Monday, August 6, 2012

Point of Genesis

Have you ever sat back and wondered where things come from?

Have you ever sat down in a movie, behind a video game or heck, just looked at the clothes in your closet and wondered, "Hey, who came up with the idea for that?"

Think about the guy who came up with the line, "The Cake is a Lie" and how many people when they hear it now scream, "PORTAL!"

Think about the guy somewhere out in the world who came up with the battle cry,"For the Horde" that now engenders thousands upon thousands of screaming fans to get up out of their seats in applause.

Those are just two examples of individuals sitting at the point of genesis creating something entirely new.

Here, let's put it into your lap and have you think about it for a while.

What is a point of genesis?

Well, it's where you sit and watch an entirely new concept take shape, but it takes shape according to YOUR ideas, YOUR judgement calls and otherwise everything YOU throw into it and it starts to brew and bubble on its own.  Imagine putting all of your imagination in a pot, then stirring and out comes a finished concept to present to the world.

I guess you could exchange "point of genesis" with the phrase "hanging your ass out on the line" because it's not only risky, but highly taxing on the mind, body and spirit.

Do you have any idea how much pressure is on someone who sits at a point of genesis? Let's grab Hottie #9 from my list, Chris Metzen, as an example.

Chris Metzen sits at a constant point of genesis. He's a guy who comes up with characters, story arcs, whole places, continents and worlds that all spring straight from his brain.  From there, programmers, artists, modelers and a whole cast of working folks take his ideas and present them in digital format, i.e. the latest expansion pack that's coming out for World of Warcraft, The Mists of Pandaria that just so happens to be launching on my birthday, September 25th.

Here, take a peek:

Now, after all that, I want you to sit in his chair for a minute:

Before they even began to make the announcement for what the players have now dubbed as Mists, Chris, Alex Afrasiabi and a whole crew sat down and pondered what they were going to do.  As he said, they had been through plenty of supervillains throughout the history of World of Warcraft, namely Ragneros in Molten Core, Illidan in Black Temple, Arthas the Lich King in Northrend, Deathwing over the skies of Cataclysm, I mean they have gone through the baddest cats on the block...who were they going to go after next?  Who was left?

Well, that left them sitting at the point of genesis where they had to come up with something entirely new.

Before the pandas showed up or the entirely new "continent" that those pandas call their home had been created, the guys up at Blizzard might have toiled for hours, days, weeks and months trying to figure out who the latest bad guy was going to be; or Chris Metzen might have a brilliant moment of inspiration as he stood in his neighborhood grocery store checkout line at the same time thousands of gamers were running to their nearest video game shop to tear Wrath of the Lich King from store shelves. We'll never know.  But, having to think an expansion ahead, or even down to a content release ahead requires him and his team to sit at a point of genesis on almost a daily basis.  And folks, that is a very hard place to sit because the demands, and stakes, are extremely high.

I have always been one to sit back and have appreciation for what comes out of creative people's heads. But, let's face it, not everyone is that way. Not everyone sits back and looks at the creative process with a set of eyes that realizes that someone sat at their desk late into the evening, trying desperately to find that one brilliant creative spark that gave birth to what they now can use to fly, swim, ride or glide. In an online worlds sense, people don't think that the design for their flying mount, hoverboat or other aerial conveyance had to come from someone's brain before it hit the desk of the modeler, texture artist, QA tester, alpha tester, beta tester then finally to them. To be honest, I really don't think a lot of people think about the creative process that went into the keyboard they type on or the smartphone they carry around in their pockets.  People have a tendency to forget where things come from, and to be honest, I think it's pretty sad and for the most part, ungrateful.

For more YEARS than I can count, I have heard individuals tear into ideas. Heck, I've even laid into some of the more Darwinian mistakes with unbridled venom. I'll be the first to say that I freaked out when they took out my beloved perma-tree form and replaced it with a Tree-Fro.  Come on, who ever thinks that the newest incarnation of a druid's tree form is the least bit feminine, put your hand up so someone else can slap you for me. It wasn't the brightest move, but still, the idea for that new tree form had to come from somewhere. Yes, I put up my hand and asked to look like a walking Wisteria, but come on, I thought for sure they'd at least make us gals look half way feminine.

Ok, here's the before shot:

Now here's the after, along with the Wisteria I was talking about:

Ya think maybe I'm feeling a little bit responsible for that? I actually posted, "I'd definitely go for a walking wisteria look" in public. To my shame, I'm the ONLY one who ever said anything about a wisteria...yet, there's the tree form to prove it. I honestly feel like I'm responsible for both the tree form disaster and the "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign catastrophe because my winning entry over on the now-defunct Myst Movie site had in very large type at the bottom "Cavern Blood Runs Deep" six months before those commercials began to air, on top of the fact I had been using that phrase since 2004. Coincidences? Maybe, but from where I'm sitting, it's very plausible that I could be very responsible.

My problem with sitting actively at a point of genesis is that I'm used to failure. Hey, I'm used to people thinking they know more than I do and shoving me out of the way, that's why becoming Phi Kappa Phi was such a damn shocker! Over the years I've become quite accustomed to just taking rejection with a grain of salt, hoping for success on the next one. Come on, even the guy who I've been seeing doesn't even think I'm worthy of emotional reciprocation because he thinks my emotional needs are okay to be shoved out of the way too, so I'm not seeing where I can draw a lot of confidence at the moment.

But let's go back to hottie #9, he gives me some comfort because Chris Metzen didn't make the hotties list just because of his face and his's because he sits squarely at the point of creation, gushing out idea after idea, concept after concept, for millions of players to look at, enjoy, tear into, ridicule and put through the collective wringer all of the parts of the world he creates solely from his imagination and his knowledge of the Warcraft universe.  Do you actually want to sit there and think it's easy?

But, forget whole continents filled with content from structures to "NPC's" (non-player characters) running around. Terraforming alone will bake your noodle, from forests filled with trees to snowy cliffs and breathtaking waterfalls. But let's go further, to the avatar. An avatar from the ground up is one of the hardest things to create. From something as basic as height or body shape to skeletal rigging, animations (which include emotes, dance moves, idle animations, poses, how you sit, stand, jump, swim, how you swing your sword or cast your spells, anything that requires movement), to how external assets sit on the skeleton, even down to the most miniscule of nose wrinkles as the avatar goes "Eww", there's a ton of stuff going on. All those things are great, don't get me wrong, but one detail that most people don't put any thought into is how the actual skin of their avatars came to be. You know, the fleshy part? The part that gets goosebumps if the action gets thick?  Yeah, just the actual skin, no more, no less. How much thought do you think goes into it?

Let's have a little fun:  Including the newest race, the Pandaren, how many races are there now in World of Warcraft?  Any takers before I let the answer out of the bag?


How about this, let's list them out.

For the Alliance you have:

  • Dwarf
  • Draenei
  • Gnome
  • Human
  • Night Elf
  • Worgen

For the Horde you have:

  • Blood Elf
  • Forsaken
  • Goblin
  • Orc
  • Tauren
  • Troll

So, that's six a piece, plus the Pandaren equals a whopping 13 different races.  Don't run away so fast, there's more.  Now, multiply that by two because why? Two genders.  Now we're up to 26.  Oh no, you still don't get away because guess what? How many different shades of skin tone does each race have? Some have seven available, others have more than 10! Oy veh.  Get out your calculators because guess what, take that 26 and let's multiply it by the race with the highest number of skintones I found, 12, which happens to go on the humans.  Now hit the equals button.

I heard that swear!  That's right!  Holy Cow! That's approximately 312 individual skins, and that's not counting eyes, hair, facial markings, facial hair, earrings, lips, eyebrows, eyelashes or anything else that is a part of the physical essence of the avatar. You want the extras? Do the math! If there is one variable, say the eye color, it has at least five permutations for avatar customization by itself.   And some dodo birds out there actually have the nerve to think that the buildings are the things that are hard to make.

Have you gotten nauseous yet? Have your knees started to buckle under all that yet?  Oh, come on ya wimps! You can take more than that!

Who do you think came up with the idea that Orcs should be shades of green, yellow-green and all the way to brown, or said the skin of a Tauren needs to look exactly like a cow's?  But one better yet, the universal truth throughout WoW: who in the hell decided to leave the joints exposed on a Forsaken (undead)? Because from Silithus to Silvermoon City, Booty Bay to Icecrown Citadel, everyone agrees, it doesn't matter what you put an undead in, all the armor looks pretty much like shit. Someone though, way at the point of genesis decided that those joints needed to be showing to create the unmistakable presence of an undead in the raid, the battleground or wherever that undead wants to be.  You can't miss them from a mile off, and it is also why the folks that play undead love them to pieces. I'll be the very first to admit, when you're in Undercity and your joints are showing, you feel right at home. But that was the genius of the person sitting at the point of genesis who decided that Undercity from the grotesque stitched abominations down to the skull-laden cages and scenery would make those tendon-showing characters feel right at home, even though their queen, Sylvanas would probably look more at home in Teldrassil or Silvermoon City amongst the elves.

But, from skin tones to eyecolor, avatar assets such as clothing or armor to weapons, vehicles and transportation hubs, it all came from someone who had the guts to sit at the point of genesis.

You want to talk about a hard job? Try coming up with a whole new world, then sit and dream up the names of the places, the architectural style, the foliage, every last detail on the avatars, NPC's, critters and the list goes on of all the things that must, at one time or another spring from someone's head as an entirely new idea. Every day I sit very grateful for guys like Chris Metzen, Alex Afrasiabi, Will Wright, Will Harvey, Jeffrey Ventrella, and every single person who ever sat behind their desks late into the night with just a map of some freshly terraformed terrain, knowledge of a physics engine, and just their imagination.  My hats are seriously off to them.

Think of it this way: If you sit at a point of genesis and do well, then everyone praises you. Do it wrong and there aren't enough nails, hammers and planks of wood on the planet for the 10 million ways you're going to be crucified. To put it in a very intimate way, imagine having to pick the skin tones, then present them to your friends then wonder how they are going to react to them, then the public's reaction, and then after having screenshots, movies and all sorts of other media capture what you've picked and okayed be chowed down on, insulted, and possibly praised, even down to it influencing the buying decisions of the public.  Think about the Pandas. Now, WoW is not your typical "warm and fuzzy" world, now imagine it filled with Pandas. A Panda?  With those bloodthirsty thugs?  Well yeah, Chris Metzen seems to think so, and being that he's sitting at the point of genesis for them, he has to take responsibility if it succeeds or fails.

Imagine that going into launch day for him.

And people say online worlds are just games.


Good luck with that one.

For the song of the day, I'm going to dig up a tune I was lead to just out of sheer serendipity by a band called Kings of Leon, a tune that is very helpful playing in the background, no matter what song it is, so I just picked an uplifting tune I liked:

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