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On game features from a student game developer

As a second year bachelor student of game programming and development, there is nothing that interests me more than exploring game features, and discussing the effect they have on games and gamers.

Author: Dreamstrider

On the hate towards instancing in MMOs, and the potential of the feature.

Posted by Dreamstrider Sunday August 10 2008 at 12:03PM
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Quite a pompus title I must admit, but it was the best I could think of while my thoughts are still fresh in my head.

First a small introduction is in order I think:
I am a second year bachelor student at the Norwegian University Of Information Technology (NITH)
Where I study game programming and design.  My biggest dream is to be the lead designer of an MMO, and I work (almost to death according to friends and family) every day to get closer to that goal. One of the most important things to do if you want to make a game, in my opinion, is that you know what the audience / customerbase is actually looking for. And thus I spend a lot of time hanging out in forums such as this, and discussing with players in game, about the features they enjoy, and don't enjoy in massive online games.

Anyway on to the actuall topic of my blog:

I have read lots and lots (and lots) of threads on the forums here about peoples' hate for instancing in MMOs. They claim it ruins immerision (which I must agree with to some extent) and more importantly, that it is a real stick in the wheels for social interaction. When everything is instanced for just a few players, how are you supposed to meet anyone else? This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest drawbacks to the instancing used today. Today instancing is generally thought of as a solution to put a few players into a zone with just them and the scripted path it will take them through. However these are not the only functions of instancing.

By instancing a zone you allow the zone to be rerendered every time a new group of players join it. This allows you to actually change the zone layout while it's active on the server. This would be impossible in a non instanced world because there is no way to make sure no players are in the zone, except by taking it down. If  you instance, you can close down that part of the game world and change it, while the rest of the game world is active.

Instancing can remove traveltime. This is, in my opinion, a very important feature that can be implemented through instancing. Why should the player waste time on walking to the location of the battle, or the event, if all he has to do is step through the portal and be instantly moved? Maybe not the most immersive solution, but it gets you there without wasting your time. And what is more important than having time?

Now imagine if you will, part of a game: You are standing on a massive space station, around you are fifty, maybe a hundred other players, chatting, forming groups and preparing for the actions that is to come. The space station is completely cut off from the rest of the game world, you can't actually move in real time from here to anywhere else. Yet, from here, you can through shuttles be moved instantly to any part of the game world. Each instance can holds a few hundred players, and are quite massive in size. Imagine striking down on such a battlefield, just created randomly by the server, populated by enemies working in a fashion you have never encountered before in the game, using a fortress layout also generated randomly.

Would this be a type of instancing acceptable to you as a player? Or would the instance in itself serve to annoy you, because of the loadingscreen, and the cutoff from the rest of the game world? It would be great if you could post your opinion below!

Thank you for your time!
-The Dreamstrider.