Friday, June 25, 2010

Reaching Destinations

Travel seems to be a very controversial topic in MMORPGs. The current trend is to enable instant-action as much as possible and toss "immersion" or other virtual worldly concerns out the window. That's all fine and dandy for a game of TF2--I don't want to walk to Dustbowl every time I want to play the map. But for games that are supposed to have "worlds", that world becomes very small.

Humans relate large distances with time, not actual distance units. I wish I could uncover a paper or study on this phenomenon, but I couldn't find one. Anecdotally whenever I plan a trip, I measure the cost in time. It will take 3 hours to get to my destination. Google Maps displays route times in larger font than the distance. One of Science's largest distance units, the light-year, derives directly from a time calculation. This could be that our society is obsessed with speed and efficiency, and time isn't something to be squandered--especially on a video game--but then all the more important to factor in Time to an activity in an MMORPG.

I think that if an MMORPG is to have a 'world' quality, traveling needs to be significant. If the game is supposed to be a feel-good achievement treadmill, then cut the fat and insta-port the player when- and wherever. That's not a game I want to play. If I want empty trophies, I'll load up FarmVille or Progress Wars. If I want PvP competitive gaming, I'll launch TF2. But if I want something resembling a virtual world, I want travel times. There are plenty of things I do in my life grudgingly, but the difficultly of the journey both creates exclusivity and sweetens the reward.

Tips for Travel in FFXI

Each white box marks a Region which is composed of several Zones. Not shown: Aht Urhgan.
To follow up my last couple posts on FFXI, I am listing some alternative transportation systems.

Teleport Crags: Works like a waypoint system. Players must collect a "gate crystal" from the crag and then be near the party member casting the Teleport spell. Spells can be learned on lv36 White Mages (and some more exotic locations at later levels). The passengers can be any level; only requirement is the gate crystal. There are 3 crags near the 3 starter cities, 3 in high-level lands, and 3 in the Shadowreign zones. There are also items which can Teleport players to crags if a White Mage cannot be found.

Outpost Teleport: This is also a waypoint system, but waypoints can only be activated at certain times. Once a week, there is a "Conquest tally". The 3 nations and the Beastmen gain influence in Regions (groups of zones) and the faction that has the most influence at the start of the tally controls the Region for a week. Players can do Supply Runs to an outpost under their nation's control, henceforth allowing teleportation to and from the outpost for a small fee (the destination remains unlocked forever). One of the most used forms of travel.

Warp: A lv17 self-cast Blackmage spell that can also be cast from items. Returns the player to their Homepoint. Any player can purchase a Scroll of Instant Warp using Conquest Points (a currency acquired while gaining experience points). At level 40, Blackmages can learn Warp 2 which can be cast on party members.

Ghetto-warp: A term given to the act of switching to a level 1 job, running outside, dying, and releasing to your Homepoint.

Escape: A situational lv29 Blackmage spell that only works in dungeons or other "indoor" zones. Transports the mage and nearby party members out of the dungeon. Each dungeon has only 1 Escape destination, so it is possible to use the spell to skip traversing a zone altogether.

Airships: Once a player gets to Rank 5 (a milestone in the Mission questlines), they gain an Airship pass. They are then allowed to ride the airships in Jeuno to any of the 3 starter cities for a small gil fee. Alternatively, a player can purchase a pass for a lot of money.

Chocobos: Players can get their Chocobo License at level 20, which allows them to rent chocobos from stables for a small fee. While on a chocobo, the player travels at 200% speed (that is my guess) and will not aggro any mobs. Chocobos cannot enter towns/cities, dungeons, or any zone considered "indoors". Once a player dismounts, the chocobo runs away, and the player must rent a new chocobo from a stable in order to ride again.

Repatriation: By completing "Training regiment" kill quests at Fields of Valor manuals, player gain a currency called Tabs. At any Field Manual, a player may "Repatriate" for a tab fee. Repatriation teleports the player to their home nation.

Lure of the Wild Cat: Four quests in each of the 3 starter cities and Jeuno which unlock the ability to teleport for a small fee to the distant city of Aht Urhgan Whitegate (a major high-level hub).

Runic Portals: A very explicit waypoint system allowing players to transport between Whitegate and various locations in the Treasures of Aht Urhgan zones.

Campaign Teleport: The Wings of the Goddess zones are 20 years in the past. They are called the Shadowreign zones, and a major war is going on in them. Players can join the fight and earn Allied Notes. Players can then teleport to any Shadowreign zone they've visited (they just need to zone into the place; don't even need to talk to anyone or pick up an item) for a small fee in Allied Notes. Players can enter the past/present by going through portals in each zone called Cavernous Maws.

Retrace: Lv55 Blackmage spell. Similar to Warp 2 except that instead of being transported to their Homepoint, players are taken to their "nation of affiliation in the past". Useful for getting to the Shadowreign zones more quickly than using a Cavernous Maw.

Ease of Exploration: Once a week there is a special event where Moogles hide special items called Mog Tablets around the world. Players are tasked to find and return them (and get some very nice rewards for doing do). Once all 11 tablets are returned, three Super Kupowers are picked at random and affect the world for a week until the event starts again. One of these Kupowers is called Ease of Exploration which allows players to teleport to the 3 starter Cities and 2 smaller towns for a small fee.

Run speed modifications: aside from Chocobos which also give players the benefit of aggro-free travel, there are abilities and items which can temporarily boost a player's run speed. Flee is a level 25 Thief ability; Dancers get a jig at 55 to increase run speed; Bards can sing a song to make all their party members run faster at level 37 (and a better one at 73). There are also a handful of items which give the Quickening buff.

Some odds and ends: Nexus Cape, Tidal Talisman.


Tesh said...

"But if I want something resembling a virtual world, I want travel times"

I want virtual worlds, but I want places to go and things to see, and control over how I spend my own time. Sometimes I take my sweet time getting somewhere, sometimes I just want to get there and move on. Here in the real world, sometimes I walk to the store, sometimes I just drive; it depends on what I want out of my time.

Point being, I don't think the design impetus should be to make players spend time, *especially* when you're charging for time, as with a subscription game. I think the design goal should be to make *place* interesting and the interstitial *spaces* interesting, and let players choose how to spend their time.

motstandet said...

I agree that some of the gaps between 'places' could be a bit more interesting. I just waited 8 minutes for an airship while checking my RSS reader. That is unnecessary.

The only reason to have such a long delay for automated travel is to create a time cost for the journey. Would I prefer to pay more gil to ride but have the ship travel faster? It's a question of time- vs resource-rich. Perhaps have 2 options: one expensive but speedy service, another slow but inexpensive (sounds like Spellborn).

Why have a cost at all? It creates a choice for the player. I didn't even bother to pay the fee until I knew the party was full.

ClosedByDesign said...

LOTRO has a similar system for automated travel.

You can fast travel for a high fee, or for a smaller fee ride a horse on rails to your destination.