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Building a Better MMOusetrap: Buildings, barrens and beyond (Part 4)

Dave Moss
December 5, 2007
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Well it's been a month now that I've been going over this topic, so today will be the final part of the series. We have covered architecture, cities, and the landscapes that cover most of our virtual worlds, and today will be the final topic with raiding dungeons and instances.

First I need to clarify something though, the instances I will be talking about will be the type found in games like World of Warcraft, which are used primarily for dungeon content. I will not be talking about the instanced zones found in games like Guild Wars or Tabula Rasa, which are used to filter population through the normal areas throughout the game.

Raiding zones and dungeons are usually associated with end game content in MMOs where after you have made the grind to the top levels you can get together with 9 (or 39) of your friends and go hack and slash your way through a (usually) carefully designed area to take down either a single boss or a number of bosses. In WoW however, instances are used throughout the game to contain the five-man dungeons where higher quality equipment drops.



The reason I wanted to expand on this topic is because I think that these are some of the more unique and amazing areas to be found in a lot of games. From the higher level content in Final Fantasy XI, like Sky, Sea, or Dynamis, to the massive 40 man raids like Naxx and Molten Core found in vanilla WoW. They often seem to have more minute detail involved in their creation, where everything from the panes of glass to the way the floor reacts to your footsteps is carefully planned.

That being said, they are also the most confined spaces in MMOs, where each area of the dungeon or instance is carefully planned out and set for a specific purpose only, not allowing for any dynamic change. The downfall of this design, is the fact that this content is often where a large player base spends a great deal of their time, so after that fiftieth run through Molten Core, you can count in your head how long it will be before that Core Hound lumbers past.

In FFXI the boss fights (or HNMs) were slightly different than they are in WoW, in the sense that they weren't instanced, so not only did you have to compete against the monsters in the zone, you had to be wary of other players attempting to sabotage your attempts as well. While this allowed for a more dynamic setting to the fights it also caused endless headaches when rival Linkshells would fight against each other on every boss attempt, pulling monsters into the area to link on to the fighting raid.

WoW attempted to have fights similar to those in FFXI, with World Bosses, like Doom Lord Kazzak, or the World Dragons, but aside from a few guilds these were rarely attempted due to the risk being higher than the reward, as not only could players from your own faction grief you, you also have the opposing faction players able to simply walk up to your tank or healers, and start beating on them along side the monsters. Certainly that isn't to say that no one ever attempted these bosses, as they often have very decent gear, but it took a larger undertaking to ensure that the boss was taken down appropriately.

I think a possible balance between the two styles might be the best way to go in the future, allowing raids or guilds the choice to go into a 'Contested Instance' where they are not the only people in there, or if they prefer to go into a 'Closed Instance" where they can simply focus on the bosses. Certainly the rewards from the Contested Instances would have to be of higher quality due to the greater risk involved in getting them, but I think it would add a different level of play to end game content that often grows stale after a while.

That being said, I still love a good raid.

Well there we have it, four weeks of the same topic going over the layout of our online worlds with some general detail. Perhaps in the future I will revisit the topic after I have tried a few more games, and had a chance to see what some of the new developers are doing with their content.

I think all in all, the virtual worlds we visit are built with a certain level of attention to detail, not only on how the grass looks, but how the developers expect players to interact with them. And as time goes on and more MMOs are created and played, I think each new game will attempt to be so radically different from the others in order to bring in new people.

I don't think however, that we will ever see a convergence to a singular type of world where no matter what MMO you log into the game will play the same. That is one of the upsides to these types of games, where the worlds are only limited by the developer's imagination and skill, and hopefully in the future, the player's imagination as well, where we will be allowed to work in the game to change the worlds in which we live.

By allowing the players to change the world (with the appropriate checks and balances) I think the online worlds we play in will become ever closer to real worlds, where the population can have an impact on the climate, environment and architecture instead of being confined to a static set of buildings, trees and mountains.

Perhaps in the future we also might see a way for developers to team up with players creating worlds, zones, instances or cities hand in hand allowing players to leave their mark on the game worlds they love so much.

I would love to hear what you all think about all of the topics I have covered over the past few weeks, and if you would like me to delve deeper into any specific game or aspect of a game you particularly enjoy. I'm always looking for the next great online experience.




























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