Monday, July 14, 2008

5 Things I Hate, Part 3: Jeffe Edition - Sterile Game Worlds

I'll keep this one short and simple, because I just got back from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and I'm friggin tired. I'm also a little inspired. Anyone who has seen it will speak of the awesomeness that is The Goblin Market...I wish I could find better pictures...if you skip to about 1:16 in the trailer here, you'll get a glimpse of it:

In many ways it felt like the first time I saw the Cantina scene in Star Wars (not going to link it, if you don't know what it is...well, there's nothing I can do for you)...or when China Mieville writes about Bellis Coldwine leaving New Crobuzon and ending up in Armada in The Scar (Mieville's world screaming for an MMO IMO, but that's a post for another day)...or when Richard Mayhew first gets dragged into London Below in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Here are little fragments of the world sitting underneath, over, or just beyond the big living breathing cityies. These worlds are all full of monsters and wilderness, but there's life...even some civilization...outside of the big cities as well as inside.

That's what the real world is like...outposts of civilization pockmarked around, above, and below wilderness and intrigue. A good game world should be the same way...big cities are good, but sometimes the best player interraction happens at the outposts. And no, 3 quest-givers standing on a dock don't count as an outpost. Anyone who has played it knows who my target is now: EQ2. I'd love to sit down and interview the original developers about the decision to have two main factional cities, and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of wasteland in between...with absolutely no life. It was the most sterile, inauthentic, immersion-breaking world ever. They were so proud of the city ecology too; the voice acting...the NPCs that moved around, helping make the city come alive...but once you left the walls of Qeynose or Freeport...nothing. Docks and questgivers. I guess they were trying to centralize the players a bit, but to me, it was a game-killing design decision. I hated that if I wanted to do anything other than kill monsters, I had to make my way back to Freeport (I was evil...go bad guys).

Here's the map of Antonica, with all the monster spawns and such:

That was a 20 minute trip on foot (you could take the bird and get to the next zone quicker); the sheer size of that one zone (or the Commonlands, if you were in Freeport) was staggering. But in that whole expanse, there wasn't one stopping point, one layover. No pubs. Nowhere to craft. No trainers. Nothing. Just fields and fields of nasties of varying levels. All the zones were like that.

I hate to admit it, but when I stopped playing EQ2 and moved over to WOW, that was one thing I loved about the world design in WOW...something that I think made the game very approachable to new players; every zone had at least one gathering spot where players could rest their feet and wipe the blood off of their swords. Those outposts were where we met up, swapped stories, started groups, emptied our bags, wrapped our heads around the lore of the game (though to this day I still remember absolutely nothing about the WOW lore...with the exception of the story of Gnomergan...which is totally awesome). It felt more like the world that I'm used to, and it made gameplay more fun.

Star Wars Galaxies went an extra step...each planet had a few cities or outposts (the more remote "adventure" planets had fewer), but then we were allowed to build our own outposts. Krib has written about sandboxes and city-building in almost all of his posts, and it certainly stuck with me fact...instanced player housing is probably going to be my next "5 things I hated".

So give us rest stops all along the way. Our journey is mighty. Our thirsts will need to be slaked. Repeatedly. Don't worry about spreading the player population out...if your game is good, it will be busy enough that you won't want everyone in Ironforge (or Theed) because of TEH DREADED L4G anyways. And give us a good reason to stop and rest. Takes some of the grind out of the grind.

First developer to put a massage station and a shoe-shine in an out of the way Tavern in a little town in the middle of the wilderness gets a round of expensive microbrewed ale from me. Irish Carbombs if sitting down and getting the massage gives you a short-duration buff of some sort, even if it's totally whimiscal. A bottle of Grey Goose if the shoe shine actually makes your shoes shiny. It's the little things folks. We do pay attention to them, in case you're wondering.


Mason said...

Good post boss. I can't wait to see how Mythic attacks this issue. From what I have read it will be the most immersive, thought out world yet. I really think if Sony could have captured the feel of freeport/qeynos throughout the game we would still be playing it.

Wk said...

I must admit that I did enjoy Briha and her afk buffs in Theed. On a serious note I really resonate with what you have written.

The idea of "online community" is why I played SWG for as long as I did. However, the playability of a game(which I found so readily available in WoW) is by far my number 1 concern.

I enjoy the "underworldlines" of places like the HB2 Goblin market (if it existed in MMO land), but I would enjoy being lag free in those centers a lil' more.

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