Tobold's Blog
Saturday, August 10, 2013
It's a small world after all

After Everquest Next announced dynamic spawns with an ecosystem, destructible environment, and open world player housing, several people dismissed these claims as unrealistic with the argument that Ultima Online tried that and failed: Players kill mobs faster than they can reproduce, gather resources so fast that whole forests are turned into deserts, and build houses everywhere until no more flat surface is left. While that history is correct, the conclusion isn't. As a counter-example look at Star Wars Galaxies, where open world housing clearly worked a lot better than in Ultima Online. So what is the difference, and how can a virtual world with a stable ecosystem be created without players destroying everything? The answer is simply in the size of the world, and the scale of the ecosystem.

My most frequently visited blog post over the years is the one in which I calculated the size of Azeroth, and found it to be smaller than the Isle of Wight, or 4 times the size of Manhattan. Ultima Online was even smaller, and because you only could build houses on flat surfaces there was effectively place for less houses than the number of players on a server. The same housing system worked perfectly well in Star Wars Galaxy, because there was simply far more space on every planet.

The Ultima Online ecosystem failed due to its small size and technical limitations of the time. But a procedurally generated world can be much bigger, even infinite. People don't run out of world to modify in Minecraft. And if the world is big enough, you can put in enough mobs so that players can't possibly make them extinct.

If you put 10 children per square meter into a sandbox, they are going to trample over each others sand castles. At 1 child per 10 square meters the sand castle building works a lot better. Of course there will always be people who will destroy stuff deliberately to grief, and the TTP will be short. But viable virtual worlds are possible if they are just big enough and the players aren't so numerous to crush everything else without even wanting to.

I have to disagree with you WRT player housing in SWG. It did not work and was a constant source of complaint by many players that houses were everywhere and represented eyesores. There were dozens and dozens of houses group outside the Krayt graveyard, and near any other important area. While that was convenient for some, it was a real detractor for many others.
I didn't play SWG enough to make a comparison but I'd say player density is an equally important factor. Having a large world will help to spread out the gatherers and house-builders but only if the game doesn't encourage them to 'bunch up' too much by the world design or dynamic content.

Just think of the zerg hordes in Rift or Guild Wars 2, what's to stop the same happening in EQ Next, will the vaunted AI make that much of a difference in the end?
From a picture leaked, aparently EQN is made with cubes of 2 km side. The procedural thecnology they are using (voxel farm) permit them create things at the surface, underground and floating at air (isles). So each cube have a lot of area if players explore underground and in middle air.

IMHO, too is possible that the procedural thecnology they are using can get rid from the harvest nodes. If trees can be destroyed, they can be cut for wood too. And can exist ore nodes underground, so mines will need be build for excavate the lodes.

I am not sure how many cubes of 2 km side they want create, but they said the area of EQN is greter than the area of EQ and EQII together.

Just a note. SWG had ecology. Animal predators and mobs hunted down small animals. The same happened with Ryzom, and at Ryzom with time predators and herds develop higher version of them. The diferentce is that these games used mobs with scripted behavior (they were like "marionettes"), while EQN uses storybricks, that do'nt have scripted behavior but mobs behave following what the "like" and "dislike".


We are animals, social apes. We naturally try create a "zerg" for hunt other animals. It is our instint. We join with our spears for go hunt the big mastodont. It is something we "like", because we "dislike" when the big mastodont jump over us.

We too have a trend to form big zergs when we go make war to the other tribe. And the "other tribe" too will make a zerg. And both zergs will throw spear one at another. That is war, from spear war to nuclear weapons war (thanks heaven, we don't started a nuclear war... until now...)

Zergs will ever happen at massive games. You will see them at ESO...
Players may not "run out of space" in Minecraft, but you have to ask yourself how far from the original spawn point that a given player is willing to actually travel. Giving players enough space isn't technically the problem: the problem is giving them enough space and it still feeling like an MMO. Too much space and you may as well have instanced everything. And as pointed out before, there is always a finite amount of space around locations that are actually useful to have housing next to.

As for wildlife ecologies, I have no idea why anyone actually cares about that sort of thing. It is one of those ideas that sounds interesting - "Hey, look how detailed the devs made the world!" - but is useless, at best, in practice. Can you single-highhandedly ruin the ecology? If so, it will be ruined. Is the ecology so big to have no immediate, meaningful change no matter what you do? Then it is indistinguishable from the devs simply turning some knobs behind the scene. I mean, 100+ people doing things the 20 hours you are logged off each day vs some tech guy behind the curtain. Does it matter which is true?
You also don't need a "real" ecosystem, in fact you probably don't want one (the folly of attempting to get a stable "real" ecosystem when the numbers, aggressiveness, and hunting patterns of your apex predators are completely outside of the system is left as an exercise for the reader).

However, a-life encompasses a lot more than just simulation ecology, and there are a lot of ways to get lifelike, ecology-emulating systems that are not technically ecosystems. Even in the original form, UO never had a real ecology.

Call me a miserable sod but I do not want the other players to be able to alter anything in the game world.

It is bad enough on my Minecraft server trying to get them to stick to basic rules about maintaining a consistent appearance - e.g. structures that blatantly would not stand up if the physics were accurate.

Perhaps on RP servers certain standards could be enforced but to be honest any time you allow players to modify the appearance you end up losing immersion.

Note how Blizzard place restrictions on transmogrification in WoW because they don't want people running around with comedy weapons etc.

My golden rule in most MMORPG's (bar perhaps GW2) is that outside of content specifically designed for groups (dungeons/raids) the other players serve no other purpose than to ruin the experience.
I played SWG long enough for it to screw up my graphics settings for other games. It was fun though for what I did play casually.
In eq next, I think the resource limits to do things to modify the environment with are the main limits on players. Want to knock that wall down, costs X amount of resource that took 30 seconds to a minute to get. taking out a castle? hmm, chalk up another hour of resources.
still would be unbalanced I think from the builder's side as hours could go into it and in minutes or seconds be gone.
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