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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
A walk in the World of Warcraft
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website, Azeroth

Rutherford the Dwarf rogue, BBC
Rutherford: Nifty. Brutal. Short.
This was definitely the most exotic location I have ever done an interview.

I was standing high up in the snowy hills that lie to the south of the great dwarven city of Ironforge.

Occasionally gryphons and hippogriffs swept majestically overhead taking their riders to elsewhere in Azeroth or, as it is also known, the World of Warcraft (WoW).

At the edge of the computer screen chatter constantly scrolled past as other WoW players sought members forguilds, buyers for magical items, help with quests or engaged in idle banter.

Player power

With more than four million players World of Warcraft is the most popular online game or MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and after just a few hours of play it is easy to understand its draw.

It is the community aspect of the game that has made it so popular. Everywhere you go people say hello, are happy to team up to plunder a dungeon or cave or share hints about where to go.

There are also guilds to join, more formal groups of adventurers, that co-ordinate the abilities of their characters to take out the most powerful monsters and complete the most difficult quests.

My companion and I were taking a short break to enjoy the view after I'd mined some copper ore from a lode bearing lump that poked up through the snow.

Although he had the outward form of a paladin, a holy knight, in real life my companion was Paul Younger, one of the co-ordinators of the worldofwar.net website and my guide for the evening around this small section of the Warcraft world.

Concentrate on one character, dividing your time between several can be an exercise in frustration
Be busy and work on lots of quests, they'll introduce the world to you and get you exploring
Work the map, you get extra experience points for discovering new places
Buy better arms and armour when you can, it helps you stay in the fight longer
Work hard on your chosen professions, they will help generate quests and cash
Ensure your net connection is reliable, you don't want it falling over while you are in combat
Players of WoW take on the role of a standard-issue fantasy world character such as a warrior, thief, magician or priest. You choose to play that character class, subject to some restrictions, as one of eight races including humans, undead, orcs, trolls, dwarves and cow-like creatures called Tauren.

Having played fantasy-based computer games before I was expecting a lengthy character creation period once I'd installed WoW - all four gigabytes of it.

Instead all I had to do was choose a race, sex and class and then cycle through the choices for how my character should look.

There was no endless weighing of ability scores to get the best balance or struggling with equipment rosters to choose a good selection of starting kit.

Wow decides these for you and then leaves it up to you to make the most of what you get.

Open outcry

For my first foray I decided to play as a Dwarf rogue (thief) that I called Rutherford on the Turalyon server (or realm as WoW calls them). If you play on that realm feel free to say hi.

This done I was thrown into the Warcraft world and got on with turning my weak character into a rogue to be reckoned with.

Long-distance transport in Warcraft, Blizzard
Gryphons help people get around the Warcraft world
Which is where Paul Younger came in. Getting started is not difficult in WoW but the wealth of choices and possibilities can be overwhelming.

We agreed to play at the same time and, thanks to the globe-spanning chat system, arranged to meet up near the small town of Kharanos in Dun Morogh - the region where dwarf characters start off.

He suggested heading for Ironforge to find an expert that could help train Rutherford and start turning him from a straight thief into a mining/engineering expert.

Professions such as these are a way to round out the characters and give them something else to do, besides kill monsters, to gather experience and improve their abilities. They also let you create all kinds of artefacts and items that can be used or sold.

But it was when we entered The Commons in Ironforge that the game's allure was brought home to me.

Not only was the setting impressive, a cavernous hallway riven by trenches of molten metal, but it was bustling like a souk. Players were everywhere, chatting, trading or preparing to go out questing.

Screenshot from World of Warcraft, Blizzard
Some of the buildings in the Warcraft world are huge
People rode by on snow leopards, horses with flaming hooves or sabre-tooth tigers. Other ran past with devilish minions, voidwalkers and familiars in tow. For a while I just stood around and gawped like a tourist.

Duels were being fought and there was the constant scrolling chatter of all these people talking to each other or looking for help or buyers and sellers for their goods.

Character names float over their head in blue text in WoW and there were so many in The Commons that it looked like a thin layer of smoke.

It is the chatting, social side of it that is encouraged. Learning which keys control in-game chat is a vital skill for players to learn.

This had been brought home to me while adventuring as I got out of my depth in a cave system infested with troll whelps. Luckily I bumped into a priest (healer) and we teamed up to fight our way free. It was a small taste of the community and connections that the game fosters. But I'm sure it was nothing to what was going on in The Commons and, undoubtedly, elsewhere in the game.

Blizzard may have made the world of Warcraft but the players are the ones bringing it to life.

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