The Instance Group – A Look Back at Our First Year

The regular Saturday night group passed its five year anniversary back in October.  Yes, it was back in 2006 when we got together and decided to take on World of Warcraft with a focus on the group content.

To honor that date I decided during the summer that I ought to make a video of some sort.

I have always been impressed with the Mirage guild video Sayonara Norrath and thought it would be great if I could make something even remotely like that.

And then I totally blew it off.

But recently I have been making a few EVE Online related videos, like the one about the Drake Fleet at EWN-2U.  That gave me some minor experience with Windows Live Movie Maker, the free Windows competitor to iMovie.  I reached a skill level where I figured I could make the anniversary movie or at least produce a typical Woody Allen feature.

So I started on the movie.  Only I immediately realized that I had a lot of screen shots to go through.  I found over 3,000 WoW screen shots for the instance group time frame, and I was missing all of 2008. (Since found, adding in another 1,200 screen shots.)

So I cut it back to the first year of the group.  And so, in belated honor of our five year anniversary, I give you this video.

You should probably click on the YouTube logo (or click on this link if you are in an RSS reader or mobile device) and go watch it there in the large viewer.  Being just pictures, it streams pretty quickly even at larger resolutions, and you can see a lot more detail.

For those interested in more details about the video, you can find the director’s commentary after the cut.

Director’s Commentary

A lot of words about 4 minutes of video.

The visual portions of the movie took me most of Saturday afternoon to complete.  Part of the reason it took that long is that all of the screen shots from that time frame are in .tga format.  While that is essentially a glorified bitmap format, Windows Photo Viewer won’t open those up nor do they show up with thumbnails in Windows 7.  So I had to open up every single screen shot for a 12 month period of time in Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3, which itself is a bit of a dog when it comes to performance.  How I miss PaintShop Pro 5.

The music, Eleanor Rigby, was done by Earl and his friends as part of a recording session.  He said that it was actually their first cut at doing the song.  I chose it because it was an instrumental piece with a very strong air of nostalgia to it, at least to me.  I felt that was the right mood in a look back to what was really a simpler time for both WoW (that was pre-Burning Crusade at the start) and us as a group.

Earl has actually sent the group a lot of tracks from recording sessions, including stuff they did for a National Geographic special.  My gut picked the Eleanor Rigby track as soon as I thought about making the video, but I went and listened to a ton of other possibilities before I came back to it.  There were even some songs Earl wrote about specific areas in WoW, such as Sunken Temple, Burning Gorge, The Barrens, the Deadmines, and Ungoro Crater.  I actually plan to go back and make at least a Sunken Temple video around his song using screen shots from our various adventures in the instance. (Sunken Temple video here!)

I felt confirmation that I had picked the right song after assembling and editing the video, during which I must have heard the tune more than 30 times.  I figured if I still liked it at that point, it was a strong choice.

I found that I took surprisingly few screenshots early on in the instance group.  If you go back to 2006 and early 2007, I have whole posts about our adventures with either no screen shots or just the victory shot at the end.  So the early instances are under represented.  Considering we took four runs at the Deadmines, there are not a lot of screen shots.

I had to reject almost all of the early pictures I had edited and cropped for use on the blog.  They were either cropped very small to fit in the 450 pixel width of the text column of the blog or had appalling things done to them with the brightness and contrast sliders that I felt I was better off started with the raws.

Deadmines to Zul’Farrak does not seem like a years worth of progress, especially if you have only played WoW in the age of the Dungeon Finder.  Looking at the screen shots reminded me that there were often weeks that went by in between where we had to level up to get to the next instance.  And, in addition, we used to try to get in an hour or two as a group on Thursday nights as well.

And then there was the hiatus when Earl moved to New York and Skronk and Ula came back to California. (Was that at the same time?)  Basically, from mid-March to early September of 2007, we didn’t play WoW as a group.  This, by the way, is totally the reason I keep the blog.  Even looking at time stamps on screen shots for literally hours, I did not realize until I went to check on how long the hiatus was that it actually ran for that duration.  During that time Lord of the Rings Online launched and the four of us not moving to New York played that.  So the shot at time slot 3:08 and the one at 3:13 bridges a six month gap.

On missing screen shots, in Zul’Farrak there is a shot of the gong.  What I had no picture to help explain was the fact that we got there and realized we had not yet obtained the Mallet of Zul’Farrak, which is way out in the Hinterlands. (Remember when instance quests took you all over?)  There is a post that explains that, but I could not figure a way to get that across in the video sans picture evidence.  So there is the establishing shot of the gong, but no follow on, aside from the Gahz’rilla fight.  Liberties taken.

The first screen shot in the video, three of us (Ula, Skronk, and Blintz) at Loch Modan, is the earliest screen shot I have of any members of the group.  It is time stamped September 30, 2006, 9:47pm.  The oldest WoW screenshot I could find is from March 2006, and features Tistann, my hunter, at the Mirage Raceway at about level 40.  Somewhere there is a folder of even older screenshots I am sure.

The second screen shot is Blintz hiding in the apple bobbing tub in Westfall before we went off to the Deadmines for the first time.

As is typical now for our group, one of us always seems to substitute a new character in along the way.  I created a dwarf rogue to use with the group named Blintz and he appears in all the early shots.  At level 40 I substituted in my paladin, Vikund, who happened to be my second oldest character in WoW, rolled back in 2005.  That suited my play style, though you can see he is in there with sword and board… and is spec’d protection.  Through base WoW having an off-tank in the group worked.  In Burning Crusade it made things difficult, and by Wrath of the Lich King I had to learn to play as a retribution pally.

As mentioned at least once above, I did take some liberties with the order of screen shots.  Shots taken in Uldaman and Zul’Farrak are not necessarily in the order they were taken.  You can see some of them in various posts if you search the blog for Zul’Farrak.

The Uldaman screens especially seem to give the impression that we took three shots at Archaedas and were successful, end of story.  That was actually over at least two sessions, both of which were long nights.  And there was at least one evening of doing the earlier part of the instance.  Defeating him was the night I woke my wife up at nearly 3am with my victory yell.  I do like the shot with the lineup of us looking at Archaedas, where Ula appears to have fainted.

In general I am happy with how the video came out.  It is not Sayonara Norrath, but it is a nice memory video.

I owe a huge debt to Ken Burns for popularizing that whole “pan the camera over the still shot to give it the feel of action” that he made such use of in his documentary The Civil War.  Windows Live Movie Maker has about 30 different ways to do that.

The audio editing capabilities are somewhat lacking in Windows Live Movie Maker, but I have access to a surprising number of tools for that if I decide I need something more sophisticated on future projects.  This time around I fit the video to the duration of the song.

I do want to make more such videos, though not necessarily of the instance group year by year.  I was thinking about a couple of key dungeons maybe, especially Sunken Temple since I already have music for it, and maybe our experiences in The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King.  I am also thinking about some of our side diversions into other games.  There could be a LOTRO video, a Rift video, and a very short EQII video.  An EverQuest video of Potshot and I returning to Norrath is also a possibility.

I am tempted to put together every wipe screen shot I have for the group and run it along with something like We Are the Champions.

Music is far and away the most important motivator for this sort of project.  Having the right song is a big part of the battle.  I do not necessarily have to go for the heart in the throat, holding back tears nostalgia of Sayonara Norrath does, with a huge amount of help from them music chosen, but the music really sets the mood and the right music inspires me to get off my butt and finish the project.

One idea I had was to get a few of us into LOTRO, play music there, capture that, and use that for a sound track.  I just have to figure out the best way to do that.  Any ideas?

Finally, if you could take a moment to click “like” on the video if you have a chance.  I am not generally a views/likes whore, but I want to beat that solar fountain bird bath video in some regard, and it already has 10K views, so likes are my best chance.

The video is actually available at resolutions up to 1080p.  However, it looks like ass when I play it in the browser on my PS3.  I have to find and uncheck the “make YouTube look like shit” option.

And, as always, suggestions, comments, and reminiscences about the old days are welcome.

4 thoughts on “The Instance Group – A Look Back at Our First Year

  1. Darraxus

    I am going to check out the video. I like you idea for the wipe screen shots. Great idea. My sister made a couple of videos of us back in the day. One was a quick instance run of Heroic UK in Wrath, one was the two of us killing the Gromm in Nagrand at level, and the third was me granting all of my refer a friend levels to the sonf “Putting on the Ritz” by Taco.


  2. Pia

    Eleanor Rigby is an ironic music choice. Popular opinion of people who play MMORPGs is that they are lonely basement dwellers. You have chronicled your banding together a group of people (hence removing the loneliness) for forays into that (lonely) world; mockery intended.
    I wish I had an amusing comment about the face in the jar by the door, but all that springs to mind is the comment about weaving one’s skin into a horrifying lady suit by a member-tucking psychopath.


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