Meaningful travel

I’ll be the first to say it’s more about the journey than the destination, being the anti-achieving gamer-slacker I am, but what exactly do we all mean when we talk about meaningful travel?

Not, presumably, the old tabletop gaming model of “You travel for 4 hours, let’s roll for a random encounter — oo look, goblins!” As far as I’m concerned that wasn’t all that much fun even back then, though admittedly it was less jarring as a device when the DM had done their legwork prior to the session and integrated such things into the travel without any obvious rolling of dice and looking up of tables. Even so, the longer we gamed (and the core of the group played various games relatively regularly for over a decade) the less random stuff became, at least in terms of being determined by dice rolls. DMs would improvise, often with great results, but that’s not the same thing.

In any case, that already exists in most MMOs in the form of random-spawn (or wandering, as they used to be called) mobs. I don’t mind dodging those when I travel, though when they’re too thick on the ground they end up being a bigger pain in the backside than they’re worth. Dodging them should take some effort but not too much at even levels, and you shouldn’t have to fight every 20 feet just to get to where you’re going. Like any other unwanted repetition, that gets tedious very fast.

slowtravel1So if it’s not random encounters, is it slow travel? It’s often said that moving more slowly makes the game world seem larger, and I’m sure it’s true. But slowing players down in games promotes one thing (psychological impression of distance) at the expense of another: fun. And it seems to me that players expect large worlds now in most MMOs — and if the world isn’t large (as in, say, Wizard 101), it had better be packed with interesting stuff (as the W101 zones are, for the most part). I’m not certain the slow travel = larger-seeming world is all that valid anymore. Yes, it sort of works, but as players we’re getting wiser to that and when a world is small, or disjointed, or arranged in weird ways (as WAR always seemed to me, more like a hopscotch board than a “real” world) then travel speed isn’t going to help.

Or, as was suggested in a previous post’s comments, is the meaningful part of travel the part that’s under the player’s conscious direction? If I’m travelling from TinyPotatium village to RatherOutstanding town (or, more drily, quest hub A to quest hub B), then faster travel would seem preferable since what I’m intending to do is simply go from one place to the other and then resume whatever else I was doing. The travelling isn’t an activity in and of itself. If, on the other hand, I’ve just arrived at the Province of DeepDarkWoods and I’m keen to explore and see what hidden traps and wonders the place has, then slower travel won’t bother me at all, because that is part of the exploration concept. (We’re not talking about WoW-style achievement-exploration — that’s just solo tour-bussing if it’s the only intent when riding around an area.)

On the whole, I’d rather travel at a good clip and live without the illusion of a larger-seeming world, since that doesn’t work so well on me anymore anyway. Part and parcel of getting older and smarter, but also having less time: when I want to do something with my friends, I want to be able to do it in a reasonable amount of time. I can’t afford to spend half my weekly 10-gaming hours just getting places so I can DO stuff. Travel is an end in itself only when it’s what we actually want to do — when it’s a road to somewhere else, artificially slowing it down only creates frustration. Frustration you can’t do anything about = anti-fun (as opposed to encounters you can eventually master, or challenges like that, which are frustrations you *can* do something about, with a little effort). Which breaks the basic premise of an MMO. Why play if it’s consistently not fun?

Thanks to Wiqd and Scott’s discussion on last week’s post for reminding me of my interest in this! (And all the others who make my posts far more interesting than they were to begin with. Thanks for commenting! :D)

EDIT — and a reminder that these questions don’t necessarily have perfect answers, and get asked fairly regularly. Thanks to Tesh for that link!