I've played a little World of Warcraft, though I have to confess I never really got into it. I think I reached 6th level, which devotees of the game will know you can manage in about an hour's play. I chatted with other adventurers in textese. I may have killed some orcs.
Those fantasy CRPGs and MMOs all seem too much the same to me - a vaguely medieval/gothic world, dwarves (often Scottish), elves (often dressed for Venice Beach), clanking armor, rangers and "magic-users". If it's medieval, it's the themepark version: medieval America. It's like a bunch of writers copied Tolkien, and then the Dungeons & Dragons designers took their cue from those guys, and then a dozen other role-playing games copied D&D, and then CRPGs like WoW drew their inspiration from there. Result: all too far from an original concept to avoid tasting stale.
Look at orcs. Tolkien's concept was interesting, a dark mirror held up to humanity's undercurrent of xenophobic hatred. Whereas all these green-skinned tuskers are a vague sort of mash-up with Edgar Rice Burroughs. Specifically, ERB meets Aurora monster kits by way of some cheap 1980s straight-to-video adventure.
When did orcs turn green? I think it was in grimy Brit hack-n-slay RPG Warhammer. But it could have been any one of a dozen games - once these tropes come in, they often spread like wildfire. It's like the selective sweep that proliferates a useful new gene - except that, in creative work, you aren't trying to evolve towards a perfect fit, you're hoping to create something a little bit different. Rather than look at what somebody did last week, it's often worth tracing right back before the new gene came in and taking a different path. That's how the designers of Ico came up with such a cool and coherent vision.
But that's just me. With upwards of 11 million subscribers, Blizzard needn't lose any sleep. Those orcs are making them some serious green!
Anyway, that's all just preamble to this interview with Sam Raimi on Collider. After Spider-Man 1 & 2 (let's try and forget 3) any new project of Raimi's commands serious attention and should get the benefit of the doubt. So it'll be interesting to see how he turns a D&Dish computer game into a story we can really relate to. All the same, when I hear him enthusing about the cinematic landscapes in WoW, I'm thinking how cool it would be if somebody showed him Outcast. Now that would make some movie!
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