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.

30 thoughts on “The Nostalgic Call of the Emerald Dream

  1. bhagpuss

    Interesting. I have zero nostalgia factor since I didn’t play WoW until long after WotLK but I do have a high curiosity factor for the same reason.

    Everything I have ever read about WoW makes it sound like it was a much more interesting game back at the start than It had become by the time I eventually got around to it. Does the Emerald Dream version have the old Hunter pet taming system that looked so involving when I read about it and was so disappointed to find had been “improved” out of the game before I ever had the chance to try it?

    If I’m ever short of something to do I might very well give this a try.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I was tempted to roll a hunter, just to see. The time frame is right. But I wanted to get right in and play.

    And hunters do not get pets until level 10 in any case, so I wouldn’t have been there yet.


  3. HarbingerZero

    Great piece! I hope that there is eventually an MMO section for companies like In my dream world you would be able to check boxes for advancements like auto loot – so that you could customize just how nostalgic an experience you really wanted to undertake.


  4. Kess

    You made a paladin in Vanilla WoW?

    Get used to disappointment.

    That, and wearing pretty dresses to heal in. No plate for you.


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Kess – Yes, I made one back then and I made one now. It is… challenging. Retribution only though.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, at level 6 I ran into the first “elite” (which was the code word for “group” back then) quest. Kill Princess, the elite boar. Hogger is still in the distance.


  6. Darraxus

    I enjoyed Vanilla WoW at the time, but I am certainly not nostalgic for those old days. It was 16 days played for me to get to 60 the first time. These days it takes me about 1/3 of the time to get to 85. Vanilla had it’s time, but I think the game is in a better place today.


  7. Aufero

    I, too, played a Paladin in vanilla WoW. Had fun until level 60, when my job in all instances and raids became “keep the Mage alive”. My nostalgia is more for the low-level experience. (The aforementioned run across the wetlands at level 16 as a Night Elf Druid so I could get to Westfall for the aquatic form quest sticks in my mind.)


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Aufero – I must admit that an opportunity to do the Deadmines in its original form is a big draw.

    And you waited until level 16 for the Wetlands run? It was almost safe by that point… or not as persistently and unforgivably deadly in any case. Level 10 was the way!

    @Darraxus – And I suspect that most of those subscribed today would agree with you. I have seen a lot of “best expansion ever” posts in my RSS feed in reference to MoP.

    But one of the lessons you learn from reading official forums is that any given feature, no matter how bad, is somebody’s favorite.

    The pet training routine that Bhagpuss references is a great example. It was a huge investment in time. I had to go to Petopia for answers, not wanting to have to scour Azeroth simply to find the beast with the right skill to then tame and work with until I learned it.

    But losing that ruined the game for somebody I bet, and diminished the game in the eyes of others. And that adds up over time, as WoW has changed a lot over 8 years.

    Eventually you end up with a pretty sizable group that would like to go back and visit their old favorite features. In EverQuest, that ended up being enough people that a single progression server couldn’t handle the load both times they did it. Imagine how big that population would be for WoW?

    I know why Blizzard doesn’t go down this path right now. It would be a distraction from their core focus, which is tending to and evolving the current game. And to do it right they would have to run parallel client and server builds and things would get messy. It wouldn’t bring in the kind of money that the main servers do, but would require a lot of work.

    And Blizzard seems, in its own way, to be a “never look back” sort of company. I am not sure that their leadership would “get” the nostalgia thing. Why would people want to play a version of the game that they feel they have “fixed?”

    But we shall see. At some point down the road maybe we’ll see something like this from Blizz.


  9. Matt

    I had a lot of fun leveling my first character in WoW. I’m not sure I could go back now. Back then “endgame” wasn’t even really on the radar. Now I couldn’t help but think about it. Also, back then I didn’t know anything, and now I could probably carve a fairly efficient path through it. And then there’s all the quality of life improvements that you can’t undo your knowledge of.

    Original WoW’s leveling game was a lot more robust than it is currently. Mining, for instance, there are something like 6 different normal ore types and 3 uncommon ore types, along with a plethora of various crystals and other doodads, in the original game. An expansion has no more than two normal, one uncommon, with gems being their own thing. And then there was dark iron ore too, and you could use coal to make steel for a few recipes. That’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t mind them going back to, rather than having everything focused on endgame. But then, I’m not their median customer anymore (in fact, not a customer at all at the moment)


  10. Aufero

    @Wilhelm – I did it at 10 on a NE Warrior, (and died about six times) but that was to join a friend.

    I liked the run at 16 as a Druid, because it was barely survivable if you knew what you were doing (Bear form, keep regen up, and never, ever stop running) and it was *required* if you wanted Aquatic form. By design. (Also by design, if you hadn’t looked the quest up via some out-of-game reference you’d drown about five or six times in Westfall trying to find the underwater chest with the item you needed.)

    WoW was never a terribly difficult game, but that quest gave me a feeling of accomplishment about using aquatic form all the way to level 60.


  11. Anorax

    The original LOTRO was like this. There was no handholding and in some aspects vanilla LOTRO was even more brutal than vanilla WoW.


  12. Toxicroach

    Wizardry online?

    I got in that series late— I think it was 7 or 8 (Dark Savant), but I really liked it. Combat got terribly annoying after a while though (managing an 8 person party through a neverending stream of meaningless encounters). But I’d be interested enough to take a spin with it.


  13. bhagpuss

    Even though I started 5 years late and knew nothing of the history of the run to Wetlands, I did that run.

    For some reason I started a character in the Bloodelf starter area. I find it almost impossible to imagine that I actually made a bloodelf – can other races start there? Anyway, I was there and I absolutely loathed it. It was purple, it was dark, it was full of elves (deformed elves at that).

    I think I would have been no higher than level 6. Can’t think I would have stood it any longer. I looked at the map and worked out that there was only one way to escape so I went overland.
    Presumably there’s an easier way to get out of that forsaken hole but I didn’t know it.

    I have no memory now of the trip but I ended up in Wetlands. Swimming may have been involved. Someone’s going to tell me it’s not possible any more and I must have imagined it, which is entirely possible.

    May Tunare forgive you , Wilhelm. I am actually beginning to feel the shadow of a desire to play WoW again. It will pass. I hope…


  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I think that is the night elf starter area you are referring to… it is dark-ish, has lots of purple, and drives people to leave as soon as possible. This is why the great Wetlands migration occurs. The game literally seems to drive you to that path.

    Darnassus only gets visited for holiday events by most people, which is the MMO equivalent of hanging a pork chop around ones neck so the dog will play with you.

    The blood elf starter area is bright and has lots of oranges and reds and hurts the eyes along with any sense of dignity one might posses. Generally, even the dog won’t go near it, pork chop or not.


  15. Shintar

    Funny to see this article pop up today, when I ran across the ED trailer on YouTube only last night and thought “huh, interesting”. Being overwhelmed by Defias in that vineyard in the human starting area would make me nostalgic too.

    Minor nitpick: MoP didn’t sell 2.7 million copies on launch day, it sold that in the first week. Presumably they sold less than BC on launch day or something, which is why they waited with the announcement, secure in the knowledge that people would misread it anyway. :P


  16. wokyr

    I would like this with a lich king version, I liked wow until after that.
    in fact I discovered cata with a free 10 days trial, and this was enough for me, I stopped after. Took me 1 year and a big discount to buy it. Still wonder if I’ll play panda someday, maybe, but not long for sure.
    Btw reading this makes me think only one thing : I fucking hate all these annoyance from vanilla days, I won’t try this server for sure :P


  17. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I have much more fond memories of TBC than Vanilla. In Vanilla, a lot of the classes were not quite working as intended, I felt. Raiding was a simple affair where some classes (Paladins and Druids in particular) not really having a proper role in a lot of endgame other than “someone we grudgingly take along to support a proper class.”

    I heard there’s a TBC greyshard out there, too. That would be more interesting for me.


  18. Chris Bickford (@kiztent)

    Vanilla was too much like EQ with the worst screwed up things fixed. Still had a lot of problems though (trinity, soloing classes not being useful) and it didn’t have a “voice” of it’s own. I’m with Psychochild, it was really TBC where I went, “damn, this game now makes sense”.


  19. Okami

    I wonder if they have the old Scholomance that they used to form raid groups for and still wipe horribly?. I might have to try this out.


  20. Jenks

    I might have to give this a go, but even vanilla WoW had pretty much all challenge removed. I’m currently playing EQ on the Al’Kabor server (PoP) and I find myself pining for something harder (vanilla/Kunark EQ) rather than easier (vanilla WoW).

    Still, free is free.


  21. rimecat

    Ah, vanilla. When Warlocks learned early not to trust our instructors and had to actually work to master demons. I still remember, at level 4, trying to decide how I was going to get that Imp summoning tome that was surrounded by Defias. If you want a real nostalgia hit wait for people to realize that there are no diminishing returns and Fear doesn’t break if you look at the target.

    Then people started talking about ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ and ‘not losing at character select’. Weaklings. Just role a Warlock and pound your head on a keyboard for a few months and you can join in the fear-dot-dot madness.

    That aside, I wonder if I could do early WoW or EQ again? We developed a saying in my old pen and paper games (back when AD&D didn’t have an edition number) that you can only be 1st level once. We’ve all learned over the years. I’m all for a more difficult game but I don’t think that trying to set the clock back is the way to go. I have hopes for some niche games that try to recapture the difficulty without the problems.


  22. Carolus

    I’m loving the nostalgia trip of playing on ED. I’ve got a lvl 42 Warrior and it’s been great (apart from charging a mob and falling through the world…). Haven’t played for a few days now after getting hooked on Dota 2 but I’m confident I’ll be going back and hitting 60 towards the summer (Southern hemisphere person here!). I definitely recommend the server for those with a craving for old school WoW.


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  24. wizardling

    Shame you went Alliance, heh. I made a Tauren druid, myself. Great fun running around Mulgore again – my favourite vanilla zone. I even got to do some of the first horde instance – Ragefire Chasm – in a group on my third day in Emerald Dream. It’s been a busy past week, but I hope to get back in there and up to Wailing Caverns level the coming week.

    Some things are buggy, e.g. all quest spawns like the spirit wolf you’d normally follow on a Tauren rite quest, or quest spawns you have to kill. But you can either just go where they’d normally lead you (luckily I remember a lot of this old content, and Wowhead still has much of it up), or you find what would normally be spawned up permanently. So that’s not perfect, just a cheap way of avoiding complicated scripting that has yet to be done (one hopes it will eventually).

    That said most mobs wander around normally (though many rare mobs seem not to move as much as I recall), and pathing isn’t too bad. Luckily I’ve not encountered the charging through the floor bug yet, but the stuck command can get you out of that. By and large I’m having a good time, and the issues are fairly minor, save for the Zeppelins always dumping you out after zoning, which can lead to some long swims and runs.

    Emerald Dream is a lot of fun, and provided the devs continue improving it and don’t just stick with current kludges and workarounds, I’ll keep playing. If they’re invested in the world, I can be too, and so far the signs are most promising :-)

    P.S. Was it my tweet that you saw? If so I’m pleased I inspired you to try Emerald Dream out as well. Yay for vanilla fun and nostalgia!


  25. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Wizardling – Unfortunately, aside from the peon beating quest in the orc starting area, I do not have a lot of nostalgia for the horde side of the house.

    And yes, it was your tweet. I think I linked it up there in the post.


  26. wizardling

    Oh, heh, so you did. I reckon we all have nostalgia for whatever first captured our imagination in an MMO – for me Mulgore and the Barrens in WoW, Qeynos and the Karanas in EQ.

    Just remember it’s never to late to go Horde ;-)


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