The Crypts of Karazhan

As a fan of Lore and writing in World of Warcraft, I have read many of the novels and extra material written on the game. One such novel is The Last Guardian, which covers the story of Medivh and his tower, Karazhan.

In the Burning Crusade Karazhan (more commonly shortened to Kara) was added as a 10 man raid instance. It was essentially the starting point for fresh 70s wanting to get geared and get to raiding. By the time I hit Kara it was already on farm by my guild. I loved Kara. Even after 5 months worth of running Kara every single week, I *still* love Kara. It was exceptionally well designed, with beautiful attention to detail. Not to mention all of the bosses and NPCs were heavily tied to the story of Kara. Knowing Moroes from the book, then fighting him in the instance was beyond cool for me.

The only minor point I objected to was the fact that the in-game Kara had no “mirror”. In the book, the character Khadgar discovers that Medivh is actually possessed by Saragas (the biggest bad in the Warcraft Universe), and below Kara there is a mirrored version of the tall eerie tower. They must battle to the depths of this mirrored version to trap and defeat Medivh.

Then one day, browsing the main WoW forums I stumbled on a fascinating thread: The Hidden Places of WoW. It detailed out of bounds areas that a player could go and visit. These were mostly unfinished areas that had interesting areas around them like the Greymane Wall. Here I found mention of a place called the Crypts of Kara. Apparently behind Kara there is a graveyard called Morgan’s Plot, and a crypt that had a doorway, with rooms beyond it, but the door wouldn’t open. The poster explained that you could get beyond and explore the area, by using a simple trick.

By entering a duel with another player you could be feared through the invisible barrier. Once inside you can explore as you wish. I watched several videos and decided I had to go visit. So I gathered up some guidies and away we went.

The very first thing we noticed was the atmosphere, seemingly without much effort put into making it detailed. I am not sure if it was the lack of mobs, the lack of sound effects, the minor use of dark Duskwood music in one back corner, or simply the knowledge we didn’t belong there, but this area felt far more eerie and disturbing than anything else in WoW, including areas like Scholomance and Stratholm.

The first area is called The Well of the Forgotten.  I immediately noted that the name was printed in yellowy orange text. As opposed to the standard white. This room contained a well, without a barrier preventing someone from falling down it. One of my guildies immediately jumped down. The rest of us turned and investigated the next area The Pauper’s Walk.

This looked like something out of the Paris Catacombs. Niches in walls filled with bones, dirt floors, and low ceilings. It opened into a larger area, that looked like it could be a space for mausoleums and other crypts. Our guildie was messaging us about the huge pile of bones. I returned to the well, and leapt down. Despite falling what felt like a character killing distance, I landed, barely alive, on a huge pile of bones. This area was named The Pit of Criminals. Well, at least now we knew what the Well of the Forgotten was used for. The Pit contained pools of water, and huge piles of decaying bodies and putrefied remains.

We continued to explore, finding the Tome of the Unrepentant. (Perhaps it was supposed to be Tomb?) This is the first point where I really began to feel that this area was rough pass, unfinished work. This design had been abandoned before it could even be truly blocked out.

Then came perhaps the creepiest thing I have ever seen in WoW. The Upsidedown Sinners. The flooded room was filled with dark green water. Chains crossed the deep room. From these chains hang hooks, slightly animating, moving back and forth implying a slight ebb and flow to the water. There were also bodies. Dozens of them, suspended upside down. Some by their feet, with weights on their body pulling them downward, some by their hands, their arms distended with the pressure.

My guildies asked for my water breathing spell, so we could spend more time, floating about and taking pictures. After a long stay in the deeply disturbing room, we returned to the surface and swam out, to the final area, the Slough of Dispair [sic]. This room was a deep earthen pit, that clearly was designed for the final boss fight. When a player moved into the pit, the view of the door and walls passed out of view. It truly made me feel like I had been pushed down into this great gaping mass grave, from which there would be no return.

We took our pictures, said good bye to the creepy area, and returned to Shattrath, and the rest of the world. Everything seemed so much brighter, friendlier, and safer than we remembered.

The Pertinent Question

[quote=”Henghe“]So Joyia, you’re a level designer. Is it common for game designers to spend tons of time creating sounds and layouts, and to put them in games, that they then don’t give people access to? :lol:[/quote]

Yes and No. Yes, it is EXCEPTIONALLY common to spend tons of time creating areas, polishing them, pouring your heart and soul into them, only to have them violently ripped from your hands and discarded due to time, money, or just poor fit with the game in general.

No, those abandoned levels usually do not make it into a game. They are deleted from the game files usually to save space or install time/footprint. Especially for WoW where 12 million people have to download it. Yeah its only 20 mg worth of area, but how much bandwidth is it for 12 million people to download?

After looking a several videos, working diligently to overcome my WoW geekery, and inspecting the video a bit more, I have hit on a few ideas of why this level might have not been completed, and why it might be in the game. All of the following however is sheer speculation on my part.

Theory 1: Shares Space with Other Areas

So first off Blizzard makes WoW with a modified WC3 engine. These proprietary engines usually do not have an in-engine ability to make geometry, meaning you have to have a program like Max or Maya to make all of the walls, items, trees, etc in the game. Then you import these models into the engine which is an open terrain area. (In fact their terrain stuff is very similar to what is used in Unreal, very cool.) So what this means for WoW is that most of the buildings and stuff like Kara are actually created by an artist sitting next to the designer. This likely means that all of the major geometry in Kara, stuff like floors, ceilings, walls, and columns are all one piece, or at least are exported together so as far as the game is concerned are one piece. So it is possible and plausible that the Crypts were intended to be a part of Kara, another wing. However they were cut due to time and polish and could not be removed as they might share geometry with other parts of Kara.

Game developers tend to have the thought that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. A single change can bring cascading bugs or problems. If they don’t have to remove something so the game fits on the disc, it is generally safer to leave it in.

Theory 2: The Depths of Depravity

Also as I stated before, these areas are much darker and have much darker names than normal WoW. It could just be that they decided it had gone too dark and they needed to reel it back in. It is also possible that this area was cut due to the dark tone and possible “teen” rating issue. Ratings are often based not only on the appearance of things, but also the frequency and detail. Though at times I think the rating theory doesn’t really wash, because all the human hanging models are used in other locations (like Scarlet Monastery) and they have done far worse things in Cata and Wrath. Perhaps it was merely the feeling at the time and since has changed.

Theory 3: Time and Scope

It is also possible as these areas have a very unfinished look about them that they were scrapped due to not having interesting enough bosses, not enough time, or possibly the quality of the area just wasn’t matching the rest of the dungeon. Kara was a Burning Crusade launch raid. It was the first expansion, and likely they over scoped. They got it to alpha stage, realized that they couldn’t finish all they started, and chose to pick something else instead of that (likely polish to Kara itself).

The design, while interesting, does not compare as far as quality to other WoW dungeons. With the exception of the Upsidedown Sinners room, of course, but even this room… why does it belong?

Theory 4: Lore

How does it fit? What is the lore behind this area and why is it tied to Medivh? I could see all of this much better under Stormwind’s Cathedral, which has an empty and accessible dungeon. (You can get a Scarlet Crusade quest there and in Cataclysm there is now a section of the Twilight Highlands feeder quests down there.) As it seems more likely for clerics and priests to place labels like unrepentant and sinners on something than Medivh.

On further reflection and re-reading the book, this location is not only completely wrong for Inverse Kara, but it is in the wrong location, has the wrong layout, and has the wrong entrance. The names and locations do not come close to meshing with the original idea. And even if they took liberal adjustments, this doesn’t even remotely resemble the layout of the in-game Kara, which it theoretically should.

We may never know the real reason this area was scrapped and closed off (though if I ever get an interview there, this is the FIRST thing I am asking them). It appeals to our sense of exploration, horror, and mischief. And for that, we love it, in all it’s unfinished glory.

(Note: This post was written in 3 parts over 3 years. It has been sitting in my drafts folder forever, and was only updated today and posted due to the WoW Insider post here.)

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