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  • Writer's pictureNathan Foley

Where it all began - The inception of Ankora



My wife, Julianne, and I were on our way back home from BlizzCon 2018 when the wheels began to turn.



Before I dive into the project, let me first explain how this adventure started and why I eventually decided to create an entire world of my own.


Overall, we enjoyed an eventful trip to Anaheim for our very first BlizzCon. We were incredibly excited and well-invested in the trip, having snagged the tickets for a measly $700 each. We got to see some informative panels on the making of Blizzard games we loved and enjoyed, experienced exciting live esports finales, suffered a near heart attack when we realized I had dropped Julianne's debit card in the parking lot (thankfully another attendee found it and messaged her on Facebook to return it), but most importantly, who could ever forget the everlasting visceral secondhand embarrassment we were subjected to thanks to the Diablo Immortal announcement?


When the teaser trailer was shown alongside other Blizzard games like Warcraft and Overwatch, excitement for the future of the Diablo franchise was palpable. Diablo hadn't seen a new release in nearly 10 years, and the overall expectation was that this would be the year that they finally announce Diablo 4. But, as the panel developed, it quickly became obvious that Diablo Immortal was not at all what fans had bargained for.


I remember the development of these events clear as day.


We were sitting maybe 10 rows from the front. We wanted good seats for the deep-dive panel on the long-awaited World of Warcraft Classic, where they would explain the development process of their remaster of the original World of Warcraft game from 2004. But, Diablo Immortal's panel was just before Classic's, so we figured we'd get good seats for both so we could soak in our first BlizzCon experience to its fullest extent. Much to the dismay of the massive crowd, the Diablo Immortal panel spectacularly raged off the rails and tensions quickly rose to an uncomfortable boil.


You see, Diablo Immortal was a mobile game release and not planned for PC whatsoever, information that seemed to be intentionally kept just out of earshot from rightfully concerned fans until the genie was eventually forcibly removed from the bottle. Once the audience came to terms with the fact that this was real, the boos began to cascade onto the stage.


I thought that was going to be the low point of the afternoon: developers attempting to explain the development process while the crowd heckled and booed. But, they opened up the mic to the audience so they could ask questions of the developers. Among the first attendees to step forward was the now famous man in a red shirt, with his messenger bag slung across his back.



But, it of course didn't stop there. The Diablo devs outdid themselves with the instant classic response, "Do you guys not have phones?" This was in response to another concerned fan who asked if they planned on releasing the game to PC at any point. Both interactions immediately achieved internet immortality, giving birth to countless memes that are to this day referenced throughout sites like Reddit and official Blizzard forums.


The Diablo franchise, same as all other major Blizzard franchises, began as a computer game. It's a beloved dungeon delving adventure you can enjoy with a mouse and keyboard. Diablo Immortal was developed for the sole purpose of being released on Android and Apple phones, and mostly by a company specializing in games for mobile devices called NetEase, not Blizzard themselves.


This is not what fans wanted. This was a business decision made by a corporation in order to crack into a massive market driven by addictive and manipulative tactics that thrives on coercing users to pay small amounts of money repeatedly over time, often adding up to the thousands of dollars. This is commonly referred to as a microtransaction. Microtransactions are a bane of your traditional gamer's experience because gameplay is sacrificed for the sake of monetization. In games driven by microtransactions, your attention isn't acquired by compelling gameplay but by manipulating your brain to crave minute dopamine hits like an addict. Despicably, this practice is highly targeted towards children and teenagers.



I'm no longer proud to be a World of Warcraft fan because Blizzard has put in serious legwork over the years to discourage droves of players like me from justifying time and money spent on their games.



My thought process of abandoning Blizzard began long before the recent news of rampant sexual harassment and overall toxic work environments came to light. Because of all of this recent news, I'm struggling yet again to support the company and justify my time spent on Classic. I will probably speak more in depth about those developments in another post, because I feel they would need more special attention as opposed to being reserved for a few paragraphs tucked away within a different topic.


Azeroth, the planet at the center of the World of Warcraft story, has potential to be a beautiful virtual world, but over its 17 year lifespan it has been tainted because of the business behind the game. Much like what can be seen across all Blizzard games as a whole, World of Warcraft has developed into a sad version of its former self, consumed by manufactured player engagement and immediate revenue to boost company performance in quarterly reviews. What made the game and the world it was centered upon so special in the first place, inspiring nearly 13 million concurrent players at one point to play the game, was that the world was the main character, and a compelling one with potential for improvement. You as a player were an extension of the main character, Azeroth, running around experiencing it and meeting other side characters you party up with along your travels. Now, that main character has been sufficiently bled dry for the sake of turning what was once art into a nonstop money printing machine.


I was only excited for World of Warcraft Classic to come out because I wanted to play the game I fell in love with again. The game of 2018 was nothing like its predecessor of 2004-2008. Classic was the promise of a World of Warcraft that returned to its roots, a game that focused on the things that revolutionized the world of gaming. The World of Warcraft of 2018 devolved into the World of Warcraft of manufactured player engagement and minor and frequent dopamine hits, not player engagement borne out of genuine fun and community.


I would log in and the world felt like it was dying because people didn't spend time in the game playing the game, but rather they spent time circumventing the game with Blizzard's help. All of the features that were once pillars of the world's integrity withered away with the additions of paid level boosts, gold tokens purchased with real money, and servers being homogenized. What used to be a thriving virtual world became a waiting room for micro-content and a glorified casino of short thrills.


After 13 years of playing the game, I was falling out of love with it and BlizzCon 2018 was confirmation I wasn't just getting bored with it after so long. I was unwittingly being coerced into playing a game and spending time in a world plagued with pop-up ads disguised as game content, time-gated quests that forced you into completing the minuscule content over weeks instead of at your own pace (slyly forcing you into more subscription time), and an increasingly disjointed and toxic community because all mechanics that fostered good community were abandoned. It's a jarring experience when compared to the game of my childhood that allowed me to join other people I knew, jumping into a functioning world that allowed us to do anything we wanted with no expectation but a monthly subscription. You joined a server that had its own identity and community and built a reputation for yourself within that community. You found friends because the group content required you to meet other people. You became invested in your character and the characters you played with because the world around you meant something.


The death of meaning on Azeroth was ushered in when the developers decided to abandon core gameplay mechanics that made the world feel more alive for shortcuts in order to streamline business. The moment they began introducing elements that tore away the things that made Azeroth feel alive was the moment their product started declining.



Blizzard joined publishing powerhouse Activision in 2008. Very soon after, Blizzard's philosophy changed with how it approached its highest performing game in World of Warcaft. The Wrath of the Lich King expansion saw Warcraft's first microtransaction items added to an ever-growing in-game shop. That expansion also saw the first iteration of a Group Finder mechanic, which they expanded on extensively over the years, that circumvented the need to actively form a group of players to do a dungeon, instead automating the process. There's nothing that feels more alive than automated companionship, amirite?


Dungeons were once a cornerstone of the interactive world that was Azeroth because they were fun and challenging while forcing you to coordinate with other players. The fact that pre-2008 you had to form groups actively meant that you became more invested in the players around you. It meant you could easily develop a community of people you vibed with, which like with anything in life, makes the experience more enjoyable.


Coincidentally, this was also the first time that World of Warcraft saw stagnation and signs of decline. Many new players were joining the phenomenon, but many were also leaving the game, and since 2011, the decline is nearly inexorable.


With each incremental change, expansion after expansion, Azeroth lost its life and meaning. What ensnared me as a 10 year old kid playing on my dad's G4 Macintosh was all but extinguished. I stuck around until 2019, hoping against hope that something would change and they would make a product I felt justified buying.



All of this brings me to why I decided to go it alone and develop a world I can be proud immersing myself in.



When we were driving back to Sacramento after that long weekend in Anaheim, the wheels of abandoning Blizzard began turning. After playing the Beta of Classic, I finally recognized what was happening with World of Warcraft and why I felt so concerned about the game. Watching the train wreck that was Diablo Immortal was also the final piece of confirmation I needed that convinced me something better needs to be created, and not by the likes of Blizzard.


I've followed news of fantasy games, MMO's in particular, for new worlds to sink my teeth into and explore. I've played lots of RPGs, but there have only been a few that really ensnared me, most leave me wanting something more. So I began constructing my own universe to remedy those wants.


It was while driving, daydreaming to myself while Julianne slept beside me, that I thought to myself, "Why don't I make something?" I've always been creative and prone to flights of fancy, but something in my brain at that moment told me that any magical story or universe I've ever enjoyed started as a wild dream, which gave me the confidence to allow the tangential thought to progress.


While driving through the southern half of the San Joaquin Valley, I kept staring at the layers of rock and sediment striping the faces of the mountains on either side. I've always been fascinated by the fact that the California Valley was one huge bay in prehistoric times, so I pictured dinosaurs, massive jungle cats, and other primal beasts roaming wild Pangea-esque California with small and scattered populations of humanoid bands fighting for survival.


By the time I got home, my head was swimming in scenes of entire civilizations sprouting and collapsing upon the banks of great lakes, wars ravaging entire nations, magic breathing through everything like the Force, and massive dragons soaring, bellowing massive bouts of flame overhead. Before long, I hopped on Photoshop and drew out my first map, pictured below:


The supercontinent of Ankora
The first iteration of Ankora

I didn't know what to name anything, where things were, or who lived where, I just knew I had to make something that resembled the blurry images raging through in my head at breakneck speeds.


Next came the preliminary timeline of the world's events. I sketched out a rough timeline of civilizations rising and falling, technological advancements, major achievements by individual characters, and major disasters. The timeline was never concrete, especially in the beginning, but just getting things down on a Google Doc or my raggedy notebook was monumental in getting this project going. Even if I knew I wasn't going to use what I wrote down, it was important I kept writing and kept thinking.


I eventually named the world Ankora. It has a storied history, and much like our own planet, its inhabitants tend to be their worst enemies while simultaneously being their main source of hope for continued prosperity.


And as I continue this blog, more concrete content will be shared with all of you in coming posts, such as timelines, profiles, images, and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.



What began initially as a process in developing a universe for an RPG developed into something much grander than I initially intended.



The process became an incredible adventure in not only story development but in self-discovery. I discovered again my love for creating and writing. With this universe, I plan on releasing a cartoon series, writing novels and novellas, short films, eventually developing a game set within it, and any other creative outlets that I'm inspired to delve into with this as my canvas.


My main goal out of this journey is to not only create something I'm proud of, but develop a universe I, myself, wouldn't mind diving into.


In subsequent posts I'll share more information and media about my universe and the active projects that I am currently working on set within it, the primary being a cartoon series following the exploits of the Guild of Heroes in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Koros on the western coast of the continent Eurova.


Thanks for reading, and you'll hear from me soon!



Stay tuned for more progress within the world of

Ankora.




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