I was fascinated. How cool it is to imagine in-game clouds forming at one point of the world and slowly moving across the land until the sky begins to rain on your character's head? Sadly, in-game weather seems to be either a low priority or a hard system to tackle. I'm guessing it's a combination of both.
So I searched out those few MMOs that feature an impactful weather system. Not coincidentally, they also happen to be some of my favorite MMOs.
The weather system is amazing; it affects almost every part of the game. If you are a gatherer, someone who travels the land looking for patches of materials to collect, then you have to know what type of weather is happening, what time of day it is, and which season currently envelops the world. Certain materials appear only during certain times. Each season lasts several days and has a visual impact on the land. Summer is bright and clear, fall's trees change colors, winter deposits snow on the ground and even on the trees while snow falls from the sky, and spring makes a good deal of the planet bloom in beautiful colors. Rainstorms roll in; lightning streaks the sky. The wind will shake the trees, and sand can blow around your character. The day and night cycle is beautiful, boasting sunrises and sunsets that rival the graphics in games not even half the age of Ryzom.
The weather even affects the migration of groups of animals. Certain types will move from one point to another while predators follow the groups, picking off prey. Not only is Ryzom's weather represented visually, but it actually influences the game and how you play it. Once again, this little game is light-years ahead of the rest of the pack, and it's nine years old!
The "duration of campfire" message makes sense. Players can build fires to use or rest beside while storytelling. Rain, of course, shortens a fire's lifespan. Thunderstorms give the greatest bonus to "life" skills like tailoring or blacksmithing, so a lot of players wait for certain types of weather to try certain tasks. This simple weather system gives the game an ebb and flow and causes hardcore players to time activities. When a weather system can affect how much or when a player plays his or her favorite game, that's wonderful. Plus, Mabinogi's lightning effects and sounds of thunder are the best ones around.
In fact, in each of the games areas, a Clan Member -- sort of a friendly boss monster -- will let you know what he or she expects out of the ecosystem. You can check a local interface to see the upper limits of plants and animals and decide whether you want to help maintain those limits or not. After all, you can do what you want, but there are bonuses to be had if you follow orders. The system puts the power of environmental destruction or salvation directly in the players' hands. There are very few games that offer players direct control in a game, and it shows that the developers trust players to maintain the order. Every time I play, the ecosystem I am in seems relatively OK, but who knows what happens in higher-level areas? I shudder to think. The local interface will also let players know the weather forecast, an important bit of information because some plants and animals do well in different types of weather. It's a relatively complicated and daring approach to weather.
Wurm Online's weather doesn't make numbers go up and down, but it does pull you deeply into the world. The night and day cycle can be so striking that players are known to become lost easily and sometimes find themselves surrounded by pitch black night with only the stars to steer by. It's a brilliantly simple system, one that shows how effective visual-only representations of weather can be.
Will we see better weather systems in MMOs in the future? I think it's a matter of tech and time. At the least, I would love to see harsher day and night cycles and weather that blocks a player's vision or slapped him with a "soaking wet" debuff. Why not?
Why are developers not taking chances with weather systems?
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!