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Travels through Azeroth and Outland comes to a close

I've been pretty vocal in the past about my intense love for Travels through Azeroth and Outland. It's a five-year, player-penned travelogue that takes readers on an expansive journey through every zone in the pre-Cataclysm game. Over the years, it's attracted a lot of attention due to the incredible quality of its writing and storytelling. Not only does it have its own TV Tropes entry, but even Blizzard's taken notice, and we've gotten the opportunity to interview its writer.

Even if you're not a roleplayer or all that interested in WoW's lore, Travels has an unsettling capacity to get you thinking about the deeper implications of the game's quests and become absorbed in the narrator's observations. It is, quite simply, one of the best pieces of fan fiction I've ever read and a hugely addictive story. If you haven't read it, please do. You will never see the game the same way again.

But, as with all good things, Travels has reached its end. While Zac, its author, plans to post some story cues related to the Cataclysm expansion on his travelogue's forums, he's wrapped up the main storyline, and our beloved narrator -- a Forsaken named Destron Allicant -- is riding off into the sunset. I was lucky enough to talk extensively with Zac about what spurred the travelogue, how he sees the various Azerothian races, and good versus evil in Blizzard's universe.

WoW Insider: One of the things that's always impressed me about the series was the simple genius of using a Forsaken narrator -- someone who had lived as a human and had memories of fearing and hating the Horde, yet found himself on their "side" later and subjected to Alliance abuse. This put Destron in an excellent position as a narrator who wouldn't necessarily trust anything said by either faction, but did you ever feel limited by that? What parts of the narrative don't happen because Destron is who he is?

Zac: The travelogue needed a narrator who could visit both Horde and Alliance territories. Using a goblin was the obvious choice, but telling the story from a Forsaken perspective struck me as more interesting. You bring up an good point about how his state allows him to look at both sides of the faction war with skepticism, but I actually didn't explicitly think of that when creating him. It just turned out to be a natural development.

I never really felt limited by using a Forsaken narrator. Doing so provided an outsider's viewpoint of sorts, which I think helps, since in a way we're all outsiders to Azeroth. Certain elements of the setting did fall by the wayside as a result; you wouldn't expect a Forsaken travel writer to be able to give a very good account of local cuisine, for instance. At the same time, I'm not sure how well I'd have described such things, so it ended up working in my favor.

Is there any event that you wished Destron had been present to record (e.g., any of the new storylines introduced by content patches since Travels began)?

I've been doing this for so long that it's tough for me to remember my reactions to all of the different patches! I was actually able to incorporate most of the ones that really caught my interest. It helped that whatever I was writing at any given time was behind the game's actual progression (as in, I was finishing the Outland chapters several months after Wrath of the Lich King's release). This meant that, by the time I started writing about a section fleshed out in the patch, it was pretty easy for me to include if I so chose.

What I'd like to add would be all the new and refurbished zones in Cataclysm! Ultimately, however, it's time for me to concentrate writing different kinds of stories. On my forums, I'm making a series of non-narrative, "Cliff's Notes" versions of what I'd planned to write for the new zones. These are easy to make and don't distract much from other projects (or schoolwork). Plus, since they're forum threads, there's more opportunity for dialogue with or feedback from readers.

You've said in our previous interview that you started out as an English major in college before switching to history, but Travels seems oddly well-informed by anthropological perspectives as well. Do you have any formal training in this?

This is among the most flattering things anyone's ever said about the travelogue! That said, aside from a few undergraduate classes, I have no formal grounding in anthropology. My dad got his BA in anthropology, and I learned a little bit about the subject growing up. Also, history does tend to overlap with anthropology.

Telling a coherent story within the limitations imposed by an MMO is pretty difficult. What has Blizzard done well with respect to storytelling in WoW? What needs work?

It's interesting to look at WoW's development. The game started with a pretty much unshakeable status quo, up until Wrath. Now, with Cataclysm, nothing really seems so permanent, which makes the game more exciting, in my opinion.

I actually don't think that the MMO is necessarily the best vehicle for storytelling, simply because it has to keep track of so many different things (e.g., race/class balance, raid content, PVP, etc.). They also need to keep a steady cash flow, since the game demands constant maintenance and upkeep.

All in all, Blizzard's done a solid job with the medium, considering (what I see as) its inherent storytelling limitations. On the other hand, the MMO is an excellent vehicle for players to create their own stories, if they so choose. As for what needs work, I'd say that more time should be spent on fleshing out the existing races that are short on lore, like the draenei and the worgen.

On that note, the draenei's characterization was arguably the most interesting and creepily disturbing among all the races seen. One of the things you wrote in the travelogue's encyclopedia of references and inspirations never left me: "(They're) a race of saints, and that's exactly what makes them so frightening." Can you comment on why you decided to portray them this way?

The draenei were a bit tricky to write. The biggest problem is that, even now, I don't feel like I have a really good grasp on them. I know that they are noble and deeply religious, and have all the wisdom that comes from more than 25,000 years of history. Unfortunately, not much has been revealed about their society (family structure, social structure, etc.), much less than has been shown for the goblins or orcs.

Since religion seemed to be the core of draenic society, I built on that. Though they follow the Light, I didn't think it likely that their version would be at all similar to what we see in human or dwarven lands. They've followed the Light for tens of thousands of years and have gotten perhaps a purer version of it. At the same time, who's to say that their pre-Light culture didn't also influence them in some way?

As the Light tends to be a somewhat community-oriented religion, I decided to take this to something of an extreme. In the dialogue I wrote for some of the draenei, I tried to echo some of the more traditional communist/Marxist rhetoric: Everything should be shared, the collective is supreme, the Light as a historical inevitability. Thing is, the draenei can actually make the system work, since they aren't humans. But this also comes at a cost; draenic society would likely be deeply alienating for any other race. Also, their tendency towards groupthink might promote stasis. (I used this to explain why, after more than 25,000 years of studying the arcane, their mages don't seem to be much better than any other race's.) Draenic society is a true utopia for the draenei; thing is, it's not a utopia for anyone else.

That really seems to come out in the chapters on Shattrath and how the draenei struggle to run a city of refugees. Are the draenei good people in an impossible situation, or do they simply think they're good people while being unwilling to adapt to how other races see and interact with a morally gray world?

I see the draenei (at least, as they're presented in the travelogue) as somewhere in between. They really are good, but in being good and right for so long, it's hard for them to really see how their ways might not be appropriate for everyone. The draenei have become the best they can be, but if other races were to attain a similar level of enlightenment, it might look quite different.

Would you mind giving us your perspective on how you wrote the different races?




Filed under: Lore, Interviews, Arts and Crafts

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