Strong opinions, weakly held

Bugs and hacks

I always wonder what goes on behind the scenes on the World of Warcraft team at Blizzard. Aside from being impressed by the scope and quality of the game, I wonder how difficult it must be to build this (very) fat client that has to be kept in sync on the OS X and Windows platforms, integrate new content, and keep all of the game’s internal systems in balance so that users enjoy themselves. Then there’s the challenge of maintaining the infrastructure needed to support over 10 million active accounts.

So I relish any little glimpse behind the curtain we can get. This weekend, players found a really interesting bug in the game. Death Knights, a new class in the game, have an ability called “Death Grip”. It allows the player to pull an enemy toward them through the air. (Here’s a short video.) So here’s the bug: if a Death Knight uses Death Grip while standing on a particular ship, the target is pulled through the world (the flight lasts about 8 minutes, apparently) to a hidden ship in the middle of empty space far away. There are several videos of this in the blog post I linked to above.

As long as MMOs have been around, there have been ships to take users from one place to another. You go to a dock, wait for a ship, climb aboard, and wind up somewhere that would otherwise take you forever to get to by running (or swimming). Here’s the thing — ships have been buggy in every game they’ve been implemented in. For some reason, the folks at Blizzard had to create this hidden ship somewhere to get around some bug they obviously couldn’t fix in any other way, and now this Death Grip bug has in some way exposed the inner workings of the game.

I doubt there’s any advantage to players in finding it nor will there be any way to get to it once this bug is fixed, but I would still love to hear the inside story of how that ship got there in the first place. It reminds me of some ships I’ve built in the past to get around what at first looked like relatively straightforward problems.


  1. I’m told that boat is at coordinates 0,0. It seems as though boarding one of these boats puts you either in an alternate coordinate system or allows you to occupy an otherwise invalid coordinate system. So when Death Grip tries to drag a target to the caster’s location, the resulting coordinates are invalid and you get sent to 0,0 instead.

    That would be my guess, at least.

  2. In World of Warcraft’s coordinate system, though, isn’t 0, 0 the northwest corner of the map?

  3. Hmm, (riffing from my GPS/GIS background) if Blizzard has implemented an internally consistent coordinate/projection ‘system’ for it’s world and you were then dropped into a space with an undefined coordinate system, you would functionally seem to ‘disappear.’

    At least that is what can happen as you mix various data in a real world GIS. This undefined 0,0 coordinated pair has a kind of limbo in reference to the defined world until it is re-imported back into the world recalling some set of stored destination coordinates. From my (admittedly, very) uninformed conjecture this work around would greatly reduce latency for transiting from point to point.

    You would just disappear and then reappear. At least that’s how it seems to me. I’ve been wrong before.

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