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News & Features Discussion  » General: Dana Massey: Instancing

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  Dana

Novice Member

Joined: 1/07/04
Posts: 2425

 
OP  8/20/09 3:04:53 PM#1

It's become a dirty word to some, but is instancing in MMOs really the boogieman it's been made out to be?

Dana Massey

“Instancing” has become a dirty word in some segments of the MMO community. It’s easy to understand why. By its very definition, it limits the number of players in what is supposed to be a massive, shared experience. Yet, on the other hand, for game designers, instancing – when used correctly – is a powerful tool that allows them to create more dramatic, meaningful gameplay experiences. So, today, I wonder why games cannot have the best of both worlds and use instancing, without making it into a single-player game?

When it comes to instancing, I honestly believe the fan objections are far more about an ideal than a reality. Sometimes, we get caught up in what an MMO is supposed to be and limit things that would make them better or more fun based on that ideal.

Read it all here.

Dana Massey
Formerly of MMORPG.com
Currently Lead Designer for Bit Trap Studios

  FastTx

Novice Member

Joined: 8/23/05
Posts: 754

8/20/09 3:33:40 PM#2

Interesting topic. I feel instancing has become less of a dirty word since World of Warcraft heavily used it. I remember before WoW it was a very good thing to use as little instancing as possible, for example Lineage 2 didn't use instancing at all until very recently. It's way around were portals that led you into a room where only your group could go.

On that note I believe there are several types of branches of MMO's.

One is the PvE game which really isn't hindered by instancing. People who love the PvE content need the instancing to feel like they really matter and that they've done something epic. There is little challenge to doing an open world boss because anyone can come and zerg it up.

Another is the Open World PvP game where players can freely kill one another anywhere anytime. Many games have restrictions on this such as not allowing it in town and penalties for killing players. These games don't work with instancing because instancing is a way to level up and hide from PvP threats. These games rely on open world raids for their content, moreso to gather players at a location to PvP and win the raid.

Then there are shades of gray. It's all up to your preference, if you want an MMO to be similar to a single player experience then your game requires a lot of instancing. If you want your game to be more about a living breathing world where you can interact with the environment then there are also those games. There is a game for almost everyone right now.

  SnarlingWolf

Novice Member

Joined: 6/23/09
Posts: 2728

8/20/09 3:39:19 PM#3

The reason it's a dirty word is because of how horribly it keeps getting used. I am fine with dungeons being instances, I am not in the least bit ok with the game world being zoned and instanced. I want to be able to run from one side of the world to the other, and when I leave a city and then come back I don't want there to be a completly different set of players there because I'm in a different instance of that city now. That is what I hate.

 

It's even worse when a game has PvP so a person zones out and back in and is no longer being attacked because he's in a new instance that his attacker only has a random chance of getting in.

 

Instancing for dungeons is fine, it eliminates having to wait on other groups to finish and stuff to respawn for your group to have to go through. It prevents griefing of someone else running up and killing the boss or grabbing the item you worked all the way through to get. But instancing is not ok for the world as a whole.

  Kyleran

Bitter Vet™

Joined: 9/13/06
Posts: 18935

Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions. Pvbs 18:2, NIV

8/20/09 3:42:43 PM#4
Originally posted by SnarlingWolf

The reason it's a dirty word is because of how horribly it keeps getting used. I am fine with dungeons being instances, I am not in the least bit ok with the game world being zoned and instanced. I want to be able to run from one side of the world to the other, and when I leave a city and then come back I don't want there to be a completly different set of players there because I'm in a different instance of that city now. That is what I hate.

 

It's even worse when a game has PvP so a person zones out and back in and is no longer being attacked because he's in a new instance that his attacker only has a random chance of getting in.

 

Instancing for dungeons is fine, it eliminates having to wait on other groups to finish and stuff to respawn for your group to have to go through. It prevents griefing of someone else running up and killing the boss or grabbing the item you worked all the way through to get. But instancing is not ok for the world as a whole.

 

I agree with most of the points here, except I think games should contain a mixture of instanced dungeons and open world encounters that players actively fight for.

All instancing isn't bad, but AOC was the poster child of how not to implement instances.

 

 

"In these forums 'honest' seems to be a symonym for 'hates the game just like I do'" - ohioastro
Kyleran - Bitter Vet ™ since 2006
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  User Deleted
8/20/09 3:46:40 PM#5
Originally posted by SnarlingWolf

The reason it's a dirty word is because of how horribly it keeps getting used. I am fine with dungeons being instances, I am not in the least bit ok with the game world being zoned and instanced. I want to be able to run from one side of the world to the other, and when I leave a city and then come back I don't want there to be a completly different set of players there because I'm in a different instance of that city now. That is what I hate.

 

It's even worse when a game has PvP so a person zones out and back in and is no longer being attacked because he's in a new instance that his attacker only has a random chance of getting in.

 

Instancing for dungeons is fine, it eliminates having to wait on other groups to finish and stuff to respawn for your group to have to go through. It prevents griefing of someone else running up and killing the boss or grabbing the item you worked all the way through to get. But instancing is not ok for the world as a whole.


 

I agree with this response for the most part. The people that completely shun the idea of instancing must of never played DAoC or Ultima Online. Nothing like hugging a corner of the dungeon to try and keep 2 or 3 respawn spots to yourself so your character can progress at a decent pace ;)

However, I think that instancing can also be utilized in creative ways such as allowing players (or volunteer Game Masters) to design their own mini dungeons. It could be useful for Live Event ideas as well and it definitely provides a more personalized experience to the player without actually having to clear space within the permanent world. I think the idea of instancing has been more of a blessing than a curse. Even games like Guild Wars have created a successful game on the entire idea of instancing. It will be near impossible to provide personalized experience for every player within an MMO without instancing. I can't imagine an MMO without it ;)

  User Deleted
8/20/09 3:49:11 PM#6

Going to have to hold up AoC also as how not to instance. EVERYTHING was instanced in AoC. Literally no matter where you were in the game, it would instance if the population for that area went over a certain number. Back at launch when populations were high, it was ridiculous. One of the most common things seen in global chat was: "Where are you?" because nobody understood at that point how instanced it was nor how convoluted it could be to get a group of players together in the same instance.

Funcom solved the problem in an interesting way: The made the game fail so that there weren't enough players around to trigger the instancing.  I understand due to the low populations, its not much of an issue anymore.

  Ozmodan

Elite Member

Joined: 2/27/07
Posts: 6624

8/20/09 4:04:46 PM#7

I have to agree instancing is necessary in today's MMO's mainly to prevent a griefer or camper from ruining others experiences.  You just can't expect everyone in an MMO to play nice, so instancing removes much of that problem. 

While UO dungeons, which were not instanced, could be very scary as you could run into reds at any time, there was always the problem of bosses being camped.    Griefing was not so much a problem as you always had the option to deal with them.  I think some instancing of even parts of UO dungeons would have helped that game.

The problem we were presented with in AoC was they really over did instancing which was obviously disliked by many.  So it behoves a developer to use instancing judiciously.

As to Global Agenda, yes I realize it meets MMORPG's criteria and I need to shut up about it.  Is instancing in the manner they are doing ok?  I think that the game will do quite well as the design seems to fit the gameplay well.

What  I really don't like is the way some games instance everything including towns.  You want to play with your friend you have to move to their instance or vice versa.   That was one of the things that I really disliked about Swords of the New World but they also had significant problems with kill stealing too.

Instancing is here to stay until game developers come up with other ways to control those whose primary intent is to ruin the gameplay of others.

  Reklaw

Elite Member

Joined: 1/07/06
Posts: 6144

The adult I am takes care of most things real life. However my inner-child is a GAMER!!

8/20/09 4:15:03 PM#8

Was a nice article to read
 

I still feel Tabula Rasa did it really good job with instancing, still a shame the game never grow to be a MMORPG as in the end it was more of just another multiplayer games as it lacked what I personaly feel makes a online game a MMORPG and thats more then just combat action.

 

  Frobner

Novice Member

Joined: 9/28/08
Posts: 663

8/20/09 4:33:56 PM#9

I dont look at instancing as a bad thing... It should be used more to create content - both single player and for groups.  Ok - you might not change the world but heck- if the world changed every time someone sneesed - then there would be no stability.

There is one terrible thing about instancing tho... LOADING SCREENS.  If you want to see very bad job of instancing - then do a AOC trial and see how Tortage is split into 1000000s of instances that all bring loading screens.  If you have a fast computer you might acutally see 8 loading screens in a minute !!  Now - thats NOT how to make a game.

Dragon Age is not out yet - lets not get carried away about how good that game is.  But if you are telling me that there are 100 diffrent paths from step one -' and then 100 OTHER paths from step 2... then  .... You are lying.    Now... if one or two members in your party go mad or you piss off some NPC.... that has been done before in NWN...  I dont see DAO as something other than dressed up version of it... with longer cutscenes.  BTW those dont make for more enjoyable GAMEPLAY ...

  Khalathwyr

Tipster

Joined: 6/02/04
Posts: 3151

Google is your friend.

8/20/09 4:40:15 PM#10

I'm not sure if you actually, truly agree with what you wrote, but speaking of MMOs and their definition, instancing as the crutch it is being used as today by developers on the whole was no where near a part of the definition of an MMO when this genre started. When the MMO genre was born, in specific the graphical MMO, these games were conceived as online worlds. The idea of little cordoned off areas where only a group could go and to generate an instance for each group that consumed that content just wasn't there. Meridian 59 didn't have them. Ultima Online didn't. Asheron's Call didn't. They were all wide open worlds and they did just fine. Sony (who I'm just starting to believe is the MMO anti-christ because it seems they are at the center for occurrences that just...well, suck) came about as close to "instances" by creating the heavily zoned world of EQ.

Instances aren't the way, in my opinion. They are a very poor, lack of imagination in game-play design band-aid. There's the whine by developers that it helps make specialized content. Maybe, but a big part of the MMO concept at it's birth was getting the player immersed in another world. Loading screens aren't immersive. No way anyone can spin that to make that way either.

You want to prevent kill stealing/interference for special content? Try using a "reverse-lock". Once an action triggers the event have the main and/or related mobs be able to engage players that are in a defined area at that moment. Those same players are the only ones that can get rewarded for the content. Anyone wandering in after can aid or work against the locked players. That maybe not the greatest of ideas, but it's a ton more appealing to me than a loading screen.

I would like to see instancing replaced with a highly trained live teams. This world has thousands upon thousands of really good pencil & paper Dungeon and Game Masters. People who know how to give a fair and balanced game-play moment on the fly. Marry these types up with a good set of "live team tools" as discussed in that other article and we begin down a much better path, I think.

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  User Deleted
8/20/09 4:49:24 PM#11

Instancing sucks.  It takes more from the table than it gives back.  Basically, instances guarantees uninterrupted access to content at a tremendous sacrifice to immersion.

Making a case for instancing is like making a case for permadeath; it just begs "Why?"

And don't get me started on phasing....

  swyftty2

Novice Member

Joined: 8/16/09
Posts: 23

8/20/09 4:49:47 PM#12

My fave game of all time is Diablo 2 and its expansion.  The game is inf act instancing.  Or I like to call it server based.  up to 8 people per a game, and always a unique experience of spawns and drops. Sure the main monsters will spawn in the main area. But in general it allowed each go to be something new. 

  jackeccs

Advanced Member

Joined: 10/28/03
Posts: 398

8/20/09 5:04:28 PM#13

Ok, so if you complain about slow people ahead of you, then I'm going to complain about patience. How come we don't have patience anymore? MMO's are about social experiences as well. Maybe the devs should make more than 1 dungeon for level ranges, and make then all unique but equal. Games that make many places to quest, but make one of those areas uber to the rest then yeah, it's going to be crowded. If your going to spend millions on an MMO why complain about resources when your already spending enough; might as well keep taking out loans or finding investors. Or just don't get into the market at all, it's risky business.

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  Harabeck

Novice Member

Joined: 2/21/09
Posts: 623

8/20/09 5:16:40 PM#14
Originally posted by jackeccs

Ok, so if you complain about slow people ahead of you, then I'm going to complain about patience. How come we don't have patience anymore? MMO's are about social experiences as well. Maybe the devs should make more than 1 dungeon for level ranges, and make then all unique but equal. Games that make many places to quest, but make one of those areas uber to the rest then yeah, it's going to be crowded. If your going to spend millions on an MMO why complain about resources when your already spending enough; might as well keep taking out loans or finding investors. Or just don't get into the market at all, it's risky business.

Forcing people to wait as part of the game is just silly, it's a game, not a job. As for the dungeons and areas, what games lack that? Wow had dungeons with overlapping ranges and many choices for where to level. War had less dungeons, but you had three choices on where to quest. Which games are these that funnel you into one area?

  User Deleted
8/20/09 5:32:45 PM#15

I don't dislike the idea of instances I dislike how they have been used.  Instead of being a tool to help spread people out thus giving more people a better online experience (no one enjoys fighting over every spawn like happen post trammel) they have become micro raids.  The way they have been used takes away all forms of randomness.  You need X items go to Y dungeon and kill Z boss. 

  nilden

Novice Member

Joined: 4/26/05
Posts: 886

8/20/09 5:56:40 PM#16

While instancing does solve some problems and creates content on demand developers also use it as a crutch. The dungeons of EQ needed to support a lot of players and groups at the same time, those dungeons were huge with multiple entrances and pathways. WoW on the other hand suffers the hallway syndrome, the quality and size of the dungeons just isn't there. So while you solve the problems of not enough content by making unlimited numbers of intanced copies the thing that suffers the most is dungeon quality. I would much rather play an MMO light on instancing.

You could list the pros and cons:

Instance Pros:

Content on demand

Less content required since devs can just copy it

No outside interference (racing, leapfrogging)

No camping

Solves overpopulation

 

Instance Cons:

Segments the world into pockets, less zone chat and community building

Dungeon quality suffers since it's not ment for huge amounts of players, the hallway syndrome

Immersion suffers since there are no public dungeons, your wagon wheel effect

Let's devs get away with one small dungeon instead of many big ones

 

You could probably add to that list and might not see what I outline as a pro or con as such but IMHO instances are not used to their full potential with custom encounters and scripts. They are just a cop out for not being able to make huge, multi level, diverse dungeons in multitude.

 

 

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  khaelf

Novice Member

Joined: 7/03/03
Posts: 74

8/20/09 5:59:49 PM#17

A heavily instanced "MMORPG" is nothing more than a multiplayer RPG with a graphic lobby. DDO isn't going F2P because it's run by a charity organization; the only reason they called that thing an MMO in the first place is so they could justify charging a monthly fee for it. Your whole argument is full of holes.


The reason is that at its core, it fits our criteria. There are large common areas, and players control persistent characters that do grow and change over time.

If we followed that logic we could lump pretty much every multiplayer game in existence that offers some kind of character progression system into this genre.

Is COD4/CODWAW/CODwhatever an MMOFPS? Sure it is. There are large common areas, and players control persistent characters that do grow and change over time. Is Diablo 2 an MMORPG? Sure it is. There are large common areas, and players control persistent characters that do grow and change over time. The only difference is, the large common areas are presented in a chat/text form (take battle.net for example) rather than a graphical one. Besides, I'm pretty sure one could find a few text lobby gems in your game list.

I don't have a problem with any those games. I like both -- Massively Multiplayer Online Games as well simple multiplayer Role-Playing Games and First Person Shooters, but let's call them what they really are.


As fans, though, we need to broaden our horizons and stop arguing absolutes.

Good point. For starters, we could stop comparing MMORPG's to single player RPG's. Yes, they're both RPG's, but as far as I'm aware, "role-playing game" isn't a synonym for "a game where you go on dangerous dungeon crawls in order to slay the dragon, save the world, and become a hero".

Take Ultima Online for example; the game didn't have quests, it didn't tell you what to do -- it was a persistent world with no instances, a true MMORPG.

MMORPG's were nothing like single player RPG's, they're still not (in spite of many people, including you, doing their best to de-evolve the whole genre), and they never will be, as it just doesn't make sense to let thousands of players enter the same virtual world, and have each and every one of them sent on the exact same mission to individually save the virtual world they live in from great evil and peril, which, of course, all of them will be rewarded for with the exact same title and the exact same epic sword.


Oh, and just fyi, SWTOR is going to flop.

  Yauchy

Advanced Member

Joined: 11/06/07
Posts: 296

"The keenist sorrow is that we are the sole cause of our adversities" ~Sophicles

8/20/09 6:11:08 PM#18

 As much as the folks who hate instanced content don't like it, at best you will see a perfect mix (as stated in the article).  Classic MMOs almost never used instancing, but also it resulted in:  KSing, greifing, insane world spawn timers, and lag (usually when you want it least).  Lag is envitable, but add a big mob & dozens of people...and its most likely going to happen (regardless).   Its great to have an immersive area where people can interact with any content, anywhere, at anytime - even locked, some of those issues can rise their ugly head and its an unreasonable request for the genre - if you want everything else to be perfect.

We'd love for devs to be perfect and make perfect claiming systems, and allow for players to help other groups fight world spawns, but at the end of the day the amount of work to put that in...can be done in less than half time in an instance and the server weight is far less, hence they go with the cheaper & easier way -> instancing.

I applaud the article, as it was well written & it has good intentions.  People need to be realistic or by all means bust out your own servers & code up "full immersion" - its just not reasonable for businesses, no matter how much you think or want it to be - they want profit not immersion, and instancing is the answer.  Focus on making better instancing & give up on complete open world...unless you want a small player base.

And drop the "Is it an MMO" debacle.  Think of it like art & literature.  If millions agree its good, even if you hate it...guess what, your wrong.  If its close, even with exception, if people agree or consider it an MMO en masse...ah well, pick a new fight :)

  battleaxe

Novice Member

Joined: 1/06/04
Posts: 158

8/20/09 6:25:04 PM#19

Without instancing, popular dungeons become mob deserts.  They play like newbie zones in relatively new or retooled MMOs where everyone stands around frustrated waiting for the spawn and the life expectancy of a mob is 5 seconds or less.  Queuing up for the named mob is also just stupid.  The mob is so dangerous he needs to be killed, but here's his corpse already at my feet, and I have to wait for him to come back to life, get killed a few times more by the ten guys in front of me, so I can finally get a chance to kill him and get credit for it.

One solution is to drastically increase the respawn rate.  This means one mistake by anyone in the area has everyone sprinting for the exit like in EQ's BlackBurrow (TRAIN!!!!!!!).  whee.  This leads to having to use pulling techniques to separate groups of mobs.  Doesn't really cure the problem, just treats a symptom.

The problem is that in an MMO world, players can outnumber even the friendly NPCs.  Each player wants to be a hero or part of the hero's group.  It just doesn't work in popular areas.

Instancing is the only way to get a feeling of actually encountering content in a way that doesn't make you feel like you're part of some cattle call.

  nekollx

Novice Member

Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 573

8/20/09 6:25:09 PM#20
Originally posted by pencilrick

Instancing sucks.  It takes more from the table than it gives back.  Basically, instances guarantees uninterrupted access to content at a tremendous sacrifice to immersion.

Making a case for instancing is like making a case for permadeath; it just begs "Why?"

And don't get me started on phasing....

 

it's all in excecution. Look at CO, LoTRO, and CoX all use instanceing to great immersion.

 

In CoX indoor mission,s task forces, and the like are all instanced, its your team vs the bad guys.

 

In CO they did away with "Shards" and instanced the world. Their could be 10 versions of the tutorial running each with 50 people in them. Then you move onto Either Crysis Desert or Crysis Canada, another "instance" shanrd which you have to "save" to move onto "real Canada" or "Real desert" and then once you hit 14 its back to Millinium city (non totorial) you get a real sense of progression.

 

in LoTRO all the dungons are instanced, some even gated until you finish X quest. whichj lets them run cutscenens to help with imersion.

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