MMO Mechanics: Navigating fast-travel systems

    
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I’m delighted to resurrect the column that brought me to Massively-that-was, MMO Mechanics, for the ravenous readers of MOP. The column focused on the various mechanics that underlie the MMOs we spend so much time in, exploring the under-the-bonnet workings that keep players playing and tackling the issues some of these mechanics present. You might remember the original column from its brief tenure around a year ago, but if you don’t, you can still find it on the interwebs. To get the ball rolling again, I’m going to discuss the logic behind fast-travel, the merits and perils of its various mechanics, and their use in MMOs.

With such vast, interesting worlds lying tauntingly at our characters’ feet, navigating such an impressive amount of virtual space can be both a challenge and treat simultaneously. Just as in the real world, the secret of a true adventure is chasing the action wherever that may take you by whatever method you can, all to keep your quest alive. Depending on where we must go and the method by which we find ourselves there, however, what was once an exciting adventure can become mundane rather quickly. Say, for instance, you must travel to work each morning and travel home: This journey is repeated with enough regularity that you end up so familiar with the route that it becomes tedious, no matter how pretty and exciting it was the first time around. If you had a switch that could magically apparate you there and back again, effectively abstracting away that tedium, you might feel tempted to use it.
mmom, art image 000This feeling is intensified in-game because it is just that: a game. Players will inevitably want to log in and get to the heart of the action to maximise the impact of each play session, especially if their play time is limited, so developers have constructed many different mechanics to strip away potentially frustrating travelling time once an area has been initially explored. You need look no further than World of Warcraft to see how prevalent such mechanics are in the modern MMO; flight paths are dotted at regular intervals all around Azeroth, and longer journeys employ the use of zeppelins, portals, or boats. Dungeon and raid finder tools allow players to quickly connect with automatically assembled pickup groups without any effort, instantly transporting them to the instance when all members accept the grouping.

This rough-and-ready approach allows WoW players to dive right into the action if they choose to, saving them valuable time that would otherwise be used travelling to and from their chosen instance or grinding spot. Giving the player the option to circumvent slower forms of travel can thus be a good thing, eliminating any trips that feel more like a chore than a grand adventure.

eq1Gaming is a great form of escapism, and the last thing people want to do are monotonous chores as a part of that (OK, maybe barring the fishing and cooking enthusiasts among you!). Sure, the grind can be a functional and fun component of many MMOs, but must that extend to such things as getting around the map? While many players think not, some look back on the days before fast-travel mechanics with fondness. Justin recently polled readers for an article on circa 1999 EverQuest, and the responses recorded there sparked the idea for this edition of MMO Mechanics. One veteran player argued that the time taken to travel across each zone gave all-important context to just how vast the EQ world was, while another player said that Druids and Wizards were able to offset the cost of their spells by taxiing around other players before fast-travel.

When using fast-travel options, players can lose the sense of just how impressive the world in their chosen MMO really is. The logical geography employed in most MMOs is circumvented; locational variations and the lore attached to each zone can quickly lose meaning when everywhere is so well connected. We see this in real life too; look at globalisation and the melting pot that is planet Earth. History carries much less derisive weight when the very soil that was toiled on and fought over by our ancestors can be left thousands of miles behind you at the drop of some cash and a little time. This is exciting and largely positive in our world, giving us more opportunities and less reason for prejudice than ever before, but I argue that MMO developers thrive on division, variation, and lore to help enrich and enliven their virtual worlds.

mmom, art image 001Another consideration for those who are tempted to rely on fast-travel methods to get around is what opportunities or experiences that might be missed by opting for quick or instant travel mechanics. On the surface, players will miss out on some beautiful vistas and great lesser-known finds if they always take the road most travelled, but there’s even more to miss than amusing extras in some MMOs. I mentioned earlier that rich and varied worlds are the MMO player’s virtual playground; some MMOs definitely make better use of this fact than others. In Guild Wars 2, for instance, the player is actively encouraged to explore each persistent area because dynamic events, often triggered by the presence of players in the immediate area, cascade into each other in an organic fashion with each potential outcome guiding the next event. These chaining events are cyclical without being formulaic, so players enjoy getting involved since their activity can temporarily affect the area they’re traveling through. The player feels the immediate impact from the session and so feels encouraged to keep travelling in search of more events.

Fast-travel mechanics are a welcome addition to most MMOs, lessening the amount of time it takes to get into the action and maximising the impact of each gaming session. However, if players rely too heavily on this method of getting from A to B, they can quickly become detached from the fabric of the very game they are rushing to enjoy. My advice is to skip the fast-travel when you have the time and see what wonders you can uncover.

MMOs are composed of many moving parts, but Massively’s Tina Lauro is willing to risk industrial injury so that you can enjoy her mechanical musings. MMO Mechanics explores the various workings behind our beloved MMOs. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see dissected, drop Tina a comment or send an email to tina@massivelyop.com.
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ZenDadaist
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ZenDadaist

Ironwu Well… it was kinda there all along *coughs* The suicide express was a little undignified though ;)

ZenDadaist
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ZenDadaist

I love having a wide variety of transportation methods available to me, and the one I pick depends on what it is I need to do and how I need to get from this particular A to that particular B. I want it all – instant travel, fast travel, and leisurely scenery-enjoyment (or afk making a cup of tea) travel.

Anarchy Online is a great example of this big variety – ground vehicles for a bit of fun (spinning on my hoverboard off the Inferno ramp, aw yiss), flying vehicles for utility (and custom paintjobs and ATROX NO TOUCH), getting bacon wrapped.. err beacon warped right to my door by an Engineer, being summoned to a Garden by a Metaphysicist, being dumped into the Grid by my team’s Doctor, being yanked in an instant to my home city by the Nanotechnician on the team, being shoved into the towering array of exits in the Fixer’s very own grid system, activating a whole host of inventory items such as the Insurance Recall Beacon or the Dust Brigade Pass or even the Borealis to Biomare beacon. Can even take the long route through zones on foot via whompah teleporters (RIP city outdoor whompas back to civilisation, *sigh*). If you know the backways and routes of the game, and you’ve set yourself up with items/friends/alts/teammates, you can get from anywhere to anywhere else in a couple of minutes.

This is all very important to me because when I’m in a hurry to get to a raid or join my team, I want to be able to get from A to B right NOW instead of being forced to faff about delaying everyone. If I want to enjoy the scenery in a less hurried moment then I’ll pick one of the options to do so and go exploring.

Veldan
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Veldan

I am of the opinion that less fast travel / teleport is better. The example of GW2 seems to have been used to death already, but I just want to say that I totally agree that the GW2 world feels very small because of the overabundance of waypoints. I think my ideal travel in an MMO is to have teleport options only between major cities (and not from anywhere, just from city to city) and have mounts for quicker movement through the world. But keep the mounts at reasonable speed, no +150% like in certain games… I’d say +100% max, though +50% would already be enough imo.

The main complaint that I often see about mounted travel is being dismounted by (weak) mobs. I think this can be countered by having certain paths where less mobs spawn, and NPC guards could patrol there to keep the roads “safe”. Because it is indeed very annoying to be constantly dismounted when you want to travel somewhere fast.

Zsokorad
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Zsokorad

AdsFi Zsokorad For fun?

EO_Lonegun
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EO_Lonegun

I am definitely looking forward to more MMO Mechanics articles.
Fast travel systems are a necessary evil so to speak, but they should remain optional for those wanting to discover places along the road less traveled.

AdsFi
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AdsFi

Siphaed Forced social interactions are worse than no social interaction.  People venting in chat makes the situation worse, not better.

AdsFi
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AdsFi

Spacejesus3k Zsokorad  The whole point of GW2 waypoints is traveling to find them first, then use them if a player wants. If you want an epic journey, get a set of Traveler’s runes and have fun.

People who prefer running but keep whining about waypoints seem to be missing the point. No one is stopping them from running through zones.
They seem to want to stop anyone from having waypoints, though.  I’m in favor of more options, not fewer.

AdsFi
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AdsFi

Zsokorad Crossing a zone in GW2 takes ~5 minutes.  Why would you need a mount?

Esoteric Coyote
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Esoteric Coyote

I think I like FFXIV method.  I can teleport for a fee or I can go the slower method and spend way less gil.  If I’m in a hurry, I teleport, if I’m not I use the ferries and airships to get where I’m going.  It makes the world feel a bit bigger. I can way I almost miss the actual ferries on FFXI, where you could fish off them while they putter along.  I wish I could cloud fish off the airships in FFXIV, but I know most people just want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

wolfyseyes
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wolfyseyes

My favorite forms of fast-travel are found in Aion and TERA.  Sure, they were the typical “Fly from one point to another”, but the way they moved and animated made you get a sense of not only speed, but appreciate the beauty of the land rolling beneath you.  It certainly is more efficient to travel in a straight line, but banking and rolling and weaving around in the air can make travel engaging as well as keep that sense of size in the world.