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Column: World Of Warcraft Exposed

World of Warcraft Exposed: The Lore of the Horde

May 15, 2008 8:00 AM |

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's final column (more about this in the outro!) looks at the stories behind five of the game's character races.]

hordies.jpgWorld of Warcraft's lore is an organic thing. It changes and twists with every new patch, book, or card game expansion Blizzard releases. The stories behind each of the player races, though, have remained largely static.

Each of the lengthy tales detailing how the races came to be sets up a theme that players can experience as they play through the game.

Today, following up on the guide to the lore of the Alliance, we'll explore those themes for the races that make up the might Horde: the Blood Elves, the Undead Forsaken, the Tauren, the Orcs, and the Trolls.

The Blood Elves

At one point, not too very long ago, the Blood Elves fit one of the standard fantasy tropes: porcilein-skinned, pointy eared mages, wise because of their years and dedicated to goodness and Light. Then came the Scourge, an army of undead monsters lead by the Death Knight Arthas. They burned, slaughtered, and defiled the ancient homeland of the High Elves.

That act had many consequences. It shattered the resolve of one of the Human Alliances staunchest allies. The destruction of the ancient Sunwell artifact left a people without purpose, and a deep hunger in their soul. And it left Sylvana Windrunner, a hero to her people, trapped in a mockery of unlife.

hordies.jpgOne powerful mage refused to allow his people to be destroyed. Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider sought out powerful allies to shore up his people, a group he dubbed the "Blood Elves" because of their violent past. With something like 90% of his races slaughtered, Sunstrider wasn't very picky in choosing allies. Ilidan Stormrage, the demon-tainted Night Elf that rules the Outlands, ended up offering Kael exactly what he wanted. As a result, an army of Blood Elves aids Ilidan in his rule of that hellish dimension.

The Blood Elves that find themselves adventuring through Azeroth are a different group. Realizing that Kael'thas has gone astray, the elves of Silvermoon have pledged themselves to the light and to their new allies in the Horde. Low-level Blood Elves work to fight the undead still on their doorstep, and many have hopes of laying low Kael'thas himself, a figure they see as contrary to their racial destiny.

World of Warcraft Exposed: Making the Grind Work For You

May 4, 2008 12:00 AM |

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's column is a straight-up how-to on getting to higher levels as fast as possible.]

heads_wowexposed.jpgWorld of Warcraft's success stems from a number of different sources, as we discussed in this series' very first article. One of the strong pillars of that success, without a doubt, is the ability to treat WoW like a single-player game. You can make it to max level quite effectively without the help of a single other person. That's not to say soloing to 70 is enjoyable, merely that's it's possible.

Even with the help of other players, making it to the top is long road. That journey is one to be enjoyed, as leveling a character in WoW is (for many people) the real game. That said, once you have your first character at max level, retaking those same steps to the top can be frustrating. Going over the same content for the second, third, fourth time is just never quite the same.

Today we have on offer a few simple tools to help you make it through 'the grind' in a reasonable amount of time with minimal hair-pulling. Some of these are technical in nature, some are simple techniques, and some are simple platitudes that we've found helpful in the past. Read on, and make sure to grasp the handrail tightly up the escalator.

World of Warcraft Exposed: 'The Players Behind the Scenes'

April 24, 2008 8:00 AM |

nihilum.jpgDay after day, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe play Blizzard's ridiculously popular game. It's kind of awe-inspiring to think about, the sheer number of humans all inhabiting the same virtual space.

Most are content to enjoy the experience of leveling up a character, raiding with their friends, or engaging in Player vs. Player combat. Some, simply by their actions or position in life, stand out of the crowd. Their influence has changed the face of the game, and in some cases shaped the game itself.

The word player, of course, can have more than one meaning. In this case, we're talking about the movers and shakers that have made Azeroth what it is today. From literal individuals on the Blizzard development team, to player-run organizations, to other massively multiplayer games entirely many hands have shaped World of Warcraft's success.

The Designers

nihilum.jpgThe group of players that have had the most direct impact on the game are, of course, the people actually running it. Blizzard Entertainment's jump from RTS developer to MMOG powerhouse seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, thanks largely to the people behind the project. Rob Pardo, for example, was a Designer on the Warcraft II, StarCraft, and Diablo II games.

Today he's the lead designer for World of Warcraft, but during the time of EverQuest's genre dominance he was best known in the MMO community as leader of the Legacy of Steel guild. When he left the position of LoS guild leader he passed that torch to Jefferey "Tigole" Kaplan, the man who is now lead world designer for World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft Exposed: The Lore of the Alliance

April 16, 2008 4:00 PM |

Group Shot['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's column looks at the stories behind five of the game's character races.]

Fantasy settings are darned intimidating, aren't they? As much as I love Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, the originator of the genre is also largely responsible for a lot of its baggage.

While sci-fi's played-out tropes have been rehashed and thinned down somewhat in recent years, we haven't had a truly great genre shake-up for fantasy fans. The result is that even World of Warcraft, as successful and entertaining as it is, bogs down with an endless amount of backstory and genre cliches.

Despite that, the lore of Warcraft is interesting stuff. There are a lot of compelling elements, individual tales that you can follow along through the thousands of years of sketched out storyline.

If you ignore the clap-trap about who specifically did what when or the endless back-and-forth between all-powerful entities, there are interesting characters and situations to focus on. Consider this the first in an ongoing series of articles looking at the backstory of Warcraft, with an eye towards making the material as approachable as possible.

To start with, we'll explore the background behind the heroic races of the Human Alliance.

World of Warcraft Exposed: A Moviemaking Culture

April 9, 2008 8:00 AM |

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This week's column looks at the artform of machinima as it relates to the game and player culture.]

Boomkin!The stereotype of the online gamer is one of antisocial maladjustment. That gamers in general still bear some degree of negative stigma should be instructive on that stereotype’s accuracy. In fact, online game players – especially MMO players – are highly social creatures. Societal norms, language, and even art forms all evolve from the interaction of so many creative individuals in one ‘space.’ World of Warcraft is no exception to this rule, and in fact the artistic culture surrounding WoW may be the most deep and varied of any online society.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the wildly successful ‘machinima’ scene surrounding the game. Machinima, the art of creating a film entirely within a gamespace, has been popularized in general gaming culture by work in the Halo games. These works are primarily humorous in nature, typified by the wildly popular Red vs. Blue series. For World of Warcraft players, machinima has grown to fill many roles; humor is often a part of the experience, but drama, instruction, passion play, bragging, and a number of other motivations fill YouTube with a host of Azerothian films.

Today we’ll take a brief look at this aspect of Warcraft culture. We’ll examine some of the motivations for creating these movies, explore what they imply about World of Warcraft’s place in popular culture, and highlight a few of the best examples of the art form for your viewing pleasure.

Column: 'World of Warcraft Exposed': Before You Make Your First Character…

April 2, 2008 4:00 PM |

Draenai Warrior ['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This second column looks at how character classes are actually differentiated in the game.]

There are so many people playing World of Warcraft today, it’s almost a joke. At game conferences it’s almost become a sort of mini-game: “Who’s the most obscure person in your life playing WoW?”

One guy I spoke to at GDC this year pretty much won the game forever by claiming that his mom and her hairstylist had a gripping conversation about questing in the zone of Westfall while a perm set. WoW’s widespread playerbase is a direct result of the game’s accessible gameplay, a topic we discussed in last week’s column.

Despite that highly-regarded accessibility, there are still a number of things you should keep in mind when jumping into World of Warcraft for the first time. While Blizzard’s monolith is much better than other MMOs when it comes to making irreversible decisions, there are still many important choices you have to make at character creation.

Today we’ll run down the most important things you need to keep in mind before you ever set foot into Azeroth. We’ll discuss class roles, racial benefits, servers and transfers, and (an ever-important element to RPGs) the question of motivation. Read on, and then get rolling.

World of Warcraft Exposed: Why WoW Made It BIg

March 26, 2008 8:00 AM |

['World of Warcraft Exposed' is a brand new weekly column by Michael Zenke about the culture and experience of the globe's biggest online game phenomenon, the ten million subscriber-strong World of Warcraft. This first column explores how WoW became so popular in the first place.]

The WoW BC Collector's EditionMassively Multiplayer Online Games are officially mainstream. A title from the genre has had an entire cartoon episode made about it, features in an advertisement starring Mr. T, and hosts some ten million players worldwide. World of Warcraft is a fundamentally important element to the MMO landscape, but more than that it's an ecology, a society all its own. In World of Warcraft Exposed we're going to try to take you beyond the surface of this fantastically successful enterprise.

Why has this game spawned such a rich culture of podcasts, Youtube videos, bloggers, forums, and news sites? What's it like to play World of Warcraft as a new player? What's it like to work your way up through the levels, and what's the experience of playing at the endgame like? All of these topics, and more, we'll explore in future series articles.

Today, though, we're talking about success and the mainstream. We know WoW has hit it big. What we don't know - what we don't think anyone could claim to know for certain - is why exactly Blizzard's behemoth was the one to break loose from that nerd stigma. World of Warcraft's launch and subsequent popularity is a singular event in the history of gaming. Why this game? Why not titles that went before it, like the comic-esque title City of Heroes? Why not Star Wars Galaxies, a title with a huge built-in fan base? Why not WoW-launch contemporary EverQuest 2, the successor to the original MMO superpower?

There's no one answer to that question, of course. There are as many theories about WoW's popularity as there are MMO commentators. It's in between those theories that I think real insight can be found. As much as the venture capitalists might like to hear differently, there's no one reason why World of Warcraft has achieved the success it has. So with that in mind, let's approach Azeroth as a sociologist might: what drives people to inhabit this world?

[WoW Box Set photo courtesy karenchu121's photostream]