Random Retail Ramblings

Last night I had a random idea for an alt in retail, so I started playing around with the character creator. A bit of fiddling was required until I found a suitable name that wasn't taken (the way WoW's character creator gives feedback on that while you're typing is very good by the way); then I hit finish... and was presented with the following error message:

You already have the maximum number of characters allowed on this account.

While I've been vaguley aware of this limit of fifty characters per account for a long time, I never expected to actually run up against it myself in a million years. My immediate reaction was to go back to the server selection screen and add up the numbers myself. Yes, I had ten characters on my old Horde server, ten characters on my old Alliance server, plus obviously a few characters on Azjol-Nerub, where I'm playing with my husband nowadays, but that's barely halfway there!

The numbers didn't lie though - apparently I'd amassed so many random low-levels across a number of different servers over the years (to say hi to friends there, take part in projects/events etc.) that I had indeed hit fifty. Interestingly, for all the interest in monetisation, additional character slots are not something Blizzard sells even to this day. Fortunately I had no particular qualms about deleting a random level three druid that I could barely even remember making to free up some space, so I could then go ahead and create the new worgen rogue I'd actually wanted to make.

This was my third time through the worgen starter zone, and it was shockingly lonely despite of cross-realm zones. This isn't some sort of "game is dead" dig - the worgen starter experience moves you around a lot and involves a lot of phasing, so this wasn't entirely unexpected, but still... I remember running into a total of three other players during the entire two play sessions I spent on this little adventure, and none of them stayed within my sights for long.

By the time I was finally ejected from Gilneas, I was level 17, which is about where you'd end up back in the day as well but which still feels mildly insane to me now that the level cap has been squished down to sixty. After a bit of musing about how much it must suck to roleplay a Gilnean in lore right now (you lose your home to the Forsaken, carve out a little niche among the night elves, and then their whole tree gets burned down by the Horde as well), I ran into my usual troubles figuring out how to travel cross-continent in retail.

It wasn't lost on me that it was quite ironic that my attempts to google advice on this mostly resulted in results for WoW Classic. I know my way around Classic, thanks; things make sense there! Say what you want about boats, there's a lot of logic in reaching a shoreline, seeing a port, and taking a boat from there to somewhere beyond the water. Portals may be convenient but they can be anywhere and lead to anywhere, so there's no natural rhyme or reason to where you can find a portal to go to any particular place in WoW (with the exception of the big portal room in the Stormwind mage tower). Fortunately I eventually found a portal to Stormwind regardless.

Every time I play an alt in retail it strikes me that there's still a lot of "world" in World of Warcraft but that the game just has zero interest in making you engage with it. The best way for things to make some semblance of sense for new players is to put them through a very curated experience that just ignores everything pre-BfA (which is what Blizzard has done with Shadowlands) and it just seems like such a shame when I suspect that it's precisely all this older stuff that keeps many people subscribed long term, even if that content doesn't reward relevant gear anymore. Or at least that's what I'm seeing with my husband, who spends hours going through old quests and grinding old reputations and achievements for completion's sake. And there are certainly only so many hours in the day that I want to spend exclusively on the newest expansion content myself.


What's the point of Classic now?

I'm still logging into Classic regularly, but it's mainly an exercise in going through the motions, such as to use my daily alchemy transmute. Even though the Sunwell patch dropped this week, I've had no desire to go to the Isle of Quel'Danas at this juncture.

I keep clinging to the notion that Blizzard could still change their minds about the continued existence of BC Classic servers, but having followed the relevant forum threads I'm not hopeful, and then I wonder why I even bother if all my characters are effectively going to be deleted in a few months.

I went back to some of my early posts about Classic and it struck me as almost tragic to see how much things have changed since then. My excitement for Classic was based on a simple premise: Blizzard letting us continue to play our favourite expansion forever. Sadly I couldn't find the link (if you know where to look, please share in the comments) but I distinctly remember an interview about Classic not long after its original announcement where someone from Blizzard (I think it was Ion but not 100% sure) said something along the lines of them realising that there was a huge passion for Classic and that they were going to honour that by recreating it and maintaining it effectively as a museum piece, even if only a small number of players were interested in playing it continuously.

Now, to be clear, I know they never claimed that they were going to do the same for later expansions, but I don't think I was unreasonable in taking it as a general expression of sentiment and to think that they were likely to approach classic versions of other expansions in a similar way. Their current attitude towards BC isn't just a slight deviation from what they said back then - going "well, we're not going to maintain it because we don't think enough people are willing to pay for it" is a complete 180 degree turn! They effectively built Burning Crusade Classic just to close it down again after less than two years.

And again, I'm not saying that progressing into Wrath of the Lich King is inherently wrong. I get that this is something that a lot of people want. It's just not what I wanted, and Blizzard certainly didn't make it clear that this was going to be forced on me when I opted to move my characters forward into Burning Crusade less than a year ago. For me, the promise of Classic was that it would allow us to go back and re-experience content and the world as it was, without having a deadline looming over our heads when it would all go away again. And no, of course a "stagnant" MMO like that wouldn't be as busy with people grinding frantically as a constantly evolving game, but that's kind of the point. Classic era is quiet, but it is being played by people who are enjoying themselves and re-running the old raids just for fun. All I wanted was the same opportunity for BC.

If Classic is just turning into a bunch of progression servers, that's - to me - worse than retail. One of the things that put me off back in Cataclysm was how blatant a treadmill the game had become and how fast it expected you to move, to the point that it would basically push you forward forcefully if it considered you too slow. New content was no longer an open invitation to do more, it became a mandate. The way the Classic team has been rushing to push out the last few Burning Crusade patches already replicates that feeling pretty perfectly.

Meanwhile, Shadowlands has had the slowest patch cadence ever, something that a lot of people have been complaining about, but which at the same time makes it extremely casual-friendly because you have loads of time to complete your goals. The irony of that is not lost on me.


Pandas of Draenor

Just as I was starting to wonder whether I still had enough of a reason to stay subscribed to WoW, my husband came in clutch for Blizzard by expressing a desire to pick up retail again, now that our new-expansion gearing frenzy in SWTOR was coming to an end for the time being. Much to my surprise, he wasn't that keen on going to Zereth Mortis yet, but wanted to roll up a new pair of characters, this time to level through Warlords of Draenor.

After a bit of discussion about what to go for, we ended up with a pair of pandaren, him a brewmaster monk, me a discipline priest. I've certainly come a long way from being notably underwhelmed by the Mists of Pandaria announcement, to finding the expansion itself kind of neat, to actually playing a pandaren myself!

I had never played through the pandaren starting experience before and found it enjoyable enough, though I did get a bit of a sense of déjà vu towards the end, which makes me think that I must have watched a playthrough of the zone on YouTube at some point many years ago.

And then we were off to Warlords of Draenor, the one remaining expansion from which I hadn't played any content before, though it does of course have a strong reputation. I remember when it was first announced I was actually kind of intrigued and considered checking it out, but that interest didn't last long. I also recall watching my husband play through the content on his own at the time and commenting how ridiculous it was that all the orc warlords appeared with their names floating next to them in giant letters - I guess Blizzard didn't think people would be able to tell them apart otherwise. My opinion on this was unchanged when we got to that part ourselves.

The introduction to Draenor in general is a fast-paced adventure that feels super odd to jump into story-wise with the new levelling system. A moment ago we were noobish pandas only just earning the right to leave the Wandering Isle for the first time, the next Khadgar greets us as famous champions who are Azeroth's only hope. I know that opting into Chromie Time includes implicit acceptance that the timeline won't really make sense, but this just seemed like a particularly extreme contrast. There also isn't any real context for why we suddenly have to go through the Dark Portal, it just feels very rushed and out of nowhere. Also, speaking of Khadgar: I thought he was kind of funny in Legion, but here the first impression he makes is actually one of being rather cold and uncaring... not a fan.

After the intro we were off to Shadowmoon Valley to start building our garrison, another feature that was reported on a lot back in the day. My husband seems to be very fond of it (he has several across his stable of characters) but he does love base-building games in general. I was a little overwhelmed at first to be honest, especially with him going on about all the things I "should" be doing to upgrade my garrison asap. The process looks like it must have been sped up a lot compared to back in the day, but it still costs resources - in fact it's ironic that the garrison had a reputation for being a massive gold generator when WoD was current but now seems to have been reduced to a gold sink instead - my husband confessed that he sent his new alt several tens of thousands of gold to be able to upgrade his buildings asap. As I've refused to do this so far, my own garrison is still extremely basic as my panda priest has only earned a few hundred gold throughout her questing so far.

At the time of me writing this, we've only done a few quests in Shadowmoon Valley plus one random dungeon and we're already level thirty, so I anticipate that just like with Legion, we'll hit fifty very quickly and will then continue running through the rest of the zones overlevelled, one-shotting everything for almost zero XP just to see the story.

While it's been fun to level with my husband again, I have to admit that the expansion content itself hasn't really grabbed me yet. The Alliance garrison being situated in a zone where it's basically always night is an emotional downer for me, and I struggle a bit to care about what we're doing. I think it's a mix between the whole alternate timeline thing and the story just not establishing very well what our motivations are. It was one thing to stop a sudden and barely explained invasion in the intro, but what exactly our beef with all the orcs is now that we're settling down on Draenor ourselves feels a lot more fuzzy. I was always told that the hate for WoD mainly came from the fact that it had little to no content added after launch but that the levelling experience was fine, but to be honest it doesn't really strike me as all that great so far either. We'll see whether that opinion changes as we explore further.

Oh, and as a fun little aside: I'd only been playing my new panda priest for a few hours when a friend whispered me on Battle.net:

Him: Did you really name a character Pishin? [Panda-Shin... get it?]
Me: Please don't tell me it means something bad!
Him: Oh no... OK, my lips are sealed.

At this point I put "Pishin" into Google of course... first result was a city/district in Pakistan, that didn't seem so bad? However, a bit further down the page I found "(Scots): urine, piss" - and of course the friend mentioned above is Scottish. Sigh!


Videos as Scrapbooking

In about one and a half months, it will have been exactly a decade since I was given my first piece of video editing software for my birthday. It wasn't a surprise gift, but one of those "a family member really wants to get me something for a special occasion so I'll have to think of something that vaguely interests me but that I've never really looked into getting myself" things.

A few days later, I uploaded my first public video to my YouTube channel: a three-minute clip compilation of me playing Huttball in SWTOR, set to a K-pop song. Honestly, that is pretty representative of the sort of random nature that my videos have retained since then. (I don't even particularly like K-pop, I'd just stumbled across that one song somewhere and it got stuck in my head. Using it in a video was a way of helping to excise the earworm.)

Throughout those ten years, I'm happy to say that while I've kept uploading semi-regularly (my channel contains over 300 public videos at this point, which averages out to two to three videos a month), I've never felt any real desire to become a professional YouTuber. I continue to be amazed by how many kids apparently find that job aspirational nowadays, considering that it's always looked pretty tedious and unrewarding to me.

The closest I've ever come to trying to make content for a wider audience was when I created a series of videos about levelling a character in SWTOR purely through pugging instances, which was fun for a while but also extremely time-consuming considering that the videos weren't even anything particularly fancy. Plus it made me realise that talking to an invisible assumed audience wasn't really a strength of mine. It did make me relate more to why so many YouTubers have a desire to monetise their work - considering how much time it takes to record and edit videos, it must be a hard hobby to maintain with any sort of frequency while also being bogged down by a day job.

That said, there's something very liberating about not having to worry about monetisation on YouTube. You'll often hear YouTubers complain about their battles with YouTube's copyright detection for example... but I am blissfully carefree in that regard. I use famous songs in my videos all the time and am perfectly fine with the original owner asserting their copyright and claiming the non-existent ad revenue. My videos have less than a hundred views on average anyway, and I always use an ad blocker while watching YouTube. I'm just happy to be able to legally share random vids that use someone else's music with my friends.

The main purpose of my videos over the years has quickly become memory preservation. When I got my first camera at the age of eleven, I used to take photos of everything and diligently sorted them into albums. With everything going digital and more of my life moving online, my focus moved more to taking and saving screenshots of my adventures in MMOs. Videos turned out to be a nice complement to that, in the sense that they are great for preserving memories of events where sound or context matter a lot, such as everyone whooping on voice chat after an exciting boss kill or people having a laugh about someone doing something particularly silly.

When I joined <Order of the Holy Fork> in Classic, it did not take long for me to upload my first video of my adventures with them - the adventure in question being a small raid storming Undercity to steal a quest item for our prospective Scarab Lord while someone played the soundtrack from Apocalypse Now over Discord. I was just laughing so hard throughout the whole thing, I had to preserve it... and I think I knew right then that this guild was a keeper. (It still makes me laugh on re-watching because of the sheer absurdity of it all.)

I soon found myself with plenty more material and ended up making more videos about my adventures with the guild - some random "outtakes" compilations featuring gems such as me accidentally getting a bunch of people killed the second time I went to pick up buffs from a Dire Maul Tribute run. I had fun making them and my guildies loved them too. In fact, I soon had more funny clips than I knew what to do with... I held a lot of them back with a thought to maybe using them in a more specific way later - e.g. I had quite a few recordings of people falling down into the eggs in Upper Blackrock Spire, and had this vision of one day perhaps making a video consisting of nothing but that.

But then... well, Classic Burning Crusade came and things weren't so great anymore. I initially found few opportunities to experience and capture the same kind of fun I used to have. I recall at least one guildie asking me when I was going to finally make a new video... but I just wasn't feeling it. At the same time, the old clips increasingly started to feel like an albatross around my neck - they were like a stack of old photos spread across a table in the corner of the kitchen, something that makes you feel like you should really tidy it away, but at the same time you kind of don't want to look at it.

Remembering the happy times just emphasised the contrast with how much things had changed, and reminded me of people that had left the guild or stopped playing and whom I missed. At the same time, I realised that the longer I waited to do anything with those video recordings, the less likely they were going to be relevant or interesting to those who still remained in the guild. It just added another aspect of sourness to the unhappy feelings I was already having about goings-on in the game.

But well... the guild is gone now. I wasn't playing in a way anymore that was going to add new material to the pile. In fact, I wasn't playing much at all, so I finally found the time and energy to go through with the clean-up throughout the past month. All the OG Classic clips went into a video that I ended up simply calling "Classic WoW Endgame Memories" - most of them are from our time in Naxx, but there were also some much older recordings in there, such as the aforementioned occasions of people falling down in UBRS. I just put all of it together into one video, sorted it a bit and threw it out there.

This weekend, I finally went through the much smaller number of Burning Crusade recordings I had of fun nights in dungeons, and compiled those into a single video as well - again, there was much in there that made me smile:

I think this one is going to be quite relatable to anyone who's done a lot of BC Classic dungeons...

Either way, getting this done has felt very good. Aside from the general good feeling you get from tidying up a bothersome mess, it also gave me a chance to relive many of the happy times I had with the guild and to preserve them in a format that I'm satisfied with. This has provided me with some closure and I feel ready to move on to whatever will come next.