Sunday, February 14, 2010

Not seamless and not fun

A lot of the techniques I've discussed have been intended to address the difficult challenges in creating seamless worlds: interest management, load balancing, coordinate systems, consistency, authoritative servers,... But I want to take a moment to say: just because you can, and perhaps have solved these hard technical problems doesn't make you successful. You can avoid the problems by making other game design choices (compromises?) like instancing.

In fact, something like instancing may be inevitable in your game, if you want it to be fun. For example, a fun quest might require no one else be able to spoil things by stealing kills or your hard won loot.

And even if you have a nice seamless world, and you've squeezed out difficult latency issues in the seamless areas, you can still screw up the game so badly people drop out. I played DDO the other day. Turbine is famous for having a pretty good architecture. But boy, is it a pain to play that game. Line up on the crate; hit the crate; walk forward; click on the coins; repeat; repeat; repeat. Line up on a monster, press the mouse and hold it, and hold it, and hold it. Wander around in circles in a dungeon and get lost. Run from one corner of the dungeon to the other pulling levers. Do a quest, report back to the same dude. Gah! Didn't they ask a newb if all that was fun? No wonder people are micro-trans-ing their way up levels.

The newb experience requires repeated entering of instances. It happens two or three times in the first 15 minutes. And it takes 20 seconds or so to load (I'm trying not to exaggerate). But 20 seconds in an "action" game is forever. Ok. Your server architecture and your game design require instances. Fine. But what did the newbs say about how fun the experience was. I, for one didn't like it. Did the developers sit around and say: well, tough, that's the way it has to work. Maybe. But you *can* fix the experience.

Have auto-loot turned on by default. Don't hide the loot in 50 crates; give out more on a kill or a quest completion. Pre-load the instances in the background whenever the player gets near the entrance. It doesn't have to be seamless, but at least *try* to make it fun. Or less teeth grating-ly aggravating. Sorry, I'm not patient enough for it to "start getting fun after level 20". Even if it is free.

--end first rant--

I heard someone the other day say "hey we can't give away the good stuff, the players should have to earn it (or pay for it)." Why? Give the newbs the good stuff right away. Let them get hooked. I think it was Warhammer 40k where the first mission let you play some of the best vehicles and blow a lot of stuff to scrap. Pretty fun. Then the story line took it away. But at least you knew it was going to be a fun game. After only 5 minutes.

Let's get creative. Just because there appear to be insurmountable limitations (instancing, giving away the good content...) doesn't mean they really *are* insurmountable.

Good luck out there.