World of Warcraft, world of inspiration
Why I Love: Lightseekers senior designer Ana Steiner traces her history with the MMO that convinced her to pursue a career in games
Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This column was contributed by Ana Steiner, senior designer for PlayFusion on the studio's mobile/tablet RPG LightSeekers.
In preparation for this article, I spent a lot of time thinking about which game I should write about. I considered what I was currently playing, the first games I played when I was younger, and which games I think are particularly well designed. As someone working in the games industry, I felt like I should choose an obscure game, something not obvious. But in the back of my mind I knew I was just circling around the game I really wanted to write about, the one that has had the biggest influence on me: World of Warcraft.
I was a late starter to WoW; by the time I was introduced to the game it had already been on the market for over four years, and was well into the Wrath of the Lich King expansion! I had played other games, of course, mainly platformers or FPS games but nothing which came close to the scale of World of Warcraft. I knew very little about it, and at the time, no one I knew was playing it.
However, I was interested. I had seen 'Make Love, Not Warcraft', the episode of South Park that parodied the game, and I thought it looked really fun! I also knew I loved fantasy worlds. At home I would spend hours and hours dreaming up my own characters and stories; then making them come to life by drawing them or writing about them. I dreamt of becoming an illustrator or a writer, having little to no idea that fields like concept art or games design existed!
Finally, a friend started playing WoW and persuaded me to join. Don't judge me, but I made an Alliance character. I blame my friend! I even came up with a backstory for my character; she was a lowly human farmer who had decided to become a Paladin! She was brave and good, but not very bright (we even expanded on this later on; in our raid progression screenshots, my character would always be facing the wrong way). Many years on, I would eventually see the light (or perhaps the dark) and my human farmer would join the Horde to become a Blood Elf Paladin.
As soon as I started playing, I was hooked! One of my first, and fondest, memories of WoW was getting on a gryphon for the first time and flying across the different zones. Just seeing the openness and expanse of the world captured my imagination; gazing down at areas that looked so interesting, glimpsing monsters I couldn't yet fight, and seeing actual, real people running around so far beneath me! I just remember being completely in awe, and so excited about what was to come next. This feeling of awe stayed with me throughout my first levelling experience, with many notable moments along the way: crossing the grand bridge into Stormwind for the first time, being trampled by Stitches in Duskwood, and seeing the immense home of the Lich King in Icecrown, just to name a few! Every turn seemed to hold something new and exciting, even if that was just discovering that the Stormwind guards would wave back to you if you emoted at them!
Of course the initial excitement of the game eventually wore off, but by that time there were other things that kept me interested. I loved being part of a small, friendly raiding guild which was making good progress. There were also endless opportunities for collecting, be it mounts, pets or achievements. I must have spent hours tracking Little Timmy around Stormwind to buy his white kittens, or defeating dragonkin to get my Crimson Whelpling! Then there was the story. I was completely enthralled by the story of Arthas and his transformation into the Lich King. I loved seeing his character develop, for example in the Culling of Stratholme dungeon and the Death Knight starter quests. Alongside that, I really enjoyed the theming in the different areas; the giant dragons in Dragonblight, the adorable Oracles in Sholazar Basin, and the snowy mountains of Storm Peaks!
Blizzard's storytelling remains strong today. I still return to each new expansion to play through the main storyline. Legion, in particular, has hooked me once again on the developing story and characters (and I'll even admit one particular moment of the Legion storyline had me in tears). However, the way I play these days is very different. Many of my WoW friends have sadly moved on, and I don't really have the time to commit to raid progression in a guild, so I tend to play by myself at a more casual and relaxed pace. But this is still enjoyable! I'm still immersed in the world, and I can take more time to really absorb the story and characters.
There is perhaps one downside to all this. Whilst I've enjoyed lots of other games since, none have given me quite the same feeling of awe and wonder I remember from when I first started playing WoW. I can't help but speculate as to whether I will ever get it again! For me, WoW is a game filled with nostalgia. Perhaps in a few years I will feel the same way about the games I am currently playing too, but as the game that really showed me what I wanted to do as a career, WoW will be pretty hard to beat!
Today, I enjoy creating my own worlds, stories and characters for other players, using inspiration from what I love about WoW. While Lightseekers is a very different game to World of Warcraft, I want players to feel the same sense of awe and wonder when exploring this new fantasy world. I want them to have the same excitement that there's so much out there to explore!
When writing storylines I always try and imagine how the player will feel in the moment, what emotions I want them to be experiencing, and I love to write varied characters that I hope can be interesting and memorable. World of Warcraft is definitely a huge inspiration for me when doing this. It was the first game that really showed me that people out there actually got paid for all the things I was doing in my spare time! It helped me to discover I could have a job where I was making characters, worlds and stories! Without World of Warcraft, I wouldn't be working in the games industry doing what I love.
Upcoming Why I Love columns:
- Tuesday, December 19 - Last Day of June's Massimo Guarini on ICO
- Tuesday, January 2 - Evangeline's Nicholas Laborde on Rainbox Six: Siege
- Tuesday, January 16 - TaleSinger's Chris Payne on Ultima Underworld
- Tuesday, January 30 - Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's Rayna Anderson on Loom
Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at email@example.com.