One of the most fascinating – and mind boggling – recentish developments in the Warcraft community is the Warcraft Secret Finding Discord. It’s a huge community of players who are dedicated to discovering and solving secrets that are hidden throughout the game world, and some of the things they’ve solved are incredible.
At some point the Warcraft developers/designers started hiding things in the game for players to discover. I’m not exactly sure when that was, but it seems to have really ramped up during Legion. The secrets are often hidden deep within other secrets, with the ultimate solution leading to a reward like a mount or pet.
Senior designer Jeremy Feasel aka Muffinus seems to be the main culprit, or at least the person who leaks small clues and teasers about what might be out there to find.
Once the secret has been solved, the community share it so we can all benefit from the fun. Syp chronicled his adventures earning the Lucid Nightmare mount, and you can see from the steps involved just how complicated it must have been to work out.
My favourite is probably the solution for the Sun Darter Hatchling. It’s hard to fathom how the community managed to work this one out, with the steps involving a baffling sequence of puzzle solving, potion guzzling, battle pets, and costumes.
Given the popularity of the community and puzzles, it’s no surprise that BfA includes more – and more challenging – challenges. The current hot topic is trying to work out how to earn the elusive Hivemind mount. The first major discovery was the Baa’l battle pet, which has a staggeringly complex sequence to complete before you can claim it.
Meanwhile Muffinus has claimed that the Hivemind was removed during the beta. Such is the game of cat and mouse with these secrets that no-one trusts that to necessarily be true – he does tease that ‘the secret hunt is far from over’ after all.
It just occurred to me – I’m a bit slow – that of course the ultimate secret is called the Hivemind, as the only way these increasingly complicated mysteries can be solved is with exactly that – a community of likeminded, focused, and slightly insane explorers.
One of the more interesting – and controversial – changes with the 8.0 BfA Warcraft patch has been the further introduction of level scaling. It was already around before the patch, but it now seems to be universal. Which has had a huge impact on the speed of levelling.
For the longest time people have complained about out-levelling content so that they feel they can’t effectively finish storylines because the XP reward is basically zero. Not that that meant you couldn’t do the content, just that it felt like you were wasting time – it’s a strange mental trick.
So Blizzard have introduced scaling across all continents and content, effectively splitting it into Vanilla / Burning Crusade + WotLK / Pandaria + Cataclysm / Warlords / Legion / BfA. You can now level in any zone within those brackets, and the mobs and rewards will scale accordingly.
This is pretty great in many ways, as those that enjoy the storylines can experience the entire thing. You can jump to a zone you haven’t played and everything will be a gentle challenge and you’ll get gear upgrades as you travel. It’s a boon for the Alliance levelling we’re doing, making each zone relevant and interesting.
The main disadvantage is all the old speed levelling techniques have dried up. I’m interested in levelling an Allied race – Highmountain Tauren, naturally – so started investigating how best to do it. The received wisdom seems to be that there are basically no shortcuts any more.
The old favourite of chain running dungeons appears to be off the cards, as the time invested in the run is often better served just doing simple questing.
When we started running the low level Alliance dungeons, I assumed everyone would be gaining two or three levels per run, meaning we’d have trouble completing them all. But the scaling has meant that people are lucky to level even once, and all the dungeons are available until level 60. Pretty great, and very clever.
Some claim that carrying through dungeons with a high level friend (or second account) is still an option, running Stormwind Stockades from 1-60(!), but that is terminally dull. Some redditors seem to think that there’s a pet battle loophole, but that too sounds super dull. I want to level fastish, but I don’t want to just do the same thing over, and over, and over.
So in the end, it seems that the simple act of gearing your character up with heirlooms, taking mining and herbing, and setting out into the world is the best method. Which is probably as it should be, and I’m merrily making my way through the Barrens once again as a result, and enjoying every moment.
Blizzard Watch has posted about an interesting sounding project – a development diary about the very early days of the creation of WoW. It’s being written by John Staats, who was apparently one of the key designers of a slew of early dungeons and content, including Karazhan, Wailing Caverns, and much more.
There’s a good extract of the book over on Wowhead that details some of the work on Scholomance. In the early days apparently it could take 6 hours(!) to finish a single run – and this is a 5 man dungeon, not a raid.
It’s fascinating to read how Staats wanted to change the mob density in the dungeon as a result, but Jeff Kaplan (at the time the ‘endgame designer’ for WoW) pushed back as doing that may have had unintended consequences on the world economy. The less mobs, the less loot, and also the less crafting drops:
The next morning, I went back to Jeff’s office, to tell him again about the length. Ever patient, he explained that it wasn’t simply a matter of removing spawns, there might be quests that depended a number of drops and removing monsters might unbalanced quests.
[Kaplan] explained that there were also trade skill recipes that used ingredients from loot tables – so reducing monsters could also affect the trade skill economy. “There’s lots of systems connected to monsters, and we also could be introducing bugs into the game by changing things.”
It’s very much an insider account, and he’s not hiding the politics and tensions of working on a high pressure development, which is unusual for this kind of book. Apparently it’s a fully Blizzard approved project, so it must be (mostly) accurate. There’s a fair amount of ego on display in that Wowhead excerpt, but we can probably forgive that if the content is strong enough.
There’s a Kickstarter to fund the book starting August 28 (which is now, here in Australia!). I’ll update this post with a real link once it’s live, in the meantime here’s a beta link to whet your appetite. Here’s the live Kickstarter – funded almost immediately.
After a bit of hunting around, I found that there a few console only settings in Warcraft related to the screenshot quality. If you type these commands in the chat window and press enter, they are changed permanently everywhere. (You don’t get any feedback that anything happened, but it does work.)
The first is choosing between JPG (the default) and TGA. TGA is a lossless format, so the image quality is higher and non compressed, but it is a fairly arcane format – you’d want to convert it to something more useful like PNG to use it on WordPress et al. In any case, the command to change it to TGA is:
/console screenshotFormat tga
And to switch back to JPG:
/console screenshotFormat jpg
Sticking with JPG is more convenient, but the default quality is pretty average. The good news is there’s another console setting that bumps up the JPG quality until it’s barely different from the TGA files (confirmed by much internet commentary). Wowheads screenshot submission guidelines state the default JPG level is 3, but we can bump it all the way up to eleven 10:
/console screenshotQuality 10
I tried this and while the difference is noticeable if you look closely, it’s not as huge as you might expect. One byproduct is the filesize grows from about 500KB to 2MB, but with some judicious resizing the filesize gets more reasonable.
So it seems changing the quality setting is not quite enough. Which means learning more about doing some post processing on them. There are some great photography-inspired tips in this excellent article on Blizzard Watch which seems a good place to start.
Aside from the framing tips, the main advice seems to be about adjusting colours and contrast, to get the details to really pop and sparkle. The main problem I see is that the screenshots are too dark, so I played around with an image of our second RFC run to see what could be done. Here’s the default shot:
Using Irfanview (which admittedly is more of a viewer than an editor), I mucked around with adjusting contrast and saturation, but in the end found that the ‘auto adjust colours’ setting did a pretty good job:
Finally I used the ‘sharpness’ setting to see what that would do:
Hm. I like that you can see more once it’s adjusted, but it does wash it out a fair bit. I guess using the default settings isn’t a great plan – more to learn and more experimenting to come. Either that or I should just start taking screenshots in daylight…
Speaking of oral histories, US Gamer has just published an epic ‘How World of Warcraft was made’ article that interviews many of the main players – current game director Ion Hazzikostas, principal artist Jimmy Lo, and technical director Patrick Dawson, as well as old hands like Rob Pardo and Greg ‘Ghostcrawler’ Street.
It’s a huge effort by writer Mike Williams, covering everything from the genesis of the game through to the launch of BfA, and there’s a tonne of great quotes, detail, and concept art.
One of the emerging themes from the article is how random or lucky things would become key planks of the Warcraft experience. Originally quests were meant to run out eventually and leave the player with an open sandbox to play with:
“That was our on-paper design. But pretty early on, once we were doing team play tests, what we learned was the moment that you ran out of quests in your quest log, the game just felt broken and people didn’t know what to do,” says Pardo. “It was definitely this big moment where the team was like, ‘Uh oh, I guess we have to do ten times as many quests as we thought we were going to do.’ But I think it’s one of those great moments that happen in game development, where once you find the nuggets that are really fun, you double down on it.”
Similarly the art team were originally heading down the realistic graphics path before they decided something more hand painted might work better, as Lo describes:
“When we first saw the human farm building in Westfall, that was the first time where I was like, ‘Wow, I think we got something here.’ It was also cool because it had a handcrafted feel to it because we were painting everything; we weren’t photobashing and using photo textures. It went with the word ‘Warcraft.’ It had the ‘craft’ in it. It’s kind of a cool, happy accident that came to be.”
“…I think with WoW it turned out as this kind of stylized, timeless art style where it aged very well. It never really got outdated.”
As has been recounted before, the team were also somewhat blindsided by the popularity of the game. Things like the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj were so popular designers had to intervene directly:
“I think the WoW development team maybe wasn’t as well-oiled of a machine back then, because it actually came as a surprise to the engineering staff that we decided to funnel the entire population of World of Warcraft into a single area. Everybody was waiting for that moment all in the same area,” recalls Dawson. “We’re sitting here teleporting out level 30 characters-‘You’ve have no business being here and you’re just killing your server!’-and we’re doing this by hand just trying to make it.”
Greg Street talks about how the Cataclysm rejig started as a mission to refresh a few zones that were showing their age into something far greater (which perhaps explains why it wasn’t wholly successful):
“And so what started out as a series of surgical projects ended up with probably redoing 70 percent of the world in a very fundamental way. And so that was redoing 60 levels worth of content, redoing 70 percent of the entire [outdoor environments] from 2004, while also making five brand-new zones for leveling players from 80 to 85, and the new dungeons, new raids, and everything else. That was a tremendous undertaking.”
He also discusses how Mists of Pandaria was intially badly received by the playerbase:
“The mistake we made was we imagined that all WoW players loved the idea of a Pandaren, which had been originally kind of designed as a joke,” Street adds. “I think in retrospect if we had just made an Asian-inspired continent and had the Pandaren race, but not made them the focal point? Not named the expansion after it, not put a Pandaren Monk on the box, we probably wouldn’t have gotten that response. People saw the Pandaren and I think that was when they’re like, ‘Wow, they’re forsaking their roots.'”
Pandaria ended up being a player favourite, but (probably due to development lead times) Blizzard responded by building the polar opposite in Warlords of Draenor – as the author puts it, “If Mists of Pandaria was a lighter Chinese opera, Warlords of Draenor was literally death metal.”. And we all know how that turned out.
It’s a great article and a must read if you’re a fan of the game.
Tonight’s Alliance guild expedition took us to the centre of Horde territory, into the catacombs below Orgrimmar: Ragefire Chasm.
Ragefire Chasm extends deep below the city of Orgrimmar. Barbaric troggs and devious Searing Blade cultists once plagued the volcanic caves, but now a new threat has emerged: Dark Shaman. Although Warchief Garrosh Hellscream recently called on a number of shaman to use the elements as weapons against the Alliance, the chasm’s current inhabitants appear to be renegades. Reports have surfaced that these shadowy figures are amassing a blistering army that could wreak havoc if unleashed upon Orgrimmar.
From an Alliance perspective that last report doesn’t sound entirely bad, but then unleashing uncontrolled shamanic magic is probably bad idea, so in we went to clean up the mess the Horde have made.
Compared to Deadmines, RFC is a quick and relatively unpopulated affair, with far fewer mobs and only tank & spank bosses – and the lava boss which I fell into fighting Slagmaw. Ahem.
We made short work of everyone, rescued our trapped operatives, and cleared the dungeon to allow our investigators start unravelling what foul magic the Horde had managed to stir up and subsequently lose control of.
The Alliance continue to be upright and relatively dull – the Horde quests want you to basically just kill all of the things, the Alliance ones want to do some research – but we’re in this for the long haul and I’m warming to our Hordebreaking role.
As we finished I copped some deserved ribbing for our guild tabard, which was dark red with a dark logo – my Horde bias clearly on show. So now we have a fetching new Alliance-blue number, with a clearly visible logo. Unless you’re a Dwarf.
As part of my rare seeking project (hm, I think it needs a better name), I started looking around for addons that would help find the vanilla zone rares. I was hunting for something that would put a marker on the map showing you where each rare spawns or patrols, so I can plan my movements efficiently.
The venerable NPCScan is the obvious candidate, and it works well for alerting you when you enter the radius of a rare mob. But it doesn’t seem to have a static map option for just showing the expected location. There is a map overlay plugin, but it’s being reworked for the new 8.0 version of the mapping API, and from memory it is kind of overkill for what I want.
Next I turned to HandyNotes, which I discovered during Draenor when hunting treasures. The base version simply allows you to create pins and notes on the map, but the great thing about it is it allows plugins. The main use for me has been the rares & treasures plugins (for Draenor, Legion, and now BfA), which is kind of cheating but didn’t reduce the fun for me at all (in fact it may have reduced the self induced pressure to find all the hidden treasures).
However I found there’s no equivalent plugin for the vanilla rares – perhaps because there’s no associatedachievements? This immediately got me thinking – surely there’s a demand for this, and surely it can’t be too hard to modify one of those plugins to create a Vanilla version. I have a vague understanding of coding, and usually find taking an example and modifying it the best way to learn and create something new.
How wrong I was. Despite the HandyNotes page referencing a ‘plugin API’, I can’t find any documentation or examples anywhere, despite using all the google-fu I could muster. Downloading the code for the other plugins didn’t help much either, as they are mostly undocumented and use some zone specific tricks that I’m not sure translate.
I tried looking at a simpler plugin – one that shows Dungeon and Raid entrances – but even that left me befuddled. At least modifying that one I managed to get an icon for Bjarn to appear on the map, which felt like a minor triumph.
I feel like there must be a hidden community of HandyNotes addon developers out there that I’m not finding, or maybe I’ve just picked the wrong addon to modify. The reference to an API though, and their encouragement of plugins, make me think the truth must be out there somewhere.
In the meantime I guess it will just be more alt-tabbing to Wowhead – and maybe it’s time for a second monitor!
In my ongoing quest to avoid BfA, today I was further pondering the rare hunting project and how it might work.
Should it be a single character that does all the ‘collecting’?
It seems like that might be a good policy, creating a specialised rare-hunter, with a backstory and attitude to match. The name will be important, to capture the flavour of the endeavour.
When to start?
Before flight is available it’s quite a challenge (or at least pretty slow) getting around finding the rare creatures. So it’s tempting to start this with a high level character, and go back flying around one-shotting the vanilla mobs. But it’s been great fun doing it on foot with the new Alliance team, so maybe clearing each zone as it happens is more appealing, and makes the hunt more in-character.
A druid might make sense, with the travel forms and tanking spec to help with the tougher fights. Or maybe a Paladin for similar reasons. But my heart thinks a Hunter is the natural choice here. A soloist at heart, carefully tracking and researching wild prey.
I considered Marksmenship as a spec, the idea of a sharpshooting sniper appealing, but BeastMaster is probably closer to my head canon for this character. Having a trusted companion along for the journey makes it more appealing – especially one that can tank 🙂
To kill or not to kill?
This is a tricky one. Sometimes I find rares and feel like they should be left in peace, especially the free roaming animals. I despise the idea of hunting in the real world, so celebrating it in game is a bit contradictory. Then again, this is a game, and Hunters hunt. Maybe I can play it by ear, sometimes letting live and let live, sometimes finishing the target for the good of Azeroth.
One of the harder things is getting a good screenshot before the dead mob dematerialises, or before another character on one of those @#$@# low level sidecar mounts arrives to ruin the photo. And do you have the name (and nameplate?) of the mob showing or not? It’s a good record of who it was, but I guess that could also be achieved by the layout of the blog page recording the deed.
I’d also like to learn how to make screenshots look better – mine are often too dark and badly lit. The gold standard is Bendak’s screenshots at Eyes of the Beast, which all manage to look spectacular, so I assume he’s doing some post processing on them. Further research required.
I’ll probably shamelessly steal Cymre’s layout and have a page per zone with all the rares collected there. Simple and effective.
Should I do this?
I think I should! It’s a long term thing, a fun side project, and for some inexplicable reason I can imagine it best playing it as a human, of all things. Maybe Hell can freeze over after all.
It’s been nice reading the various Developer Appreciation Week posts on the Blaugust blogs, the surge of positivity is very welcome.
The obvious candidate for me is Blizzard. Warcraft has provided endless hours of entertainment, fun, laughter, obsession, joy, sorrow, and accomplishment, and continues to do so even now. Most recently I’ve discovered the cleverness of level scaling in dungeons, which has meant our lowbie guild can all be completely different levels but still play together – something that must have been very hard to implement into the creaking framework of old WoW code, and yet appears seamless to the player.
Overwatch is also a brilliant game, the perfect antidote to the long termedness of an MMO. Jeff Kaplan in particular is a great front man, communicating extremely well and obviously loving what he’s doing, but the entire team have achieved incredible things. The game is constantly evolving and updating, which is all due to the dedication of the dev team no doubt.
On a slightly different note, I’d also shout out to the team that have put out 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our tabletop group have loved the current version, which managed to simplify the rules somewhat and also introduce a bunch of great new mechanics like Inspiration – basically a free re-roll granted by te DM to a player for particularly clever role playing. It’s a simple idea that escalates the enjoyment instantly without bogging things down. They have also managed to make all the classes feel exceptionally heroic, with every class feeling powerful and different, and the official modules have been entertaining for DM and players both.
Finally I’d call out gaming bloggers again. So many great, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, curious writers who are passing on their love of a game, or many games, to all the readers out there. And through that enthusiasm they in turn highlight what a great job so many of the developers are doing. It’s a virtuous circle, and may it ever grow stronger.
Instead of diving into the latest expansion with arms open and eyes wide, I’m doing everything to avoid even logging in to my only 110 character. This happens every time, and I’m at a loss to explain why.
Running dungeons with the Alliance guild is one thing, but everything else I’m doing is pure avoidance. So far I’ve rolled up one of each Alliance race, tried them out, deleted them. Settled on a Dwarf Hunter alt, then decided the name would be better for a Panda, but do I really want to play a Panda? Maybe a Human. But wait, I’m an actual human, why would I play one in a game.
Then I thought I should level a Highmountain Tauren – the character model is beautiful, especially those massive antlers, and it would be fun to unlock their epic looking cosmetic armour. 90 levels before I’d have to face BfA – that should be time enough to get used to the idea!?
Realising this was kind of ridiculous, I caught up on a few blogs, thinking that working my way through the great Blaugust list TAGN put together would focus me on the task ahead. But instead, reading through them made me start to ponder rolling up some characters in some completely different MMOs.
Armagon Live’s enthusiasm for SWtOR (and the great transmog in that post), along with the long term commitment to the game from blogs like Going Commando, make me enthused to don a lightsaber and jump back in again.
Likewise the ongoing chronicles of GW2 from Bhagpuss (who even when wary of the direction the game is taking makes it sound interesting) lures me to GW2, and it’s hard to resist the deep appreciation Blaugust creator Belghast has for ESO. Or Syp’s relentless enthusiasm for LotRO and DDO. Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, my DnD group are playing The Curse of Strahd (aka Ravenloft revisited), which led me to thinking I should maybe play Neverwinter Online in order to flesh out ideas for the tabletop game.
Meanwhile my Horde Hunter stands patiently waiting but gets no closer to being played. Does anyone else have this problem?
Ah well. If nothing else, my BfA avoidance scheme has made me appreciate the gaming blogosphere all the more. Even though we can’t play every game, the enthusiasm of the blogging community means we can get close. Thanks all!