Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 25, 2011
Virtual worlds are very small

Ardwulf is writing about what MMORPGs could learn from Skyrim. One quote caught my eye: "A decent crafting system would be a good start. One of the more popular starting areas is a forest, for example – what if there was a lumberjacking harvesting ability and a tradeskill you could use lumber for, and you made trees – every tree, mind you – interactable? Well, obviously a lot of areas would be promptly deforested!" If you compare that with reality, you'll quickly observe that it took humanity many centuries, millenia even, to deforest most of Europe, using the tools typically available to somebody in a virtual fantasy world.

While Ardwulf is correct in assuming that if in a typical MMORPG it was possible to fell trees for crafting, and there was no corresponding tree growing mechanism, deforestation would be rather quick. But if you look at the root cause for that, it is that in a typical virtual fantasy world there are a relatively high number of characters per square mile, and a relatively low number of trees. People who are very concerned about immersion in MMORPGs often complain about teleports and similar methods of fast travel. But even if you remove all of those, you still end up with worlds where two major cities can be as little as 10 minutes on foot apart. I once determined the size of Azeroth as being only about 80 square miles.

When over a decade ago in Ultima Online I wanted to build a house, it turned out that there was no more flat space available in the whole world (on my shard) to build even a small house on, and I ended up buying a house on EBay. This still keeps most MMORPGs to offer freely place-able player housing: The total amount of square meters required to offer every player a house is often large compared to the total size of the world. Games with bigger worlds usually have to create these larger areas with algorithms, and often end up with areas that are empty and boring. But if you hand-make worlds with a density of content which plays well, you end up with virtual worlds which are very small. And so if you want to implement tree felling or house building, you don't have enough space for that.
Games with bigger worlds usually have to create these larger areas with algorithms, and often end up with areas that are empty and boring.

There's always the Minecraft Solution: take procedurally-generated empty/boring areas and give the players the ability and responsibility to fill them with fun stuff.
Do you remember from whom you bought the house in UO? Just mentioning that I was one of the biggest real estate brokers in UO back then called Skeeve.
In my opinion a "true interaction with the environment" is what makes a real difference. In WoW you can't really "do" anything, apart from using chairs and the occasional elevator. The world is absolutely static and -even worst- most of the stuff requires a quest to be used/activated.

Azeroth is completely hand-made. It's wonderful, vast, huge. But what can you really do there? Nothing. At the end of the day you're forced to find the local quest-hub and pick the usual "kill 10 wolves" mission.

I think that's why a "silly" game like Minecraft grabbed so much attention. Horrible graphics but complete freedom: you can dig, build, change the environment. It's not a MMO but it's online and people can see what you do.
I'm not sure it's so much that the map itself would be boring as it would be the world in it. What's the purpose of a 1:1-scale world if you don't fill it with stuff to do all over the place, regardless of how cool the map is? Even today with 7 billion people most of the world around us is simply empty and... boring.
Simple answer: drastically limit players per server?
add a huge, simulative world to that where trees would grow back. problems solved.

we don't need servers with hundred thousand players on them for cooperative fun. in fact we need less players for that (which is also why I am hugely in favor of player-hosted servers by now). Skyrim doesn't need the 'WoW model', but a model more similar to FPS servers to make it work online. quality cooperation > quantity. smaller servers but more of those.
I party agree with Syl: MMOs should either have servers with no more than 250 active users or Eve-like 'servers' that create the meaning of one-world.

My favorite is the combination of the two by limiting teleports and using the barren, boring land to do what it has always done: 'soft-separating' communities.
Deforestation need not be a problem in an MMO. Simply have the trees regrow very quickly. WoW already does this for other harvested spawns, such as herbs and ore.
This makes sense. The goal of exploring is to find a hidden cave or scenic vista or lost city. So a game (single player or mmo) has to filter out the days of trecking thru endless forest/desert/ocean to provide more thrills per minute then the real world. Yosemite valley is a good RL example though of a small area sq mile wise that provides metric tons of sights and activities to absorb your attention. RPG's and MMO's shoot for the same affect on our senses as Yosemite, with just enough land mass to make it seem like an inconveniance if it is done on foot.
Haven and Hearth, and soon enough Salem, are always there, though most would find the level of crafting in that game too involved.
I hate to say this but I HATE huge world with few teleports, at least in the long run. At first it is pretty awesome, but when you need to actually get across the world to do something, get back, and go again?

FFXI pushed boundaries there. It was enjoyable making the first run from Windurst out to the dunes. Having to make that trip multiple times was offputting.

Trying the free trial of ATiTD, me and my girlfriend were enjoying it quite a bit for a few days, but what ultimately killed it was a massive freaking 5 hour trek across the desert that just took the enjoyment away from us.

Some people certainly enjoy that, obviously, EVE does fairly well after all. But I just don't like blowing hours running after I have made the same run in the past. Being forced to do it once is great, but no fast travel kills it for me.

My original WoW character back in classic ended up getting every single flight point in the game by level 30. That was incredibly fun, trying to persevere and sneak through zones I had no business being in, trying to hunt down far flung towns to see if they had a flight point...
But I just don't like blowing hours running after I have made the same run in the past.

A good MMORPG makes this unnecessary, Sine. The point really is that activities in a game with limited teleports need to be available locally and traversing half the continent is simply not necessary unless you want to relocate or engange in long-distance trade.
Oddly enough, 80 square miles for (say) 20000 characters is pretty much the same population density as the Earth!
Wouldn't it be great if players could clear forests and build housing or fortresses? Then defend it against threats or pvp players.

Even instanced housing would be better than none at all.
You seem to be forgetting to factor in the amount of time it takes to actually make lumber with axes in the real world, vs MMOs. I'd love to see the player who actually had the patience to spend a whole evening in a group cutting down five trees / de-branching / sawing to lumber / piling. :)
There is another issue that removing teleports in a large MMO space raises, and that is the ease of playing with other people one "knows" (IRL friends, partners, family, etc.) without having to coordinate every playsession, having "spousal leveling contracts", etc.

For games that are supposed to encourage playing together rather than solo, enabling people to be separated by vast expanses of land (and time, by removing teleports) simply because one wanted to check something out without assembling a caravan first seems counter to that purpose.
Vanguard has lumberjacking. The trees just repop quickly. (i.e. I've seen it done already in an mmo)
I agree that use of telportation breaks immersion, but in some case should be added as deemed appropriate (the ships between continents in WoW being appropriate). However if game worlds get larger then this does become a problem.

I think this could be fixed if a game actually utilizes their world effectively. Azeroth had a lot of spaces, and potential that was wasted because the designers felt they needed to keep "adding more" since people had already seen all the current areas leveling, and they wanted to bring to life other parts of the established history (Outland).

And housing really has no place in an MMO. I can't think of one thing that destroys immersion, and fun for me then seeing an urban sprawl stretchinga s far as the eye can see.

instanced housing is a better way if they could find a way to bring a community feel to it. In SWTOR each player has would be nice if as traveling everybody was on the same ship and could perform actions as a group on there.

Doubtful they will make ships more than individual use. I am in the SWTOR beta if I can get it to stop crashing long enough to check any of these cool features.
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