Friday, June 25, 2010

Connecting New Players With The World

Motstandet has a post up praising the immersion offered by FFXI's harsh travel system.  More than anything else, this system was the reason why my stay in Vanadiel back in 2006 lasted for a mere 5-6 weeks.  At the time, soloing was not really an option beyond level 10 or so and you could not get a group if you weren't in the correct zone (which may or may not be the zone in which the group would eventually be leveling).  As a newbie, I lacked both the knowledge and the resources needed to pull off this travel successful.  The problem was not that travel was hard, or that it was time consuming, but that it literally prevented me from getting where I would need to be in order to play the game.   

That said, I look at EQ2's new travel map system, and I'm not sure that they haven't gone too far in the opposite direction.

The New EQ2 map

You could argue that EQ2 travel was in need of a user interface overhaul.  If you were in Qeynos and wanted to get to the Enchanted Lands, you needed to know to take the boat bell to Antonica, from Antonica to Thundering Steppes, from Thundering Steps to Nek Forest, and finally from Nek to your destination.  (At least, I think that was the order.)  The process took about 10 seconds of gaming time but it also triggered a total of four loading screens, and a newbie might legitimately not have known which way to go. 

(Another absurd example: I could never remember what subzone of Freeport the Research Assistant lived in, so I would instead ride the carpet to Sinking Sands, carpet to Butcherblock, run to hills and fly to Gorowyn to use the RA there.  The lore openly weeps that I'd travel all the way around the world because the Freeport city guards could not tell you where in their own city the Research Assistant lives.  Then again, I suppose they might be mean enough to do that on principle.) 

In the new interface, you click on any bell anywhere in the world and get the above map.  You can pick any zone - including some inland destinations that did not previously have bells - and you'll appear right there.  Wizard and Druid portals also use this new UI, but offer slightly different destination (including newly expanded options from the last two patches).  If your guild hall has all three travel options, you can teleport instantly to at least one point, and possibly as many as three, in every single zone in the game. 

Location and Context
I will concede that it is more likely that I will correctly identify continents on a map of Norrath now that I actually look at one on a regular basis.  Given that zones were already broken up with loading screens that might encompass vastly different distances, the amount of additional harm done by moving to a single map is minimal compared to the previous clunky UI. 

At the same time, this approach kind of removes zones from their geographic context.  Previously, if you wanted to ignore the breadcrumbs and just go exploring, you knew that Nek and TS were your hubs and you could branch out to there in search of something in the right level range.  In a more-connected world like Azeroth or Vanadiel, you would literally walk to the edge of the current zone and the next zone over would be aimed at a higher level.  In EQ2 today, if you want to go somewhere new, you'll have to start clicking at random, load up the Wiki, or go to the new "storyteller" window of the quest log (which will flat out tell you where to go). 

At the end of the day, I still think that there has to be a system in place so that a player who has somewhere to be - especially because they're looking to join a group - has a way to get there quickly.  I'm not opposed to working for that privilege through rep grinds, consumable daily quest rewards, or gold or whatever, and I definitely support making players reach each location at least once on foot before they can insta-port there.  (This was part of EQ2's druid rings, and they removed it for the new patch.)  However, there are enough other obstacles in the way of group content without also having travel block access.

EQ2's solution may be better than WoW's approach, which is to literally teleport you instantly to a dungeon on a continent that you've never even visited, if that's what the random group finder picks.  Still, I'd be happy to give back a little of this arguably excessive access to get a little bit of that sense of zone progression back. 


Bri said...

"EQ2's solution may be better than WoW's approach, which is to literally teleport you instantly to a dungeon on a continent that you've never even visited, if that's what the random group finder picks."

I read somewhere that in Cataclysm you will at least have to have found the entrance to the instance before being allowed to just teleport in.

Klepsacovic said...

It's a tricky balance between a world and a game. I think flight paths are an excellent compromise, saving time and annoyance without entirely removing us from the world.

Video Game Philosopher said...

Realism/Immersion vs convenience is always a problem. I don't want to have to run or travel forever like in Eve to get places I need to go, but I also want more immersion than "your random group queue finished, zap you're in the instance."

I doubt you'll please everyone with any fix for it, either you want immersion or you want instant access. Usually those that want immersion are willing to sacrifice speed, while those that want speed are willing to sacrifice immersion. What you end up with is a half-assed attempt that pleases nobody.

Tesh said...

Exactly, VGP. Even as lovely as the flights might be in WoW, I'll still Alt-Tab out of them most of the time... and I'm a huge proponent of making the world more interesting, even over gaming elements.

Thing is, I want the option to pop around willy nilly if I so choose... because I have enough self control to wander around on foot if I'm interested in doing so. It's a matter of options and choice; force people to go the long, time sink way (which costs money in a sub model), and it will quickly get onerous. Give them the *choice* of moving around quickly or on foot (or flight paths, for somewhere in between), and *let the player decide*. You'll find that Explorers will take the scenic route if they blasted well please.

As much as I love these MMO game worlds sometimes, it really should be my choice in how I approach them.