James Wallis levels with you

n00b World Reorder, part 1

The text that made up my Interesting 08 talk ‘Brave n00b World’ was part of a much longer document that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m not sure it’s ready for primetime—I’m not sure it’s ready for anything—but to catch the tide of interest in the video, here’s the first part of it. This one repeats a lot of the material in the talk but bear with me: it gets better, and there’s a lot of new stuff still to come.

* * *

I have spent the last few months on sabbatical, visiting a persistent fantasy world known as ‘Of Warcraft’. During this time I have made some preliminary observations about the nature of the world, which I am going to publish here in a series of short papers. It is my hope that this work may lead to further examination of this curious habitat, and the foundation of the academic field of Azerothian Studies, with a nice chair and honorarium for myself, &tc. &tc.


Part 1:
The Physical World of Warcraft

The world of Warcraft, called Azeroth by those of its inhabitants who care about such things, is supposedly one of a handful of small spatial bodies in an area of space referred to as the Great Dark. It is comprised of three main landmasses: Kalimdor; the so-far-unexplored Northrend; and the Eastern Kingdoms. This consists of two continents, Lordaeron and Azeroth, the latter of which is made up of two countries: Khaz Modan and Azeroth. This confusing situation is analogous to the continent of America, which consists of the regions of South America, Central America and North America, the latter of which contains the country usually called America. One might think this indicates that there may be other interesting parallels between Azeroth and Earth. One would be mistaken.

Even though it has an advanced civilization capable of creating flying machines and an astonishingly advanced postal service—of which more later—Azeroth has no local system of measurement. The idea of lengths or distances are alien to its inhabitants, which makes them annoyingly bad at giving directions. Occasionally ‘yards’ are mentioned but nobody can ever point at an item or a distance in the world and say that it is N yards long; and there is no way of knowing if this ‘yard’  is equivalent in any way to the terrestrial yard.

Despite all this, it is still possible to determine the size of the World of Warcraft with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The longest straight, flat line that an adult human can walk in Azeroth without being interrupted by obstacles, mobs or the Horde stretches from the eastern end of the north parapet of the bridge into Westfall, across Elwynn Forest to the southernmost of the Three Corners in Lakeshire. An adult human walking at a steady pace will cover this distance in 18 minutes and 15 seconds. Humans walk at an average speed of 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) per hour, and therefore this route is roughly 1.7 kms (1.05 miles) long.

Extrapolating this to the whole of the Eastern Kingdoms, and using the best maps available, the continent is 5.8 kms by 14.25 kms (3.6 x 8.85 miles) and Kalimdor is Kalimdor is 7.3 kms x 14.75 kms. Taken together, the two main continents have a combined area of approximately 113 square kilometres. In terrestrial terms that’s about the same size as the city of Newcastle, or the London Borough of Hillingdon.

And if we assume that the world-maps produced by Blizzard Entertainment show approximately the entire surface area of Azeroth then we can wrap it around an imaginary sphere and calculate the diameter of the hypothetical ‘planetoid’ of Azeroth at 12 kilometres.

To a subjective observer, gravity on Azeroth seems to be lower than on Earth. Once again it’s hard to given an exact measurement, but given the existence of giants (whose hipbones would shatter as soon as they took a step under terrestrial gravity), plus the fact that a typical adult human can make a standing jump approximately 90% of their height into the air, and most adult humanoids can not only survive a fall of over fifty metres but can land on their feet and walk away, it appears to be less than 1G. This is not quite as expected: though small celestial bodies typically have low gravity, for a planetoid of the size of Azeroth one would expect to see gravity of about 0.003 m/s or, in the vernacular, buggerall.

We can calculate Azeroth’s gravity to a reasonable degree of precision. As noted, scales of measurement are rare on Azeroth but a chart on page 66 of one of the only authoritative works of Azerothian Studies to date (World of Warcraft Game Manual; Hutchens, Catalan et al, 2005) shows the heights of various humanoid races against a series of regular lines, allowing exact comparisons. Assuming that an average human on Azeroth is the same height as an average human on Earth, then a typical female Tauren is almost exactly two metres tall. We can therefore use a female Tauren—let’s call her Rula—as a measuring-stick to calculate the height of buildings, towers, cliffs and other tall things that can be fallen off.

According to the Rula scale, a drop from a measured point on the flight tower in Thunder Bluff is 33.5 metres. According to tests conducted by myself and members of my research group, the guild <unassigned variable>, it takes a given body—Rula—an average of 2.5 seconds to fall that distance. An equivalent fall under 1G would take 2.61 seconds. We will blame the difference on the approximate nature of the measuring processes and cheap stopwatches, and assume that Azeroth’s gravity is the same as Earth’s.

This means, if Azeroth really is a spherical planetoid with a diameter of 12 kms, that the planet must have an average density of roughly 5850 grammes per cubic centimetre. That makes its average density more than 500 times greater than lead. (I am indebted to Dave Morris for his assistance with these calculations.)

The extreme density of Azeroth would explain why it is impossible to pick up many objects from the ground, including ones that you have just dropped. As soon as a discarded object hits the earth we theorize that it picks up a thin coating of superheavy dirt, making it impossible to lift. Living creatures avoid the effects of this dirt sticking to their extremities by having evolved frictionless pads on the soles of their feet. This observable phenomenon, endemic to Azeroth, is known to virtual-world scientists and animators as ‘foot slide’.

Rare soils that do not possess this extreme density (pieces of coal, elemental earth, Un’goro soil) are prized by the locals and can fetch high prices at the auction houses. In addition, pressure within the superheavy crust of the planetoid causes deposits of comparatively lighter elements like copper, tin, iron, gold and mithril to be extruded through fissures in the surface, where they form regenerating nodes that can be mined. It also explains why, though many locals are seen toiling at rock-faces with picks and shovels, they never seem to get anywhere, and why there are never any root vegetables for sale.

More interestingly, the existence of such a small, dense planet has implications for the relativistic flow of local spacetime. Einstein’s theory of general relativity states that time runs at different speeds under different gravitational strengths, and the Pound-Rebka experiment has proved that clocks at high altitudes run slightly faster than those at low altitudes. On a small body with a very high density these effects will be much more noticeable over comparatively short distances. We believe that these effects of time-dilation and compression can explain the well-known Azeroth temporal phenomenon of ‘lag’, although we are trying to form a theoretical model to show how zeppelins can cross an ocean in the time it takes to draw a line across a map.

However, all this assumes that Azeroth is a standard astronomical body, and it isn’t. Despite the existence of in-world globes depicting its surface as a sphere, and that anyone standing at the Black Temple in Outland can see a small round planet in the sky that appears to be Azeroth, the world of Warcraft is in fact flat. There is no visible curvature of the world, which is unusual given its small size. Stars do not move across the night sky, indicating that Azeroth is static in relation to the rest of its universe. What’s more, dawn happens simultaneously wherever the observer is in the world, and sunset works the same way. Ergo it’s flat, albeit populated by a number of misguided ’round-earthers’. Berks.

Conclusive proof on the matter comes from the research of the Canadian Dr T. Paypayaso (I’m assuming from the quality of his research that he has a PhD, plus frankly they’re easier to get hold of than parking tickets these days), who has demonstrated by swimming to its edge and jumping around like a prat that Azeroth is (a) flat, (b) finite and (c) rectangular.

I will examine the implications of this extraordinary discovery in my next post in this series. Meanwhile I need your essays, a thousand words on ‘How can Azeroth be said to have a food chain when nothing ever eats anything else?’ on my desk by Thursday.

(You can find part 2 of this essay here.)

Categorised as: game design | geophysics | mmorpg | world of warcraft


  1. Chung says:

    You sir, have no life whatsoever. While you’re playing as level 64 super mage or something in the Azkaban Highlands…. I’m having fun fishing or swimming or biking with my friends. You’re wasting your life, man.

  2. james says:

    Anyone wanna bitchslap this guy for me? I’m kinda busy.

  3. Danny says:

    Chung you sir have no life because you are taking your time to comment on how other people have no life, oh and don’t get back and be like “idiot you have no life” I know that… the difference people care about me, your friends are only your friends because you get them stuff

  4. Tom says:

    An interesting essay. I would take issue, however, with the statement that there is no measure of ‘yards’. We know for example, that a starfire spell has a range of 30 yards (or 36 with sufficient practice), whilst cyclone has a range of 20yds. This permits a more accurate measurement of distance to be made using the ‘duelling’ theodolite measure. While tedious, I would argue that this might prove more accurate than assumptions about average walking speed, which are subject to variations based on weather, fitness, as well as the very considerable problems of terrain.

    Sadly, the lack of an accurate compass element prevents true perfect mapping.

    For height measurement, however, had you considered using perspective issues? Knowing distance from yourself to Rula, the height of Rula, and the distance to an object, could you not calculate the height of the object by comparison?

  5. […] Wallice explains the physics of World of Warcraft, and how Blizzard nerfed […]

  6. prym says:

    Hi, I thought you might enjoy ‘fun with the minimap’

    I used a slightly different approach to measure distance in Azeroth. I was also able to measure velocity, and, interestingly enough the acceleration due to gravity. Also, using g and the view of Azeroth from Shadowmoon Valley in Outland I performed some elementary calculations of the size of Azeroth (R = 10.25 km) and its density (4.43×10^6 kg / m^3)

  7. james says:

    That’s fantastic. Since your methodology and results are almost completely different to mine, I think we’ve got the foundations of a really good, solid, long-lasting quasi-academic feud here. This can only be good for raising both our profiles in the long run. Do you want to kick things off by calling me a dolt, or should I?

  8. wangel says:

    I have a question than about the gravity.

    How can we swim in water, but in one part of the water (usually shaded dark blue on the map) we start to drown or get fatigued at an alarming rate?

    Wonder why

  9. Biliboy says:

    Heavy water, of course.

    Kidding asside, Azeroth would be a great place to site some nuclear reactors, with the buss bars linked to earth through a cunning series of magic portals into the US power grid. There is an abundant supply of radioactive material there, as evidenced by the alarming mutation rates among the native species in several locations.

    Security would be a problem, with the hostile wildlife, yet I’m certain some sort of arrangement could be worked out with itinerant ‘adventurers’ to deal with any difficulties, even those occuring on a daily basis.

  10. Vult says:

    This research is absurd. World in wow is just virtual projection of real Azerot. Read some books of rpg seting.
    I calculate what real Azerot is bigger about 32 times of his computer image.
    Sorry for my English…

  11. I have a opinion about source of gravity on Azeroth. Althrought mass of this world is not enough to create normal gravity, there can be some high-density object lower Azeroth surface (heh, impirsoned Old Gods :-) ). And one more. This calculation of size of Azeroth “planetoid” is based on size of existing “in-game” lands. But there is a lands. such a Pandaria, existing only in the world of Azeroth, no in “World of Warcraft”

  12. james says:

    Congratulations, Vult, you have won World of Warcraft. Your prize is a ticket to ‘real Azerot’. You should depart immediately through the nearest window.

  13. james says:

    And for those who have just arrived and want to continue the discussion, there’s now a not-entirely-serious Google Group called Azeroth Science, and you can see it here.

  14. Tom says:

    Since I’m having difficulty signing up on Google Group (dunno why- I’ll prod it again tomorrow), I thought I’d share a thought here. While true mapping (using bearing and distance or crossbearing) isn’t possible, due to the lack of a reliable compass, it _should_ be possible to use a variation to get distances very very accurately. You’re already in possession of a 40yard exact baseline (2 druids, each with healing touch, and talents to extend the range). Now introduce a third druid, equipped likewise. At the point where he can target _both_ of the others, he is at the apex of an equalateral 40 yard triangle. One of the other two can then move, to find the other trig point, thus giving a new baseline, also 40 yards long and root{40(2)-20(2)] ahead. (I make it about 35 yards). Repeat the process sufficient numbers of times, and you should be able to get a precise measure. In the event of natural surroundings being in the way (how dare they?!), additional trig points would permit the obstacles to be bypassed.

    Of course, all this is theory. I leave the practical application as an exercise for the reader ;)

  15. Gillygoat says:

    Have you really nothing better to do with your sad life?

  16. james says:

    Life advice from someone whose online ID is apparently ‘stinkypingu’. The irony, it hurts.

  17. […] L’article complet est excellent, si vous pratiquez l’anglois. La vidéo de la conférence associée l’est aussi, et elle est dans la suite. […]

  18. Brainsmasher says:

    I swam around Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, just to see what’s there :).

    Takes between 4 and 6 hours [depending on how long you spend ogling the weird stuff (not that much) that you find on your way].

  19. […] World Reorder, part 2 | COPE: James Wallis levels with you Continuing much-linked, fun faux-scientific World Of Warcraft […]

  20. […] better known as “of Warcraft”. Here we move on from geophysics to study the ecology. Part 1 and Part 2 of the series are still […]

  21. […] the world known as ‘of Warcraft’. This will probably be gibberish unless you have read part 1, part 2 and part 3 first.) The ecology of Azeroth, part […]

  22. Aurélie says:

    I always have been wondering how the same trousers (or gloves or shirts…) can suit as well a gnome as a tauren…

    On earth, we have developed revolutionary textiles like Lycra… Did Azerothians invent something similar for leather or metal? If well, we should hire their engineers (but, please, not their fashion designers).

  23. Green Gabbro says:

    Delicious Internet Noms…

    Links lately: The naming of Make-make, planetary science on the World of Warcraft, and more….

  24. Hunter says:

    Dude, your post is a-w-e-s-o-m-e! Thank you for your time and effort. I laughed and laughed. I think your scales are right and close enough to be significant.

    Email me if you post more to this, I can’t wait!


  25. […] very fine gentleman of high moral standing has concluded that Azeroth, the world in World of Warcraft, has an area of 113 square kilometers, or about the […]

  26. Lance says:

    Hate to break it to you but the in-game walking speed in Azeroth is 12mph, thus throwing your entire figure out the window.

  27. […] has figured out the rough size, shape, and density of Azeroth, i.e. the world in which World of Warcraft takes place, based on observable in-game […]

  28. Tyger says:

    Based on your work in this field, and for purposes to get a solid handle on distance in the world of Azaroth, I replicated your experiments in the now WotLK / Cata world. I recently made a video highlighting it all, including the science working out the speed / distances of the known world. And I like to show my math, or lack of skill in it, so that others can check my work and replicate it on their own.

    Just wanted to let you know that the science is FAR from over here. Thank you for the original spark of madness to get me thinking on this.

    • admin says:

      That’s fantastic stuff. Really enjoyed it. I quit WoW a few months before Cataclysm for reasons I really ought to blog about sometime (GIVE ME MY HAMMER OF SULFURAS FEAT OF STRENGTH BLIZZARD), so the existence of accurate and measurable ranges on abilities is really interesting. I wonder if it indicates that Blizzard itself regards WoW as entering its endgame, and are prepared to reveal more about what lies under the hood in the way of the world’s construction.

      But yes, I’m happy to abdicate my crown of Chief Scientist to you, and accept your figures as more accurate than my own.

      I agree that the Barrens is the natural place to test this stuff, and in fact my initial work was done there before I realised I needed to be using a human male as my test subject. The assumption that Azerothian humans walk at the same speed as terrestrial humans was always a fudge (I certainly walk a lot faster than 3.5 miles per hour, but then my build is more Tauren than human) but I had to start somewhere. Well, I didn’t *have* to, but you know what I’m saying. The fact that you found a way to gauge distances more accurately using mount-stride is very cool.

      Just a thought: if you’d got a number of friends to help out, ideally all high-level hunters, and they all stood in a straight line using the Line of Sight ability, you could accurately plot a stretch of several hundred yards onto a hi-res map of the world (cough Mapwow cough)… Perhaps we should reactivate the Google group?

      (Bonus points for using Blip. I’m a big booster of what they offer, and an old school friend is their senior software guy.)

  29. […] of geology… Or why rely on plate tectonics when you can have your world shaped by angry dragons? James Wallis calculated some of the physics of Azeroth. Aspects, such as the rate of fall, are similar to earth, but the […]

  30. […] 15km by 8km, which makes it about the same as the estimated size of the Kalimdor continent, as measured by somebody who attempted to apply some science to the […]

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