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World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic Interview
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 05:01pm 09/03/21 | Comments
We reopen The Dark Portal to sit down with Blizzard to talk about recreating another classic World of Warcraft release -- the iconic first expansion.


World of Warcraft Classic released in 2019, though its heritage is all 2004 -- the initial debut of Blizzard’s online role-playing hit commonly referred to as Vanilla WoW. That is how the game looked, felt, and played before the arrival of the first of many expansions that took the game, lore, and franchise to new and exciting heights. World of Warcraft has been continuously changing and evolving for over 15 years - as seen in the most recent adventure, Shadowlands, which takes players to the afterlife.

There’s something to be said about Classic though, being able to revisit or check out one of the most iconic releases in RPG history -- as it once was. In the years prior to its release many had been asking Blizzard for exactly that. Bringing it back was no easy feat, Blizzard spent considerable time digging through digital archives and physical filing cabinets to get everything up and running on the latest version of Battle.net and the modern World of Warcraft codebase.

In a sense World of Warcraft Classic, and its live servers, can be viewed as a virtual museum exhibit, a place to experience history.

The First Expansion




Which makes the announcement of the upcoming release of Burning Crusade Classic inevitable. Released in 2007, as World of Warcraft became a global phenomenon, the first expansion for the MMO broke single-day sales records for a PC release. It also saw a huge influx of players as WoW became synonymous with online role-playing and Blizzard as a whole.


In a sense World of Warcraft Classic, and its live servers, can be viewed as a virtual museum exhibit, a place to experience history.



“It was WoW's first major expansion,” Patrick Dawson, Production Director on World of Warcraft Classic tells us. “You have this rich feature set of not just 10 more levels and new abilities, but you’re flying, jewel crafting, Raiding, going through Heroic Dungeons and a new world to explore. There was so much there that people wanted to get back into The Burning Crusade. It was almost a no brainer for us to say, let's do it. It's what the community wants.”

“We did need to get some kind of an idea on how many people wanted to progress on to Burning Crusade, how many wanted to just stay in Classic?” John Hight, Executive Producer on World of Warcraft adds. “We ran some surveys, which people figured out was us, and the majority indicated that they wanted to check out Burning Crusade.”

Related: Blizzard on its Return to the Past with the Release of World of Warcraft Classic




“For a lot of people, that was their initial experience or entry into World of Warcraft,” John continues. “We could have just said majority rules, we're going to go onto Burning Crusade, but we made a commitment to players when we brought Classic back.” That commitment goes back to the museum analogy, where Classic is a specific exhibit and Burning Crusade Classic is a new wing.

For the upcoming release of The Burning Crusade (which will be available to all Classic subscribers) players will get access to both versions of the game, the option to clone a character, or simply move on to the Dark Portal and leave that Vanilla world for good.

Opening The Dark Portal




Focusing on the ravaged world of Outland and the reopening of The Dark Portal, it’s this event that many would put right up there in terms of epic WoW moments -- and it kicks off The Burning Crusade. Players from far and wide coming to a single location, a doorway to a strange new world, a new threat, a story turned upside down. Of course, that is once you set aside those first few days of the expansion’s release back in 2007 where everyone tried to get to the Dark Portal and share in the moment without crashing or succumbing to the lag monster.


“We could have just said majority rules, we're going to go onto Burning Crusade, but we made a commitment to players when we brought Classic back.”



One of the benefits of World of Warcraft Classic running on the modern codebase though, and having a team with an additional decade’s worth of WoW backend experience, is being able to take an iconic moment like this and preserve it without any of the fuss.

“A good example of that is what we did for the Ahn'Qiraj event [in Classic],” Patrick Dawson says when asked about handling server load for something like The Burning Crusade’s opening. “People remember that event as another mega gathering of players in one single area. We were able to get two to three times more players in that same area than we were able to back in the day. I don't think you're ever going to get away with that many players in an area without a little bit of lag, but The Dark Portal is not going to be crashy like it was.”

Related: World of Warcraft Shadowlands to Unleash the Chains of Domination




“Heading to the Dark Portal, players are getting ready for this one moment,” Brian Birmingham, Lead Software Engineer on The Burning Crusade Classic adds. “We’ve made a bunch of improvements to try to improve that experience and make sure the servers stay up. We also plan to lean on our layering technology, the same thing that we did for the launch of Classic to make sure that we don't have to have queues or can minimise them as much as possible. Basically, let as many players who are ready to play the game -- play.”

This layering is a sophisticated system that can grow or dissipate based on the number of players, where ultimately a single layer is all that’s needed once the traffic jam that is a single mass event like the opening of The Dark Portal has been experienced by most.

A Few Touch Ups Here and There




“It's a pretty exhausting process, we had to convert three quarters of a million rows of data to work with modern code -- but that gets us a lot,” Patrick Dawson explains. “And modern code gets us more stability, more flexibility. We can use the cloud infrastructure.”


“Heading to the Dark Portal, players are getting ready for this one moment, we’ve made a bunch of improvements to try to improve that experience and make sure the servers stay up.”



Recreating The Burning Crusade within modern WoW, as per the process defined by the release of Classic involves importing databases, art assets, and everything else using the final version of the expansion as the foundation. That is the Patch with all the balance tweaks, new additions, and updates. However, unlike with Classic the Burning Crusade release will feature a few notable changes -- outside of keeping post-launch content ready to drop as the community progresses through the story.

“We do have that old code, and we do fire up the old code as a reference,” Brian Birmingham explains. “Let's put that side by side with what we're working on today to see if we're getting it right. With Classic we really wanted to challenge ourselves to go the extra mile and make it a hundred percent as much as we could, exactly how it was. And from there really only work on tiny bugs. This time we're going a little bit further, but we don't want it to feel inauthentic.”

The first change we spoke about refers to how the game handles actions or interactions, called Spell Batching. Instead of processing each player interaction immediately the original WoW would handle things in batches. Something done to support the slower nature of ‘back in the day’ servers, Spell Batching led to a number of fun little quirks where players could cast Polymorph on each other simultaneously simply because the underlying server processed them as happening simultaneously.


“When Classic launched we implemented Spell Batching, mimicking the latency you would have felt in vanilla WoW,” Holly Longdale, Lead Producer on The Burning Crusade Classic tells us. “We implemented that and it seemed like the right thing to do to recreate Classic in spirit and in execution. Over time it wasn’t popular, and that's feedback we've been seeing so we decided to remove it for both Classic era servers and for Burning Crusade Classic. And that should make combat feel crisper and essentially more modern.”

Naturally this is not a fundamental game changer, nor is the planned level of the playing field for both Horde and Alliance Paladins. “As they levelled up and got their new abilities, Blood Elf Paladins received the Seal of Blood, which was incredibly powerful,” Patrick Dawson says of perhaps the biggest ‘gameplay’ change coming. “The Alliance counterpart received a weaker Seal, as the community sees it, so to rectify that we are giving Alliance Paladins a similar version of the Seal of Blood at max level. And to be fair, Horde Paladins will also get the Alliance version.”

Another change is keeping the original Raid boss values for things like health and damage, as opposed to the post-launch nerfs that arrived to give more players the opportunity to experience some of the more challenging content found in the expansion. These changes are all born from the Classic community and Blizzard's own testing to find out where and when changes or fine tuning might not be that big of a deal -- or, feel “inauthentic”.

Preserving History




“I was in the Burning Crusade Beta and I remember the zones weren't finished yet,” Holly Longdale recalls. “I remember Blade’s Edge had a construction sign in front of it which I ignored and went in anyway and it wasn't populated. I got to wander around and explore and see the dragons impaled in the landscape. To relive that a second time, as we're going through development, it brought back all the feelings I had in 2007. Feelings of just how truly epic this expansion is.”


“To relive that a second time, as we're going through development, it brought back all the feelings I had in 2007. Feelings of just how truly epic this expansion is.”



Nostalgia and reliving a moment in time will forever be associated with re-releases and re-masters, and it's this draw that saw the release of both Classic find success -- and sees the impending re-release of The Burning Crusade drum up community excitement too. One of the most interesting things about bringing back older versions of World of Warcraft is that with a live and evolving game, these snapshots of the past sit alongside the game we see today.

And, as parts of a broader universe.

“We're really fortunate on the World of Warcraft team, we have some team members that are celebrating 20 years on World of Warcraft,” John Hight tells us. “There's a portion of the team dedicated just to the care of Classic and that community, but it's all part of the broader World of Warcraft team. Our live ops and production team are shared across WoW -- modern, classic, and now Burning Crusade.”
Read more about World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!



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