Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 27, 2014
A phasing accident

Players like to change the virtual world they play in. That poses a certain problem for the static virtual worlds of MMORPGs. And that problem has been more or less solved with a technology called phasing: The player sees the world around him change, while other players see a different phase of the same world. So this weekend in the Wildstar beta I followed a quest line which led to such a phasing event: I changed an area by firing a huge cannon at a gigantic robot, destroying him with a satisfying explosion in a cut scene. But what wasn't obvious before I did it, killing that robot also completely eliminated several types of monsters from the map. And I still had quests for which I would need to kill those monsters, so the quests became impossible to finish. Rather annoying!

From a story point of view, if I have a quest to kill 10 monsters of a certain type, and I completely eliminate all monsters of that type by changing the world, I should get credit for solving the quest. But of course quests don't work like that. They only count manual kills. And if I eliminate all monsters of that type through a phasing event, the only thing that happens is that I get stuck with a quest that is now impossible.

The design lesson here is that a phasing change should never affect quests that are not part of the quest line leading to that change. The player should first be required to finish his kill 10 monsters quest before being allowed to completely eliminate that type of monsters from his view of the virtual world. At the very least any big phase change quests need a warning label, recommending to the player to do all other quests in the area first.

Or you could just accept that your characters actions have indeed changed your character's world. You might acknowledge that in virtuality, just as in reality, actions sometimes have unforeseen, unforeseeable, unintended consequences and that, once taken an action cannot be taken back.

That's what you could do as a player. The thoughtful developer, rather than flag up a load of warnings and caveats in advance, or worse still place blocks on the player's actions in order to protect him from himself, could bring those quests and quest-givers into the phasing. Perhaps you might be credited. Perhaps the quest-giver would no longer be interested in crediting you, since his problem no longer existed.

I don't like phasing anyway. It's over-fussy fiddle-faddling that attempts to square an impossible circle, that hundreds of characters exist together at the same time both in the same and differing states. It was more convincing, more immersive, even more realistic when we all use our imaginations and our human ability to believe two contradictory things at the same time.
Aristotle, I think, suggested that in happy times people enjoyed tragedies, whereas in bad times they preferred comedies.

Could there be something analogous in games? In times of poor economies - which pass for bad times in our comfortable modern existence - people will prefer games with safe and predictable rewards, whereas in better times there will be a trend towards ironman play or other dangers?

[This is just a general thought regarding gaming trends, nothing really to do with Tobold's instant reaction to a particular event. Of course, peoples' reactions will be modulated too by whatever is the current trend... ]
In rift there is a starter area which you can't go back to. In it are certain collectibles that, if not collected immediately, you will never be able to collect. I think games should have more of these, not less. It creates character diversion and flaws, as well as memorable emotions.

But if you fear it would turn off players, you could add a "play style" configuration during character creation, where you choose from various traits. "Completionist" could be one, and add the warning. A "Optimizer" would instead get an XP/hour display as well as a pointer to the best course of action to score maximum xp. "Pacifist" would disable all combat options and allow the player to skip kill parts of quest chains, increasing the number of "FedEx" quests instead.

Lotro game and MoM intro gives a nice warning that completing this quest will preclude finishing others.

My take away is to just not have phasing. I remember friend wanting me to join them in something and logging into Kun Lai and my recent quest had added fire and removed the flightmaster, thus delaying the group by 5 minutes until I could get there. Or the summoning stone in ICC where half the group could not see the other half depending on who did a quest or not. I hear group questing in TESO has phasing complications.

When I want to change the world, I want to change the world, not my unique delusion of same. I can have instanted housing or dungeons, but the hassle of OOG maps, instructions and IG grouping means the cost is not worth the benefit of phasing for me.
To me phasing has never answered the problem of players wanting to change the world. Phasing just lets you pick between two predetermined options.
Re: Maarten's Rift starter area collectibles - that's not the greatest example, as the items are all tradeable as I recall. So you can easily buy those you "permanently" missed out on from the auction house, or alternately start an alt to farm them up & trade them to your completionist main.
A requirement to complete the the side-quests before unlocking the final end-quest would be a nightmare for people that just want to race through the main story.
A better solution would be for the phasing to move the quest mobs/unique items.
when we all use our imaginations and our human ability to believe two contradictory things at the same time

This reminds me of certain Orwell's novel...
This reminds me of certain Orwell's novel...

That is the pessimist view of things. Me, I was reminded of a quote from Alice in Wonderland, about believing six contradictory or impossible things before breakfast.
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