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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

The world is flat!

Posted by Quizzical Saturday December 27 2008 at 6:02AM
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Contrary to the title of this post, the world is round. At least some human societies have known this since ancient times. In some circles, referring to one as a “flat-earther” is a reasonably common insult.

In computer games, however, the world is flat, with only a handful of exceptions. This is largely because it is much easier to code a rectangular map than a spherical one. Spheres can actually be pretty hard to draw in 2-dimensions. Common map projections all have considerable distortions.

This makes perfect sense for some games, of course. If the entire game takes place in only a small portion of the world (e.g., a single city, or even one continent), then a small portion of a sphere is more or less flat.

Some games such as the Civilization or Europa Universalis series use a cylindrical map instead of a flat one, which at least lets players go around the world in one direction. This can make sense for games where the technology level is assumed to be low enough as to make the polar regions impassible, and the rest of the surface of the planet is more or less cylindrical.

But a game where the technology is advanced enough to fly long distances or even from one planet to another has no such excuse. If a war spans an entire planet, a rectangular map makes no sense. Yet that’s what we’re usually handed.

Doesn’t anyone know how to make a map with a non-trivial second homology group?

Well yes, actually. Asteroids did in 1979. Some other games have used the same “go off one side of the map and back onto the other” approach. Still, while the world isn’t flat, it certainly isn’t a torus, either.

For a game with frequent loading screens, a somewhat round world wouldn’t actually be that hard to implement. Pick some arbitrary polyhedron, assign a map region to each facet, and make sure that you can get directly from each region to its adjacent ones by going in the appropriate direction. The polyhedron could be something reasonably symmetric, such as a pseudorhombicuboctahedron, or just some arbitrary, irregular shape.

For a seamless world, this would be harder to do, but could still be done. Make the world shaped like an icosahedron, with each facet divided into many triangular tiles. The regions near the vertices would need to either be impassible, or have a loading screen as you approach. Otherwise, as a player approaches an edge, the game effectively folds up the two triangular regions and lets the player pass from one to the next, without even realizing that he’s moved from one triangle to another.

A round world is a small thing, really. It’s not going to make or break a game. But why doesn’t some game leave the ranks of the flat-earthers behind? Why not create a game where the map doesn’t have a canonical “up” direction? Why not make the shape of the map actually fit the lore? 

ChurchillT writes:

I agree with you on this one.

Too many worlds in games are flat and make little sense when the lore of the game is applied. Perhaps their universe is governed by different laws? But to me it just says that the developers couldn't be bothered to spend the extra time developing something that most players would probably struggle with more than the current methods.

The main aim is to keep games simple, the very basics of human perception is tha the world should be flat as that is how our eyes percieve it to be.

Many games give you feeling once in the game of a seamless and flowing world is things just over the horrisons. Usually this affect is done using draw distance rather than to curve the world itself. Simple but affective. I think more things like crafting need better developed rather than the shape of the world.

Sat Dec 27 2008 11:09AM Report
sanders01 writes:
Why would a round world matter? I reallly see no point in a round world, lore has nothing to do with a "round map", all you need is the cities placed in the right places and in the right zones.
Sat Dec 27 2008 11:33AM Report
Abrahmm writes:

I agree. Even though the planets were small, I did like the planets in Spore because they were spherical, and I wondered why more games couldn't do this on a larger scale. It wouldn't be too important for a fantasy world, but it would be very nice for a sci-fi title.

Sat Dec 27 2008 1:19PM Report
Pelagato writes:

dunno any engine with circle like map capabilities yet..... the only thing maybe is a flat with entrance and exit at edges.... which give you the illusion of sphere...

Sat Dec 27 2008 7:14PM Report
commi3 writes:

You're living in a fantasy if you think someone is going to take the time to do this. Spore is different because your pulling out, but then the planets are as small as a battlefield map. There is no engine out there that can do this with a world the size of say WoW (as an example).

You wont see this for a long time, since there is really no point to it, when graphics designers can just use easy tricks to make the over background seem sphereical.

Sat Dec 27 2008 11:15PM Report
Quizzical writes:

For a game with separate zones and loading screens between then when you run from one zone to another, this would be very easy to implement.  They can make zones connected to each other however they like.  If they make the zones connected in the same way that the facets of some polyhedron are adjacent, then the result is an essentially round world.

That wouldn't require some revolutionary new game engine.  It's a map design issue, not a game engine one.

Sun Dec 28 2008 4:05AM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

 All these people stating this would be easy to implement are fooling themselves. There is only one engine to date that can handle a sphere type world with MMORPG elements and that game failed horribly because of bad coding. Then you have to think about consumers. Who is going to have a PC setup that is good enough to process the amount of data. Your sub base would be so small it wouldn't even be worth creating this type of world. Maybe in ten years, but for now, nope. Don't get me wrong though, I love the idea. But thats where developers and gamers have differences. Gamers THINK that things like this could be implemented. Developers KNOW things like this can't happen. Therefore you get flat. Good day.

Sun Dec 28 2008 3:03PM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

 And btw, this statement here:

"That wouldn't require some revolutionary new game engine. It's a map design issue, not a game engine one."

is just silly. Someone needs to read up on game development instead of just making ridiculous statements like this one. 

Sun Dec 28 2008 3:09PM Report
Quizzical writes:

You really should try reading a post before declaring it wrong sometime.

Let's suppose that a game had a map with exactly four regions, each in roughly a triangular shape.  From each region you can get directly to each other via a path near the middle of of one of the sides of the triangular map.

That map will be topologically a sphere.  The problem that could easily arise is orientation issues, in which some areas are "inside" the sphere and some are "outside" it.  But that is completely fixable by choosing which paths connect which map pieces in an intelligent manner.

Of course, a typical game map needs more than four regions.  That's readily doable by picking some other polytope for the shape of the map, rather than a tetrahedron.  Furthermore, picking a polytope with more regions lets you have more obtuse dihedral angles, which makes the map closer to a sphere.

The only real factor that would have made this seem wrong on the game engines used in a typical RPG from 20 years ago is the inability to rotate the map.  But that's something that pretty much any 3D MMORPG has a fix for.

Sun Dec 28 2008 5:01PM Report
Teiman writes:

games are not simulations,  If your belief ask for this, bad luck,because most people are perfecly happy with the old maps.  anyway go for it, if is your game


Sun Dec 28 2008 6:41PM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

 Look up VWorld Technology. I rest my case. 

Mon Dec 29 2008 12:12AM Report
reetin writes:

 There actually is still a handful of people who believe indeed the world is flat, and the reason we see the curve in the earth when in an airplane or in outer space is because of the way the windows are bent in said equipment.

Mon Dec 29 2008 3:12AM Report
Coman writes:

Did Dark and Light had a sphereical world? Was made with Vworld and the game looked interesting enough (Game world wise). I do not think so looking at it, but not sure.

However having a planet like world would be nice, but not importent with the current games. I do however believe it will happen within say, 10 years. Especialy in space games it would be great to just fly from space directly toward the planet and without loading see the planet below you. This would make for a interesting games.

Mon Dec 29 2008 6:09AM Report
sonicwhip writes:

new upcomming mmorpgs in 2009-2010 will have new technology that can implement a cylindrical game world (a.k.a guild wars 2)

Mon Dec 29 2008 2:02PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Cylindrical worlds have been with us for a long time, and even in a seamless world, aren't that hard to implement.  It's nothing more than go off the left edge of the map and reappear on the right edge, or vice versa.  See the examples of the Civilization and Europa Universalis games cited above, even if those aren't MMORPGs.

Mon Dec 29 2008 4:48PM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

 Quiz, the thing is, there is a reason MMORPG's have not implemented it yet. It's not that they can't. It's just very time consuming and cost alot in development. No investor at this moment in time would see that as a profit and invest in it. In 10 years, maybe. But it depends on where the main stream of consumers is. Yeah those games can do it, but they are not MMOs, and thats why. I would love nothing more than a world that is not flat, its just to demanding. And it's not something that can easily be implemented either. Just because it sounds easy in theory doesn't mean its easy in development. Like I stated in someones elses blog about instancing, quit thinking like a gamer. 

Mon Dec 29 2008 5:20PM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

 Bah, that was your blog. I'm done here. You need to quit thinking like a gamer, and thats all that needs to be said. Next time you create a blog, take it from a developers perspective if your going to talk about development and its issues. Good day sir!

Mon Dec 29 2008 5:25PM Report
Quizzical writes:

mackdawg, either read what I wrote before you reply or else go away.  An essentially spherical world could be made from the map of quite a few games by doing nothing more than changing which paths connect which regions.

That's the third time I've asserted esssentially that, and you didn't catch the previous two, so let me give a more explicit example.  You won't read this, of course, but at least anyone who does will see that you're being ridiculous.

Let's take the map from Guild Wars as an example.  You can look up the relevant maps on GuildWiki if unfamiliar with them.  The first region would be the map of the Mirror of Lyss.  Disable the routes to Grand Court of Sebelkeh and Honur Hill.  The second region would be the map of Vehtendi Valley.  Disable the route to Forum Highlands.  Our third region will use the map to Dejarin Estate.  Our fourth region will use the map to Marga Coast.  Disable the routes to Arkjok Ward and Nundu Bay.

Now all we have to do is to rearrange which routes connecting regions take us to which region.

*Have the Marga Coast route that currently leads to Dajkah Inlet instead lead to the route of The Mirror of Lyss that currently leads to Dzagonur Bastion.

*Have the Marga Coast route that currently leads to Sunspear Sanctuary instead lead to the route of Vehtendi Valley that currently leads to Yahtendi Canyons.

*Have the Mirror of Lyss route that currently leads to Mihanu Township instead lead to the route of Vehtendi Valley that currently leads to Kodash Bazaar.

*Have the Marga Coast route that currently leads to Yohlon Haven instead lead to the route of Dejarin Estate that currently leads to Kodonur Crossroads.

*Have the Mirror of Lyss route that currently leads to The Kodash Bazaar instead lead to the route of Dejarin Estate that currently leads to Pogahn Passage.

*Have the Vehtendi Valley route that currently leads to Yahnur Market instead lead to the route of Dejarin Estate that currently leads to Camp Hojanu.

Obviously, those reroutings would have to work in reverse, too.  But that is all that would have to change in order for the game to have a map homeomorphic to a sphere.   Still, you don't need to understand which region is currently where to see that those map reroutings could be done if the company were so inclined.  (I'm not asserting that they /should/ be done now, as such changes to a mature game would only make a mess.)  To assert that that cannot be done is to assert that the technology used to create Guild Wars does not exist--and the same for many other MMORPGs.

That would, of course, break the world map display.  It would also make some compass directions not make sense.  But those are relatively minor issues that could surely be fixed, and indeed, the game would be playable even without directions on a compass or a world map.

The bigger problems are that such a map would be too small, the regions don't really quite fit together right, and a border of mountains as viewed from one side and ocean from the other would make no sense,  But reshaping a region and replacing an ocean with mountains are, as I asserted, map design issues, not technology ones.

As for making more regions, that's easy enough to do simply by choosing a polytope with more facets.  There are plenty to choose from.  The convex hull of any finite set of points is a polytope, as is the intersection of any finite set of halfspaces, provided that the intersection is bounded.

Mon Dec 29 2008 6:31PM Report
behindtheed writes:

I think people are asking for this because it gives the feeling of "I can really go anywhere in this game". No invisable bounderies,  or impassable oceans and mountains. With a map like that it'd enhance the exploration feel, and would be pretty cool - expecially in an MMO.

Though what  I think companies are thinking is, when it comes down to it - it probably creates more effort then they think it's worth. But all it will take to make it the status quo in mmos, is for one MMO to pull it off.

Tue Dec 30 2008 7:31AM Report writes:
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