Warcraft Movie: Why the Hate? (Spoiler Free)

Durotan RoarI walked out of the theater last night after watching Warcraft with only one thought on my mind: “That was really good. Why did this get such horrible reviews?” With a current Metacritic rating of only 32, to say that film critics have not received Warcraft well would be an understatement. Ok, so movie critics are just categorically biased against video game movies. The fans will like it, right? While some did, much of the gaming media has jumped on the hate bandwagon as well. Seriously, were they in a different movie than I was?

Let me say up front that I don’t know Warcraft lore well. At all. I played Warcraft III a little, but mostly in multiplayer, and that was years ago. I have had a lot of friends who have played WoW off and on over the years, but if any of them were lore junkies, they didn’t talk about it to me much. As such, when Stormwind and Dalaran look too much like they do in the era of WoW and not how they should look at this point in history, I don’t know the difference. I’m not saying that my ignorance excuses the film makers’ ignorance (or worse, willful disregard for major details), I’m just saying that it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie the way it would if I were a Warcraft fan. If I were, I’m sure I would rage right along with them on those points.

That said, I really thought that this movie, in a vacuum, did a lot of things really well. The CGI, for example, was amazing. I went in expecting to hate the orcs–they look ok in the super-stylized fantasy world that Blizzard has created, but their exaggerated proportions and weird tusks can’t possibly make the jump to photorealism, right?–but they were so expressive, something that is usually lost with CGI-ified characters, that I forgot within the first ten minutes to try to look for places where they look fake. I would argue that Warcraft does realistic, expressive CGI characters better than Avatar did, and everyone raved about how great Avatar’s characters were (granted, Avatar was 7 years ago, but few movies have managed to top it). I simply never felt, as many have accused it, like it was a bunch of people prancing around in front of a greenscreen. Magic was also really well done, especially in 3D. Only in one scene, involving a giant wall of lightning, did I think the spell effects looked cheap, but other than that they did an excellent job with it.

Another criticism is that there isn’t any character development. That simply isn’t true. I can’t talk a lot about it without spoilers (maybe I’ll post some spoilery thoughts if people are interested, let me know in the comments), but I think a case could be made that several characters show as much development as any character in most other blockbuster movies. Again, I can’t speak to whether or not the characters develop in a way that is consistent with the games, but to say that there is no development is a gross exaggeration. Also, many people felt that the movie jerked you around a lot, trying to tell too many stories in too many different places at once, but I’m not sure how you could possibly tell the story of Warcraft without showing both sides equally as well as the strife within each faction’s own ranks.

The most ridiculous claim that I’ve seen is that it’s some kind of Lord of the Rings wannabe. This claim is simply laughable, and makes me wonder if these reviewers, first of all, have even read The Lord of the Rings books (or at least watched the movies), and second, if they actually watched Warcraft or just watched some clips and made assumptions. If Warcraft is a Lord of the Rings ripoff, then literally every fantasy story of the last fifty years is as well. Lord of the Rings has had incredibly far-reaching impact on the fantasy genre, to the point where many would say that Tolkien invented the modern Fantasy story. Yes, there are orcs fighting humans, with the occasional magic-user thrown in… but that’s literally where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t without its flaws. It skims over some of the details, like how exactly the Dark Portal and fel magic corruption work and how the various characters came to have access to them. What’s worse is that the Dark Portal was changed a lot for the movie, so it’s not like they’re skipping over details they figure the audience knows, it was just poorly thought out. Also, several of the main characters’ deaths are rather sudden and unceremonious, killing them and moving on before it has sunk in. And (I don’t think this a spoiler since it was in the trailer) the whole thing with Thrall being orc Moses was really weird. That said, I don’t think it was any more flawed than the vast majority of movies that get much better ratings than Warcraft.

So why all the hate? I know only a smattering of the lore from the Warcraft ‘verse, and my wife knows even less, and we both came out of the movie extremely satisfied with the story, production, and thoroughly confused about all of the hate it has been getting. What am I missing?

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My PAX East 2016 Panel Highlights

Two weeks later, I’m still trying to decide if my favorite part of my first trip to PAX this year was the expo floor or the panels. Disappointingly, just like the expo floor, there weren’t a ton of MMO related panels other than Final Fantasy XIV, which I’m not really interested in. One of the very first things I wanted to see on the first day was a panel on indie MMOs, but sadly I missed most of that while playing BMV Simulator 2016 (aka the giant line to get in the front door). Props to the PAX and venue staff for opening additional side entrances for Saturday and Sunday, by the way; it helped a lot, and it meant that one entrance was located conveniently right across the street from the hotel we were staying in. The only other MMO panel that I caught was one on free to play vs. pay to win, which was interesting, but nothing I haven’t seen debated endlessly since free to play became a thing. Surprisingly, the panelists completely failed to point out the fact that we’re talking about paying to win in possibly the only genre of video games designed with literally no win condition. It was good to know, at least, that people in the industry play games other than just their own, and that they have the same conversations about this stuff we do (for instance, there was universal agreement on the panel that they hated putting lockboxes in their games, but make them a crapton of money, so they kind of had to to keep the game going). There were a lot of non-MMO-related panels that I really enjoyed, though. Here are my highlights.

Most Entertaining: Master of Orion Voice Actors
Master of OrionFunny story, I almost didn’t go to this panel, and it ended up being one of my favorites of the whole weekend. My wife was talking to some of her friends about their PAX free pin collection, and Orion was one of the panels giving them out this year. This got me to read the description (marketing works!), which is when I realized that they were going to have Alan Tudyk, Dwight Schultz, and Nolan North there. That’s right, the actors for Hoban Washburne, Reg Broccoli Barclay, and… well, some voice or other in just about every game with a decent voice acting budget that you can think of. It was really interesting getting to hear them talk about how they transitioned from TV acting into doing voice work for games, and how much more they’ve enjoyed voice acting. One memorable moment was when Tudyk was talking about how he got his game voice acting start in Halo 3 through some connections (apparently his friend and Firefly costar Nathan Fillion knew some people at Bungie), when Nolan North put on a forced smile and interjected “I had to audition for my part.” It’s spontaneous banter like that that makes these kind of panels fun.
Sadly, while the panel was extremely entertaining, I really don’t know anything more about the game now than I did when I went in. The extent of what they said about the game itself is that it’s like the originals but prettier and “better” (whatever that actually means). The Steam trailer isn’t much more informative. As someone who never played the originals, that doesn’t tell me anything. The producer and loremaster were there as well, but sadly they weren’t given the chance to talk much at all. That kind of marketing usually signals to me that the developers spent most of their budget on voice acting and graphics at the cost of gameplay, but Wargaming, a company that got their start making strategy games, but are now known as the makers of World of Tanks and its various spinoffs, seems to have a lot of money to throw at games at the moment, so maybe they’ll pull it off. The game is currently $50 in early access, so I’m going to hold off on buying it until it’s either out of early access or cheaper (preferably both), but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Most Informative: Atari Game Design
This panel was from a couple of guys from a podcast called Geeknights. The general premise was that, in order to design good games, you need to understand what you’re designing at its most basic level. What better way to do that than to go back to a time when games were crammed onto such tiny cartridges that, as they said, the design and programming were the same thing? Good design is good design at any level, regardless of how simple or complex the game is. It was a really insightful discussion of what makes a good game, especially a good multiplayer game, and how tweaking rulesets can completely change the way the game is played, as well as how they can create potential for unintended aberrant behavior.

Biggest Disappointment: The Cutting Edge of PC Gaming with Newegg
I’m not sure what I really expected from this panel, but what I got was a bunch of hardware manufacturers from companies like Samsung, AMD, NVIDIA, and Logitech sitting around agreeing with each other that VR is absolutely the future of entertainment, gaming, and eSports. Entertainment? Sure, whatever. Gaming? Maybe, for a select audience. But eSports? No way. Maybe five or ten years from now someone will stumble upon this post and laugh at how shortsighted and unimaginative I was today, but I really don’t foresee a day when pro gamers will strap on an Oculus Rift and grab a motion controller to play their MOBAs, RTSes, and FPSes. We’re talking about people who count frames and actions per second. You really think they’re going to switch to aiming, or even just moving the camera around, with motion-controlled headsets? I left about half way through, and I don’t regret it. The people up there were salesmen for companies that make hardware for gaming computers, so of course they’re going to say that the future of gaming is something that will make you want to upgrade your computer to the cutting edge every couple of years. I guess I can’t blame them for that–it’s their job–but I just wish there had been some dissenting opinion on the panel. Someone to at least say that VR isn’t for hardcore eSports Pros, it’s for people who are interested in an immersive graphical experience. I also wish they would have actually talked about, I don’t know, some existing PC hardware that isn’t an unproven overengineered monitor, but it was only an hour, I guess they can only do so much.

Warcraft
Warcraft Movie
I’ve never been that interested in Warcraft lore; I never played WoW and didn’t play much of the campaign in the RTSes. I wasn’t that impressed by the early trailers, probably because they were designed to build hype for WoW players with a bunch of “I’ve been there!” moments and nostalgia feels. That’s fine; I’m not the real target audience here. But as we get closer to the movie’s release and get to see more in each trailer (including the one they premiered at PAX), I’m starting to think there’s a chance that the movie won’t be as bland and generic as I thought from the early teasers. From the first time I heard about it, I questioned the wisdom of the idea of doing a movie involving Warcraft’s horribly proportioned Orcs with live action actors, but it seems like they’ve really done a good job making it look good (in my defense, the Hulk movies were still fresh in our minds when they first announced plans to do a Warcraft movie, so naturally that train wreck is what came to mind when talking about making actors green and overly muscular).
The panel itself, which featured director/cowriter Duncan Jones and Orgrim actor Robert Kazinsky, was interesting if only to hear how many people involved in the film were actually big fans of the franchise, from Kazinski himself, to several of the actors (including Jones, who has apparently been raiding as an Orc Death Knight since WotLK), to the people at ILM who made the props. The Warcraft movie has been in and out of production for over ten years with a variety of directors and scripts, and I think Blizzard waited so long because it took them that long to find someone who truly cared about their IP. Or maybe they just finally desperate enough to get people back into WoW that they were willing to settle, we’ll have to wait until the movie comes out.

My PAX East 2016 Highlights: The Expo Floor

I know I’m a little late on writing this up–the days following the expo were a little crazy–but I wanted to share my experiences at my first gaming convention, PAX East. I’ve been watching shows like E3 and PAX from the outside for years, and I’ve always wanted to go, but have never had the opportunity. Then some friends, veteran PAXgoers, offered us a couple of their tickets, and I knew I had to go. To me, PAX was two distinct experiences: The claustrophobic-yet-exciting expo floor with all of its developers and vendors vying for your attention, and the more passive and interesting panels. Today I’d like to highlight a few of my personal favorite things from the expo floor. I’ll talk about my favorite panels in the coming days. I feel a little bit bad about my choices (only a little bit), because the show was really stolen by shooters like Overwatch and MOBAs like League of Legends, but those aren’t really my thing. But hey, this is my blog; I can write about whatever I want, right? Without further ado, here is my list.

Favorite Upcoming Game: Hob
Hob LogoIf you haven’t played Runic Games’ excellent Diablo-like Torchlight II, stop what you’re doing and go grab it. It’s probably my post played game on Steam, and the community has come up with some very well done mods. So when I heard that Runic was working on a new game called Hob, and that it was going to be at PAX, I had to check it out. I got to play a demo at their booth, and, while it had a uniquely Runic feel to it, the gameplay was much different from Torchlight, in all the right ways. From what I can tell, it’s more like Zelda than Diablo, with a bit of Metroid thrown in. It sports linear (presumably non-random) maps with a lot of smooth platforming, and item upgrades as you go rather than the levels, skills points, gear drops, and totally flat maps you’d associate with Diablo-likes. One such upgrade was the grappling hook, which had a very Metroid look and feel to it. They did a good job of using the grappler in creative and interesting ways, both as a means of puzzle solving and as a part of boss fights. Overall it had a great atmosphere and the quality gameplay I’d expect from Runic, and I’m excited to get to play more of it when it launches. Sadly, the guys at the booth didn’t have a launch target date.
Incidentally, I inquired about the promised Torchlight Mobile, and they said it’s still in development, also without a launch date. To me, the fact that this indie studio is supposedly working on two different games at once means that Torchlight Mobile is either nearly finished or nearly abandoned. Hopefully it’s the former, because, while the Play Store has a variety of action RPG titles, none of them compare to the quality of the Torchlight series.

Favorite Early Access: 20XX
20XXIf you’re a Mega Man fan, you can already guess what this game is. For those not in the know, 20XX is the ambiguous year(s) in which the Mega Man and Mega Man X games take place. Basically, 20XX is a faithful recreation of the best thing about the Mega Man X games, with a uniquely indie spin, even down to the choice of two playable characters, who play like X and Zero, respectively. The levels are randomized, so things are a little different every playthrough. Rather than the “Eight bosses in any order” model of the Mega Man games, 20XX takes an arcade approach–think Rogue Legacy or some of the other roguelite games we’ve seen in recent years–with the player trying to get through as many levels as they can before running out of health. Constant references to geek, gaming, and popular culture make the game extra entertaining. I got a chance to talk with both the programmer and the artist (who, as far as I can tell, comprise the entire team, which, as a member of a two man game dev team myself, is very encouraging), and they were both cool guys who seemed passionate about their game. They told me they are trying to learn from the mistakes and disappointments of certain other Mega Man-like games (I can’t imagine what they were talking about) who overpromised on their feature set and didn’t listen to their community early enough in the development process. As far as I can tell, they’re doing a great job so far.
The graphics in 20XX aren’t going to win any awards, but they’re far from painful to look at (which, to be honest, is all I’m really looking for when I play a 2D platformer, especially an indie one), and the music is perfect for an indie Mega Man-ish game. I’ve already spent several hours in the game, and it’s exactly what I was hoping it would be.
You can get it now on Steam Early Access. The devs tell me that the price will only continue to go up as the game develops, with a final cost around $15, so picking it up sooner rather than later seems like a good idea.

Favorite Cosplay: Mega Man, Proto Man, and Metal Man

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I didn’t get these cosplayers’ names, but if you know them I’d be happy to attribute if you leave a comment

Speaking of Mega Man, I couldn’t help but share this awesome Mega Man group cosplay, which was by far my favorite cosplay at PAX. I didn’t get it in this picture, but their buster guns even lit up!
From what I saw, Pokemon trainers were by far the most popular cosplay this year, outnumbering the ever-present Links and Vault Dwellers. I also saw a really impressive Sith Twi’lek couple, but sadly didn’t get a picture. I was surprised to see a number of oldschool RuneScape cosplayers, though I guess a paper crown and a cardboard anti-dragon shield isn’t exactly the most involved or expensive cosplay out there.

Sadly there wasn’t much MMO presence on the floor this year, and the ones that were there were games I’m not as interested in (like Final Fantasy XIV), but that’s likely due to the fact that there aren’t many new MMOs on the horizon right now. There was still a lot to see and do, and plenty I never got to. PAX East 2016 was my first gaming convention, and if it’s the only one I ever get to go to, I’ll be satisfied. I’d love to make it an annual thing, but realistically it may not be possible for a while, and that’s ok.
Be sure to check back soon for part two, where I’ll talk about some of my favorite panels!