Going Through a Phase

Phasing, the changing of the world as you progress through the story of Northrend, is one of the innovations that Blizzard introduced to the game with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

And, as a method of investing people in the tale of the expansion, it has been a success.

It is certainly an answer to the long time complaint about MMORPGs, that you can do all the quests you’re given and the world remains the same.

In Northrend the world changes based on your actions.  Some of my favorites:

The Argent Vanguard fortress is under siege when you first arrive.  You help the Argent Crusade to throw back the scourge and the area phases and the fortress is no longer surrounded by hostile foes.  Your assistance has tangible results in the world.

You help the Crusade assault and hold Crusader’s Pinnacle and, if you defeat the scourge counter attack, the location goes through a phase change when next you visit.  A tower has been built, more quests have opened up, and a flight point has become available.

The scaffolding is still up on the tower

The scaffolding is still up on the tower

You assist the Knights of the Ebon Blade in their attempt to retake the Shadow Vault and turn the minions there to assist the Knights.  Again, with success comes a new quest hub, an inn, a flight point, and a set of daily quests.

And all of this is great.  It works well when you are running through the quest lines by yourself.

But if you have a regular group, and that group does not keep rigidly aligned in quests, there can be issues.

Being out of sync has lead to conversations I haven’t heard since the early days of EverQuest II when multiple instances of the same zone used to be common.

When you are in a group that is out of sync, you can see the group member markers on your mini map, but you cannot see anybody who is not in your phase of the area.  So your whole group can be standing next to Highlord Tirion Fordring, but if you aren’t all in the same phase, you can spend a lot of time insisting that you’re RIGHT THERE and yet not be able to see your friends.

So you have to wait for your out-of-sync friends to catch up.  But you cannot help them because you are not in the same phase.  You can, however, leech experience from their kills if you hover over their dot on the mini map while they run the quests.

With our group and it’s range of play time budgets, this has ended up being an issue on a number of occasions.

Now I’m not saying phasing is bad.  I still think it is very cool.  And it is a discreet phenomenon.  You are not in a different phase of the entire zone, just a small area of it, though the localized nature of it can lead to moments of confusion.  The other night four of us flew through an arch in Icecrown, but I could only see three of us on the other side.  Earl had done the quest in the phasing quest in the area so he flew into a different version location.

But it would be nice if there were a way to resolve the out of sync group issue besides waiting for those behind to catch up.

I don’t know what the answer is.  It certainly is not the biggest issue facing the world, but it is one which our group seems to be running into with some regularity of late.

And given that phasing is supposed to be a huge part of the upcoming Cataclysm expansion, I hope Blizzard has some ideas on the subject.

20 thoughts on “Going Through a Phase

  1. syncaine

    My two favorite examples of phasing:

    The first is in NWN2, and as you recruit people and build up your town, you can see things change based on the decisions you made. Wait, single player game, let me try again.

    I remember when I first crossed Hammerdale, and the only structure up was a bank, with all the other buildings missing and the walls just ruins. Later when I came back after doing some quests, the walls were up and some of the buildings (keep, mage guild) had been built. After a few more quests, including the ever-fun “raid TRA city” repeatable quest, I came back to Hammerdale and found that because I completed the “raid TRA city” quest, the gate in Hammerdale had been destroyed and two of the houses were in ruins. Luckily I was able to undertake the now-open “get quartz” repeatable quest, and due to my effort I was able to restore the two houses and the city gate was up.

    Ah crap, that’s not phasing either, as everyone in the world was able to see it and take part if they wanted, plus it was based on actual player action/reaction and not some pre-made script.

    But yea, phasing, lets hope it’s the next big thing applied to all massive, multiplayer games. Adds a ton.

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  2. Bhagpuss

    I can’t really see the point of phasing. I just remember which quests each of my characters has done and use my imagination to overwrite the parts that have changed.

    Not that it bothers me in the first place – I do know it’s not real.

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  3. Morane

    “I hope Blizzard has some ideas on the subject.”

    I certainly hope so too because, as it’s currently implemented, phasing sucks. It gets in the way a lot more than you might think* and it just feels artificial.

    * Your tight group noticed problems, now expand that to a guild of 50 players.

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  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Syncaine: Yes, because world events where something changes for everybody whether they participated or not was EXACTLY what I was referring to. And we’ve certainly NEVER seen anything like that in WoW.

    Your hate for WoW is blinding your logic I’m afraid.

    @Morane: Yes, I get that. If a group of five that tries to stick +/-1 level from each other stumbles on it a few weeks running, then a big guild is certainly going to be feeling that pain to a much greater extent.

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  5. Green Armadillo

    Icecrown quests were my first thought when they suggested that they would expand the use of phasing – some of those are a real nightmare. Supposedly Blizzard said they were aware of the problem at Blizzcon, but it’s probably too early to be sure if they’ll come up with a better technical solution.

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  6. syncaine

    Oh we have seen WoW attempt world events, and it’s a tough debate which one was a bigger disaster (AQ gates or zombies?), but leave it to Blizzard to give up on world events and instead solo-hero the idea. It can’t possibly be that Blizzard can’t do successful world events, no no, the whole idea must be broken (despite working on games before and after WoW, but shhh don’t tell the 11m).

    And while all the solo-heroes in WoW run around ‘changing the world’, anyone attempting to play with others has yet another hoop to jump through, and as with anything else not-raiding in WoW, why group or interact, it’s much easier to do it alone and ignore the whole massive, multiplayer aspect of an MMO. More of that please…

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  7. We Fly Spitfires

    I’m hoping phasing will be used quite a lot with Cataclysm and the original zone revamp – it would be cool to do some low level quests that actually make you feel like a hero because you saved a village or something.

    It’s a nice technology from Blizzard and I’m sure they will be using something similar in their new MMORPG.

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  8. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Syncaine – It is tough to take anything you say about Blizzard as a serious argument because you don’t play the game, haven’t for years now, and you have a long standing policy of saying that anything Blizzard does is bad, copied, or copied badly. You have a credibility issue.

    So the message “Syncaine doesn’t like phasing” looks like just another round of “Syncaine must spread WoW hate.” I mean, that isn’t a huge mental leap. It is like Rush Limbaugh saying something negative about the president. Big surprise! Favorable comments about WoW from you are about as rare as hen’s teeth, and when they do show up, they are generally of the “damning via faint praise” variety.

    So a game that admittedly caters to a solo questing demographic added in a feature so that once in a while a quest actually changes what you see in the world. One of the long standing complaints about MMOs is that you can do your “Kill Ten Foozles” quest, turn it in, and nothing changes.

    But according to you we must rally around and hate Blizzard yet again because they are promoting solo play! Despite the evidence that this is what a lot of people want, and involves a game you don’t even play, it is wrong. They are betraying massive online gaming! Force grouping! Solo play should be an afterthought if included at all!

    Hey, here’s an idea! Why don’t you just get over it? I mean, we all play games we don’t like. But we don’t all brood over it for years afterward. I barely mention most games I don’t like.

    There are MMO gaming blogs out there that never mention WoW. Ever.

    I know, shocking!

    Just put “I Hate WoW” in the banner so that everybody is clear on your position, then write about something else. You can be Syncaine, that guy who hates WoW, but who doesn’t need to let it color his every gaming opinion.

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  9. Scott

    One night after a couple of wipes in Naxx my wife and I went to the keep near there to get repairs. I got my repairs, and my wife asked, ‘where do I get repairs.’ There was a guy at the end of the trough, in a plaid shirt, that I was standing on, the she could not see.

    The phasing thing isn’t perfect yet, but it is really cool. I think it’s one of the reasons some other MMO’s trying to steal WoW’s market share by imitating are having a hard time. They don’t seem to realize they are shooting at a moving target.

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  10. pitrelli

    Nice post and I agree with the majority of it particularly when friends are on different parts and you cant see them.

    @We Fly spitfires, phasing in cataclysm is one of the things I’m really hoping will be implimented. There is so much they can do with it that it really would add to the worth of even the most tedious quests. My one concern is you would effectively alienate your friends, as Wilhelm has found out, if they are ahead or behind you a certain questline.

    Anyway Phasing for me is a winner for me

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  11. syncaine

    How can I have a credibility issue when many of the things Blizzard does ARE bad, copied, or badly copied? (Unless you think WG was a huge success in coping WAR’s RvR? How’s that instance queue working for you this week?)

    And how exactly does that apply when I’m pointing out that a technology that punishes group play for the sake of solo play is not the direct I’m interested in seeing the MMO genre go. You admit that’s what phasing does, but you are fine with that. I’m not. Throwing out ‘forced grouping’ is cute, but we very well know that’s not at all what this is about.

    We have seen countless examples of WoWs influence on other games (WAR is the current perfect example), so it’s not like what Blizzard does stays in the WoW bubble, just like what Mythic (or other devs) do transfers to other games as well (instant scenario queuing, WG, XP in PvP, etc).

    The day WoW has 50k subs and no future game is influenced by it, I’ll stop seeing it affect games I do play and stop talking about it. But as long as 11m solo-heroes chase ‘epics’, flood the first month of a new MMO, and cause wasted dev time because some bean counter says ‘more WoW’ in a meeting, it’s going to get talked about.

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  12. pitrelli

    @ syncaine – I agree with some of the stuff you say of WoW but come on this is wearing on a bit is it not? WoW is almost like an anti christ to you.

    The one thing that gets people returning to WoW after trying other games is simply because WoW is usually the better game or to rephrase that a better suited game to that individual player or in WARs case more than half of the original subscribers. Now for a game which boasted it was a challenger to WoW and has superior content/options it has been a failure of epic proportions.

    WAR is its own worst enemy having cut content and released a broken game, people wont accept that if they have other options which work perfectly well. If you want to shovel some hate around I’d look at Aion as if they hit it off then WAR will be in big big trouble and then you’ll just be left with darkfall ;)

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  13. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Syncaine – And how can Rush Limbaugh have a credibility issue when talking about the President, because maybe everything the President does is part of a dark conspiracy to take away our civil rights and sell us to the planned one world government?

    And, now that you mention it, I get into WG every time it comes up. But you have to ask because, as I have pointed out, you don’t actually play the game and haven’t for years. You just assume the worst and act like it is true. Hey, a credibility issue illustrated right before your eyes!

    And I am not saying you ban WoW from your blog, but you don’t post just because it influences a given game, you post to slam WoW. Read the last 10 posts you did on WoW. I’ll bet 8 could be summarized as “WoW/Blizzard Sucks.” That isn’t adding anything to discourse about games.

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  14. syncaine

    Rush is a loon and an entertainer, but even though 9/10 times his criticism of someone is off or said for comedy, that 1/10 he has a point. I’ll slam WoW for silly things all day just for fun, but 1/10 it’s a ‘serious’ issue, and I think phasing fits. I don’t support systems that boost the solo-hero at the direct expense of the MM in MMO.

    When I make posts or comments, regardless of the game, it’s a mix of that game itself and the MMO space in general. Usually with WoW it’s more towards the MMO space, since I could care less about WoW itself other than to hope it fades from being an influencing factor sooner rather than later. That plus it’s the easiest example to use, as more people are at least familiar with a WoW example vs some EVE or EQ2 detail, let alone something like DF.

    About instances, I meant waiting for instance spots to be opened, the issue you mention weekly. That WG is an instance now is already a failure, considering it was billed as the key to bringing back open-world PvP to WoW. Two different failures, sometimes mixed if you can’t get into WG I guess.

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  15. Gadfly

    @Syn: So was WoW the debbil when you were spending all waking hours of your life raiding MC (ca. 2005-06) or are these merely the rantings of the repentant sinner who has since found salvation?

    The credibility gap for me is that its hard to believe a game (and company) that once earned so much of your time now deserves the amount of time you spend tearing it apart– particularly the gameplay and features that have since been added of which you are admittedly completely ignorant. Such opinions are utterly devoid of weight for want of any direct experience.

    What on earth would you do if WoW suddenly ceased to be? The silence coming from your blog would be deafening. Give it a rest once in a while. Seriously. It completely taints your otherwise interesting, insightful and generally well-written posts and comments.

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  16. Pingback: The WoW hate: Why 2009 is not 2005. « Hardcore Casual

  17. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Syncaine – Since you’re dragging this back up, I thought I’d point out that you didn’t address my comment that you don’t actually play the game any more and have not for some time. You’re blowing a minor issue out of proportion because you don’t know how big of an issue it is. Your credibility in commenting on the functionality of the game is questionable at best. It be like me saying WAR sucks because I hear there is lag in city sieges.

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  18. syncaine

    WAR does suck because of lag (and that lag comes out when the whole server piles in and around the city). That’s very valid. Do you need to resub to WAR to be able to comment on the fact that lag is a problem in an MMO, especially at it’s key moment? Do I need to give Blizzard $40 to comment that not being able to enter an instance is not a good thing, or can I just read this blog and take your word for it?

    I don’t view phasing as a minor issue, I view it as a continual shift away from the MM in MMO, with phasing just being another step in that direction. That’s a direction Blizzard has been going in for some time, starting while I was still playing WoW, continuing when I came back, and pushing it further in WotLK (or do I have to spend $40 on WotLK to be able to say it’s more solo-focused?). My issue is not with X quest that leads to phasing in Y zone; I’m sure out of the 1000s of quests in WoW Blizzard made a few good ones, and having seen ‘phasing’ in RPGs, it is a neat effect.

    But like I said before, I’m not paying $15 a month to log into my private solo-hero world with a chat window; I pay to play in a virtual world with/against thousands of others. Hard to do that when you are in a different phase fighting scripted mobs in order to open up more NPCs to fight more scripted mobs. Phasing is just a GUI for long quest chains, and we all know how well those work for groups, don’t we (or do I have to sub and play every MMO with a long quest chain in order to say that as well?)

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  19. Reality

    Late to the party, but Syncaine is right. Phasing “takes the MM out of MMO”. Phasing sucks big-time and really brings nothing to the table. NOTHING. Tell me how further isolating players in the same copycat “you’re-the-chosen-one-saving-the-world” quest feels anything like immersion.

    Phasing is fake, is anti-Massively Multiplayer, and belongs in offline-single-player gaming, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, in an MMO. The rest of you “pro-phasing” crowd will learn this someday, unfortunately likely only have your wishes have ruined another generation of wannabe MMO’s.

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