Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Random Shots: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

  • After a drought of MMO blogging, I thought I would talk about travel times in MMO games. At least I was until I saw that Syp from Bio Break had knocked this subject out of the park. I'll try to form a few coherent thoughts anyway. /sigh

  • The world should be big - One of the things that attracts me to fantasy games is the size of the world. There should be wide open plains, sweeping vistas, huge mountain ranges, vast seas, and I'm running out of adjectives but you get the picture. Fantasy is not about doing things small. I want to play a hero of gigantic proportions and I want a world big enough for to deserve me. Playing the hero in a tiny little sandbox does not feel very epic.

    World of Warcraft earned its theme park designation not just because of the guided experience, but because of their use of forced perspectives to make the world feel larger than it actually is. Azeroth feels big even though it really is not. Flying mounts in the expansions showed us exactly how small those worlds really are.

  • Exploration should be an adventure - The reason a game needs a big world is so that there is something to explore. Richard Bartle was not wrong when he listed exploration as one of the four game categories. The size of the world dictates how many mysteries it can hold. Travel is an important part of exploration, so distances are the limiting factor.

    I understand there is a limited amount of hand-tailored content that can be placed into a game. One can design a nearly infinite world procedurally if you want to, but that would be just as pointless as too little content. People want to explore, they want to find something neat, and they want the journey to be a challenge. An infinite canvas is not a challenge, it's a chore. Too small a world, due to physical size or reduce travel options, expends exploration content too quickly.

  • Travel powers should be a reward - One of the reasons I wanted to play a mage in World of Warcraft was because of the ability to teleport around the world. The game didn't just give you the spell either. You had to travel to a city and purchase the spell for each potential destination. Nowadays there are so many options for teleporting, most people actually refuse my offer to summon a portal.

    When traveling abilities become commonplace, they lose a sense of wonder. Just look at gripes about Everquest's Plane of Knowledge to understand that fast travel options change the dynamics of a game. Travel powers should feel epic. They can only feel that way if they are limited and if the world is large enough to care about them.

  • Travel time should not be a punishment - While all of the above can be dismissed as fuzzy nostalgia for the old days of gaming, I hope I redeem myself here. Many times, games use travel times as a punishment. They're just stringing you along. And with a monthly subscription, they're charging you for every minute you spend on some mystical taxi. There is no reason to design a quest that sends you across the world to accomplish a single objective and then back again. That's not adventure, that's an errand. And it is a deliberate waste of time. Changing this one problem would make limited travel options much more palatable.

  • And that's it really. Travel can be good, unless it's bad. It all comes down to the developer acting responsible. Speeding up travel does not correct a bad design, it just masks it.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. How do you feel about travel then in AoC?
    They have you going to various parts of the world, and use wagons or ships, which cut to load screens.
    For me, I just do not want to walk for the sake of wasting time (Aion did this quite harshly in the beginning zone)
    AoC seems to have found the right balance of loads and walking.
    They even will not take you somewhere unless you have discovered it (except for the resource zones)


  2. @ Openedge1 - So far, AoC feels big enough, even with the zone walls. I took more than a few screenshots of Conall's Valley, looking down the length of it and seeing the everything laid out before me. The travel options feel very much in character for the world. Since they only get you to a starting point and you still have to adventure to your goal, it doesn't feel like cheating. So no complaints here.