Thursday, March 15, 2012

1.1. First Steps

Part I: Vanilla

"Gear doesn't make a bad player good."

World of Warcraft login screen,
during the Vanilla ('04-'07) era
Copyright 2004 © Blizzard Entertainment

The Gamer

Let me make something perfectly clear: EverQuest. fucking. sucked. I squandered four months of my life wandering Norrath trying to establish just what it was, exactly, that everyone found so "revolutionary". It looked awful. The game was brutally unforgiving -- death was unnecessarily punitive, wiping away days of experience. Investment was demanding, hour upon hour of tedious grinds in a less-than-exciting world, and the eventual payoffs were laughable, at best. Huge risk. No reward. I remember being up late one night, standing on a frozen plateau overlooking Everfrost Peaks, and thinking to myself, what the hell am I doing here? I've played this game for four months. I have nothing to show for it. I don’t know anyone online. I haven't met anyone in-game. I don’t know what my goal is. I've barely leveled at all (I was 21)...and I have absolutely no interest in pursuing this further.

EverQuest's publisher (Sony Online Entertainment) made the decision to cancel very easy. Every move they made was textbook of how not to treat your customers. Server crashes would result in massive losses of experience (and therefore, played time), yet no official ever stepped up, apologies, took responsibility, or offered us any kind of refund. Oh. Yeah. About that. We messed up. Tough shit. See you in game. SOE showed me truly selfish and shallow a corporate enterprise could be. When I closed my EQ account, I vowed never to play another MMO again.

Meh, I gave it a solid attempt, but honestly, MMOs weren't for me. I'd been playing video games since childhood, priding myself on my console collection. At its peak, I had a NES, a Sega Master System, a SNES, a Sega Genesis (plus Sega CD), a Turbo-Grafx 16, a 3DO, and even a NeoGeo. When it came to video games, I didn't fuck around. Fighting games were my choice du jour, back in the day, but honestly, I played a little bit of everything: platformers, racing games, puzzles, shooters, RPGs, hell I'd even play a sports game...if it was good. But I nerded out like nobody I knew. Instead of reading comics, I read video game manuals; instead of popular music of the day, I was recording video game music and listening to it on my walkman. Even the nerds that knew me were taken aback. I took this shit seriously.

As I left high school and headed to college, PC gaming...and a new genre...took over: FPS. First, it was DooM, and then with the discovery of the Internet at my local college campus, Quake soon followed. I built a Quake clan and had regular LAN parties that went until all hours of the morning. We played CounterStrike and Team Fortress until we couldn't keep our eyes open. It was at these LAN parties that I was first exposed to another genre of game: RTS.

Kael'thas confers with Lady Vashj after arriving in Outland,
Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne

The Gamble

I was enthralled. So much was going on at once, it felt like a human being couldn't keep track of it all...and yet, they did. I watched as my friends played Warcraft II games that culminated in massive attacks, collaborative defense, and tactical advances that slowly edge the game in their favor. It was too late for me to jump on the Warcraft II and Starcraft bandwagon by that time, so once I heard that Warcraft III was in development, I hit the books, hard.

Scouring online forums revealed a level of depth I hadn't really seen in a PC game. The expansiveness of the story, the characters, the plots...this was far more than a similar orcs vs. humans. I was continually stunned by the artwork -- the early Metzen and Didier sketches were so stylized and unique. There was never enough.

Every time I came across something new buried in the Blizzard fandom, I felt drawn toward the franchise. At the release of Warcraft III, I dove in, played through the campaign religiously, watched as the Humans continually ignored the pleas of Medivh about the return of The Burning Legion. It disgusted me. I watched as Thrall took the "bad guys" and constructed the Horde, built Orgrimmar, vowing to fight oncoming invaders. It invigorated me. I watched Arthas fall and become The Lich King; I watched Illidan hunt him while he himself was hunted by Maiev. I built small cities on the fields of Lordaeron, the red dirt of Outland, and the frozen wastes of Northrend. I did it all...and I wanted more.

So, when Blizzard announced their next entry in the Warcraft franchise...my heart sunk.

World of Warcraft? An MMO? Made by people who loved EverQuest?

I'd played video games my entire life -- and I knew what was fun; EQ was the very antithesis of enjoyment. And how that company treated their fans? Would Blizzard be the same? I was very uninterested in pursuing that experience all over again.

So, I had to take a very big gamble.

~~

World of Warcraft was released at the end of November of 2004, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My only previous experience in an MMO had ended in disaster. Once the chaotic servers stabilized after an insanely unprepared launch of the game, Blizzard went out of their way to apologize for the instability. I remember being surprised by this stance. What? A company that cares about its customers? Willing enough to accept responsibility for their lack of preparedness and even issue refunds as an act of good faith?

There were other little signs that World of Warcraft (and Blizzard) would do things a little differently. They took great pains to enforce appropriate names, and even had system built into the interface to allow the reporting of any observed names in violation of the rules. Wow. A company that gives a shit about rules...and actually enforcing them? For the sheer volume of trolls (the gamers, not the race) online, looking to push the envelope as far as they can in every opportunity possible, it was a nice thought to see a company attempting to care. But would they go the distance?

I decided to test this apparent integrity by getting into a routine where where I would catch shitty names, quickly /friend them (adding them to a personalized list of contacts in game), then report their inappropriate names to Blizzard. Then, I would sit back and watch. Sure enough, in less than 24 hours, I would log back in and see the person's name fixed -- renamed to something more appropriate.

Impressive! And...my condolences to "Loves2Sp00ge69". Sorry about getting your name changed.

It was, of course, because Blizzard was different. They did care. At one point, at least. But we'll get into that later.



Kerulak prepares to accept signatures for the
creation of the guild Descendants of Draenor,
Thunder Bluff

The Guild

So, there I was. Back inside a game I swore I'd never set foot in again. Well, I thought, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to set myself up for success. I'll play by the MMO rules, if that's what it'll take.

It became obvious, pretty early on, that I would have to band together with others in-game -- done by forming what is referred to as a "guild" -- in order to get anything accomplished. And creating a guild starts with choosing a name.

Names meant a lot to me; I felt strongly that the first impressions you get after reading a guild name would speak volumes about the folks comprising the guild. And although it might be a kick-in-the-pants to name a guild "FAILURES AT LIFE", I couldn't help but feel like it was a direct reflection of the guild mentality. I wanted my guild to attract a different type of player, one who shared my nerdy love of the Warcraft universe; who would read our guild name, and say to themselves "Ah, clever! Someone knows their Warcraft shit!"

I dug deep into the lore, looking for a clue. The gang of misfits I rolled with all agreed that we would take up the cause of the Horde and fight for the Orcs and their allies, since they were the ones to take a stand against The Burning Legion in Warcraft III -- we chose honor over hubris. Victory...or death.

Back in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, I remember that the Orcs came from another world, one now ravaged and torn by conflict. This broken, barren wasteland was referred to as Outland, but before its destruction, it bore another name: Draenor. It was this name of the Orc home world that struck a chord with me. What better way to identify with the cause of the Horde, originally driven by the Orcs, than to take the name which defined their origins? And with the Tauren, the Forsaken, and the Trolls aligned with the Orcs to form the "evil" faction in the game, the Horde carried on the tradition of those first Orcs that burst through The Dark Portal from Outland into Azeroth. We were the Horde, and we were their descendants.

And so it was, that on that day of November in 2004, we became known as Descendants of Draenor.

It would still be awhile before we set foot into the unexpected territory known as 40-man raiding. You have to crawl before you can walk. And for me, crawling meant not only leveling to 60, but ensuring each member of the guild did as well...without clawing each other's throats out.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Very interessting to read, looking forward to the next parts.

Jeremy said...

Wow, just saw your interview over on WoW Insider so I thought I'd pop over here and check it out. Just made it through this first post and I'm already feeling the waves of nostalgia, great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Me too, came over from wow insider, LOVED the first couple of posts and looking forward to getting up to #47!

Anonymous said...

Also came from wow insider, I'm a much newer player, started late in cata, but look forward to reading this.

Anonymous said...

As with many of the previous posters, I also came here after seeing your interview on WoW Insider. This first post really rekindled those memories I had of Vanilla.

Lynda said...

And me. Hopped over from WoW Insider. My husband and I didn't join until Buning Crusade launched but I am deliriously happy to let you lead me through the vanilla I never knew first hand. Many, many thanks from another lore nerd.

Juls Juls said...

Just came from Wow Insider; this is really good! I might have to stay up all night reading it!

CrimsonFusion W said...

Very nostalgic. I am enjoying the history of a very mature guild. I also loved the Warcraft I and II games. Warcraft III never crossed my path however I have been itching to. Interestingly I was involved in the BETA of WoW and just couldn't get into it; Being impatient most likely why. However, I started December 2006 with a good friend I met at work, as you well know too. Ever since I had become fascinated with not only the lore, but also the comradery of other players. I am looking forward to continuing my read! Great job so far!

Davidg said...


I have some toons in tact guild for a wile now good guild

Interactive said...

Was this on Deathwing?

Andreas Winther Boserup said...

Nice and well written. Brings back a lot of old memories from the glorious vanilla days! Looking forward to next part.

Cheers mate!

Judd Lee said...

Sorry to hear of your poor experience with EQ and Sony. I enjoy Wow, but nothing will ever come close to the first three EQ expansions for me.

Judd Lee said...

Sorry to hear of your poor experience with EQ and Sony. I enjoy Wow, but nothing will ever come close to the first three EQ expansions for me.

Will Mcneill said...

Agreed completely, wow was awesome but I actually grew up with friends from all over the world during 8 years of everquest. Looking back I miss it intensely but that was one of the times in life that will never be replicated. Tholuxe server was great.

Pontoonman said...

You friended players just to report them for their names? I stopped reading right there. That's a Dick move, basically entrapment. How very sanctimonious of you. Can't day I'm surprised, in light of the nature of this blog, the tone you set from the very beginning just screams bleeding heart. "Oh if only someone would play with me, but wait not that guy because his name doesn't jive with my standards." Hypocrite. Just can't believe I almost wasted my time reading this entire blog.

Walter Sharp said...

I agree the EQ comments rubbed me wrong but I know it was not for everyone. I enjoyed WOW but it pales in comparison to my EQ days. Being a healer was very worthwhile in EQ :)

Shawn Holmes said...

To all the people expressing love of EQ, you're allowed to skip to the very end of the blog: I address the *why* part of the EQ hating: https://eightyearsinazeroth.blogspot.com/2016/06/4-75.html, and would be interested to hear (from those EQ lovers) if they agree or not.

Scott Welsch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Welsch said...

I'm not the OP but instead one of his old school guildies and yes it is.

patrick allen said...

@Pontoonman:

You are a fool. You have no idea what the word entrapment means and you have no idea about the rest of the pots. How very sanctimonious of you to be able to determine a person's worth by one a sentence or two. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was trolling down the comments hoping for a comment at the greatest early MMO in 1999 (Not EQ), but Asheron's Call (AC)! Talk about the most customizable and extremely awesome endless choices in this game. When I heard EQ, I tried it but quickly went back to Asheron's Call. Nevertheless, they both captured all of our early interest as these were the pioneering MMOs, which ultimately allowed another company to take the best of both and improve upon them immensely to give birth to WoW.! Guess that was a long comment to shout out for AC!!

Anonymous said...

I had a lot of fun with Everquest myself, five years worth in fact. I realize that every class should be viable but I think you went wrong with choosing a necro. For groups necros were probably the least preferred and if you wanted or needed to solo you would have been better off with a druid. Just my two cents worth.

Anonymous said...

You really make me miss the old days man. 40 mans were the best. Loved my guild, loved playing every night.

Robb Carpenter said...

Im an active player, and i miss the old days. Looking forward to the next part

Ryan Carter said...

This is excellent! I never played in 2004 (started in 2007) but my word you've really colourised what is otherwise my fond, monochromatic memories of the early days of WoW. Definitely reading more!

pbbmw12 said...

I started playing WoW during the Beta in 2004 and was my raiding guild's Rogue officer up through 2010. So much of this resonates with me and I'm loving the nostalgic feel. Our guilds were very similar in the fact that we wanted both progression and a professional, considerate atmosphere. Got wind of this via Kotaku and I've loved reading it. I'm up to Feb 2013 and blowing through your posts. Well done.

Gutsukyo said...

Very interesting read. I started playing WoW in 2004 and it was the best gaming experience I ever had. I had never played an mmo, and I was totally sucked in by the overall experience. Blizzard did an amazing job with the game. Your post really made me feel nostalgic and may actually cause me to return Azeroth. Can't wait to read the rest!

Rick said...

@Shawn Holmes

I am on my second read through of this! It was just too good and I wasn't ready for it to end :( You are such a gifted writer, and the way you talk about your career, you are obviously a gifted programmer as well.

As someone who also has ADHD, I know exactly what you mean about rather having shoots of bamboo under your nails than to do something you aren't interested in. Sadly for me, I come from a family of programmers who all make plenty of money, but all I am interested in is System Administration. It pays the bills, but looking over the fence in their garden makes me wish I could will myself to enjoy it (Sometimes I have to program for my job, and even a handful of Ritalin barely makes it tolerable.)

I envy your talents, and envy your passion for your job. If you ever start playing WoW again, Definitely let me know. Maybe we could get a progression team going :P

Skilled Boost said...

Just saw this on Kotaku, how incredible that you have put together your time in Azeroth for people to read. I started to play WoW in 2004 and quit in 2012. I also spent 8 years, and it's crazy how WoW has impacted the lives of many. Nothing will ever be like it.

Unknown said...

Great start, I can't wait to read the rest!