During the Lore panel for BlizzCon ’07, the two of you discussed your desire for the world of Azeroth to be more immersive, and for the story to be brought to the forefront. You wanted characters who were more believable, relevant, and vibrant.
I am also in the storytelling business as a professional screenwriter. And as storytellers, it is a key goal of ours to ensure our audience lose themselves in the story… for them to forget they’re reading a script, or playing a game.
It sounds complex, but there are obviously many simple steps towards accomplishing this.
In screenwriting, one of them is not referring to the camera.
“A man steps into an old house. He hears a roar and turns to see a zombie charging towards him with an axe. The camera pulls back to show–” Reading this sentence, the reader sees a man, an old house, a zombie, then a camera!?? WTH where’d that come from!? Oh, that’s right… it’s just a movie. I’m reading a script.
This is exactly what you don’t want.
For World of Warcraft, it has its own simple solution:
If you wish for your players to feel more immersed in the world of Azeroth, then they need to feel relevant.
And for the players to feel relevant, they need their roles acknowledged in that world by the NPC’s.
It’s a simple concept (simple enough that it might sound humorous), but it would go a long way toward achieving the goals you said you wish to accomplish.
Let’s look at an example. Take Thrall and the players’ relation to him.
I, Cocles, have killed Onyxia; I have killed Nefarian. I have dumped both of their heads at the Warchief’s feet, yet he still doesn’t know who I am when I show up for later quest lines done in BC. Why doesn’t Thrall recognize me as the slayer of Onyxia? He who defeated Nefarian!! Why? Oh that’s right, “Because it’s just a game.” And once again, that’s exactly what you don’t want your audience to feel when they’re experiencing lore.
Thrall should know me. Thrall should be glad to see me.
Throughout WoW, particular quests should be flagged and an internal mark made on one’s character when they complete that quest.
Think of how immersive it would be if you were to step into Outland and have Nazgrel look at you and say, “When I sent word to Orgrimmar that we needed more troops, I never dreamed they would send the slayer of C’thun himself to aid us. You will be a great asset to us Cocles, and I am glad to see you here!”
Had I not killed C’thun, or done anything else of note, Nazgrel could instead look me up and down and say, “Well grunt, let’s see what you’re made of.”
The NPC’s reacts differently depending on what key quests I have completed in the game.
On top of that, NPC’s should react differently based on our rep. I am not talking about a bigger discount, or more quartermaster rewards. I am talking about having Hamuul Runetotem recognize exalted members of the Cenarion Circle and (in text) address them by name.
Hamuul, “The Earth-Mother smiles, Cocles. You are a druid who’s reputation precedes you. How may I be of service?”
When the story’s own characters do not acknowledge a player’s role within that story, it rips the player out of the story by reminding them it’s just a game. It reminds them that their actions are largely irrelevant. It destroys the fantasy.
This isn’t RP stuff. This is lore immersion. It’s PVE.
One final example. One that I see forthcoming with WOTLK: Tirion Fordring. (Spoilers incoming)
Those of us who did Tirion’s quest-line in the plaguelands tried to assist him in reconciling with his son. We were there when his son died. We were there when Tirion avenged his death. And we were there when he swore to re-establish the Silver Hand. To meet Tirion again in Northrend and have him not recognize who we are is almost humorous.
Tirion, “Hail adventurer! Have you come to serve the Silver-Hand?”
Cocles, “Tirion, it’s me, Coc. I was there when your son died. Heck, I was the only witness when you made your oath to restore the Silver Hand.”
Tirion “Doesn’t ring a bell. I need you to kill ten ghouls!”
Tirion should react differently depending upon whether or not we completed his previous quest chain. I know I’m repeating myself, but hopefully I’m being clear.
Unlike movies where the audience is only an observer, MMORPG’s allow the audience to play a lead role. But for that player to truly feel immersed, he or she must feel relevant. Acknowledgment is a big, yet straight-forward step toward accomplishing this. The world becomes more immersive, the story stays in the forefront, and the characters become more believable, relevant, and vibrant.
See you in Northrend!