As a rule, we at WoW Insider try to avoid posting about outright exploits until Blizzard has fixed them. Despite what it may sometime seem, we really don't enjoy making GMs' jobs harder! They're good people and don't deserve that. I only write about the locations I do in the Archivist because Blizzard has eliminated the most commonly known methods of finding and entering them. Most players already know they exist but not their significance or how to actually get there -- and in some cases, the content has been shelved indefinitely by the developers.
There is one notable event for which we broke our unspoken rule of not reporting on exploits because it was just so damn bizarre: the Death Grip to end all Death Grips. Once upon a time, if a death knight stood on the ship from Booty Bay to Ratchet and Death Gripped someone, the Death Grip target would be hurtled clear across the world. He would land on a ship beneath the world, somewhere under Arathi, Alterac, or Hillsbrad. It was actually difficult to figure that out, because while you were hurtling beneath the world from one end of the continent to the other, your map would periodically stop functioning (likely because hurtling under the world at blinding speeds wasn't supposed to happen).
What the heck was that ship there for? Well, let me explain something to you: Transports such as ships and zeppelins in WoW operate entirely through black magic. If you thought it was just a moving platform that takes you across a glorified instance portal, you are dead wrong. Back when the game launched, all of the secrets laid out in this article and so many more were found by people you could describe as professional game explorers. They made it their duty to find every hidden scrap of data and decipher all of the little coding tricks Blizzard used to make things function. Boats foiled them. Transports in Warcraft are complicated beasts, and that is almost certainly the reason we were given Captain Placeholder for a time. Blizzard needed to take a step back and figure out how the hell its own boats were supposed to work.
The ghost ship beneath the Arathi-Hillsbrad region is believed to serve an interesting purpose: The coordinates of your character, when standing on the boat between Booty Bay and Ratchet, is not where you actually see your character. Your character is assigned the coordinates of that ghost ship. When you cross over the loading screen from Booty Bay to Ratchet, your coordinates are compared to what they are on the ghost ship beneath the world. When you load in on the other side, those coordinates are how the game determines where you should be standing.
For example, when standing on a crate on the ship, you are not actually recorded as on that ship. You're recorded as standing on a crate on the ghost ship. When the transport flips past the loading screen, the game checks your position on the ghost ship and goes, "Oh, the character should be on the crate, so that's where we'll put them."
Death Grip does not actually send you through the air for X number of yards. That might be what you see graphically, but what the game is actually doing is relocating your character from one set of coordinates, where you were standing, to another set of coordinates directly in front of the person who used the spell on you. When the death knight stood on the Booty Bay boat, the corresponding coordinates were not where you saw the death knight standing at all. It was a location halfway around the world on a ghost ship beneath the earth. This very small oversight, allowing Death Grip to work on transports, revealed to players the shortcut Blizzard used to overcome a coding difficulty in its game engine.
The above are just a few examples of Blizzard using the Z-axis to hide content. To wrap up this article, I'd like to finish things off with a little baseless speculation.
Once upon a time during The Burning Crusade, Exodar was under heavy attack on my home server. Being the rambunctious lad that I was, I ported over there right away to join in on the fray, defending my new draenei friends from Horde aggression. But it wasn't just the Horde attacking Exodar. There were Scryer Arcane Freaking Guardians there from Shattrath City. Why? How!? Naturally, everybody on the Alliance faction was screaming hacks. How rude, bringing mobs from a completely different continent to aid your ganking. To add insult to injury, yes, the Arcane Guardians still cast Banished from Shattrath on you, teleporting you back to Shattrath City with a -20% to all stats Exile debuff.
Months later, Blizzard released patch 2.4: Quel'Danas and the Sunwell Plateau. While dinking around in Zangarmarsh one day (Zangarmarsh being my favorite zone; I spent a lot of time there doing nothing), I noticed my combat log was scrolling very quickly with absolutely nothing happening around me. It was combat data from players slaughtering Wretched mobs from the Isle of Quel'Danas. I wasn't even in that zone! How could that possibly be in my combat log? Unless the fighting was, in fact, in range of me.
The only way that would be possible is if Quel'Danas was beneath Zangarmarsh. The possibility remains that I'm extremely wrong, but things started to fall into place. If Zangarmarsh was within range of picking up combat data from Quel'Danas, then maybe Quel'Danas was actually beneath it. If that were true, could the other non-instanced regions from the expansion be hidden in the same way? For example, Exodar. The guards from Shattrath hadn't been pulled across a continent. There is no loading screen between Shattrath and Azuremyst. The guards aggroed on someone who portaled down to Exodar. The distance between the two locations wasn't enough to cause the guards to drop aggro. They just followed the player down.
Nowadays, we know that the regions that hold the Exodar and Silvermoon City share server architecture with Outland. What we don't know, as players, is precisely how that's arranged. However, we also know that Blizzard still won't allow flight in those zones even after the launch of Cataclysm and that it would be tremendous work to simply relocate them to another continent. The potential reason is that if you could fly on Azuremyst Isle and Blizzard allowed anything resembling respectable vertical elevation, you wouldn't find yourself flying in the skybox. You would find yourself piercing it and ending up in the great Shattrath City in the sky.
Now the question is: Did Blizzard stop using the Z-axis as a way to hide content after The Burning Crusade, or did it just get better at it? What's actually under your feet while you walk around Azeroth?
As my real, final, honest-to-goodness closing note, many of you took my hint last week as a teaser for an Archivist regarding the Crypts of Karazhan. I've already done that one, you ninnies. I used an image of the smilie face beneath Karazhan only because it's another Easter Egg hidden underground. Surely players aren't supposed to see a big grin painted in the textures of the world -- but that doesn't mean we haven't.
The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss the lost legendary, the opening of Ahn'Qiraj, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.