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Transcendent's Tomb

Submitted weekly. The tomb contains reviews, references, alternative concepts and polling to torture the truth from the minions of MMORPGs.

Author: Hhussk

Instancing and the MMO

Posted by Hhussk Tuesday June 3 2008 at 8:52AM
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Since watching the Age of Conan threads, I've been keen to the debates over instancing...whether they can make or break a MMORPG. There are clearly many opinions over the matter.

Fundamentally, instancing should be defined. There are two levels of instancing:

1) When a player or group moves into an area that is exclusively theirs to work in, this is a fully exclusive instance. This occurs in quests mostly. World of Warcraft, for example, uses this concept.

2) When a player moves into an area that is inclusive to some, but not all the other players, this is an inclusive instance. This occurs mostly as "zone" instancing. For example, City of Heroes/City of Villians is a game where, after a number of people are in a zone, a duplicate zone is created, hopefully with less lag, for the other players to use.

Instancing can also be permissive or forced. Basically, a permissive instance is one where you are allowed to choose the instance. For example, Guild Wars lets you choose your instance of a city. Forced instances basically remove that choice.

Here's the argument:

     Does instancing contribute to an outstanding MMO and are there ways to make it more immersive?

My opinion is that instancing contradicts immersion. Even when instancing is used on a limited basis, it removes you from others. You could be standing in the Fighter's Guild of "instance 1", waiting to duel, while your opponent is waiting at "instance 2". This gets even worse when you are trying to group or adventure with your friends. Imagine telling your buddies, "Gather at the ancient rock bearing Cthulu's likeness". Will they be able to meet you? Or do you need to tell them, "Gather at the ancient rock [at instance 2] bearing Cthulu's likeness."

Bear in mind that there is a reason to have instancing. It helps the server load. Too many people in one instance mean lag for all in the instance. This is the balancing issue and this is why I believe instancing is necessary.

So, how can instancing be used effectively?

     Use Roleplaying and in game techniques. It's the most immersive way to handle the game.

1) How would you handle an overfilled city?  I would have the guards shut the gates. If a player inquires as to why, the guards would respond that the officials are having problems with theives and "foreigners". In my game, I would allow the city a limited number of residents, called "citizens", which could travel into the city because of their status.

2) Wouldn't that method anger many of the players? Certainly. Until they found out that they could quest, bribe an official, try to get another citizen's status removed, have another person thrown out of the city, or they could simply move to another city, become a citizen, and slowly fill that place up. The goal is to create options that allow them to eventually acheive their goal. Most people never thought that entering a city could be an adventure...but yet, it can.

3) How would you handle overfilled zones? Lower spawning rates. In developmental terms, if you keep spawning rates high, then there is an obvious reason for lots of people to be there. However, if you drop the spawning rates, people will adventure to other areas. In terms of reality, if every hunter is out in the woods killing bears, the bears would become extinct. Eventually there would be no more left. And to be honest, if you're in an overfilled forest and there are no monsters to fight, you probably don't have to worry about the lag.

4) Wouldn't an upopulated zone ruin the overall gaming? It would if there was nothing else to do. However, it would end the grind. Spawn rates are the key and they would have to be lowered or raised based on the traffic. If you head to the plains to hunt some creature, and there is another hunter there clearing the area, you have choices...you either leave that hunter alone, hunting elsewhere....oppose that hunter and resolve the issue [an rp solution'....or work with that hunter and resolve the issue [another rp solution].

5) How would you handle quests? Much differently. In this aspect, I can see why instances are useful. I'm not entirely against instancing in quests. However, I might be tempted to treat a quest as a living entity. In other words, let's suggest that a graveyard starts off unpopulated. Down the timeline, some ghouls and zombies start appearing. Later on, one of the ghouls begins to take power. Later still, this ghoul transforms into a Lich and instructs his minions to build an undead city where he can increase his influence. In this example, the players can enter the scenario at any time...they don't just walk into a preset module. I can easily imagine low level fighters clearing the graves...but later on high level warriors leading a charge on the undead keep. What happens if left untouched for too long? The Lich orders an assault on the nearest city and players are attacked.

Overall, I'm just trying to attack the "immersiveness" problem that comes with instancing. Personally, I despise instancing. Yet, I understand why it is used. What I feel resolves both problems at the same time is using in-game roleplaying responses.

So, next time you're about to walk into a city...preparing for the "wait....load" screen, imagine seeing two guards barring your path, telling you that "they don't want your kind" around. And then imagine that you quickly draw steel at their insult. If you beat them, who will stand in your way....

InvisibleLf writes:

There is another reason for instancing, and it is the main reason we will be using it in our game.  You can create a complex dungeon experience without the problem of another player (not in your group) killing monsters, triggering events, killing the boss forcing you to wait for it to respawn, etc.  In my opinion, when used like this, it actually helps the immersion.  You can even explain why the instance is there to help with the role-playing (a magic spell perhaps).

Tue Jun 03 2008 9:07AM Report
Hhussk writes:

You know, I understand why you would do this (as I noted above), but I always wonder...Remember the "National Treasure" movies, when Ben Gates' team was racing against another team to capture the artifact? Isn't that part of the adventure?

In any event, I do understand what you are trying to preserve, and that's a noble reason. As I said before, I'm not entirely against quest instancing.

Tue Jun 03 2008 9:13AM Report
samuraislyr writes:

Comparing MMO's to a movie isn't a terrific idea. I know where you are going and it does make some sense. I can see how competition can be fun at times but more horrible at other times. If it's only two people competeting for one mob then that's not so bad. But to have 10, 20 even 30 people competeting for one mob is ridiculous and not great.

Besides all that competition has some bad health effects as well.... our hearts and mind are happy when things go good or are smooth. You start putting frustration and other such obstacles in our way and our brain and heart get very angry. This might seem like a silly reason but to have less frustrating encounters is probably a better thing health wise for us humans anyway.

Now to keep things less frustrating but challenging...now that's a difficult balance and I'm not sure how it will be obtained but hopefully someday it is found.

Tue Jun 03 2008 1:02PM Report
Mequellios writes:

I like instancing. It has never bothered me, and I can appreciate the better detail that is put into each zone because of it. In some cases, I prefer it.

As for instanced quests, that is a must-have for me. No matter what. I'm sorry but I don't want some idiot parading around ruining my experience.

Tue Jun 03 2008 1:05PM Report
Kwanu writes:

I don't like heavy instancing games like AoC but I do like instanced dungeons. I played EQ and if you were after a particular NPC in a dungeon you were lucky to get a chance to kill it due to overcamping so I much prefer a copy of the dungeon exclusively for your group. Other than that I'd so no to instancing. AoC takes the cake when it comes to intancing, you walk out of one door....zone...walk a few feet to another door...zone...speak to the npc and leave....zone...walk a few feet and....zone....damn annoying!! I have to say that WoW had it right in terms of level of instancing....EQ has too few and AoC far too many!

Tue Jun 03 2008 1:09PM Report
Hhussk writes:

Samuraislyr,

You have a good point: An MMO doesn't work on the same level as a movie. However, a quest can be built without instancing. The key is to limit access by knowledge.

For example, if the location of the quest is random and based on a map, then no one else will know to raid the area. However, what if some other group finds it before your team gets there? In this case, I can create this example:

A landslide opens up a cavemouth. Based on your skills in divinity, you ascertain the location of this strange, mysterious place. Quickly you gather a team to venture there. At the same time, a group of rangers manage to spot the cavemouth amidst the rubble. Of course, neither group loudly announces the cavemouth...that would just bring other raiders.

In any event, you have a good point, but the key element I'm referring to is the ability to make a location random, not hard coded, and allow anyone who finds it access to it.

After the cavemouth is raided completely, the cavemouth collapses into dust....

Tue Jun 03 2008 1:59PM Report
Hhussk writes:

Seems like the general concensus is that instancing is a tool that should be used sparingly. More specifically, to give characters access to quests without other characters ruining it.

 

Tue Jun 03 2008 2:05PM Report
Zoulz writes:

Some players get bored. Combine that with immaturity and you get a really annoying person, whom will do anything to bother you until your at your wits end.

This is why I like instances. In good groups you can even get a wift of team spirit going and good coop is rewarding.

Tue Jun 03 2008 2:58PM Report
Evilsam writes:

I agree with having quest dungeons instanced,with the lack of maturity  a lot of the newer people coming into mmo's,and some of the older ones too, it's about a must.

As for AoC and their use of instances,It's my understanding that it's to go to consoles as well. A console can't handle large amounts of people in one area,soooo..

Instancing it the outside world...sigh..why?.It's the reason I quit EQ2 had to zone three time just to cross one city,four if you weren't careful.

The tech advances yet games devolve..8-9 years ago we were getting games with large maps that didn't have loading zones and didn't have lag to speak of.Had collision detection too,that really worked.Now computers are more than twenty times more powerful,and we actually have less features..Go figure

Wed Jun 04 2008 3:56AM Report
craynlon writes:

well from my experience i like both, instancing and open world

my mmo experience so far on the topic:

lineage2:  open world 
no instanciation and ffa pvp. it creates a cool lifelike world where you just could run into any friend or enemy anywhere. 
pro: seamingless world feeling, good for community
con: very uncomplex quests (actually compared to conan/ddo u only grind or pvp all day)

Age of Conan:
Instanciation mixed with open fields
pro: absolute stunning graphics, good quests
con: hard to coordinate rpg events

D&D Online: heavily instanciated
pro: best quest-complexity i have seen
con: didnt get into community (maybe due to my little time)

 

sooo..

the difference between lineage 2 and ddo to the extremes is like going into a bar in lineage2 where you just walk in to talk and socialice while in ddo you go to a cinema to watch a movie with some friends.

imho warhammer will go the next step trying to show if content rich quest that have competitive goals can work

btw: imho for a true open world concept you also should get rid of different servers. it should be 1 world and the communtiy should not be split by choice of server. up to date i think only eve does something like that, all others make you shoose a server at startup.

Wed Jun 04 2008 6:33AM Report
Hhussk writes:

Here's what I'm gathering, so far:

Instancing Pros:

     -Allows the freedom to quest without being harassed or annoyed by other (Immature) players.

     -Takes the load off the servers.

 

Instancing Cons:

     -Removes the socializing aspects, which includes.

        * The ability to hunt down a player and kill him/her

        * The ability to immerse yourself in the game (RP)

        * The desire to be in a social environment where players cooperate

 

All in all, what I'm interpreting, is that a majority of people are against instancing, except in cases where they need access, such as quests.

Wed Jun 04 2008 8:44AM Report
Hhussk writes:

craynlon,

I actually played a game like that long ago. One world. Was actually pretty fun and everyone became pretty social. Every now and then a punk would come in, graverob, etc...and the community would pretty much come together and beat him/her senseless.

Only problem was that 700 or more people started to make the server crash...

Wed Jun 04 2008 8:47AM Report
samuraislyr writes:

HHussk-

Your response to my post sounds a lot like what A-net is going to try and do with Guild Wars 2. I was not thinking of it in that aspect. Now if more developers could do things like that where quests pop up randomly because of random events and the like, well that just sounds plain good. I'll wait till GW2 though and further MMO's.

Wed Jun 04 2008 8:50AM Report
Hhussk writes:

samuraislyr,

I think that the random aspect has some merit, but probably wouldn't solve all the problems. I'm currently working on an alternative solution that I'll blog about later next week.

Wed Jun 04 2008 9:00AM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I think players need to come to grips with what is reasonable. All too often I see demands for two things:

1) I want bleeding edge, realistic graphics! None of this cartoony, Crayola crayon crap!

2) I want seamless worlds, without instancing! I want to play with thousands of other people on-screen!

Well guess what? Those two desires are completely at odds with one another. I don't care how "uber" your rig is, that you know a guy who's uncle is in IT, or what you think modern technology *should* be able to do. There's a limit to how many polygons, particle effects and textures a computer can thrash about on your screen, maintain a consistent framerate, AND keep you in sync with other players.

Wed Jun 04 2008 11:04AM Report
Hhussk writes:

hanshotfirst,

Actually, I think there's a synergy that will work between the concepts of not needing to instance and having the technology to avoid it. I point to that in the original blog post.

Secondly, you point to graphics. I personally do not need realistic edge graphics, and would gladly (and easily) migrate to a game that has better mechanics and content over graphics.

Wed Jun 04 2008 11:22AM Report
Hhussk writes:

Added Comment:

Graphics is certainly an important consideration when considering the addition of instances, however, in this discussion, I was more concerned with how  multiple players affect server loads which affect lag.

Later on, in a couple weeks, I'll be writing a blog post about the importance of graphics.

Wed Jun 04 2008 11:26AM Report
Tatum writes:

I was open to the idea of more instancing at first.  However, after playing LOTRO...no thanks.  The major arguement for instancing is that it allows for big, scripted encounters and dungeons.  But, I have to say, who cares?  Thats what single player games are for, and they do a MUCH better job than MMOs. 

Hhussk, I like youre idea for open quests.  I think that many of us are hoping to see something along these lines...eventually.  Because, as it stand now, questing in MMOs is pretty awful.  All of the kill tasks and scripted encounters where you just sort of follow along are a pretty lame excuse for "content".

Wed Jun 04 2008 1:34PM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

Just to play devil's advocate, I wanted to highlight this statement:

"My opinion is that instancing contradicts immersion."

Don't bland, simplistic graphics lacking in variety also contradict immersion?

I'm not talking exclusively about depth of field, motion blur, bloom and all the other fancy gee-whiz visual tricks developers are adding to games these days (although I'd say their primary function *is* to enhance immersion). I'm also talking about itemization and customization.

Let's take a look at Lineage II for example. It's an MMO that supports a tremendous number of players in a given area simultaneously. However, it also has very, very limited character aesthetics. There's only a handful of faces/hair styles to choose from. There's also very little diversity in armor styles and appearances.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing the artistic style of Lineage II (I think it's fantastic). But it's no accident that by and large everyone looks the same.

On the other hand, there's Star Wars: Galaxies. Aside from the days of composite armor clones (vets of the game know what I'm talking about ;) ), it attempted to offer a huge amount of visual diversity. Yet what happened when 200+ players gathered in one spot? Dropped framerates, dropped connections, rubber-banding, and crashed servers. Heck, this was such a well known issue, it was on more than one occasion used as a method of protest and player activism.

Sure technology, desktop computers and bandwidth have improved dramatically since then... but not *that* dramatically. Performance is still a BIG issue. Furthermore, players expect more than the 2D, isometric graphics that were more than adequate during Diablo and Ultima Online's heyday.

I guess my overall point remains, either way, you're going to have to accept compromise somewhere.

Wed Jun 04 2008 11:46PM Report
craynlon writes:

@hanshotfirst

as a fellow lineageII player, would you agree with me that in a complete open world complex quests like in ddo instances or even aoc wont really work cause ppl would be busy messing things up ?


ah and if you think about it even l2 has some mini kind of instanciation (or rather quest protection) if you look at the way they handle access to antharas, baium... it seems they clearly dont want the enemies rush in and kill you while you fought the raidbosses 3h of your time.

the best suggestion i heared so far (i posted something similar earlier) is to have heavy randomness in an open world. if only have access to the map that marks the treasurecove or only you know the location where the princess is to be rescued it would give you a fair headstart to do your quest without other people  messing it up. but for that i think the gameworld needs to be at least 20 times bigger then current worlds where you cant move for 5minutes without meeting another player.

Thu Jun 05 2008 1:33AM Report
Hhussk writes:

@hanshotfirst

Very good point. I have to give you your due on that one. And immersion is the crux of the game for me.

Good graphics can be a part of immersion, but I have to share a past experience. I played a game...a MUD...you know, all text and no graphics...which was "extremely" immersive. The players drove the game...not just the economy, but the plots.

For example, in this game, an NPC played by a GM, a prince, returned to claim his throne. Many of the players believed his claim was a lie and that he was a hoax. Many GM events ran over the next year, some Players were executed, some where banned from the continent....all this happened in a "text" world.

It was extremely immersive because players took sides and you never truly knew who stood for what except during the "action" parts of the event.

I played a mage who took/obeserved both sides. I was literally a spy and information broker. Was the most fun I had. Every move I made could reveal what I was doing and have me killed, or worse, shunned.

FYI, the people who were executed were able to be resurrected at laters times in this game.

My point? Immersion is very important...graphics can contribute, great graphics can contribute more. Ultimately, I think immersion takes place in the mind.

Thu Jun 05 2008 7:15AM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

I'm sure a good MUD can be more immersive than even the best MMO, just as a good book can be much more immersive than a Hollywood blockbuster movie. By the same token, nothing beats a sit-down, pen 'n paper RPG with good friends and a live Dungeon Master. Unfortunately, there are practical limitations on how well a visually-oriented, massively-multiplayer online game can emulate that experience.

You just have to accept the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. Furthermore, you have to appreciate the interest of your audience. For better or worse, some people would much rather watch a movie than read a book.

Thu Jun 05 2008 2:42PM Report
Hhussk writes:

That's true. The more the adventure takes place in your mind, the more immersive it becomes.

Fri Jun 06 2008 8:12AM Report

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