Thursday 7 June 2012

The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities.

From a PC Gamer article:

“Firefall’s world is made to be explored: there are few limits to where you can go. It’s an MMO built for those who see distant waterfalls, shadowy peaks and crashed ships and want to know if anything’s over there. Right now, in the early beta, there isn’t, much, but there’s enough to get an impression.”

Is it only me who wants to find something when I get there?

It’s one of those MMO development tropes which really bugs me: make vast swathes of landscape, slap a couple of vista viewing stations with suitable landmarks in the distance, and call it done. Then pop a fly-by on YouTube, preferably with a rousing soundtrack

Dun dun dun DUN DUN DUN “Here are some hills! Have you ever seen hills like these in any other MMO?” dun dun dum de dun DUN dum dun DUN dun de dun DUN “Here are some houses! In a village! AMAZING!” dun dum de dum de dum DUM DUN DE DUN “Now here’s a forest! Bet you weren’t expecting THAT! Look at the Speed Tree optimisation on those babies! A forest! A forest! Just like every other! But this one is ours!” dun dun dun dun DUN DUM DUNNNNNNNNNN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNN “Uh oh, here comes a fortress! WITH RAMPARTS! AND BAD GUYS!” OoooooOO! OOooooOO!

and call it done. Best. MMO. Ever. Hmmm? What do you do in this landscape? Well, there are some mobs scattered about. They stand there, staring longingly off into the distance, perhaps wondering if there’s anything interesting at the top of that cliff (there isn’t, we just thought a cliff would be cool), and you can, uh, run up to them and kill them and, y’know stuff. It’s details, we’ll sort that out later. Just enjoy the AMAZING landscapes for now. Bet you haven’t seen a landscape in an MMO before!

Like many MMOs before it, Tera was terrible for this (have we all done the Terable pun in our minds? Yes? Okay, good, let’s move on). The game was stunning to look at, breathtaking, but it was all stage dressing. There’s the occasional Kodak moment, where you are compelled to halt your grind momentarily, stare in wonder, and possibly line up a screenshot, but that’s all there is to it. I rarely think “I should go and explore over there” in an MMO, because I know that ‘over there’ will provide a disappointingly desolate experience, akin to looking behind the stage dressing and seeing the ropes and pulleys holding the set together.

I can’t see the point in making a virtual world to explore if there’s nothing to discover but scenery – I already live in a world with awe-inspiring panoramas, so what a virtual world should provide is the suspense, adventure and danger which I cannot find in this world, or do not wish to risk my life experiencing. When you say your world is made to explore, give me something more to discover than waterfalls and windmills.

Skyrim’s environments were impressive, both beautiful and accessible, but I wouldn’t have spent as many hours as I did wandering through them for the sake of the scenery alone, it was the jeopardy and adversity which I found along the way that kept me exploring. It was that association of adventure with both exploration and environment which made the experience so complete – locations and landmarks became significant because of what happened to my character there, no longer a simple part of the game’s world, they became an intrinsic part of my character’s world. It seems a simple rule, but one which is rarely followed in the MMO genre: make a game’s world the backdrop for adventure, don’t make adventure the backdrop for a game’s world.

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