Monday, August 31, 2020

Monday Rant: Why Do PTRs Exist?


I understand the desire of video game developers/publishers to let the players beta test your new content and save money, but PTRs have become so much a part of the development process that nobody has stopped to say "why are we doing this at all?"

After all, if the entire point of playing a game is to experience new material, why allow everybody the ability to cheat like this? Is it just so that the elite raid teams can get "practice time" in on the next raid, and then they can provide a strat for everybody else?

If that's the case, then the entire point of MMOs is simply "how quickly can you finish a raid". 


As you can tell, I dislike the concept of "open betas" and "PTRs" in the first place. They keep all players from experiencing content at once, and instead of everybody muddling through and trying to figure out how to handle new content, the sandbox is already there for people to try to figure it out beforehand. 

I was in a run --I think it was Upper Blackrock Spire-- when one of the players commented that it is so much better now in Classic than in Vanilla because we all now know what to do; back then we were all muddling through trying to figure it out, but now we've the advantage of 15+ years of insight to know how to handle things. While I agree that it is nice to have detailed data to fall back on, I'm not convinced it is "better" now. We just know what we have to do, and all we're left with is just execution. There's no "hey, this isn't working, let's try this instead" or "WTF was THAT attack about?"

The thrill of discovery, and the knowledge sharing that happens following a "eureka!" moment is all lost. Now it's all about "Go look it up on the forums" or "Check out the YouTube video for how to run it".

Perhaps if dev staffs got back to not using PTR servers, MMOs might see a resurgence in that Vanilla excitement that nobody seems to be able to generate anymore, yet everybody complains about.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

My Name is Nemo

To be a blogger in 2020 is to be anonymous.

To be an MMO blogger in 2020 is to simply not exist.

I'm talking about blogging in the traditional sense, of course, although the Influencer crowd would have you believe that Tumblr and YouTube channels --not to mention Instagram and TikTok-- are also blogging. While I don't doubt that the effort it takes to put together a good Influencer photoshoot can be pretty extensive and take up a ton of time, putting words on virtual paper in a blog is a pastime that has seen its heyday come and go. Those of us who continue to blog these days do it for the love (or compulsion) of writing, not to become internet famous.*

But just starting up a traditional blog in a TikTok world, and a gaming blog at that, is to be akin to shouting at the Void.

And if there was one way for me to participate in the online community and remain (relatively) unknown, this is it.


In case you're wondering, I'm actually happy about that. 

Back when blogs such as Righteous Orbs and The Pink Pigtail Inn were gathering places for one of the most popular video games on the market, getting into the blogroll was a bit of a big deal. It meant that Tam or Larisa actually read your blog and commented on it, which would give you a semi-official stamp of approval.** 

Even so, the biggest bump we ever got was from a couple of hundred hits per day to 3000, and that was when the old WOW Insider promoted a series I did concerning the Draenei and Sindorei, titled Two Sides of a Coin.

Nowadays, the blog watering holes are gone*** as people blogfaded, moved to other hobbies, or had real life intervene, and the MMO industry has shrunk considerably. Even the blogs that would bring in a lot of readers from outside the immediate WoW community, such as From Draenor With Love, have brought their stories to a satisfying ending.****


All of this isn't new, of course, but on the anniversary of WoW Classic just a few days ago I read all of these anniversary blog posts and I realized that throughout the entire year --with the lone exception of Ancient from Tome of the Ancient-- I didn't run into a single person in game who I used to play WoW with, blogger or no.

Obviously some of that is because quite a few of the current bloggers still playing Classic are overseas, and Blizz still won't let European players hang with North American ones, so there's that. But for others, real life dictates schedules and once you get settled on a server you tend to want to stay put. It's nothing like the blogger guilds of yesteryear.

As an experiment, I googled my co-mains and "Myzrael" just to see what would pop up, and my suspicions were confirmed when the first entries for each were this blog as well as Ancient's. In a WoW Armory era, there would have been tons of links for that before you'd see anything about blogs.

But given the lack of interest in MMO blogs in this day and age,***** the likelihood of someone trying to find info about a toon outside of the game are practically non-existent. Okay, not non-existent, but someone would have to have a real burning desire to try to find someone that way, despite knowing that there is no WoW Armory (and that Google doesn't search Discord servers/channels).


So I can blog to my heart's content and not worry about being recognized in game. Not that I ever really worried about that, but after the past year's worth of WoW Classic blogs I started to wonder if I was saying too much in some of my posts. (Like, you know, the last couple of posts.) But there's only so much sanitizing one person can do, so I'll just live with it.

After all, anonymity has its advantages.



 *Okay, some traditional bloggers can become internet famous, but the topics of those blogs are frequently topics that are about reading --such as the Romance genre-- or are sponsored by larger websites, such as the people who would in previous decades be known as columnists for newspapers or major magazines.

**I related the "OMG!!!! TAM COMMENTED ON OUR BLOG!!!!" story back when I was a guest on the Twisted Nether Blogcast back in 2012. And even then, I downplayed my real reaction by quite a bit.

***For a slice of nostalgia, The Pink Pigtail Inn still does exist at Alas, Righteous Orbs is long gone.

****I wonder what Vidyala would have thought about the storyline in BfA after having worked on FDWL all those years. I should ask her and see if she's interested in a guest column.

*****If you want to know about something in WoW Classic, you go to WoWHead or WoWpedia or.... you get the idea. Places, like the old Hots and Dots blog, that had full maps and descriptions of Vanilla instance content, are a thing of the past.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Bit Like The Ending to "The Searchers"

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.
--Neil Postman


Cardwyn's last Molten Core run with her first "regular" raid group was last night.

It felt bittersweet, given that it was nice to see a lot of people I've gotten to know as acquaintances and friends one last time for an MC run, but the knowledge that I'll have to find a new MC home for Card put a damper on the occasion for me.

The rest of the raid group was in good spirits, however, and the raid went very well. There were no wipes, although we did lose half the raid on a trash pull right before Baron Geddon. That seems to be the norm for the packs in the Baron Geddon/Shazzrah area, where the packs seem to be more deadly than the bosses themselves. I was also exposed to yet another strategy on taking out Shazzrah, which I commented on to a friend of mine. 


That did get me to thinking about how similar some strategies are for bosses and others are totally different. They're all personal variations between guilds --and even raiding teams within guilds-- and if they work, then that's fine. But as time has gone on, there often seems to be that "one person" who thinks the way their raid team does it is the right way, and says so on the Discord or in Chat. Frequently that means they can become a disruptive influence on the raid, especially if there's a wipe. I've been in more than one Zul'Gurub or instance pug that dissolved into chaos because of people insisting that "you're doing it wrong" after a wipe, and effectively throwing a temper tantrum because they weren't getting their way. I've even seen it happen after a wipe in an MC run, which the person throwing the fit was a guest of the guild putting the raid on. And really, that takes some brass balls to try to tell the people putting on the raid that "they're doing it wrong" when they invited you to come along in the first place.

But I guess that's the finest example of an MMO being as good as the people who operate inside it. 


Meanwhile, back in the Hallowed Core (as Ragnaros calls it) I was pondering all of that, as well as how different guilds have different internal dynamics.

Each guild has their own personality. I don't mean the differences between leveling guilds and progression raiders and social guilds, I mean how guild members interact with each other and the greater WoW world. Within Myzrael, if you run enough instances or group up enough with people from various guilds, you begin to get a feel of a guild's personality. I always try to not to extrapolate from a couple of people to an entire guild, because that smacks of prejudice, but I'm also a firm believer in that when you're a member of an organization you represent that organization no matter whether you're "on the clock" or not.*

One of the primary methods of guild recruitment --outside of spamming LFG or posting ads in the Myzrael Discord-- is the pug. Prospective guildies get a chance to hang with members in a (theoretical) non-stressful atmosphere and see the guild dynamics at work and in general have a good time. Take the proverbial high school or college mixer, place it online, and that's what pugs are. It's not perfect, but it does work. And when I attend a guild group, whether it's in a Scarlet Monastery run or Zul'Gurub or Scholomance or even Molten Core, there's an unspoken evaluation going on in both directions, whether or not the pug was advertised as a recruitment event or not. 

What I've found in running enough raid pugs --with Discord-- is that the guilds that put on these pugs do put their best foot forward. Nobody wants to look like an asshat, and you can tell that the guilds that have been around long enough have settled into a comfortable level of banter and enjoyment in Discord. Of these regular pugs, I don't think I've come across one that made me feel uncomfortable with weird dynamics or people who were overly aggressive in trying to push the raid to a speed record or something. However, I've been in enough of these sort of pugs where I can detect a distinct separation between the guildies and the puggers. It's not intentional, as it is the product of familiarity and friendliness, but it's there. And in an MMO where there are no visual cues to derive from, you're left with Discord and in-game chat to navigate that separation. 

Me? Because of my natural shyness I resort to humor to break the ice** and, naturally, if my attempts at humor are well received I begin to feel a bit more comfortable with the situation. 

I was considering all of this in the raid --yes, deep thoughts for a raid that starts at 1 AM EDT on a Saturday morning-- while I was thinking of the struggles of some of my Classic friends to find a home in the game.

I've watched as several of my friends bounced from guild to guild. Or in the case of some of them, watched a couple of guilds blow up or have significant departures; in those cases, I look back on my guild history in Wrath and think "there but for the love of God go I". It didn't make anything easier for my friends, however, but all I could do was just listen/read while they aired out their grievances. And I wondered just how much of the raid pugs presented a complete slice of the guild dynamics. It's far better than an advertisement, for certain, but it's not foolproof.

Some of my friends, however, eventually found a guild that suited them. Finding yourself in a group of people that accept you and let you grow is a good thing, and I'm happy that they found their landing spot. Others are still looking, and the best thing for me to do is to be there for support. 


I suppose it was a good thing that I didn't use Discord to talk in the raid***, as my mood was more than a bit melancholy, and the last thing I wanted to do was to be a Debbie Downer on what for a lot of people was a good time.

And what didn't help my mood much was when I happened to look at the damage meters to get a feel for how I was doing.

Over the past couple of months Card has slowly moved up the charts as she's begun to get some T1 gear and fix the gaps in her T0 gear, like replacing things like Priest/Warlock T0 with true Mage T0 gear. Right about now, Card is about half T1, half T0 Mage, and some of the minor gear pieces (trinkets and whatnot) are finally being replaced from leveling greens and blues with something more raid ready. I've not bothered with enchantments because that money hole is something I'm going to pursue once I get enough pieces good enough to enchant that I'm going to keep for a little while.**** And she's been hitting the 10-15 ranking mark on a regular basis on fights that require her to just go balls to the wall and attack without doing massive interrupts. She was frequently 3/4 or 4/4 in the mage group, but given the other mages were getting T2 gear from regular Blackwing Lair runs, I thought I was moving in the right direction.

And then I saw the meters this time. 

I knew that more people in the pug were raiding AQ20/40 now, and more than a few of them weren't alts at all but people's mains, but when I vanished from the Top 20 for almost the entire run I knew I had a long way to go. 


In the end, I did get a good send off: the T2 Mage legs dropped, and I won the roll for them.

And while I got a lot of whispers from friends trying to convince me to join them next week when they start up the Blackwing Lair pug, I had to keep telling them that I simply wasn't geared for it yet. I wasn't ready, and I was determined to not be a detriment to the raid. 

What did it feel like? About the closest way I can describe it is that feeling when you first drop your grown child off at a university. You raised them, were there for them in all their successes and stumbles as they grew and matured, and you let them go to make their own way in the world. They go on without you, and you can only watch with a mixture of pride and sadness.

*I've always impressed on the mini-Reds that it may not be fair, but when they are out in public wearing a shirt with their school name (for example), people will judge their school based on their behavior. "It isn't fair, but that is why it is so important to behave well," I'd frequently tell them. "You carry the weight of expectations, and live up to them."

**Trust me, it's there. I know that more than a few people have a hard time believing that I'm pretty shy, but you have to realize that these are just words, and I'm not talking to you face to face. HUGE difference. And even then, I struggled to put together this particular post because it was difficult to corral my thoughts into something that resembled coherency. It was only toward the end of writing this that the light bulb went on in my head and I remembered an article from Cracked about Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves, and I said "Oh!" I may not be as depressed or anxious or anything as represented in the article, but it does explain to an extent why I use humor so much as a defense mechanism to overcome my own shyness and nervousness.

***This particular channel required the use of push-to-talk, and I'll be frank in that I suck in using PTT while trying to not stand in the bad during MMOs. My headset allows me to mute myself when I push my mic up, and the mic is re-engaged when I pull it down into a talking position.

****I am NOT getting on the gold farming treadmill just to enchant an item that will be only equipped for a couple of weeks.


EtA: Cleaned up some grammar issues.

EtA: I should clarify the title of the post a bit. If you're as old as I am --and being even older is better-- The Searchers was one of director John Ford's best films. Ford was a master of cinematography and letting the symbolism tell the story, which is quite a feat in the Western films era. While most people today know of The Searchers as part of the inspiration for the original Star Wars trilogy, and yes the dialogue, the treatment of Native Americans in the story, and the acting is very dated, Ford doesn't shy away from the flaws that make Ethan, John Wayne's character, so single minded in pursuit of his niece who'd been captured by the Comanches: his ruthlessness and his racism chief among them. Ford's direction and cinematography forces us to reevaluate the racism implicit in the settlement of the Old West, and to realize that Ethan is not truly the hero of the story at all; he is just as dangerous as the Comanches who killed his relatives and captured his niece. One of John Ford's themes in his Westerns was the approach of civilization and the replacement of lawlessness --embodied by gunfighters and outlaws of all stripes-- with the normalcy of civilization. As in Ford's other big film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne's character is a product of the Old West, and while he helps to usher in the New (Civilized) West, he has no place in it.

I obviously wasn't going for all of the rest of that subtext about The Searchers in this post, because I could write at least 3-5 posts on how WoW approaches complex subjects such as racism, but rather the basic theme of the outsider watching as the world has passed him by.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Change Changing Places


For some reason you're questioning why
I always believe it gets better
One difference between you and I
Your heart is inside your head
One word from you
One word from me
A clear design on your liberty
Who could believe when love has gone
How we move on like everyone
--Changes by Yes, from 90125


If there's one thing that's a constant in life, it's change.

And for me, change came to WoW Classic the instant the 10 hour war ended and AQ opened up.

The Molten Core run that Cardwyn had been attending for 2+ months is being shut down in favor of two separate Blackwing Lair runs --one from each guild that hosted the MC run-- which leaves those without sufficient gear to attempt BWL in need of a new home.*

Like Cardwyn, who has about half T1 and half T0 gear.

I realize that for some it's a minor inconvenience, and they can just go find another pug to run MC with**, but it was nice to have a regular run that I could count on to be there and develop friendships with. And with me being a bit of a night owl when it comes to playing, there aren't that many Molten Core pugs around Midnight EDT on the server. 

There's also one additional problem that has to be considered: everybody and their grandmother is running AQ20 or AQ40, and if you're running those you're not likely going to be in many other raids. 

And if you're doing AQ20/AQ40, when you're not actually in the raids, you're farming the mats for the raids.

I've seen references in the Myzrael Discord channel and in other spots online to the sheer volume of flasks and whatnot that some of the more progression oriented raiders are utilizing in the AQ instances, and it ain't pretty. Unless you've got a huge amount of gold coming in you're going to have to spend a ton of time farming mats to make the pots to just raid AQ40 once a week. And that's not even counting all of the scrounging you'll need to do to find Nature Resist gear to use in AQ20/40, which if you want to be in AQ40 right now that means even more time spent doing things in support of the raid when you're not in the raid.

And here's Az and Card with only half of a T1 set***, watching all this and wondering when did WoW Classic turn into a second (or third) job.


Such is the WoW Classic life now: the people who I like to run with have all moved on and aren't really available to run the instances/raids I'm running, and with Shadowlands on the horizon and coming fast, I suspect that the WoW Classic environment will take a massive population hit for at least the six months after the October launch.

Sure, one obvious solution is to focus more on what I can control, which means running Battlegrounds and finding instance pugs where I can, or maybe even level an alt. 

Like this young Paladin. I think Card knows her.

And I have been receiving whispers from people I know who have guilds who are recruiting --not really poaching, as the guild I'm in is only a few people and of the group only 2 of us raid with any regularity-- but the requirements are to be either AQ ready as-is or at least be Blackwing Lair ready, neither of which I am at present.**** It's not like I don't know the guilds or the people, because I've run with plenty of their guildies over the past 6 months or more and I'm fine with them, but the reality is that they're going progression and their entire focus is the immediate needs for the progression raids.*****

And to be honest, if AQ is so demanding on a player's time, I'm not so sure I really want to raid there any time soon.

I talked with a guildie about it, and he's planning on going to AQ only when enough people get geared enough to make pugs more practical, probably when Naxxramas starts getting close to dropping.

Until then, I guess I'll muddle through.

*One of the BWL pugs is purely recreational, if you can call a BWL run that, and the other is oriented at people who want to move into progression raiding. The guild running the latter intends to use that run as --more or less-- a farm team for their main progression teams.

**Myzrael is a medium population server, so higher pop servers may not have this issue quite so much. And it should be mentioned that Zul'Gurub runs continue on a regular basis, because of the "+hit" gear you can get out of Z'G which are necessary for BWL and later raids.

***If I had a dollar every time someone asked me "if you've been running Molten Core for over 2 months, shouldn't you be fully T1 geared yet?" I'd be able to quit my real job. Most of the T1 gear that Cardwyn and Azshandra are wearing dropped in the first 3-4 Molten Core runs, and just about every run since then has seen either a) repeat drops, or b) no drops at all. But boy, if I were a Druid/Warlock/Pally, I'd have been living large.

****And with Fire being the current "spec du jour", Card being Frost (for MC and BGs) sticks out like a sore thumb.

*****The recruitment blurbs for the guilds in the Myzrael Discord have changed over the months from being a mix of progression, casual, and somewhere in between to weighing heavily in the direction of progression. And it's not just that the progression guilds are recruiting more, the guild advertisements for the same guild have tilted heavily in the direction of progression as the War Effort ended.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Attack of the Ancient Egyptian Lookalikes

 The Ten Hour War on Myzrael-US has come and gone, and I missed a lot of it.

Well, the reason for that is simple: the ringing of the gong happened at 10:00 AM EST (7:00 AM server time), and I couldn't really take a day off to play WoW Classic.*

So I went and rode up on Card before work, soaking in the view....


Even then, an hour or two early, there was a crowd. You'd think that Led Zeppelin had gotten back together and were going to play a concert...


"Play Dazed and Confused!!!!"

So I figured I'd sneak in right around the banging of the gong just to see what happened, but work kept me busy until lunchtime.

When I did login, I had to dodge as a giant foot nearly flattened me. I ran up onto the platform and took a view of the surrounding area:

Correct that. Maybe I should have asked for
Iron Maiden to play Two Minutes to Midnight.

In times like this, I'm reminded of the advice given to me before I entered my first battleground when I asked what I should do: "Just go out there and hit somebody!!"

So I did:

And again....

And again.

And I thought Onyxia was organized chaos...

I was aware that I wasn't getting any reputation or any drops because I wasn't in a raid group, but that didn't matter to me. I was fine with just bashing things for a while. I chatted with a couple of friends who'd gotten there early and were knee deep in raids, and they were having a blast.

Me? I got to take a picture or three, and enjoy the memories.

One giant foot. With a Cardwyn for scale.

*Sure, I could, but I already had two days off on my calendar --each for taking a kid back to university-- in the week and a half surrounding the banging of the gong, and I didn't have my backup available the day of the war.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

On the Eve of War

Dear Mom and Dad--

By the time you read this, we'll know whether Azeroth has a chance to survive.

I'm writing this on the eve of the banging of the gong, where the combined might of the Alliance and Horde will stand against the armies of Ahn'Qiraq and the dark force that controls them. Backed by the Cenarion Circle and the Bronze Dragonflight, we hope to weather their first attack so we can set up a command post inside their city, and from there strike deeper into their territory.

I saw Linna earlier today, and we talked briefly about how strange fate is. Who knew that when the Defias demanded our iron that Summer day it would have set us on a road to this desolate place? The Marshals have separated us into different units --for support, they said-- but I believe it's so that we have a better shot of having one of us survive the battle.

While I was wandering about, greeting friends I've not seen in some time, I came across one of the Mages from Theramore who was deep in conversation with an Orc and Tauren. He waved me over and introduced me to them as Evelyn Aldcock's last apprentice. We exchanged greetings, and it turns out that all three of them fought with Mistress Evelyn at the Battle of Mount Hyjal. The Tauren Druid was especially pleased to know that Mistress Evelyn was still alive and keeping an eye on her adopted grandchildren, and said that he will try to talk Kit into escorting him for a visit. Please tell her that Drak and Nighthoof wish her well, and will strike the Silithids in her name.

Please don't worry about me or Linna. I feel it in my bones that this is one of the great trials of our time, and everything I've learned throughout my life prepared me for this moment.

Be well and stay safe, and Light willing we will prevail.


P.S. Tell my nieces and nephews I'll be back soon to go fishing again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A Window into the Past

 As time has gone on this past year, I've seen people come and go on Classic.  I've gotten to know some of them fairly well, and others I met via an instance, friended them after a great time, and never saw them online again.

Perhaps the greatest example of this phenomenon is the friends' lists of Az and Card. 

I was thinking about this the other day when I realized that almost nobody from Az's friends list was on, but Card had a ton online. Given that Az leveled first, I suppose it was inevitable that some of the people I encountered in September and October 2019 would have moved on. I've even seen a couple of people I battle tag friended in that era online, but either on other Classic servers or even on Retail. 

But I also think it's a measure of the type of group that Az would get involved with versus Card. 

Melee DPS isn't nearly in as much demand for instances as ranged DPS is. If you're interested in a speed run of, say, Blackrock Depths, getting 2 or 3 Mages together can wreak havoc on an instance. On the flip side, if you're in an instance that favors lots of single target attacks and/or you have tanks with issues holding threat, a Rogue's threat reduction and single target specialty has an advantage over ranged DPS without threat reduction.

I also think that a Rogue or a cat Druid, when stealthed, has advantages that a Mage doesn't have if you're new to an instance. Both can scout ahead and inform the group of what is around a corner (highly useful in RFK and RFD), and the Rogue (with Improved Sap) can provide CC in those scenarios where not pulling aggro is critical. If, however, you want a ranged pull + CC at the same time, a Mage's sheep pull is highly useful.

All of this analysis boils down to one simple fact: different groups require different classes, and the groups that Az would run with aren't going to be the same --especially at lower levels-- than those that Cardwyn would run with.

Perhaps the purest form of this is when I see somebody I know looking for DPS for an instance, and I whisper them "which do you want, Card or Az?" Sometimes they're fine with Az, sometimes they're fine with Card. Depends on the situation and the current group makeup. And because of those differences, whom I put on my friends' list on Az is likely to be different than on Card.

As a result, Az's friends list reads like a view of what Classic looked like in the Fall of 2019, while Card's friends list is a window into Classic's current status. 

And because of the impending release of Shadowlands, I have to wonder just how much of Card's friends list will turn into Az's in a few months.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Some Brief Musings

The more I see of the artwork from the new WoW expac Shadowlands, the more I think that it's a cross of WoW with Aion. Not saying it's a bad thing, but it does feel a bit weird.

From via Pinterest.


Unless, of course, it's a weird merging of WoW and Elder Scrolls Online....

Nothing says "Gothic Horror" like vampires.

From a larger graphic from


My push to gearing up properly appears to be bearing some fruit, just not in the way I expected:

This was a surprise, to say the least.

I joined an Ony pug headed up by a person relatively famous on the server for a) his devil-may-care attitude to pugs, and b) his steadfast refusal to use any form of audio communication. He considers using an application like Discord to be "for wussies".

Everybody knows what they're getting into when they join one of his pugs --myself included-- so I go in expecting to wipe at least once.

We didn't wipe on Ony, but I did die in Phase 3 when Onyxia moved out of range and I tried to get back in range. As I told a guildie --who'd also joined the pug-- later, the pug was pretty much organized chaos.

They decided to roll on the head first, and someone rolled a 95. I really wanted the bag, but I figured "Oh what the hell, why not" and decided to roll on the head anyway.

I got a 99.

"Dammit Card!" the person who'd rolled 95 said.

So I now get to coordinate with my server's Discord channel on when to drop an Onyxia head, something I didn't expect I'd ever get to do.


My oldest visited Minas Tirith in LOTRO for the Summer Festival, and she raved about it to me later. She also mentioned how busy it was, and that her laptop was struggling so much her FPS was down to 5 FPS. Given that her laptop was a fairly generic AMD processor that's now 6 years old, that didn't exactly shock me. Still, she went on for a while about how well done Minas Tirith was, which pleased me to no end.

MMOs still bring me and the mini-Reds together.

Monday, August 3, 2020

One Direction Versus Many

A blinding hatred caused by fear is showing in their eyes
They want their truth all black and white
But a rainbow never tells no lies to a

Stranger in a strange land
What's a man supposed to do?
I'm just a stranger in a strange land
When will the light come shining through?

--"Stranger in a Strange Land" by Triumph, from Thunder Seven*

I was thinking the other day about how WoW Classic/Vanilla is different than MMOs that came after it. And that includes the expacs for WoW that have accumulated over time.

There are some MMOs that are completely different and have very little actual story, such as Black Desert Online, and there are those that are little more than an excuse to PvP, such as ArcheAge. But as far as story driven MMOs are concerned, Classic/Vanilla stands out from its future self and its competitors in that not everything devolves to a single conspiracy.

Sure, in SWTOR the original version has each class story's own Big Bad, but the game's storyline points to the same ending in Corellia. LOTRO's big bad is, well, Sauron. Age of Conan has it's own storyline with Atzel at the forefront, ESO's original storyline had Molag Bal, and Rift's original storyline pointed at Regulos, the Dragon of Extinction. And starting in Burning Crusade, each WoW expac had an eventual Big Bad that had to be confronted at the end of the storyline.

But Classic/Vanilla? Not so much.

There is no defined "Big Bad" at the end of Classic/Vanilla, but instead there are a variety of different Big Bads that covered various WoW stories: Onyxia, Ragnaros, Hakkar, Nefarian, C'Thun, and Kel'Thuzad. What is most interesting about the various Big Bads is that their stories don't intersect. Sure, Ony and Nef are brother and sister black dragons, but their stories don't intersect at all. The same goes with Ragnaros and Nefarian, despite them sharing Blackrock Mountain.**

There are a plethora of other questlines that likely were designed to lead to other raids and raid bosses --Varian's questline, the Syndicate/Alterac, Burning Blade, Scythe of Elune/Deadwind Pass, etc.-- that were either shut down entirely as Blizzard changed the focus to Burning Crusade or were retconned for later expacs (the Worgen in Cataclysm and Deadwind Pass/Karazhan at the end of BC, for example).

Here's the kicker, however: if you take WoW Classic/Vanilla at face value there was no defined story, no overarching Big Bad, that who was the ultimate mastermind and you had to eventually deal with. With the benefit of hindsight and a metric ton of official stories/comics/expacs out there, we now know that everything devolves into either the Burning Legion or the Old Gods. And a great argument could be made that it's really the Old Gods being responsible for everything, from the lowest Defias cutthroat or Hexxed Troll up through Sargeras itself.***

But Classic/Vanilla doesn't have such an escape valve, and we have to take each storyline at face value. This means that, as far as a world is concerned, Classic/Vanilla Azeroth is more complex than many of its successors. The enemies aren't all in this together, and in fact they frequently feud with each other just as much as they do with the Horde and Alliance.

If there was one true disappointment in how WoW developed over time, it was the loss of all of this complexity at the expense of pushing a singular narrative. While a singular narrative was easier to sell as part of an expansion, it made the WoW-verse smaller. If there was a problem in one location, it could be traced back in one form or another to the Old Gods' or the Burning Legion's corruption. Even if it wasn't obvious initially, don't worry. It'll eventually get there. It's kind of like the Elder Scrolls Online, where almost all quests eventually devolve to a Daedric issue. Which is a shame, because it takes away the agency of everybody involved and they all simply become pawns moved around on a chessboard.

Move over, Mongo, you've got company.
(Made from a WoWHead screencap.)

*Here's a link to a YouTube video of the song, since it's one of Triumph's lesser known songs. For those not from the 70s/80s, Triumph was the "other" power trio from the Toronto area.

**And are also supposedly on the same side as C'Thun. Of course, there's nothing directly in the quest texts that indicate that all three are working for the same overall team; that came later.

***Talk about the conversations surrounding a misbehaving child in Azeroth: It's not my fault, Dad! The Old Gods made me do it!!