I’ve been surprised by the number of people who don’t realize this little bit of MMO trickery: most houses in MMOs are Disneyland fantasy houses, tiny models that couldn’t possibly have an interior.
I’m working on one of the villages in the MMO, and here’s one of the houses in it:
It’s supposedly a two-story building with at least four rooms (judging from the windows along the sides). I don’t know if you can tell how tiny this building actually is from the screenshot… but it’s tiny. However, when you’re just walking through the village, you really don’t notice it among all the other houses.
You can’t enter this house, it’s too small to have an interior.
Compare that to a house that you can actually go into (from version 1 of the village):
This thing is gigantic compared to the other building! But it’s actually not that huge if you look inside:
That’s me standing in the doorway. Obviously it needs some interior walls and decorations, but more importantly, this “huge” house still takes only one second to walk from end to end.
MMOs play a lot of games with perspectives and speeds. A slow walking speed in an MMO is still twice as fast as a real person walking. In my MMO you can sprint 4 times faster than a real-world sprint, and it still feels kind of slow. (Gotta leave room for travel powers!)
The other problem is that games with a third-person camera need extra space for the camera. The door on the old house is giant-sized in order to make sure the camera can easily fit inside without bumping into things and jarring the player. FPS games can get away with much smaller spaces, but third-person games need pretty big areas to work in.
The up-shot of all this is that if that tiny house above actually had an interior, it would be about the size of a small bedroom, and players would traverse it from end to end in a fraction of a second, and the camera would barely fit in there with them anyway — it would be bumping along the walls and doors. And you would really be hating life if you had to go up the stairs.
This is why so many MMOs have houses without interiors. It’s a lot harder to make houses that LOOK the right scale on the outside and FEEL the right scale on the inside, always leaving room for the camera yet containing enough internal walls to give the place a sense of space.
And even if your interiors are great, there are still drawbacks. AC1 did their houses really well, with great interiors. But AC1′s cities ended up feeling like little hamlets with a dozen buildings in them. Other MMOs can put entire mega-cities in the same amount of space, because they fill them with miniature houses and facades. (Imagine if the mega-cities in WoW were the size of real-world mega-cities! They would take 10 minutes to traverse even at superhuman speeds. Instead, they just try to convey the feel of a mega-city without actually modelling one.)
No real point to all this, just something interesting to share. If you’d never noticed this before, take a look at your favorite MMO next time you log in. You’ll probably be able to spot the buildings with interiors from a mile away, and you’ll soon notice that there are a whole lot more Grand Palaces than Tiny Hovels because the former is way easier.
Old-school WoW had noticeably weird heights: their building interiors were super tall (to accomodate the camera), so that jumping off a two-story building was a pretty far drop. I haven’t played much WoW after Cataclysm but the screenshots suggest they fixed lots of these buildings (by using more clever modelling, I expect… or by removing the interiors).
The other common trick is to have separate maps for the interiors, like Lotro — where the facades for inns and shops are far smaller than the interiors! Since you teleport into a separate map for the interior, they can get away with it. I think it’s pretty noticeable in Lotro, actually: some of those inns are insanely big inside. But eh, nobody really seems to care.