Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mastering the Environment

Traveling and exploring in FFXI can be dangerous. A death can end an adventure prematurely or leave you with a mouthful of dirt, desperately asking any passers-by for a Raise. One tip I told my friends who recently took the plunge into Vana'diel is that mobs in FFXI wander much further than in WoW. You could be solo'ing peacefully, and then out of nowhere a Goblin catches sight of you and sticks his gobbie dagger right in your backside.

Notice that I said "sight". One interesting system in FFXI is how mobs actually aggro players. There isn't a single "aggro radius", an invisible border to recklessly run through dodge. Aggro triggers include Sight, Sound, Low Health, casting magic, and Weapon Skill usage. Each type of mob might have none or some of these triggers, and the game doesn't tell players with GUI features how mobs detect. In WoW, aggressive mobs have red name plates; in FFXI, all mobs have yellow name plates and players have to learn the rules. E.g. most Beastmen (humanoids) detect on sight, and it is possible to run right up to their backs safely (just hope that they don't turn around). Undead detect on sound, but will come after low HP players from a much greater distance.

Avoiding low health and magic seems simple enough--don't cast anything. Players also get an arsenal of spells, abilities, and items which silence their sounds and hide from enemies. Any Sneak effect will cancel sound detection, and any Invisible effect will cancel sight detection. Keep those 2 effects active (they last random durations ranging from 15 seconds to 5 minutes), stay out of earshot and sight when re-applying, and players can travel and explore to their hearts' content.

But just like something out of Donkey Kong Country 2, FFXI takes advantage of players' expectations of the rules. Some mobs have True Sight or True Hearing, meaning that Sneak and Invisible are useless. Last night I decided to do the quest to unlock the Puppetmaster job. I must pass though some dangerous areas with True Sight imps and pick up a Key Item from a quest location.

FFXI uses a ??? target (yes, 3 question marks) to trigger events, cut scenes, boss fights, and pretty much anything else that is remotely related to a quest. Players need to be on the appropriate quest and not invisible in order to activate the ???.

Well I died 3 times on my way there. Luckily I was able to grab a Raise from a nearby Red Mage the first time, and then was able to self-raise the other 2 times (using a proactive buff called Reraise).

Normally I have no problem avoiding sight lines, but in this particular zone, there is heavy vegetation which obstructed my view. I run down an alley which I perceive as clear, and then get hit for a fourth of my health. "Crap."

Mobs will pursue targets until the player is quite some distance away--well outside any aggro radius. Originally, they would never stop, and players would have to change zones in order to shake enemies. Yes, FFXI had "trains to zone".

Getting around isn't just a simple time sink. FFXI has vast lands, but they are filled with interesting obstacles that reward players who take the time to discover their traits. There are passages and shortcuts not shown on maps; mobs have different aggro triggers which can be exploited to turn a seemingly impossible journey into a cake walk.

A simple delivery quest can morph into an epic adventure. It's not a flight on a gryphon, and it's not a mounted autorun across the zone. It is a quest to return the ring to Mount Doom, avoiding enemies along the way. It is an opportunity to explore desolate and dangerous places. It is a chance to test your knowledge of the world and master the environment.


Green Armadillo said...

The problem with the FFXI travel model is not that it is a time sink, or that it's difficult, but that it is a barrier to participating in content.

If I could do an hour of tedious questing for the local teleport operators in exchange for a token that would teleport me to the zone where my group was forming, that would be a time sink. Deciding whether to take the risk of travel or sink the time would be a potentially interesting choice.

What's less interesting is when you need to join a group in order to actually play the PVE game, and the conditions for joining a group are that you somehow figure out how to get yourself safely to the correct zone. As a new player, you may not have either the resources or the knowledge to do this, but the veterans who invited you to their group may not view that as their problem.

(In particular, it was always "fun" when groups assumed that you have airship access, which costs half a million gil if you aren't already high level to earn access via missions. And people wondered why the game was over-run by gil-sellers.)

Garumoo said...

Personally, I find all the travel in Mario Super Cart to be tedious too.


This highly nuanced environment means that travel is now content, a distinct activity which rewards effort and attention with knowledge, skills, and progress.

I especially appreciate that they've made working out what mobs have which triggers also a part of the exploration game (ie. exploration is a synonym for discovery, not simply sight-seeing).

motstandet said...


Not everyone is in the game to consume content ASAP. Sure, leveling is the primary progression path in FFXI, but the game isn't as bleak as WoW when it comes to other activities. Over the last week I have been taking my newbie friends around and unlocking some of the jobs they might want to play. I've been adding Outposts to my teleport list and doing quests to open even more methods of fast travel. A couple guildmates and I did some battle fights to win loot to sell, and did a few Missions together (sequential questlines involved in the main story lines). I haven't stepped into an experience party since last Saturday.

I do agree with you that new players have a very tough time. There is so much to learn, and they do not have the knowledge nor resources to use some of the travel systems. But that is part of learning the game, just like learning how to play the class/job.

I'm going to list some alternative travel systems in a post.


There is a journey that I view as a rite of passage in FFXI. Once a player gets to level 20, they typically head to Jeuno for greener pastures and to do the Chocobo quest. Running there is like the walk from Wetlands to Southshore: high level places must be traversed. The difference is that the player cannot graveyard hop across the zone and really does have to pay attention while en route :P