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The Pub at MMORPG.COM  » Technology and Huge Seamless Open Worlds

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Apprentice Member

Joined: 4/06/12
Posts: 200

OP  1/15/13 11:58:28 AM#1

 Note* This is not a Themepark Vrs Sandbox topic. I am not an expert on technology at all. I only have a laymans understanding of how all this tech brings us these game worlds.



I am interested in what the technology 10 or even 15 years ago was capable of. Back then most people connected to AOL on a regular 56K modem over a regular phone line.I am really more interested in how much has changed since then.

Then I am interested in what the technology can do now. Most people have a DSL or cable connection now.

It seems to me that there is this huge pent up demand for a Huge Giant Seamless Open World in games these days. (don't care if its themepark or sandbox, that is irrelevant to the topic)

However most games over the last 10 years are zoned and the large maps are made up of smaller connected zones.

Does the technology exist today to make the Huge Giant Seamless Open World that some Gamers are craving? Can it be done at current connection and computer speeds? There are many more online gamers these days, so the worlds would have to be much larger than the games of yore. What are some of your opinions on this ?  Is a modern 3D MASSIVE world possible with all the glitz and shine that gamers demand today?

Maybe most importantly, How much would it cost?

Thank you in advance for any knowledge shared, but please keep it in a laymans perspective so it is easily digestable.

Pauly the B

(P.S. I kinda think that it can't be done yet, I kinda think some gamers are asking for more than what is possible, but that is just a gut feeling. Thus the reason for this thread. I am looking for a better understanding.)

( Note to self-Don't say anything bad about Drizzt.)

An acerbic sense of humor is NOT allowed here.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/14/10
Posts: 3813

Facts do not require fiction for balance.

1/15/13 12:17:26 PM#2
The problem with the "huge open seamless world" is that it nearly demands static content (mobs, quests, etc.) in order to be feasible. When, for example, you have static quest givers standing there with a "!" over their heads you can load them as a part of the terrain. However, as games shift to a more dynamic content, where the world can be in varying states and NPCs can be on the move, dead, etc. then you have the situation where when a player enters an area he needs the data for everything dynamic happening  around him. You may not see something happening over that hill, but it's there and ongoing so you need to load that information just in case you go over that hill. This is why GW2, for example, had to zone their world... the dynamic event system sends huge amounts of data when compared to static quest dudes.

Oderint, dum metuant.


Advanced Member

Joined: 6/21/06
Posts: 326

1/15/13 12:36:47 PM#3

Rift managed to have invasions and an open world too,the DE in gw2 are not so dynamic anyway,more like a choice of developers to avoid writing any decent quests beside the personal story.Why no more huge and seamless open worlds ?Maybe because a lot of players are not interested in worlds,they just want instant travel to a dungeon to farm the last tier of gear and even flying on a gryphon for 5m is too much for them.


Advanced Member

Joined: 11/19/12
Posts: 1440

1/15/13 12:40:12 PM#4

While I can see the logic in what the first person responded, I also think of Wurm.

They have lots of generated content and manage to make the game world something that doesn't need load screens.


OP, I haven't made a game completely but I already have a plan to preload offscreen content information because it makes sense to me. As mentioned what we see is not all that is going on around us. That's limited scope though, there is no reason to load something 100 miles away when I can stop at say, 5 miles. In some games they must be pre-loading content because the closer you get to something big, you start to notice a lag. I remember in GW2 even that when people were doing large scale events, my character could be in a town near about 2 minimaps away and I had lag so something was trying to be sent to me about the event.


You talk a lot about network speed but I think that if your game world is static and you can find a good way to obfuscate the code from being plain text, you could store zones as part of the game files and not have to load them from the server at all. Of course, that goes back to what the second poster pointed out, a more static game where everything has a place and does not get changed by players.



Novice Member

Joined: 5/18/12
Posts: 556

1/15/13 12:46:17 PM#5

Different games handle things differently. 

In Darkfall for instance, mobs only spawned when players got into a set distance from them, thus reducing server lag from having every mob spawn active at the same time.

Old UOs only answer to the same was to institute a policy of rewarding people for throwing their trash away, thus getting rid of unwanted pixels and lessening server load.

In Planetside 2 there is a mechanic for limiting the visibility of PCs when a certain amount of players crowd a tight area, thus ensuring that people with super computers aren't the only ones that can move around in large battles. (I bring up PS2 because EQ next will use the same engine and I am curious to know how they will handle the same issues)


Also, most "open, seamless worlds" still have server lines, they just make it so you can go across them without staring at a load screen.

The above is my personal opinion. Anyone displaying a view contrary to my opinion is obviously WRONG and should STHU. (neener neener)

-The MMO Forum Community


Novice Member

Joined: 8/30/08
Posts: 4888

1/15/13 12:47:13 PM#6
Originally posted by Volkon
The problem with the "huge open seamless world" is that it nearly demands static content (mobs, quests, etc.) in order to be feasible. When, for example, you have static quest givers standing there with a "!" over their heads you can load them as a part of the terrain. However, as games shift to a more dynamic content, where the world can be in varying states and NPCs can be on the move, dead, etc. then you have the situation where when a player enters an area he needs the data for everything dynamic happening  around him. You may not see something happening over that hill, but it's there and ongoing so you need to load that information just in case you go over that hill. This is why GW2, for example, had to zone their world... the dynamic event system sends huge amounts of data when compared to static quest dudes.

Ultima Online exists to prove you wrong :) which is still to this day one of the largest game worlds on top of being open and seamless. 

UO also had huge live events where hundreds of players would be in the same area defending towns against wave after wave of attacking mobs. 


It always makes me sad when posts like this are made because they were proven wrong back in 1997, with a dialup connection, on a 486 ... 



Hard Core Member

Joined: 7/03/04
Posts: 3616

1/15/13 12:47:22 PM#7

It has to be possible.  Some of the old games had this ability.  Take SWG for example, you had planets which were essentially very, very large maps and people were building houses on them without instancing and decorating them and such.  If you could take that level of art, but use a better engine, it seems like it would have to be possible.


I think where we run into problems is some people expect Skyrim graphics.  But SWG graphics were good enough.  Maybe you could take it up one notch. 


Hard Core Member

Joined: 7/18/10
Posts: 3141

Veni, Vidi, Converti

1/15/13 12:49:41 PM#8
I like these discussion on technology, I hope more heavyweights pitch in! Be interested on people's thoughts on the number of active/inactive players that mmorpg can/should be able to simultaneously hold? Eg PS2, World of Tanks, EVE Online...

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/21/11
Posts: 7246

1/15/13 12:51:09 PM#9
Huge non instanced worlds were the norm

Vanilla EQ, uo, daoc, ac, eve etc..

Wow changed all that (although Ao, coh and eq2 had instancing before it)

It's mostly due to laziness imo.
  User Deleted
1/15/13 12:52:18 PM#10

It can be done, but the process is rather complicated compared to zone based systems.


On the client side, the terrain is setup in as a system of tiles.  All in-game assets are loaded and unloaded on the fly (using multiple threads usually spread out over multiple cores) based on a technique called scoping where anything that can't be seen is either unloaded or shoved in a cache but not rendered.


Server side gets a bit tricky.  Although it's all one world, it's not all one physical computer.  There might be 2 dozen or more computers handling client connections, each of these connected to shared background servers that are handling mob / NPC activity as well as ghosting other players.

The whole process on the server-side looks and works like a single computer, but the load is distributed based on tasks.


How much would it cost?  I have no clue.  Server software license alone would very likely be in the hudreds of thousands.  I don't know of any of the budget engine / middleware / server combinations that can handle large scale seamless.


  User Deleted
1/15/13 12:55:48 PM#11
Originally posted by MumboJumbo
I like these discussion on technology, I hope more heavyweights pitch in! Be interested on people's thoughts on the number of active/inactive players that mmorpg can/should be able to simultaneously hold? Eg PS2, World of Tanks, EVE Online...


I've seen numbers as high as the range of 7,500 simultaneous connections per single seamless world (or region) on a given server (multiple machine cluster).



Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/21/11
Posts: 7246

1/15/13 12:57:36 PM#12
Ps2 can handle 6000 players per server (there's a 2000 player cap on each continent)

Eve can handle much much more.
  User Deleted
1/15/13 12:59:05 PM#13
Originally posted by paulytheb

Does the technology exist today to make the Huge Giant Seamless Open World that some Gamers are craving?

Without a doubt. It's been done on the Playstation 2 with EQOA and worked flawlessly, I see no real reason it can't be done on the PC.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/21/11
Posts: 7246

1/15/13 12:59:38 PM#14
The skyrim level graphics thing.

That was daoc in its day, it uses the same engine as Morrowind.

Still managed to have a fully persistent world with zero instancing.
  User Deleted
1/15/13 1:00:27 PM#15
Originally posted by Terranah

Take SWG for example, you had planets which were essentially very, very large maps and people were building houses on them without instancing and decorating them and such.


I'd love to know how they pulled that off.  Those planet maps were 16 km x 16 km.  The biggest test I ever had running was 8 x 8 and it plain old exploded if I pushed population density up.  Machine was like... hell no, I'm not gonna do it.  Insane CPU load.




Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 13305

1/15/13 1:01:46 PM#16

It's pretty easy to make a huge, seamless, open world.  It's not a problem of hardware or technology.  Rather, it's a problem of trade-offs.  Most people wouldn't want to play a huge, seamless, open world that consists of an infinite featureless plane where you start so far away from everyone and everything else that you'll never see anyone or anything else except for the ground that repeats forever.  While it would be easy to implement a "game" like that, it would also be stupid to do so.

Any game with a large world pretty much has to have lots of zones.  Furthermore, it probably breaks the game into zones in several different ways.  The question is not whether a game world has zones.  Rather, the question is whether it has zones that are distracting or obnoxious to players.  Zones used for internal code purposes in ways where players would never guess that they just crossed a zone boundary are not a problem.  Having to stop every few minutes to stare at a loading screen for 20 seconds, on the other hand, is obnoxious.

The culprit that causes loading screens is that hard drives are slow.  While most computer hardware has gotten dramatically faster over the course of the years, a 7200 RPM hard drive today spins at the same speed as a 7200 RPM hard drive in 1998.  That means you can only load stuff off of it so fast, and textures are the main issue.

If you need to display something in the game world and haven't loaded it off of the hard drive yet, a game programmer has a few options:

1)  Let the game crash.

2)  Don't draw it until it loads.

3)  Draw some placeholder graphic instead, such a a white box.

Option 1 is obviously bad.

Option 2 isn't a problem if it only means a delay of 30 ms here and 50 ms there, but becomes a huge problem if players are being attacked by invisible mobs as the hard drive struggles to load the data for them.  Running around on invisible ground is also distracting.

Option 3 is fine if the white box only appears once in a great while, but having a game world with white boxes all over the place is obnoxious and distracting.

Loading screens let you make a player stop and not move on until you've loaded everything and can draw it properly.  If you want to skip loading screens, then you have to reduce hard drive accesses to the point that things will load fast enough for nearly everyone as they move around, no matter where they go.

There are some tricks to doing that.  Some "seamless" games will have a large empty area between zones.  As you travel through that empty area, it's loading the next zone over for you.  Many games, whether seamless or not, will apply exactly the same models to many characters.  That way, you get to fight against identical centuplets, one at a time.  Loading a model once and displaying it a hundred times is a lot faster than loading a hundred separate models.

You know how some players complain that they look like everyone else their level in some games?  That's not an accident, and it's not necessarily an issue of the art budget, even.  Applying the same textures to a bunch of players is easier to do than having to load completely separate textures for each player.

Another way to make worlds seamless is to not have to load entire classes of data at all from the hard drive.  Tessellation done properly makes it possible to get a huge variety of models from very little vertex data, which means you can upload all of your vertex data when you launch the game and never have to check the hard drive for more while the game is running later.  Procedurally generated textures (e.g., my avatar) don't have to be loaded off of the hard drive, either, but all you need is a little bit of source code in the executable file.  That's actually what I'm working on.


Spotlight Poster

Joined: 1/24/05
Posts: 3067

Tomorrow's just a future yesterday...

1/15/13 1:01:51 PM#17

Originally posted by eldaris
Why no more huge and seamless open worlds ?Maybe because a lot of players are not interested in worlds,they just want instant travel to a dungeon to farm the last tier of gear and even flying on a gryphon for 5m is too much for them.

This right here.

- Al

Personally the only modern MMORPG trend that annoys me is the idea that MMOs need to be designed in a way to attract people who don't actually like MMOs. Which to me makes about as much sense as someone trying to figure out a way to get vegetarians to eat at their steakhouse.

  User Deleted
1/15/13 1:02:13 PM#18

Technology like phasing is really starting to give developers the ability to allow players to change the game world around them without the need for instances.   You see this quite a bit in WoW, particularly in the new zones.   

My guess is that this type of technology will be heavily used in future AAA MMO's including Titan, allowing developers to create larger, seemless worlds that still cater to the single player (I am the hero) experience.  


Hard Core Member

Joined: 1/18/06
Posts: 2170

1/15/13 1:03:33 PM#19

Yes it's possible. The problems have been mentioned except for one, server capacity. You'd simply need more of that, which means a larger cost on an onrunning basis.

As far as player load, it seems to me that in an overall, normal fashion, you'd have less. Because the game world can be spread out more. Meaning that you don't need as much loaded up.

Two exceptions to that last.

  1. Players massing up, for whatever reason. Including events. Personally, I'd give up a lot of the gawdy armors and weapons and stick to a more limited number of arts for this huge world. Also, as already mentioned, characters in heavy masses can be limited on what you see per distance. Think of the mountain ranges that change as you draw nearer, only this would be for mobiles and at closer ranges, but only when the stress picks up. A game could also add dust or steam to simulate what a large crowd might do and also clue the players in to the fact or excessively large numbers.
  2. Players dropping items on the ground. In UO players would actually drop thousands of items so that when another player ran by they'd lag up and could be killed easily. Several answers to this. The two primary are limiting the viewing per distance and replacing individual art with a variety of single art that works like a containor or sorts.
I dream of someone having the wherewithall, both financially and ballsy, to do this. But you say that this isn't a Sandbox vs Themepark issue. It is. You don't need a huge open world in a Themepark game where zoning is the rule. It works much better in a Sandbox, go anywhere do anything, sort of world. Although, I think it would also enhance any Themepark game as well, but it's just not the same experience.

Once upon a time....


Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/21/11
Posts: 7246

1/15/13 1:08:35 PM#20
It's not a technology issue.

It's a dividing up your dev team issue.
E.g. "you guys go an work on a dungeon"

Also there is ego involved "I just designed this great new instanced raid" is better for showing off than "I just designed this great resource gathering mechanic that links into world pvp and the careful management of mob ecology"
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