Okay! I Get It! Big World!

I’ve never been one to idolize world size or travel times in MMO games. I don’t really believe that ‘slow travel makes the world seem bigger’. But I put up with travel in MMO games because, however much it annoys me, it rarely rises into my list of top ten concerns.

But … I’m finished reading all the new blog posts in Google Reader, I’m all caught up with both Salon and Sinfest, and I’m considering starting on next year’s taxes — and I’m not even halfway done with this quest. If you are familiar with WoW, here’s a quick sketch: Wintersping to Eastern Plaguelands to Azshara to Eastern Plaguelands to Un’Goro … and after that to Feralas and then back to Eastern Plaguelands.

For those of you not familiar with World of Warcraft, here’s the summary: I’ve been traveling for the past 30 minutes, I’ve had to kill one creature, and if I continue I have another 30 minutes of travel ahead of me before anything else interesting happens.

But I’m stopping here. Ultimately I don’t care about the reward or future quests in this chain or even, really, saving the world. I’m bored. I’m leaving.

So be careful when you ‘make the world seem bigger’: because it doesn’t matter how big your world is if I’m too annoyed to play.

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15 Responses to Okay! I Get It! Big World!

  1. Sok says:

    I think the trick is to make it really easy for folks to travel quickly if they feel like it, with the occasional inter-zone quest (with under 10 minute travel) so that you’re not just churning through the content in one spot, never to see it again when you exhaust/outlevel it. You then add points of interest with optional goals/quests to entertain people who’re in the mood to just pick a direction and see what’s behind that ridge on the horizon.

    Obvious Time Sinks are like pebbles in the shoes, and these sorts of quest paths are definite OTSs.

  2. But, but, but… what will poor Linken do if you don’t finish the quest!

    One of the things I was discussing with someone recently is the concept of “maintenance gameplay” in online RPGs. This is the time you have to spend farming to get flasks for raiding, or the time you spend running across the zone because the quest giver thought it would be “epic” to make you run from one end of the zone to the other. I think that’s one of the major issues that makes things feel like a “grind” when you eventually just get tired of running around the same damned zone.

    That quest in particular is annoying because there are no other quests that you can do at the same time. In most zones you can pick up a bunch of quests and do them in sequence, so the running often doesn’t feel quite so dreadful because you’re doing one quest, and can do another quest by just hopping over the next hill. There are a few notable exceptions, especially for zones that are really long (Ashenvale, I’m looking at you!)

  3. Actually one of my favorite things about MMO’s is travel and not feeling that running over a hill is the way to my next quest, because to me that is a developer spoon-feeding the player. When you are traveling you can always come across something amazing that you did not expect – perhaps it is a player with the entire set of T6 in WoW, or perhaps it is a portal to a new dungeon you have never visited in Asheron’s Call 2. Patch day in Ac2 was pure joy for me, I would go around and searching for new places to explore. This did make Ac2 feel more epic to me.

    When I play games like Age of Conan and Everquest2 I see dozens of quests around me, and you can accept many of them, but then none of them feel important because of that stupid here’s something to do player, go do it. We’ll even put little sparkles over your quest objective (now in WoW and AoC).

    Maintenance gameplay is actually really important I think to add to the overall severity of what you are doing. It’s important to have variety though. For example, I would much rather pick herbs and make consumables than fight monsters and skin them.

    Oh, and Ashenvale is one of my favorite zones. If you really think about the zone it is divided into about five different distinct areas, most of which provide important elements to Warcraft lore, and even some that don’t give elements required for the Horde. If you contrast this to every zone in The Burning Crusade where you have an interesting tile set that is simply repeated over and over and over with nothing truly unique to look at (aka every zone but Hellfire Peninsula and to a lesser extent Blade’s Edge Mountains) it is easy to see how the more complicated and larger zones are more interesting in comparison.

  4. Oh, and Ac2 never had a particularly large landmass, but it always felt varied to me and open to exploration. I always felt there was an opportunity to experience something new, or see something I hadn’t seen before.

  5. Brimoonfang says:

    I love playing WoW, but I don’t understand this obsession with “making the world seem large”.
    I’d rather have interesting, non-repetitive gameplay in a relatively small area (even a single city)
    as compared to vast wastelands with long running times and little to see along the way
    (The Barrens, Silithus, etc.)

    I did that Linken quest, but only in the interest of full completion. Certainly the boomerang
    had little to offer my Feral Druid tank. Perhaps when Paladins had no ability to ranged pull
    (a glaring oversight on Blizzard’s fault that was eventually fixed), it was useful.

    On the other hand, this brings up one of my few complaints about WoW — its inability to take itself seriously. Sure, Nintendo fanboys loved this quest, and others like the constant pop-culture references to things like Land of the Lost, Conan, even Paris Hilton and her dog in World’s End Tavern in Shatt. Me? I would have preferred that WoW be about Warcraft lore. There’s plenty to see and do without resorting to cheap laughs (the same reason I disliked large sections of
    Shrek 2). YMMV.

  6. Brimoonfang says:

    Sorry to keep babbling on like this, but:

    I feel I should point out that Diablo 2 had instant travel between zones (i.e. waypoints)
    and yet this world never felt “small” to me.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I am only playing WoW until
    Diablo 3 ships, and then I will cancel my subscription and go back to my SP/coop LAN games.
    Sadly, this appears to be extremely unlikely to ever happen.

  7. David Hunt says:

    This describes my negative reaction to WoW in beta: travel times and yo-yo questing. After the early MMOs, I lost my tolerance for time sinks where I’m not engaged in the game (which is bad for someone who likes MMOs).

  8. Wayne Riddle says:

    I never felt the need to make travel seem long in order to make the world seem big. I’ll judge how “big” the world is by what it offers me to do.

  9. crashaddict says:

    @Brimoonfang

    Blizzard recently purchased the domain registration for http://www.diablo3.com

    So maybe it’s not a pipe dream after all.

  10. Babs says:

    In the ol’ MUD days room descriptions were tasked with providing length and breadth as part of the player experience. Five rooms had to sound like 50 because who wants to travel through 50 rooms of forest? It’s what I taught our designers, this “making the world larger” stuff. But in reality, as large as you made it sound, it really was small enough to navigate easily – and complex enough to tarry in should the mood strike you.

    I don’t care much for bigger, larger graphics driver-imploding worlds that take time to navigate (except that they provide the most excellent opportunities for bio breaks). The older I get the more I find myself wanting my old “gold ring” that let me set a bind point wherever I needed one, or my “instant travel” spell so I could hurry if I needed to. Mounts and flights and boats are cool but they’re often inefficient in the immediacy of LFG/LFM. I just flat-out don’t have an hour-plus to travel to where I want to go.

    I’m not sure why immediate travel is such a bane in MMOs. We could certainly use more of it in all kinds of games. I’m pretty sure I’ve done the quest you’re talking about a few times in WoW, mostly as something to do rather than out of necessity. Hit the bird, go make a sammich, watch an infomercial… =P

  11. Platinumstorm wrote:
    …Ac2 never had a particularly large landmass, but it always felt varied to me and open to exploration.

    The actual size of the landmass isn’t the topic here, it’s what designers do to make the area seem “larger”. In the case of the Linken quests, you have to travel all over the place, one assumes to show the player, “Hey, look at this huge world that takes several minutes to traverse, even in flight!” One of the major problems a new game has to tackle is how do you compete with all that content in other games? One way is to make what content you have seem bigger.

    That’s my problem with Ashenvale. I agree, it’s an interesting area with a lot of hooks back into the Warcraft lore, but it’s also a really long zone. A few quests on the Alliance side have you running from the central area (Astranaar) back to Darkshore or almost to Azshara. The later addition of a second smaller Alliance camp over on the east side makes some of the travel a bit less pointless, but it’s still a lot of running to do. Especially if you’re working on an alt and used to fast travel. I think originally this was intended to be a hot PvP zone. Not sure how it worked out on PvP servers, but I gotta assume it was a lot more frustration if you fell prey to gank squads.

    Brimoonfang wrote:
    …[T]his brings up one of my few complaints about WoW — its inability to take itself seriously.

    Some people think this is a benefit. A lot of other games tried to keep things a bit too serious. The pop culture references help the game appear a bit more smart and casual. If you want to do serious role-playing, I don’t think WoW is the game you want at any rate. I thought some of the pop culture references were kinda cute, but Ungoro Crater did seem to be particularly thick with them. Perhaps I just got more of the video game references.

    Babs wrote:
    In the ol’ MUD days room descriptions were tasked with providing length and breadth as part of the player experience. Five rooms had to sound like 50 because who wants to travel through 50 rooms of forest? It’s what I taught our designers, this “making the world larger” stuff. But in reality, as large as you made it sound, it really was small enough to navigate easily – and complex enough to tarry in should the mood strike you.

    On the other hand, you had a lot of MUDs that took pride in bloat. “We have 5 races, 10 classes, and 2000 rooms!” “Oh yeah? We have 50 races, 100 classes, and 20000 rooms!” “Noobs, we have 500 races….” Never mind that most of this was the result of cutting and pasting. :P

    I think the same thing has infected graphical games. Players look at a game and make judgements based on how much content it has. Look at AoC where they really worked to put a lot of content in the game. Of course, most of the content is at lower levels, and the upper levels are not finding that you have to grind out levels instead of doing quests. But, I haven’t heard complaints about a lack of content like I’ve heard people complain about in other games.

  12. Sandra says:

    Great discussion! Unfortunately I’ve been traveling (and still am, technically, but yay for laptops) so I am only now getting a chance to catch up.

    (Also: Hi, Wayne! Long time no chat!)

  13. Babs says:

    MUDs can certainly be accused of bloat but that was one of the things I tried to keep to a minimum in our games by teaching better writing skills. Walls of text are walls of text whether they’re in emails or legal documents or text RPGs.

    I’d like to build a graphic game that continually inserts new content into old territory to keep society fairly centered while adding real estate intelligently; that doesn’t mean it’s a small world, but a world set up so that social hubs are never too far from anyone’s reach. This is probably because I can’t stand taking 10 minutes to cross a valley just to retrieve an herb or fish, or living in an empty city because everyone else has moved to higher ground.

  14. Django says:

    “I’d like to build a graphic game that continually inserts new content into old territory to keep society fairly centered while adding real estate intelligently” –Babs

    The primary issue with content below a certain area/level is that it’s generally seen as being interim and will not suit the player for a significant amount of time. When the goal is to either A. hit max level (obtain “end game” status) or B. play with others, who quite possibly had goal “A” then everything outside a certain level range is just something you intend to push through and be done with quickly.

    As I tend to fall back on in these situations is the belief that there’s a right way to do exactly what you’re saying, but I just don’t know if anyone knows/uses it yet. Most commonly I find that new content inserted into old areas out dates the old content not reviving the area but rather killing older parts of the area off almost completely.

    Personally I like to pretend that I enjoy the road to the end and I am not just playing because I want to reach the end, but in all reality I really think reaching the end is all most people really want, myself included. If it’s not the end then generally it’s at least a specific goal, the constant search to see if the grass really is greener over there.

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