Daily Archives: October 8, 2012

The Nostalgic Call of the Emerald Dream

Nostalgia is such a powerful factor that I am surprised more companies do not cash in on it.  And it isn’t just a small scale, eBay sort of thing, though heaven knows that nostalgia keeps eBay humming.  VW introduced a rounded version of the Golf, slapped the Beetle name on it and, hey pretso, money.  BMW revived the Mini as its own car line and shows no signs of faltering.

And likewise, in video games, the industry is now old enough (and things have now changed enough) for people to be nostalgic for older games.  Thus we get iOS apps done in 8-bit art styles, while the big successes on Kickstarter are pushes to remake classics like Wasteland.  And then there is Wizardry Online.

And in MMOs, some companies have picked up the power of nostalgia.

Five years ago, when EverQuest had turned eight years old, SOE introduced the idea of a “progression server” that would start with classic content and then unlock expansions as the content was mastered.  While for some the whole thing went by too quickly… make something look like a race and people will go their fastest to be “first”… it was successful enough that SOE rolled out the same idea again with the Fippy Darkpaw server, adding in minimum time and voting components to slow things down a bit.  SOE currently owns the MMO nostalgia crown.

And, as we stand here in 2012, another popular MMO is just about 8 years old and has been changed drastically by expansions, leaving a gulf between those of us who enjoyed the old but are not enthusiastic about the new.

I speak, of course, about World of Warcraft.

The mere mention of WoW in our regular group brings up a series of “I miss that game” comments.  But it just isn’t the same game any more.  Blizzard continues to move forward and, unlike EverQuest at the eight year mark, still enjoys the pinnacle of subscription MMO success.

Why would Blizzard chase nostalgia when they are still practically printing money?  Mists of Pandaria may be in fourth place for launch day sales for a WoW expansion (BC 2.4 mil, WotLK 2.8 mil, Cata 3.3 mil, but MoP 2.7 mil only in the first week), but those numbers are still huge relative to any competitor, and it pushed subscriptions back above the 10 million mark.

At this point nostalgia would be a distraction from the main money making machine at Blizzard.

But a nostalgia demographic exists all the same, and at this point I count myself as a member.

And so it was when I saw a private/pirate server called Emerald Dream mentioned on Twitter this past weekend, I went “hmmm….”

Emerald Dream promises “classic” 1-60 content in the 2006 time frame.  They even have a video up on YouTube.  There are other servers out there with sped up leveling and instant level 60 access if all you want is the raiding experience.  But this is the server for those who want to experience “the good old days.”

And while Blizzard has been tough on pirate servers in the past, these guys aren’t actually in it for the money.  It is all free to download and play.  I don’t know if that makes them not worth pursuing or if they just haven’t hit Blizzard’s radar yet, but they are not hiding their presence.  It isn’t a “Joe sent me” sort of speakeasy environment.  See the web sites and video linked above.

So I decided to give it a try.

They certainly got the first step of my original WoW experience.  I remember buying the box in early 2005, bringing it home ready to play, only to find myself facing a six hour patching session via Blizzard’s then extremely slow “let the customers host our shit” torrent process.  This was the sort of thing that made me get a paid File Planet account back in the day. (Blizzard has at least fixed that issue in the mean time.)

This time around I was expecting to download the client, so I set aside an overnight time frame.  You first register with Emerald Dream to create your account.  Then they send you off to another site, where you have to register to download the client.  The download is only via torrent, so I had to go grab a copy of BitTorrent, which means I am probably on the RIAA/MPAA watchlist now.

I let that run over night and had the client in the morning.  It was in a .rar archive, of course.  I thought at one point after the compression wars of the late 80s and early 90s we all agreed just to use .zip.  Even the Mac handles .zip as part of the OS.  But every generation needs to learn about standards I suppose.  Anyway, I had to reinstall the free .rar extractor I keep on hand to extract that.

Then there was a connection patch from the Emerald Dream site, which was a set of files to drop in the client folder so it point at the right server.  And at that point I launched the client and was ready to connect.

WoW Client from Days Gone By

Look at that.

If you open up that screen shot, you will see the client date is September 16, 2006.  That date six years ago sits nicely between the launch date for this blog and our putting together our regular instance group in Azeroth.  This is about the exact right point for nostalgia for me.

So I logged in, made a human paladin, and entered old Azeroth.

Amongst my friends…

And what was it like?  Here are my observations.

Well, the leveling was much slower.  I spent easily twice as much time with my pally as I did with my panda the other day, and only got to level 7.

I was surprised at how unstructured the questing was.  While some quests would send you along to the next person, a lot of the quests just seemed to be random NPCs standing around.  Blizz would never ship this game today.

This version also predates quests givers showing up on the mini map.  No question marks or exclamation points are visible there.  You have to see the quest giver or know where they are.  The one concession is that you do get a yellow dot on the mini map for NPCs that you have a turn-in for.

Quest helper?  Hah, get out of town!  Or, you know, read the quest text. (At least this client had the instant quest text option. But slow scroll is on by default! You have to turn it off!)  I was helped along by the fact that I remembered almost all the quests in the area.  But if you had never done some of these quests, you might be wandering around for a while.  Likewise even finding some of the quests seemed to be targeted at explorers.

Aggro radius seems to be huge!  I remember them toning that back a bit at one point, and in the starter zones it is very small now.  Out in the Defias vineyard by the monastery, the first place in the game you are introduced to aggro mobs, the Defias are packed so close together that you often draw two or three.  At Fargodeep mine, the ground was littered with bones from people getting double and triple teamed by kobolds.

Grouping for solo quests was still punished back then, though not as much as it is now.  I accepted a group request for the vineyard area just to help stave off rampaging groups of Defias.  The guy I grouped with set looting to free for all, rushed to loot all the bandana drops for one quest, and then ran off as soon as he was finished.

In the vineyard

So, a completely authentic experience.  I had a tear in my eye as I saw that magnificently selfish bastard run off  without a word or even bothering to drop the group.  Totally 2006!

Likewise, general chat is about Barrens quality, minus Chuck Norris jokes.  Though that says something in and of itself.  There were enough people around in general chat for it to become annoying.  So I wasn’t playing alone.

And speaking of looting, are you pissed that your favorite MMO doesn’t support AOE looting?  Try no auto-looting at all.  You have to click on the corpse, then click on each item in the window that comes up.  This was the first point where I started wondering where old, out of date addons might be archived.

What else did I experience?  Skills that you have to use to improve.  Being so poor I could barely afford skills.  Minimal bag space.  Five minute duration pally buffs.  Spells and skills that you have to manually update on the action bar when you get an upgraded version.

And what can I look forward to?

Running everywhere since you get no mount until level 40.  (And epic mounts? That took us two years to get to last time.) No helm until level 26.  No platemail until level 40.  No general use range skill to pull mobs.  That run across the Wetlands if I roll a night elf.  And… well… all of Stranglethorn Vale.

Totally working as designed…

Yeah, all that and more, all at a slow pace.

Seems pretty cool to me!

And the name is just about right, since in the lore, the Emerald Dream is Azeroth in an earlier, pristine state.

Not totally vanilla WoW.  And I hear there are some bugs, though I haven’t seen anything serious.  Somebody said that pathing was really bad, but it seemed okay to me.  And wasn’t it kind of bad back in the day anyway?  Or am I just thinking about escort quest mob pathing?

Our group would probably stay subscribed if we had this as an option from Blizzard.

I am not sure we’ll be running off to play this.  But it is nice that there is such an option.

If you feel that nostalgia the way I do, you might want to take a look at the Emerald Dream server.