Travel and realism in MMORPGs

Over the last few months I’ve been ruminating over the role of travel in MMORPGs. I’ve played some irregular sessions of two more ‘realistic’ games, Black Desert Online ; a game where a mount or vehicle has a more tangible existence in the world than the norm, and can be left somewhere for good or bad. If you stable your horse in BDO it remains with that stablemaster NPC, you can run off elsewhere on some errand and find yourself further and further away from the mount and your only option to get that mount is to make your way back to where you left it.

It harkens me back to conversations I’ve had with a friend over Star Wars Galaxies and how spaceships in that game were similar to mounts in BDO – you parked them somewhere and if you then took a shuttle to another planet then your spaceship wasn’t available until you returned to where you left it. Despite the potential for inconvenience in either game, I do find a certain appeal to this level of ‘realism’, that mounts are more than a spell and that they remain where you left them last.

Now, where did I leave my horse?

That said this kind of realism would be pretty awkward in a game with a strong or directed storyline: imagine trying to change Star Wars the Old Republic to use such a system. If Fleet Passes could even exist as an item, then every time you used one you’d risk stranding yourself as your ship would be left on whatever planet you last visited. That could make for some interesting social interactions (“LFG, lift to Quesh!”), but would be royal pain in the behind nonetheless. It would also place limits on storytelling, the use of the Graveyard as the new main ship in the recent expansions would mean the potential for plot issues – if we jump into the new chapter or story with a button what happens to our class ship if we happen to have been doing some dailies or other content in-between?

Diving into story chapters wouldn’t work so well if your ship was left behind…

The idea of travel having more implications to it extend beyond where you park up at the end of a session. In BDO, for instance, your horse is only 100% safe if it’s with a stablemaster. If you dismount in a road to go chasing Fogans across a field there’s every possibility that some spider, imp or other critter may start attacking your poor horse as it stands idling. I’ve had this happen a few times, although the mount will edge away from attackers and has enough health to survive for a while. Imagine if you were back at Fleet and your poor ship droid holo-called to shriek “Terribly sorry to bother you, sir, but we are being boarded!”…

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5 Responses to Travel and realism in MMORPGs

  1. Coppertopper says:

    I never thought about that point about horses in BDO adding to the immersion – its a great point. Especially when you compare it to WoW where your mount just disappears after you jump off.

  2. Pasduil says:

    On the whole I’m glad that kind of realism is mostly missing from the games I play. If anything I’d want even less of it than is usually there. It might be realistic, but let’s face it, there are plenty of aspects of reality that are rather boring. I’m not sure it would even be immersive as such, because when the game gets boring is when I stop being absorbed in just playing, and start multi-tasking and doing things outside of the game. (Case in point, I have a character doing a load of crafting, so I come and read your blog!)

    The way I think of it is in comparison to movies. When the characters go on a journey, do you want to sit there and watch the whole thing in excruciating detail? Or would you prefer what normally happens in a movie, just cut from one scene where say a detective gets a phone call that there’s been another murder to the next scene where he’s already arriving at the crime scene? I think the latter is a lot more immersive because there’s no interruption to the flow of the story. Sometimes a write or movie-maker would insert another scene or two, but it would be an interesting and relevant stuff, not plain getting from A to B. Perhaps the detective discusses the surprising development with their partner as they’re driving over, or we switch to another plot strand for a scene or two before going back to the detective’s arriving at the murder scene. But no sitting in the car just negotiating traffic for the next umpteen minutes.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    Fallen Earth has mounts that work exactly like BDO – indeed the system is all but identical. I always really liked it. I’m tabbed out from LotRO as I write this, on an automated horse-ride to Bree. It’s a convenience but frankly it’s one I’d prefer the game didn’t offer. There’s a huge difference in my mind between having a convenience and choosing not to use it, which always makes me feel like a ninny, and not being offered it in the first place, which can either be annoying or redeeming.

    On balance I’d rather games made me stay in the world rather than facilitated my tabbing out to do other things. If they do that then there’s a better chance they will make being there sufficiently interesting to make it worth my while. They have to if they want to keep my custom, after all.

    • Pasduil says:

      LOTRO Swift Travel is like the cutting-to-next-scene in a movie that I mentioned. Because it’s quick I’m not tempted to tab out. But tabbing out, or just sitting and watching the world go by, or doing one of the various things you can do in-game while riding the stable-master horse is not so bad. I often feel the need for a short respite from hitting keys and jiggling the mouse.

      If there was only tedious manual travel, one of two things would happen with players like me. While I couldn’t tab out, I could get a podcast going in the background for example. Which would reduce immersion both during and after the ride. Alternately if there’s a lot of tedium like that in the game I’ll just stop playing.

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