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the Lonely Altar

I don't play "games", I play MMORPGs! This is where I talk about them!

Author: Tierless

Rant: Travel Time

Posted by Paragus1 Saturday June 9 2007 at 3:03PM
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Rant: Travel Time

When word comes of a new game going into open Beta or hitting retail, one of the most important questions to this old gamer is how large is the world?   World size is very important for the fact that a larger world will hold attention longer.    The bigger the world is, the more there is to see and do.  That epic feel of a large world really comes down to one thing, travel time.

World builders will literally spend months and years trying to design the worlds of tomorrow which will eventually become our virtual playgrounds.    What usually can end up happening though, is that all the hard work of these world builders can be flushed down the toilet due to how travel is introduced.  The real world we live in is pretty large, but perception of its size has been altered greatly in the last century due to the invention of faster forms of travel like cars and air travel.  The same goes for MMOs.

For the most part the virtual worlds are large, but the perception of these worlds has been seriously marginalized due to the fact that developers are making it overly easy to get from one side of the world to the other.  When we think of the epic quests and adventures of high fantasy, we must remember that the journey is half of the adventure.  Killing the mighty dragon if he is living in a 2 minute walk from town doesn't quite seem as epic as the dragon who lives in a far off land inside a volcano somewhere.

The way it was...

In Everquest 1, they made a massive world.  I remember when the game came out and I started my MMO career there, it was simply staggering to me how large the world was.   As someone who started in Qeynos, the trip to Freeport, or even Faydark as a noob was almost impossible to imagine.  The first time I hoofed it across the continent to see Freeport for the first time took me all night.   The boat ride in Everquest was enough to make your ass cheeks clinch together in sheer horror as you watched cyclpose wading close to the boat, and in some cases too close as it was not uncommon to be smashed into oblivion on the deck of the boat.



One day they released an expansion called Planes of Power, which added a new area that had teleports to many areas scattered across the old game.    This area became the main huddling point for most of every servers population and sucked the life out of every other city in the world.   It also totally trivialized the world size making it seem much smaller even though its size had remained the same if not grown.

In Asheron's Call, the world was the size of a small American State.   There were no boats, no mounts, just your feet and the portals.  The portal system was very large and extremely complex.   They would wisk you away to far off places in most cases without a way back unless you knew how to manipulate the system to your advantage.   This required a knowledge that could only be gleaned by a mastery and understanding of how the hundreds of hidden world portal were interconnected into a series of loops and circuits.  Eventually someone had to make an almost mandatory third party program to help the average player educate himself on how he could use this system to his advantage.  Due to the somewhat complicated nature of the portal circuits and massiveness of the world, this system in now way diminished the perception of how big the world was.



Dark Age of Camelot brought us mounts.  These mounts were not really able to be controlled by the player, but acted more like a shuttle bus to take you a certain town.   You were given the option to hop off the horse at any given time if perhaps your destination was along the way to where the horse was going.  This helped players get to the far reaches of their own realms while still having to wait a few minutes, and did fine to not trivialize the realm sizes too much.

Final Fantasy 11 has an interesting take on travel.   For the first time players were able to ride a mount they could steer, the infamous Chocobo.  Once completing a quest which allowed a player to ride them, the Chocobo was completely steerable to the players liking while at the same time playing one of the most horrific songs ever written ;)  After about 10-15 minutes however, the Chocobo would kick you off and leave you.  In most cases, it was enough time to get where you wanted to be given you rented the bird at the closest stable to your destination and didn't waste too much time.  FFXI also had the Everquest 1 style of teleporting but I thought it was clever how they approached it.   You could not be teleported to any of the spires which you had not previously visited and collected a crystal at. 



They also very cleverly decided to give the group teleport spell to the healer class, which had previously been a staple of the mage type classes in other games.  This made it more enticing to play a healer, which as we all know is not widely viewed as one of the funner classes to play in most MMOs.  The world of FFXI to this day is massive and still growing, and they still have the only other game with a good boat ride next to EQ1.  On any given boat trip, a player may find his boat being attacked by giant sea monsters or even being boarded by pirates!  Airships eventually become available to allow players to travel between capital cities which are otherwise a great distance apart from one another.

The way it is....

Now we find ourselves in the era of EQ2 and WoW.  

EQ2 does not have a lot of fancy transportation, but honestly doesn't need it.  The games overworld is designed in such a way that it is chopped up into little island worlds which personally I was not a fan of, but with all of its expansions, they have greatly fixed this problem in their newer content making the world seem very large.



WoW on the other hand has some pretty good world design as far as how its continents are layed out.   For a seamless game I would have liked to see a lot less mountains walling me in superficially.   The real tragedy of WoW is how their nicely crafted world has been totally destroyed and poorly utilized because of their travel system.    There are griffin towers in practically every area you walk into.   This makes the world seems massively smaller then it actually is.  Not only does the travel make getting everywhere far too easy, but it sucks the life out of the overworld even further.   Most travelers can only be seen flying above all the content and world they spent years making.  Only a first time visitor to an area will usually be seen walking on the ground to get there.  As a result, there is a lot of the overworld that will see almost no traffic once they are visited by first time travelers.   It is a shame because WoW has a lot of zones that are very interesting an scenic, but now are simply just flown over on the way to where they are going.   A zone like Thousand Needles or Ungoro Crater are classic examples of zones that have a unique and interesting atmosphere, but unfortunately will seldom be seen short of a fly over to somewhere else.



The way it should be...

I seriously have to wonder if the world builders making these worlds have any say in how travel will be in these games.   I would be furious as a world builder if I spent months building up areas of the world with magnificent scenery only to be bitch-slapped by some whiny ass Dev who think that players should be able to get everywhere instantly totally bypassing and ignoring the entire world.  The journey is half of the adventure, so please stop trying to take it away from us.  

Sure there will be whining bitches who will cry on how they had to sail on a boat for 5 minutes to reach another continent, but hey, its another freaking continent!   If we didn't have air travel in real life, and you were going to sail to Europe from America, its going to take some time.   I understand that nobody wants to spend a day on a boat and I don't expect anyone to make it that way, but there needs to be a middle ground where we as the adventurers still get to experience the journey.   As a developer you need to ask yourself if you are willing to compromise your entire world and the scale of your game because some whiner can't handle the trip.  These are the same little kids who sit in the car asking "Are we there yet?!" on your road trips.  They deserve the same smack in teeth now as they did then.

The size of the world in eyes of the gamers is not the actual size of the world as made by world designers.   The size of the world is based on our perception of how big it seems with the forms of travel.  The larger the world APPEARS to be, the more exploring we will do, the longer the game will hold our interest, and the more money we will pay you because you will have earned it by providing us with a truly epic high fantasy world they we wanted.

Paragus
Co-Leader of Inquisition
www.inqguild.com

Panossian writes: I think this goes back to some of your other rants, devs just keep dumbing down and making games easier and easier because they want to appeal to the widest crowd possible. You hit the nail right on the head again, not really much I can add. Why create (and advertise) a huge world and then create ways to traverse the world in seconds and minutes? Sun Jun 10 2007 10:35AM Report
quaiky writes: I can see both sides of this problem. fast travel helps a lot when you are organising things that involve multiple players that are spread out over the world. But on the other side too fast travel is not good as it makes the world feel too small. The point is that if players spend half of their playtime for just running to the spots where they want to adventure or waiting for groupmembers they won't be happy and will leave the game. So the devs are more likely to be too overcautios with travel times cause players usually won't leave the game if its too easy to travel . I personally like a good balance for travel times, 10-15 minutes traveling to get to the spot where you want to group are ok but if you have to wait hours till all groupmembers are at the spot then the chances are high that you spend more time traveling around and waiting than actually adventuring the game. This especially painfull if you travel most of the time in areas that you outleveled long ago and you just have to run past. I think it would be worth a try to let players do a quest before they get the comfort of safe travels. It should be more than just visiting each griffon station to unlock it, so that it mainly allows players to use faster travel mainly in areas that are no longer a challenge. Mon Jun 11 2007 3:19AM Report
Drakon911 writes: Ultima Online offered a world that felt huge and had mounts, boats and a handy recall rune system. Traveling in the world, even with a mount was a scary thing. You never knew where or when some wandering mob or a group of Player Killers(PKs) was going to jump you. PKs were the worst because you knew by the time you got back to your body, on foot more than likely, your corpse was picked clean. Talk about a death penalty! Then they decided to split the world and have a non-PvP side... Mon Jun 11 2007 4:48PM Report
Paragus1 writes: Another good example I thought of is the single player game Oblivion. The game sports a pretty large world if you try to walk from one end to other on foot. They have an insta-travel system in it though between places you have visited before that makes the world seem a lot smaller then it actually is. Thu Jun 14 2007 11:53AM Report
A_N_T_I writes: Well. To be frank, Blizzard have introduced a mentality within developing that listen the "Are we there yet people". Most poeple have a real life to live as well, and thus - in good, ol' fashioned western mentality - require higher productivity per hour. Log in, fly to instance, do instance, hearthstone back to town. And I agree whole heartedly it shrinks the size of Aeroth to a rediculous size. I mean, its small enough already! However, another thing that makes these worlds smaller are battlegrounds and instances. They KILL the size of azeroth! No one spends time outside instanced places more. As far as I am concerned, WoW isnt an MMO anymore. And this is because the world itself is so trivial. It doesnt mean anything with advancement in the game. Everything end-game is instanced. Only leveling uses the world instead of instances. Fri Jun 15 2007 10:19AM Report
cmagoun writes: Travel time is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want your world to seem big. On the other hand, is a 5-minute uneventful trip to another town really good gameplay? If you want long trips, you need to make the trips worthwhile. There needs to be places in the world that make it worth exploring on foot. There needs to be travel events that make every trip potentially interesting. This could be wandering mobs or quest NPCs that are only encountered "on the road". Imagine if you were out walking and you came upon a bandit camp on the side of the road, or saw a horde of beastmen razing a village. THAT would make me want to walk! Fri Jun 15 2007 2:11PM Report
Paragus1 writes: In regards to WoW, the world wasn't big enough to begin with that it really seemed necessary to shrink the travel time down any further then it already was. I remember during my last days I roamed from Booty bay to Undercity looking for overworld PvP (which I didn't find). The trip could be completed in probably 30 mins if even that by epic mount. Older games like AC1, AO, and EQ1 (before planes of power) really took some serious time to cross on foot without using any warps. Fri Jun 15 2007 4:15PM Report
Thunderkor writes: I gotta say, I couldn't really disagree with you more. One of the main reasons I couldn't stomach WoW for very long was in fact the LONG travel times to get from point A to point B. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the element of exploration, and finding new areas. But spending 20 minutes getting to another town, because I have to take multiple rides on the flight routes AND wait for a boat AND take more flight routes - yeah, sorry, no freakin' way. As a previous commenter stated, people have lives. I have a full time job and a family. Any game time I might find at all comes at the expense of sleep. That means I want to have FUN when I play. I have to commute an hour every day in real life, I sure as heck don't want to pay $15 a month to commute in a virtual world as well. Lately I've really enjoyed Guild Wars, and one of the factors is that if I want to get to somewhere I've been previously, it's just a map click away. There are still plenty of areas you can't get to directly this way, still plenty of incentive for exploration. Granted, there is now overland pvp at all due to the instanced nature of the game, but for me personally that is not an issue. Someone else mentioned Oblivion, which in my book got it just about perfect on the travel front. You can take your time, explore the countryside, and if you ever want to return somewhere, you are just a map click a way. In no way does this make the world feel smaller, and if I WANT to walk from one place to another , I still can, and very often do just to enjoy the sights or see what kind of trouble I can get into on the way. But at least I have the option to do it the fast way. Sorry that you feel ease of travel is some sort of "dumbing down", but I don't see how a lack of a decent fast travel system is anything but a time sink. Yes you have to wait for public transportation in real life, no you can't travel instantly in real life. But it's a game and not real life, and if I wanted real life I'd go mow the lawn instead of flinging fireballs at giant spiders. Tue Jun 19 2007 12:26PM Report
Panossian writes: Well to start off Thunderkor, WoW sounds like its one of your first MMO's just from the way you described the travel in it. (not that its a bad thing) WoW should never be in the same sentence as LONG travel times, even when the game was first released travel was quicker then most MMO's that preceded it. MMO's are designed as massive worlds in which to travel and adventure in, not something that can be crossed with one click of a mouse while your off making a ham sandwich. I can understand that you have a job and a life outside of a game, and I def think there should be games that cater to players who dont have hours to clock in every night. Thats just smart business, but it does not change the fact that the simple, easy-mode travel that has become rampant in most MMO's takes away from adventure and discovery in games. Traveling from one side of a continent to the other should be a long trip, a boat ride should be a boat ride, not a 40 sec loading screen. Tue Jun 19 2007 12:46PM Report
Paragus1 writes: Thunder, I had to read the first 2 sentences of your post about 6 times to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. If you truly believe the travel times are too long in WoW, you will never step foot in another MMO ever again. "OMG! I have to ride 2 griffons!" You my friend are that little kid who sat in the back seat asking are we there yet?! WoW has the easiest transportation of any MMO, period. You fly from place to place in a minute or 2, immune from aggro and attack. It doesn't get any easier then that. Maybe you want a game where you can just start with the best gear right after you make your character? That commute your whining about takes the same amount of time as the commute to the bathroom from my PC, and its probably a lot safer! Good luck in your future MMO endeavors trying to find a game easier then WoW in travel department. Tue Jun 19 2007 12:49PM Report
pb1285n writes: The problem with travel time is poor game design. The only way to hide repetitive gameplay is by constantly changing the scenery to make it seem different. If developers actually spent more time on creating a fun gameplay experience and less time trying to occupy your time, then they could create a world where portals and flight paths wouldn't be necessary. You shouldn't have to travel bath and fourth across continents to have a good time. Exploration should be a choice, not a necessity. It's all about poor game design, plain and simple. Wed Jun 20 2007 1:00PM Report

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