art team to make them. And the art team didn't even know what was the name of the Iron Star. Instead, their representative trolled everyone. Truth to be told, he was actually funny and wasn't rude. And the art team in WoW and all other Blizzard games is incredibly awesome. Just as their composers. Their work deserve better stories.
  • We have a new cool idea. But it contradicts the lore. Should we carefully introduce this new thing in such a manner that it would coexist with the old info? Nah, retcon it.
I had a weird flashback when I first read the introduction from Metzen in the Chronicle. I remembered reading very similar introduction from him in one of the RPG books. The same stuff about importance of lore, Warcraft being awesome and all that stuff. I also remembered the old commercial from the old WoW site that recommended to buy these books to dive deeper into the lore. And I was saddened, because part of me thought that one day I'll once again see something I really like and enjoy being tossed aside by its very creators. But I still believe in Warcraft lore and even Metzen himself. And I was also pretty hyped by his letter in the book, and the book itself, oh boy, the best Warcraft lore material in six or seven years.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but this will do for now.
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Old 07-16-2016, 02:41 PM
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Roper isn't as well known as Metzen because ever since leaving Blizzard he put out shit games (Hellgate: London) or torpedoed other, promising ones (Champions Online)
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Old 07-16-2016, 03:17 PM
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Roper isn't as well known as Metzen because ever since leaving Blizzard he put out shit games (Hellgate: London) or torpedoed other, promising ones (Champions Online)
That's fair, derp. Even so, the Hellgate isn't that bad. More like meh, IMO. But I was talking more about his involvement in Blizzard projects.

But we also have the whole Blizzard North issue and the one with Vivendi. Blizzard North one was kind of Diablo exclusive problem, but in my opinion the modern Diablo universe has a better lore and story anyways. Aside from the cinematics.

And there's Overwatch. I tried to get invested to its world and it got me curious back at the announcement. But there's just nothing there that makes me interested in this world. All I can see in this game storywise is just a bunch of characters that were made to appeal the widest range of people. And these characters, there's not so much to them. Like someone just put the most popular TVtropes and put them in a good-looking smexy guy/girl/robot. Im trying to say that there's lack of originality and Blizzard's style to all of this aside from said coolness and really good art style. I very well undertsand that it's just my personal opinion, yet I do believe that Overwatch is a good symbol of Blizzard's current views on story development in videogames. Here they went with 100% rule of cool mode on lore and made a multiplayer only game (just like their two previous ones). Maybe they aren't even sure that they can succeed with a single player campaign anymore. Or maybe it's all about money. Like, why spend so much on single player mode, when you can create a cheaper game that will give you more money in return. Yet I do hope that one day they'll manage a mighty comeback with an awesome single player campaign.
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Old 07-16-2016, 04:05 PM
ijffdrie ijffdrie is offline

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The issues aren't new, but simply got worse or more noticable over time:


1) An unwillingness to define the details of the settings. We only ever get to learn the major events of history, and the personalities of a handful of major characters. Any sense of how this world actually functions, or how the people live, is avoided. This kinda made sense in the RTS era, but now that we're characters walking around the warcraft setting it's become a hindrance to getting immersed in the setting.
2) Lots of story stuff (or stuff that should be story stuff) happening without oversight or editing from the story guys.
3) Rather clumsy storytelling.We rarely focus on it, but the story in the newer games tends to be really awkwardly told. Supporting materials are necessary to understand the narrative to any satisfying degree, events and interactions often come off as extremely forced or random, there is little effort made to introduce people to the universe or story, narratives have bad pacing or are awkwardly interrupted, etc.
4) Storytelling that's entirely character-driven, with no regards for the cultures, politics or history of the world surrounding those characters, or how it'd logically influence said characters.

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Old 07-16-2016, 05:46 PM
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I'm sure that the it was the Burning Crusade and its contemporary expanded universe that cemented Blizzard storytelling getting to its state.

Yeah, there were things to call out back in Vanilla but it was TBC that got us the train wreck that is Garrosh and Super Chinman Varian. It was TBC that started the habit of serious players in the setting getting sent to the slaughterhouse in underwhelming ways (see Illidan and Kael'thas).

To put it another way, Blizzard does its best with storytelling that focuses more on what's happening around where it's happening than who's doing what.
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Old 07-16-2016, 06:19 PM
Funk, the Bard Funk, the Bard is offline

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It's something global. AAA development now means baking games for everyone and politically correct. Also, MMOs as a medium are pretty bad for complex and interesting stories (that doesn't cover Starcraft II and Diablo III failures, though).

Blizzard has deteriorated as a whole. I'm waiting to see an 'always online' component to Warcraft 4 to silently weep for years and throw this company to the trash (where it goes).
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Old 07-16-2016, 09:49 PM
MisterCrow MisterCrow is offline

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It's something global. AAA development now means baking games for everyone and politically correct. Also, MMOs as a medium are pretty bad for complex and interesting stories (that doesn't cover Starcraft II and Diablo III failures, though).

Blizzard has deteriorated as a whole. I'm waiting to see an 'always online' component to Warcraft 4 to silently weep for years and throw this company to the trash (where it goes).
SWTOR leverages its storytelling better, which is aided by the voicework and the class narratives. Granted, that's one example, AND it's an example from BioWare which puts a greater emphasis on storytelling than Blizzard does, on average, but the core here is that you can have good storytelling in games when you put the right ingredients in. WoW suffers from a silent protagonist/player avatar as the centerpiece, and there's just no way to change that at this point.

I don't buy the idea that Blizzard has deteriorated in terms of their quality. What HAS happened is that players who fell in love with Blizzard's older works are falling out of love with their current works because Blizzard isn't really doing anything different. The crowd is fickle and the thrill is gone.

As for Blizzard ending up "in the trash": seriously, dude? People were still filling the cup for Star Wars during the prequel trilogy, and those movies were garbage by virtually any measure. Blizzard can do a whole lot worse than they're doing right now and people will still keep them in the black.

This isn't even a "crow's white-knighting for Blizzard" thing. It's really just a stark statement of reality that Blizzard will never fail so titanically that their fans will abandon them.
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Old 07-16-2016, 09:58 PM
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Which leads to funny things like the notion amongst the gameplay devs that lore isn't important compared to their work and that they can screw it up. I totally remember Ghostcrabby and Pardo saying such things.
Pardo's always seemed like he gave a damn about story, narrative and lore in the interviews I've seen. Like when the Blood Elf-Horde announcement was made, and most of the devs were just like 'ah who gives a shit' he actually kinda tried to explain why it was possible. (Which wasn't really reflected in the game at all anyway, but eh).

He also was the game's director where all the good story stuff in classic WoW is from. (i.e. Human Starting Area, Blackrock Mountain, Missing Diplomat I'm pretty sure was all made on his watch.)

Honestly, having said all that, I really think Kaplan's one of the primary people involved in the loss of attention to narrative/storytelling. He blatantly does not give a damn in interviews and frequently shows contempt for people who even enjoy the storytelling at all.

But in StarCraft 2/Diablo 3/WoW's case I think it's just too many chefs in the kitchen and a loss of creative control. When the story was just based on Metzen, Neilson, and a couple of map designers, it was good because there wasn't too many people involved and there seemed to be a lot more collaberation.

Like it sounds like Leah (who doesn't suit the tone or world of Diablo) was in Diablo 3 basically because some of the developers wanted a cute girl to be a major character. And it sounds like there's a lot of that sort of thing.

Now they have hundreds and hundreds of people working on elements of this storytelling stuff and I think it's harder to keep it consistent.
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Old 07-16-2016, 11:45 PM
MisterCrow MisterCrow is offline

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Like it sounds like Leah (who doesn't suit the tone or world of Diablo) was in Diablo 3 basically because some of the developers wanted a cute girl to be a major character. And it sounds like there's a lot of that sort of thing.

Now they have hundreds and hundreds of people working on elements of this storytelling stuff and I think it's harder to keep it consistent.
I feel like the big angle with Leah was to make a character we'd care about and then totally have her straight-up become Diablo, whom we would then kill. The fact that she was a cinnamon roll too precious for Sanctuary is really the point of her character, because we need to give a damn about her for her death to having meaning.

I'm still mad about it, but I understand it.
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Old 07-17-2016, 12:19 AM
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I feel like the big angle with Leah was to make a character we'd care about and then totally have her straight-up become Diablo, whom we would then kill. The fact that she was a cinnamon roll too precious for Sanctuary is really the point of her character, because we need to give a damn about her for her death to having meaning.
I feel like that was the justification in hindsight that was made to make the character kind of work.
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Old 07-17-2016, 12:51 AM
Ol'Yoggy Ol'Yoggy is offline

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Pardo's always seemed like he gave a damn about story, narrative and lore in the interviews I've seen. Like when the Blood Elf-Horde announcement was made, and most of the devs were just like 'ah who gives a shit' he actually kinda tried to explain why it was possible. (Which wasn't really reflected in the game at all anyway, but eh).

He also was the game's director where all the good story stuff in classic WoW is from. (i.e. Human Starting Area, Blackrock Mountain, Missing Diplomat I'm pretty sure was all made on his watch.)

Honestly, having said all that, I really think Kaplan's one of the primary people involved in the loss of attention to narrative/storytelling. He blatantly does not give a damn in interviews and frequently shows contempt for people who even enjoy the storytelling at all.

But in StarCraft 2/Diablo 3/WoW's case I think it's just too many chefs in the kitchen and a loss of creative control. When the story was just based on Metzen, Neilson, and a couple of map designers, it was good because there wasn't too many people involved and there seemed to be a lot more collaberation.

Like it sounds like Leah (who doesn't suit the tone or world of Diablo) was in Diablo 3 basically because some of the developers wanted a cute girl to be a major character. And it sounds like there's a lot of that sort of thing.

Now they have hundreds and hundreds of people working on elements of this storytelling stuff and I think it's harder to keep it consistent.
In some ways SC2 and Diablo III did things right. It got tiresome having the bad guys constantly winning and the heroes gaining nothing. Having a light in the darkness, the heroes gaining something was nice. It wasn't entirely well executed but it was a sound idea. Mists of Pandaria was cool when it wasn't shitting on the orcs.

Kerrigan becoming a hero was also a potentially good idea. Legacy of the Void gave Kerrigan and Raynor a good sendoff (their arcs are done, they've gone to a better place, no one will write of them again.)

The Nehalem backstory was cool and it made a lot of sense.

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Hey guys, this post was written by me for the Starcraft Legacy forums, but since it does contain some material talking about Warcraft 3's story design process I wanted to post this thread here.

Basically, the post tracks the development teams philosophy (mainly on Starcraft, but also alludes to Warcraft 3) relating to story and its relationship to game-play.

Personally, I believe that the change in philosophy, which I attempt to describe below, is primarily responsible for the steady decrease in story quality.

------------------

A while ago, Polygon did a feature piece on Starcraft's evolution as a game, but with a specific focus on development and story. The same piece (http://www.polygon.com/2015/11/6/967...y-dlc-blizzard) was briefly discussed on these forums some time after it came out. One passage in particular, stuck out to people:

"Among those storylines that didn’t make the cut was a serious "down and out" drinking problem for Raynor. The missions Metzen wanted showed Raynor screwing up in some way, even after players successfully achieved their goal. People would end up hurt, but eventually, Raynor would overcome his personal demons and find redemption."

"At the time, the team was just like, ‘Why? It’s unnecessary,’" Metzen says. "‘I just wanna see things nuked! I want to feel badass right out of the gate.’ That’s perfectly valid. If I were writing a novel about it, it might have been great.


I've been going over a lot of old interviews, presentations, etc by people involved in the development of SC2, and I honestly think that this idea, with little variance, is very pervasive. There's this idea that instead of designing a game holistically, you rigidly adhere to this belief that players care more about jumping into the action immediately than a good, interesting story. Though it's definitely true that gameplay must often trump lore (like in multiplayer for instance) the more you look into how Chris Metzen and Dustin Browder describe the design process, the more you begin to see that it's an issue of priority.

Take this interview of Chris Metzen by PC Gamer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBSb9suA2lM) starting at 8:05, the interviewer asks about designing story in video games, and Chris Metzen talks about how story was told in a game such as Warcraft 3 vs Starcraft 2.

"Warcraft 3 we tried a much more cinematic take on things, we had these cinematic sequences that wove the whole story together, so we tried a much bigger story on Warcraft 3. And while I love Warcraft 3, there's times when it was a little too top-heavy. When you're stories so woven in and out of all the gameplay, and the gameplay has to change up until you ship the game you have to optimize levels and make it fun, it can be really really top heavy to tell that much story"

"So there was this suggestion, when we decided to build Starcraft 2, there was kind this suggestion of, what if we tried to pull the story a little bit out of the maps and let the level design be what it is, and just faciltate really fun maps, and really just let the story rest in it's own space."

"our games, people tend to want to get back into the action very, very quickly. And so a lot of cinematic content or a lot of story context can become very cumbersome very quickly"


As you can see, there seems to be this self-conciousness with expressing too much story through maps and cinematic content (WC3's story boards, where dialogue took place, also analogous to SC1 characters pausing in the map to have some dialogue, mission briefings, etc) Chris Metzen also briefly mentioned the mission briefings in the Polygon piece

("Our aspirations were much higher in coming back to StarCraft," Metzen says. "Instead of the screen with the portraits yelling at each other, I wanted it to be living. I wanted to be in the scene. Some would argue that we took it too far, photographs on the bulletin boards and the jukeboxes and all that stuff. But we were very different developers. ... It pushed us to think bigger and be more farsighted about the product we wanted to build"

Chris Metzen continues, a couple minutes past that point in the interview, he goes on about how instead of putting story into maps and cinematics, the team instead opted to let the player explore the universe, through the character interactions in Wings of Liberty.

"Kind of like that old Wing Commander idea, where you'd have sets and you move through this set to that, small talk with people, develop relationships... and just be able to explore a bit more of the ship and the universe ultimately. I love that experiment with Wings of Liberty"

Again, we see that the development team seems to push the story further and further into a compratmentalized space. Instead of being central and almost unavoidable (keyword: almost, people should be able to skip it.) The story mostly functions as stricly separate from the gameplay. Which gives the writers even less freedom because they can't put anything jarring in the character conversations, since you need to be able to understand the overall plot without them. Here's the part that I find the most telling though, partially because Chris Metzen uses similar language from the Polygon article, and partially because it's pretty direct in terms of the design philosophy.

"Sometimes you have to way the storytelling, even though we can run very deep with things, even though you can construct and tell very nuanced scenes. you have to remember that the whole reason someone picked the game off the shelf in the first place, is because htey wanted to drive it, they wanted to feel like the center of events. Sometimes that can run counter to your genius, but how does that feel though?"

"You need to stay off the players toes, and remember that the player wants to feel like the center of events."



You see it yet? It's the same language from the Polygon article, there's this idea that players want to feel like the hero of the story, before being entertained and immersed in the story itself. That's where I think this idea of gameplay before story starts to become problematic, it's a gradual progression. Slowly the devs seem to separate the story from the core game, even in the campaign. We see this with the excellent level design of the past three expansions, as well as the poor story-telling. In SC2 game design is driven far more by gameplay, while story follow suit whereas in Warcraft 3, the game design is more of an equilibrium. The maps exist to tell the story and narrative, but game-play and story are valued almost equally and they are forced to meld together.

Now, that's what I have for Metzen, and this post is already quite long, so let me just close off with Dustin Browder, who was game director throughout WoL and HOTS. Here, he's giving a presentation on how E-Sports has affected *cough* poisoned *cough* SC2's development. Especially on story (http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014488...n-of-STARCRAFT) (Scroll down the side bar until you see "Story")

"We do crazy, crazy things, we have this armory (referring to Swann's room in WoL) so you can see these vehicles, you can see the 50-ton siege tank, as big on the screen as you can get it, so when you see the little tiny siege tank in the game, you imagine the 50 ton siege tank in your mind"

"Our units are ants, marines are tiny little guys. They die like flies...I want you to care about Tychus, even if you hate him. I want you to have some emotional connection to him. But in the game he's gonna be this little tiny little ant. So we go nuts with this stuff, we make these insanely over the top comic book characters, he's this tough guy who drinks and smokes, he's ridiculous, he's insane, but when he's an ant, you'll remember him


To close out, I just want to say. I don't think Blizzard has any lack of ability, besides some interns writing cringe-worthy dialogue, much of the same people who made a game as amazing and as immersive as the original Starcraft still work on the development team today. Chris Metzen certainly hasn't gone anywhere (thank god. I love the guy).

Ultimately, the problem is that Blizzard tends to swing the pendulum to far when it comes to feedback. They often OVER-react, instead of making the small, necessary adjustments. In this case, they've heard that players just want to skip through much of the story, and so they reacted by pulling much of the story-telling out of the maps and reducing the amount and quality of dialogue. For those of you (most?) who played the original games, the delivery mechanisms to the story are hugely different, there's almost a 5 minute conversation before each map, and even some dialogue while playing as well.

I know it's crazy, but I do have hope, if we send the message to Blizzard that players do care about story, and that message is heard, than I think sometime in the future things will change, hell, maybe they'll even do a SC2 reboot. You never know.
doubt it. Metzen said there were elements of SC2 he was proud of, though Heart was the pendulum swinging too far (rather than having Kerrigan trying to redeem herself and be a more grey figure they made her a jerk up until she has a heel realization.)




All in All SC2 had good ideas (Amon and the Hybrids, Kerrigan's redemption, The Taldarim) but mixed execution. It gave the characters at the beginning a send off while leaving the stage open for new adventures (the Taldarim aren't going to play nice.)

Last edited by Ol'Yoggy; 07-17-2016 at 12:58 AM..
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  #22  
Old 07-17-2016, 12:52 AM
Ol'Yoggy Ol'Yoggy is offline

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Double post

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  #23  
Old 07-17-2016, 02:56 AM
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SWTOR leverages its storytelling better, which is aided by the voicework and the class narratives. Granted, that's one example, AND it's an example from BioWare which puts a greater emphasis on storytelling than Blizzard does, on average, but the core here is that you can have good storytelling in games when you put the right ingredients in. WoW suffers from a silent protagonist/player avatar as the centerpiece, and there's just no way to change that at this point.
Fair points here.

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I don't buy the idea that Blizzard has deteriorated in terms of their quality. What HAS happened is that players who fell in love with Blizzard's older works are falling out of love with their current works because Blizzard isn't really doing anything different. The crowd is fickle and the thrill is gone.
Eh, yes and no tbh. While I agree there's certainly a part of it being because many of us have gotten older, there is [IMO] no doubt Blizzard's writing/story quality - not gameplay it must be said; that's always been hit or miss - has dipped significantly.

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As for Blizzard ending up "in the trash": seriously, dude? People were still filling the cup for Star Wars during the prequel trilogy, and those movies were garbage by virtually any measure. Blizzard can do a whole lot worse than they're doing right now and people will still keep them in the black.

This isn't even a "crow's white-knighting for Blizzard" thing. It's really just a stark statement of reality that Blizzard will never fail so titanically that their fans will abandon them.
Yeah this is just common sense to be honest. Blizzard could lose Millions more WoW subs and still make a pretty heavy profit from the game, and that's not even touching their other IPs that are making well above "Good" profits.

Blizzard are in no danger of anything at this point.
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Old 07-17-2016, 03:25 AM
Torch Torch is offline

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To me, one of Blizzard's problems (certainly for Warcraft) right now is that, in all seriousness, they seem to be too busy writing what they like and enjoy...

Which in itself, isn't a problem, but the way Blizzard's doing it, it's almost as if they're trying to write a fanfiction, not a serious universe. If what like doesn't fit the original story, then you should be asking "How can I change what I like to fit the story", not "How can I change the story to fit with what I like?"

Look at the last four expansions (including Legion). Three of them have had major problems with individual characters hogging the storyline to the point that that the story's blatantly warped to fit the role Blizzard's decided for them. That making that character awesome is far more important than anything else in the story. And the other one (WoD) was a story nobody wanted at all!

Thrall was meant to drop his major role as warchief, save the earth as a superhero, then go back to being warchief again. That's fanfictiony, because it's blatantly to give Thrall more chance to be the hero without questioning why he returns to something the story said he had to give up. Oh, and he randomly gets a love interest. Who decided that having his babies is the most important thing in the world. And nearly got effectively written out afterwards. Because Thrall's babies was all that mattered. Even the aspects say so! Even Metzen basically admitted "I'm telling a story to my kids"!

Varian's possibly the mildest offender, but even then, Blizzard all but said "We'll destroy what makes the Alliance "The Alliance" and you will like it!" Showing off Varian became more important than writing other Alliance characters well, to the point that they permanently destroyed one character (Jaina), and went back on promises to write another character better (Tyrande), who's now pretty much considered a complete joke now. All because Blizzard wanted to show off how cool Varian was. (Hell, just in general, it was clear that Blizzard didn't want to write stories for other alliance races.)

WoD's story made no sense, and was pretty blatantly an ass pull so that Blizzard could have more orcs, a literal orc worship expansion. Everyone with half a brain would've realised that, after Thrall's importance in Cataclysm, Garrosh's in MoP, and the general faction war which, due to Blizzard's orc and human obsession, was very orc driven, we'd had a lot of orc content already. But somehow, after that, Blizzard thought that an expansion designed to give us orcs everywhere was a good idea. Even if it made no sense.

And Legion? We know what's happening with Illidan. We're seeing 13 year old stories retconned so that he can be the good guy. We're seeing a questline where a brilliant but unteachable student being told he's unteachable is being treated like a cosmic tragedy. Blizzard isn't even trying to be consistent. Blizzard isn't even trying to give us a story that, with a little suspension of disbelief, we could accept happening in TBC. The Universe is starting to warp around Illidan now. Blatantly so. In a way that reads like a bad fanfiction.

There's nothing wrong with writing what you like, but if you're in charge of a major fictional universe, you better fucking write it consistently and with respect to the narrative, and not like a fan writing fanfiction about their favourite character/race.
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  #25  
Old 07-17-2016, 04:49 AM
Ol'Yoggy Ol'Yoggy is offline

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Originally Posted by Torch View Post
To me, one of Blizzard's problems (certainly for Warcraft) right now is that, in all seriousness, they seem to be too busy writing what they like and enjoy...

Which in itself, isn't a problem, but the way Blizzard's doing it, it's almost as if they're trying to write a fanfiction, not a serious universe. If what like doesn't fit the original story, then you should be asking "How can I change what I like to fit the story", not "How can I change the story to fit with what I like?"

Look at the last four expansions (including Legion). Three of them have had major problems with individual characters hogging the storyline to the point that that the story's blatantly warped to fit the role Blizzard's decided for them. That making that character awesome is far more important than anything else in the story. And the other one (WoD) was a story nobody wanted at all!

Thrall was meant to drop his major role as warchief, save the earth as a superhero, then go back to being warchief again. That's fanfictiony, because it's blatantly to give Thrall more chance to be the hero without questioning why he returns to something the story said he had to give up. Oh, and he randomly gets a love interest. Who decided that having his babies is the most important thing in the world. And nearly got effectively written out afterwards. Because Thrall's babies was all that mattered. Even the aspects say so! Even Metzen basically admitted "I'm telling a story to my kids"!

Varian's possibly the mildest offender, but even then, Blizzard all but said "We'll destroy what makes the Alliance "The Alliance" and you will like it!" Showing off Varian became more important than writing other Alliance characters well, to the point that they permanently destroyed one character (Jaina), and went back on promises to write another character better (Tyrande), who's now pretty much considered a complete joke now. All because Blizzard wanted to show off how cool Varian was. (Hell, just in general, it was clear that Blizzard didn't want to write stories for other alliance races.)

WoD's story made no sense, and was pretty blatantly an ass pull so that Blizzard could have more orcs, a literal orc worship expansion. Everyone with half a brain would've realised that, after Thrall's importance in Cataclysm, Garrosh's in MoP, and the general faction war which, due to Blizzard's orc and human obsession, was very orc driven, we'd had a lot of orc content already. But somehow, after that, Blizzard thought that an expansion designed to give us orcs everywhere was a good idea. Even if it made no sense.

And Legion? We know what's happening with Illidan. We're seeing 13 year old stories retconned so that he can be the good guy. We're seeing a questline where a brilliant but unteachable student being told he's unteachable is being treated like a cosmic tragedy. Blizzard isn't even trying to be consistent. Blizzard isn't even trying to give us a story that, with a little suspension of disbelief, we could accept happening in TBC. The Universe is starting to warp around Illidan now. Blatantly so. In a way that reads like a bad fanfiction.

There's nothing wrong with writing what you like, but if you're in charge of a major fictional universe, you better fucking write it consistently and with respect to the narrative, and not like a fan writing fanfiction about their favourite character/race.
We got alternate Gul'dan and Illidan could have been interesting if he was forced to face the consequences of his actions and grew as a character (Hawki did a great oneshot where Illidan is more reflective and mature and has reflected and even gained clarity). If Illidan actually grew mature....I'd buy it.

With Kerrigan it was easy to argue that the infestation amplified things like rage anger and aggression while suppressing compassion and TAHT was why she was nasty. You didn't have to agree with it but it was possible to draw that conclusion. As such it was possible to argue she could be redeemed. Illidan would have to undergo major character development and change to be a hero (i.e. accepting that his selfishness and lust for glory is the cause of his problems rather than anyone else.)
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