The Slippery Slope of Classic – A Minefield of Potential Decisions

It is a slippery slope, this one.

Classic WoW brings with it a load of new, unanswered questions, ones that I think are a potential minefield for Blizzard to navigate.

It is interesting that now that Blizzard themselves are doing a legacy server, suddenly the floodgates have opened for people to request new things be added to the legacy game. I’ve seen requests for flying, new character models, new animations, acheivements, class balance, newer PvP features, etc – you name a non-Classic thing, it’s probably been requested.

The tricky thing for Blizzard to move through here is this – what exactly constitutes “classic?” We don’t all really agree, and that is perhaps the biggest obstacle to it happening.

When it was a fan-developed project, with Nostalrius into Elysium into crowdfunding fraud, people understood that they couldn’t really ask for a lot of things. Players had to use old versions of the existing client, patched up to work with fabricated server code that wasn’t quite right, but was close enough. New models couldn’t really be added. Flying didn’t exist in the way we use it today in those builds. It was understood that the teams behind these projects really couldn’t add much to it, and that it in-fact took a lot of effort from these teams to just barely emulate a passable version of the Vanilla WoW experience.

We all remember it differently, 13 years past its release date. Not one of us remembers the full truth of it – not even Blizzard.

That’s why it is so fascinating to me to see the various requests and retrospectives coming out on the original game as Blizzard gears up to start development. Many things we think were workable in Vanilla weren’t. Many things we thought weren’t in Vanilla were. The rub is this – Blizzard doesn’t really, fully know either. Much of the game’s server code was retired with the old hardware, so a lot of the scripting of certain mechanics is lost to time, barely preserved in some state in the current, shipping game. Sure, they have a big list of things they can easily summon back into being – quest lists, design documents, perhaps even old databases and builds, being able to intricately reverse-engineer their own handiwork for the sake of recreating the experience as accurately as possible.

But I find that the arguments in the community about what Classic should be are interesting, mainly because I too struggle with finding where the line is. I like the new character models, and think they could fit with the original WoD animations that were made to mirror the old ones. But that is an arbitrary line itself – why do I think the models are acceptable but not the new animations from Legion? Is that even a valid viewpoint? Likewise, some people think achievements would be fine – myself among them, but others will dispute that, stating that it takes the fun of exploration out of the game with an achievement list that can push you into doing content in a way you otherwise wouldn’t – stripping the sense of wonder and mystery out. Some people want flying – and its laughable given the way the game was built in 2004, but is there perhaps space for it? If we arbitrarily draw our own lines as to what Classic “is” – then what stops us from making it comparable to Battle of Azeroth but only with that old content?

All of that is without even touching the other huge debate – what truly should Classic itself be? Most would say Vanilla – fair. But does it launch at 1.0 with all of the shipping bugs and problems, then patch in the original patches on a similar schedule? Does it eventually upgrade to Burning Crusade “Classic?” Does it just launch at version 1.12, with all the class rebuilds done and every tier of Vanilla raiding present and available? Do we get to do the AQ event again?

The problem with using nostalgia as a new product is this – we all have different tastes in what is “classic” and what is timeless to us. I, for one, really liked Cataclysm – would Classic eventually move in that direction? If so, would I be the only one playing at that time? If it launches right at 1.12, then those who never got to try Blackwing Lair without their class rebuild complete may never get the experience of raiding while also being a fundamentally broken design! Many of the things we associate as Classic weren’t in 1.0. Lightwell didn’t exist for Priests until their rebuild. Many class iconic talents and abilities didn’t exist until their respective rebuilds.

Further, the original game was really open to allowing a lot – my guild had 5 ret pallies in Molten Core – but our standards were also hidden as DPS meters just weren’t that common. In 2017, would you allow a low-tier melee with almost no good damage and precious little utility to come to a raid, when you can see the numbers? Sure – Blizzard could balance the performance to a modern standard, but again – is that really and truly “Classic?”

I’ve come around a bit on Classic – I never leveled Horde toons until Cataclysm, so I kind of want to try it, but at the same time, what defines that experience is so narrow that it is a dangerous tightrope to walk even for Blizzard, since much like the fan teams, they too are effectively going to have to reverse-engineer their own product to try and reconstruct how things worked.

Sure, it’s tempting to want Classic with modern graphics and polish, but that is a slippery slope – as are many of these questions.

It ultimately rests with Blizzard to define what they will market and (likely) sell to us as WoW Classic – but each choice carries with it groups of supporters and detractors, and it will be fascinating to see just how Blizzard peels the layers of this onion apart.

10 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope of Classic – A Minefield of Potential Decisions

  1. It’s a good debate to have and you raise a lot of valid concerns.

    To me, the only way Classic servers will succeed is by being exactly that, Classic. Vanilla means Vanilla.

    If people want new models, achievements, LFG, etc, there already is a game for them. It’s called Legion. Current Wow.

    The things that should be discussed are only which patch to start with. And the feedback that should be accepted are only that which comes from a saying customer. If those that played on illegal servers want influence, they should put their money where their mouth is.

    I think Blizzard should run a beta. And by levelling there, reaching say level 30, players can submit feedback.

    That way they filter out all the trolls who are not there to play in the long run anyway.

    Blizzard want to bring back the players that appreciated Classic for what it was. Then Classic they should make.

    It is, to a degree, a little entertaining to witness, how humans can go so wild and passionate when they sense they can have influenced. Imagine if Blizzard announced Expansions this way. “We are still early in development, we need you to tell us what you want”. Sometimes things set in stone is a good thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think the idea of adding things in is interesting, but ultimately even one thing added is going to make everyone involved more displeased – either because they’re tainting the experience or because their favorite thing isn’t being added.

      The patch question is one I struggle with though. Any patch 1.0-1.12 is truly Vanilla, but at the same time, some classes were pretty damn broken without their class fix patch in place. Arguably, they were pretty broken after their fixes too, but hey, Vanilla!

      I can imagine the arguments for both sides, and there are good points to be had about launching it at 1.0 and patching up or launching at 1.12 and just fixing bugs that come out after. But it is a different experience either way – if you launch at 1.0, there is no PvP framework other than flagging up, if you launch at 1.12, no one has the chance to experience that launch organic PvP – assuming that players recreate that experience for themselves in Classic. If you launch at 1.0, there is some cool missing content like Dire Maul and a bunch of other things, but if the patching occurs on a schedule made to mirror Vanilla, it might not matter since leveling will take a while!

      It fascinates me because it feels like Pandora’s Box – if you stay true to Vanilla is Vanilla, then the few binary choices left will have a split of excited players and pissed off folks. Maybe we just split the difference and launch at 1.6? 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s a fun topic.
    I think first and foremost that it will be a polished Blizzard game and that it will look nice and work well. My friends tell me that I’d hate Classic and don’t do it because it was horrible: well, Blizzard won’t publish a broken game.
    In my most humble opinion, I don’t think that we’ll see patches or a dynamically progressing game; I think that it will be a stand-alone game that you play to level 60 and that you’ll see the raids of that time. Maybe top off your max-leveled toon with some gear but not much more.
    The onus is on Blizzard to give us working characters, pets that path well for example. The fun is not in their failures and growing pains as a company but in seeing the sights and sounds of the original world. The temptation must be “you asked for it, buddy, you’re gonna get it” and, in a way, punishing the players who have the nostalgia. The desired nostalgia is the fun parts, not the fail parts. My biggest question is: what about getting flagged for PvP — it was too easy and the consequences were dire.
    I’d be very happy with a one-hour hearthstone, running on foot to level 40, a pet and a mount in my limited bagspace, zero tmog and so on — but I don’t want to exploit the game by getting underneath Iron Forge or any of that stuff. Yep, I did explore underneath there but I knew it wasn’t “part of the game”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The idea is interesting – I generally agree that Blizzard of today won’t publish a fundamentally broken game, but that is, arguably, a part of the Vanilla charm – it has the general shape of the WoW of today but didn’t have the direction, the smooth edges and the sense of balance. It was, in many ways, fundamentally broken, and took a lot of patches to iron out to even a passable semblance of balance. If the game itself is balanced, it arguably isn’t Vanilla. A lot of those rough edges weren’t sanded off until Wrath, even, so I am curious to see how that plays out.

      There’s a large community forming on different sides and Blizzard’s ask for feedback is going to quickly reveal schisms that weren’t visible during the Nostalrius era. For me, Vanilla is equally about the sights, sounds, and grind as it is the failures – the rough edged features, half-baked ideas, and lack of balance in gameplay. It was as much about epic encounters as it was about having all warrior tanks and all priest healers forming the raiding core of my guild, with ret pallies being tasked with Judgment of Wisdom and Druids just kind of being there. Rogues doing the lion’s share of the damage alongside mages and warlocks, sprinkled in with hunters. The nostalgia I remember is equal parts fascination and frustration – and while Classic isn’t the top of my WoW list, I hope that it doesn’t grow too out of scale for the team, trying to chase the things that were designed broken and fixing them.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. As an old saying in my country goes, “one cannot please both the Greeks and the Trojans”. And this is specially true in WoW. Half the people will like X, and half will hate it.

    Personally, I think that asking for all this feedback is just one of the things they are doing. Make no mistake, Blizzard surely knows about all the popular private vanilla realms out there, and will study them in detail to make sure they nail exactly what people want.

    Interestingly enough, a lot of the same players who threw tantrums about not being able to fly in Argus, were the ones always saying one of the reasons vanilla was better is because you could fly and had to run, and some are now saying there should be flying in Classic.

    And I bet a lot of people will miss things like transmog and dungeon finder. This last function is a good example, because just like the game grew, we all grew up. Some of us work or have families, and spending God knows how long waiting to gather a group and run to a dungeon is simply not viable. That free half an hour one would dedicate to WoW a bit would be composed of waiting mostly.

    Again, I have no intention of playing Classic, but I hope Blizzard can achieve what most players will like 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the thoughts! I am interested in the feedback process, but I notice that a lot of people have a lot of different visions of what Classic was – something I always found problematic and why I thought Blizzard would never do such a server. Even if they objectively follow the letter of the design document to completion on the project, many fans will wail that this is not “what they remember” because they tend to think of it broadly, rather than the specific degree of detail that Blizzard will need to imbue into every component of the game.

      And yeah, a lot of the people who always bothered me in the legacy server community are weirdly split on what they want – Classic was better, they’ll say, “but can you add flying, transmog, dual specs, new models…” At some point it’s just curious as to what they actually want!

      The modern conveniences can be helpful, sure. As much nostalgia as I have for “LF1M for UBRS, need ranged” – it was a terrible system when you have under an hour to play every night. Did it help breed a stronger social dynamic? Sure. Even up to early Wrath, I remember people I invited into groups and doing random PUGs for heroics and raids, and that is something worth investing in, but at the same time, dungeon finder is, for better or for worse, the gold standard of MMO play. Having been in MMO communities that didn’t have a dungeon finder just revealed how much value the feature has – value that comes at a cost, yes, but still valuable, enough that for many people, it outweighs the social community one could get by barking for a group in chat.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. But even with the Dungeon Finder, nothing stops players from making their own groups. I’ve had amazing experiences with players that I added after chatting with them a bit. And 90% of the times, its new players.

        And it just makes me sad when they say that no one else helped them, or even replied. Veteran players should be less elitist sometimes, we were all newbies once. Even if I have to go a bit out of my way, if I have time, I don’t mind helping out someone. I’ve taken a warlock to their order hall entrance, even though I don’t have a warlock, the player was feeling so lost I had to help. Or the player who asked me and Princess of the Mists if he could join us, while we were doing world quests: turns out he was from our country, and we ended up having a blast (the Blizzcon mounts are awesome to help out ^^)

        But I digress (one day I should really write some of these stories on a post). You just said something very true, about what players actually want.

        I remember Burning Crusade, being younger and playing from 22h- 6am sometimes (dont judge me, I’ve never really needed to sleep xD) with a friend of mind. Was the game better then?……No. At the time, sure, it was AWESOME, the best thing I could play. But now I look back at those fond memories, and I know that what made it special was the fact that I had all these amazing adventures with a real life friend, on a time in life when things were a bit simpler.

        Really, only a certain kind of wow players would give all this hell to Blizzard while it is trying to give them something they have been begging for years. You are right, Blizzard has to think of all these tiny little details. They cant magically /wave and boom, vanilla wow done.

        This reminds me of a silly joke my grandmother used to say, about a poor family that lived on a really small village. The parents were awake talking, while the kids, a brother and sister, were in their room, eavesdropping. And the wife asks “Honey, what would you do if we won the lottery tomorrow?”, to which he replies “The first thing I would do, would be buying a pig, so we would have food for a long time, and we could cook it like my family used to do, with that amazing sauce” but then they are interrupted by the kids fighting. They go up to their room, break the fight and ask what is going on, and the daughter says “He is saying he is not gonna let me dip bread in the sauce!”.

        And all this fighting between players about something that is not possible to know right now just reminded me of that xD

        Liked by 2 people

  4. It is without a doubt not possible to please everyone. I think it highly matters how we dive into it too, as players. I am one of those who will play both. I look forward to Classic, just as much as Current and Battle for Azeroth. But both games appeal to me.

    But going back to Classic wont be the same for me. I will never get to see a Dungeon. Except maybe when I am 60 and can solo Deadmines. I won’t ever have the time to run a Dungeon, as I used to. Just as you point out, we moved on, I have a family, my gaming time is about an hour give or take a day.

    But I know this and I think about it. I find ways to appreciate both games. I love how I can run Dungeons on Current, even with limited time. But I also love immersing myself into the world of Classic and slow down, and do all the quest chains that was lost long ago with Cataclysm.

    It’s not easy to figure out which patch to start with, I agree. And it higly depends if Blizzard want to do it as it was back then, or want a “static” server. The biggest chance for success would probably be identical to back then, without the bugs. That way, sooner or later, it will end with 1.12.X like on most Illegal servers, and somewhere along the way, everyone will be satisfied. (except those that want LFD etc, but they can just play Current, really, Classic aint for them)
    Perhaps Blizzard could consider to “end” it, right before 1.12 and start a TBC server where one could transfer to, starting with 1.12.

    But yeah! Lots to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t plan on playing on Classic realms very much but I do pretty strongly believe that some of the quality of life changes that came in later expansions should definitely not be included. Classic WoW should be as close to whatever stage of Vanilla development Blizzard chooses to build – which means no flying, no transmog, and certainly no new character models. People weren’t asking for the quests back from before the Cataclysm revamp, they were asking for the entire experience. As such, I believe they should get exactly what they asked for. Classic should be the whole package, rough edges and all. Or, at least, as close to that experience as Blizzard can get it.
    While it might seem counter-intuitive for Blizzard to produce a game with known bugs (since there were plenty throughout Vanilla), I do believe that those were part and parcel with the whole game. Vanilla WoW was Vanilla WoW because of all the weird little design quirks and glitches, and to take those out would be to take out a fundamental part of the early game. The game was playable back then, if a bit more finicky at times, so I don’t see any reason to artificially smooth out the rough patches.

    I do agree, it will be fascinating to see all of this hammered out. I suspect, too, that this process will take more than just a couple of months. Classic is coming, albeit slowly.

    Liked by 2 people

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