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Protagonist Development

I don’t envy Blizzard’s creative development department. Not one bit. I do, however, have a huge amount of respect for Chris Metzen and his crew of awesomeness, as they have an extremely hard job – keeping things straight, and making the lore of the game make sense.

To begin with, creating anything new and original is really difficult. While the human/elf/dwarf/etc universe was not created by Blizzard, they took something that people could recognize and put their own spin on it. A few examples of their original thinking: dragons being the protectors of the world and having dominion over a certain part of it; the Emerald Dream concept, having a complete copy of the unadultered world exist in dream form; the Titans, Sargeras, and the Burning Legion.

Along with this is taking the characters that are created and making them believable. Nobody likes the perfect character who has absolutely no faults (/cough Rhonin and his raptor army), because there’s not a human in real life who is perfect. Take any good novel or movie and see the characters that people relate to the most, and look at who wrote their stories. It’s those people who you want to thank.

When a protagonist is established, it must be incredibly hard to balance the good and bad. They may have some great things about them, but there can’t be any downsides – once again, that are believable. Something simple such as being clumsy isn’t a character flaw, it’s a fact of life. Not trusting anyone because you were sold into slavery as a child is a character flaw, as it’s a huge obstacle that that person must overcome.

There will be spoilers for the Elemental Bonds questline of 4.2 following.

There are a number of major characters in World of Warcraft, built up over the years by the games or novels. Currently in Cataclysm, and particularly in a certain quest line in 4.2, Thrall is undoubtedly at the middle of everything. The leader of the Earthen Ring and the most powerful Shaman on Azeroth is a big thing to balance out as a believable character.

The quest line that I mentioned starts just outside of Nordrassil (after breadcrumbs from either capital) with a convocation of the four remaining Dragon Aspects, the Archdruids, and the leaders of the Earthen Ring (including Thrall and Aggra). Mending the World Tree in Hyjal was the plan, but unfortunately a certain fallen Archdruid had other plans from his “master”. Fandral explains that his master has sensed that Thrall is the single biggest threat to his master’s plans, and he needs to be taken care of.

Rather than simply killing Thrall, Fandral splits the shaman’s spirit into the four elements and sends them to the four elemental planes of the Skywall, Abyssal Maw, Deepholm, and Firelands. The Aspects seem unable to help him, so Aggra decides to take matters into her own hands and task the player to go with her and help restore him to one piece.

This is when we see the different sides of Thrall, and the emotions that he has been trying to keep together for years. Doubt, desire, patience, and fury are all expressed during the different parts. There have been times where he has shown certain parts of this through the game, but never have they been out of control. The elemental planes have enhanced these senses, so you and Aggra have to restore him to as close to normal as possible.

There have been some good conversations on Twitter that I’ve seen, mainly between WoW Insider staffers, arguing about what this quest line does. Does it establish Thrall as more of a fleshed out character, or does it make Aggra a major character with Thrall as the sidekick?

Personally, my thought is that it’s a bit of both. Thrall is given more depth as a character, but the problem that I see is the fact that he’s being set up as an uber-character, and very close to the Mary Sue problem of Rhonin. He’s going through this whole ordeal to basically “cure” his major character flaws – the fact that he has had the problem of controlling his emotions. After this, what else is there to make him realistic?

I have really enjoyed the progression of Aggra’s character. She was annoying at first in The Shattering novel by Christie Golden, but by the end of the book I had grown to like her. After having a small role in the Lost Isles part of the Goblin starting experience, we don’t see her again until she ferries the character into Deepholm. This quest line makes her much more believable and has more of a personality, especially during the Deepholm parts where she gets mad at Thrall for being so stubborn.

Nothing will be perfectly written. In all of the stories written, people can nitpick parts of a character for parts that they don’t like. However, getting as realistic as possible is the ideal dream of an author. With these characters being in a persistent world that is constantly being written, there’s more of a chance for them to have more development in the future.

My concluding thoughts is that the characters are written well, but I believe that Aggra shines more than Thrall in this part. I really like both characters, and having most of my history being a Horde player I’ve had a man-crush on Thrall at times for being awesome. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Metzen and the creative development team takes the story forward.

Out of the Frying Pan (Patch 4.2)

It’s not just any Tuesday today. Maestro, please begin the ominous music.

Today is when patch 4.2 hits North American/Oceanic realms for World of Warcraft. It’s been just over six months since Cataclysm was released, and our first major content patch with new and exciting things to do. We technically have had a content patch already, but redoing two existing instances takes a lot less work than a whole new raid and daily quest hub.

To say that there are a lot of changes is quite the understatement. I will be referencing links from WoW Insider throughout, and the best place to get a run down of the major changes is their guide to patch 4.2.

The major points of the patch are the inclusion of the Firelands raid and the Molten Front daily quest hub. Ultimately defeating Ragnaros once and for all, the raid also includes the chance to get a new DPS caster legendary staff. Similar to the Isle of Quel’Danas, the Molten Front area is a daily quest area that advances along with personal progression (I touched on this on a previous article).

For the first time with a patch, we actually have explanations for the class balance changes that came along with it. Ghostcrawler took every single change and said why they made them in point form. Rather than just saying “here you go, deal with it”, we at least have an idea of the philosophy the developers use when making their decisions. There are a great number of changes, best to take a look at which ones apply to your own class(es).

Another great change is the Dungeon Journal, which includes a version of AtlasLoot. Once again we see Blizzard taking addons that they like and feel should be part of the default UI and incorporating them. The Journal has information all the fights of Cataclysm content (will be expanded for the rest of the game eventually, I’m sure), along with abilities that the bosses use and gear that can drop. Currently there is the gear information on the Battle.net website, but this is a great way so people don’t have to use a third-party addon or alt-tab to find out what drops from a certain boss.

Lastly, one of my favourite things about 4.2 is the inclusion of a great cosmetic change. Since I’m back to being feral DPS, I can be a flaming kitty! I believe that it only requires the person to have the staff that drops from Fandral, and whenever you’re in cat form you become a cat… on fire. Dragonwrath turns the caster into a dragon with a proc, but it looks like this is a passive cosmetic change.

I hope that this opens the door for more cosmetic changes down the road, as we really need them – especially for druids. We have great gear, but in combat we’re in the shapeshift forms and are unable to see the great looks. The community has been asking for changes such as this for years, so hopefully we’ll see more down the road.

New content is awesome. I know I’ve been getting impatient, as this six month period since Cataclysm released seems to have gone by very slowly. Hopefully I’ll be able to raid the new place, for the main reason of becoming a flaming kitty. Otherwise, at least I’ll have the new daily quest area to keep me busy for a while.

Personal Accomplishments

In a persistent world like a MMO, sometimes it’s hard for an individual to see what kind of difference they make in the grand scheme of things. Sure, through the years you have done a bunch of neat things like behead Nefarian a number of times (yet he’s still back, head intact), kill Illidan the Betrayer, and Arthas the Lich King – the grand poobah of evil. But, what did your character exactly accomplish?

Canonically, Tirion killed Arthas with help from a group of adventurers. Maiev and Akama killed Illidan with help from a group of adventurers. Nefarian is somehow alive and ready to be killed again. While your character does help these people out, so does everyone else who has completed these raid encounters. It almost gives a feeling of apathy, since people do like to see their accomplishments and feel proud about them.

I believe that this is one reason why the Achievement system was implemented. I’m sure that Blizzard saw the success of the idea on Xbox Live and Steam, and thought that it would be a great way for people to become more personally invested in the game. Whereas before it was there, why would anyone want to do something out of the ordinary like kill 20 turkeys in under a minute?

With achievements, people know what your character has accomplished. My druid can say he’s killed Arthas, plus he has the achievement to back up that claim. Along with the claims of demise of various raid bosses, it also allows rewards for doing things out of the ordinary – the basis of every tier of raiding having a mount reward. Why in the world would you try to defeat Yogg-Saron with only one of the watchers helping unless there was something in it for you?

From MMO-Champion

In 4.2, there will be a new personal progress in the new Firelands daily quest area. Similar to the Isle of Quel’danas, by doing a number of daily quests and completing goals set out for you, the player will see personalized progress of the area being healed from Ragnaros’ invasion. This is the epitome of making the work your character does over a long period of time actually count towards something. You may be the only one able to see it, but that’s not a bad thing.

This is truly personal progression. With Quel’Danas (and to an extent, the preparations for the opening of Ahn’Qiraj), it was server-based and once again your personal contributions could be seen as not being too much. One person who is just starting will see a seed being planted for a tree, someone who has completed everything will see a massive tree and the area starting to be healed.

Along with this, there is a tremendous amount of single-player content that will keep people busy for a long time. Over 60 daily quests will be available in a random pool, I’m assuming similar to Tol Barad, which will give certain quests per day. At the completion of the area, a new flying mount will be available – the Flameward Hippogryph. Basically, this is like the Argent Tournament but a whole lot better and giving better rewards.

Apart from the nerfs to Boomkins, I’m quite looking forward to 4.2. I’m very happy that Blizzard is giving us so much information so shortly after the release of 4.1.

Timing is Everything

Time… there’s never enough time.  There can also be too much time.  Days can drag on for some people, while for others it goes by in a flash.  Timing the markets to buy and sell stocks is a common occurance, and many people can make or lose a whole lot of money if it’s done right or wrong.  Trying to set out content in an ongoing online game that has been around for over six years is a big gamble no matter what the outcome is.  Some people blaze through content so fast that it’s outdated shortly after it’s released, while others take a lot longer to catch up.

Recently, Blizzard announced that they were going to delay the release of the Firelands raid that was originally going to be included in patch 4.1, which is currently on the public test realms.  At first when there was no mention of a raid, people were confused since it was said that there would be one in the Firelands (announced back at BlizzCon).  This was even more confusing as through the usual datamining of content, a new model of Ragnaros was found along with other items and abilities.  It was said that the reason behind this is for the pacing of content.

New Ragnaros Model

From MMO-Champion

On a post in the official forums, Community Manager Bashiok said that they had learned from a previous mistake from Wrath of the Lich King, which was the time between Ulduar and Trial of the Crusader.  Our guild can attest to this, as we had progressed up to Vezax (second last boss) before ToC was released, and didn’t down him until afterwards.  The gear that we received from the new raid helped, but that’s not the way that it’s supposed to work – you progress within the raid tier that you’re in, not from gear from better raid tiers.

Back in Vanilla, there were many patches with smaller sizes that added things gradually over time.  In Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, there were fewer patches with more content within them.  In Cataclysm, we’ve been seeing a lot of updates through hotfixes and a couple small patches so far.  If we go back to smaller, more frequent patches, I don’t see that as being a bad thing.  There might not be a raid with each new patch, but if we have other things with them I can’t see it being a bad thing.

For example, if we have the odd-numbered patches have 5-man instances in them and the even-numbered patches have raids, then have the expansion go up to patch 4.6 instead of 4.3, is that so bad?  The biggest thing is timing.  If Blizzard can put the patches out in a decent amount of time, this won’t be a problem.  As long as there aren’t huge spaces between patches, I believe the player base will remain happy.

I’m quite glad that we’re being given (from what I’ve seen) two great 5-man dungeons in the meantime, along with the other changes being made… but please don’t make us wait too long.

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