31/12/2019

Classic WoW & Me in 2019

A few days ago Wilhelm made a nice post summarising where he stands in Classic WoW after four months, in terms of how many alts he has at which level, with which professions etc. I thought this would be a nice format to copy and would also make for a nice post to finish up the year on this blog. Without further ado, my current character roster in Classic:

Shika
  • Level 60 Hunter
  • 11 days, 12 hours played
  • 300 Mining, 275 Engineering, 289 Cooking, 281 Fishing, 300 First Aid
Originally conceived to be an alt that I could play whenever my friends didn't feel up for playing in a group, this hunter is currently my undisputed main, seeing how everyone else cruelly abandoned me (/cue world's smallest violin).

I have to admit that life at max level doesn't engross me as much in Classic as the levelling game did, but she has been achieving some minor goals over the past few weeks. Talking about some of that will probably be my next post in fact.

Shintau
  • Level 36 Shaman
  • 3 days, 23 hours played
  • 226 Skinning, 203 Leatherworking, 207 Cooking, 225 Fishing, 260 First Aid
Originally meant to be my main; then the friend I played with got so far ahead of me that I felt discouraged. My husband agreed to replace her as my levelling partner, so I got him all caught up and we did spend another ten levels or so levelling together, until he lost interest in the game too.

Yet this is still the character I kind of want to main in terms of class and role, but solo-levelling as a resto shaman is just the pits. Plus I'm still in that awkward spot where part of me is secretly hoping that I'll manage to get my husband back into it, so I don't really want to outlevel his warrior just yet anyway.

Shilu
  • Level 34 Druid
  • 2 days, 21 hours played
  • 198 Herbalism, 189 Alchemy, 151 Cooking, 148 Fishing, 224 First Aid
Originally created to duo with my husband's warrior as I got him caught up to my shaman's level, this little druid is slowly shaping up to become my main alt I think. They are just so versatile: able to solo a lot of pretty tough content, but also capable of filling literally any role in a levelling dungeon as long as the person behind the character is willing to do so, and I absolutely am.

Currently her focus in terms of gear and spec is on tanking, but I started putting together a healing set as well, because Sod's Law says that despite of there seemingly always being a tank shortage for everything, the moment you are on your tank it will be some other role that's in short supply. When I ran RFK on her, our group had no fewer than three tanks in it (I was one of two who agreed to go dps).

Shinny
  • Level 27 Mage
  • 1 day, 18 hours played
  • 185 Tailoring, 109 Enchanting, 148 Cooking, 156 Fishing, 132 First Aid
I originally created this character to have a disenchanter and bag-maker, and most of her levelling has been driven by me feeling that she was a bit too low on money, bag space and character levels relative to the challenge of storing all those bits of cloth and enchanting materials.

Mostly I've found that I don't seem to enjoy playing mage as much as I remembered, even though I know that they are objectively quite powerful. I think they just require a more offensive and mobile playstyle than I'm really comfortable with. Being able to teleport to all the cities and saving a lot of time that would otherwise be spent on flight paths, boats or zeppelins is great though.

We'll see what 2020 will bring for these four and what new alts will end up joining the stable (because you know it will happen eventually, not least because I don't currently have a priest of all things...)

21/12/2019

There's Something About Alterac Valley

About ten days ago, Blizzard dropped the patch that introduced battlegrounds to WoW Classic, or at least the first two: Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley. I've never been a huge fan of the former, but I did want to get in on the action in the latter. Conveniently I even dinged 60 just in time to not be completely useless.

Now, queueing for battlegrounds doesn't work the same way in Classic as it does in retail and other modern MMOs. There's no convenient button to just enter the queue from anywhere in the world. There aren't even battlemasters in the capital cities yet, though I do seem to recall those being there in late Vanilla... maybe Classic will get them in a later phase as well.

As it stands though, the only way to join a match of WSG or AV is to leg it to Ashenvale or Alterac and dutifully bump your nose up against the instance entrance for the battleground to make a queue prompt appear. And then you sit there and wait.

While queues are cross-server and I'm sure that's good for queue times overall, it also means that Horde being the smaller faction on Pyrewood Village has exactly zero effect on our queue times, as we get thrown in with all those PvP servers with a Horde majority and therefore need to wait for enough Alliance players to line up to make up the numbers just like everyone else. Initially queue times were only about eight minutes, but since then they've increased to about twenty minutes at times.

This is annoying because that's a really long time to just stand around and wait (you'll have to tap your character at least a couple of times to not get logged out for being AFK), but Classic being what it is, it's also not really enough time to go out and do some quests in the meantime. (Not to mention that you need to be back at the door anyway to queue for the next match once you're done.) Worse, sometimes the matches can be so quick that you spend way more time sitting in the queue than actually playing.

Yeah, if you thought Classic was going to be a return to those "epic" week-long AV matches that people always talk about so fondly...  prepare to be disappointed. Personally I had no expectations of that nature myself, based on my experiences with Vanilla AV on private servers, but I was still kind of stunned by how many matches were over in less than ten minutes. The very first "introduction to AV" quest you pick up near the entrance asks you to retrieve a banner from a cave near your base and I failed it several times simply because I couldn't fight my way to the back of the cave quickly enough before the match was already over again, even if I made a straight beeline for the objective the moment the gates opened.

Sadly it's simply a classic case of WoW players needing to be saved from themselves. It was interesting to watch conversations about this in guild chat, as they basically came down to everyone agreeing that five-minute rushes to the end were not fun, but a lot of people still insisting that everyone should be doing the thing that's not fun anyway to optimise their honour per hour. To me, this is the problem with WoW players in a nutshell.

Fortunately AV is too big for the fun police to enforce anything efficiently. While there may be general moaning that "people" should be doing this or that, nobody really cares about any particular individual going off to do their own thing, unless you go AFK in a blatantly obvious spot, so I've spent a lot of time simply trying to get various quests done.

I previously expressed excitement about acquiring the Ice Barbed Spear for example, but I'd forgotten that this very same quest actually also rewards a pretty sweet crossbow, so I went for that instead as it provided more of an immediate benefit. Mind you, I'd never come across a crossbow before during my entire time levelling, so my weapon skill with them was 1. I entered my next AV match without realising that you can't increase your weapon skill in battlegrounds... let's just say that next match was a bit of an oopsie.

Anyway, once I'd got that sorted out, my main motivation to keep playing was reputation, not honour (though I'm up to rank 2, "Grunt", right now - woo). Interestingly, reputation vendors in Classic don't even let you see their wares if you don't have the right reputation level, so there's no window shopping and sighing over the goodies you'll hopefully acquire soon. You've got to look up the rewards outside the game or be surprised.

One thing I had looked up were arrows, because I hadn't seen an opportunity to upgrade my arrows since I switched to jagged arrows at level 40. Research led me to Thorium Headed Arrows as the ultimate endgame ammo, but they can only be acquired by crafting Thorium Shells from a rare schematic and then trading them in at a vendor... not particularly appealing to a casual player like me.

However, you could also get arrows that are slightly worse than the Thorium ones but better than jagged by reaching honoured with your AV faction, so that's what I went for. Simply being able to buy those from a vendor was going to be much more straightforward than the whole song and dance surrounding Thorium arrows, even if they could only be purchased from the AV reputation vendor near Tarren Mill.

I did get that done eventually and was pleasantly surprised that the vendor also had upgrades for another couple of my gear slots at honoured reputation. Not pre-raid best in slot or anything like that, but better than what I had so I was happy.

We'll see whether/when I continue with my rep grind. Looking up the list of potential rewards for revered and exalted, there are a couple more items that would be nice to have as a hunter; I'm just not much of a grinder. That said, every now and then it can be fun to camp in the AV cave waiting for queue pops while doing something else on the side (such as write a blog post like this one).

I'm not the only one resisting the rush-rush meta and while I'm not sure the long wait times are ultimately worth it, my matches have been interesting more often than boring. Even my win/loss ratio hasn't been too bad considering that AV is notorious for favouring the Alliance. And it does fill a unique niche of hybrid PvE/PvP content that I don't really get anywhere else.

11/12/2019

Level 60 Hunter

Yesterday I hit level 60 on my hunter. I didn't quite catch the actual moment of levelling up since the GeForce Experience screen capping functionality has been annoyingly laggy ever since I last upgraded my PC, but here's a shot of the seconds right after.

Just like on my paladin on Kronos three and a half years ago, the big ding took place in Winterspring. In fact, for a little while it looked like it was also going to happen from a hand-in at Donova Snowden again, but then I decided to work on a few more quests in the eastern half of the zone first.

When I shared my endgame woes in my last post, Bhagpuss commented that Winterspring wasn't so bad, and I explained why I hadn't gone there yet (at the time), but actually going there also reminded me of another reason I had avoided it: the furbolgs there are camped to hell and back, even early in the morning, which makes it very hard to get any of the quests related to them done. Since it feels like nine out of ten of the campers in question are Alliance, it's not even like I could have offered to group up either.

My /played time as a freshly dinged 60 was eerily similar to my numbers from Kronos as well, which was actually quite a surprise to me considering that my hunter could run faster, kill things much more quickly, and everyone's been saying the content is much easier on Classic than on your average private server.

I'd love to know where I "lost" the time that I must have saved by playing a different class, but my only real guesses are the gold-making break just before level 40 (since paladins get their mount virtually for free, that wasn't a concern for Isadora) and having to roam far and wide for certain kill quests whereas competition for kills had been pretty much non-existent on Kronos.

Anyway, I shall once again take this as an opportunity to post some random screenshots from my levelling journey. I took a lot fewer of these than expected, presumably because playing on private servers had already used up a lot of my sense of awe and wonder at the simple beauty of Classic.

This little conversation involving people congratulating my pet on levelling up in a pug is - to me - quite representative of how differently pets are perceived in Classic.

Okay, I may not have been as amazed by the views anymore as I could have been, but I still loved to pause and take in my surroundings in Thousand Needles more than once.

I think I did this escort quest at least three times (not all of them on my hunter though).

The Dalaran bubble is also a sight that still amazes me.

This was neither my first nor my last BoE blue, but it was around this time that I started to form the theory that your chances of a blue drop increase drastically the fuller your bags are and the more desperate you are to see a vendor already.

When was the last time you managed to lose a loot roll to someone who rolled a 2?

More Thousand Needles views (I spent a lot of time there).

Here I was just amused to run into another hunter with a white wind serpent. I've since seen more of them, but at the time I found it unusual.

Desolace is not a pretty zone in Classic, but there was just something about this night time view that I found striking.

I like to level all my professions as I go along, including fishing, so here's my hunter doing the Feralas part of the quest to skill up past 225 for Nat Pagle.

Many dungeon tactics are quite different in Classic compared to what we knew back in the day. For example I learned that in Uldaman "the thing to do" these days when fighting the last boss is to pull him out of his room and up to the next floor to minimise add interference.

I've said before that I'm not a fan of Maraudon but I will admit that parts of it are quite pretty.

Another one of those "different in Classic" things: In Vanilla it was quite hard to find people for the quest to kill Shadra in the Hinterlands, since it's at the end of a long chain which has quite an obscure start to boot (from clicking on a tiny item on a table). In Classic people were forming pug groups for it all the time (at least while I was passing through the zone).

Doing Jinta'alor with a mix of guildies and pugs made for a fun afternoon that felt like time well-spent.

In Vanilla I remember being scared of the possibility of a giant devilsaur suddenly coming my way while I was questing in Un'goro. In Classic, everyone knows that gear made out of their leather is great for pretty much all melee dps classes, including warriors, and they are farmed almost to extinction. During my entire time questing in the crater I think I only ever saw two (this one and one other).

Old-school game, old-school scamming attempts...

This is the chest you receive at the end of the Kalaran Windblade chain in Searing Gorge. I just had to chuckle at how it pokes fun at the ubiquity of cheese in open world chests. Also, fun fact: while I was looking up something else about this quest chain, I read in the comments about it that the character name is apparently based on a famous EQ player. Just another one of those nods from early Blizzard to the game that inspired them.

08/12/2019

Hitting The Endgame Wall

My last post ended on a very optimistic note, but as it turned out that optimism may have been slightly misplaced or at least premature. For example I'd forgotten just how much I loathe most of the game's original endgame zones. To quote myself from three and a half years ago when I was levelling my paladin on Kronos:

I just don't really like most of the Vanilla level 50+ zones. The Plaguelands are depressing, the Burning Steppes are dull, Silithus with its grating soundtrack and ongoing bug noises is just freaking annoying. I actually find myself wondering if WoW would have been as "sticky" for me if Burning Crusade hadn't come out relatively soon after I hit max level, sparing me from having to spend a significant amount of time with the level sixty endgame.

After finishing up Felwood and Un'goro, my hunter set foot into the Plaguelands and I barely managed to complete two quests before I was feeling turned off. Ugh...

Attempts to pad my XP gains with a few more pug dungeons weren't successful either. Having hit level 58, which is technically high enough for all of Classic's endgame dungeons, I figured that I should be able to tap into the never-ending stream of LFM requests for max-level content that I'd observed during most of my levelling journey. Unfortunately though, it turns out that level 58 hunters aren't the most popular characters in /LookingForGroup.

The first three people I whispered didn't respond to me at all, just kept spamming their LFG request as if nobody was replying. Another told me that they were already full (quite some time after my initial whisper though) and two other times I was told that they already had a hunter and didn't want another. I mean of course, bringing more than one of the same class to a dungeon would surely be unthinkable!

I'm being a bit facetious here because when damage dealers are a dime a dozen there is some logic to trying to build a diverse group, not least because it increases the chances of everyone getting some loot and little going to waste. But after how inclusive and easygoing most of my pugs had been while levelling up, it was still a bit of a blow. (I ran quite a few levelling dungeons with groups with other hunters and there were never any bad vibes. In Sunken Temple a troll hunter and I even set up trap chains on some pulls since a single ice trap's duration is so short.)

Finally I managed to get invited to a group for Strat live that had already both a tank and a healer but was taking suspiciously long to fill its dps slots - my best guess is that the fact that the group leader and healer was a level 59 shaman was deterring the same kinds of people who didn't want a level 58 hunter in their group.

I was feeling optimistic though as we engaged in some friendly chatter on the way to the dungeon entrance. Unfortunately we were only on the second pull when an Eye of Naxx appeared and since I couldn't kill it fast enough we got adds and wiped. Fortunately nobody took it too badly and we just resed up and continued. Unfortunately we soon suffered more deaths, such as when the tank made a big pull while the mage was busy conjuring water. I'll shamefully admit that I was responsible for some deaths too when a clumsy tab-target sent an arrow flying into an extra group of mobs (though that pull didn't wipe us).

We made it past the gate with the rats, and then wiped again on the very next pull. This time I couldn't even tell what had gone wrong exactly; it felt like the healer just hadn't been able to keep up with the damage on the tank. One of the dps said that he didn't have time for this, left, and before I knew it the group had disbanded.

Just like Vanilla indeed. My first memory of Strat is my nelf priest being roped into serving as a healer for a pug run, us wiping a few times on the first road and everything falling apart soon after.

I'm not sure if this screenshot is from that run, as it looks like we must have got a bit further that time, but you get the idea.

I was starting to entertain the idea of cancelling my sub and giving the whole thing a break for a couple of months when I finally got lucky and managed to snag a spot in a guild run on Sunday morning, also for Strat live as it happened. That experience couldn't have been more different: The run was chill and very successful (we never wiped, though there were a couple of humorous deaths, such as when the undead warlock gained an insane amount of aggro from some Scarlets by cannibalising the corpse of one of their mates), and even better for me personally: I hit level 59 and scored no less than three very good pre-raid pieces of gear that nobody else needed.

So hope lives on.

27/11/2019

An Afternoon in Jaedenar

As of me writing this, my hunter is sitting at level 56. Pretty much as I predicted, I'm finding that the fifties seem to go much faster than the twenty levels or so that preceded them, despite of their objectively higher XP requirements.

Contrary to the common wisdom, I'm also having no problems with finding quests. In fact, many of them go green before I actually get around to doing them, as I seem to be levelling up faster than I can complete them. At level 56 I still haven't even touched many of the higher level zones, including Searing Gorge, Blasted Lands, either of the two Plaguelands, Winterspring or Silithus.

Mind you, I will admit that the quests do seem to get somewhat more annoying at this level. The amount of travel required is considerable, and I'm forever busy trying to minimise the pain through efficient use of my hearthstone and hopping on long flights before going AFK.

What's worse though (in my opinion) is that every quest suddenly seems to involve one to four quest items. I don't have that much bag space, man! This in turn makes the above issue worse since it means that I can't pick everything up at once and sometimes have to go back and forth between places repeatedly for no other reason than that I don't have the spare bag slots to ferry all the different items from one place to the other at the same time.

What's good though is the increased incentive to group. It was very high in the lower levels but seemed to peter out somewhat in the midbies, but at my current level it's worth throwing group invites around for a lot of things again, not just dungeons. Clearing all the quests in Jintha'alor in the Hinterlands took a full five-man group longer than most dungeons for example, even with our tank being somewhat over-levelled for the area.

But it doesn't even have to be elites. I was just heading down towards Jaedenar in Felwood when a mage whispered me to group up. I hadn't planned to do so since Jaedenar is basically just a big cave full of normal mobs and I figured I was going to be okay on my own... in hindsight I was lucky that the mage invited me though, because I had underestimated just how much tougher the mobs got further in compared to near the entrance.

Somehow we picked up a level 60 warlock as well who didn't really need our help but just felt like being social I guess. She was there for her Dreadsteed quest, having imbibed a special potion that made her friendly to the mobs and required her to talk to some of them, but was repeatedly stalled by other players killing who she needed to talk to.

She did have to kill a mob as well though, and when we did that as a group he dropped an epic ring. I think it was this one? We all made o-faces in chat and I went ahead and rolled greed.

As a tangent, I've seen some discussion about loot etiquette when it comes to BoE epics, and most people seem to recommend that everyone should need "because someone is going to need anyway and that way they can't ninja". I've met many players who hold similar attitudes when it comes to valuable loot in SWTOR, but I've always been against this practice. Basically, the worst that can happen if I hit greed is that I unjustly miss out on a chance at some loot. The worst that can happen if I hit need is that I end up being the ninja! The latter would be much worse to me, so I always hit greed right away to be on the safe side.

Anyway, the others hit greed as well, even though I said that I would be fine with the mage needing since a ring with frost damage on it was obviously a mage item. However, she wanted to give everyone a fair chance and rolled greed too. The warlock ended up winning the roll, but then graciously agreed to sell the ring to the mage for 50 gold, which was an absolute steal compared to how much the item would have fetched on the auction house, but as she said: "It's not like I'm losing out here, I got an extra 50 gold that I wasn't expecting!"

Anyway, with those quests done we set out to do the local escort. Rescue from Jaedenar is a quest I always found quite memorable because of the pathos conveyed in the quest text but also but also because of what I tend to think of the night elf's Sailor Moon routine when she finds her armour. Unfortunately, Classic servers being what they are, the area was busy and Sailor nelf was not in her cage when we got there.

We saw some Alliance players go past escorting her outside and waved at them, patiently awaiting our turn. Shortly before she respawned however, a level 60 dwarf warrior showed up and jumped the queue. We made /shoo emotes at him, but he was determined to get in there before us, and indeed he did - since we were in a group and had tried to make sure that everyone was on the right step, we were too slow and had to watch our escortee walk off without us yet again.

By this time we'd been in there for a while and I was willing to call it a day, but the warlock suggested that we should help the dwarf to make him finish faster, even as she expressed annoyance about his behaviour. So this dwarf warrior bizarrely ended up with an escort of three Hordies that killed everything ahead of him to clear the way, while one of them (the warlock) also kept hitting a macro to insult him. (How's that for mixed messages?)

Anyway, we helped him finish his escort and went back to waiting at the cage. Eventually Sailor elf respawned again, and this time we got to rescue her. But then there was a follow-up! It sent us back into the cave yet again, to retrieve the remains of her dead friend and kill the succubus who had tortured him to death. (Grim!)

The mage was starting to fret a bit as apparently their girlfriend was getting impatient for them to finish up. We went ahead anyway, but the succubus was nowhere to be seen. After a few minutes of waiting I looked her up on Wowhead and relayed one of the comments there which said that her respawn timer was long and to "bring lunch and dinner". "Oh god," went the mage, clearly fearing an incoming domestic, but just then she appeared anyway, ready for us to cut her head off.

As a final farewell, the mage offered us a portal to a destination of our choice (I opted for Undercity, which was quite far away and where I had some quests to hand in) and logged off. I was pleased to have completed several quests and with having had another interesting adventure.

I'm also quite excited by the prospect of finally being able to run some dungeons with my guildies soon, since I haven't really been able to join a guild group for anything since the first week, after which I was left in the dust and had to watch their max-level adventures from afar ever since. I have no real plans for Classic endgame, but it would be nice to be able to at least dip my toes into some level 60 dungeons this time around.

23/11/2019

Battlegrounds to come to Classic on December 10th

It hasn't even been two weeks since the launch of the honour system and already Blizzard is arranging for the release of the next item that wasn't supposed to come out for a little while: battlegrounds. One can only surmise that this is a quick attempt at damage control during a time when thousands of players have realised that being stuck on a PvP server with several thousand enemies that have nothing better to do than farm you for honour at flight points is in fact not the best way to experience the game.

Yes, I'm being snarky, but I cannot help but feel that it's deserved. The sheer amount of times I've seen people be dismissive of PvE servers, saying that they don't provide the "real" Vanilla experience because "real gamers" always go PvP, blah blah blah - I do feel vindicated seeing those same people not really enjoying life on a PvP server either when push comes to shove.

Moving on from that... the battleground update is actually going to be interesting to me because while I figured out during my private server time that I'm not super keen on Vanilla PvP, I do like to visit Alterac Valley occasionally, not least because of its PvE component. I'm not sure I'll be able to get my hunter to sixty before it goes live, but that shouldn't matter anyway as you only need to be level fifty or so to join in.

For a hunter in particular there's also the Ice Barbed Spear to pick up from the quest to win a single game, which is a very nice melee weapon for non-raiders.

Warsong Gulch doesn't have me that excited, but I might give it a try in one of the lower-level brackets if there are enough people queueing to keep wait times at a reasonable level. The Classic devs have previously stated that battlegrounds will utilise cross-server queuing, but as far as I'm aware it hasn't been clarified whether this will involve all servers in a region or whether there'll be dedicated battlegroups like back in the day.

Another, less talked about feature that will be coming with the patch will be the elemental invasions, which I always thought were decent fun and should provide extra opportunities to farm certain elemental drops. Now that I think about it they were kind of proto public events in a way - that should provide an extra layer of entertainment in Azshara, Silithus, Un'goro and Winterspring.

15/11/2019

Phase 2 & Level 50

WoW Classic's phase two launched this week, including the consolidation of everyone onto a single layer on all servers, the introduction of the honour system, world bosses, and the addition of the key ring - oh wait, they delayed that last one. Typical that this happens to the one feature that I was actually looking forward to. At least I "only" have the keys to SM and Gnomer taking up bag space so far; I feel bad for the max-levels who also have to hold on to their keys to Scholo, Strat, Dire Maul and so on and so forth.

The honour system was a big deal for many, considering how many Classic players seem to be obsessed with PvP, though I'm sure that now that ganking also gives actual rewards many people who rolled on PvP servers for the supposed fun of open world PvP will be starting to regret it. Especially since world PvP can also be had on PvE servers, without all the hassle of being dragged into it unvoluntarily. Some of my guildies apparently jumped into some Tarren Mill vs. Southshore action right away and one of them posted a screenshot showing a gain of nearly 1.5k honour points from his first night alone.

For me, the main concern was the layer consolidation, since Pyrewood Village still struck me as crazy busy when the date for the phase two launch was announced at BlizzCon. About a week or so later though, I found myself questing in the Hinterlands and started to doubt myself... it wasn't unpleasantly empty, but reasonably quiet, which made me think that maybe that final merge wasn't unfeasible after all.

When I came online on Tuesday evening I was surprised by the lack of a queue, though making my way through the Hinterlands once again I got flashbacks to Kolkar Village, with the whole area now stripped clean of mobs as if a locust swarm had descended upon it, and people running to and fro all over trying to pick off respawns as soon as they appeared. In summary: I guess it's not quite as bad as I had feared, but the world is still back to feeling a bit too full right now. We'll see how long it lasts.

Incidentally, my hunter has hit level 50. I unexpectedly got the entirety of Maraudon done at level 47 after joining a tankless group for orange and/or purple side that I saw advertising right outside the instance, and our four dps setup worked so well that we actually ended up proceeding all the way to the Princess despite of me being a bit low level for that part of the dungeon (fortunately everyone else was higher than me).

After that I pretty much flew through the next couple of levels, mopping up a number of green and yellow quests in Feralas, Tanaris and the Hinterlands that I really didn't want to miss out on, and I still have more left to do in all three zones. I also put my very first dungeon group together on my hunter after seeing both a tank and a dps with the mallet looking for a group for Zul'Farrak. This seemed too fortuitous an opportunity to pass up, so I invited them both, threw out a LFM request for the last two spots and five minutes later we were off.

I'm actually feeling reasonably optimistic about those last ten levels. As I observed back on Kronos, they are slow and I'm not very fond of many of the endgame zones, but there is a variety of goals to pursue at that point that aren't necessarily all about levelling, and you end up gaining a lot of XP almost as an afterthought.

11/11/2019

Well Rested

The story of how WoW's rested experience system came about is pretty well known I think, but just in case you haven't heard it before, the gist of it is basically this: With MMOs having had a reputation for being too addictive even back in the early 2000s, Blizzard wanted to discourage players from binging on the game to an extent that might be detrimental to their health. So they decided that after you'd made a certain amount of progress in a single play session, an XP penalty for mob killing would kick in, encouraging you to take a break.

People did not like this at all, but then someone had the genius idea of reframing the whole thing: Without actually changing any of the numbers, the previously reduced rate of XP gain became the new normal, while what used to be normal became bonus experience from being rested. And suddenly people loved it! Great marketing at work there.

Before Classic, I hadn't really thought about rested XP for a few years. While SWTOR nominally copied the system from WoW, its levelling is way too fast these days as it is, but even before then it was never really meant to be the kind of game where you advance mainly through mob grinding, and quests have always been unaffected by restedness.

Looking back at some of my old blog posts here, I was complaining about levelling being too fast right after Cata's launch back in 2010, and actually even a couple of weeks before that (though that was more focused on questioning the value of heirlooms). When things are going too fast, the last thing you want to be is rested. (I can't find the particular quote, but I seem to recall that there was even a period where I intentionally logged out outside of cities/inns in an attempt to slow down my accumulation of rested XP.)

In Classic though, levelling is much slower than in most modern MMOs, and when you run out of rested experience it does feel like someone suddenly stepped on the breaks. It's not bad enough to make me want to stop playing if I'm having fun, but it definitely makes it feel nice to be rested.

During my early Classic altoholism one of the things I enjoyed doing was rotating through to a different alt every evening so that the others had time to accumulate some rested XP in the meantime. I soon realised that I didn't really want to level them all in sync though, as that meant doing the same content over and over again in quick succession, which to me at least partially defeats the purpose of having an alt.

Still, even with my focus having shifted to my hunter full time, I'm generally not short on rested XP. Many days go by when I don't find any time to play at all, and every one of those helps to feed my blue bar for those longer weekend sessions.

What's funny to me is that this has led to me discovering a point where too much restedness can become a bit of a nuisance even in Classic, and that's when it comes to levelling my hunter's pets.

I've mentioned previously that most guides advise against trying to level more than one pet at a time, yet that this didn't stop me from successfully doing just that back in Vanilla and BC, which is why I'm happily doing it again in Classic now. However, I'm being reminded of a problem I seem to vaguely recall having back in the day as well, and that is restedness.

You see, hunter pets need a lot fewer experience points to level up than a player character. I'm not sure of the exact number, but I think it's something like a third of a character level? However, they don't benefit from quest experience or restedness, and they don't gain any XP while you are both the same level, only after you've recently levelled up. With one pet that's not an issue, but with two you may actually find yourself outlevelling one or both of your pets sometimes due to quests and bonus XP boosting you further and further ahead.

It becomes even worse when you're not 100% consistent with swapping between the two pets whenever they need it, such as happened to me when I ended up running the entirety of Maraudon with my bear while he was already at his current level cap, while my wind serpent was sitting in the stables being three or four levels behind. I had meant to swap them around beforehand, but then I ended up getting a group invite right at the dungeon entrance with no good opportunity to go back and see the stable master, so that was that.

Ultimately it's not a big deal, because no matter how far behind one or both of my pets might fall, eventually I'll hit sixty and at the very latest they'll be able to catch me up again once my character stops gaining XP. I just find it amusing that I find ways for levelling to feel too annoyingly fast even in a game where it takes most players months to reach the cap.

07/11/2019

Left Behind

We're about halfway through Classic's third month, and the blogosphere's interest in the game is starting to fade, as I see more and more people admit that they've become bored with it, or else it just quietly falls out of their gaming rotation without further comment.

I'm one of those who find themselves being left behind, not for the first time in my gaming life. I'm more or less down to playing Classic on my own at this point. I did in fact predict almost a year ago that if I was going to roll up a character with my old friends from back in the day, they likely weren't going to stick with it, so I can't say that I'm entirely surprised.

My friend Ollie's enthusiasm lasted less than a month, which was pretty much as expected, but I was a bit let down by Nemi's quick surrender. Considering that she was the one who said that she was going to raid and even made us join the guild we're in for this purpose, I did expect her to at least get to sixty. However, after pushing as high as level fifty or so within only a couple of weeks, her interest suddenly seemed to drop off a cliff. I thought that maybe she had finally decided to wait for me to catch up a bit, but since she hasn't even logged in for several weeks now, I guess she's just done.

And what about my dear husband, who rolled up a tank to level with my shaman? While he keeps telling me that he's happy to continue playing for my sake, it's obvious that he's been enjoying himself less and less in the past few weeks, so I think we'll soon reach the point where I'll stop asking him to log in simply because I don't want it to feel forced.

Fortunately I more or less planned for such an eventuality when I created my hunter, who's been my most played character for weeks now. Hunter is a great class to play when you want to explore and quest on your own, but they are not as popular in group content, so I guess my long game will still be to eventually get my shaman levelled up as well. At least she can only benefit from having a higher-level benefactor to help her out with things like mount money.

Unpopular dps or not, I also still made it a personal goal to do all the dungeons on my hunter while levelling up, even if I have to pug them all, and so far it's been going well enough. I basically sit in the LookingForGroup channel whenever I quest and have a bit of time on my hands, and whenever one of the rare "looking for dps" requests comes up, I pounce on it instantly.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit rough, as Uldaman and Maraudon have been looming ahead of me, two dungeons that I'm not very fond of. I finally finished Uldaman the other night (the quests in there required no fewer than two runs to complete as well) by answering a LFM request at 10pm on a work night... I was shattered the next morning but had no regrets. Now to tackle the challenge that is Maraudon.

The problem with both Uldaman and Maraudon is that they span a huge level range, so regardless of when you go, you'll either be too low level to kill the final boss or too high to get XP from the first half of the dungeon. I just don't like that very much, and neither do a lot of other people based on the lack of LFG requests I see for either of them. If I can make it past that last hump however, I should more or less be good until the cap, as everything after that is a lot more popular again (as far as I remember).

03/11/2019

No Classic News Out of BlizzCon

So BlizzCon was this weekend, and I kept an eye on the biggest news items to see whether they were going to announce anything exciting for Classic fans. Unfortunately they didn't.

Mind you, they did fulfil one wish which I had expressed in the comment section of Wilhelm's BlizzCon prediction post back at the start of October:

Brack did make an "I think you do" joke.

Unfortunately there were no real Classic news beyond them stating that they'll launch phase two on the 12th of November, which is actually more worrying than exciting to me. After all, they said that they didn't want to launch this phase (which includes world bosses etc.) until all Classic servers were down to a single layer, and based on how many people I'm seeing around, Pyrewood Village is still nowhere near ready for that.

So either they are going back on their word and there'll be some drama around people exploiting layer hopping to kill world bosses more than once, or they are going to execute the final layer merge regardless of population concerns and we'll be back to sitting in hour-long queues. Meh.

Someone did ask about BC/Wrath servers in the Q&A, but the response was just a repeat of their "we're not opposed to it but nothing's planned yet" stance that Brack expressed previously. I guess in hindsight I shouldn't be surprised considering that as far as WoW is concerned, this BlizzCon was all about the new expansion for the live game.

I suppose they'd be more likely to make a big announcement about something Classic-related at one of the conventions between expansions. Maybe next year then. It's not like Classic isn't providing me with lots to do as it is.

The big announcement for retail WoW fans was that the next expansion is going to be called Shadowlands. It didn't include anything that made me want to play retail again, but then I don't expect anything to do that at this point; I just like watching the story cinematics. The Shadowlands cinematic was quite cool, and I liked how it made it look like Sylvanas was going to crown herself Lich Queen for a bit, then suddenly went into a completley different direction.

I did find it funny how they were saying that the Shadowlands are going to be totally different from anything that's ever come before, and then the features trailer made everything look incredibly run-of-the-mill: here's an undead-themed zone, here's a forest zone, here's an air-themed zone etc. I mean, there's nothing wrong with those things; it just struck me as an amusing contradiction.

Players seem pretty hyped from what I've seen so far (also because there seems to be an increasing belief that like with Star Trek movies, WoW's even-numbered expansions tend to be the better ones), but I can't help but wonder whether Blizzard isn't about to fall into either a Mists of Pandaria or Warlords of Draenor trap in terms of the setting again, depending on whether you see the Shadowlands as a totally new land with few connections to Azeroth as we know it (MoP) or almost like an alternate reality that will quickly be forgotten again once people go back to Azeroth proper in the expansion after that one (WoD).

There was also talk about revamping levelling yet again, by squishing levels in half, starting new players in a special starting zone that guides them straight into BfA content, and giving veteran players a bit more freedom in terms of where to level alts so that they could go from say 1-50 in Northrend (that's how I understood it anyway, I'm a bit uncertain about the details).

Again, I've seen people get quite excited about this, but I can't help but get Cataclysm 2.0 vibes from this one. Sure, it's ambitious, but so was Cata. At the end of the day they still aren't going to fix the continuity problems in the old world and are only once again trying to push people towards the level cap even faster. I don't think that will make the levelling game any more appealing to new players than it is right now.

26/10/2019

Classic Halloween

It's Hallow's End in World of Warcraft, and I can't help but notice how quaint the celebrations are in Classic. There are some seasonal decorations in places, such as the giant pumpkin at the entrance to the Undercity, but they are not as ubiquitous and over the top as in the live game.

There are a couple of simple quests to do that don't reward anything too exciting, some temporary buffs to pick up, and you can bob apples or trick or treat at innkeepers for a silly temporary costume or some free food, with the latter being something that's actually not to be sniffed at in Classic.

Overall though, there's no pressure or urgency, no achievements or cosmetics to grind. The event's only real purpose seems to be to have a bit of fun and set a certain mood, mostly through the temporary costume buffs filling the cities with ghosts, pirates and leper gnomes.

It's quite a stark contrast to how most modern MMOs handle seasonal festivals, and I like it. Similarly to how people complain about many public holidays being too commercialised these days, focused on selling expensive chocolate in seasonal packaging above all else, I dislike it when MMOs use a seasonal event as an excuse to make people do more of the same stuff they already do all year anyway (usually grind special currencies and cosmetics), but with a "limited time only" urgency message attached just to get you to log in every day.

The events I don't mind so much and even like tend to be the ones where some unusual activities are on offer that I happen to enjoy and don't usually get to partake in, such as racing on ice in Neverwinter's winter festival or herding chickens during the same game's summer festival, because I like doing them for the sheer fun of it and for a change of pace.

I get that big and noisy events can serve as an incentive for inactive players to come back, but if I'm already playing your game and enjoying it, trying to sell me on it again while I'm already happily playing what's there tends to feel a bit like overkill.

21/10/2019

Level 40 & A Mount

Last week I wrote about how making money for my first mount was very much on my mind as my hunter crept closer and closer to level forty. I kept flip-flopping on the question of how I felt about it - some commenters reminded me that it really wasn't that big a deal, and I also ran into other characters in the low forties who hadn't been able to afford their mount yet. But then I'd have some sort of windfall and feel spurred on again, because just a few more of those and I'm there!

My favourite of these was when I earned a tip of two gold from crafting an advanced target dummy for someone in Thunder Bluff, and from their own materials no less. I would have done it for free as the recipe was yellow for me at the time and therefore likely to be a skill-up, but then they handed me the gold when I traded the finished product back to them and I thought sure, why not. Fastest two gold I've made so far.

Other money-making operations didn't go so well, mind you. After I saw Kurn post about making money from re-selling the pattern for runecloth bags, I checked the price for it on the Pyrewood Horde auction house and was wowed: just re-selling one or two of that item would have been enough to push me over the line towards my mount.

So I stripped down to my cloak and tabard again and made the death run to Winterspring. Much love to the kind human warlock who spotted my cow on the road in Felwood and started aggroing all the wolves in the vicinity in what felt like a clear attempt to protect me - if I'd been smarter I'd have stayed near him, but I blithely ran further ahead while he fought the wolves and then died as soon as I got in range of the next one.

The moment I hit my screenshot key, I heard a loud roar behind me and had to leg it inside the town in order not to be eaten by a bear.

The problem was that when I finally made it to Everlook I found that this clearly wasn't some super secret insider tip as there were already several people camping the vendor (a goblin named Qia). When I looked it up on Wowhead to see if they had any more info on just how often the pattern respawns etc. there were whole instructions on how to write a macro that will buy all the rare recipes the vendor has as soon as they appear as long as you are willing to stand there and spam click on her for a couple of hours.

I quickly decided that I couldn't be bothered with such insanity, so the run was eventually for naught. I did check back a couple of times just to see if I'd maybe stand a chance if I checked early in the morning or something like that, but I had no such luck: I never saw Qia surrounded by less than three people, no matter the time of day.

I also tried to make some more money with fishing but it has very much remained a mixed bag. I got super excited when I found Lordamere Lake completely uncontested one evening and managed to fish up several stacks of Greater Sagefish there, but then it turned out that their price had plummeted over night (of course, that's probably why everybody else stopped bothering) and those stacks didn't end up making me much money anyway.

Still, I persisted with my personalised strategy of doing my daily mining round in Thousand Needles, and this made me enough money that I eventually decided to invest in one final push, so that I had just enough to buy the mount when I hit forty, as long as I ignored my class training for the moment (as that would have cost another twelve gold or so just for my level forty abilities).

And I've got to say: I do not regret it. A mount may not be all that in terms of usefulness, but the matter had weighed so heavily on my mind that it was a huge relief to be able to stop worrying about it. After this there aren't any more expensive purchases that feel like they should be made as soon as you hit a certain level, so I can focus on other things as and when I feel like it.

I hadn't realised how much it had bothered me to have this "problem" (wanting my mount at forty but not having enough money for it) and no clear solution to deal with it. Being able to check that item off my list was such a huge relief, I pretty much flew through the next couple of levels from sheer joy. Now other challenges await!

18/10/2019

10 Years of WoW Blogging

Nogamara from Battle Stance celebrated his blog's tenth birthday today. Go and congratulate him, because he's awesome!

Reading that post also gave me pause though. 2009 to 2019... wait, didn't I start blogging on here in 2009 as well? The answer is yes: in fact, technically this blog's anniversary was about three months ago, and I completely forgot about it. (I have no idea why Parallel Context's tenth anniversary the other day didn't trigger a similar line of thought in my mind by the way... brains are weird.)

I suppose I didn't really think of celebrating this blog's anniversary at least in part because I've been completely focused on my Star Wars: The Old Republic blog for the last eight years, and tended to think of this one as lying dormant. However, Nogamara even counted two whole years of his blog's lifetime during which he didn't make a single post at all - meanwhile I somehow ended up putting out at least half a dozen entries per year even during years when I thought of myself as totally not playing WoW, so... I guess that counts as active in some way?

My first ever post was made on the 12th of July 2009 and called Some thoughts on heroic Oculus. I have to admit that, on re-reading that post, I chuckled at myself referring to it as "the o-word". Yes, I know you're not supposed to laugh at your own jokes, but me from ten years ago might as well be a different person and I think she's kind of funny sometimes, OK?

It's kind of amazing to me now just how prolific I was during the first one and a half years of this blog: I posted pretty much every other day! I was going to say something like "I have no idea how I had the time to do that" but then I remembered that I was unemployed for at least half of that time, so that probably helped.

Incidentally, WoW also played a role in eventually ending my unemployment - and that post was my introduction to reddit, since someone linked it there and gave me a crazy traffic spike.

Anyway, I remain impressed by the sheer amount of things I actually had to say about the game in late Wrath in particular. I kind of wish I'd started this whole blogging lark much earlier; then I would now have a detailed record of everything I thought during Burning Crusade as well.

Going through the archives of those early years, you can see the very slow and gradual decrease in my enjoyment of WoW. My second post on the blog was called Four reasons why I like pugs, and especially in the early days there were still quite a number of happy posts about grouping experienes, but over time the percentage of things that annoyed and frustrated me clearly grew.

I quit in March 2012 and had no intentions of coming back, until my now-husband unexpectedly gifted me the Mists of Pandaria expansion and some game time at the end of 2013, which had us going through a little levelling adventure together, until we both hit max level and quickly got bored again.

In 2015 I discovered the world of private servers during a burst of nostalgia, so then I wrote about my experiences on those at intervals over the next couple of years. Conveniently Blizzard announced WoW Classic mere weeks after I'd got fed up with yet another piece of private server drama, and that eventually led me to where I am now, blogging about WoW Classic. It feels crazy to think that a whole decade has passed in that time, because it certainly hasn't felt that long to me.

I would say something like "to the next ten years", but the thought of one day being able to say that I've blogged about World of Warcraft for twenty years is kind of terrifying in its own right. We'll just see how it goes, alright? Thanks for being along for the ride.

15/10/2019

World of Watercraft

My love for fishing aside, I've found that I have a rather unusual fascination with water in general in Classic.

I can't help but wonder whether that isn't at least partially due to the fact that I've spent the last seven years focusing on Star Wars: The Old Republic, in which water isn't more than an environmental effect and a bit of an illusion: While planets have lakes and rivers, they are never more than knee-deep, which makes the bridges and dams built around them all the more bizarre.

While some have (understandably) mocked this design choice, I can't say that I ever minded it much myself. I don't have any particularly fond memories of what you could call water-related gameplay in WoW. If anything, it's the opposite! I'm sure many an old-school WoW player has traumatic memories of a quest or two that required them to dive underwater among hostile mobs and caused them to suffer many a death while trying to juggle fighting with not drowning.

For me it was mostly the underwater troll ruin off the coast of Stranglethorn Vale that's filled with elite murlocs. You have to dive so deep that you can barely hold your breath for long enough to grab your quest items as it is, and then you're supposed to fight elite murlocs on top of it at all? Come on! I still have that quest in my hunter's log as well and am unsure when I'll actually dare to brave it this time around.

More generally speaking though, I've actually been kind of enjoying my time underwater this time around. Having to swim, dive and fight mobs underwater is simultaneously annoying and an interesting obstacle. On my hunter I at least have the advantage of my pets all seemingly coming equipped with a set of gills, so I can send them to fight underwater while I stay near the surface most of the time, just firing at things from a distance.

While swimming around, I also found myself strangely enchanted by watching my pets' swimming animations. I love how the wind serpent turns into a proper snake for example, folds its wings and wiggles along just like real snakes do. I seem to recall that not all pets originally had swimming animations, which included my hyena back in the day, so having my current set of pets move in an appropriate way has been a pleasant surprise.

On my shaman I've been able to enjoy a different kind of water-related perk, as her command over the elements includes Water Breathing and Water Walking. Both spells require reagents that can't be bought from a vendor (though they are cheap and easy to come by in the world), so that many shamans don't always carry them around... which of course gives me the opportunity to distinguish myself as the kind of shaman who is always prepared.

Underwater breathing makes the aforementioned quests that require diving a real breeze, and water walking allows you to cross bodies of water in a nice straight line, whether it's a lake or an easy way to travel along an uneven coast line without having to take detours or worry about mobs. Nothing quite like gracefully leaping over the head of a gnome submerged in the water while chuckling to yourself about the small advantages of being Horde.

Who knew that something as simple as water could be this much fun?

12/10/2019

Making Money

I alluded to it in previous posts, but the money for your first mount at level 40 can be hard to come by. I've been feeling the strain for a while now, and my hunter dropping down to as little as two gold with only three levels to go was a definitive wake-up call.

I suppose to some extent it's my own fault. For example I don't follow the oft-repeated advice to not train all your new spells. I mean, who knows when Eagle Eye could suddenly come in handy? I want to be prepared for anything.

Also, while I don't tend to buy things from the auction house, I don't tend to make much money off it either. It doesn't help that all four of my currently actively played alts are crafters, so from cloth to leather to ore, there's always someone who can use whatever I'm picking up, so that many things that would presumably be a source of income for others just quietly disappear into my personal crafting machine.

It doesn't help that the server economy still feels weird too. I've never been part of a fresh start server like this (as opposed to a brand new game launch where nobody knows how to play the market) so I don't know if this is simply typical for this sort of situation, but there are way more people trying to make money from selling goods than players interested in buying them.

For the first week or so this made sense, as nobody really had anything to spend, but by now most characters should have at least a few silver to spare every now and then, yet there is still seemingly no demand for most trade goods, with many of the lower level ones lingering at buyouts of mere coppers per piece still.

The one upside to this from my point of view is that if you run into a slightly awkward crafting recipe while levelling that requires what you'd expect to be somewhat unusual materials, you can just go to the auction house, buy said "rare" materials for a silver and craft the thing anyway. I still haven't quite managed to wrap my mind around that, fretting whenever I see an engineering schematic requiring gems for example, but then I check the AH and everything I need is usually available for little more than vendor price.
Wrathofkublakhan has been talking about making money with fishing, which sounded great to me since I greatly enjoy fishing on all of my characters. However, I haven't had much luck with that either. The lower level, supposedly valuable fish like Oily Blackmouth and Firefin Snapper, are still going for mere coppers on my server, and for anything even slightly higher level the competition is insane and it's often a challenge to find any pools at all. In addition, supposedly convenient fishing spots like the coast of Dustwallow Marsh or Feralas are a lot less so when you're Horde and your nearest town is a considerable trip away instead of directly on the coast.

I've actually had a bit more luck mining for iron on my hunter, despite of this being something that should be seemingly obvious and highly contested. There are two caves in Thousand Needles that are close to Freewind Post and contain two to three ore spawns each, usually iron, sometimes silver, gold or mithril (but never anything worse) and that few people ever seem to visit. I've taken to going there daily in the mornings, and while it's not the most profitable thing ever due to the aforementioned low demand for trade goods, iron is enough of a pain to find that it's got me at least back up to over thirty gold so far.

I haven't entirely given up on fish either and have mostly been hunting for Greater Sagefish on the coast of Lordamere Lake, but with mixed success. Fishing just isn't the insider's niche it used to be I guess, at least not on Pyrewood Village.

I'm undecided whether I should push onwards in terms of levelling at all while I still can't afford my mount or whether I should just keep grinding money. I suppose it doesn't technically matter, especially on a hunter who can travel at quite a steady clip with Aspect of the Cheetah anyway, but the thought of travelling everywhere on foot throughout the fourties because I can't afford anything else just feels kind of... shameful.

09/10/2019

Population Problems and Layering

I've posited previously that the thirties are possibly the most awkward level range in Vanilla/Classic WoW. The game expects you to roam further and further afield but you don't have a mount yet (in fact you're probably fretting about how in the world you're going to afford yours in a few levels) and there's a bit of a dearth of good dungeons.

This time around though, it hasn't felt too bad so far! I think it helps that both my hunter and my shaman do have speed boosts in the form of Aspect of the Cheetah and Ghost Wolf, which makes all the running around a bit more palatable.

What has been surprisingly bad though are the crowds. I thought I'd seen the worst of that during launch week in the Barrens, with all four Horde races crammed into the same zone, but I forgot that both factions would come together in the neutral higher level zones, and early census data taken by addons indicated that Pyrewood Village has about twice as many Alliance players as Horde. (The EU chart on Wowhead had us as the ninth realm from the bottom in terms of Horde percentage of the population.)

I can definitely believe that after trying to quest in Stranglethorn Vale during prime time. After spending way too long competing with half a dozen Alliance characters for what felt like about ten basilisks, I vowed to myself to never come back there during the evening unless I was looking for a group for an elite quest or something. (I ended up killing Sin'Dall early in the morning, though even then I ran into at least another Horde player.)

I relocated to Desolace for the most part, which does somewhat live up to its name still. I even had Ranazjar Isle all to myself at one point! Though there was also another time when I tried to hunt for centaur ears in Kolkar Village and the entire place was nothing but a wasteland, with groups of Alliance roaming everywhere, trying to kill every centaur almost as soon as it spawned. I wouldn't have bothered to stay had I not been on my hunter - she at least had the advantage of being able to track humanoids, so that she could see every newly respawned centaur as a bright red dot on the mini map before your average human pally or mage, which allowed her to snipe just enough kills for the whole exercise to not feel completely pointless.

I did find myself wondering how it was possible that the mid-levels were still sooo busy when I hadn't seen a queue in weeks and a lot of people have surely stopped playing already. Of course that's when Blizzard proudly announced in both the US and the EU that they've had great success with merging down layers already. Some realms are even down to a single layer already, but the most that any realm has left are three. I guess that would explain how even with an overall (probably) declining population, the server's been feeling busier than ever.

This leaves one in the awkward situation of wanting the game to continue to be popular and successful... but at the same time wishing that more of the people on my server would quit already. I couldn't quite relate to when Kring commented that the servers were way too full and it was a horrible experience, but now I guess I can see what he means.

I suppose we can only hope that more people stop playing Classic...? Blizzard seems to be confident that they will, as Ion Hazzikostas told PC Gamer in an interview a few days ago that they expect to have all realms down to a single layer before the end of the year. Yay, I guess...?

07/10/2019

The WoW Diary

I first heard about John Staats' WoW Diary when Wilhelm posted about its failed first run on Kickstarter. In what you would very much expect from a former Blizzard dev, Staats learned from his failure, iterated on his approach and tried again a few months later, this time achieving rousing success. His newfound marketing chops were through the roof, as I saw him guest on at least three different WoW podcasts to promote his book within the course of a couple of weeks, and that was in my own very limited sphere of influence. He was probably on a lot more.

I was tempted to chip in for a copy of my own back then but held off, just to regret it almost immediately. After everything I'd heard from Staats and about the book, I really wanted a copy, but I figured that I'd just have to wait until the public release on Amazon. I remembered to check back a couple of times but at no time was it marked as available yet.

Interestingly it was while I was visiting a friend's house and watching a YouTube video there without adblock on that I saw an ad for the book, immediately prompting me to go, "Oh, it's finally out?!", at which point I instantly went to Amazon and ordered my own copy. Unfortunately Amazon.co.uk only had the Kindle version available (and according to the author himself that won't change any time soon), but the US site also offered shipping to the UK so I went for that.

Product picture from Amazon.

Including shipping, I thought that the price of nearly £50 was pretty steep even for a big hardcover, but I can't say that I've regretted my purchase. It's not really one of those glossy coffee table books - while there are interesting images inside, they are mostly low-res screenshots and grainy, twenty-year-old photos - but the content was absolutely worth it to me.

Staats documents the development of WoW from 2000, when he joined Blizzard as a 3D environmental artist, to its launch in late 2004. The short chapters, sometimes only 1-2 pages long, attempt to document events in chronological order, though many tend to cast a spotlight on different aspects of the project that were going on simultaneously to an extent, such as zone design and creation of character models.

If there's one overarching lesson I came away with is that it's a minor miracle that WoW, or any MMO for that matter, has been made at all, considering how many different parts needed to be co-ordinated and required constant refinement and iteration until launch (and sometimes even afterwards). It really makes you respect the people involved all the more.

The subject of crunch - an uncomfortable discussion point in game industry circles in recent years - also came up somewhat to my surprise. While Staats made a point of saying that overtime was largely voluntary and driven by passion for the project, he does also admit that this wasn't always the case, and that other times people were just dispirited by the long hours required to hit some new deadline. I had thought that this sort of working environment was a recent trend brought on by corporate greed, but clearly practices like these have been part of game development for much, much longer.

Still, for the most part the book is quite cheerful and light-hearted, featuring amusing anecdotes about goings-on in at the then still quite small Blizzard offices and fascinating insights into why certain features of WoW came out the way they did. To think that all these years I could have avoided getting lost in Wailing Caverns by simply following the mushrooms!

The one slight criticism of the book I have is that the amount of name-dropping, while clearly meant to simply give credit where it's due, can sometimes be overwhelming, as it can be hard for the casual reader to remember the names of every dev and artist the author mentions throughout the book and then make sense of what it means when he says that so-and-so also worked on feature X.

That said, when you do know who he's talking about it's super interesting. I had to smile when he mentioned John Smedley and Brad McQuaid being nosy on more than one occasion, and I did a double-take when he mentioned someone called Michael Backus being part of the early quest team - the same guy who used to work at Bioware and whom I once interviewed on the subject of flashpoints.

I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who's a big fan of old-school World of Warcraft or the MMO genre in general. The insights it provides are quite amazing.