Monday, May 5, 2008

Lies about travel

Psychonia of My Life as a Cartoon says that this blog "is filed under provocative". Well, I do hate to disappoint, so, in the word of The Man They Call Jayne, let's be bad guys. :)

My Tauren warrior recently hit level 40. You might think this would be a significant time in the life of the character because it allows me to wear plate armor, and obtain a 31-point talent (in my case, Bloodthirst), but really, most WoW players know level 40 as the end of the hazing ritual that is playing the game without a mount. Now don't get me wrong, WoW is far from the worst game out there when it comes to travel, and they've done a lot to retroactively add some flightpaths to various out of the way locations. That said, the game is actually more fun to play with a mount than without - to the point where having to slug through the 30 levels from 10-40 without one is a significant deterrent to rolling a new alt, an activity which, as I previously discussed, the devs would really like players to do.

So why does games require players to make it a significant number of levels through their game before allowing mounted travel? Without further ado, I give you:

Lies your developers tell about travel to justify wasting your limited gaming time by making you watch your character run places

Lie: Removing travel time makes the world "feel smaller".
Truth: First of all, large expanses of empty space that players have no reason to visit make the world feel like it was designed by lazy developers. But, more to the point, this argument is rendered moot because every single one of these games actually DOES allow mounts. By the time you get to Outland, you're riding a mount that doubles your ground speed, and there are flight points located every 5-7 minutes worth of road distance. Now compare that to running the length of a zone like Ashenvale or even Elwynn Forest. Players actually spend a GREATER proportion of their time on travel early on. If faster travel makes the world feel smaller, then clearly those earlier levels are more epic than the content that follows. Would anyone (other than the guys who kited Hogger to Undercity) like to argue this position?

Lie: Faster travel is inconsistent with the setting or breaks immersion
Truth: I group these two together because sometimes a game like LOTRO will try to claim that it's a low magic setting and that rules out teleportation (true), only to implement an off-screen travel system where the game cuts to a loading screen and players are assumed to have traveled at the normal rate off-camera, with the action resuming when they arrive. If only Frodo and Sam hadn't lost their maps, they could have mapped back to the Shire after turning in the quest to destroy the One Ring at Mount Doom. (WoW actually pilfered this system for patch 2.4, with a flight point from Ironforge to the Sunwell that skips ahead after it leaves IF to meet up with the flight from the Blood Elf capitol of Silvermoon.) But this actually gets to the heart of the second point, namely that immersion breaks whenever the developers want it to, and is only cited as a valid argument if it justifies the decision the devs already wanted to make. (Case in point: The picture of the miraculous marathon running orphan, who kept up with my level 40 kodo all the way across the Barrens.)

Lie: Travel perks for certain classes but not others are fine because they make you appreciate those perks more when you're actually playing that class.
Truth: First off, let's distinguish between perks that have a use in combat that incidentally makes you travel faster (e.g. a Rogue's sprint ability, perhaps a hunter's Aspect of the Cheetah) and perks that simply speed travel (a mage's teleports, Druid and Shaman travel forms). There are good reasons why a rogue needs to be able to sprint (stealthed or otherwise), as they need to be in melee range to actually kill anything. There is no good reason why certain classes should be penalized with more time spent watching your character travel instead of actually playing the game, simply for picking the wrong class. I made the mistake of picking the LOTRO Champion instead of the Hunter, and the massive added travel time penalty for not being a hunter was a big part of why I hated the game. I was pondering picking up EQ2 and decided against, cause the class with the travel perks didn't really interest me.

Lie: Okay, okay, you can have mounts, but we're going to make them very expensive so that obtaining them will be an accomplisment.
Truth: The gold seller industry thanks you, devs, from the bottom of their hearts, for making their business possible.

I'm not advocating instantaneous point to point teleportation anywhere in the world. I'm just saying, I'm paying to play the game, not to watch my character travel to a location at which I'll be able to play the game (and certainly not paying to farm consumables for a highly dangerous trek that could result in me dying and losing levels on the way to the place where I get to play the game, thank you FFXI). For all I occasionally rag on LOTRO, I think they may have gotten it right with new swift travel points that open up as you complete the local content (so you can instantly reach the area before the one you're actually leveling in, instead of having to actually cross the entire world every time you run out of local quests - which happened often when LOTRO first came out). Another option is a purely out of combat speed boost that's available sooner than "real" mounts that let you ride through dangerous areas (I seem to recall that EQ2 has the concept of out of combat speed boosts).

I'm just saying, this is something that the devs choose not to fix because they think the pre-mount hazing period is fine. It isn't. So please stop wasting my time.


psychonia said...

the travel time thing is a definite fun sucker. it's kinda sad that i can watch an entire episode of death note with the time it takes me to travel from UC to the dark portal or to Kara.

and people wonder how you can spend 22 hours a week playing WoW.

between LFG and travel time you can spend 22 hours a week playing WoW and still feel like you haven't gotten anything done :P

brilliant devs.

Green Armadillo said...

LFG is another problem and it's a big one, but it's also in some ways optional - in a solo-friendly game like WoW, you can choose not to do group content at the cost of having to re-roll or quit at a certain point. As to games with mandatory grouping, well, if you hate being LFG (and I do), the choice is clear enough that you're just not going to be around in that game very long.

By contrast, the travel timesink hits you even if you've made a dedicated solo alt for the sole purpose of farming gold at max level. So in many ways it's actually less optional than the LFG time sink is (though I'll concede that it's probably less frustrating).