Monday, June 27, 2011

So I Hear You Boys Love A Good Story...

Some may think it kind of odd when I tell you where that title came from... It is a quote from Hermann Goering... Yes the dude who was in charge of the Luftwaffe in WWII. Now don't let this fact scare you, it is only being used as a tie-in to today's blog. (Besides which, it is kind of odd anyway for a black dude to be quoting Nazis.)

In any event, Goering did get one thing right, if by proxy... a good amount of us MMORPG players LOVE a good story! Since the days of sitting in a basement or otherwise designated gaming room- poring over photocopied character sheets, and marking down our stats, as well as whether we are lawful good, or chaotic evil, we gamers have reveled in the story itself. Making the characters was only half of the fun, and ultimately we were rewarded when our GM (gamesmaster) found new and interesting ways to tell our tale, and sometimes KILL US. A lot of time has passed mind you, since those auspicious days when RPG meant four or more folks sitting at a table speaking in a bastardization of "olde english", but in today's enlightened, digital world, not much has really changed. We still relish a good story.

Now for those who live for pvp, or min maxing, you will probably want to browse away from this blog right now, because it could get long winded, and could have quite a great deal to do with how stories have progressed over the years. Admittedly, not every gamer will fall into the category of the "lore hound", as the demographic has changed in only the last ten years alone. It is however refreshing for me to meet younger folks who have the same desire to see a well thought out story with us at the center of it. For me it goes even deeper than that.

Gloria Bolton- My grandmother, my inspiration

When I was a wee lad, my grandmother used to write stories for me. Often they were about a young boy exploring his world, and she would change the setting. One story may find the protagonist in ancient China, one may find him in old Europe, and so on. The key thing that she tried to get across to me was that the imagination is set loose when you are engaged in a really immersive story. You BECOME the protagonist, you feel what they would feel, and react the way they would react, provided the story is told well. My grandmother never disappointed, and it was a lesson that would remain with me to this day. In fact, my love of the arts (music, literature, visual arts) is a direct result of her influence in my life, and though she has been gone now about 10 years, she remains the pinnacle of my experiences with the spoken, and written word. Unfortunately for her, she was not around to have ever played an MMORPG.

So fast forward to about say..... 2003. Along comes a little game some of you all might know, called Star Wars Galaxies. We already knew the stories of Luke, Han, Leia, et al, but now here comes this game professing to tell the greatest story of all.... OURS. Words cannot express the nerdgasm I had about the time I saw those words flash on my screen as I installed the collector's edition version of the game. For all its headache and heartache, as SWG now lays on its deathbed, waiting for December 15th, and the pulling of the life support plug... SWG left one great impression on me. It gave me a chance to tell my story... and tell it I did. The stories of Druu Scandana became legendary, if only to a niche audience.

Left to Right: D'Anton Scandana- Smuggler, Druu Scandana- Combat Medic, Korenn Alya-Scandana- Droid Engineer

Druu Scandana was one of three brothers orphaned and sent to live with their grandmother on Naboo, near Theed. When SWG began for me, Druu (yours truly) had received word that his grandmother had just died, and she put him in touch with an old friend of hers named Maximillian Veers. (You can see where this is going right?) Before Druu knew it, he was in the Empire as a stormtrooper commander, then an Imperial fighter ace. Before long he got involved with Sanctuary Guild; one of the Emperor's beloved on Naboo, and next thing you know, he ended up being elected President of said guild. When Restuss was destroyed, Druu was there, leading a veritable garrison of Imperial troops to fend off the rebel incursion for about a week, before the city was razed to rubble. The accolades were impressive, the legend grew. Druu eventually married; first to a twi'lek girl he rescued from certain doom, and had his share of tragedy when said wife ended up dying (ie- unsubbed after NGE), as well as a dubious relationship with a childhood sweetheart after, ending in divorce and a long lost daughter in his care... and more drama than he could shake a stick at. In the end, Druu finally remarried to a combat medic named Ademia, retired from service with the Empire, having never fired a shot on Endor, and essentially faded off into the sunset with his family on Corellia. He would go on to survive the Rebel victory at Endor, and live his life peacefully in the mountains of Doaba Guerfel with his wife, his daughter, and his two brothers.

Nothing like a little dad - daughter bonding time...

I thank SWG for the opportunity to tell my story, even if it was riddled with events I would rather forget, not all of which player caused. My story was indeed an epic one, and somewhere on the internet there are still those pre-CU stories floating around, as well as some of the ones I made post NGE, when things got a BIT more dramatic... to say the least. Sadly that story does indeed have an end... but as my life continues, so do the stories.

Now we look at the future. Two games in particular appear to offer story in the quantity I am looking for. No disrespect to games such as Tera, but you did not make the cut this time. I think more folks are focused on the video below, than what stories Arborea could have to tell.

I just know there is a story here somewhere... but I cannot seem to find it.

The two games I am referring to, in order; are Star Wars- The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2. Without a doubt those two games are THE most anticipated games of the year! Neither have release dates, though fan speculation has SWTOR around November of this year (which is great, would be a birthday gift to me provided it is out by the 18th), and GW2 going into beta before this year is out, with wild speculations of as long a wait as June of next year. Bear in mind this is all just hearsay and should be treated as such. Until their respective companies say, HEY we are coming out THIS DATE... treat everything you hear with an entire case of sea salt.


Ok I am going to be THAT guy... SWG will be a tough act to follow. While Bioware is well known for its ability to tell a damn good story, there are a lot of things that cannot match up to the pure sandbox feel that SWG had in its heyday. Before the introduction of the legacy quests, SWG was as open as you could get, and it felt at once really good as well as overwhelming. So many stories to be made, no clear definition by the devs as to which way to go, other than the occasional story arcs that were thrown in for a brief period, and of course the holiday celebratory quests (something stolen from EQ btw). SWTOR plans on immersing you in the story from level one, and this is indeed a good thing. You are now 3000 years before the age of Druu Scandana and his more famous compatriots; Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. The galaxy is different then, and in a way Bioware had carte blanche to tell a raucus story that would have little bearing on what we know as "canon" in the Star Wars mythos. In a sense, the route Bioware has gone is very "theme park"; a phrase bandied around often to mean your hand is being held as you are led through where you SHOULD be, rather than encouraging you to go where you WANT. Where Bioware shines however is that they have in the past, made where you should be,and the subsequent stories to be told there, more compelling than the desire to wander off and end up being "Uncle Owen", as one John Smedley was afraid of SWG players doing. From my reckoning, with 8 professions to choose from, Bioware is essentially offering us 8 stories to play out. Not too shabby if I should say so myself. How long it will take to get through them to endgame remains to be seen, but it would certainly keep me busy for a while.

Then we come to Guild Wars 2.

Ok, I am going to level with you all here. I am very much NOW on the bandwagon for GW2. I have yet to see anything major that has turned me off from this game, and story being one of my key drawing points, GW2 has delivered, even if only secondhand.

The above video is of the human experience in the beginning of GW2. Bear in mind this is subject to change as the game reiterates to final publish, but already you can see the kernels of story being formulated, just in the opening cinematic. Now here is the fun part... Out of that one human story, you can have it portrayed in different ways depending on what YOU choose as your answers to what I call the "background creator". I have been around the MMO block many years now and I have yet to see a single game incorporate as part of its character creation a background creator. This is groundbreaking as far as I am concerned. (If there are minor titles who have done this, I doubt they count, as this game is definitely aiming for the mainstream) So already there are at the very least three ways you can start out your story (per race, of which there are 5 total). Now your personality plays a part in how your story plays out. Ok so now we are looking at three more possibilities here; charming, dignified, and ferocious personalities... That will affect how you react or act towards NPCs you encounter. This is not to mention that you also have the dynamic stories going on throughout the world, whether you are there or not... event arcs that replace traditional "quests", and make you feel like you are an active part of the world, and not just killing the proverbial 10 rats, for the sake of doing so. Of course there is the piece de resistance... the personal story, which a lot of this ties into. THIS is where I sink my teeth.

I want to know what happens to me in Tyria, or Shiverpeaks, or the Charr Lands, etc. I was one of those kids who used to read the "choose your own adventure" books, and the feeling of where will this world, or road take me, is still very much a strong feeling for me. For me the story is so important that I actively went out and bought the original Guild Wars Trilogy this week (while on vacation in Florida), just so I could play through the campaigns and learn the lore. As an aside, ArenaNet, if you are reading, I AM COMMITTED NOW! I am sure the books will be purchased before I head back home to Pittsburgh as well.

To make matters worse, this week, we all got treated to this video; showcasing the story in the dungeons we will encounter on Tyria. With the story pervading all, there is no doubt in my mind I will be as engaged as when I read those stories my grandmother wrote, or the choose your adventure books, or even the stories made up by my gm at that gaming table with a few other gamer geeks, and a bunch of dice.

...But I digress, bottom line here. Guild Wars 2 is thus far offering me the MOST opportunities to tell stories of my "life". This is even more so than with SWTOR. While I still intend to try TOR, and if accepted into beta will gladly play it, I cannot help but think there is something compelling about the Guild Wars story that has me salivating like a pavlovian experiment here.

Could it be that Guild Wars 2 has actually tapped into that same spirit that my grandmother would exude so long ago for me? It is hard to even write this without coming off sounding like a fan boy at this stage, but you know what... I am not even sure anymore that I care what anyone thinks of me LOL. I want, nay demand a good story. I want to be in the center of it... I want to be able to post my stories here on blogger... I want to be able to inspire others to do the same.

I did it before in Microsoft Flight Simulator (yeah lots of stories there eh?). Though the pictures may not show up, I have many stories about my "life" as a virtual US Airways pilot that were a joy to read by those into aviation, whether virtually or otherwise. Story goes to my core.

Stick around folks... There are many more stories to tell, and some of them will be YOURS.


  1. This was linked at a site called Guild Wars 2 Guru, which is where I read it from; and I just have to say, I too was inspired by a grandparent when it came to stories and falling in love with storytelling in general - so I really loved this post. I hope that if you go on to play Guild Wars 2 long-term, I see you around the RP community. =)


  2. I've been on the GW2 bandwagon for a little while and have read all the articles, watched all the gameplay vids, seen all the speculation... and I just have to say, all the things you've said about GW2 have really gotten me excited all over again for the eventual release!
    Story is the one of the most exhilarating things about Guild Wars 2 (aside from environment, cities, combat, professions and all that jazz) and I'm glad someone else is as excited about it as I am! :)
    Keep up the good work and the fantastic blogs!