Saturday, November 12, 2022

Playing Around With Resonance

Playing an MMORPG is an exercise in compromises.

There's the ability to play with others, and there's the ability to play by yourself.

On one side, developers have to accommodate group content and make it available for all, but on the flip side players want to feel like they've affected the world in a way that a single player game* provides.

Originally, MMOs did not have instanced content. Everquest was (in)famous for raid bosses spawning at random times and the first guild to make a hit on said boss got the credit for the eventual kill. This led to some rather dubious behavior among some guilds who would have toons parked, watching for boss spawns, on an around-the-clock basis. The hardest of the hard core guilds wouldn't even allow for bio breaks, which gave rise to personally disgusting methods of relieving oneself** while performing your duty to your guild.

Despite popular appearances, Blizz was not the first MMO to solve this problem: it apparently was Anarchy Online. Even Everquest beat World of Warcraft by about a year. However, Blizz integrated the concept of instanced content into World of Warcraft from the start, along with a lack of loading screens between world zones and other innovations, that it's understandable that many still believe that WoW "created" instanced content: they merely popularized it.

But with the stories that Blizz wanted to tell with WoW, they had to do more than just instance 5-person and raid content: they wanted to provide that "affect the game world" feeling that single player RPG video games have.

If you've spent any time at all in
front of Karazhan from TBC through
Wrath (at least), you've seen this 
interaction on repeat.

It was into this environment that Blizzard decided on a "solution" when Wrath of the Lich King debuted back in 2008: phasing.


On the face of it, phasing looked like an elegant solution to the problem of affecting the game world yet allowing players of various levels of progression to still be there. People could permanently see the results of their questing, yet the "important" content --5-player, raids, and BGs/arenas-- remained instanced.***

Kind of ironic that phasing turned into yet another method of FOMO and player annoyance in implementation, particularly in Wrath Classic.

Fun With Phasing.

My first exposure to phasing in Wrath Classic wasn't the Wrathgate, although that was a close second. The Wrathgate is easier to explain, however: a dungeon group of my raid team was heading out from Dalaran to wherever, and we passed by the Wrathgate area. I took note that everybody except me was marked as 'In a different phase' and I quipped, "Well, it's easy to see who did The Wrathgate and who didn't."

"Oh?" the tank asked.

"Everybody else is listed as 'in a different phase'."


But people --and I-- expected that.

My first encounter with phasing in Wrath Classic was in nearby Wintergarde Keep, where my questing buddy needed a hand in killing a mini boss. I rode up to her, and promptly was attacked by a steady stream of respawning ghouls. 

I didn't worry, since she was on her Priest, and she could heal me without batting an eyelash.

The only thing was, she wasn't healing.

"Uh..." I said to myself after the third wave of ghouls respawning so rapidly I couldn't stop to eat and drink and recover.

"Are you being attacked?" she asked in chat.

"Uh, yeah," I replied.

"I can't see any of that."

"Shit. None of it?"


I eventually managed to break away from the onslaught long enough for me to get my health and mana back. We then acquired a couple of other people nearby who were on the same quest as she was and we engaged the boss.

"Are you on the quest?" she asked me.


"Here, let me share it... Says you're not eligible."

"I guess I'm not far enough along the chain to get it."


The boss was successfully downed, but waves of ghouls came at me again in the middle of the fight and I think I died once along the way. No worries, I thought, I'll just rez and go back to the Inn at Wintergarde Keep and find a vendor to repair at.

I arrived at the Keep, but something was missing.

LOTS of somethings.

"Hey," I typed out, "where is everybody? Am I missing the Innkeeper or something?"

"Oh!" my questing buddy replied. "You have to do the first couple of quests here to unlock all of  those people."

"You have GOT to be kidding me."


"@#$% phasing."

"Yeah, it sucks. Do you need a hand in doing those first quests?"

By then, my stubborn streak reasserted itself, and I was determined to give the game the middle finger. "No, I'll get to it when I get to it," I replied, angry that the game was not-so-subtly trying to force me into doing quests I didn't want to do right then. I came over to help someone, not be helped when I didn't need it.



After that sequence of events, I learned fairly quickly that Wrath Classic made far more extensive use of phasing than I remembered.

Such as in Zul'drak with the Zandalari quests, or The Storm Peaks with the Hyldnir/Thorim/Sons of Hodir questline. But phasing is most egregiously used in Icecrown Glacier, where in Scourgeholme that first screenshot in this post was taken.

Just the other day my questing buddy needed a hand with some bosses, and I hopped on Deuce to help out. I flew over and...

"Where are you?" I asked.

"I'm phased. I thought this might happen."


I dropped into the area where the boss was, and not only could I not see her, but I couldn't even see any enemies at all.

"Let me send you a screenshot so you can see what I'm seeing," I told her and sent the pic above (the unadulterated version) to her via Discord.

I was able to find a small portion of Icecrown where we weren't phased, so I could buff her and give her some food, but after that I was reduced to being a cheerleader for a fight I couldn't even see. All I could do was watch her mana go slowly down... down... down...

And then the Questie alert popped up. 

"Hey, gratz!" I typed out.


I followed her blip on the minimap until she headed south into Crystalsong Forest, and then I was able to assist on killing some mobs, but with phasing keeping us separated in Icecrown and my ire at being not-so-subtly pressured by the game into 'catching up' with her, I told her that I was just a spectator, and I logged for the night.


I get it. I understand the why of phasing. It exists so that more detailed stories can be told in the game world. It's just that unless you're completely on the same phase with another person, grouping up to quest together is a pretty useless endeavor.

Which sucks.

Layers, which is WoW Classic's bastard cousin of phasing****, has similar problems. Such as last night, when my questing buddy was going to go on a Naxxramas 25 person pug.

After she unsuccessfully tried roping me in*****, she asked me if I could get her some Mage food.

"Sure," I replied, parked Linna, and hopped on Deuce.

I hopped on a flight over to Wintergarde Keep, along the way answering multiple whispers who wanted me to join the Naxx raid with a "No thanks"#, and landed.

"Where are you?" I asked.

"At the flightpoint."

I tried targeting her, but no dice. "Uh, what layer are you on?"

"I don't know."

"Well, crap. That's probably why I can't see you. You'll have to drop from the raid and invite me, so I can then see you."

A few moments later I received an invite, which I accepted, and she reappeared next to me.

I handed over the Mage Pastries, gave her a wave, and swapped back over to Linna.

That entire sequence was far more complicated than it needed to be, mainly due to the presence of layers. You should be able to go right up to someone, hand over what's needed, and then leave. But now, with layers, you have to group up so you can actually find each other, which is a royal pain if one of you is already in a group. And if you're phased, well... Sucks to be us, I guess.


I already know the 'answer' to the problems phasing creates.

"Just consume the content!"

Yeah, but here's the thing: not everybody wants to --or is able to-- go at the same pace as everybody else. And by creating that artificial barrier, Blizzard is inserting FOMO into something it was never meant for.##

I realize that I'm likely the only person who gets annoyed at phasing in this way, but I don't like to be pressured and told what to do, whether it be directly or indirectly. And WoW has enough peer pressure already present in game without any more being added, thankyouverymuch.

*Or a tabletop game.

**You were expecting me to say more? No way. I'm pretty sure nobody wants to read about THAT while eating a meal and perusing their blog readers. And if you do... What the hell is wrong with you?

***Kind of interesting how Blizz has pretty much ranked what is important using the three tiered system: Normal Quests; Phased Quests/Quest Chains; Instanced Content. Different players might have different opinions on what they perceive to be most important, but Blizz put the unofficial imprimatur on their design based on which content goes into which bucket.

****Several MMOs in a post Wrath world that use multiple servers do have layering in place. They just call it something different. I think SWTOR calls them Game Worlds, for example. But more and more, MMOs are migrating toward a singular megaserver with multiple layers to accommodate the sheer population size yet also adjust the game to make the game not seem overwhelmingly populated.

*****She did give it a good attempt, but I wasn't interested. There was more drama in the franken guild that day that I heard about secondhand, but it was sufficient enough to not make me want to go into any 25 person raids put on by the guild.

"It's Jes' raid," my questing buddy replied, trying to lure me in, and pointing out to me that it's not an official alt/pug raid put on by the guild.

"I know," I replied. I like Jes. A LOT. And she does a great job at raid leading. But the most recent 'official' response to an incident concerning the guild banks is to restrict the guild bank usage to the 25 person 'real raids' only. This is not what I'd consider a correct response (punish the offender and change operation of the bank so that withdrawals need to be handled via a banking toon identified by the guild), so the capricious nature of the response just stuck in my craw. We already knew that 10 person raids were considered 'casual' by the guild's leadership, but lumping our raid team in with the person who caused the problem, and implying it's a 'casual vs hardcore' issue rather than someone who abused the guild banks infuriated me.

From my perspective it certainly seems like they're pissing away all of the goodwill they'd earned over on Myzrael-US, and they're going to acquire a poor reputation on Atiesh-US if they keep this up. And why would I want to be associated with that?

#There were enough whispers that I wondered briefly if I was conned into swapping over so I could be recruited. But I knew better; I was just being paranoid.

##Unlike, say, Apple stubbornly refusing to change their iMessage app to utilize the RCS standard, which is quite deliberate. Apple is --in a passive aggressive way-- utilizing peer pressure and bullying by iPhone users to force people into swapping from Android phones to Apple's iPhones. It's mainly a US based thing, since most of the rest of the world uses WhatsApp or Signal or other messaging applications, but it is quite effective, especially among tweens, teens, and 20-somethings, to pressure their peers into buying iPhones so they can stay with their friends' group chats. You'd think that Apple CEO Tim Cook, who as an LGBTQ person was likely bullied, would step in and try to change this "marketing tactic", but I guess profits are more important than integrity.


  1. At least with Swtor you can swap which world instance you are in every 10 minutes or so. That makes things nicer. If the world instance is full you can't swap, *except* if you are trying to join a party member. I wish Wow had something similar.

    1. Agreed. You're stuck in whatever layer you're in unless someone from another layer invites you. And you need an addon to figure out which layer you're on, too.

  2. Just like back in the day! The main one I remember is that the summoning stone at Icecrown was in a phased area, so you could have two people there and still be unable to summon because they couldn't see each other.

    I'll give Blizzard credit for improving that in retail. I don't know what they call their current tech, but even if the world phases around you and you might be seeing different NPCs than other people, you can generally still interact with other players and help them out.

    1. Oh, for Icecrown Citadel itself? Yeah, I believe it. I mean, by the time my gear was good enough for the ICC 5-person instances the automated LFD tool was well in place so I didn't need it, but...

  3. Gotta say I disagree with you here on the sentiment in the post. From what you've written, you understand why this happens, but because you're against being forced to do it, you won't do what needs to be done in order to play with your questing buddy.

    This game is all about being forced.

    Want to be max level? There's all the levels before max that you have to get through.

    Want to ride through Azeroth? Level 20. Faster? Level 40. Fly? Level 60.

    I know you know all this, I just can't see the line in the sand that you're drawing as an objection to being forced. That's the nature of the game.


    1. You're correct in that the entire game is gated so that you are forced into doing them if you want to do stuff. And I expect that. It's the same expectations and gating if you want to raid: you have to not only get to max level but also get attuned (in the old days), get gear to be able to perform, etc. However, in this case my objection has more to do with being forced into doing something *right then* if I wanted to help out rather than doing it when I wanted to. It was the surprise of phasing when I didn't expect it, throwing up an unexpected gating problem, when all she needed was an extra body to help down a boss. If this were TBC Classic, there'd have been no issue helping out. Same with Vanilla Classic. It was only in Wrath Classic where your progress on the attunement process (as it were) became a problem in being able to help out. Anybody can help down Cyrukh the Firelord if you're passing by Shadowmoon Valley, regardless of where you are on the Cypher of Damnation questline or not. The same with the Shade of our old friend (I know, spoilers) in Grizzly Hills. But if you're in Icecrown --or to a lesser extent The Storm Peaks-- that might not be the case.