Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Carry On Camping: WoW Classic, EverQuest

As I play WoW Classic I find myself comparing just about everything with how it would have been in EverQuest around the same time.  Based on not much more than memories, never to be trusted, it's probably not a very accurate comparison but it fascinates me.

Memory aside, direct comparisons with what we think of as classic EverQuest are misleading. During the period WoW Classic attempts to recreate, sometime around September 2006, EQ was a very long way from its own "classic" era. And I'd known many different iterations of Norrath by then.

A History Lesson

By September 2006 I had played EQ for nearly seven years, on and off but mostly on. I'd spent almost a year in Dark Age of Camelot, then returned. I'd moved to EverQuest II for about eight or nine months from the November 2004 launch until the following summer but came back to EverQuest at the end of the Dragons of Norrath expansion, staying for the start of Dungeons of Darkhollow.

Mrs. Bhagpuss and I barely touched DoN but we played quite a lot of DoD, leaving only when the Shroud debacle reached an unbearable nadir. I won't go into what happened. It's something best left forgotten. We then returned to EQII for maybe another nine months before switching back to EverQuest for The Serpent's Spine expansion at precisely the period Classic emulates, September 2006.

In a number of ways, The Serpent's Spine was a reboot for EQ, as can be seen from the launch day patch notes. The expansion not only added a new race and starting city but also a complete new leveling path to the raised cap of 75. Even now, more than a dozen years later, new players are funnelled into Crescent's Reach in the hope they'll follow the route set out for them more than a dozen years ago.

Among other things, racial xp penalties were removed, AAXP at low and middle levels was increased, the "con" system was revised to include a new xp step and most significantly by far, major changes were made to the way a character recovered health, mana and endurance after combat:

"*** Downtime ***

As EverQuest has grown over the years, the amount of downtime imposed upon players has grown as well and we'd rather players find challenge in the fights themselves than in the time between them. Toward that end, we've created a new system that is simple to use, but powerful and flexible enough to control downtime as the game continues to grow....
Once you have been out-of-combat for a sufficient amount of time, you can sit down (or be on a non-moving horse) and begin to rest. While resting, you enter an accelerated regeneration state that will quickly recover your mana, health, and endurance".
This was big. It meant that classes that had been unbearably slow to solo since launch, particularly those with no means of healing themselves, like Warriors and Rogues, could, at least theoretically, make some xp by soloing.

Soloing in EQ vs Classic. Now there's a case for comparison...

 These changes didn't come out of the blue and neither were they a direct response to the vastly more casual-friendly behemoth in the room. EQ had been tiptoeing towards greater accessibility for the more casual player for quite a while.

The infamous "lose your corpse and everything on it" death penalty, always an outlier in normal gameplay but nevertheless at the back of everyone's mind as they played, had been completely removed with the addition of Shadowrest in April 2004, long before WoW was in anyone's thoughts. The almost equally infamous lengthy travel times had been reduced a little with 2001's Shadows of Luclin and rendered almost trivial in the eyes of some veterans by Planes of Power the following year.

All of this is by way of saying that any parallels I attempt to draw between the two games likely to be both highly subjective and prone to temporal inconsistencies. Even so, there are some things that stand out as major divergences on what has otherwise been a surprisingly similar journey.

Camp Check!

One such is the concept of "camps" and "camping". In the EverQuest of 2006 this amounted to something akin to holy writ. Wikipedia, which has a lengthy entry on "Camping", much of which relates to first person shooters, where the term has a somewhat different meaning, has this to say about EQ:

"The MMORPG EverQuest, when first released, had advancement through the game painstakingly slow for most, requiring many hours of slaying NPCs to advance in level. As a result, players quickly realized that camping in one spot and having a single player, referred to as a "puller" because he or she would leave the group to "pull" a mob back to the group, was the most efficient way to gain experience. In fact, the prevalence of camping became so strong in EverQuest that some of the game's playerbase and critics jokingly refer to the game as "EverCamp".

Out of this practical solution to a percieved problem, a complex etiquette was born. Although there was no formal requirement to adhere to the norms of behavior players sought to establish, in the days when most people remained on a single server and reputation counted for plenty, social pressure to conform was immense.

On arriving in a zone, if you planned on settling in a particular spot, it was common practice to make a "camp check" in /ooc or /shout. You'd literally call out "Camp check?" and back would come the replies - "Ramp", "South Spires", "Three spawn" and so on. In some zones there could be a dozen or more recognized camps, all with nicknames you'd soon learn if you stayed there for a few levels.

This tower had a camp name (not that sort of camp!) but I can't remember what it was.


It was also polite, although less frequently done, to tell the zone when you were leaving a camp. "Ogres free" was all you needed to say. Someone would then call back "Taking ogres" and the wheel would turn.

In the most popular zones at busy times there would even be lists. You'd take a number from whoever was claiming a camp you particularly wanted and they'd tell you when a spot in the group opened up and it was your turn to take it. If it was a solo camp each player would pass on the name of the next in line to be invited to take over when they left.

This worked surprisingly well, in part because of the reputation issue but also because of the Play Nice policy. This was introduced some time around EQ's second expansion, Scars of Velious, and was somewhat controversial. It was also very successful in managing both expectations and behavior.

As well as laying down the kind of rules you might give to your eight year old before allowing them a birthday party, the Play Nice policy had a very effective way of enforcing good behavior. To quote Allakhazam, "Camping is not specifically endorsed by the EQ EULA, and in the case of GM arbitration, you may be ordered to share your 'camp' with someone else."

This meant that most disputes were settled in conversation between players because no-one wanted to risk the arbitrary ruling of a GM. And there were, in those days, plenty of GMs available to come and lay down the law.

No Camping Here!

I can't speak for Vanilla WoW itself, or indeed for other servers in Classic, but on the Hydraxian Waterlords RP server the concept of a "camp" is utterly unknown. I spent an hour or so in Westfall yesterday, completing quests I'd taken a few levels earlier, when they were much too high for me. I had, among others, fifteen Defias Headbands to collect and twenty Harvest Watchers to kill.

The zone was busy but not insanely so. Both Defiants and Watchers have been placed by some helpful designer in a number of discrete locations that I cannot think of as anything but "camps". Some, like the one in the illustration at the top of the post, are literally camps. With tents!

I feel sure that, coming from EverQuest as many of the original WoW devs did, this placement is no co-incidence. Vanilla WoW zones are laid out very much like EverQuest zones and I'd lay odds it was expected that players would approach them as EQ players had.

And maybe they did. I'd be interested to hear from someone who was there. However it was back in 2006, in Classsic it's a free for all. No-one calls camps, no-one respects camps. Camps do not exist.

I was lucky enough to have the pictured camp to myself for about half an hour, during which time I held it and also picked off Defias mobs from the much bigger camp behind me. I was able to keep my camp mostly to myself by managing the spawn so that there were rarely any mobs standing, waiting to be pulled.

I'm a tailor, not a fighter.
When players ran by there was usually nothing to see so they ran on. A few seconds later a Defias would spawn and I'd pull it, even if I hadn't quite downed my current victim. That way I almost replicated the EQ experience.

A few times, however, while I was engaged with one mob and missed I my rotation, a passing player would grab a freshs pawn from the camp and kill it. This is entirely acceptable in Classic. There then being nothing else fot them to kill, off they would run, presumably wondering why I was still standing there, staring at some empty tents.

All of this is not to say Classic players on my server are rude or inconsiderate. Far from it. Kill-stealing is as beyond the pale as it ever was in EQ. If there's an unfortunate confusion and two players attack the same mob, one will back off immediately.

I also received plenty of buffs as I stood vigil over my camp. A camp no-one else even seemed to notice existed as a specific location in its own right.

It's hardly surprising. A couple of days ago I grouped with another player to do the Gnoll Paw quest. We ran between multiple camps of gnolls and took whatever we could find. At least two other groups were doing the same. It all worked out well, largely because WoW players like to keep moving and spawns are realtively fast.

The only time anyone complained was when a mage arrived and began pulling four gnolls at once. My partner just said "Mages :( " and we moved on, while I got quad-kiting flashbacks from Velious-era EQ.

It's one difference between two cultures that look so similar from the outside yet so different from within. I've spotted many more. I may write them up but Classic is moving on apace. I find a dozen triggers for posts every time I play. And I'd rather be playing than documenting every last little thing I notice.

Time to go log in. Those wool bags aren't going to make themselves and neither are the two more levels my Warlock needs before the game will allow her to tailor them.

There's another thing - tradeskills tied to adventure level. I've got something to say about on that.

Another day.

10 comments:

  1. You, and the rest of my social circles, finally got to me and I signed up over the weekend.

    Back in the day I played a Night Elf Hunter so I rolled same in Classic and logged in to find general chat filled with complaints about "huntards" and how lame they, and anyone who played them, is. I logged right back out and quit; this is exactly the 'bad' WoW I remembered.

    But I'd paid my $15 so after calming a bit I created a Human Paladin and over on the side of the world chat was much more civil. I played a couple hours that night and the next and got to level 8 or so.

    It's been so long since I played WoW that it doesn't feel "classic" to me, it just feels like the WoW I remembered. It's nice playing alongside so many people, most of whom do seem to be behaving well. Folks group up for named spawns and such. I was able to trade materials from pouches and of course buffs are flying back and forth like crazy.

    That said though, I am almost playing on auto-pilot. It's crazy I can't remember something from last week but I can remember what quests to take when, and where to go to finish them off, from when I played the game a dozen years ago. So I'm not sure how long it will hold me, but it has been fun to re-visit the world for a bit.

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    1. As I said in my First Impressions piece, I don't see all that much difference between Classic and the Free Trial version of WoW on Retail. At least for the first ten levels or so. After that then, yes, they diverge markedly. As for the gameplay itself, once learned, never forgotten, I think.

      I imagine chat varies widely from server to server and zone to zone. It's about 85-90% poite and good natured on Hydraxian Warlords, but then it is an RP server and not overpopulated. I've heard very different stories about which faction is the most unpleasant in chat, Alliance or Horde. Again I would guess it depends on the server. Servers establish cultural norms quite quickly so if one gets off to a bad start it will probably only get worse.

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  2. That's the first time I've ever heard an explanation of the infamous camping in EQ. Had no idea what anyone was talking about before now. Never saw anything like it in Ultima Online or Asheron's Call, so it sounds like a uniquely EQ phenomenon. It definitely didn't exist when I played WoW in 2006. It's always been a system of tagging whatever you can get, as far as I know. Gotta get that first instant-cast damage ability off as fast as possible. :) I don't think "kill stealing" is a thing that exists in WoW either, because I'm moderately confident once you tag a mob it's yours... which was a huge improvement over Asheron's Call, where if memory serves anyone could loot any mob, regardless of who killed it.

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    1. I'm reasonably sure there were camps in Dark Age of Camelot. Unsurprisngly, EQ2 and Vanguard both had them, too. In games where spawn time and time-to-kill are both very much faster it probably wouldn;t have been seen as neccessary.

      Spawn times for common mobs in outdoor zones in EQ were around 18 minutes, if I recall correctly. At low to mid levels, solo, it used to take anything from thirty seconds to ten minutes to kill a mob. As a druid I had a snare spell that slowed the mob's movement to a crawl. It lasted around 6 minutes at level 26 when I fist got it, rising to 14 minutes at Level 65. I not infrequently needed to re-apply that spell before the mob died.

      With that kind of pacing and spawn rate you can see how you wouldn't welcome someone else waltzing in and pulling the next mob you had lined up. I'm guessing that in Vanilla that wasn't really a problem. Classic certainly feels pretty fast-paced to me, at least by comparison.

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  3. Like I said in my post today, I think the quest driven nature of WoW eliminated the need for formal camping etiquette. For the most part people aren't sticking around in an area for longer than it takes them to fill out their quest checklist, then they move on. Occasionally there will be an exception, like somebody killing the welps out in the Wetlands looking for the rare pet drop. But even then, that is more of a "run around whacking every pop in a 10 acre area" than a spawn camp.

    I remember when The Serpent's Spine hit and one of the big features was improved regen between battles... and the all quest leveling path. I never managed to follow that. But at the time it felt pretty awkward, like somebody described WoW questing aloud and somebody built what they thought might match the idea.

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    1. Mrs Bhagpuss and I soloed and duoed Serpent's Spine with new characters when it came out. We got to about level 60-65 as I recall, not quite to the cap, then something else got our attention and we left. Could have been Vanguard. It was a reasonably smooth path with a clear, linear progression and as all the content was new we enjoyed it. I've never really usedc it to level since, though, except when the Hot Zone bonus sends me there.

      I have a post brewing about the perceived slowness of Classic WoW. I think the combat is actually very, very fast compared to any MMORPG I played in 2004-2006 and it's considerably faster than some newer ones I've played fairly recently. What makes it feel slow is the huge amount of ancillary non-combat content, some of which is optional but much of which isn't, plus the way quests are structured.

      Anyway, I won't pre-empt the post in a comment. Comparing EQ and other contemporary "competitors" with what Classic suggests about Vanilla is fascinating. I could do a whole series about it - only right now I'd rather play!

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  4. Well, I think I know what my next post is about now. :)

    In EQ you have camps, in WoW you have Quests, in AC - you go on a hunt.

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    1. AC is always an outlier for me. I own a boxed copy of it - I found it the other day - but I think I only played for a handful of sessions. Didn't take to it at all. Also, until very recently I'd never really heard it discussed. In the last year or two quite a few bloggers have quoted AC as their first/favorite/formative MMORPG but for a the best part of a decade and a half I never heard anyone mention it at all.

      I'd love to see more reminiscences or analyses about it. Your post on the private server was very interesting.

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  5. Camping etiquette is alive and well in p1999 exactly as you described it above. And as well as it works, I don't think it can survive the player density people are seeing in WoW. My guess, anyway!

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    1. I think it still persists in current EQ and it certainly does on the prog servers. I wonder if any other active MMOs use it?

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