Salazar has been missing for a very long time now, missing but not gone as his occasional messages testify. He’s spent the last few months trying to communicate with us and today saw a major development when we received an image for the first time! True it’s badly corrupted but it could be cleaned up and it’s obvious that Sal has got his Gini and running so who knows what he’ll be able to send next! Exciting times ahead, and maybe we will get Sal back soon…
In my last world building post I talked about, amongst other things, better weather & seasonal effects to make the world seem more alive and changeable. Well in this post I want to move from the macro back down the scale and look at towns, cities and other settlements because it’s not just the world that needs to come alive for me but the place I call home too.
My first ever experience of an online, populated city was Nova Albion in Second Life. I rezzed nearish and wandered on down where I was grabbed by the lure of free Linden Dollars in a camping spot (this was before I realised how damaging camping spots are to online worlds, sucking up computing resources for no benefit to the environment). Once I broke free of the camping chair I began to explore the city and was amazed that such a place could exist – it was a city built by and populated by the players, a deal of who I could see around me! Now it was sometime before I realised that vast majority of players were in one or two locations within the city and the rest of it was a well-tended wasteland so at the time this was a hugely exciting to me.
My next experience was of Bree in LOTRO and I still remember riding through the gates and down the cobbled road from Combe for the first time. It was night and I was following a more experience player in my first few hours of playing and I can still feel the excitement swelling inside me, something akin to the first time after passing my driving test my Dad had me follow him onto the motorway – pure nervous adrenaline as I moved from one world to another, it was amazing.
My most recent experience has been in GW2 where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Divinity’s Reach (such a bloody beautiful name, too). The levels! the architecture! The housing! The scale! Oh my gods I was blown away! It is still the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in a game but do you know how many times I go there and explore it? Never. I teleport to the bank and teleport back out to the game. I teleport to the Maiden’s Whisper for RP and teleport out again. If I crafted I’d teleport to the crafting station and then out to the game again. The is no reason for me to wander around the city and therefore it could be three or four small rooms and I’d still get the same benefits and that is a crying shame.
Do you know what Nova Albion, Bree & Divinity’s Reach have in common? They are deserts. Wastelands. Ghost towns. People hurry from location to location in an entirely perfunctory manner to get between locations such as bank to auction house or auction house to crafting station in order to complete a necessary task related to the furthering of a step within the game. Taking a helicopter’s eye view of the city over 24 hours you’d see players whizzing back and forth between a small number of locations using the same routes whilst the rest of the city simply lies dormant.
So what to do about this sorry state of affairs, I hear (or at I imagine I hear) you ask?
That’s a good question I have no easy answers to but here’s what I’d like to see in online cities, things I feel would brathe some life into them and make them worth not just visiting again but actually playing in:
- Player housing throughout. True this was the case in SL and cities there were still deserted but none of these ideas are meant to happen in isolation. I think player housing is important because not only does it give players a reason to be in the city but it also makes them invested in the city. All of the amazing buildings in Divinity’s Reach are unusable with only the occasional one open, but even these are museum displays that can’t be played or interacted with. True there is the home instance of Selma but it’s just that, an instance; a private bubble of the city created for and inhabited by only you – and where is the fun in that? Let players live in the city and make it their own.
- Events throughout the city all the time. Give the players a reason to be in the city other than crafting, banking or redecorating their house. Player guilds like LOTRO’s Lonley Mountain Band prove that if you put an event on people will come so put events on! Allow players to put events on! For the love of all that is holy, breathe some life into the place and get people dancing! Random small celebrations should happen, Weekly markets with special items, Parades that wind their through the city streets. All night parties right outside your window. Holy days of celebration to the various six Gods. And why not have dungeons in the city? Why not have quests and dynamic events happen there?
- Let crafters own shops. Let players own a shop that you can visit and where you can buy their goods, whether those have been made or found. True these items could also be sold on the trading post but why not between people? Slap a 15% sales tax on and the gold sink remains. And if the player is out playing then let them hire an NPC to man the shop for them (an even bigger gold sink).
- Whilst on the subject of NPCs, make them real. Don’t have them standing around waiting to be clicked on but have them wandering the neighbourhood. Have them going in and out of buildings and doing stuff other than waiting. Like exploring a city, listening to NPCs talking is fun the first time but then never again. Hell there is a conversation between two ministers about the Centaur problem going on right now that was going on word for word when I started over a year ago. Why? That conversation hasn’t moved on so it gives the impression neither has the world. NPCs should seem like they really live and work in the city otherwise the city seems like a theme park exhibit.
- Let the city change at night. Traders should close shop and go home, NPCs should wander off to their families or the pub, parties should start, Seraph patrols increase, curfews enforced, drunken fights break out, arrests made. In short the city should act like a real city and be different at night as it is in the day.
Of course, a lot of this goes for *all* the settlements in the world. All of them need real day & night cycles with NPCs that do more than stand around like idiots awaiting an instruction to sit. Players should be free to live in the countryside if city life is not for them. Merchant caravans should allows player-traders to join them. The whole bloody world should feel more interactive and real and alive and a lot less like a game where you can’t play with all of the pieces.
I had planned this post to be part of a much larger post directed at my dissatisfaction with GW2 and other MMOs but as I drafted and redrafted it in my head it kept changing, its focus shifting and realigning, until I just decided to open a New Post box and see what happened.
World Building part 1. I had no idea that was going to pop out of my fingertips when I started but now I think it’s perfect because the lack of immersion that leads to my feeling of disconnection & dissatisfaction with GW2 is not unique to that game and, in some respects, not the fault of that or any game. So here is my first post in a new series about what I want, desperately in many cases, to see in a game world. They are in no real order – my thinking isn’t always that joined up – but I’m sure common themes will pop up here and there. So, where to start. Well, seeing as I’m British, why not with the weather…
Give me more weather: I want a world where the only choices are not sun or rain (with snow at Xmas), I want weather that goes beyond the binary and into the realms of patterns and even seasons and I want them all to have an impact on the world. Let the rain pool up and cause flooding. Give me hail that damages buildings, lightning storms that start forest fires, heat waves that result in a terrible droughts and mass-herd deaths Give me meteor impacts and plagues of killer locusts! I want ship-sinking typhoons and village-erasing twisters! And what is so wrong with a good old fashioned earthquake? GIVE ME MORE THAN SUN AND RAIN! *pant pant pant*… Actually, earthquakes aren’t weather are they? But they do lead me on to my next point quite nicely.
Why is the land always the same? OK, here in the UK I’m lucky enough to live in a stable & prosperous place and the land hardly every changes. Except it does. all the time. Fields that have been there since my dad was a kid are being turned into housing estates, new railways are wiping villages off the map and cities are eating up towns all the time. The land changes, except in MMOs where, like the seasons and the weather, it’s always the same. A path through the hills and out to the coast that is never blocked by a flood or a landslide is just the same as a corridor in a FPS. I want people (both players and non-players) and the weather (see above) and seasons (below) to change the landscape. Don’t tell me it’s a living world when most of it is pickled in aspic!
And whilst I’m on the topic of seasons, can we please add some? I know that to see a Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter cycle roll past means you are a year older and it is clear that your character is not, but if I can suspend my disbelief that the Simpsons have been the same age for 25 years I can do the same in a game, trust me. The fact you include a day/night cycle indicates there is a passage of time and my head has yet to explode from the fact day after day cycles round and yet nothing seems to change. Put seasons in, make them run in the same way as your day & night time frame (roughly 4 to 6 times faster than normal) and the world will see to be fresh and living instead of some weird West World theme park stuck on one setting forever. And ever. And ever.
I’ll take a break there but in my next post I want to move on to the people in these worlds and the lives they often don’t but really should live. And some stuff about night time as well. Oh god, the night time in games sucks.
One last point before I hit publish and end my lunch break, please don’t imagine I’m having a pop at GW2 or LOTRO or Second Life. I’m simply putting forward my wishlist and no one game is more guilt than another of failing to live up to my vastly inflated sense of expectations. There are probably some very good technical reasons why some of the things I want can’t be done, but that doesn’t stop me wanting them. I have a similar problem with Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss.
It’s been a few months since I last wrote one of these posts but the last couple of weeks have seen a surprising change in my gaming that has awoken an old worry of mine that I’m going to poke at again and see if I can’t answer it once and for all in my next post (spoilers: I don’t think I can).
Guild Wars 2: As amazing as it seems, I’ve become slightly, but only slightly, addicted to this again. I only really got into it after I agreed to download it again for my son who, like me, has grown a little bored of nothing but Minecraft to play. True I have also had Left 4 Dead, but that’s a little on the mature side for him so I re-installed GW2 and watched him play for a bit and suddenly I felt the old familiar urge to run about brutally solving the often minor issues of total strangers for pretty much worthless rewards and BANG! I was hooked again. This re-start coincidentally happened to coincide with the total destruction of Lion’s Arch and man alive was that fun! True it’s a zerg-fest but I don’t mind zerging too much – at least I can hide my incompetence in the crowd 😀
MCPE: Update 0.8.0 was great! Minecarts were added along with some nice farming changes & graphical updates and the whole thing felt brilliantly fresh and fun again. I had a blast in Termite Canyon and really only stopped because I played the arse out of it. I’m waiting for 0.9,0 which will, if the tweets coming out of Mojang are right, be another great update that adds even more fun. We are while off Realms yet I think and that’s a shame because that’s exactly what I’d need to make this my ‘go to’ game again
Pioneer Spacesim: In my desperation to play Elite Dangerous I downloaded this free Elite Frontier mod and tried it out with my new Hotas X flight stick & throttle. The results were, to say the least, underwhelming and I shan’t be playing it again. Ever.
Left 4 Dead 2: Ahhhhh, what can I say about this game that I haven’t already said. It’s just amazing fun. I’m not as good as I was 5 years ago when I could do the levels on Expert (with the right team, of course) but I can hold my own in Advanced even with a basic PUG. Cold Stream is still a bloody nightmare though ;-D
Second Life: Nope. I didn’t even make it back for the memorial of my mate Os. I thought I would but missed it and then found, whilst sad I missed seeing Sal, Ilia, Enjah, Holo, Mari, Tak and my other friends that I was relived I didn’t have to struggle with the experience of logging in, lagging out and seeing nothing but grey blocks. Lately (by which I mean the last couple of days or so) I have found myself missing this world a little but I don’t think it’s been enough of a pull to tempt me back. Not yet, anyway.
LOTRO: It must be the GW2 effect but I’ve been missing this world too. Not enough to actually go back into the nasty grind-fest that it is, but still missing it a little. Maybe one day someone will make a less grindy, more explorable Middle Earth and then I can finally be the Gondorian explorer I’ve always wanted to be.
Survivalcraft: Christ no! No way! The last few updates have moved further and further away from fun game play and more into the realms of boring twaddle. There is now a bow you have to load each time to fire by dragging an arrow from your inventory to the bow. This is a game with limited inventory space, non-stacking arrows and a ranged combat system that is, in a word, shit. My life is too short too waste it on non-fun things.
Borderlands 2: This is a strange one. I just stopped. Don’t really know why. I just stopped and I don’t think I even noticed. I do that a lot with long story driven games. Thief (all of them). Walking Dead. LA Noire. Never finished any of them. What a waste.
Ingress: Nah, I’ve totally lost the plot here. I’m not a social gamer and you reallllly need to be for this to work. Oh, and I need the app space too much 🙂
Carmageddon: Not even the boy is playing this one now – it’s ok but just limited.
Elite Dangerous: Still the big dawg on the horizon, I’m looking forward to this more and more with each Alpha update I watch on youtube. It just looks amazing! The flight is smooth, the combat challenging, the visuals drop dead gorgeous. Oh man this is the game I want right now! This is the game I’d turn the shed into a cockpit for and end up on the local news in the “And finally…” humorous nutjob section.
What are you playing right now? let me know in the comments below.
This is a filler post, I’ll not lie to you. I have a post about Elite half done and I can’t seem to finish it and that led me to thinking about what I’m playing, and not playing, at the moment.
Second Life: Nope, I can honestly say that I never even think about this game now. Sometimes I wonder what kept me in there for so long but then I remember all the fun I had in Murray and with the TSMGO guys and in Kahruvel and the answer is obvious 🙂
LOTRO: Holy crap no! This game I don’t mids in the slightest. Nasty grindy thing.
Guild Wars 2: I haven’t played this since November now and I don’t really miss it which is still a source of some surprise to me.
Minecraft Pocket Edition: The last update (0.7.0) didn’t really do it for me so I haven’t picked this up again. I might do once Realms goes active but that rather depends on how much server access costs.
Survivalcraft: Nothing is really grabbing me about this any more. The last update didn’t float my boat and the upcoming one isn’t making me tingle either. Maybe it’s something I’ll come back to, but I’m not so sure given my track record for leaving games and not looking back.
Borderlands 2: Oh boy, I’m loving this game. Nuff said. Apart from Handsome Jack is amazing and Claptrap’s bistro dubstep is brilliant. wub wub wub wub.
Ingress: Silly escapist fun, I’m enjoying this more than I thought I would ever have done but it really makes me wish for a fuel cell battery in my phone 😉
Carmageddon: I bloody loved this on the PC many moons ago and now I have a version of it on my tablet. A riot of bad taste 😀
Elite Dangerous: Now this is the biggie I’m looking forward to, but more of that in a future post…
What are you playing right now? Leave a comment below. Or don’t, it’s OK either way, I’ll still love ya 😉
I took the long journey back to the forest yesterday but even the strangeness of my dream could not have prepared me for what I found there. The gridquakes I had heard about, often third or fourth hand from people who knew that despite my distance from the world Cowell & Kahruvel still meant a great deal to me, had wreaked havok through the ancient woodland and nearby village. It broke my heart to see so many familiar old landmarks gone, washed away into the void or desecrated by hateful thugs possessed by desires I would never, ever understand. Still, even though the tower had finally crumbled into the sea and the aqueduct had collapsed over the cliff, the forest itself still felt warm and inviting and I had a warm glow of nostalgia as I walked beneath her boughs. Even passing the spot where I had found the backpack that had transformed me so long ago made me smile a little.
But that smile faded as I came across the ancient landing stones near the border with Noyo. In my last visit Salazar’s archaeological dig had uncovered a circle of stone posts around a central dais and I had detected a weak, blue light rising up the stones and dissipating into the atmosphere. Although the stone circle had always been called a landing point, in truth I had no idea what it was for and the blue light inside it was just as mysterious, but now I found the site in an awful state of disrepair! All but one of the stones had gone, whether by the efforts of looters or the vagaries of grid stability I could not tell, but the rhythms of the blue energy had obviously thrown into discord and instead of a bubble of energy gently rising up the stones, now great arcs ballooned off into the air and crackled all around me.
“Shig! Wow! So, you see it too, huh?” I said.
“Yeah, I see it. No one else seems to, I’ve been watching and no one stops, just me, and now you. Oh, and hi by the way,” with that she hit me hard on the arm.
“Ow!” I said, “What was that for?”
“How long have you been away? How long?” she replied, emotion strong in her voice.
“Ahh, yeah, that,” I said sheepishly. “Look, I’m sorry, I’ve been busy…” I trailed off and offered her the kind of big toothy grin that often got me out of trouble, and occasionally got me in more.
“Yeah,” she said with semi-mock hurt, “Well just don’t do it again, ok?”
“I’ll try,” I said but knew I couldn’t ever keep such a promise. The lure of other worlds was always going to be too strong to ignore. I turned away from my lie and looked back into the light, a large arc just passing us by and running over some metal equipment Salazar had left out nearby.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’m not sure but my guess only Sal, or his gran, will know what to do about it. How about we take a wander down to the lighthouse and leave him a note?”
Shig beamed a smile at me and said “Race?”
I laughed, “Yeah, why not but you go easy on an old guy, huh?”
She laughed back, “Never!” and pushed me to the floor. I landed with a thud in the dust of the trail and she shot off like a rocket over the hill. I jumped to my feet and shouted after her “You cheat!” Ha! Who was I kidding, there was no way I’d ever beat her. I set off at a trot down the path but as I passed the pile of Sal’s equipment I turned back for one last look at the energy bleeding and arcing from the old stone. What the hell did it all mean? I must speak to Sal.
In the dream I awoke on the floor of the old wooden lookout clinging to the side of the hills over the sea of Mohr and found the shaman sat staring at me, just as he had done so long ago. As always with dreams the details are hazy and hard to recall exactly, but I must have asked him what he wanted because he pointed out to sea and said “Look at the clouds.” Over the waters rain-heavy clouds hung like wet washing on a line. “Look at the clouds,” he said again, “the pressure is building.” I must have asked what pressure but he merely repeated himself before standing and pointing at the sun which suddenly began rising over the far off storm. “The light is rising,” he said, “The light is rising.”
And that was it. I awoke from my dream and found my fur sodden with sweat and my heart racing. I’m sure it is nothing, I mean the shaman, the Eldars and even the damn elemental in my old backpack have been silent for so long now I’d truly begun to believe the past was done with me. Maybe it is. Still, I think I’ll pay a visit to the old forest tonight and see how it is faring.