05/08/2018

What happened to you, Sylvanas?

I was going to pen a few words about the recent "Sylvanas burns down the world tree" drama, but I kept putting it off, public opinion kept meandering, and by the time I finally found the energy to sit down and put my thoughts into writing I didn't really care enough anymore. After all, I'm only an outsider looking in these days.

I did go back through my archives though and found this post from seven years ago, in which I made the case for Cataclysm's (then) new quests showing that Sylvanas and the Forsaken were actually becoming slightly less evil and more relatable. I had forgotten about most of that. (Though it also made me chuckle to be reminded of just how long people have been suspecting Sylvanas of getting ready to become the new Lich Queen any day now.)

Taking that into consideration, it seems even sadder though that her character appears to have regressed to the point of simply being all about "death to the living", even if any of the expansions or books that have been released in the meantime might provide an explanation for it. Do they, though?

24/06/2018

1.12 Is Official

On my birthday of all days, Blizzard decided to finally give us our first official update on WoW Classic. I would have called it a great birthday gift, except that I was away when the post went up and didn't actually see it until a few days later.

To summarise, three salient points were made in the update linked above:

1) They've been playing on an internal prototype, but the old code caused cashes and things like compatibility issues. (I really liked this quote though: "The team could create characters and do basic questing and leveling—and dying, which we did many times. For testing purposes. Obviously." Bet you didn't remember how tough that vineyard was either, huh?)

2) They decided to settle on patch 1.12 as a baseline to work on.

3) They decided to "modernise" the old code to make sure it works more smoothly, something that's probably more interesting to programmers than to laypeople who just want to play the game, but they did lay it out in pretty simple terms. Once again, you can read the full thing here.

It shouldn't be that much of a surprise that they settled on 1.12 as a baseline, as that's what most Vanilla private servers do - and for good reason. Also, it's going to be the version of Vanilla that most people will be nostalgic for - we mustn't forget that WoW continually grew during its early years, so comparatively few people even saw the original 1.1 simply because that's when the population was at its lowest.

I've seen some take this as confirmation that the experience will be completely static, but I don't think that's a given. It just means that Blizzard won't bother with re-creating all the different balancing patches, and thank god for that - would anyone really want the way Power Word: Shield functions to change three times a month, or to start playing with the knowledge that their class/spec will suck for a year until patch 1.x comes around? However, like various private servers, they could still release certain pieces of content, primarily the raids, in a staggered manner. I'm not saying they will, but neither is the 1.12 baseline confirmation that they won't.

As for what this will mean in terms of gameplay changes, nothing was really confirmed but people have been interpreting what little was said in whichever way suits them best. In particular this line: "this would inherently include classic systems like skill ranks, old quests and terrain, talents, and so on, while later features like Transmog and Achievements would effectively not exist because they were entirely absent from the data". On the one hand we have people going: "Woo, #nochanges confirmed, they said newer features like achievements won't exist!" On the other hand there are those who see Blizzard recoding things in a way that would allow for these things as an open invitation to make changes after all. Some purists are also howling about the mention of Battle.net integration, which - again - I thought was pretty much a given.

We did however have another piece of unofficial news since then that hints at Blizzard definitely going for that truly old-school feel: a WoW Classic job posting that talks about "restor[ing] old models and animations" (here is a video talking about it, in case the actual job listing has expired by the time you read this). I'll continue to watch this development with interest.

10/03/2018

Keeping Up With Classic

It's been over four months since BlizzCon, and while we've been hearing plenty about Battle for Azeroth, things have been fairly quiet on the WoW Classic front. (As an aside, I'm always awed by how much free PR Blizzard manages to get out of content that isn't even released yet simply by having an open alpha/beta. The amount of YouTube videos talking about every little thing going on in the BfA alpha from one day to the next is staggering.)

That's not to say that we've learned nothing new at all about Classic; it's just that nothing that's been said has been important enough that it made the wider news. You pretty much have to live in one of the relevant subreddits or at least follow someone else who does to hear about any updates. I've opted for the latter, as I recently found a nice new YouTube channel mostly devoted to WoW Classic, called Tips Out. While the creator's obsession with calling his viewers "boys" and "fellas" all the time is a bit weird to me - I guess part of that "classic" feeling is pretending that women don't play video games - his videos are wonderfully thoughtful, which really helps him stand out in a community that is otherwise all too fond of hysteria and hyperbole.

So what have we learned? There was a Forbes interview with J. Allen Brack, which largely crushed any hopes that we would be seeing Classic any time "soon" as he admitted that they had announced it somewhat earlier than usual to get more community input. It's also been noted that based on open positions listed on Blizzard's job pages, they only filled the last spot on the WoW Classic team in January.

With how desperate people are for any kind of update, there was a bit of a frenzy when the official WoW Twitter account posted a little video for the anniversary of the game's launch in Europe that shows old character models in the old starting zones, which got people to speculate about it being "leaked" Classic footage. You can find a video that analyses this claim in incredible detail here, but the short version is that it's possible, but it could just as well simply be old Wrath-era footage. People are just that desperate for some sign that the project is making progress.

Personally I appreciate that it's early days, but with what little communication we have got, I can't help but get the impression that this is a project that the higher-ups at Blizzard are feeling incredibly meh about. Notice how in the Brack interview he says that there are people at Blizzard who are really interested in Classic WoW... but he doesn't include himself among them. I wonder if the reason this is happening at all isn't actually a mandate from Activision, something along the lines of: "Hey, I know you just wanna keep making new Overwatch characters, but there are people out there on the internet who are making a stink because you don't want to sell them an old product of yours that they used to love... why not do it and take their money? It doesn't sound like a big deal if people are able to privately re-create the experience in their garages. Do you hate money?"

The focus on community input can also be seen in this context - sure, you can simply interpret it as a positive thing, as Blizzard wanting to listen to the players, but from my point of view there's also a darker side to it: that at least as of now, they don't seem to have a big spokesperson for the project, someone with a vision. They are just doing it because someone higher up told them to, and they hope the new hires will figure it out by just listening to what people say on the forums. That's actually kind of concerning if you think about it, but would also explain a couple of somewhat contradictory statements that we've got on the question of the game's direction so far, e.g. Ion Hazzikostas saying "Vanilla means Vanilla" while Brack in the interview linked above seems to consider new character models a possibility for example.

Regardless of what direction they are eventually going to take with Classic, it would be nice if they could get someone to helm the project who is willing to take a strong stance on what exactly it's going to be and who is able to communicate this to the fans.

20/01/2018

In Dreams

Last night I had a dream in which I was back to playing retail WoW. With me were a couple of friends/acquaintances from my teenage days - who have never actually played WoW as far as I'm aware but in the dream they were avid players - who were happy to see me back.

It was the time of the Fire Festival, and I was running around Stormwind trying to find the seasonal quests/activities, but everything was so different from how I remembered it that I failed utterly. Eventually I gave up and asked one of my friends for help, who flew me around on his super-fast mount to show me where to go and things slowly started to come back to me.

Then we were suddenly in Halaa and I asked my friend why the eff we were suddenly in Halaa, to which he responded that he had used some sort of newfangled teleport that hadn't been in the game yet when I last played.

... I blame having recently watched some videos about the changes to levelling in patch 7.3.5 and going: "Huh, that looks neat, wonder how it plays."

07/12/2017

Love for Burning Crusade

This week, Syp made a post getting nostalgic about the Burning Crusade expansion, and I was surprised by how little of a response it got (my own comment being one of only three).

With all the talk about Vanilla WoW I suppose it deserves saying that if I could choose to "live" in any WoW expansion, it would actually be The Burning Crusade. However, Vanilla is close enough (especially when you compare it to current WoW) that I'll take it. And as much as I'd love for Blizzard to also host BC servers (one day... in the far future... even though they've only just started on WoW Classic...) I fear that there isn't as much demand for that simply because all the Burning Crusade content still exists in the live game - strictly speaking anyway, unlike the Vanilla content, which has literally been wiped off the face of Azeroth: geography, NPCs, quests and all.

In one of those discussion threads about what WoW Classic should be like I saw someone make a comment which I thought was very pertinent. They said that if you're longing for Vanilla WoW with better class balance and the biggest annoyances removed, you don't really want Vanilla: you want Burning Crusade. "Like Vanilla, but improved" is definitely a good way to describe Burning Crusade.

Class balance in particular had its golden age during that time in my opinion. In Vanilla you didn't really want to bring a lot of classes/specs to raids. And from Wrath of the Lich King onwards, you wanted to "bring the player, not the class" aka it didn't matter at all what you brought. Only in Burning Crusade did we have a situation that actively encouraged diversity, making it beneficial to bring a mix of classes because they all brought different benefits to the raid. It was a great time if you wanted to be more than just "a damage dealer". I'm not saying that this system didn't have its issues too, such as that feeling of "needing" a certain class or spec that you might not actually have available on a given night. I still preferred having to put up with that to simply having my favoured play style (that of the buffing shadow priest) completely erased though.

Aside from class balance, BC also fixed a whole bunch of other little niggles. Like I mentioned in my reply to Syp's post, quest rewards actually became useful to most classes. Gear for specs like protection paladin actually started existing. The introduction of daily quests made it a bit more palatable for the casual player to grind for gold. Gear token drops and badges of justice mitigated bad RNG without sacrificing the joy of getting a good drop.

It was also my personal golden age for dungeon running. I can appreciate people's love for places like Stratholme and Blackrock Depths on a cerebral level, but personally I always found them confusing and tedious. BC's more straightforward challenges, such as the not-at-all-mazelike Shadow Labyrinth, were much more up my alley and I never grew tired of volunteering to run the heroic version and feeling accomplished by being able to down Murmur.

If I had to point out BC's biggest weakness, I might actually choose the setting. I seem to remember that back in the day, quite a lot of people found Outland to be pretty alienating. When Wrath of the Lich King came out, I heard more than one comment about being glad to be back on Azeroth. However, for me it was never an issue because I only came to Vanilla WoW relatively late, and the alien landscapes beyond the Dark Portal felt like just another natural extension of the world to me.

25/11/2017

WoW Classic Survey

Some people have taken it upon themselves to try and collate some actually useful information on what players would like from WoW Classic by starting to post informal surveys on the subject, using tools such as Google Forms and Surveymonkey. Last week my attention was drawn to what probably must have been the biggest survey of this kind so far, one that managed to gather nearly 34k responses despite of only taking submissions for a few days. (By the time I had found it, the option to vote had already closed.) You can see the poll's results here.

Unfortunately, instead of providing a clear guideline, I think it only highlighted once again what a tricky proposition WoW Classic is going to be. The only clear threads were that nobody wants blatantly "modern" changes like flying or a dungeon finder and that the later raids shouldn't be released right away.

However, there was a surprisingly high amount of support for implementing certain changes that didn't really come until Burning Crusade, such as guild banks, arenas, lower costs for changing your spec, being able to summon via meeting stones or making more classes viable as tanks in raids. I can actually sympathise with this one in so far as I started playing Vanilla relatively late, so about a third of my "Vanilla time" was spent with certain Burning Crusade changes already implemented, even though the actual expansion wasn't out yet. For example I was initially kind of confused when I learned on Kronos that summoning stones didn't actually gain their summoning functionality until the 2.0 patch.

Many features that existed in more than one version throughout Vanilla, such as single-server battlegrounds vs. battlegroups, 5-man vs. 10-man Stratholme or a single faction auction house vs. one in every city also have the community pretty split. I wonder if some sort of ranking for your answers or an "I don't care" option could help paint a clearer picture here. For example I personally don't care much about Vanilla PvP as I found it pretty dire whenever I tried it, but in a poll like that you'd have to express an opinion on all kinds of aspects of PvP anyway, even if you have no interest in actually participating in it.

Finally, I was surprised that the survey included questions about "classic expansions" (aka going the Runescape route of adding to the old game while sticking to the classic style) and how many people responded positively to them. For me this is something that sounds intriguing, but at the same time it seems to me that it's way too early to even think about it. Let's see how this whole "recreating the Vanilla experience" thing goes first and how well it is received.

21/11/2017

Classic Videos

While people continue to speculate on just how much of the love for Vanilla WoW is nostalgia and how much isn't, let's have some actual nostalgia - in video form!



This was one of the first WoW videos I ever saw. Set to a popular Weird Al song, it's full of visual gags and I remember watching it over and over and over again. Weird Al being represented by a troll also seemed strangely apt.



I think this was the first WoW video with a parody song that I ever saw. I was just blown away by the cleverness of the lyrics and how well it was all done. It's no coincidence that the guy who made the video, Terran Gregory, went on to make cinematics for Blizzard themselves and has been with them for over ten years now...



This one was fun for all the jokes about class clich├ęs. At least some of them were definitely accurate.



This one I didn't actually find until much later, but it also hails from that era at least.

If you got any fun, old-school favourites of your own, feel free to share!