Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Building a better MMOusetrap: Buildings, barrens and beyond (Part 3)

Dave Moss
November 28, 2007
Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links




Over the past two weeks I have gone over some of the base elements of architecture in massively multiplayer games. Touching on how architecture can influence a persons time inside a game, as well as how different types of players can actually begin to influence the environment.

Once a player leaves the cities with the games, they will begin to encounter more diverse and interesting environments and landscapes. The largest percentage of available space in MMOs is simulated landscape and natural scenery. From toxic-hued forests and jungles, to vast dune seas, and rolling grasslands, all the way out into the vastness of space and although the landscapes in the games oftentimes reflect the vistas we know from the real world, sometimes they are as if they were plucked from the dreams or nightmares of the players. However something separates landscapes in reality from landscapes in video games, and that is the fact that at the end of the day, most of the areas outside the cities in online games, are structured just the same as the cities themselves are.

Each area or "zone" is assigned it's own distinct character, and habitat and is assigned a specific level of difficulty. They often have only a few entries and exits, a handful of important landmarks and high walls surround the entire area. In this sense the areas function simply as an exaggerated room, with walls surrounding, one or two doors or windows to get out, and everything within set specifically to function only within that area. Espen Aarseth stated in his Allegories of Space about the game Myst:

"What looks like an open area is really a closed labyrinth with a few possible directions..."



While Myst is not an online game, the above stands true with MMOs, where the seemingly open environments aren't actually that at all, they are enclosed spaces. Georgia Leigh McGregor expands on this idea in her paper, Architecture, Space and Gameplay in World of Warcraft and Battle for Middle Earth 2:

"Landforms are barriers to the player's forces and their enemies alike, influencing the fight but never actively taking part. A hill or river operates as a wall, creating a no go zone and dividing the map into distinct and sharply separated areas of access and denial."

These areas of access and denial are often sharply pronounced as cliffs, mountains or oceans. Things that we view in the real world as barriers to our own ability to travel from one place to the next, will allow players in games to easily identify with the same ideas, but truthfully they could just as easily end the zone with an endless black.

In World of Warcraft, they attempt to simulate a personal sense of real environments, in such that the zones don't have a load screen to separate them line in most online games, but they flow freely from one into the next (with a few minor exceptions of course). But, there are often mountains, cliffs or oceans surrounding the area, there are only a few entrances into the zone on foot, and perhaps one or two more using flight paths, and in rare occasions a boat or zeppelin to allow you to cross to a different continent. This limits the sense of the environment, back to the idea of a large room, and the creatures themselves are bound to the room, although they can leave the room when a player does, after a certain pre-set distance from their regular haunt, they will simply give up chasing the character and turn around.

In games like Final Fantasy XI, the zones are separated with load screens, and only have two or three specific entrances and exits, and the creatures within can never leave the room. It is because of the creatures inability to leave the room that players who are facing a challenge to great will often run to the 'zone' (note, the different usage of the term here) to 'zone-out' or leave the area, which will reset the creature back to it's normal path. This is a much more contained room than the open ones in games like WoW, where nothing can leave the room without the games express permission.

Players can interact with their environments, but only minimally, often only able to partake in a specific set of activities. You can attack creatures, or perform a number of set tasks, like fishing, harvesting raw materials, or in some games even dig up treasure. Beyond that, interacting with the environment is simply done by moving through it, you can't build a house, or burn down a tree, or write your name in the snow. Though there are cases where players are able to change the environment, such as in the MMO Second Life, where players are able to build houses, monuments, plant flowers or do any number of activities. I believe this is the way that games will have to move in the future if they are to survive.

By allowing the players to interact with their surroundings you are changing the nature of the environment. By allowing a player to build a tower so tall he can see far off into the distance, you have removed one of the walls around the room. By allowing a player to blast a hole in the mountains, you have changed the nature of the environment itself, as it is no longer a room, and has actually become landscape, that can be molded and changed as the players see fit.

With a few exceptions, most players in any online game spend more time out in the environment than they do in the cities. Oftentimes however, they are the most constraining parts of a game, where from the moment you enter a zone you are simply following a set of instructions until you have outgrown the area. Like the starting areas in most games, where your hand is held, ushering you from one task to the next, until you are strong enough to go through the guarded exit into the next zone. For the most part we simply repeat this process over and over.

It is because of this I think players should be able to change their environments, because it adds a certain dynamic to the environments, an unexpected twist. Say someone built a wall across an entire zone, save for a gate and decides to exact a toll upon anyone who wants to cross the zone to complete their quests. The players could either choose to pay the toll, or band together and tear down the wall. At that point the wall builder could give up, or raise an army of his own, and build a keep inside the wall, and add towers and parapets. Then you are not only dealing with the environment as it is presented to us but the environment as the fellow players would like it to be. Certainly this is not a fool-proof system and there would have to be a certain set of checks and balances, and policing to have the system function properly, but I think it would certainly alter the game play.

No longer would we simply be marching across a chess board, it would actually become an environment.


Next week, in the final part to this series I will be taking a look at Instanced Zones, Dungeons and Raid environments, and wrapping up everything I have gone over for the past four weeks.





























All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

The 2020 Engadget Holiday Gift Guide

The 2020 Engadget Holiday Gift Guide

View
My return to ‘No Man’s Sky’ was a reminder of death and the void

My return to ‘No Man’s Sky’ was a reminder of death and the void

View
China's lunar sampling robot beams back its first full-color moon shots

China's lunar sampling robot beams back its first full-color moon shots

View
The gold, 8th-generation iPad returns to $299 at Amazon

The gold, 8th-generation iPad returns to $299 at Amazon

View
The second-gen Eve V may take on the Surface Pro again in 2021

The second-gen Eve V may take on the Surface Pro again in 2021

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr