The Spousal Unit is playing WAR a few feet away while I do my usual morning round of news, blogs, forums and other internetty goodness. I’m not watching the action over on his monitor, but I can hear all the sounds. He’s in the High Elf starter area and every few minutes I hear a constipatory “Hrrrnnnnggh!” as someone hits Flee so they can run that tiny bit faster for a few seconds.
Aside from the amusing nature of the sound effect itself (which isn’t quite so amusing after the 85th rendition), it points to something that’s been bothering me about MMOs for quite some time now. When did tiny, paper-cut like irritations become a substitute for immersion? Running slowly doesn’t make the world bigger, it just. Really. Pisses. Me. Off.
Unreasonably so, maybe, and I’ll cop to that. It’s not that I want to be able to teleport everywhere — what I want is, simply, to run at a decent speed when I’m getting about in the world. I don’t mean a realistic speed, because my WAR chars jog a damn sight faster and for much, much longer than I ever will; I do mean a speed that won’t make me want to snore when I’m trudging, for the 18th time, from Oobygooby’s Camp in northern Ostland to Yabbadabba’s Camp in southern Ostland. It’s slow. It adds nothing to my gaming experience. Did I mention, it’s slow?
I spent a lot of time in Asheron’s Call watching my character run from A to B, especially before housing came in along with the housing portal sets that suddenly shrank the world to a fraction of its previous size. Sometimes I’d run from A to B after those portals came in, just because it was fun to slam across the (seamless, zone-free) landscape like a speeding sling-bullet. I spent points on my Run skill well beyond what was necessary, just for the fun of running like the wind; it added a certain spice to the frequent dial-up connection losses, too — I never knew quite where I’d have run to by the time the game realised the connection had dropped and logged my character out.
Now, I’m not asking for Asheron’s Call run speeds (though hey, if you want to give them to me along with a large, seamless(ish) world, I won’t check the horse’s teeth), but I’d like something a little faster than WAR’s speeds. EQ2 wasn’t stellar, but I didn’t feel constantly stuck in treacle, and there were plenty of run buffs that made life a little easier — though to be honest my memory may be flawed, since the character I played most there was a Dirge and they’s fast. I’m not asking for insta-ports from any location to any other location, because that really *would* change the fundamental nature of the MMOs I play (though it might be interesting if it were integrated from the start — what would we do with all the time we save from not having to hoof it around the map?!).
I’ll come to the point. When a game makes a particular activity a staple of its gamers’ experience, that activity should not be tedious in the extreme. We are way, waaaay past the point at which “meaningful travel” means rolling for random encounters every 6 game-hours of travel. If the WAR designers genuinely thought people would enjoy lumbering around as slowly as they do, they need to be smacked with a clue-by-four; what I suspect, however, is that they took the mounted speed (which isn’t much to write home about either, by the way) and derived the run speed from that. “If we make them crawl across the map until 20, think how grateful they’ll be when they get to move a little faster! And besides, won’t the world just feel so huge and lush and marvellous because they have to spend hours getting around in it?”
I’m not grateful. It’s not a seamless world, and having loads of time in which to get irritated at how slowly I’m moving only makes the world’s flaws more evident instead of less. (Zones puzzled together like a hopscotch game and not a world, for one.) Sure, it’s a minor irritation, but it’s repeated every single time I play, and for a fair proportion of that time I spend “playing”. Like a paper-cut that’s constantly redelivered, just to make sure I don’t forget about it.
It’s also one of the reasons I log in, think about all the running I’ll have to do, and log out again. There are other minor niggles I have with WAR, but since I don’t experience them every single time I play and/or for very long, I forget about them in between and they don’t have a chance to fester like some of the others do. Client quirks (what I see isn’t what other people see) and run speed are festering with me. Others probably have other triggers, but that doesn’t matter, since the end result tends to be the same.
Designers need to start paying attention to minor irritations when they pile up, and most especially when they become an intentional part of the design. That’s defensive, time-sink style design, and it doesn’t work in the long run — certainly not on me. Not anymore.
As a post-script — if you’re going to comment about how I want easy mode, don’t bother. That’s not what this is about.