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Running in the Special Olympics

Discussion of the Evolving Nature of the MMO Industry from an Outsider's Perspective

Author: PhatWOP

Moving a Chair or "I can make fire from my fingertips, but I can't move a napkin"

Posted by PhatWOP Wednesday February 6 2008 at 9:03AM
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Welcome back,

Much has been made in the past few years (especially since the emergence and dominence of WoW) about the difference between a Rollercoaster game (the EQ Model) and a Sandbox game (the UO Model). I certainly do not want to start that debate again, but I would like to discuss an issue that I feel is underpinning this debate: Interactivity.

I feel the real thrust fo the people who support the sandbox is a drive for interactivity. Now understand, I don't mean community here, or interactivity with their fellow players, I mean with the world that has been created for them to inhabit.

i.e. When I went outside of Mos Eisley in SWG, it might look totally different than it had two weeks earlier. Buildings, Harvesters, NPCs, etc all might have changed because of what the players have done. Compare to when I walk into any given part of the Barrens, it will be exactly the same as it always has been (barring a patch or someone in the middle of training the area).

As I said, I do not want to discuss which of these is superior, only that I feel people prefer the first situation because of the increased interactivity with the world.

In our real lives (or RL for you crazy kids), some part of a great many peoples motivation is to have a lating impat on the world. We work, write, research, create and share iwth others in the hopes our efforts and labors will bring about some lasting change to the world. Whether we are working to cure cancer or just trying to teach our children to read and write.

So it would make sense that our digital selves also have a deep seeded desire to have some lasting impact on the world. But this need is often unsatisfied even at the most basic level.

The title refers to the fact that in many games (be they sandbox or rollercoaster) I might be capable of amazing feats; shooting fire from my eyeballs, summoning demons, flying, crushing hordes of foes with one swing of my oversized axe, whatever. However, when I walk into a city and look at a napkin or candlestick sitting on a table, I can't move it. For all my power to shake the earth and send villains fleeing in terror, a simple table place-setting defeats me.

Now currently, this sort of thing most likely happens because of simple technological restrictions. The server and our connections to them can not process the hundreds of thousands of interactable objects that would be required to truly move things or have the most basic of innocuous effects on the world around me. Everyone would simply lag out and the game would resemble something along the lines of a slide show being run on a 286. To show just how serious this is, let me give an example. In the early days of SWG they were starting to get large amounts of server wide lag. They couldn't figure out what was doing it, but they suspected that as the players populated the world with more and more items (houses, harvesters, etc) the servers were lagging. They ran a server wide test and found the problem was not with the players specifically, it was with melons. Yes, fruit was their bane. You see each character, upon creation, received three melons in his or her backpack. Food was not required, so most people did nothing with these melons and just let them sit in their back-pack since space was also abundant. It turns out, there was so many thousands of melons it was dragging down the servers (among other items).

However, the technological limitation argument is moot. Eventually, 5 years, 10 years, whatever, we will conquer that barrier. Our bandwidth will be large enough, our computers fast enough, our servers robust enough, to be able to handle the load.

What then?

What happens when people have the ability not only to summon comets from the heavens to crush their foes, to cause the air around their enemies to freeze as ice and lock them in place, to summon the raw elemental fury of nature, but also to pick up a chair in an inn and carry it with them?

In the real world, we don't go around randomly moving things for many reasons. It's rude (and we are socially conditioned not to touch others things), there's not much reason to greif in RL and most importantly, chairs are heavy and awkward. Why in the world would I carry a chair around?

In a digital world however, where there is no "weight" restriction (and to implement a system like that has just as many problems, loot, multiple outfits, weapons, all things we have become accustomed to) what is to stop people from simply rearranging the world at their whim?

Can the world, whichever digital world it is that achieves this feat, survive if we have the level of interactivity we seem to want, to crave?

I am not ending this article with an answer, just he question, as I feel this is a major issue developers and gamers will be grappling with in the coming years and growth of this genre.

Until next time, may you not be weighed down by three melons.

Farakon writes:

I remember reading an article by City of Heroes Lead Designer Jack Emmert on interactable (specifically destroyable) objects.  He explained why such objects had to be placed in instances by stating that should such objects in the non-instanced game be destroyable then the world would quickly be reduced to a smoking ruin.

 

There are just some folks who would delight in systematically moving or destroying any objects they are able to interact with and the world would be quickly reduced to chaos.

 

Some folks when given both the ability to shoot fire from their eyeballs and interact with a napkin would use said ability to light the napkin on fire.

Wed Feb 06 2008 11:13AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

Every interactable object in the world would have to be tracked in the database.  Fixed objects do not.  The difference is not just big; it's insurmountably enormous.

The technological argument is not moot.  It will be more than 5 or 10 years before this is possible.  To consider the ramifications of such a world is VERY premature.

Also, try not to say, "people prefer ..." when you really mean "I prefer...."  Obviously some people prefer a sandbox, but the market has proven that most people do not.

Wed Feb 06 2008 11:37AM Report
PhatWOP writes:

Hexx, are you reading your own Bias into my comments? You are assuming when I said "people prefer" I meant "most people prefer", this is not in fact what I typed or meant. I actually do not prefer sandbox games or prefer rollercoaster games, I prefer good games, which can come in all shapes and sizes.

My comment was simply saying that I think one the main reasons the supporters of sandbox style games (be they many or few) do suppoert them is the feeling of increased interactivity.

Also, yes I do understand the technological burden, I was actually trying to point out how huge it was. I think you actually agree with everything I typed, I think I just may not have spoken clearly enough. My point was simply at some time down the line, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc (I mean the leap between Dragon Warrior (1984) and WoW (2004) was pretty large) whose to say in another twenty that mountain won't be climbed? When it is, we as a community and an industry will be foreced to deal with the fruition of our desires.  

Wed Feb 06 2008 1:19PM Report
Azurus writes:

I don't think the technology is all that far off.

Second Life is about half way there. Almost every item in that game can be moved, though many only by their owner.

Of course, that game was designed purely as a "blank slate" sandbox - but using similar methods in a more normal game should be doable.

Wed Feb 06 2008 1:21PM Report
Gishgeron writes:

I have to say that I disagree with the notion that the majority prefer Rollercoaster.  I think that most of us have been conditioned by it, and that no major company has put any effort into sandbox style since UO.  We must remember that UO was a massive success.  It was also the first of its class, and as such had to endure the learning process of what such a world entails.

 

I think that if Blizzard made a sandbox MMO it would be a legendary success, and would earn them even more worldwide players than they have already.  The problem isn't the style, its the effort put into making it.  SWG did VERY well with its measure of sandbox before it committed suicide.  The chance for greatness is definitely there.

Wed Feb 06 2008 2:37PM Report
Davod writes:

The effort to make a sandbox is huge as Gishgeron says, however I also think it would be a great succes. And I dont think the technology are that far away. Come on, they have terrabit internet lines in Japan and my personal computer runs on 8 gigabyte DDRAM2. How much more then that do we need? And that is just what the world offers today, compare that to five years ago.

I think it's just about what the computer companies likes to do, do they want profit faster or work there asses of for several more years before they get it?

Wed Feb 06 2008 4:37PM Report
Jaradiel writes:

While the teechnology for sandbox is present, it's high-end. The market is currently too small. Consider that the client would have to be native 64-bit to prevent users from crashing out due to memory limits (user space is 2GB by default).

Sandbox is hopefully the way games will go, but then it should go all the way. No classes, no class or character levels, just skills and skill levels.

Thu Feb 07 2008 3:23AM Report
Tertiary writes:

You mean the technology for limitless sandbox is high-end.  Horizons, SWG, UO, Shadowbane, and EVE are all moderatly sandbox.  As was mentioned before, it's not the genre of MMO that is bad, it is that the creators of these games have been committing suicide so frequently (ie. SWG and Horizons especially.)

I think that World of Warcraft is a wonderful thing.  But, I only think that for one reason: Because it has popularized MMORPGs.  By the time Warhammer and Age of Conan are released that fan base will be ready to begin exploring new things and that huge new fan base that WoW brought to the table will begin to spread out.

I think that Sandboxing (via Age of Conan if I'm not mistaken) will start having a lot more subscribers and that if a game more similiar to Horizons was released within the next half a decade it would do much better than the original (hopefully... you have to take into account that Horizons could have done much better than it did in its own time.)

And, technology only keeps up with the demands upon it.  If we don't, for some reason, need a terabyte of memory intigrated into our infini-core processor motherboard thingie... why are we going to make it?  There is no profit, as was mentioned earlier.  The very act of designing sandbox games that require uber-specs is going to create a need for the hardware to support it and eventually make the cost of having it much more reasonable.

Tue Apr 01 2008 5:19PM Report

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