The little things

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.

12 thoughts on “The little things

  1. I recall a friend in AC called Shrimp who had max’d out her run skill along with her quickness, combined with the level 7 buffs, the world must have looked like a blur as she whizzed along at nigh warp speeds. When she could run from Arwic to BFD in less than 5 minutes, I was suitably impressed.

    Also helped when you lost your fifteenth corpse in as many minutes trying to get back to your first one and you needed assistance. Shrimp could get to you faster than anyone else on the server!

  2. You want easy mod… no wait…

    My recent foray back to single player games once again springs to mind. In Fable 2 (and Fallout 3, I believe, though I haven’t played that one) you have to run to a location exactly once. After that you can choose “Fast travel” to teleport there.

    The downside of doing that is not hitting any random encounters/stumbling over quests, so there’s a decision to be made every time you want to go somewhere. Do I want the convenience of teleporting there, or do I feel like taking the slow route and maybe finding something to distract me on the way (but maybe not).

    That seems a perfect balance, to me. I wish more MMO designers would play these games. Sometimes a nice jog across the countryside is enjoyable, but when you’re forced to do it again and again… well it costs you the enamel off your teeth as you grind them down, doesn’t it?

  3. I didn’t mind running most places in AC, though admittedly I also made pretty frequent use of the various portal systems available. When the countryside is actually moving, it’s not so bad. In WAR… eh.

    What I object to most in WAR is how ridiculously slowly we seem to run — at least to me. I bet if they speeded up the animation and didn’t speed up the actual running, I’d probably feel better… for a while, anyway. This is going to sound weird, but that’s why I had issues playing larger races in EQ2 — they didn’t actually run any slower, but they seemed to.

  4. I can totally relate, especially with the large races comment. I played a barbarian in EQLive, and I swore I was just meandering everywhere, like some sort of saddle sore cowboy. Then I watched my friend play his dwarf, and I was amazed at how fast he seemed to move. Of course, if we ran side by side, we could see we were moving at the same speed, but the difference in perception was just insane.

    And I totally agree with you. Running in WAR seems slower than any other MMO I have played yet, with the exception of maybe Ragnarok Online. Even Maple Story felt like you were getting places faster (it helps that Maple Story maps are tiny, of course). I recently started playing EQ2, and I would also agree with your memories of that – I feel like I’m getting places way faster in EQ2 than WAR.

  5. City of Heroes. Oh, sweet City of Heroes… Level 14 and you could get a travel power, Flight, Superspeed, Superjump or Teleportation and fly/speed/bounce/’port around the place to your heart’s content. Even mounted speed in Random Fantasy MMO is but slow motion compared to the glorious speed of CoH…

    To an extent, I can understand arguments that too much fast/instant travel can cause problems with immersion and the “world” feel, but like you say, having to run for miles is, the vast majority of the time, “sodding annoying” rather than immersive. That’s where I like the CoH system, if your character’s moving fast enough, it still *feels* like you’ve covered great distances, just really quickly. Curiously enough, this: just turned up on my RSS reader this morning, on a vaguely similar theme.

    I’m not minding WAR too much at the moment in Tier 4, apart from a few sodmongering zones (Black Crag) that seem to be laid out to cause maximum travel times and thus irritation. Between the Book of Binding and Guild Recall scrolls, you can set yourself up in a question location, but still get back to a flightmaster in short order to head off somewhere else. Back in Tier 3, though, I remember I’d moved to questing in Talabecland, forgot to set my bind point, Guild Recalled to join some PvP somewhere, and then I had the prospect of either ditching the half finished Talabecland quests and picking up a bunch somewhere else, or flying to High Pass and riding for NINE! HUNDRED! MILES! back to the quest hub (and then another NINE! HUNDRED! MILES! on a massive detour to go over a bridge to get to the mobs for the quests that were just over the river with oh-so-convenient steep sides). Eesh.

  6. Angela (the EQ2-crazed significant other) has a Barbarian main in EQ2 and she is ALWAYS using some kind of miniaturization potion/item, just so she feels like she is running faster. 🙂

    Also in EQ2 you can get mounts pretty early (I’m not even sure there’s a minimum level, assuming you have the coin), and you can just stay astride them at all times. You can fight, gather, shop…pretty much do everything from the back of your mount.

    I don’t remember War feeling like the run speed was particularly slow (tho I may have just blocked it out), but I just remember seeming to have to run back and forth constantly.

    Plus I’m in the Playstation Home beta, and after running in that, ANYTHING seems fast. 🙂

  7. @Ysh: The same can be said for me of the Tauren. They move at the same pace, but the animation is lurching and labored, so it FEELS slower.

    I actually think both mounts and running should be swifter in WAR. The game’s so dependent on player travel and ease of use, that I think its necessary, false sense of a large world be damned.

    It’s about the WAR dammit, not running through the beautiful scenery.

  8. What if we were able to use the world design itself to speed our travel? Travel speed becomes a concern for moving from point a to point b, but when at b its not as rough.

    In at least WAR and WoW most areas are built with roads leading to and from major points of interest. Right now they’re just used so you can move more or less un-harassed. What if traveling on a paved path kicked up your movement rate? You can get higher speed without tossing the ‘realism’.

  9. Jeco, that was what I initially believed the roads be for in WoW. A buff to the movement speed.

    In a way it is, as you are more safe from the mobs lurking at the roadside, but there could be a speed buff for using the roads to move from one place to another.



  10. There was a game that had a speed bonus for using roads, but I totally can’t remember what game that was.

    But yes, that’s a good idea.

  11. I would like to see MMO designers break free from the arbitrary notion that a mount is only suitable as a mid-level or high-level reward. This started in EQ and has persisted in every fantasy MMO since then.

    It wouldn’t change the game in any significant way to introduce mounts as low as 5th level in WAR, or maybe 10th level. Ideally, a character’s mount would begin as a moderate speed boost to foot speed, and increase every 5 or 10 levels to a very high speed mount at max level (180-200% foot speed). And of course, there could always be more prestigious mounts to attain at higher levels (preferably cosmetic changes only).

  12. The travel in WAR seems to be a bit of give and take. A balance between PvP and PvE. It could be easily remedied by slowing movement speed in PvP, but since there is open RvR, I would guess that notion was scrapped.

    Remember, I would NEVER argue with you, Ysh. I’m just giving the designer’s perspective.

    Go the other extreme. Movement speeds are doubled. Mount speeds are doubled. You would encounter some major problems.

    Even powerful machines lag out in open and instance RvR. It would be even worse if the movements speeds were increased. Ever run to a clear objective only to find yourself surrounded by opposite faction players that instantly appear? Or imagine how much more of a head start witches would have with objectives if they could move twice as fast.

    As a SW I got irritated by people being able to get out of my range by simply taking a few steps back. By the time the server caught up with the move, I’m spamming at nothing. If we could move twice as fast, it would not be very difficult for people to evade ranged attacks.

    Last but not least, the developers created the game around PvP. PvE is secondary. They never meant for you to spend hours grinding PvE areas without being interrupted by scenario queues.

    Also (okay maybe that wasn’t last but not least), they didn’t really fill in the blanks with reasons to do anything else in the overland areas than to get to your objectives. I am appreciating the design of WoW right now as I play it more. While traveling to your next quest objective, there are reasons to kill everything along the way – loot, crafting items, gold, XP. Mining and harvesting are also reasons to want to hoof it instead of taking mass transit.

    I think WAR could do a much better job with travel other than bind locations. The recent change with flight masters, however, shows their priority is still with PvP RvR.

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