Thursday, December 18, 2014

Warlords, The Opening Chapter

The launch of the Warlords of Draenor expansion was probably the greatest since the game began.  Greater than Burning Crusade and possibly greater even than Lich King I realized that's quite a sweeping statement, and that the state of morpgs has changed over time, but the reason is easy to see.  All the lessons the developers have learned through the years were brought to bear on this opening experience and they got nearly everything exactly right. 

So, to back up a bit.  I started on launch day and suffered through the gauntlet of servers being down and lengthy queues, but that was sorted out relatively quickly.  It was a minor annoyance for the first few days and by now it has faded into oblivion.  I think there were three major things that came out of the initial stumbles, however.

The first message from the launch of Warlords of Draenor is that when it comes to delivering a quest-based story that is replete with vivid characters, engaging narrative, and dynamic events, Blizzard still knows what its doing and does it better than nearly everybody.

This is almost immediately followed by the thought that there are millions of players who return to the party at each new expansion, many of whom have never left.  Yes, that's caused a few headaches for us during the past week with lag issues and extended queues, and yes it makes the game a target for mischief makers.  But there is a reason why the millions return:  the outstanding quality of the initial experience.

Warcraft once again has become way more popular than anyone was really expecting it would.  Back in the doldrums of August, when the content drought had sapped everyone's will to live, the reported subscriber numbers had sunk to the 6 million range and people were openly speculating about whether or not WoW was dying and we were observing its final decline.

Suddenly,  the sub numbers jumped up to over 10 million - so many that even Blizzard didn't properly anticipate the overwhelming numbers of players that wanted to get into their game.  We see a resurgence with every expansion but these kinds of sub numbers were returning us to the heady days  when WoW boasted over 12 million players.  The glory days were back.

Second, the design of the initial entrance to the Warlords expansion was electifying.  It was all about motion and purpose.  With Khadgar, I felt the echos of the Sons of Lothar and a hint of what it might have been like the first time the Sons plunged through the unknown portal.  This was a much stronger storytelling experience than we've had in the past, and one that put the players in the main heroic role.  Yes, we were following an outsized lore figure, but in many cases we were the one taking direct action, action where we could see how our contribution advanced the plot.

And what's more, we were taking action against the named enemies of the expansion.  Yes, we were fighting for our lives, for the most part, but we were successfully striking at the Iron Horde and completing our mission objectives to close down the portal.

Third, the larger story had focus. From practically the first moment that pre-expansion foreshadowing appeared in Azeroth, we have been focused on one thing: stopping the Iron Horde.  The pre-expansion invasion gave us a clear idea of who the enemy was.  And this was coupled with the cinematics and video short series that brought us face to face with the backgrounds and excesses of these warlords, and gave us an indication of why we were fighting.  The Draenei provided an object lesson of what might happen if we didn’t succeed.

This is in sharp contrast to previous expansions.

In Mists of Pandaria, we didn’t really know who the enemy was, didn’t really know why we were supposed to be fighting.  Remember the triumphant entry on our airships?  We were explicitly fighting the opposing faction, rather than anything in Pandaria. And after the initial excitement of the landing had subsided, the narrative channeled us into what was largely a side story involving the Jinyu and Hozen, minor players who would take no part in the greater story of Pandaria.

Our brief stay with the Jinyu would almost completely sap our momentum, and whatever energy we had left dissipated entirely with the climax at the Statue of the Jade Serpent.  It was with the entry into the Valley of the Four Winds that the story of Pandaria properly began.

In Cataclysm, we had a poster boy, Deathwing, who we then promptly ignored throughout the entire expansion and who we only saw again in the final raid.  Instead, we began with the evil menace of Cho-gall who, though a key lore figure, was largely unknown to players whose sole source of information was the MMORPG. It was a lesson Blizzard learned for Warlords, with their extensive cinematic retelling of the enemies’ origins.

So, even though his picture was on the box, Deathwing was forgotten and the players moved through a series of unrelated zones, not even tied together by a common enemy.  With little through-plot to weave them into a common story, the different elemental zones appeared to be a series of separate mini-expansions.  Lacking the golden thread of a central story, Cataclysm felt confusing and ultimately dissatisfying.

Compare that experience to the first hours of Warlords of Draenor

We start in the Blasted Lands, and face an advanced guard of Iron Horde, who we battle into submission.  Then, we cross through the portal and hold these same Iron Horde at bay while we dismantle the mechanisms of the portal.  In the process, we face many of the chief generals of the opposing army, general whom we recognize from the advanced stories Blizzard showed us.

Next we establish our own base, raising it out of the native soil, building by building.  Again, this is in contrast to previous expansions, when we think we are the vanguard of our forces only to find that the place has been occupied for months and a fully fortified stronghold already exists, complete with a resident commander who we are now to become the errand boy for.

When we are sufficiently established, we join forces with the local Draenei (from the Alliance perspective) and fight off a major offensive against Karabor from those same Iron Horde we faced at the beginning.

At the end of this, we know exactly who we are: the resident commander of the primary Alliance or Horde force on Draenor.  And we know exactly what we must do: oppose and defeat the many warlord chieftains that comprise the Iron Horde and render them powerless to threaten Azeroth.  There is no confusion about where we are heading either, to Tanaan to confront Grommash Hellscream, Kilrogg Deadeye, and Kargath Bladefist.

Of course we know that new patches may introduce elements that could change the picture somewhat and we may be heading places that we can’t, now, anticipate. But at this moment, everything is clear.

And it is this moment of clarity that makes this expansion so compelling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Great Expectations: Lessons from Pandaria

We're poised on the eve of destruction, with the time until a new Warcraft expansion opens counted in hours, now, rather than days or weeks.  And from this perspective, I have to look back over the past two years and say that it has truly been a wild ride.  But more than that, it's been a revelation.  What from the outset seemed like a questionable choice on Blizzard's part has turned into a story experience that I found to be both unexpected and, ultimately, deeply satisfying.

So let's back up over two years ago and join in the BlizCon where it was announced that the new expansion would be called Mists of Pandaria, and the new race to be added to the game was a giant panda.  The look of shocked incredulity soon gave way to full fledged rants about Kung Fu Panda and how Blizzard was dumbing down the game, and trying to attract the pre-teen customer base with silly cartoon avatars.  Like Chris Metzen said at a Q & A session, "This is going to hurt, isn't it?"  This was nothing short of the developers ruining the franchise; a once-proud tradition thrown away for a quick buck.  I'm sure that there are still some people who feel that way.

But I don't.  After two years of playing on this continent, I am still impressed with the detailed paintings that we call the playing environment.  I can still follow the twists and turns of the ever-changing narrative and marvel at how far we've come, how deep we've become a part of the land, at how fully-formed and consistent the culture of the Pandarens was developed and slowly revealed to us through gameplay and interaction.

As a quick example, I like the way the story of the Mantid was handled.  First we see it from the perspective of the pandaren in the Valley of the Four Winds, to whom the mantid are monsters in the night, horrors who come seeking only to kill and who must be held back by the thin gray line of the Shado-Pan manning the Wall -- the only thing that keeps out the darkness.

Then we cross that wall and see things from the other side.  We see the wall in reverse, and come to know what motivates the swarm, and what trials they are subject to from within the Klaxxi council of Paragons.  And then, finally, after we have struggled along side these mantid champions to correct the wrongs in their own society, suddenly the perspective changes again.  We are brought down into the inner chamber and realize that the mantid are exactly what we knew them to be at the beginning: monsters in the darkness, with whom there is no reasoning, no negotiation.  There is only the madness that comes with worshiping Old Gods.

Everywhere we turn, from the Klaxxi to the yaungol to the hozen in upper Kun-lai Summit, the enemies we face weren't simply impersonal mobs to kill.  They were characters like we were, dealing with the reality of their own situation and the interaction of various pressures that drove them.  And these pressures were made the more urgent by the resurgence of the Sha.

The pandaren had imprisoned themselves within their own continent, sealed from the rest of the worlds by the mists, but also leaving the pandaren to their own fate.  Because of the ever-present spectre of the Sha, they could not fully live at peace.  At the same time, any hostile or violent act  threatened to unleash the sha that lurked beneath the Pandaren soil.  As a result, no progress could be made, and the pandaren culture remained virtually unchanged for the past 10,000 years.

All the violence represented by the Yaungol and the Mantid  could not be addressed, for fear of awakening the Sha, so year after year the pandaren endured the Mantid invasions from the stasis of their wall, fought a stalemate war with the Yaungol in Townlong Steppes, but never to the point where they could come to terms of peace with them;  never to the point where they could negotiate a peace from a position of strength.  Instead, they were locked in an ongoing struggle to hold the wall, against the mantid and yaungol alike.

As a result of this uneasy peace, this tenuous stalemate, Pandaria has remained largely unchanged.  This has been both a blessing and a curse.  When we look at what has happened to the rest of Azeroth in just the last 10 years, we can see events that would have effectively threatened the very existence of the planet, invasions that would have reached even the mist-shrouded pandaren and they have had no influence in the outcome, mere passengers on this burning train that is the Titan's favorite planet.

So then along came the Alliance and the Horde.  And the first thing they did was to begin to enflame old hatreds, both with each other and between the indigenous populations of the Jinyu and Hozen.  This culminated in the tragedy that happened the Jade Valley, destroying the jade statue 100 years in the making and manifesting a fully formed sha.  Even after this obvious display of the factions' inability to handle the situation, the White Tiger agreed to let us enter the Vale of Eternal Blossom.  And the question is, why?

The answer lies in the meaning of the tests that Xuen set for us in the great audience chamber of his temple.  The first was to see if we could master ourselves. It was the test of Violence.  "Let us see how this stranger deals with turmoil of the soul," Xuen advised Zhu.  The White Tiger declared, "We can agree that it is noble to fight for a righteous cause." The first trial showed that we were a war-like people and that not all violence is evil.

The second was the test of Anger.  As Zhi the Harmonious offered, "to live without anger is not to live at all."  This was exactly the life that the Pandaren had come to know over the past 10,000 years.  Not all anger is evil.

Finally, we were faced with the Sha of Hatred, and as Xuen commented, our hatred has a face - that of Garrosh Hellscream.  Our anger wasn't unreasoned and universal (like the hozen), but focused against a specific aggressor.

When we defeat them, Xuen says, "This one has indeed proven mastery over anger.  Between the young cub's words and the actions of this hero, I think I understand.  Those from beyond the mists are hardened by battle.  They are scarred, yes, but they have learned much."  Now the subtle implication here is that the Pandaren may have not learned as much.

As Taren Zhu predicted, that went all wrong in the end. but Zhu's initial reaction was one of fear.  Here was a group of adventurers who didn't understand the delicate balance that he had had to maintain all his life.  They were reckless and would "leave misery in their wake."

Ultimately, however, it was by throwing away the careful balance that Pandaria could actually move forward again.  And the pandarens themselves weren't able to make this choice.  As Lorewalker Cho explains on several occasions, it was only through the agency of the Outsiders that the beautiful Vale of Eternal Blossom could be ripped open and the corrupted Heart removed.  And it was only the Outsiders who had the strength to defeat the Heart, once it surfaced.  This was the real meaning of Xuen's test.  He was looking to see if we were strong enough to finish what we began.

I have to say that after taking part in this story, I truly feel like I was part of its development; not passively watching it unfold, but taking an active part to bring it about.  I felt like a hero in an epic saga, a participant in the great story of a people coming to fruition.

And I haven't even begun to talk about the more personal interactions with Jaina, Anduin, and Varian from the Shieldwall storyline, or the unmistakable feeling that somone is toying with your soul every time you talk to Wrathion.

Which brings me back to those initial misgivings about Pandaria and our experience there.  Whatever doubts we had were more than erased by the actual experience.  I fully expect the same thing to be true for Warlords of Draenor.  Experience has shown us that Blizzard is capable of putting on a great show, and telling tales woven with nuance and contradiction.  To me, Mists set a high standard for future expansions to live up to, and while I will be examining Warlords with a critical eye, I have to admit that I'll be mixing that with a note of optimism as well.  I think the new expansion will be great, and I'm going to give it every opportunity to live up to my expectations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Attacks of Opportunity: the Pre-Expansion Patch

Nothing good has ever come from complaining about a pre-expansion patch.  The devs are more likely to nerf things that are too good rather than attend to deficiencies.  But all in all I think we can say that the new expansion has well and truly started.  All eyes are looking forward, either in anticipation for what's coming, or in preparation for it by working through the final fragments of the old game that's rapidly falling behind us. 

I'm not going to enumerate every change that the patch brought with it, but certainly if you have many alts there were some distinct benefits.  First, the new quest line in Blasted Lands is worth taking your characters through, if for no other reason then to get re-acquainted with Thrall and Maraad as living characters in the lore.  The side benefit is that the series rewards you with several 515 armor pieces and one 520.

Or it would have, provided that you didn't complete it the first day like I did on my favorite character.  Yes, Blizzard has acknowledged the mistake but it's an open question whether they're likely to do anything about it.  On the other hand, if you were one of the few running old raids, you found that they were significantly nerfed by the stat squish to the point that Blizzard felt the need to power them back up a bit in the next patch.  So while I was an early adopter of the new content, and not getting the reward, I was not soloing raids on easy mode and, similarly, not getting rewards.

The irony here is that this quest series was advertised as an opportunity to boost the gear level of new characters before heading into Draenor.  So players flooded to the Blasted Lands with the characters that needed the rewards the most, excited for new content and a brief glimpse of what is to come.  The good news, of course, is that all of this has been fixed and the quests are rewarding gear as they should.

Gearing opportunities

For alts that are arrayed in Timeless Isle 496 gear, there are several options for improvement.  The Iron Horde quests have three rewards at ilevel 515 (necklace, cloak, ring) and one at 520 (trinket), which have helped several of my characters that don't always get enough attention.

At the same time Hallow's End is in full swing.  The Headless Horseman drops a 540 ring on every kill, not tied to the once-daily loot pumpkin, that come in four stat varieties.  Since a ring drops from every kill, it's perfectly reasonable to chain queue for the Horseman until you win the roll for the ring you need. This gives you your second ring, along with the one from the Iron Horde.

Within the loot pumpkin itself is the possibility for a plate helm or an agility sword.  While the  sword might be good for your enhancement shaman or rogue, the helm is an option for most of the plate-wearers. 

The other avenue available to the alt-friendly is the Shado-Pan Assault.  With the last patch, all gear from the Assault is purchased with gold; there's no longer any need for valor.  At neutral you can just walk up to the vendor in Niazao Temple and purchase a 522 necklace.  At friendly, however, you can pick out a number of other 522 pieces (rings, trinkets, bracers) everything but shoulders (which need higher rep) and boots (which they don't offer).  It seem that the whole ladder structure of unlocking a few items at each rep level has been eliminated and its now one giant buffet when you reach Friendly.  The catch is that the main way to gain reputation with the Shado-Pan Assault is by running the Throne of Thunder raid.

Raid Finding

Which brings us to LFR.  I've run a lot of RaidFinder recently, using undergeared alts, and I have to honestly admit that much of the toxicity and acrimony is gone.  I'm speculating that this is because everyone is so well geared and the raids are no longer so difficult that people's frustration levels are much lower.  Every run has been generally successful and peaceful.  Even when we've faced a few wipes, no one's become bitter.  All the bad behavior of the past (demanding that we kick the little ones, blaming the healers, mocking the fallen) has largely been replaced with patience and thoughtful explanations.  I don't expect it to last into the next expansion, when even in LFR things will be unfamiliar and challenging, but for now LFR has been a fun thing to do.

The main  reason I mention LFR as an attack of opportunity is that I was able to move from Neutral to Friendly with a single complete pass through the first of the Throne of Thunder raids, The Last Stand of the Zandalari.  The LFR drops from the raid bosses are only level 502 but the reputation unlocks grants access to the 522 gear at the vendor, as mentioned above.

The other reason, though, is that this is the last chance to see these raids while they are current content.  This is the last chance to run them with motivated and experienced players while they are even somewhat of a challenge and while they offer potentially useful rewards for something other than transmogging..  Soon enough they will be relegated to nostalgia runs that you grind for pets.

Draenor Rewards

Each of these activities is interesting in its own right, but I think it's worthwhile to question the entire exercise as merely an opportunity for better armor.

The argument runs like this:  in three week's time, we'll be rolling into the new expansion on Draenor and be up to our necks in new quests and quest rewards.  Also new in Warlords is that some quest rewards will be randomly boosted from green to blue, and from blue to purple.  Aren't we going to be replacing a lot of this gear in the first zone anyway?

Quests in the first zones should give rewards in the 510-520 range.  The quest rewards we pick up from the Iron incursion are typical of the first zone.  This means that your Timeless Isle gear will be replaced in short order with early quests.

However, anything above 510 will be a help with those early quests when you first hit the portal.  I remember many players experiencing frustration in Cataclysm when they entered Mount Hyjal in questing greens and blues and found it very difficult to solo.  The same will be true for alts whose gear is 429 and 463 blues from Townlong Steppes. Mists had Adventuring supplies vendors to help people catch up; it's unclear if Warlords will do the same.

The report from the Beta is that rewards from the questing portion of the game, from level 90 to 100, range from item level 500 to 600. Raiding loot, and anything from subsequent patches will move higher on the ladder.  The ranges overlap what's currently available from vendors and dungeons, so it won't be the same as Burning Crusade where elite raiding gear was replaced by the first quest rewards that came along.

Anything that you can do now will put you in a better position to experience the full story of the new expansion, to have the time and freedom to look around you as you travel through the new landscape, and the freedom to take advantage of new opportunities when they appear.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chasing Revan: the xp bonus

In a very perceptive comment to my last post, l0n3gun brought up one of the features announced with the new Shadow of Revan expansion for SWTOR that has already gone live. Bioware is increasing the experience gained from class quests by twelve times.  It has all sorts of implications not only for current subscribers but also for how the game may be played in the expansion.

I've seen a few misconceptions about the strength of the experience boost.  It's an odd number, 12, and it doesn't seem as impressive as it is.  It's easy to confuse 12x with 12%.  Think about the 2x XP boosts that you can buy on the cartel market or are sometimes awarded for quests.  Think about the double XP weekends that were so welcome last summer.  Now consider that this boost isn't 2x but 12x.  This bonus is huge.

The extra experience is only awarded to class quests, rather than the overall xp of other boosts, but I think this reveals a very purposeful intention on the part of Bioware.  It isn't just that they want to keep their players in the game while we wait for the expansion to be released, although that's definitely a significant motivation.  And it isn't simply to make sure that players have characters ready to see the new content, though again that's a primary factor.  And where did that number 12 come from anyway?  Why not 10x or 15x?

I suspect that the deep thinkers at Bioware limited the xp boost to class quests because they are genuinely proud of the stories they created for each of the eight classes and they want their players to experience them before they are consigned to irrelevancy.  They could have provided boosts for all experience, as they have in the past, but instead they decided to focus on class stories.  With a 12 time bonus it's very likely that you would advance far beyond a planet's level range if everything was boosted.  And in that situation, the player is likely to simply leave the planet half done and move on to the next one that provided the most efficient xp.  The golden thread of the story would most certainly be lost as you jump around from planet to planet.  Like having the entire season of your favorite TV show on DVD and watching the first 15 minutes of every episode.

In fact, this is the disjointed kind of experience that the early levels of Warcraft offer.  XP comes so rapidly that if you venture into a dungeon you're likely to complete it and find all your quests have turned gray.  I'd like to think that Bioware has learned from Blizzard's experimentation and has improved this next iteration.  I'm guessing that 12x boost was carefully designed to give enough xp to level the character with Class quests alone but allowing you to fully complete at least one story on each planet.

But that brings us to the implicit negative that's lurking here as well.  If the Class quest is the "good parts" version, what do we say about all the other quests that don't get boosted.  Are they mere filler?  I'm hoping that we could, perhaps, be seeing a subtle re-examination of the quality of quests on Bioware's part, that might be reflected in the upcoming expansion.  If Bioware acknowledges that all quests aren't the same and they've decided that the very best of the 1-50 experience lies in the class quests, it may not be too much to hope that the devs might bring us more of what they consider the best.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Old Republic Continues

In what was almost a stealth reveal yesterday, Bioware announced a new major expansion for Star Wars: the Old Republic.  Titled "Shadow of Revan", this is the second major story expansion of the game following "Rise of the Hutt Cartel" and like the previous release also includes 5 additional levels added to the cap.  We're also promised more flashpoints (unlike last time) and two new 5-boss operations.

In addition to the major story content, Bioware is also re-working the skill trees into a system they call "Disciplines."  Like Blizzard did last expansion, Bioware is replacing the largely ceremonial skill tree, where your choices are all but a foregone conclusion, with something more like a skill path.  As you level, the character progresses along a set path of acquiring new skills, but the path also unlocks a small pool of additional "Utility" skills from which the player can choose.  Theoretically, these utilities will change the way you play that character.

Finally, a way forward

What interests me most about the way they've approached this expansion is that they finally appear be adopting a "story first" philosophy.  Again this is all looking at appearances from a long way out, but it seems that Bioware has chosen a major story line involving a great, overarching enemy who threatens the galaxy, Empire and Republic alike.  At lease initially, every element of the expansion appears to be oriented toward facing this threat.  Finally, everyone is on the same page and participating in the same story.

This shared purpose and shared story isn't something we've been able to achieve since the game launched.  The initial 50-level experience was more like 8 stories being told in parallel, rather than one single story in which every class participated.  Each character ends up as a hero in its own class story, but relatively isolated from all the other classes.

At the same time, the galaxy has been torn apart by a number of minor and isolated threats, again, that were largely unrelated to each other.  From the Shroud to Toborro to whatever was happening on CZ-198, from the Gree to the Rakghoul, the characters seemed to be rushing around the galaxy putting out small fires.  I felt like we were watching the TV series, with each event a different episode, rather than watching a movie.

Even the Dread Masters were confined largely to something that happened in Operations.  It was only on Oricon that we eventually brought everything back together into a single story.

Star Wars Episode X: Shadow of Revan

Now, the approach feels different to me.  We've just experienced three story-rich flashpoints that introduce new characters and new environments and given us pieces of the puzzle, glimpses of what is to come.  And building anticipation for the main event, something that will require our total commitment and reward us with an epic and heroic adventure.

I realize that somewhere inside, I'm still yearning for Star Wars Episode X: Shadow of Revan.  I want an experience that rivals one of the main films, and I believe that the MORPG is capable of delivering it.  Clearly, Makeb did not reach that scale but Revan has the stature to be the next great villain.

 A brief glance back...

Just as a post script, I want to indulge myself for a minute by directing our attention to one of my posts back in August, SWTOR: Fall Calendar where I predicted that the new expansion would be released on December 2nd.  If you are a subscriber and pre-order, that is indeed the date when the game is first available.  That's also the date when the mechanical changes to skill trees go live.

So, while I claim that prediction is accurate, it's still up in the air whether we'll see any further update in the late October/early November timeframe as I also suggested. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of the Wilderness

Anyone with even a cursory interest in Star Wars probably has reason to celebrate this month, and it has nothing to do with The Old Republic MMO.  For me, this marks a pivotal moment in the history of the intellectual property.  And ever the optimist that I am, I think this turning point will mark the beginning of a profound upward trajectory when it comes to Star Wars storytelling.

As a brief aside, after the mad frenzy of posting inspired by the Blaugust Challenge, I took a week off from posting to recharge my brain.  My brain felt like a sponge that had been wrung dry, and needed a few days to regain its normal shape.  Now I feel like I haven't posted in months, which signals to me that I'm ready to go again.

Everyone who has a passing familiarity with the Star Wars IP is aware that Lucas sold the rights of the franchise to Disney, and that Disney, in turn, has announced its intention to make new films based in the Star Wars universe.  This is old news, of course, though to me it did signal a subtle change in the alignment of the universe.

To be specific,the Expanded Universe (EU to its friends) was a cheerful and chaotic place, full of rich and sometimes contradictory tales.  And not a few works either. Between the novels, comics and graphic novels, short stories, video and roleplaying games, hundreds of works using the Star Wars property have been produced. Only passing effort was made to reconcile the different characters and elements as each author was forging their own narrative.  Some of it was well done, others were wild flights of fancy that frankly weakened the core concepts.

At that time back in 2013, Kathleen Kennedy, the de facto CEO of all things Star Wars and confidante of George Lucas, established a Star Wars Story Group.  Their job was to be the keeper of the canon, and to establish what was accepted history, and what were Legends. Everything except the six films and the Clone Wars series was set aside - valuable contributions but not part of the Core Canon.

However, Kathleen had no intention of leaving things there.  Just as other properties had done before it, Star Wars indulged in a necessary reboot of the franchise. With the downsizing of the lore behind them, the SWSG began deliberations with several authors to create a new series of works that would be coordinated around the core of the films.

Which brings us to the present.  Early in September (just a few days ago) a new book called Star Wars: a New Dawn was put out in kindle and hardback with the contents endorsed by SWSG to be fully cannon. This is scheduled to be followed at regular two-month intervals, by  
  • James Luceno's Star Wars: Tarkin on Nov. 4,  
  • Kevin Hearne's Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi in Jan. 2015, and
  • Paul Kemp's Star Wars: Lords of the Sith next March.

The first book, A New Dawn is designed by SWSG to be a direct prequel to a new TV series in the style of SW: The Clone Wars called Star Wars Rebels which premiers October 13th.

All of this is in preparation for the new Star Wars movie Episode VII, as yet unnamed,  to be released next December, 2015.

What's Different This Time
From a personal perspective, as someone who is interested in the overarching story of Star Wars, I love the fact that we will still have the plethora of books, comics, games and films but their stories will be coordinated, rather than allowed to run wild.  I've talked elsewhere about how stories are told on three levels, the personal, the people, and the epic world/universe levels.  With this move, the SWSG is shoring up that epic universe level that has never quite made sense before outside the main movies.

Sometimes a franchise reboot gives audiences an entry point, a place to jump on to the moving train so they don't feel like they can never catch up.  After a while, the EU became overwhelming with it's sheer volume. If EU material had begun to dissolve in a tangle, this is the opportunity to climb on just as the train is leaving the station.

Now, provided that the SWSG is up to their rather difficult task, we don't have to worry about weeding out the dross, don't have to engage in fan edits and retcons of the EU timeline.  It will finally be worth while to pay attention to every venture, to follow each narrative, because for the first time it all counts.  Each of these disparate stories will make sense and all of it will be worth the serious SW fan's time.  That is the promise that the Story Group is making.

Third, there is some wishful thinking on my part.  The old narratives are being brought to a close and the focus is on the time directly after Return of the Jedi, the third of the original movie trilogy.  This choice is crucial because it allows the audience, if they wish, to largely ignore disappointing material from the prequel series.

Instead, it returns us to the beloved original characters that captured the essence and excitement of the films that started everything.  Audiences can start with A New Hope, the original Star Wars film, and move directly through those three movies into the new material from the Disney movies, without ever confronting midichlorians or Jar Jar.  This more than anything else shows me that Kathleen knows what she's doing.

I'm struck by the campaign-like structure of this release.   I reminds me very much of the MORPG timelines that we've seen recently.  Starting this month, there will be something new to see and learn in Star Wars every month or two until at least March, with more things undoubtedly planned to bring us up to the film release next December.  This is the kind of pre-planning that more closely resembles a MORPG, and seems designed to immerse the audience in the Star Wars universe - an audience that has been craving immersion for a very long time.

So with that calendar ahead of us, we head into the new era of Star Wars.  And right now we have the opportunity to start from the very beginning.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Twilight of Blaugust 2014

We've finally arrived at the conclusion of Blaugust and I'm fairly pleased with the result.  Not only did I post every day, but I also polished off a personal goal of reading at least two other Blaugust contributors each day as well. And I was but one of a large field of nimble posters who punched boredom in the face every day.  In the words of Zyngor, I say to all of them "Congrats on Blaugust Victory!"

I want to thank Belghast for bringing the idea to fruition, and providing the structure for making it happen.  It was a great motivation for me to write more and a great excuse to read gaming blogs while I was supposed to be working.

Personal growth
Perfect is the enemy of the good, and the enemy of my blog posts has been the need to revise.  Typically, I will think of something that inspires me to write, and I'll get the basic idea onto a page somewhere, but then I'll be overcome with doubts.  Maybe it really should be better researched, shouldn't this bit here be more completely sourced, have I really captured the essence of the argument?  I'll just set this aside for a few days until I can give it the treatment it really deserves.

By the time I look at it again, the event is no longer current, the discussion has passed on to something else, and I don't feel the urgency of my convictions anymore.  It would sometimes take me a month to write on a single topic, and by the time I was finished I wouldn't have improved the post that much anyway.  Blaugust taught me how to put an end to that nonsense.

Attacking on both fronts
Ultimately, I think there's room in blogging for both thoughtful commentary and initial honest reaction.  I think both lead to a better understanding of an issue and how I think about it.  Writing the initial surface thoughts lets me examine them more objectively and build them into something more coherent.

Not writing about something, conversely, means that this unpolished thought will bounce around in my head, always bringing my thoughts back to that initial starting point.  Blaugust has been the perfect exercise for sorting out these two different types of writing, and its a realization I never would have come to if I had continued to struggle with my old habits of a single post a month.

I've decided not to lose anymore posts to the monster of doubts.  I've also decided not to continue posting every day, but at the same time to set up a regular posting schedule.  I've decided to be more active in curating my blog roll because I've realized how useful it is as a tool for my own research.  I've decided to read, comment and like others' blog posts because as Chelsea pointed out every blogger is encouraged by a little feedback.

  • I think the format of reblogging individual posts onto the central Anook site was key for my enjoyment of the challenge.  It showed me how many other writers were posting every day, and it provided a central location to find everybody's new stuff.
  • I'm looking forward to next year's challenge.
  • I think we need a Blaugust Challenge 2014 Survivor badge.

This is the Thirty-first entry in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.