Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Brief History of Phasing

Hey all, I'm back and better than ever! Oh, and welcome to all of you that found this site through, it's good to have you here. A few bits of info before I get to the meat of the post:
First, this is now my dedicated WoW blog. Tangential postings will be limited.
Second, I think I'm going to keep to a posting schedule (gasp!) that will prompt further ramblings and helpful advice. So, you can check back here on Sundays and Wednesdays for posts which may intrigue the mind and inform the unknowing.
Third, my guild (finally) downed Arthas on Saturday! I must say, it's one of the coolest fights in all of Wrath, and it was triply awesome in that it was one of the last things on my checklist to do before Cataclysm! Anyways, on with the post.

Ah, Phasing. One of Wrath's biggest selling points - letting the world evolve in accordance to your actions, demand and create new challenges, and build an interactive story. One of the most hyped features by the fans, too - and yet, one that (in my opinion) fell all too short. Except perhaps on one account. But we'll get to that later.

What is phasing, anyway?

Phasing is, first and foremost, a shifting of your character from one 'phase' to another. Think of it as jumping sideways through time - something any quantum physicist can understand quite well. Essentially, you can see and interact with objects and players in your 'phase', and can't see or interact with things that are outside of it. It attempts to solve one of the greatest challenges in the making of any traditional MMO: player interaction with the world. By doing things, the world changes around you - if this were completely true, you would be left something like LOVE (not entirely feasible for a game like WoW) - but by using a structured approach it enhances player investment without an exorbitant amount of effort or re-designing things.

In the beginning...

In a couple of Blizzard podcasts, developers have noted that phasing began with a fun little quest implemented in patch 2.4 (Fury of the Sunwell/Isle of Quel'danas) called 'Intercepting the Mana Cells', which was the daily that initially opened up the portal to the Isle from Shattrath. The quest has you jump from one phase, where you can see mobs that have an item which lets you jump phases, to another, which has the objects in it but not the mobs. It was a neat idea, and made for an interesting daily (the first ten or twenty times). But 'phasing' as it is called began much earlier, with a quest I have written about by the name of 'You Are Rakh'likh, Demon', where, at one point in the chain, the questgiver (The Fallen Hero of the Horde) gins a new dialog option that allows you to summon a tauren who continues the chain. This early instance doesn't have the fancy triggers we know today, and relies on dialog trees to solve the issue of world-changing: clunky, but effective.

Dialog was lot the only way of escaping the staticness of WoW - another major way was using items as a trigger. Simple things like the Argent Dawn Commission 'phased' you into the loot phase where the argent dawn rep bits exist. It seems like a stretch, true - but when you extend this to look at things like the Spectral Essence of Caer Darrow, you can see half of phasing is present - you do a quest, getting an item thereby producing a trigger, and then can see new things and even access new vendors (a repair guy).

The phasing also existed in some more core ways: first, invisibility! It only shows you people that are invisible too, and effectively phases you 'out' of the rest of the world. Second, and most like the phasing we know today, is Death. When you die, you jump out of the 'Living' world of units and items and even abilities, into a 'Dead' world with units like the Kodo Spirits in Desolace or Gaeriyan in the Un'goro Linken quest chain. Whole quests had you jump between phases, including BRD's Shadowforge Key - this being the true birth of phasing. But there was only 1 of these 'true' phases, with dozens of half-phases, like the instanced Corrupted Ashbringer event. But the triggers for jumping phases were limited to these annoying events - instances, equipped items, death, and a painful dialog system.

Enter Wrath.

The Death Knight zone exemplifies Wrath phasing. It really is the shining point of Questing in general, but in this region it shines especially brightly. Units and items progress, it is true - but Blizz stepped it up a notch, providing phased units, items, speech, animations, events, skills, light masters, buildings, teleporters, events, ui (maps), group-events (like the Battle for the Undercity or the Fall of Zalazane), and much more. From being a cool on-death way of spicing up a fedex quest, to a new and interesting way of using consumables for Sunwell Dailies (or finding mobs in Shadowmoon Valley), it became a full-fledged zone development system.

And with Cataclysm introducing 'Terrain Phasing' - basically, not only units, structures and items changing, but the actual ground and foliage too - it only furthers the scope of possibility.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not 'phasing' as a core mechanic that really developed much at all in Wrath, but the successful use of new triggers and new things effected (yes, I mean effected). It is interesting and exciting to see what they can do with all this new technology in Cataclysm and beyond - and, I mean, the Emerald Dream is the obvious next step.

(And I promise to update this with shiny pictures soon.)

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