Meaningful Travel: Can a Magic Formula for MMOs Be Found?

Instant travel anywhere is too easy. Trudging for hours to get somewhere is too hard. Can developers find a solution that’s just right?
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The
concept of meaningful travel is something that is
argued to death on the forums of any MMO during its creation and launch
infancy. Without fail, there are two camps of players that join in this
ever-revolving argument. There are those that want travel to take a
very long
time, and those that want to be able to port their way around the world
instantly. Both sides have legitimate reasons for desiring travel act
in the
manner they wish, but I think a happy medium can be found. Or to be
more
accurate, I think the idea for a perfect system was created years ago,
but due
to technical difficulties at the time, it was never fully realized nor
implemented. 

When
EverQuest
launched, travel between areas was an adventure in and of itself.
Getting
between continents required taking a 30 minute trip on a boat. During
the
course of the ride, there was little more to do than chat with your
fellow
passengers and watch the water go by. As an added hazard, players would
regularly get bumped off the boat in the middle of the Timorous ocean
and then
be required to swim for an ungodly amount of time until they either
died (which
was an incredibly cruel fate anywhere in an ocean) or managed to make
their way
to the single island in the zone. Even if a player were able to make it
to
land, getting off the island often proved to be a nightmare in and of
itself. 

Overland
travel in EverQuest
was also no picnic in the early days. Depending on where you were when
you
decided it was time to go sell your wares, the trip back to town or the
tunnel
in East Commons could easily involve a trip through numerous zones that
took an
hour or more. As a result, players would normally enlist the assistance
of a
friendly Wizard or Druid that was willing to port them to a small
selection of
strategically placed zones that were scattered throughout the world. It
may not
have gotten players to their final destination, but it would get them
pretty
close.

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Travelling
in such a manner may not have been the
speediest method developers could have given players access to, but it
did
ensure that those players understood the layout of the land. They knew
where
zones and cities were in relation to each other. They knew when they
were on a
different continent, knew when it was shorter to just run to the next
zone than
it was to get a teleport to a different zone that ended up being three
zones
aware. 

When
the Planes of Power expansion went live, all this
changed. All of a sudden, there were tons of new players that had no
idea how
the world was put together. The expansion introduced a central plane
that had
gateway stones to a large number of zones scattered throughout the
world. While
it may have allowed friends that were in different zones the means to
gather
together quickly and exploring new zones with little difficulty, it
instantly
destroyed any sense of geography. It also put Wizards and Druids out of
business in the blink of an eye. 

As
time went on, an entire new generation of players
became “spoiled” by near-instant travel to wherever
they wanted to go. This
idea of travel also became a staple moving forward in many games and as
I
mentioned earlier, has become a point of contention between players
ever since.
Some games have made an effort to give players the best of both worlds,
but
none have found the perfect mix… yet. There is one that if
the plan had been
implemented as intended, would have revolutionized in-game travel as we
know
it.

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style="">Vanguard: Saga of
Heroes may have had a dizzying
array of technical issues when the game was
released (and if we’re being honest, probably for a good year
or two
afterwards), but it introduced some new concepts to the MMO genre that
have
become staples since. One idea that was never fully implemented was a
combination of Rift Stones (teleport points) and something called
Caravans.
Rift Stones were a different take on teleport stones. Blue stones were
scattered throughout the continents and allowed travel between multiple
points
of a single continent. If you wanted to hop between continents, you
needed to
find a red stone. These were normally placed at major hubs such as
capital
cities. Arguments can always be made as to whether there were too many
or too
few stones, but it was a system that still allowed players to keep a
sense of
geography of the land and I was a fan. 

The
major idea that I think should become a staple though
is Caravans. The concept of Caravans always seemed to be changing and
being
tweaked and were even very briefly in the game, though they were
horrifically
bugged. The basic thought behind them though was pretty simple though.
Imagine
you and our friends find this game and fall in love with it. You each
start
characters of different races, play through your initial starting area,
and
then realize you’re all hundreds of miles away from each
other. You could
create a caravan. This was something akin to a permanent group and
allowed you
to travel to the location of one player. 

For
example, if Player A is in outside a dungeon, Player
B is sailing on a ship in the ocean, and Player C is doing some
travelling the
open road between cities, any of them could be used as the focal point
of where
the others could instantly travel (for a cost). This would allow groups
of
friends to play wherever they wanted on their own and then pick whoever
was
closest to where they wanted to go to hunt that night, and all be there
in a
moment. Before you think that made things too easy, keep in mind it
allowed
players to group together instantly but it didn’t send them
back to where they
were when they were done. That still needed to be handled the
old-fashioned
way. It was a brilliant idea and I think it needs to be revisited by
other
companies for sure.

 


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