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Can You Dig It?

Tim Eisen Posted:
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Merry Thanksgivingeve! My Thanksgiving didn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting but that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it did. This year I gave thanks to MMORPGs. They offer the best escape from reality I’ve been able to find that didn’t come in a bottle. I hope all my readers enjoyed the bounty of the harvest and the awkward company of friends and/or family. I bet some of you even had to talk to them…or maybe you just sat next to them and texted like the introverted tech contemporaries we MMORPGers are.

I’m digging the latest news out of the Elyria universe. “The pet/mount customization stretch goal has already been conquered. The next stretch goal is tunneling at $175,000.” That was fast. Tunneling has always been a request of MMORPG players. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for MMORPGs to implement and, as Everquest Landmark quickly discovered, it can be used for nefarious forms of PVP (which is naturally why I love it).

I’ve often longed for tunneling combined with flowing water. The potential for PVP chaos is near limitless! I doubt flowing water is an option but I think Soulbound will be able to pull off some form of tunneling. Why? Because several MMORPGs have been able to utilize it, albeit most of them only in shallow form. I don’t expect Soulbound to give us Minecraft or Landmark levels of tunneling. In a game with open PVP free form tunneling of that complexity would likely kill FPS and lead to a whole pile of issues. That said it would be fun if they did and looking at how quickly they ploughed through pretty mounts I’d guess tunneling makes the cut.

Soulbound listed some of the challenges they must solve to implement tunneling. I don’t know a thing about code or development but knowing nothing has never stopped me before! Let’s dive in.

Falling through the world – adds a bunch of collision detection issues. Hell if I know. I’m lazy. I’d just call up Daybreak Games, mention you are also a MMORPG developer and explain how it’s important for MMORPG developers to stick together because they are a minority within the larger universe of gaming. Then maybe they would give out some inside info on how they did it. Hey, I said this was bar stool coach level advice! /shrugs

Performance impact – When someone removes some geometry through tunneling, how often do we update the other players with that data? This is an absolute nightmare! In the games that featured tunneling the answer may have been in the dirt…or lack of. In the few I’ve played that allowed it the dirt disappeared in large chunks and didn’t pile up. That might not fit the hyper realistic approach Soulbound is trying for Elyria but it might be the kind of compromise that must be made to include the mechanic.

Land ownership – Who owns underground? Enough said. I’ve seen this one worked around a few times. Players could throw down a claim flag/cornerstone block that gives them ownership of X area. Some areas could be free from ownership so anyone could tunnel in them, others might not allow it at all. I should note “owning” shouldn’t mean safe from PVP.

The physics of caves – In real life, a tunnel may have a cave in, which could crumble structures all the way on the surface, or remain fairly localized to the section of the cave. Most games ignore this by allowing impossible geometry. Do we do that too? If not, and your support structures fail, what happens? To quote Ivan Drago “if he dies, he dies”. Elyria is a game trying for realism. If players don’t brace their tunnels well enough they should collapse. If the player is in them at the time they die (if they can’t dig out). Caves could make for a lot of emergent content via hidden forts, houses, items, treasure, traps etc. With enough freedom players could turn tunneling into dungeon crafting.

Griefing – There are a ton of ways tunneling can be used for nefarious deeds. Meh, I’m pretty laissez-faire on this one. Let players do their worst in testing and adjust it according by launch. It’s just testing anyway, why not start without any rules or restrictions? In my past experience players pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and figured out how to make systems work, even uncomfortable ones. When restrictions were added things got safer and more casual friendly but something was lost along the way, a sense of freedom and the excitement of unpredictability maybe. Players drifted away, first the PVPers and eventually the people who thought they wanted friendlier rules.

On the other hand, when I played games that started with lots of restrictions then tried to loosen them players cried an ocean of tears. How Soulbound starts and implements restrictions is one of the things that will set the tone for the Elyria universe. I’ll be pushing for as much player freedom as possible, at least throughout testing.

All that dirt – Where does it go? Do we conveniently make it disappear or does it need to be put somewhere? If we put it somewhere, is hill-building now a thing too? It would be great if dirty worked in this way but I don’t see it being possible. I’ve seen tunneling but I’ve rarely seen dirt be as free form as described. It would be incredibly fun, almost as much as flowing water, but with the current technology I just don’t think it’s possible in a MMORPG, especially a PVP MMO.

They say the first Thanksgiving was attended by ninety Native Americans and fifty-three pilgrims. With those odds my European Ancestors were lucky PVP was turned off! I wonder if they ate themselves into a food coma back then too? I don’t know about you but I already qued up my Christmas music and tapped into the eggnog! I love the Holiday season! (turns up Bing Crosby and sips some hard nog)


Tim Eisen

I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry