Thursday, August 21, 2008

How much of WoW is Steampunk?

I've seen a couple blogs today talking about the addition of the Gnomish motorcycle aka "The Hog" to the growing stable of mounts available in the Wrath of the Lich King. Some see it as a sign that World of Warcraft is starting to go overboard on pop culture references in an attempt to retain players. Others just think it looks cool and point to the long history of mechanical devices in World of Warcraft. Indeed if you've followed the series through the RTS games then you know that helicopters, dirigibles, and explosives are as much a part of Warcraft as magic. I've long held a suspicion that part of World of Warcraft's charm was that it incorporated a little bit of everything into its mixture.

Still there's a large amount of anachronistic technology in the game that makes me wonder if it can still be classified as fantasy. There's a magic in the game and it tends to follow all the laws of high fantasy as established by Tolkien's work but sprinkles some stuff which seems straight out of the movie Steamboy. You can find weird trains and dirigibles being used as transportation between cities in the game and Ironforge even has an airfield hidden on top of it. Lets also not forget (though most people want to) the entire dungeon of Gnomeregan is filled with mechanical and clockwork creations. If fighting a gnome in a steam powered tank with machine guns doesn't break the fantasy immersion then I think WoW can survive a WWII style motorcycle.

I guess since steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy then WoW feels free to treat it as a sub-genre of lore in its game. You usually only ever find mechanical inventions around the short races like gnomes, dwarves, and goblins. The rest of Azeroth seems to mostly depend on magic like civilized people. Still it would be interesting to see a MMO that used steampunk throughout the majority of its lore and keep magic in the background. I always thought the world of Final Fantasy 6 (also titled 3 in America) would be a good background for a steampunk MMO, but that could just be because it was the first time I ran into magic and machinery side by side.

Still as I've said before the MMO genre is not know for quickly reinventing itself and it seems unlikely that any studio would choose such a small sub-genre of fantasy. Still I can't help, but think there's a lot of other people who would appreciate a change of setting in the MMO world. Who knows maybe we'll get lucky and either Blizzard's next MMO or the secret "Copernicus" project will go that direction.


Tipa said...

Modern fantasy MMOs do magic on the Vance-ian model, actually. D&D's (original) magic system was based on that used in Vance's "Dying Earth" books, even including some of the same spells. The immortal sorcerer whose body parts would cause so much trouble in early D&D, Vecna, was an anagram of Vance.

The original D&D books had a suggested reading list that introduced me to a lot of my favorite fantasy authors. Everyone says D&D was Lord of the Rings set to paper, but there was a lot more of Rhialto, Fafnir and the Gray Mouser in it than hobbits!

I always thought of Steampunk as a sub-genre of Science Fiction? Gadgets that run on magic and invented by gnomes, though, run all the way back to the places Tolkein stole all his stuff from, the ancient legends that form the basis of the Ring of Nibelung.

Steampunk, as a genre, is usually set in Victorian or Edwardian times.

Kiseran said...

I'm in no way a lore fanatic, but I think Blizzard is overdoing it with their Steampunk. I can live with some of the more primitive things like goggles and the goblins building bombs more dangerous to themselves than to any enemy is actually funny. But even mention the word "Gnome" and I'm getting a Stroke! This race doesn't fit in WoW and arguments like "but they are cute" or "but they are funny" really don't help to change my mind. And motorcycles? If they come into the game I want them cheap to produce and with a serious chance of blowing up anytime, taking their owner with them! I'm very happy that I never saw a Netherrocket up until now, this thing must evaporate any sense of a fantasy world wherever it appears..

Heartless_ said...

I see nothing remotely steam punk about "The Hog", just as I found nothing steam punk about the helicopter added.

The mounts of WoW have been a mixed bag. War bear = ultra cool. Helicopter = ultra lame. Polar bear = cool. The Hog = lame. Raptor = cool. Mechanical chicken = questionable.

Relmstein said...

All of the short races seem to have a lot of techonology around them and not just the gnomes. The goblins have all those giant robot treeshredders and the dwarves make use tanks and airplanes in defense of Ironforge.

I guess the real question is how many players prefer a pure fantasy setting compared to one where some mid-level techonology is allowed. I've read so much pure fantasy in my youth I guess I enjoy it when a little bit of other genres get into the mix.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get why people are so angry about the hog as if it's a total break from the norm, when there's so much similar stuff already in WOW that's been there since the start (dwarf steamtanks, gnome mounts, etc).

*vlad* said...

Did anyone play 'The Chaos Engine'?
That game was firmly set in a Steampunk world. What a classic game, too.

I can cope with the clunky Gnome and Goblin mechanicals in WoW, but I'm very much against the 'hi-tec' Science Fiction that creeps in now and again in Outland.
If you have laser rifles, why bother with swords?

Defiance said...

"Still it would be interesting to see a MMO that used steampunk throughout the majority of its lore and keep magic in the background"

You might find it interesting (not a great MMO) but you may find it useful in your genre driven question.

Neo Steam MMO

PTownPilgrims said...

To Kiseran:

Gnomes have been in the Warcraft world (not World of Warcraft) since Warcraft II: Tides of War came out. They've have had sprinkles of steampunk for a long time now. Warcraft II came out in '95.