Realtime vs. Faketime

Developers love new technology. They love it more than players, honestly. This bleeds into developers’ perspectives of their universe, and that’s unfortunate.

Here’s an example: “Wouldn’t it be great if players could beat the ultimate bad guy boss in the story arc, and then a giant rift opens up and a castle appears? That would be so great. Wait, you say that’s been done before?” Back as far as Asheron’s Call 1, developers would pull stunts like this, to great effect. I remember an AC1 event where the ultimate boss dungeon had a big padlock on the door (so to speak) that unlocked itself at a predetermined time. About 12 hours after that, the servers came down. When they came back up, the “aftermath” version of the universe appeared. Players loved it!

“But that’s cheating. It’s not real time, it’s just a hack.” Let’s look at that for a minute, because it’s a pretty common complaint. Sure, it was rigged. The players couldn’t fail, right? Well, in Asheron’s Call 2 we experimented with letting players fail — if a given server hadn’t completed the quest, their world didn’t get updated until later. But it’s still cheating, right? Because it didn’t happen in real time!

Real time wouldn’t really help here, though. Let’s suppose it happened in real time. A group of max-level characters would complete the final quest at 1AM, and everybody who happened to be online at that point would be shown a dazzling real time spectacle. All 50 of ‘em. Everybody else who logged in the next day didn’t get anything out of the “real time” feature you worked so hard on. It’s just not a very good use of development time. And although it’s not as sexy, players enjoy the “fake” version very much. Don’t be afraid to go there just because it isn’t ridiculously over-engineered.

Now don’t get me wrong, some cheap and effective realtime content can go far. In AC1 and AC2, we would have magical portals that appear and disappear in real-time, gating content and quests. Worked great, very easy to implement. Still not sexy (to designers), but it worked great.

Keep it simple! Figure out the easiest way to get the results you want. Do that, not the really hard version. Making and running an MMO is already inconceivably difficult without piling on random features you don’t need.

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2 Responses to Realtime vs. Faketime

  1. Mavis says:

    Would the following be easy….

    Switch between two version of the world – the player having a cut scene while it happens. And any player off line gets the same cut scene when they log in to put the whole thing into context.

    Oh and I really like your writing, very interesting.

  2. Eric says:

    Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. In some ways it’s what Lotro does with the instanced version of the newbie human town. But I like the idea of using it for monthly content.