Fourteen years on, WoW developers discuss the role women play in the story in new interview
It’s fair to say that for a long time now, there’s been some debate on the role of leading women characters in World of Warcraft. We can all pick out a few choice moments over the years. There were the roles of Aysa and Ji in Mists of Pandaria and some of Ji’s more unfortunately dialogue on the beta, or the Yrel/Maraad relationship as it evolved over the course of the Warlords of Draenor beta before launch, or even the Where’s Jaina? discussions during Legion, as the former head of the Kirin Tor seemingly vanished from the world after resigning during the demon invasion.
But if there’s anything to be said about Battle for Azeroth it’s that women are front and center. With Sylvanas Windrunner the current Warchief, Jaina Proudmoore the new Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras, and Princess Talanji of the Zandalar as the effective poster faces for Battle for Azeroth and deeply involved in the expansion’s story — and soon Queen Azshara to make her in-game debut in patch 8.2 — World of Warcraft has finally moved to a story that involves its rich legacy of female characters.
Now Cinematic Project Director Terran Gregory & Senior VP of Story Development Lydia Bottegoni have been interviewed by Forbes, talking about a wide variety of subjects including the shift in WoW storytelling that’s making use of the game’s deep bench of women, who often seemed to take a back seat in previous expansions.
Heather Newman: Talk to me about the transition that has gotten us to this point.
Lydia Bottegoni: We didn’t end up here on purpose. What I love about where we’ve ended up, and what I love about the Warbringers cinematic threesome in particular, is that is all came together organically. We got there from years and years of storytelling and history.
These are not characters that we just plunked down into some marketing angle. This is actual, genuine storylines that have grown up and matured, and then we happen to be at this crossroads.
Somebody commenting on the Lost Honor cinematic said, “You know. It feels a little unfair that you’ve got these two very powerful men that are gonna go after Sylvanas.” My response was, “Oh, clearly you don’t understand Sylvanas, because I would not use the word ‘unfair…’ but it’s gonna be fun.”
It’s fair to say that to some degree people have been waiting years to see these characters get their storylines — Both Sylvanas and Jaina have moved from secondary characters in Warcraft III, each a victim of Arthas’ descent to madness in their own way, to characters finally at the helm of their own stories for better or for worse. In the case of Sylvanas it’s definitely for the worse for her enemies. One of the points Terran made that I find interesting is around the idea that in many cases these characters all date back more than fifteen years at this point, and what we’re seeing is simply the result of WoW having finally chewed its way through older storylines and older characters to the point where newer characters like Talanji and Taelia can be introduced and ones like Jaina and Azshara can finally get their day.
I’ve never worried overmuch about the idea of it being bad to introduce characters on purpose, but if it does happen organically, that’s less important than if it’s done well or not. With Battle for Azeroth still approaching the mid point of its story, we’ll get to see how that plays out. A point that Lydia Bottegoni made that I felt really emphasized what I hope is an ongoing trend in Battle for Azeroth is about the use of quiet character moments to offset big action set pieces.
But one should notice — we hope that they notice — that the cinematics that we’ve done recently are more quiet, character thoughtful pieces. We love action. We love battles, of course. It’s a lot of what you’re always gonna see.
But we have had several cinematics that have come out that, including Old Soldier, where there are these more quiet, thoughtful, introspective moments and that you really get to take in these characters, and enjoy them, and try to understand them a little bit more. And I think that’s, thematically, a little bit of a shift.
With patch 8.1 coming in December, we’ll get to see how the story progresses with the Darkshore Warfront and Battle for Dazar’alor, and the Story Development department will doubtless shake us to our core with new cinematics and other storytelling means. It’s important to me to remember that we’re not even half-way through this expansion yet — there’s a lot more story coming in 8.2 and beyond it, and we’ll be living with these characters for a while. I find myself interested in which of them has the staying power of a Sylvanas or a Jaina — will we be talking about Talanji in a decade? Will we see Taelia again down the road? I loved Yrel, but aside from some hints that she’s turned fanatical in the Mag’har Allied Race storyline, we haven’t seen her or heard from her since Warlords of Draenor. It’s one thing to introduce a new character, but quite another for that character to become one we get to see past a certain point.
Still, it’s great to see that Blizzard’s Story Dev team is working to break out new characters and give us new stories like this. You can read the full interview with Lydia Bottegoni and Terran Gregory over on Forbes.
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