Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Hyboria lacks that world feeling

So my Herald of Xotl left Tortage and started questing all around Hyboria. But somehow "all around" is not really the good description. All the zones are instanced, and are accessed by talking to some NPC who teleports you there. It is simply not possible to walk into the next zone, you walk to the zone border where somebody teleports you into the next zone. Only that some teleports are all across the map, connecting the cities. You can reach a zone on the far end of the map as fast as the zone shown next to where you are on the world map. This has a horrible demotivating effect on me: I'm an explorer, and I'm missing a world to explore.

There being no sense of place is not only a matter of transport, but also of quest organization. Whatever city you are in, the quests you get can lead you to adventuring zones which are nominally attached to other regions. I left Tortage at level 19 and went to Stygia, but ended up leveling to 22 mostly in Aquilonia. Pretty quickly you start thinking of zones not in terms as being north, west, south, or east, but in terms of being X jumps away from where you are.

Now every region has their own zone for leveling up from 20 to 30. The advantage of being able to jump so quickly to any zone is that you end up with tons of quests for every level, more than you would need to level up. Don't like a quest? Just skip it, there are so many others around. The disadvantage is that you easily outlevel a zone before you have seen everything, and that by jumping around between zones you also jump around between the various strings of lore. You get less involved in a zone and its lore.

The game hasn't even started yet in Europe, and barely got out of the gate in the US, and already people report being bored. I'm not far enough to verify it myself, but apparently the content gets even weaker after level 30. Which is pretty much the state Lord of the Rings Online was in at release, so it wouldn't be all that surprising. As I said, I'm not there yet, but already I feel an urge to rather level up another class to 20 in Tortage with its fun destiny quest lines and voice overs, instead of doing random quests, randomly distributed all over Hyboria. Tortage has a lot of character, the wider world of Hyboria is lacking the world feeling for me.
I've complained about travel times before, but I'll concede that you should at least have the option of physically running between zones, and should physically travel to each zone at least once before being allowed to travel there "off-camera".

For some comparison, when LOTRO launched, half of the swift travel routes currently in the game didn't exist. As a result you got to spend a lot of time watching an autohorse ride somewhere - unlike WoW, the game didn't allow you to queue up your next ride, so you couldn't just click on a remote location and go AFK until you arrived. This might not have been a huge problem, except for the fact that the game is geographically centered around Bree in the 20's and 30's. Players need to be able to get to zones that are two zones away from Bree on either side, which means sitting and watching your character travel through three whole zones every time you finish your current quests before you level. Turbine tacitly acknowledged this problem by adding in a swift travel route to the far end of the Lone Lands that greatly eases the pain of the Evendim -> Trollshaws commute, but it was too little too late to sell me on rolling an alt (the only real option available to a solo player at the level cap). No thanks.
While I haven't played AoC, I really don't understand this concept of making the first 20 or so levels great, and then letting it sag for the next 10-20 levels. It's clear that this content will be reached in the first month of play, so why would you let this affect the way your players percieve yoru game before they even decide whether to keep subscribing?

As for fast travel, this is a two-sided issue. It eliminates a lot of the tedium of travel, but on the other hand it makes it feel like your game is nothing but a bunch of chunks stuck together with no sense of exploration (unless your zones are truly massive.)

Asheron's Call had the best of both worlds. They had tons of portals throughout the world that made travelling really easy, but it was also a very large, seamless world (they didn't even have "zones") that had plenty of opportunity to explore, something that seems lost on developers now who think that unused space is wasted space.
Danger, Danger Will Robinson! :P A Good reason to wait on this title for a while till they can fill it out, mi pare (seems to me)
I havent been able to put in much playtime, so im still in Tortage. Seems to me this game is very much aimed at the (very) casual gamer, who will not be level 60 or higher after 5 days (as seems to be the case in EA, expoits or not). This will give FC some time to fill in the gaps, which are IMHO unavoidable in the games/mmo industry. After all, the CEO and accountants determine the launch date, not the developers.

As for the world feeling, i dont think i will miss it much. Its nice the first time but travel can become boring fast. For example, i liked the multiple teleport points in TR (which had small-ish but action packed zones connected by tunnels iirc). Hop in, hop out and start shooting.

Since im still in Tortage i will reserve my judgement for later, but as it looks now i will play this till WotlK or WAR. It draws me in more then LOTRO or TR did.
Age of Conan is more like City of Heroes than World of Warcraft. The combat is fast with lots of mobs. The downtime is non-existant with the majority of it being running to the next quest/group of mobs. The instances are setup almost identical to City of Heroes, where you can have multiple instances of a zone (if things are laggy, try switching to a different instance of the zone you are in up by the mini-map).
I don't understand what people mean by instances with this game. Multiple copies of the outdoor areas like Guild Wars' city districts, or private copies no one else can enter a la WoW's dungeons? Am I going to be dealing with a bunch of personalized crap later in the game, or will there always be chance encounters and there are just several shared copies of a given zone depending on population?

Funcom have done connected zones before, and nicely. It could be that what they're doing here (and I don't like it either) is avoiding the attempt at being "the WoW killer," which is a long shot and could also be a blow against Anarchy Online. Maybe what they really want is a Guild Wars killer. And oh God that game has it coming.
Thanks for putting into words some of the disquiet I am having with this game. There is no question that the areas are very nice looking and have lots of content, but that lack of a world feeling is leaving me with a small empty feeling inside.
I've become concerned about the post by Keen and Graev as well..however, there is such a thing as being burnt out. And if this game is indeed aimed toward a casual approach, their (Keen & Graev) "hardcore" playtime will probably show diminishing returns (aka "burnt out").

I agree with the two-sided argument about zone travel. To be honest, I won't have my computer built for another week, so I have no personal exp to report off of. I am thinking I will not like it, but I try not to judge prematurely before trying.
Maybe what they really want is a Guild Wars killer. And oh God that game has it coming.

The system requirements will make that tough to pull off, though it would be nice to see more games coming up where people can" complete" the characters (in terms of statistics) more quickly than usual.
I've started to feel the same over the last couple of days. The game doesn't feel like a coherent world, and the reliance on zoning and instancing strangles any sort of immersion.

The graphics are nice, but I don't think we're talking orders of magnitude better than LotRO, and there are plenty of bugs in evidence, as I kind of expected there would be.

On the plus side, the combat is a lot of fun, and is starting to develop more depth and challenge as I'm getting to group stuff with elite mobs.

I think Tortage alone is better than most single player RPGs, so I'm a happy customer so far, but the jury's still out on whether I'll be playing AoC long term. That will likely depend on the quality of the higher level group and PvP content.
I think the MMO you are expecting wont exist until they really push physix engines/cell based processing/multiple cpu enhancements. Because quite frankly to create a very large Shard that is without bugs and lag and all the fun stuff that comes with a badly designed game atmosphere wont exist for a while.

The approach makes sense imo, as they are streamlining the grind to something more bearable (less than 15 days to hit cap? yes.) and enhancing the parts of the game that encourage interacting and do it with some eye candy to boot.

Tobold, Age of Conan might start out with a "hardcore-only" flavour if you are hitting it up solo but really the content being instanced is designed for small groups of friends to smack at it (elite mobs being quite a challenge for a solo'er, sometimes frustrating). (think heroics of WoW) This type of content would be absolutely aggrovating for the regular group of friends to get ganked in, (AoC allows everyone to "stealth" and gank and would really bring down the enjoyment lvl of the game.

That being said, The parts of the game that are sandb0xed with everyone around allow for open pvp and the game being slightly mor geared for a casual hack/slash hyborian player will eventually show some true colors as players hit the end game cap and participate in something besides PVE grind and random ganks.

Also I have a questino for you..

When playing WoW, has there been points where you were "flying" between routes as a group was waiting for you to arrive? Is this a waste of mainly your time or everyones. Creates a horrible gameplay mechanic of waiting around when the content is supposed to be coming at you.. vs going after it.

Why is it this game sounds more and more like Guild Wars everyday?
Tobold, I gotta completely disagree with you on this one, which I normally dont do. I find the quick travel between areas to be massively refreshing. I hated the incredibly long rides in LOTRO, the absurd runs in WOW and I won't even talk about EQ. Im so glad the newer games have removed that waste of time. Sure, running through an area is fun the first time, but after the 10th, Im ready to scream. I think AoC has it just right. Doesn't feel like Guild Wars at all, more like LOTRO with quick travel. Heck even WOW is shortening the trips. The trip to Bloodmyst isle from IF was awfully fast, and that teleporter was up pretty quick on most servers. Even Bliz gets it now. You won't see many long runs any more in the future, I'd bet.
When playing WoW, has there been points where you were "flying" between routes as a group was waiting for you to arrive? Is this a waste of mainly your time or everyones. Creates a horrible gameplay mechanic of waiting around when the content is supposed to be coming at you.. vs going after it.

WoW has been getting better at that with the meeting stones, and since last patch the ability to summon people into instances directly. But I definitely agree that travel time is a double-edged sword: It creates a feeling of space and world, but it can be annoying and holding people up.
Each big MMOG did one thing right: it served all player types, ie. supported the various gameplay types out there in the net.

The game design theory behind it was defined over 30 years ago and only games supporting it are successful. Even that was said by the game designers years ago: in order to BE successful you need to support all player archetypes equally, ie. support their play style.

Dropping one means less customer base as the inter relationships between the player types is important to build a social infrastructure.

(see Richard Bartle's books and theories, Raph Kosters various papers etc.)

Dropping the explorer is a problem, a huge one as most people start as a explorer looking at the world. Giving people ways to shorten the travel times is of course a comfortable thing to do, but at least you have the option to explore. WoW gave you a mount at level 40, a speed mount at 60, a flying mount at 70. Way to go.
A travelling-map ala Indiana Jones would go a long way to giving players a sense of place as they zone back and forth.

I personally don't need seamless continents ala WoW, but it would be nice to have an idea of where you are, or how far you're travelling during that loading screen.

On other topics, I do have to shake my head when I stop by and read here, because elsewhere the reactions to AoC have seemed positive.

For me, I'm having fun. Stuff like this is a compromise, but I'm happy to trade it for all of the other elements of the game that work for me.
I am reading alot about "immersion" or lack thereof on the official forums. Now somehow this reminded me of heated discussions a long time ago, on bulletin boards and CIS forums (remember those days of paying by the hour, through the nose to get on the 'net on your 14k4 modem...good times).

People were ranting and raving about FPS games, and specifically the degree of 3d-ness...'just look at the small rock in the corner of the screen when you enter the Temple of Utter Doom. If you examine the fourth pixel on the left you will notice that it is not correct 3d! In fact i would call it 2.5d at most! This kills immersion totally. Lets face it, this game sucks'

And so on. Now i always found this argument lacking. I mean, i can get immersed in another world by just reading a book. Or in terms of the critic: 'it is like, interpreting pre historic symbolic 2D graphics on paper! In monochrome too! Yes folks, thats black and white to you and me, you heard it here first. And the killer: at the end of each right hand page, you have TO TURN THE PAGE MANUALLY! Now, this totally kills immersion, wth were they thinking!@#'

Why monomaniacally concentrate on the flaws of the medium in stead of the content? Extrapolating this would lead to the conclusion that the only virtual world acceptable would be the thing we lovingly call 'the real world'. Now there's a seamless totally 3d world for you. And it has functional physics and everything. Best thing: you dont need any imagination to experience it.

For me, the breaking of immersion is indeed anything that reminds me that the virtual world I am inhabiting is less real than it appears. A bit like glimpsing the man behind the curtain.

Zoning reminds me that each area is just a box which exists only in relation to itself, and clicking on an NPC to travel somewhere else is just me selecting which box to load into next.

Instancing of these zones just amplifies the issue, because we are then reminded that there are actually multiple identical boxes floating around with different people in them. I will not randomly bump into someone who is attempting the same quest as me in some obscure corner of the zone, because that person is playing in a different instance, and thus we miss an opportunity to quest and socialise together, which surely is one of the most important aspects of these games?

Also, events become even less meaningful than is the norm for MMORPGs when they occur in an instance, because those events aren't occurring in a world that everyone is sharing.

I have to agree with Tobold here. Hyboria doesn't feel like a virtual world to anything like the extent of WoW or LotRO. I don't even mind zoning across the boundaries of adjacent land masses, but zoning into instanced world areas is a step too far for me.

I'm still enjoying AoC, but at the moment it feels like a game that I will 'complete' and then probably stop playing, not a virtual world where I'll spend a lot of time.
New Rule: Any 'WoW Killer' has to take what WoW does well and improve on things without degrading others.

And if you have to create multiple copies of zones (Ala DDO or Tabula Rasa) then you're disqualified from the competition. This, at least as far as I'm concerned is a de-evolution in the product.

I'm playing AoC now. It's not a bad game, they do some things well and other things really well. But the zone loads, multiple zone copies, lack of physical travel options and a general disjointed feel makes it feel less epic than an MMO should.

Anarchy Online, another Funcom product felt more alive than this...Which is sad.
Sounds like a disconnect on what gameplay means.

Most posters view only combat or perhaps trade and similar overt activities as gameplay.

In game worlds where travel and world size are emphasized, gameplay is intended to include travelling. This gives you time to reflect, chat with your group mates and so forth. But that only works if you're playing the game as a role-playing game, and not a MMAAG (Massively Multiplayer Action Adventure Game).

Most of the posters here are playing the action adventure type of deal, not the role-playing type of deal.
I always think of how I make my characters in EQ2...even though it is zoned, I still always create a character that has a speed buff..
No speed buff, no makey..

Here, I can go where I need to when I want to...and the EASK in me is enjoying the rather large zones..
I do not care that I have a guy standing by a boat who then goes to a quick load screen (5-10 seconds compared to 30secs to 1 minute for EQ2) once I reach that zone is HUGE...and I can run around talking with different people doing different things...
I get more of my game on without the downtime of hitting my autorun button (which I also have fixed in AoC by using my 360 controller)and waiting to get to the next area....
Extrapolating this would lead to the conclusion that the only virtual world acceptable would be the thing we lovingly call 'the real world'. Now there's a seamless totally 3d world for you. And it has functional physics and everything. Best thing: you dont need any imagination to experience it.

What are the system requirements on that?

Travel has its good points and bad. From the way you describe it, Tobold, I'd probably be disappointed with it, too. Without sounding fanboi-ish, I'd say I think WoW does it best - gets you to where you need to go fairly quickly, much quicker than any other method, but you don't lose the sense of distance travelled.
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