In the advent of patch five-something of WoW, an hilarious bug was found and smashed. For a day or so, druids in stag form could climb on top of each other and overpoweredly fly above the sky limit. Blizzard saw this as unacceptable and crushed the druids' dream to reach the moon. When the ruling hand of Blizzard smashed this flimsy bug, I felt a pang of sadness and disappointment, as if it had been a nerf. Well, it was, in some way: it nerfed the player's creativity. Here's the bug, if you're curious:
In the last few years, Blizzard has been nerfing here and there not just for balancing reasons, but for streamlining ones as well. In Diablo 3, game that brought me a lot of joy from its polished mechanics, and a lot of sorrow from its design decisions, Blizzard's hand has been as unwavering as if it were an MMO, if not more. The playstyle that I usually adopted since Diablo 2, the glass cannon, was made extremely inefficient through the rising of repair costs and nerfing of attack speed. It was not the intended way to play, mind you. Diablo 3, being a gear-based game, would prefer you didn't "cheat" by using a cheap 0-resistance DPS set. It is all business, you see, players are not allowed to progress through skill, they have to buy their way through.
But this was not the only thing they streamlined: farming Siegebreaker was too popular, so they nerfed the chests, the nearby dungeons and boosted Siegebreaker with some nasty reflect damage affix. Resplendent chests had been too lucrative for the effort they required (although they forget that in order to get to most of those, you have to fight your way through a couple of "real" loot-pinatas), so they nerfed the chests, and the community sarcastically baptised them as "supply chests" because they only drop potions and gems. Oh, and let's not forget the preposterous thought of weapon racks always dropping weapons - that had to go away!
Back to bugs. I don't see the reason why some of them had to be deleted from the game. Take for instance the glitch that allowed rogues to enter Karazhan Crypts with Shadow Step back in TBC. It did not harm anybody or destabilized the game in any way. Hyjal was also a touristic spot that the most dexterous players bragged about having reached. They did not only nerf (or more politically correct: fix) wall-jumping, but when the virtuosos of jumping still made it, they installed a teleport that bounced them back where they should be. Wall-jumping in itself is a controversial subject, since it was used for actual harmful exploits such as jumping off the battlegrounds' fences before the race began. But I can think of other ways of preventing that that do not involve hijacking an interesting game mechanic (raise the walls, make them insurmountable, make a faux invisible ceiling, etc).
Why such rapacious reaction against creative bug-employing (not exploiting, there is no benefit made from it)? I believe it goes hand in hand with Blizzard's authoritarian policies of hyper-balancing. The game is supposed to be played/farmed *this* way and none other, which leads to the ever-nerfing of out-of-the-box ideas that the players come up with, such as 5-man rogue tanking of Gruul in TBC. My rogue friends drooled upon watching this video, and dreamed about being able to do that one day. It bespoke of the classes' possibilities beyond what was "common knowledge." It was all nerfed, since rogues are not supposed to tank. Raid encounters have gotten a similar treatment as well. I remember TBC encounters as being much more tolerant of different strategies. No, I don't just remember, I have seen it in action just a few months ago: King Maulgar could be handled in different ways depending on your raid setup. Enough tanks, and there was little need for hunter-kiting. Fewer healers? Then you may kite Maulgar around instead of face-tanking the whirlwind.
On the other end of the spectrum, developers such as Bethesda, which will always hold a little piece of my heart, and will probably be mentioned in my testament, have taken a much more laid-back approach to bugs. If it is funny and not game-breaking, we leave it there for our players to smile. My favourite one so far was the skyrocket sabercat. I encountered a sabercat in the wilderness, drew my bow, shot an arrow at it, and it just blasted off to the skies like a veritable rocket, leaving me there agape and loot-craving. Such wondrous world, Skyrim. You can be anything, even an astronaut.
Summing up: This bug fixing triggers in me some reluctance, because it reminds me too much of other creativity-nerfs, so abundant these days with Diablo 3. When will they learn that the more unique a player feels through her actions and decisions, the more attached she becomes to her characters and her individual game experience?
Doone and Ahtchu had commented on the previous article that some people point out nostalgia as being detrimental to an objective discussion. I do not entirely discard nostalgia as having an effect on our view of the past games, even as we replay them, specially in the field of MMOs, given that those are much more dependent on the psychological marks that they imprint on us mainly through social ties. Still, when talking about individual features and the consequences they have on how we experience the game, I think that we can single out the nostalgic appeals and have a thorough discussion. In fact, what I consider that applies in this case is an issue of predisposition, rather than nostalgia.
If you tell the average Wrath-inserted player that she has to form her group through trade channel, and then work her way to the summoning stone, she will probably answer that she's got dailies to do, ciao. It could also be the case that she is interested in those revived mechanics because she has heard of the benefits of that artificial hurdle, and is willing to do the experiment. There you have it, willing. Veterans, when coming back to the previous systems, acknowledge those benefits in themselves or as opposed to the current system, and are willing to bear the short-term inconveniences. Precisely because most players required the antithetical view of the dungeon system in Wrath, they did not realise how successfully the previous system had been until then, which is why the returning experience can be better, or at least more mindful, than the original experience. It is not nostalgia, but the recognition of something that we have lost. Ee humans are keen on those sentiments.
That said, I think that it is in order to discuss those inconveniences that really were so, so that I stop sounding so nostalgia-addled. First and silliest, I miss my autoloot terribly. I have become used to holding shift while inspecting the loot by now, but then I hold shift in retail WoW and loot nothing, and that drives my perfectionistic self off a cliff. There is no inherent social gain on pressing another key while looting, and it could even be detrimental since I cannot chat while skimming the bodies of the dead.
A mechanic that I would like to pitchfork was actually the mp5 dynamic, albeit based on a personal dislike that may or may not be shared with other veterans. As a restoration druid in TBC, I never had the need to force myself into mp5-stasis, since my heals were rarely supernumerary as they were less potent and immediate but more long-term. I also had more mana regen than my envious priests. This is something I only realised after having played as a holy priest in Archangel, and having experienced the 'joy' of /stopcasting unless I was certain that the heal would land in full. On the other end of the balance was the unlimited mana pool that Wrath brought about, and the saddening consequences: healing would be less strategic and more jittery, reflex-based. It had some fun to it, there is fun in twitchy games such as Diablo 3, but I preferred the older model.
The design of the classes in vanilla is also double-edged. On the one hand, each class has a unique flavour to it, and hybrids are truly hybrids, being able to perform multiple roles almost simultaneously without excelling at any one. On the other hand, there is a very narrow range of choices for serious raiding: if you wanted to tank, you had to be a warrior. Bear tanks were rare, their gear being as uncommon as D3 legendaries; paladins were laughingstock, and forced to dress cloth to do what they were supposed to do, healing. It is a pity, because I wanted to play a blood elf *cough, vanilla*, a human protection paladin.
Then there is the "I could live without that" features such as transmogrification. Yes, it is nice to not look like a power ranger (see the early paladin tiers excepting Judgement), but from the perspective of a roleplayer who filled her bank with pretty dresses and weird tentacled staves (for Japanese e-rp, of course), it was never a necessity. I merely changed my looks upon entering the city, often on a daily basis.
Lastly, I cannot forget that WoW has also come a long way in the area of raiding. The early raids displayed mechanics that are now seen as easy and overused, and the bosses do not sport any fancy abilities that blow your mind. Compare C'Thun to the stepped-up flamboyance that is Yogg-Saron. And yet, how many variations of the "get out of the fire" mechanic are there in Cataclysm (dungeons, I haven't experienced the raids)? I came to expect one per boss encounter. In the early days, since people did not have telltale addons that informed them of upcoming shit on the ground, and since you could barely tell where you stepped on from the overcrowding of 30 active people and 10 afk bots, each one of this now requisite abilities (interrupt this, dodge that) constituted a boss encounter of its own. Now those are just the icing on the cake, because you are still expected to do a little dance while holding two gnomes on your shoulders, and keep pew-pewing yet another dragon.
What about you, what features do you deem indispensable now? What others are you willing to relinquish, for the sake of 2005 MMOs?
While everybody is busy commending GW2 for its social breakthrough, I went back to vanilla WoW and marvelled at the tools that we have relinquished over the years. I scoured specifically for community-regulating tools, as it was the concern of my previous post, but also paid attention to the quality-of-life improvements that are not so beneficial as they may seem. I will comment on those latter first and analyse what we can learn from 2006+ MMOs.
For starters, I had been missing the longer casting bars when mining, skinning, etc. Preposterous!, you may say. Still, if you have played LOTRO, you may have realized how differently that game plays from other AAA titles. LOTRO is more concerned with the journey than with the endgame: professions take a longer time to skill-up, its recipes are much more complex, and the resource nodes are more spaced out and take longer to harvest, which is key. Vanilla WoW was like that as well. One of the instruments that the developers employed to quench our endgame anxiety was this deceleration of gathering. Gathering in vanilla WoW is less frantic. Everything is less frantic.
The actual journey to level 60 takes as much time or even more than the path to 85, and is indubitably more rewarding. The joy of the first green after that infested pit of furbolgs that is Ban'ethil Barrow Den. It was soloable, but a very dangerous venture due to the high respawn rate. In retail WoW, I cannot bring myself to level up any alts. My characters are insultingly overpowered in relation to the mobs, and the quests are a mockery. Then, I need to check my heart rate before I queue for any instances, because I know that there is a huge chance that I might end up spitting fire for great justice.
In the beginning of Wrath I took up the job of managing and leading a raiding guild, and I used to feel very pessimistic about the new recruits that we were receiving. These people had not gone through the learning process that vanilla and TBC WoW forced upon new players, and had no idea how to play their classes since the game had waived the responsibility of teaching them. Vanilla WoW has so far (at level 12) taught me that kiting with Hamstring may be a wiser strategy than face-tanking; that pulling three mobs is inadvisable when your priest is catching butterflies far away; that aggro is a vital mechanic that saves my heroic clothie. My priest learnt very quickly the 5-second rule of mana regen, because he had to make use of it. But not only does harder content work to show you your class' toolkit, it is also a goal in itself. Quest rewards feel like rewards. Every level is a conquest, not a bureaucratic procedure to be filled to reach endgame.
Another quality-of-life improvement gone awry was the addition of flying mounts that reduce Azeroth from a world to a province with huge terrain dissonances. The process of travelling added to the slow pace of the game, although it was at times a bit too much. The journey from the night elven area to Stormwind involved a ship trip, a walk through a crocodile-infested zone, a pass below the mountains guarded by 20ish-level orcs, a pleasant road walk through Loch Modan up to Ironforge, its awe-inspiring gates and melody, and the gnomish tram.
Remember the degradation of epic loot? When something is handed to us effortless, we develop a sense of entitlement, and regard the object without the admiration that a hardship produces in us. Same with world locations. That trip was wondrous because it was not a mere vista splurged on our screens. For our two night elves, it was a wonder we had pursued with effort. A dwarf greeted us at the entrance, asking what were two elves doing in his lands. Spontaneous rp ensued, in a normal, non-rp server.
PD: Actually, I am currently playing TBC, Vanilla and retail WoW, Argent Dawn, at the same time. Emerald Dream is a server run by the same team that developed the TBC server (Archangel), and has just released ED to start progression from scratch. It is the stablest server I have experienced yet, and mostly bug-free. Absolutely recommended, specially now that they have just started, so you can hop on the bandwagon of raid progression. I have edited the Contact Page if you want to reach me in-game.
PD2: For more vanilla-based blogging, you should check out this blog, whose writer records his renewed experience of vanilla in a different emulator to the one I'm subscribed to.
PD3: Vanilla WoW, how much of my enjoyment do you think is related to nostalgia?
I am having the time of my life. I never thought I could have so much fun in an MMO as I did 5 years ago, when I was almost a complete noob and was treading the world of Azeroth for the first time. I never thought there was a possibility of return; I am not the same person, I have grown accustomed to other things, and the video game industry isn't supplying the kind of MMOs I like: hard, social and, at the same time, accessible. You could say I haven't found what I was looking for, because what I have found is what I used to like. I've gone back to WoW several times this past few years, trying to find my place in a world that offered less and less excitement, which seemed to be catering to a different people, to the dreaded casual/newbie mass. In the process, it stripped the world of all of its uniqueness, and particularly, what hurt me the most, of its social foundation. The last time I played, I could not get past TBC. I stepped into my first WotlK dungeon with my priest and felt a clutching apprehension, a foreboding of ill omens. I endured from 15-70 the random instance colleagues, the oppressive silence and the alienation of it all, until I saw myself running the exact same easy-boring anecdote-less instances of WotLK. I had indulged in some nostalgia while running the TBC instances with the LFG, but that was a mirage.
I wanted the real thing. I thought that perhaps I could not find it again in the games I'll soon be playing. GW2 is fine, I guess, but there is just so much PVP I can do before feeling that I'm repeating the same over an over. It's a personal preference of mine. I enjoy some PVP, but it starts getting repetitive after a while, quicker than PVE content, specially if said content is a dance which involves step memorization rather than intelligent management. Pandaria, as we have seen (link to Doone's blog), doesn't offer much to us veterans. I had not been hoping much, but still I wished to see Blizzard take steps into a certain direction, a backwards direction maybe?
So I took the step myself. I went back to TBC via a private WoW server. It's been a long time since I last played something with a semi-permanent smile painted on my face. I have to admit that I felt some estrangement regarding some of the missing features that I had grown accustomed to (the double spec, some of the skills which were absent or different, the cost of riding, the mechanics of threat...), but I adapted pretty quickly. After one day, I was already in my old BC mindset, looking forward to running normal instances to grind the reputation and face the challenging heroics. I remember how hard they were depending on your group setting, and I felt thrilled to go through them again as if they were progression content instead of equipment dispensers.
One of the things that made me enthusiastic about this server is the community I have been interacting with since I started. Most of them came very recently from WoW retail, and we all share the same motivation and excitement about the prospects of this "new" experience. In two days I have made more friends than in 1 month in current WoW. I met all of them thanks to the little gestures that the game encourages, such as exchanging buffs (which is not a triviality, I kiss every paladin's feet when I receive a Blessing of Wisdom), teaming up for an elite, or saving them from an angry mob or Alliance character. In retail WoW this does not happen because people do not need each other during leveling, neither their buffs nor their company. They do not need other players to run instances, they do not meet the population of their server and add friends to their lists to play with them again, or just because they were nice. There is not much opportunity for nice behaviour. At the time, when I played retail TBC, I didn't realize how important these little gestures are. I did not pay much attention to the newbies that were doing their elites because I had my father with his 10 alts to do these with. I lost many opportunities of getting to know people, which I now regret. I think that many people have become aware of how important other players are in MMOs, after experiencing the complete isolation that the new WoW encourages. Yes, you still had your guild, but you had not selected them because they were an amiable bunch to be with; you chose them because of the endgame, and had no contact with the people from your server, did not meet potential guild members or people you would like to be with, not minding their guild.
I even like the idea of farming instances and raids for the new players that will be coming into my prospective guild. This allowed for a deeper connection between the guild and their members, because I was be able to help them become stronger and warm to the intimate ties that link each one of us to our guild, not the artificial benefits that belonging to a guild now provides. An additional benefit of this farming is that players no longer get exhausted with the latest content, and get to chill out on already surpassed content after three weeks of wiping on Al'ar (we had not very experienced tanks, to put it mildly).
The server opened recently (until then, they had been maintaining 2 Vanilla WoW servers, so they are not a brand new team which might close overnight), and therefore the stage in PVE has not yet reached Karazhan; in fact, Karazhan still has to be uploaded into the server. I may take my time to do those instances, find a suitable raiding guild and get prepared for raids. Also, the rates in the server are not the same as in the original WoW, you level up 14 times faster. It might seem wrong to some to be able to reach level 70 in 2-3 days, but I haven't had any problems with this, as I am one of this people who do not level up alts and enjoy the max-level content much more than the journey. The questing process has not become trivial by this, because as you level up faster, you collect less money and gear pieces, and thus you have to make do with less skills and low-level gear, which compensates for your outleveling the mobs. There is the option of switching to x1 if you wish so too. I wouldn't have minded a x1, Blizz-like server, but this one attracted my attention because of its newness and high population (about 1.8k at peak, raiding times). It is also EU-based, although there are several American and Oceania guilds and players from all over the world (I've seen a couple of Spanish guilds too, but I'll be applying for an English one so I can practice my English while playing. That's how I learned all I know now).
Perhaps the telling of my experience has sparked your interest and you want to play TBC as well. It might not be the case for many people, as it is hard to go back to previous, sometimes not as polished, systems. Perhaps you are not the same person as you were then. I myself have become more casual, and wouldn't be willing to raid more than 3 days per week, which I think is more than enough. I don't want to rush it, I want to savour it. WotLK is not coming any time soon.
If you are interested and would like to try this out too, I'm leaving my toon name here and update my contact information, in case you want to reach me in-game, for whatever you need or just to chat. I'd love to see you there (*winks at Doone*). Name's Thornne, Blood Elf Priest (currently Shadow, will switch to Holy once I'm done questing).
PD: I'm not entirely sure what is Blizzard's stance regarding the emulation of old versions of WoW. Probably not very liberal, as it is some kind of competition and it is their product after all. If Blizzard were to open vanilla servers, I would be the first one to migrate to one of these, because their service would obviously be better. But I won't be a consumer of their current product as it stands now. I'm still buying Diablo 3 and might buy Pandaria to take a look at the new zones. I've never supported private servers that rip off the developer's content when it is available through legal means, but sadly TBC isn't, so I won't apologize for wanting to play something that is not legally available.
PD2: If you'll be coming to the server, I've got several pages of addons that might interest you. Here they are: Addons 1, Addons 2, Addons 3, Addons 4, and WoW-Ace, which supports early versions.
Since I found Ironyca's "The 10 most Creepy Things in WoW" I have been thinking about making a list of my own of what I had gathered during my stay in Azeroth, which lasted until very early Cataclysm. Thus, I will be listing secrets, rumours and locations that may not be in Azeroth anymore, removed or changed for better or worse.
I'll be including videos of the means to get there when possible. You might want to turn the sound off for some of them, though.
Hyjal before Cataclysm
In Vanilla WoW and some early patches in BC, Hyjal was accessible for any obdurate enough player. Via wall-jumping, which was a sort of glitch that allowed you to climb, and which was at middle-late BC fixed, you could climb up to Mount Hyjal from Winterspring. Before they fixed (or rather limited, because it was not entirely removed) wall-jumping, they had no choice but to implement an auto-teleporting wall for those who got into Hyjal, and it was not to be explored in live servers again. The joy of climbing that mountain after countless free falls was indescribable. Or so a friend told me, I was not playing at the time when this was possible.
The old Hyjal, being inaccessible and mythical, promised much in terms of what it might hold in the future. When I finally got to explore it in Cataclysm, I felt that this potential was not fully developed. Perhaps it could never be. In an MMO, there is nothing more magical than a quest-less place, although not purpose-less - they have stories to tell. Old Hyjal voicelessly told of the World Tree emaciated by a great power which still lingers, clutched to its roots, and of the desolation that it brought.
Another path along the road leads to an instanced zone, a barred dungeon. I found a video of its content, and was agape for a second, as the torches seemed to lit a very dark and awe-inspiring corridor. But it led to a familiar instance which was either a prank or a placeholder. I wish I hadn't watched it. My imagination had conjured up a much more bizarre illusion. Nothing concrete, just the illusion of something inconceivable.
Entrance into the Emerald Dream
It was rumoured that you could access the Emerald Dream through Cot3, Battle for Mount Hyjal. I never actually saw the exploit working, but supposedly you had to climb up a few mountains until you reached the edge of the map. Once there, the sky changed from blue to a grey, thick mist, and the terrain descended abruptly. There was no path, but steep mountain slopes and two distant bright green fumes on the mountainside. What for? It seems like, for what I gather, there used to be (around patch 2.1) a trigger there which could be glitched into teleporting you to ED. I have found no videos where this actually works, but I always thought that this method had a particular eerie feeling to it. You hold your breath as your character is engulfed by the green flames, and might or might not come out the way she was before. As when you drive your character near a precipice, you cannot avoid feeling anxious for what would happen to her, or to you if said precipice is a bannable offence, like this was. Perhaps you do not think any of this when confronted with such a mysterious sight. I prefer to be awed by potentialities than hardened by facts. Azeroth seems much more magical this way.
The Actual Emerald Dream
Cataclysm skipped one page in the history of Azeroth, which had to do with the Nightmare that was populating the Emerald Dream at the time of the Plague and the Burning Crusade. They closed this chapter through a novel (Stormrage, by Richard A. Knaak), and we saw the aftermath in the game, once Malfurion destroys the corrupter of the Dream, Lord Xavius, who had only been a pawn to the Old Gods, and dismisses Fandral for having been allied to the corrupter. Seeing this video, and the amazing possibilities that a dream world granted, I feel like Blizzard lost a wonderful opportunity when they skipped this chapter of Warcraft's history. As with many other events that were not handled in-game, most players are entirely oblivious to them or even misinterpreted the little context that Blizzard provided. One such example of a lack of continuation in the story is Kael'thas, with his ravenous corruption that neither Vanilla WoW nor Warcraft 3 built to. There had been a plan for a novel that would have explained it, but it was not developed. In this case, there is a novel, but don't expect much writing quality from it. The Emerald Dream has been reduced to an anecdote, a certain intermission in WoW's events, and a tale of a world never beholden. I like it this way as well, as a rumour that only the Druids know for certain. On the other hand, it is ravishing! Why didn't we get this instead of Pandaria?
Swimming along the coastline, a checklist
To reach these spots you needn't glitch around, you only had to be patient, or a little less so if you had Swimming Form. Some of them have been wiped out, others made inaccessible, and some remain the way they were, with no visible additions after Cataclysm. What they all have in common is their desolation and disconnection with any person, place or legend. That's why they could be wiped out and nobody would care.
Tauren encampment & Massacre Cave
With Cataclysm, the encampment has disappeared. The cave remains, with its pilings of bones scattered all over the place. Had it had some furniture, it would have been a neat meeting place for a seedy organization. It has the same cave pattern as some in Zangarmarsh, if I recall correctly.
This zone is no longer reachable, neither by air nor by sea. Now there is a wall that prevents players from accessing it. Since I knew about this place, back in TBC, I was excited about the prospect of Blizzard remodelling it after the original Quel'Thalas. They had considered implementing it in Vanilla, but the project had been scrapped. It might, some day, perhaps in the expansion following Pandaria, become a full-fledged zone. But it shall not be the glorious Quel'Thalas of the high elves, as it was the first victim of Arthas' onslaught. I remember reading that you can, or could, trick the server into letting you in if you blinked through the portal with a mage. Instead, what I found is the old glitch of getting under the world, and navigating your way from below. I wonder what else can one do with such trick.
Crops by the sea - Arathi Highlands
Another zone that seems to serve no purpose and is reachable by water. Similar to the Wetland's farmland, between the Ironforge Airport and the marsh, there are dwarven farmers pacing the fields and houses, some of which are now bricked off.
Wetland's crops and tunnel
The fundamental change that has been implemented in this zone is a barrier to the tunnel that led into the mountain. Pre-Cataclysm, you would access this zone after climbing the mountains that led to the Dwarven Airport (which now has also been tweaked, and quite enlivened). As these were zones that were only seen on the gryphon route, their actual contents were not polished, and some rough edges had been left unattended, like the tunnel that led to the void. If the night was clear enough, the stars were seen through it, far above. If you jumped into it, you got stuck in a falling animation and had to be summoned out to get back. Now, a nod to the players who cherished this spot, Blizzard has erected a barrier through which you can still see the blue-gray end of the tunnel.
Gilneas before Cataclysm
It was merely a long stretch of land without much texture, except for a little path and a lamppost by the entrance. My friend and I attempted to climb the mountains, wall-jumping, parachuting and auto-unstucking, to no avail. But the accomplishment of getting through the gate was enough for us. Oh, about that. We just threw away our hearthstone and used auto-unstuck. I don't know if that function is still in the game. Use with caution, it seems like you could get into trouble.
Before the Whispering Forest: Above Tirisfal Glades
The zone immediately above the starting zone for the undead used to be a large mass of untextured terrain with steep inclines and weird geological formations. I loved those areas, with their abrupt palette changes and unhindered sights. You could get there with a precise set of mount-jumps, nothing too difficult. It was wild and untamed. The refined Cataclysm zone is a sight to behold too, no doubt, with its fairies and murder victims under parasols. But once flight was permitted throughout Azeroth, no more unincorporated terrain was possible. I miss the spikes that sprouted from the ground.
Stonetalon Peak: the Great Chasm
This zone in Stonetalon mountains was reached by the customary jump-and-error procedure. It was next to a flight path that showed some elven ruins and an abandoned orcish camp. In this area, the height difference between the Stonetalon Mountains and Desolace was resolved in all bluntness, by a huge chasm whose bottom could not be seen from above. When jumping, you could not deploy the parachute until only one fifth of the fall remained, or you would be too high to land safely. The screen above shows how three different people forgot about their parachutes simultaneously. At the time when mammoths took no fall damage, it was the best place to test your friend's trust in you. On the bottom level there was more stretched land and a cave which was walled in by the mountain, but without altering its interior. We tried everything to get in, but it was not possible.
Lastly, a little treat.
This one is neither a secret nor a hidden location. It is a place I like to share with the people I play with because of its unique atmosphere. The island is off the coast of Ghostlands, and holds one quest for the Blood Elves; a sad quest of slaughtering their once-kin. I used to go there as a Night Elf, and sit by the moonwell to listen to the music theme, which used to be unique to this place, and now is shared with the Temple of the Moon in Darnassus. In addition, I had a good time terrorising young blood elves who thought that I was a big boss or something.
Finally, you have to check out Ironyca's list of secret zones that were incorporated in Cataclysm. The ones I knew of are much less interesting that these!
Milady consorting with the enemy and showing a terrible fashion sense.
I'm 100% sure that if you have played WoW past level 15, when the world is finally open to you via LFG, and jerks start knocking at your door, that you have heard at some point that "elves are gay". Even the Alliance bull-shouldered Night Elves are subject to this "smear", when they seemingly fit the rigid definition of masculinity. I ought to provide such a definition, to clarify my argument. This is taken from a master's thesis in Spanish1 and translated and summed up the best I could:
The masculine ideal follows four basic mottos:
1- He should not be effeminate.
The true man lacks any kind of femininity. It is required of him that he renounces to a part of himself, forcing him to repress his capacity to express affection and his most sensitive side. Tenderness and sensitivity are usually female-attributed virtues. Man, above all, shall show that he is neither woman nor homosexual, which would denote his lack of manhood.
2- He must be an important person, in possession of status.
Manhood is measured by reaped successes, by harvested power. Also by the admiration that causes in others. Man's goal is to achieve superiority with regard to the others, to possess a higher status than those in his environment. To be important, man needs to see his work recognized and triumph economically.
3- He ought to be strong.
Man has the obligation of being completely independent, powerful, autonomous and implacable, so as to not show any sign of weakness. Phrases such as "men don't cry" and "man up" signal the duty of a man to show resistance and endurance. Even against their own strength, men ought to keep firm.
4- He ought to exert his authority
Man is trained to be the strongest, and allowed to make use of force if necessary. Man is culturally violent in the necessity to show his fragile identity. To avoid any doubt regarding his masculinity, a man has to publicly show that he can be reckless, abuse of power, humiliate the weak and make use of his strength. This grants him authority. This man, much like Marlboro's cowboy or Stallone's Rambo, is the toughest among the tough. He seems to be better equipped to face death than marriage and childrearing. This, according to Badinter, makes him an affection-mutilate. Such mutilation has its origin in his first years of life, when he is taught to abdicate his feminine side, inherited from his mother, and submit to the hard work that is becoming a great man.
I suppose that it is important to make plain that this description accounts for the gender stereotypes of masculinity, not for the biological sex nor any particular man, not even Rambo. Masculinity and femininity, this is never stressed enough, are social labels traditionally pinned to one sex or the other, and they don't appear unadulterated but intermingled with each other. In fact, you can consult your degree of each of these labels with the BSRI test.
The point which interests me the most is the first one: "He should not be effeminate". I reflected upon what made Elves in fantastic literature effeminate, and could not find any examples of passivity, subservience, or even sensitivity. It would depend on the source you claim, but in general none of these traits are espoused by the Elvenkind. In Tolkien, for instance, we find quite the contrary: the Elves, who were there before the Men, were a quarrelsome kind who engaged in war with the Enemy and with each other, and showed indisputable bravery and endurance and all those masculine characteristics. It might have harmed their reputation Peter Jackson's portrayal of elven battle prowess, which was ridiculously over-the-top for Legolas. What is most curious is the fact that Legolas' ideal beauty and grace was not translated into the big screen. But Arwen's was.
The only remaining point that accounts for their 'gayness' is Beauty. Not mundane beauty that derives from a fine build, a display of athletic strength inherited from Greek sculpture. Intangible, aloof beauty such as Arwen and Galadriel's. 'Feminine' beauty.
It was apparently of a shape similar to that of an earthly being and was completely covered by a transparent, glassy envelope or suit, as supple as gauze. Through it a pair of enormous and brilliant eyes looked at him curiously. Its skin, where visible, was the loveliest, luminous blue that Dirk had ever seen, its features human in outline, yet strangely alien, as though the spirit behind them were of another essence and tempered in unknown fires.
Although standing a foot or so taller than his own goodly height, it seemed almost to float with an effect of airy grace instantly noticeable and arresting as though it was impervious to the influences of gravity. (Vaughan 1932: 367).
This is a fragment of a science-fiction short story called "The Woman from Space". The title already gives away that the being which was initially neuter is a woman. Notice the adjectives used to describe it. They are reminiscent of the descriptive pattern of thousands of similar stories about alien women, and of earth women of an aloof and distant quality, physically and psychologically veiled. But this could very well be the description of an elf.
The undeniable beauty of the being from space seemed more natural now that he knew it to be feminine. (Vaughan 1932: 369).
Beauty, or at least this kind of distant, mystical beauty, is more natural in women. Have you noticed that none of the aforementioned points on masculinity mentioned beauty, or even physical attractiveness? It is derived from the strength factor, and not valued as a means to attain masculinity, although it is certainly esteemed in the social spheres. You can find proof of this duality in the language itself - We are taught that 'beautiful' is more appropriate for women than for men; 'pretty' is reserved for women; and 'handsome' is exclusive for men. Notice the etymology of the word? It is related to physical aptitude, not to attractiveness.
Thus, beauty is a trait which is conventionally attributed to the female, due to a multiplicity of factors. One of them is the hegemony of the masculine point of view in literature. Men, who held the pen exclusively for centuries, fixed their view in the other sex, and depicted it as an unreachable mystical figure, a natural phenomenon to dissect, the object scrutinized. What happens when this exclusive beauty is appropriated by men (or elves)? They become partly feminine and, as we have seen, to be rejected by the masculine, which ought to be clean from such influences. People who identify wholly (perhaps subconsciously) with the masculine ideal, and which believe in biological sex to be equated to gender, are those who subscribe this view.
Male Blood Elves, even though they conform to most aspects of masculinity, are deemed 'gay' because of the alien beauty of the feminine, often paired with a certain haughtiness which may render them insufferable. But I like them, nonetheless. They make fine bastards in roleplay.
And they needn't be sexualized to be appealing.
1Rodrígues González, Clarissa. La recreación del andrógino y sus representaciones en el arte y los mass media: un estudio etnográfico sobre roles de género. MA Thesis. Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, 2010.
These past few days I've been checking out what Pandaria has to offer. In this state of the Beta, there are serious bugs that prevent questing, and somehow send me back to desktop whenever I try to specialize my priest in discipline. There was not much I could do but wander. I enjoyed meandering the Wandering Isle without following any arrows, at my own pace. Underleveled, I had to devise a safe path or outrun Bengal tigers. It felt very much like the journey to Menethil for a low-level character, traversing the Loch Modan pass, safe up to the Orc encampments, outrunning the Orcs, guzzling health potions, and running non-stop across the crocodile-infested Wetlands. Sometimes you called a friend, sometimes you tackled the ordeal on your own, and pieced a narrative in your head, ready to be recounted to your grandchildren, or your guildies if they were available. With this nostalgia trip I wanted to express how significant it is to be challenged from time to time. I don't know if they will address this need with the upcoming expansion, although I imagine that they will be keeping with the latest trend and reduce leveling to a triviality. After some of the steps that they have made to recover the World, I hope that they will at least consider reintroducing some riskiness.
Back to my journey through the Wandering Isle. I can only account for the visuals, and little for the story, as quests were disabled. The Isle, in general terms, is lush. Vegetation-wise and detail-wise. I was enraptured by the little, common objects that were scattered over the areas. The Isle felt like a living country, even though I believe that some NPCs were missing, and the panda kids were miniaturised adults. The smith was a big male panda called "I AM A GIRL". I love the transient feeling of the betas.
There is a general conjunction of assets in the environment that bespeak of a living continent much more than Azeroth did. Azeroth had always been a little eerie, lacking the customary marks of civilization even inside the cities, where no houses were to be found. Also a little eerie in what it chose to display: a single, deserted shack, at the top of the mountain above Stormwind; the Ironforge airport and the Wetlands fields below; the quay of Quel'thalas, only reachable through water. Quest-less zones constitute a wonder. I marvelled at the ample inn with a view over the flatland, at the incensed shrine off the road. I shrugged at the colossal golden temple. It looked excessively cliché, a glorified mixture of real Hindu and Chinese temples. I did not like the mock-Chinese aesthetic. Blizzard needn't draw from real-life sources to construct Pandaria, at least not to such an extent. I think that they had begun to do so in so blunt a manner with Cataclysm's worgen, that imitated the Victorian aesthetic. Before that, the sources for Azeroth's cultures were more diluted. Stormwind incarnated everything that you would expect from a fantasy-medieval human settlement, but it was not Medieval Europe. Silvermoon was profusely ornate, blatantly magical, and subtly, mockingly totalitarian. Orgrimmar was the expression of the orcs' military consciousness and lack of organization. But none of these cities were appealing to a culture outside of Azeroth, inside our world. Certainly, it is impossible to create a civilization devoid of imagery from the real world. There is Arabic influence in Silvermoon's spires; references to Christianity in the Light; Western dragons in every expansion. But there are degrees of adaptation, and the illusion of newness.
I'm not sure whether to attribute Pandaria's too obvious characterization to our (the player's) stereotyped idea of the East, to the developer's, or to the fact that past characterizations invoked a world in which we are much more submerged, and therefore we are accustomed, and even anticipate, its depiction in fantasy. If a dragon is introduced in the game, we assume its Western appearance and do not reflect upon it. This new, alien, world of Pandaria is full of dissonances that provoke the player into observing the differences. Still, I am not convinced that the world of Pandaria was portrayed in a positive and estimulating way. It seems to draw from our Western conception of Asia, instead of being just slightly influenced by the real source, as they had previously done before Cataclysm.
Nevertheless, I loved the details. Not just by themselves, but because of what they imply: Blizzard has begun to care (again?) about the World. The mobs are not just standing there, abstractly menacing somebody's livelihood. Now a village is being attacked by monkeys who engage in combat with the villagers, hang with their tails from the rooftops, and run back an forth from the forest, gathering in groups of three to delouse each other. Farmers seem to be occupied with their rice crops, or travelling from farm to village. My favourite: apron-clad innkeepers defending their shop with a broom.
What a pity it had to be pandas, and they had to portray them conspicuously Asian. I would have liked to see them stand for themselves, with their own uninfluenced culture. Or better, not to have pandas at all.
In response to Gnomeaggedon's challenge: "Find one of my old posts from the 830 odd posts I have written and choose to agree or disagree with it. Compare life during TBC with life pre-MoP. Hate me, go on, hate me – ill love you for it!", I have chosen his post on how guides ruined the magic of raiding, with which I partially agree, but find lacking.
Gnome lists some of the complaints that raiders have made since time immemorial, and argues that everything amounts to the fact that we now resort to guides for everything. I do agree that guides deprive the players of that sense of discovery that only guide-writers (top guilds) get to experience (and possibly top tier raiders couldn't care less about the wonder of a boss mechanic, they just want to get the job done). Let's see step by step those claims made by raiders and what Gnome answers:
“Vanilla was the best because it was hard back then!” (regarding rotations) Theorycrafting, again, harms the learning process and provides the player with an alien but efficient rotation. There is really no solution to this, specially in the case of DPS, because there is often one very specific way of dealing more (the most) damage, whereas there are several ways of keeping people alive or pulling a mob without hampering your performance. Playstyle is key here; and I believe that healers and tanks have more choice regarding this.
"If I didn’t have to grind I could enjoy the game" Gnome believes that having a guide tell you how to grind will in the long term deprive the player of that feeling of accomplishment of succeeding by himself. I mostly agree with this, but consider also that there are many ways of obtaining gold which can also be a playstyle choice, out of the many suggestions that gold guides make, and therefore not harm the personal experience of grinding. For instance, my father didn't like the other options that guides promoted, like selling glyphs, and preferred to flood the AH with Savory Deviate Delights, a consummable which turned people into pirates. I never liked grinding or playing the AH, but still don't think that guides are to blame of the weariness of the players. Grinding, when it's a personal choice for a personal goal (like deciding to sell yourself for an epic mount) is a meaningful activity. Grinding dailies for each and every profession is not, it is a chore, there is no way around it, and doesn't allow choice. Dailies implemented as a necessity, a way to keep players occupied, are just wrong.
"Instances aren’t a challenge anymore." Because they can't be. Gnome believes this lack of challenge comes originally from guides. It might be so, but I remember a time when my friends and I ran the heroic BC instances, knowing more or less what to expect, and still found them difficult. But we wouldn't complain because we strove for progress (in equipment and playstyle). Instances were there to teach us about cooperation and prepare us for raiding, in the same way that Gruul was meant to teach you what to expect from SSC. Nowadays this motivation is not valid because players don't want to experience progression in their instances, because they are not playing them with friends. If Gnome's argument is that guides ruined everything, I believe that it was LFG. Not just because of the many faults of the system, but because the system harmed the sense of community.
"I raided when raiding meant something." Guides, again, act as a sort of nerf because the initial step of learning about the encounter is removed. But Blizzard did something about this, and this is why what Gnome states: "Problem: We can’t one-shot the raid trash let alone the raid bosses; Solution: Read the guides." is false. Nowadays, WoW expects you to read the guide, but requires you to perform a set of 'dance steps' that must be learnt in the same way that 'boss moves' were learnt and dealt with in Classic and TBC. Additionally, the claim that raids meant something has to do with the feeling of progression through content; raiders were the elite that worked hard to see the most engrossing content of the game (in TBC it was Black Temple and then Sunwell). Later on, with WotLK, content was accessible to everybody through the normal modes, and thus not the motivation of progression; that would be the bare accomplishment of beating the heroic mode and its loot. Raiding actually means less not because of the guides, but because it has foregone lore and progression.
Guides made the content more accesible. WoW is not a journey of discovery anymore (was it ever? Perhaps to our newbie-self that didn't know of the possibilities of the internet). But even then, when guilds demanded from their members to read the guides, they were not guaranteed that the strategy they would follow would be in the guide. Encounters were not designed to follow certain steps, or else wipe the entire raid. Before this was customary, bosses could be killed with some players afk or dead, as long as the boss and its abilities were managed. To fail a step did not mean that we were left with less people, and then decidedly fail. Downing A'lar, for instance, had less to do with guide-perfect performance and more with finding that intimate way your tanks could coordinate; taking down The Lurker's minions, with the tools (CCs) that you had available; Moroes was about combining multiple CCs with tank-switching and bursts of healing to the ones bleeding. You either had exceptional healers or quick DPS; you decided the strategy depending on your assets. There was so much the guide could tell you, because the encounters had multiple ways of beating them; not just one overly complex but quite straightforward.
And yet perhaps listening to us old players is not such a good idea after all. The demografics of WoW have changed, its target audience too. Do new people want harder, guide-less content, or just to be left playing alone?
I'm certain that whenever the subject of personal gaming experiences in your circle comes up, the anecdotes you will be recounting are tales in which you socialized in some way or another: a group of 10 pulling the dragon at the Caverns of Time entrance and bringing it all the way to Orgrimmar at 3am, and then gloating in the havoc and newbie's cries of despair; finally defeating that boss that had been like a wall you hit your head against for weeks -but all of you hit your heads together, what a bonding experience!-; meeting that random stranger in a quest which will end up being at your side until unsubscribing do us part. Making screenshots of the male members of your guild in briefs à la firefighter calendar. Well, perhaps not many people can share that particular anecdote.
My point is: MMOs are, or ought to be, a social experience, at least to some extent.
I always said that if I wanted to play on my own, I could be playing a singleplayer game such as Diablo. Which actually I do, from time to time. My interests in the gaming sector are varied, and sometimes antipodal: adventure games, RPGs, hack&slash, sometimes FPS; most of those are singleplayer games that cater to a particular interest of mine, whereas MMOs provide a community that I wish to meet doing various activities (raiding, PVP, roleplaying). It doesn't make much sense to ask of MMOs that they deliver a gratifying RPG experience, while the key aspects of the MMO genre are neglected.
This is the case with SWTOR, for instance, but also of Wrath-Cataclysm WoW. In the former, a new 'pillar' has been introduced and practically extolled as the panacea of the genre. More complex narratives coupled with voice-over and cinematics, seasoning the level-up process. It is indeed an innovation, but I believe that focusing on the individual experience of the hero-player can only be harmful to the concept of the MMO. Moreover, any resources devoted to features with are marginal to the true (or traditional, if you prefer) experience of the MMO are not a waste per se, but detract the developers from improving other areas which are pivotal to this experience (raiding, PVP, crafting, player-interaction, world events. You name it. As long as it serves to strengthen the community, it is important for an MMO).
Perhaps the paradigm is changing, as Castronova pointed out over at Terra Nova, towards a model of urban lifestyle, an "alone together" community. One of the arguments involves the fact that this is where it is heading because this is what players are demanding, or at least not fighting against. It might be true that we don't actively oppose this model, or that maybe sometimes we would rather have this casual and undemanding atmosphere. This is due to our habit of seeking the path of minimum effort/pain and maximum pleasure. But although this model doesn't bring any long-term gratification, or higher-quality pleasure, it is true that our effort is minimised, and the way we engage with the game is simplified. As it requires less of us to bring fun, it is the least painful.
It is less "painful" to click a button to get grouped with strangers, and not share a word, instead of risking one's comfort by asking around the server. The pleasure we derive from it has to due with the reward, or the stimuli of our performance as a DPS/healer/tank, but it cannot be compared to the pleasure we obtain from grouping with people from our server, chatting with them because we are certain that we will see them again (or we wish so), and generally having a good time. The "basic" pleasures of reward and gameplay cannot be equated to the typical MMO experience of meeting new friends. "Some kinds of pleasure are more desired and more valuable than others" (...) "pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation." (J.S. Mill, "Utilitarianism"). I can safely state that the higher pleasures that were obtained from old MMOs are more rewarding, although they tend to require more effort from us. Why don't we seek these out, despite the current trend of MMO design?
The analogy that Castronova employs (suburban areas as "alone together" communities, like modern MMOs) makes me think that players do not actively seek such a lonely/easy-pleasure atmosphere. We need to be encouraged to seek what we truly like, because of our cultural burdens: We simply are not accustomed to cooperating with strangers. MMOs used to be places where people met on different terms than in real-life. Mutual disregard, as when you walk down the street, would be revoked for the greater good of a common goal, and the barriers that keep us from approaching a stranger had no place there. Nevertheless, such way of acting is alien to what we have been taught in our lives, and it requires some help from the game developers: unsoloable content, dungeons, arenas, events; chatrooms, guilds, raids. Our current MMOs are being stripped of those things little by little (Looking for Raid in WoW, emphasis on individual storytelling in SWTOR), and I'm really worried about the genre and its ability to bring people together. The developers of MMOs ought to give us the tools and, to some extent, compel us to play the game with others, because we don't want "alone together" communities in our entertainment too.
A few days ago I took up WoW after one year of intermittent surveillance of its course. I had been reading about the new changes since Cataclysm, but hadn't actually played the game. Well, I did play for the first two days after the expansion launched and quitted quick and silently; I had resubbed after a long absence to witness the upcoming of this new age that Cataclysm was going to bring forth, and yet found the same game that had previously fascinated me, although burdened by the very features that previously had captivated its players. As the blogosphere has been claiming since Wrath, almost every improvement made in The Burning Crusade to facilitate the players' path (to raiding, PVP or questing) was deformed into either a mindless daily task (dailies for crafters, raiders, PVPers), a nullified social interaction (LFG) or an 'unrewarding' reward (epics handed generously so nobody would be left behind in content).
Then I recalled how well the game felt. I haven't played anything as satisfactory as WoW in terms of gameplay, despite the protests of some people about it being a button-smasher. I disagree. As a healer, to be efficient with your mana and know when to use certain abilities requires practice and reflection, and to react in dire situations in such a way is much more difficult (and way more common in PVP which is why bgs were so appealing to me). Current discussions in the blogosphere deal with SWTOR, prophesying its failure or delivering a spark of hope. But the question of how the game felt seemed most interesting to me. After you are done with the stories in an MMO, you're left with its gameplay and an equally important pillar: the social ties that it managed to wrap around you. It seems like SWTOR doesn't perform well in these ambits, for what I gather from other bloggers: the combat with lasers seems odd, with its target-seeking; jedis do not evade as many hits as required by the canon of the films; same old system from WoW but less polished. WoW's gameplay was a gem: every class felt different. The effects, the sounds, the output of your spells were so compelling that you could mindlessly slaughter your way through Azeroth for hours. If I had to choose one spell, it'd be Penance and its innumerable life-saving anecdotes.
So I went back. There were no other games available that would arouse my curiosity and I was very nostalgic. My experience has been quite mixed. I chose my Blood elf priest in Argent Dawn, which was level 61 when I quitted, and went through a few TBC dungeons. Waves of nostalgia. The Black Morass -- explaining where the portals sprung, how to manage the adds; I recalled when we used to play this on heroic difficulty and our mage would curse and sweat all the way through it. The Arcatraz -- the group disbanded midway. Shadow Labyrinth was good fun, I befriended the tank and a DPS that I mistook for a ninja but was just a newbie, and we stayed together for a series of instances. In SL our deranged tank pulled half the Refectory and I was forced to use every trick up my sleeve to keep us alive. Like this time three years ago when our tank didn't feel like wearing armor and pulled in shorts. And then the ogre that mind-controlled. That used to be frightening and hilarious in equal proportions, now it wasn't that challenging. BGs were not bad either, but I didn't have anybody to heal but random strangers which would shout at each other until they made me cringe. I didn't want to bring any friends into my nostalgic trip, in case they would get sucked in by the game.
Additionally, I had been struggling to raise my enchanting and tailoring at the same time I ran those instances, but it was already taking its toll in money and sweat. Most professions are obnoxious, and some of them are more slavery work than a compelling distraction. But I managed, and raised a bit of money through the AH. I had also forgot about the community. I didn't remember how silly, disrespectful and immature the average player was (even though Argent Dawn is one of the maturest servers). I didn't have much in common with the typical WoW player, and when I tried to make a witty comment or joke during a dungeon it felt like talking to a wall. How different to the dungeons we ran with people from our friend list and server some years ago. That was entertaining, while this felt like an obligation.
What made me ultimately uncomfortable with the game was setting foot in the first Wrath dungeon. I played through most of Wrath of the Lich King, abandoning and picking up the game within months, but I never quite liked it. The LFG, the two versions of the same raids over and over again, the abandonment en masse of previous-patch raids to the newer ones, the badges and dailies... I remembered all of this when I landed in Utgarde Keep, simply because I knew that instance, and every other WotLK instance for that matter, like the back of my hand. I was suddenly terrified, I couldn't continue. I was overwhelmed by a sudden fear to become trapped in the web of daily grind for a sparse satisfaction. It didn't matter how well my Penance felt, or how we held the line in Arathi Basin with a well-placed Barrier. Not even my prospects of roleplaying. Cataclysm had been announced as an elixir, but WotLK was still there, in every game decision to this day. There was no coming back to TBC.