The midnight release came and went – at least, I went. For all I know, people are still standing in line and the development team is still signing collector’s editions. I left it at 3 a.m. and, from what I could tell, only half the people who wanted signed copies had gotten John Hancocks.
The night was pretty eventful for standing in line at Fry’s Electronics. It included an interview with Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s executive vice president of game design; meeting some truly dedicated fans; and getting my “Wrath of the Lich King” copy professionally marked up.
The most die-hard of the hard-core players were a trio of roommates. I talked to John Fitch, Edna Ruiz and Matthew Johnson around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at their place in the front of the line, where they told some of the curious passers-by they were waiting for “Hello Kitty Online.” (A reference to the “South Park” episode “Make Love, not Warcraft.”) The group had arrived at 9 a.m. That is, 9 a.m. on Tuesday. They’d been there for more than 24 hours when we talked, and probably spent more than 40 there in total. This wasn’t the trio’s first time to a midnight launch – they each already had signed collector’s editions of the original game and the first expansion, “The Burning Crusade.”
But they weren’t the only ones who had slept in the parking lot; five tents were set up along the storefront.
“Everyone’s been really friendly, we’ve all been holding each other’s spaces,” Fitch said. This included a supply run to the hardware store for some plywood and paint to create a pink “Hello Kitty” sign. Players sat in lawn chairs, swathed in blankets and playing dice games further down the line.
A few groups down, another bunch of campers – young men – complained of the lack of amenities. By the time I’d gotten there, a row of portable toilets had been set up and cordoned off with yellow tape, but Tuesday night, there weren’t any. Later, standing in the checkout line, I heard an employee say that Fry’s had been prepared for campers starting on Sunday. I guess campers weren’t expected to, eh, evacuate.
“I went on that tree,” one of the men said, gesturing off into the distance.
Around this time, a little after 5 p.m., the line had stretched around the front of the building, all along the east wall and around to the back – almost half the structure. Later in the night, it would stretch all the way to the alley on the west side, then down to the south fence separating Fry’s parking lot from the road; the total was easily more than a thousand people. (I was one of the last ones to get a wristband; my number was 1134.)
KROQ sent out a van and handed out kitsch, while Hot Dog on a Stick served hot dogs. You know, the kind that come on a stick. Oh, and stick-free lemonade.
After evening set in, around 9:30, I went around and talked to a few more people in line. It had really ballooned between 5 and 6 p.m., when everyone got off work. As I was talking to Johnny Mikeo and his friend Nicole Peterson (real-life friends on different servers – a marked change from the groups of same-server friends who had come as a group), another player named Joe Lupis introduced himself.
“I slept all day to get ready” for the line, he said with a laugh. Two others came up behind him – friends, he explained, that were staying over at his house. The living room was to be off-limits to non-gamers, and the group would be playing for the next day or two. A little further down,
someone had hooked a projector up to a truck and was playing a version of “Iron Man.”
Since the death knight will probably be the first major piece of design that players will run into in “Wrath,” we started there. The class concept grew out of the Northrend setting, Pardo said – essentially, it was nailed down fairly early that they’d be doing Arthas’ class. (Even earlier, they knew they wanted to do a class – Blizzard had added two new races in “The Burning Crusade,” and the designers wanted to tackle something new.) What they didn’t know was what form the death knight would take. Older fans may recall that the knights were far more magic based in “Wacraft II,” raising zombies from fallen warriors and unleashing their powerful death-and-decay spell to poison swaths of terrain.
However, that necromancer theme was defeated in favor or a plated tank or damage class, Pardo said. There was more room for another tank-style class, and there’s certainly more room for plate wearers (only paladins and warriors wear that class of armor now).
The class’s unique rune system was the jumping-off point to make death knights feel different, Pardo said. That goal of clearly delineating each class’ play experience was one of the defining ideas the game’s held since launch, and the death knights certainly nail it. For those who haven’t had a chance to play one yet, the knights have three sets of runes; runes replenish after certain moves, while other moves cost certain amounts of a given rune. Pardo said the idea came from an early hunter system that was eventually discarded because it was too messy; we’ll see if the consensus is that they’ve nailed it this go around.
While we probably could have talked at length about the difficulty in implementing a totally new resource system, especially one so markedly different from rage, energy and mana, Pardo touched on one of the biggest hurdles: showing the runes in the user interface. Because they’re fairly complicated compared to bars, there was a struggle to create something that was both readable at a glance and subtle enough to not dominate the screen, he said. The current version was the result of several iterations.
The class’s trees are also arranged differently; while most classes have clearly defined roles in a tree – a pvp spec, a healing spec, a damage spec, a tanking spec, what have you – the death knights’ are much more fluid. Knowing that a knight is specced frost, for example, won’t necessarily tell you if the knight is a tank or a damage dealer. I like this set up a lot, and wondered if this was the direction that Blizzard was going to take the other classes. Pardo said that they’re definitely looking at it more, but he wasn’t sure how possible it would be to revamp the other classes in that manner.
Speaking of possible class changes, the specter of the recent shadow priest and retribution paladin changes still looms large. Was Blizzard planning on any significant tweaks in the near future, or was it going to step back and let players spend some time at 80 before making further changes?
There’s always a laundry list of changes class developers would like to make, Pardo said, but they’d like to step back a bit and see how things shake out.
Of course, change and MMOs go hand in hand. Part of that is playing into players’ natural desire to see change in an MMO, he said, where class evolution and change is expected – where new spells and abilities enter the picture, rather than just old abilities getting more powerful with further additions. And with massive changes that shake things up, like those we saw in 3.0.2, there will be ripples of smaller changes that follow.
We didn’t get much more in before the signings began in earnest, with Pardo being swept away by other Blizzard employees.
Around 11:30 p.m., I got into line to grab my own collector’s edition; I’d heard an employee guess that the store would be empty by 1 a.m.
“Great,” I thought, “that will leave me enough time to post to the blog and get an hour or so in at Northrend.” Of course, that didn’t happen. I was lucky enough to end up in line with a talkative and friendly family, so the time passed quickly enough; I just wished I’d remembered to wear walking shoes. With sore feet, I ended up greeting Blizzard artists, developers, designers, programmers, animators and goodness-knows-who-else, most busily answering questions as they signed boxes, posters and art books. I really can’t complain, though – I got out at 3 a.m. after a relaxing day off; many of them had worked a shift before going to Fry’s, and many more were going in for a half day today. I’m surprised I wasn’t greeted with dour faces – most were chipper and upbeat.
So, the midnight release was, all in all, great. The fans were friendly and welcoming; the Blizzard employees were wonderful; and I got a great memento. If you’re a fan of the company, I’d strongly recommend hitting up the next developer’s big release.