Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Downtime: A Gameplay Element

A few days ago, having read that Blizzard was forcing a private vanilla server to shut down, I decided for the very first time to join one - another one of course. I started playing an undead mage at To my surprise, the setup was trivially easy. runs the vanilla WoW version just before TBC came out. Consequently, it represents the very edge of classic WoW. For example, the mobs in the starting zone at this time already hit for 1 HP and were yellow (wouldn’t attack unless attacked first). Still, this is a different game than today’s WoW. The aspect that hit me first was: Downtime.

Remember: In classic, mana only started to regenerate 5 seconds after the last spell was cast - and this regeneration wasn’t especially fast, too. Consequently you had to sit down and drink to regain mana. Also to regenerate health, the classes that couldn’t heal themselves had to sit down and eat!

The consequence is that after every second or third fight against a single enemy my mage sits down and drinks. After every fight against two enemies he sit down. Fortunately, mages can summon their own water.

It is easy to say that downtime is terrible game design. You could claim that it is not engaging. You could claim that the healer rotation when fighting Onyxia, where some healers stopped healing to enter the mana regeneration state (5 seconds rule) was ridiculous.

But I disagree.

Downtime doesn’t equal downtime. From a game design point of view you need to look at the mind of the player, not his fingers! A game is a series of interesting thoughts and as long as the player’s mind is busy, it doesn’t matter that his fingers are still. The inverse is also true: It is perfectly possible to create a game where the player has to do something all the time, without his mind being busy. I’ve seen this with modern WoW a lot. Leveling is extremely fast, most mobs die instantly after contact with you. Consequently, your fingers are never still – but your mind is.

Classic WoW is the opposite: Yes, I sit down and drink. But my mind is busy! While my character drinks, I
  • try to figure out where my quest objective is. By reading the quest – it’s not marked on the map!
  • I try to figure out how to approach the next few enemies – whom shall I sheep first? Does it make sense to first fire a frostbolt to slow the mobs and then use a fireball for more dps? Is my mana good enough already to take on the next enemy? Should I wait until it is full?
  • Do I need to summon more water?
  • Should I follow the road or try a shortcut? Do I see enemies there? Would it really be faster if I aggroed one of them?
  • What is the best sequence of doing my quests? – When should I teleport home (possible once per hour).
  • How much experience is needed for my next level? What abilities will I get? How do I optimize the route through various quests, quest-givers and my trainer?
  • Will that mob over there come too close and attack me? Should I get up now to avoid him? Where do I move?
  • Are those two mobs too close and will they alert each other when I attack them?
  • Did I specc correctly? Where am I going to spend the next talent point?
  • Does the player over there need help?
  • Is going to the next dungeon entrance and waiting there / asking in chat for group members worth the time or should I rather continue leveling? Will the next dungeon need quests, which ones? Should I get those quests now or trust in people being able to share them later?
  • Should I loot that node of duranium? Should I try to stay close to the hills, because there’s more nodes there, usually?
  • ...
To have these thoughts you need time. Due to the general pace of the game you have it! Even collecting simple quest elements takes 3 seconds. The game manages to keep my mind busy without using adrenaline all the time.

Sure, there are intense moments; for example, when I decide to slow the first mob with a frostbolt, sheep the second and burst down the third. There is the occasional green item that I might either sell to make serious gold or equip myself. There might be a red player rushing by - but those intense moments alternate with moments of recreation and tranquility.

Overall: I am enjoying my time with WoW classic. In contrast to current WoW, it doesn’t rely on adrenaline and action alone to keep my mind busy. I like that. And I hope Blizzard will eventually understand the difference between down time and down time.


  1. Downtime is important to make you think about how you kill the enemy and not just burst it down with the highest DPS rotation.

    Yes, I can eat some bread as warlock but I have to buy it and it costs about as much as the last 3 quests rewarded... or I just use drain life on the next mob which will take longer to kill but replenishes my life for free.

  2. vanillagaming has a choice of XP.
    I strongly suggest you try out Kronos if really interested in vanilla. There really is no other option right now since Crestfall comes out way later (maybe autumn, they don't even have a website yet besides the youtube channel since they are striving to find a out-of-reach country/host).

    For TBC just tomorrow playTBC launches but i have a feeling the devs are so immature that all hell will break loose. Lets hope it all goes well, or we will need to wait for the german devs to save us or has done exceptional work as well.

    Wotlk i suggest Loraeron ( and Dalaran-WoW (

    I really hope blizzard comes to sences and licenses old content to private devs just as Sony did with p99, i kinda feel if they implement it with changes we would be doomed once more.

  3. Since you reference healing i have to say that in vanilla due to addons having access to CastSpellByName lua function most healers used either smartheal addon or quickheal addon (especially the second one auto selects lowest hp target AND auto downranks, while the first just auto-downranks). You will find enormous collection of vanilla addons currently in development in Nostalrius forums

    I strongly suggest you try out questie and the redisigned bagnon from

    Some people have also backported Altasloot Enhanced from tbc version and can be found in

    1. Thanks for the links. I'm sure not to use them, though :)

  4. Welcome Back Nil!! Hope you write more frequently :) and btw, great article. I am a Nostalrius refuge right now and most probably I am going to PlayTBC server cause of pve server option.. Though I would prefer vanilla, I cannot stand the pvp server...

    1. Hi Giannis, I'm not sure whether I am back. :)

      But as soon as I have another thought in my head, that I think is worth sharing, I might just write it down.

    2. Do that. We'll be waiting.