Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Flying mounts shrink the world

When I hit level 77 last weekend, I was in the middle of questing in Zul'Darak. So I went to train my spells and to learn "Cold weather flying", enabling me to use my flying mount in Northrend. And when I came back to Zul'Darak and continued questing, I found that the zone had shrunk. Where before getting from A to B was part of the adventure, it now went much faster, flying in a straight line and ignoring the mobs and terrain features. As I have previously argued in my post measuring the size of Azeroth, "distance" in virtual worlds is less a matter of meters and miles, but more a matter of how long it takes you to get somewhere. And flying thus shrinks the world. Are flying mounts a mistake, or should they at least have been postponed to level 80?

One problem with flying mounts is that it makes the traveling and exploring part of questing trivial. Exploring Zul'Darak on foot or horseback was fun, because it was dangerous. You couldn't just go anywhere in a straight line, because there were walls, cliffs, and large accumulations of monsters you had to circumvent. As soon as you have a flying mount, you just ignore those obstacles. The zone might as well be totally flat, you wouldn't notice the difference. Flying mounts take a part of the game away. That is great if you *want* to skip content, for example after having already explored everything on the ground. But it also leads to you missing a lot of the features in higher level zones. Of course some features of higher level zones are designed with flying mounts in mind, there are even flying ships with quest givers. But some ground parts you'll never see, because you don't have to.

I find flying mounts particularly annoying when it comes to gathering herbs and ores. If you don't have one, it is frustrating to run towards a resource node, only to see somebody else fly from above and grab the node before you. And once you have a flying mount yourself, it takes much of the adventure out of gathering resources. Gathering resources by flying is just a trivial grind, but you can't afford not to use your flying mount, because you are in competition with other players. I'm having more fun gathering resources in Wintergrasp, which is a no-fly zone, than in places where it is too easy because of flying.

Players are always clamoring for faster transport: faster flight paths, teleports, flying mounts. But in the end we just make the world around us smaller by that, and eliminate a large part of the exploration gameplay. I'm happy we couldn't use flying mounts in Northrend already at level 70, and wonder if their use shouldn't have postponed to level 80. What do you think?
I'm happy to be flying....if you dont WANT to skip the terrain obstacles while exploring new zones, then either dont get cold weather flying, or ride your ground mount through the areas you dont know...
Thats one of the things I love about WoW, the game is how you make it, you arent FORCED to use a flying mount(with the exception of a few flying only quest hubs)

Personally, I wish cold weather flying was still a quest...I appreciate the need for a 1k gold sink, but there could have been a 1k gold expense as part of the quest chain....(buy X item that costs 1k gold from vendor Y in zone Z, in order to summon quest mob etc)

I believe there was a quest in beta, but it got removed :(
I was mildly irritated to pay ~1000g to regain access to something I already had in Outlands and have been using for 2 years. I'd much rather put that gold towards epic flying on an alt or two.

But, with the costs involved in flying in Northrend (~1+ gold from Dalaran to anywhere), I was very happy to have my flying mount back at 77. It won't take long to repay the cold weather flying extortion fees.
I'd like to see what exactly the special "cold weather flying" training consisted of. I'm imagining basically paying 1,000 gold to be told to put a sweater on.
DarkLegacy has a similar gag here: :)
For 1,000 gold they not only tell you to put a sweater on, they even teach you how to knit a sweater for your gryphon. After all, being warm isn't much use if the wings of your flying mount freeze over and you crash. :)
I don't mind the world shrinking a bit, but I was a bit disappointed at how trivial flight makes certain quests. A level ago, I might have had to fight my way into a camp, dodging elites, etc. Now I just swoop in, snipe the named, and swoop out.
I think wait till you get a chance to explore Storm Peaks and Icecrown, because those zones were designed to be explored on flying mounts!
I for one am very easy to get bored with something, so I really appreciate not having to go on and on in the same zone, avoiding the same mobs (or killing them). I guess in also depends on how solid your suspension of disbelief is. Mine is pretty sensitive to repetition and "non-persistence", so I find the solo questing part of wow rather infantile. As a result I prefer to not read quests, rush to 80 and immerse myself in what I like most: group content, with real people. Skipping the leveling part as much as possible is really a huge bonus for me because I can't really invest myself emotionally in any of the current quests enough to want to spend much time on them: it's all mobs that really don't die (they respawn before your eyes), allies that don't die and do not get saved (run the escort, then come back and see the prisoner back in his/her cage), foes that are never truly defeated (you killed Elite X? Well if your gf didn't you may just as well help her kill him *again* and *again* and so on). To me the danger in exploring on foot is pointless and unrewarding, so I really appreciate skipping it.

Exploring, well that I like. But I can do that from the safety of a flying mount as well, without running the risk of dying and losing time corpse running.

The world can be unshrunk not only by making it harder to explore, but by making it more rewarding to explore so that you do spend more time on details even if you don't have to. That's however much harder to design and implement, and could actually be impossible in a MMOG.
Storm Peaks and Icecrown are a big change from what Tobold describes. In both cases, my epic flying mount still felt like it took forever to get anywhere - they're very much designed with flying in mind, so don't suffer the same problems as the lower-level zones where it's assumed you'll be on a ground mount still.
First off, as someone already mentioned, two zones (arguably three - because I sure haven't found a way to ride a ground mount up to the plateau in Sholazar where a couple Oracle daily quests take place) have heavy content that was designed with flying mounts in mind, so waiting until 80 to allow people to fly in Northrend would not be smart. Sure, they could have designed the zones differently, but I feel that would somehow cheapen the amount of money we've paid by that point for (especially) epic flying - roughly 6200g.

I understand it makes the world "smaller", but I think that's the only drawback to flying, to be honest.

While we're on the subject, Wintergrasp is in a horrible, horrible location compared to the rest of the content in Northrend. I actually feel you should be able to fly over it when a game is not in progress, because its a pain flying around it, given the placement of Dalaran and a couple other zones.
This same problem is what started killing SWG for me. When that game first started, getting anywhere from a port city was an adventure, if not down right dangerous. Travel took a long time and you did it at your own peril. Gatherers on my server would bring along hired guns to keep them safe, even creature handlers usually towed a friend or two along. And that was just on the "safe" planets; Lok, Endor and Dathomir were absolutely deadly and you didn't go there unless you were really good. I ran an escort service (not that kind!) for people that wanted to survey on the outer planets, and I kept the areas around the shuttle ports on those planets clear for a hundred meters or so. I was kind of like Star Wars Strider/Aragorn. Then they patched in mounts and speederbikes and such. With speederbikes especially, travel was entirely trivialised, the danger was gone, I was out of a job, and a large part of the fun was patched out with it.

At least in World of Warcraft, the ground mounts are relatively slow, and there is still some danger, not to mention terrain to deal with. I agree with you about the flyers, but this problem didn't really exist in Outland as you needed to be full level to get one, and the zones were designed so there were some places you couldn't go to at all without one. (Remember the first time you flew up to those islands over Nagrand?) I still haven't gotten my copy of Wrath yet, so I can't speak from direct evidence, but from past experience, I can say I tentatively agree with you.
Additionally, I've just seen this:

"it's all mobs that really don't die (they respawn before your eyes), allies that don't die and do not get saved (run the escort, then come back and see the prisoner back in his/her cage), foes that are never truly defeated"

That's not so true any more. The Wrathgate quest line is one example of this - there are big changes to the zone once you complete it - though there are several others, such as the Sons of Hodir initial questline. Again, a big chunk of the zone changes in response to player actions.
I would have been happy with faster land mounts at 77 (or some other level, maybe 73 for faster land mounts and then at 80 your flying mounts opening back up). That keeps you "in" the world but speeds up things overall.
As others have commented, I believe your perception would be different if you hit Storm Peaks or Icecrown at level 77: Those zones really are designed for flight. Epic flight. I suspect those zones were an experiment by the designers, to see how flight-only zones would play. It isn't just about scale, it's about designing in a 3 dimensional space. And as a lot of a space-sims show, that's hard to do without making your game world feel empty.

So the real "issue" your allude to here, is that you hit level 77 in a zone intended for those around level 75.

That is easy to do:

1. Each zone contains about 2 levels worth of quests. More if rested. There are 8+ zones spread over 10 levels. Not to mention to surrounding dungeons.

2. Zones are well structured and far more linear than previous WoW content. So it is really easy to end up doing the majority of quests in each zone.

With the existing leveling curve, this should be great for replayability. But it tends to hide one important conclusion: The leveling curve has been optimised to match "70-80", but the content was sufficient to offer much more progression.

In beta, the common reaction to a more extreme leveling curve (that is, one that pushed you through the majority of the content, not the minority), was that the "endgame community" (people for whom reaching the level cap is nothing more than an entry requirement for playing the game), would be in crisis if they couldn't get back into raiding (mostly) within a week. But ironically the most hardcore players have already exhuasted all that content, and are left with achievement-based challenges to keep them amused.

Blizzard have been enthusiatically speeding up the lower levels, so that players primarily experience the best content in the game - in particular, WotLK content. So the "I don't want 1-80 to take my alt a lifetime" argument looses impact too.

So perhaps the expansion should have been labeled "level 70-90", and everyone would have expected to spend more time working through pre-endgame content?
"I think wait till you get a chance to explore Storm Peaks and Icecrown, because those zones were designed to be explored on flying mounts!"

I don't think this can be said enough. These zones are not flat and have multiple level questing areas that you will have to fly up and explore.
Just got my cold weather flying last night and I can see both sides of this.

On the one hand, I love excitement of exploration -- including the challenge of figuring out to get through the terrain from where I am to an objective. The ability to just fly over everything and drop right down at the end does trivialize a lot of content. If we had flying right from the start of Northrend, I think it would have really hurt the game.

On the other hand, for me repetitive travel isn't really all that much fun. The first time I flew from Darnassus to Gadgetzan, it was great to be able to look down and see a whole continent pass slowly by. The next 50,000 times I did that flight it was just 15 minutes afk from the game. The Bejeweled addon wouldn't be half so popular if most people didn't find flight time overly long and boring. I pretty much feel the same way when it comes to most travel in game -- doing it once was a lot of fun, but going back and forth eventually becomes tedious(especially the ever-popular quests to "Go scout out [remote village x] and then report back," always followed by a series "Now, go back again and do another step in this long chain."). So from that angle, epic flying is a god-send in that it gets you between known points the fastest.

I think Blizzard made a good compromise with WOTLK. They were right to ground flyers for most of the time levelling, so that people actually got to experience the new zones. And I'm glad they eventually allow flyers back in the game so we can speed through travel faster after we got familiar with most of the content. At 77, you can start hitting the last zones that were designed specifically for flyers, which is a fun change-up from what you've been doing for the last seven levels. Could they have held off until level 80 to allowing flying again? Wouldn't have been a big problem for me if they had, but I'm ok with getting my wings back at 77 too.
Reserve Judgement - you should be finishing up Zuldrak at it doesn't matter, you've seen it. Once you get to Icecrown/Storm Peaks - you'll understand why a flying mount is *part* of the exploration.
I wonder if they will ever invent underground zones. They could be no-fly zones or even zones that require special mounts or other skills. ie. underwater travel, etc.
I greatly enjoyed using the parachute cloak tinker for some overland shortcuts as well as the new mounted water walk, both of which I will use pretty rarely now that I've got my epic wings back. I think I would have liked being tethered to the earth till 79 or 80.

However, it's probably because I made the odd decision to do Borean Tundra right after Howling Fjord, amidst doing instances often. As a result I've been doing (green) Dragonblight quests on gryphonback and I agree it's less fun but incredibly more efficient that way.

In going with what Tim Howgego (poster above) said, different zones are laid out differently, and Tobold may just be experiencing the same thing I am. Someone speeding through zones seeking out orange quests will definitely appreciate being able to tackle Icecrown before level 80.
I've had the same mixed reaction to flying. Being grounded in Northrend definitely made me feel more connected to the content. After acquiring cold-weather flying, it is hard to argue for the plodding travel times and danger associated with ground mounts, but I do miss the epic feel of the terrain now that I have a bird's eye view.
This is not unique to the virtual world.

C.S. Lewis wrote about the appropriateness of an automobile add in which they claimed their machine "annihilated distance." He went on to lament what the automobile had done to our perspective of our world.

If you are walking everywhere, the individual character of the terrain all becomes very familiar. You start to remember specific trees, rocks, and streams and a distance of 30 miles might as well be on another continent. The world feels huge. Enter the automobile, and things change. Now landscapes become less familiar and more generic, and suddenly 30 miles is an insignificant distance. Introduce the airplane and the effect is compounded to a much greater degree. Even the telephone has helped change the perspective of size, as I can converse with any friend or family I chose to, no matter how far away they are.

Worlds are worlds, and the speed and ease with which we move through them will help dictate both our familiarity with them, and, to a great extent, our attachment. I am most fond of the rambles from my youth, because I walked everywhere, and grew to know those places intimately. The terrain around my current place of living is every bit as varied and interesting, but I have no personal connection to it at all, as I have never walked it, and "gotten my toes in the earth."

You'll find out that the last two zone, storm peaks and icecrown are made with the flying mount in mind. They're larger and have spots you can only reach by flying ! Which makes it interesting again ;).
True story - at 77 I got my sweater on and went to Icecrown. I was dodging things like crazy in the air, like I had to previously do with my horse, just less of it, but no less dangerous. Then I went to Colderra where the level 80 elite dragons were flying around. I decided to ride the horse :)

I think 77 was a good level.
I like the design approach that Blizzard took with limiting flying mounts to level 77. Flying mounts -do- shrink the size of the world, but the design elements that Morph touched on in his above comment makes this less obvious. I think Blizzard did the right thing by limiting the use of flying mounts to level 77. The only drawback, or complaint, if you will, about flying mounts is the ability of those players to come back to -lower level zones- and actively farm resources while competing against players relegated to their land mounts. It's quite deflating to try and collect ore or herbs when you're competing against someone who is able to move upwards of 100% faster than you, just because they have the time or inclination to level up faster.
What you consider fun gameplay many people find annoying. I don't enjoy having to dodge monster after monster after monster just to get to where I'm going. It's akin to being stuck in traffic -- there's simply no upside. You can explore just as well from the air, it just doesn't take as long, and in fact I enjoy exploring from the air far more than on the ground. Once I had my flying mount in Outland I went flying around all over the place just to see what I could see and explore the world. When I was stuck on the ground I spent all my time avoiding mobs, exploration didn't come into it.

If you prefer to explore from the ground, that's fine. You have that option -- feel free to stay on your ground mount and dodge the endless swarms of respawning mobs. Don't suggest taking away gameplay options from those that DO enjoy them however. I would prefer they hadn't taken away my hard earned epic flying from level 70-76, but I understand the reasoning. Giving it back at 77 is a compromise between blowing through content too quickly and taking options away from players.
I loved being tethered to the earth again in Northrend. I became intimate with the surroundings, short-cuts, and terrain. But, like Tobold, I just hit 77 and spent an hour exploring Storm Peaks and Ice Crown. Those zones look incredible and are obviously made for flying. I'll miss the connection I previously had with the ground but there's really no way to go back. Flying makes things so much easier and faster. I especially like being able to hop on my flying mount when I have to go AFK which protects me from mobs and gankers.
Yeah, Ice Crown was amazing. Storm Peaks is good just not as good. The zone your in isn't really a lev 77 zone. I believe the intention is to reach level 77 in the Bazin. You'll find in that zone there's a lot of quests close together and then they get very spread apart. This is where the original cold weather flying quest is. The real issue isn't that flying makes the world smaller. Its flying in zones not designed for flying make them feel smaller. In a sense by leveling the way you do with rested or running lots of instances is you've hit 77 before the designers intended you to. You've stepped outside their vision of the leveling experience. Its little ironic, because you point out how rushing ruins the leveling experience, and you inadvertently ruined a small part of the experience by leveling the way you do. Not that there is really anything wrong with that.
Flying Mounts are both a Blessing and a Curse at the same time. People already mentioned that we now have zones designed specifically with flying mounts in mind of the designers.

But we also have Wintergrasp, where it is forbidden for several reasons. It takes away pathing, avoiding areas, navigating around them, or daring to dash through them. Flying is great if you just want to get to a friend or instance as quickly as possible.

I love flying around, but I know that it is also destroying the idea of choke points, making decisions which path to take and it also very much destroys open world pvp. Ask druids how often they manage to switch to travel form to run away and then to flight form to escape to the skies. You can fly and follow your target, too, but you cannot attack it mid-air by stopping and snaring/shooting/dismounting your target in any way.

The moment I could fly in Northrend I took a trip around the whole continent and did some mining. It also makes harvesting so much easier and profitable.

My personal verdict: future MMOs should expand on mounted combat and vehicles, but leave flight for special flight points and non-player owned vehicles. It is really a problem that probably all of us love flying mounts, and so do I, but I realize what they also take away for the freedom of 3D movement.

Multi-person mounts/vehicles, and a few special flight points for some quests or so - but no more flying mounts for future MMOs.
For WoW, I think it is already too late to change.

I must disagree that flying or not flying is an option. Nobody likes putting himself at a disadvantage to enjoy various aspects of the game more. Especially as others will not share his view and exploit his weakness mercilessly. I would not wait to get killed or run away on horseback if I had the option just to fly away. So flying or not is not really like an "optional" choice.

We have to live with the disadvantages and the advantages, we cannot turn back time to pre-TBC anymore at all.
Icecrown is currently hell often for me; My DK can't afford his epic flying mount yet! I still have another 2k gold or so to go before I can get back to the same speed as every other person. Traveling a HUGE pain, and I haven't even started Storm Peaks!
Tobold mentioned gathering resources in Wintergrasp as fun and resource gathering by flying mount as rather trivial, and I could not agree more! Wintergrasp demands you to walk up some complicated paths or jump down this or that way, to dive and so on. And if you have the demonic circle set up properly, you can have a lot of fun by placing it near a node, dotting the guy who was working on the ore before, and jump down the ledge... wait for the guy to jump down, too, and teleport up... nasty fun! :)

Wintergrasp is full of not-so-easy-to-reach nodes, but the rewards pay off. This is really well designed and fun!

Stormpeaks are the other side of the coin: Stunning marvelous scenery, but impossible to play without a flying mount.

I still think it is better to stick to the ground. Terrain adds more to the game if it is meaningful beyond pure looks.
At first I was very annoyed to lose my epic flier, and if I were soloing everything, I might still be annoyed, but I quest with my wife. Riding places on the ground and negotiating obstacles and dangerous mobs kind of adds some adventure flavor. That said, I'm really looking forward to getting my gryphon back, and I'm pleased to hear how much that speeds up levelling, as well.

I really didn't expect to enjoy riding everywhere, but now that I've done it I wouldn't mind if they re-used the mechanic, cheesy as it is.

I agree with Tobold on this one. Flying is great and I was so glad to get it back but you loose something from those areas that were designed to be done on foot. As has been pointed out, having the option to not fly is not really a solution simply because of the competition. There is something to be said for being limited in your solutions to a problem and having to work though it. That is the essence of any puzzle.

I did Borean, Fjord, Dragon Blight and then hit 77 just as I was starting Grizzly Hills because of a combination of rested xp, instances and preferring to complete each zone before moving on. I did much of GH from the ground and plan to do the same for ZD but it is just too easy to pop out your flyer and take off, especially when it is time to do turn ins. Yes flying makes it so much easier but being limited to the ground for another zone or two that were designed for it would have made some sense.

I don't think the limiting factor should have been your level except perhaps for a minimum level. I think needing to run the quest would have been much better, even if you did still have to drop 1000g. Unfortunately that only means people would pressure guildies to help them complete the quest as soon as they reached minimum level. Blizz's goal with the limitation would seem to be more about limiting flying until folks reached the zones that needed flying. I think the mistake was only in how they choose to enforce that limit. A certain level is way to simplistic. Even offering a quest in a certain level zone doesn't entirely solve the problem though it does much better. I think I would have preferred that they offer a quest chain that would have forced you to do a certain amount in say DB, GH and ZD and ended with the flying mount quest in the basin. This might sound like a lot but think of it as more like an attunement quest to be allowed to finish the basin and get into Storm Peaks and Ice Crown. What would have made this attunement process more acceptable than the raid attunements we had in the past is that you can do it yourself for the most part. No having to depend on being at the right step based on where your guild is at. Being able to earn something like this, which would have been pretty significant but without having to depend on others and getting stuck probably would have worked pretty well. I know I would have enjoyed it.

Another possible solution would be to only flying (after a certain level) in those ground zones that you have fully explored or finished the majority of quests in. It would be easy to implement since they already have such achievements and can arbitrarily limit flight as we have seen with Dalaran and Wintergrasp. Granted it would be completely artificial but no more artificial than no fly zones and needing to learn cold weather flying but yet not being able to fly in the old world. Dun Morogh and Winterspring looks a lot like Northrend to me.

And speaking of such. I still really want to see flying some day in the old world. I understand that it will take a lot of work (especially stormwind) but too bad. It needs to be done. I can wait a few years for it though. I would also like to see them finish out the missing zones some day. I think it would help to return high level characters to the old world if they added level 80+ zones in the likes of Grim Batol, Gilneas, modern Hyjal and the dead spaces on either side of Searing Gorge. Perhaps that will all happens some day with an expansion centered around the Maelstrom and all the islands of the Great Sea. Hey, how about zones in the old world that you can only get to by flying after level 85 or 90 or such. I can dream can't I?

I will say this. The one thing that I like better than both needing to do a zone from the ground AND being able to do it from the sky is to first have to complete it from the ground and wondering, "hmmmm, wonder whats up there?" and then later being able to come back and actually explore whats up their. Exploring is so much better when you have to wait though some anticipation.
Ever since playing Guild Wars, I couldn't bring myself to travel through the world of WoW again. I know it's big, but I just don't have that much time to spend these days unless I'm having fun every minute of it.

With the option always there to walk, I don't really see what the problem with instant teleportation is. People who want to sight-see can still do so.
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