Mists of Pandaria Cinematic Debut and A Retrospective on WoW Cinematics

The Mists of Pandaria cinematic finally came out this morning, a few short weeks before the release of the pre-MOP 5.0 content patch and a month shy of the expansion dropping. I watched the whole thing a couple of times to get the full effect. My initial feelings is that it is lighthearted but with a touch of seriousness and conveys a tiny snippet of the overall tone of the expansion well. It illustrates the inherent conflict in the Alliance vs. the Horde and sets the Pandaren nation as a contrast to that. It sets up the initial events leading up to the Azeroth primary races finding Pandaria after a naval battle and revealing the rich landscape that they didn’t know about.

Past that though?

MANLY MEN DOIN’ THANGS! HITTING STUFF! BREAKING SHIT! SPITTIN’ ON GROUND! MRARRRRRR! MEN MEN MEN!

I can’t get an accurate confirmation as to whether the pandaren man in the trailer is Chen Stormstout or not but the fact of the matter is that this trailer is literally and utterly masculine. It features male power fantasies and counterpoints them with a more wise, agile man. It’s all men! All men, all the time. Just the way we like it, eh?

Barf!

I could easily see this being an amusing bit of symbolism for masculine conflict resolution and colonialism. The problem is that most of the viewers are not going to reflect on some of the subtleties here. Let’s take a magical journey through this trailer, shall we? (If it helps, some of this could be interpreted as the same tone as this. Thanks, @iateyourfood!)

Note: Lots of Images

I admit I really liked the voice-over asking the really hard questions but the nature analogy seemed very cliché. I will take this moment to say that the animation for the cinematic is a far cry better than the original cinematic. Very lifelike in some places. The cinematic also sets up, as I said before, the initial story of how people find Pandaria: a huge naval battle crash lands Horde and Alliance forces and strands them on this mysterious land shrouded in… well I’m sure you can guess.

Our first manly man, the delegate from the Horde! Let’s call him Thunk Rockjaw. Thunk, despite having eaten several full villages of Night Elves, does still manage to have a beautiful, expressive face. The detail on the armor, hair and his skin is just unbelievable. You can also see his WICKED SICK TATTS, BRO. Is this the same orc from the other cinematics? Who knows. I’m sure someone will figure it out.

And here comes the Alliance. Admiral Chestyhunk. Captain Hunkachunk. Slam Beefchin. Sizzle Beefslab. Reportin’ for duty with a very sharp stick.

He’s going exploring on this jungle island full of ruins that look radically different. This is NEW! STRANGE.

Secondary note: I hate to see you leave, Captain Beefypecs, but I love to watch you go.

Thunk Rockbuff spies the enemy. Sizzlechin Rockgroin uses up most of the animation budget on his glistening, dewy, chest hair. I really wanted to call this pic the PINNACLE_OF_MASCULINITY.jpg. My computer almost exploded from this much testosterone oozing out of my video card but I cooled it down with some compressed air and playing Cher on my iTunes.

RARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

DON’T MAKE A MESS IN OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES, THUNK, PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW

Smolder Beefgrin can ring my beelll, ring my belllllllllll…

I like the salt/mud detail.

I’MMA FIGHT YOU

A CHALLENGER APPEARS

Whoa, it might not be human. Look at those eyes. And the noises! I swear though, if Pandaren have roarly-morwrorrr noises like the Worgen sniff, I am going to turn off all my in-game sounds permanently.

The fur detail is really intense. I’m pretty impressed.

The animations for the Pandaren in the trailer was one of the more impressive things given the weight/height of him. Interestingly enough, Pandaren are as tall/taller than Humans or Orcs, but he looks rather short in the trailer. I liked the fighting stance though.

Captain Sizzlebritches cannot best the Pandaren. For shame.

I couldn’t get a good shot of it but you can see lots of really intriguing clothing details, including the bottles hanging off the belt.

YOU WERE BESTED BY A CAREBEAR, ADMIRAL CHESTHUNK

NOT IN MY HOUSE *expertly arranges post back into place*

Anytime I want to go into discussing toxic masculinity, I think I’ll just use this as a sort of LOLCATS-style reference. Because really, dual-fisting weapons, the vacant expressions, the INTENSE ‘ROID muscles, it is pretty much all jammed into this picture. This is like some sort of Liefield-cum-Conan manliness wet dream.

WELP, WE AT LEAST KNOW HOW EACHOTHER FIGHTS, SO LET’S STOP FIGHTING AND COOPERATE SO WE CAN FIGHT THIS DUDE! FIGHTING! YEAH

I LIKE BEEF JERKY!

*TUSSLE*

The Pandaren moved with a lot more agility and weightlessness than his size would suggest. I couldn’t tell if that was intentional or a flaw in animating mass/gravity.

Uh-oh. Shit’s about to get REAL.

OH MY GOD, I GET WHY  IT IS CALLED MISTS OF PANDARIA NOW

WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Beautiful scenery, with requisite monks training in the background.

Voiceover: What IS worth fighting for?

That’s a very good question, actually.

I feel that the trailer had a very deliberate message/narrative to juxtapose the beliefs of the Pandaren versus the beliefs of the Horde/Alliance. It’s pretty evident that this is going to be the thread that weaves itself through all of the stories of the expansion.

My biggest beef (heh) about the trailer was that despite it playing some notes about the conflict at large, it didn’t really give us a new or unique look that was different from any of the other trailers. Notice how there are no women involved. I know that women would have destroyed the giant EAST MEETS WEST, rage and fighting trope going on, since you know, women are not into being aggressive fighters out to push their empire outwards but would it have killed Blizzard to throw us a bone here? Also, no gnomes. There have NEVER been any gnomes in any trailers at all, ever.

Cinematics: An Interesting Retrospective

The lack of women in this trailer in particular got me thinking, however. How many women HAVE there been in all of the Blizzard cinematics since the game first came out? I knew that I had a pretty decent memory but I went back and watched all of them just to refresh myself. And surprisingly? The trailers have gotten more and MORE male-dominated since Vanilla came out.

World of Warcraft (2004)

One night elf druid versus the five other male characters (dwarf hunter, orc warrior, human mage, tauren shaman, and undead warlock) present in the cinematic. The voice-over is also done by a woman.

The Burning Crusade (2007)

One blood elf mage versus the SIX other male characters plus voice-over and additional footage of the masculine “big bad” Illidan.

Wrath of the Lich King (2008)

No woman in the trailer unless you count Sindragosa*. Trailer predominantly features masculine villain Lich King with voice-over done by King Terenas (also male.)

Cataclysm (2010)

No women in the trailer at all. Trailer predominantly features masculine villain Deathwing with voice-over done by …Deathwing.

Total: 3* women out of 13 men in the first four cinematics, 3 out of 16 if you count MoP.

—–

I can’t really infer much about this other than the fact that despite there being slightly more women involved in the actual storylines in-game, the trailers are woefully under-representing everyone, but mostly women and have been going backwards in this fashion, this newest cinematic being no exception. This also could include the box art and promotional items as well but that’s a longer post for another time. My real interest lies in seeing more women involved as major players in the stories present to the players inside of the game, but some recognition in the big showy cinematics or even the machinamatics would be a real treat.

Stop centering narratives around masculine, Western pursuits for conflict, Blizzard

Until then, enjoy the Thunk and Captain Burlychest v.2.

 

Mists of Pandaria Monday: Three Hours of Sleep Edition

Welcome to Mists of Pandaria Monday! I’m your intrepid Apple Cider and I got literally three hours of restless sleep today due to the fact that I was up chatting about Lilian Voss on Mumble with people intently researching all of the new MoP information for you, dear readers. Pardon me while my research intensity leads to things like belligerent opinions, dead links, spelling errors or possibly not finishing sentences. A lot of really thorough coverage went up at almost 12 AM PST and I urge you all to go read it; WoW Insider and Wowhead did an amazing job collating and organizing all the relevant bits for your perusal. As it stands, I will be bullet-pointing and discussing the things I found most exciting personally before I fall face first into my keyboard.

Female Pandaren: More Bounce By the Ounce

I discussed my feelings on the potential aesthetic of the female pandaren last week and when the screenshots of the in-game model finally were debuted, I found myself quite happy with the results. As reported, the females will have fur color options, with the red panda fur look including a tail. This doesn’t make sense to me personally, because while I can swallow that this a magical fantasy world where red pandaren and black/white pandaren are the same species, why would only female red pandaren have tails? It seems like one of those weird evolutionary quirks that seems more “pandering” than plausible. As far as my concerns towards the body and figure of the women? Settled for the most part. I would have liked to see an even more rotund, hefty lady (or eventually a slider) but this will do for now. She’s got curves that suggest a physical but comfortable life and also slightly more bottom-heavy and animalistic than more humanoid counterparts. I can see her hefting a barrel of home-brewed stout or cooking up Pandarian Death Peppers just as much as fighting with a bow staff. A lot of criticism has come down heavily on the face that is presented in a lot of the official art but I think they are cute as heck. I have a feeling there will be some leeway on facial features and expressions for those who want to look more fierce. I also have some faith that Blizzard’s continued improvements with in-game models will give them a range of emotion in their face as well. The screenshots we’ve seen so far give them concrete personalities too that range from meditative to dreamy.

Now, interestingly on WoW Insider’s live Mists of Pandaria podcast this morning a fan-done “revision” of the model was linked (warning: Picture is SFW, but DA account has some NSFW if you browse further) that simply added a touch more weight to the face and body. Personally I like how it looks, but someone in the chat inevitably remarked about “furries” and how it’s just a “fetish” picture. Sorry, but liking a woman with weight on her is pretty typical, especially since women’s bodies fall all along the shape spectrum. There are fetishes for certain kinds of body figures or figures caused by various things, but finding appeal or aesthetic value in all sorts of body shapes, including larger ones, is not fetish material or even sexual. So let’s keep the weird rhetoric to a minimum.

A Farm of One’s Own, Lorewalking and Other Casual Pleasantries

As part of the intense shift towards more “casual” non-PVE/PVP centric content for Mists, one of the reputations you can encounter in-game is the Tillers. This is part of a quest to help a farmer and his rundown farm back onto its feet, eventually netting you your own in-game farm that will include dailies that help you grow plants (whether this is herbalism nodes or cooking mats), obtain livestock and decorate your farmhouse. As someone who has always loved the idea of things like Harvest Moon, Farmville but didn’t like the intense timesink elements of the latter, this little farm outlet in Pandaria is intriguing to me. I want to have my gnome grow all her own alchemy mats, till the earth with a yaungol and prosper. A lot of the information coming out about MoP‘s questing content and reputations suggests that a lot of people who enjoy doing story content but dislike some of the rote, impersonal challenges of dailies will enjoy this stuff to no end. Molten Front was the carrot-on-the-stick for those of us who are like this when Firelands came out but was such a logistical nightmare and failure of entertainment. This feels like a breath of fresh air. Another set of dailies will also allow us to obtain a beautiful cloud serpent, much like the Ravasaur or Wintersaber mount, putting meaningful and personally exciting rewards for those who chose to do the quests.

In this vein of adding additional things for those of us who like poking and prodding is the Lorewalkers reputation. I’m unsure whether this is what archeology is getting rolled into or if this is seperate, but players will be able to find Pandaren artifacts around the world and turn them into these culture keepers in return for an elaborate show depicting parts of Pandarian history and lore. It is a highly interactive way of learning about the world’s story that will grab our attention, in case we pass through questing too fast to absorb the story.

The most hotly talked-about feature though is pet battles. I missed the Pokemon train, unfortunately, so the sheer intensity of support for this mini-game that is being implemented is a little bit beyond my ken, but as an avid pet collector, the fringe benefits of being able to add value to my pet collection and cross the globe searching for new rare pets in the wild to add tickles me. It also introduces a style of combat game that has none of the drawbacks of PVP: no loss tallies, no contact or interaction with the other party, and the flexibility of pet dueling or pet battle queueing from anywhere. This might be a style of player-versus-player that I spend at least a little time dabbling in, even if it just putting together teams consisting of Alliance Balloon, Rustberg Seagull and Perky Pugs.

Overall, I feel that they are really putting in a ton of content for those of us who like to do a variety of things on a variety of characters.

PVE Explosion: Heroic Scholomance, Challenge Dungeons, and Minor Glyphs

For those players who like taking a big bite out of some PVE content though, I will say that WoW has gone far beyond a lot of the criticisms that plagued Cataclysm and bursting at the seams with raid, dungeon and extra perks for those who want to face some bosses and get some nice purples for their trouble.

Most exciting out of this news is the revamps of Heroic Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery. Not only is there quite a few hints that the story has been updated significantly to shape the old bosses, but there are new (???) villains lurking around every corner. Even the corners have been updated, promising a more linear and overall detailed dungeon. This is most present in Scholomance, which got a completely new facelift and floor layout in order to remove some of the weird boss backtracking and ridiculousness with trash that players encountered in vanilla.  Also included is the intense and mysterious Lilian Voss, powerful former Scarlet protege, now-turned-undead, fighting against skeletons in one of the rooms in the school of dark arts. What is she doing there? This question is playing on any lore junkie’s mind (including my own) as well as who is left in the Scarlet Monastery. Why hasn’t Whitemane gotten the same overhaul as the other models? Hopefully these will be answered in time.

A thrill that I am looking forward to as an ex-raider who still likes the adrenaline rush of executing content is challenge mode dungeons. These dungeons will require specific teams of people completing objectives within the instance for achievements, rankings and extra rewards such as vanity loot. It is reminiscent of bear runs or timed Culling of Stratholme, where perfect play nets you an extra special shiny but now with an additional challenge of being on a leaderboard. It is assumed to not only foster togetherness within guilds but inspire some level of server-based competition that is a little less time intensive than raiding. I want to put together a crack squad of people to tackle heroics and get some wicked looking gear, not going to lie. Given how much I have in dungeons right now with my guild, I am definitely sinking my teeth into this wholeheartedly.

Finally, the fact that Warcraft is going to debut with 14 bosses for the first raid tier is exceptionally intriguing, but mostly I’m just excited about minor glyphs letting me ride around on my guildies who are druid-stags. Vanity, flavor and usefulness seem to be the things most present here with the glyph revamp and I couldn’t be happier. Flat stat changes are not an exciting area of development and I’d rather see customization, personalization and choices be part of my glyphing process.

Story and Art Development

I’m going to swoon here for a moment – it looks like so far, Blizzard has put a fuckton (pardon my French) of work into creating this brand new world inside of their very old world of Azeroth. The rising conflict with between all of the native (or not-so-native) races of Pandaria, combined with obvious and deep Asian influences in the art design makes for an incredibly detailed, exciting world that I want to explore. I want to see all 10,000 waterfalls. I want to see all the new species of animals. Cynicism about rampant Orientalism aside, I really feel incredibly bowled over by how this world is going to look, feel and act, especially when my gnome steps foot on the shores.

I haven’t felt this excited for World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade came out, and I for one, am optimistic that Blizzard really is doing something very right.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the Mists of Pandaria announcements so far in the comments or on Twitter!