On a partly cloudy day in Irvine, California last week, I had the chance to learn a lot more about World of Warcraft Classic, the game that is on many of our community members’ lips these days. Classic hearkens back to an earlier time in MMOs, a time in the genre’s earliest days where the play was the tool to building communities and relationships with others around the world. With the release of WoW Classic this summer, Blizzard is looking to bring back, not only memories of the way the game played in its infancy, but also to bring back the sense of community.
During the event, I spoke with World of Warcraft Executive Producer John Hight and Senior Software Engineer Omar Gonzalez to learn more about Classic and even managed to get a peek under the hood at some of the systems that will be in place to make it even more awesome.
But before we get to what the pair had to say, let’s talk release date:
That’s right, you’ll be able to play World of Warcraft Classic this August and before that happens, there will be opportunities to take part in closed beta and stress testing opportunities, the first of which will begin on May 15th! Interested players will be able to help put the “servers and technology through the paces in a series of stress tests from May through July” and can sign up for a chance at CBT.
The goal of Classic is to preserve the gameplay experience as closely as possible, something that John Hight said the team is committed to 100%.
“This team has been so extremely thoughtful about how to make this an authentic experience. I predict in 20-30 years, Omar or someone else from this team will be lecturing a bunch of game historians about this project and the steps that we took. This Classic version of WoW is an important part of our culture and we’re going to want to keep this alive and this team is doing a great job.”
When it comes to preservation, it means that developers have to take off their normal design hats to keep the game as it was in version 1.12, the chosen patch for the entirety of Classic. When first announced, some in the community voiced concern that placing all content from the start at this particular point in Classic’s history would somehow “lessen” the game and that it wouldn’t be an authentic experience. Omar, however, believes that, ultimately, players will see that this has been a good move.
“This is a preservation project,” Omar said. “We aren’t going to be tweaking numbers and we keep authenticity as our point of reference. Every number, the health of bosses or abilities, etc. are driven by the actual data. If we were to entertain changing things, we would be applying our modern judgment and our modern values and a modern take of game design on a project that’s meant to be a preservation project.”
With specific reference to the v1.12 state of the game, Omar explained, “It’s not just items that will be in 1.12 state, but so will all the spells and all the talents and the dungeon and raid abilities. It’s all based on how they existed in patch 1.12. We’re replicating how things unlocked, however, over time by what we’re calling our content unlock scheme which is locking away content until such time that the server has progressed that it makes sense for access to be enabled. The state of items won’t change over time, but accessibility to those items will initially be locked away to be unlocked post-launch.”
When asked if the Classic team was concerned that players were coming in with rose-tinted spectacles on, Omar said, “We’ve stuck with a philosophy of authenticity. We have a lot of reference material with the old source code. We understand how things worked back then. We can make side-by-side comparisons between our reference version and Classic.”
“As far as the core systems, we had to preserve these and the rules of the game as they were. But there is a level beyond that -- it’s not necessarily the game, but the people that we played with and the social connections that we made. That’s the special spark and joy. You can’t manufacture that. But we can try to recreate the environment to facilitate that to grow organically as it did before.
As a preservation project, the team is working to make sure that players are able to find that “authentic experience”. Part of that will come with players being able to pre-register for their original names a couple of weeks ahead of launch. The other is to provide some of the BattleNet features to players that will make building community easier.
John further explained that he was originally a skeptic and was worried about players coming to Classic for the novelty and then going right back out again. “But I’d forgotten how deep the game is,” he said. Resistances, crafting, talents….it’s very deep. I’m now firmly in the camp that believes that people are going to flock to it. It’s really fun and very different.”
One of the ways to build a vibrant community that is reliant on itself and on one another is to ensure that servers remain separate. One of the loudest concerns that many players have had is whether or not “sharding” will be included as it is in the retail version of WoW. Secondarily, some have worried that demand will necessitate tens, if not hundreds, of servers that, over time, will need to be shut down.
As he explained the new technology that is being put into place with Classic, my thoughts turned to an accordion that can expand and contract as needed.
Omar said, “When we create these worlds for these servers, for Classic, we’re creating the continents wholesale. So, for instance, Eastern Kingdoms and Azeroth will run as a continuous, seamless virtual world. If you’re playing and questing with players in Stranglethorn and you run north all the way to the other end, you’re going to be playing with the same set of players that are on that continent.”
“To address the launch demand, for any given realm, we can still support more than one of those continents running connected to that realm so we can support an initial realm concurrency. This is important because it hits both the need for players to be in a single, cohesive world where they’re not constantly being split up or joined, but also sort of gives us the flexibility to meet initial interest without overstretching our server count.”
So while players logging into the same location might not initially see one another if they’re on a “mirror” of the area, they will as soon as they party up. The goal is, of course, to get as many players into a single world without dividing them up ad nauseum. That’s part of the classic experience -- sharing the world with a lot of other players.
But just to be sure, I asked again, “Let’s randomly say there’s the Thrall server and the Sylvanas server. Players from one will never see players from the other?”
John emphatically said, “Correct.”
Lastly, we covered something that is on the minds of many players in the community: What happens after a couple of years of Classic? What about other expansion servers or maybe even progression servers?
John stated that this is definitely something that’s been discussed internally at Blizzard. Most importantly, however, Blizzard wants to keep an eye on players and the Classic communities.
“We could certainly go into one of the next two expansions,” he said. “We could also run some progression servers. We have a few options available to us. But first, we want to make sure we’re building communities or, more accurately, rebuilding communities and we don’t want to let those communities down.”
World of Warcraft Classic is a passion project and a love letter from Blizzard to the millions of WoW players around the world. A lot of people will finally be able to try it for themselves in the very near future to judge whether or not you really can go back.
Keep your eyes on MMORPG.com for more coverage from the WoW media summit!
Update: You can check out the WoW Classic Testing Schedule here.
STRESS TEST SCHEDULE*
- Stress Test 1: Wed May 22–Thurs May 23
- Stress Test 2: Wed Jun 19– Thurs Jun 20
- Stress Test 3: Thurs Jul 18– Fri July 19
*Dates of each stress test are subject to change.
To fill our pool of beta and stress test participants, we’ll be choosing dedicated players who meet select criteria from both the WoW Classic beta opt-in and the standard Warcraft beta opt-in. Participants will also need to have an active subscription or active game time on their Battle.net Account. While opting-in to the beta is the primary way to make sure you’re in the running to join the test it doesn’t guarantee an invitation to the closed beta test. We may also consider additional factors such as how long a player has been subscribed to the game so that we have the right mix of players to ensure great feedback toward making WoW Classic the very best experience for the community.