The Daily Grind: What’s the best example of wasted aesthetics in an MMO?

    
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If you somehow missed our award for meme of year, now’s a good time to trot it back out because it could so apply to Last Oasis, right? That’s the post-apoc survival MMO announced last week, the gorgeous one with the woodpunk landships and a compelling Mad Max aesthetic.

The thing is, the overall vibe from our commenters and social media was that it’s an awesome concept but survival free-for-all PvP games are a dime a dozen, so this one’s probably dead in the water. If it had water. You know what I’m saying. I hope that isn’t the case with this one, but I understand where they’re coming from – I would’ve preferred a more robust MMO myself. Then again, it didn’t help WildStar.

Can you think of other games where the mechanics didn’t quite live up to the setting and visuals and overall style? What’s the best example of wasted aesthetics in an MMO?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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ordegar

All buildings, NPCs, flora, and fauna that serve no function other than to be seen is a huge waste to me.

A huge disappointment is enemies with gear that is purely aesthetic, so when you kill them they don’t have that sword they were kicking your ass with a minute ago to loot.

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Anstalt

Well, I’m going to say all MMOs, because none of them (these days….) have mechanics that make me want to spend my time in that world.

But, to be a bit more specific, I feel the majority of MMOs, especially Asian ones, have extremely generic artwork/styles and that generic look puts me off before I even try out the mechanics.

So, Final Fantasy 14 will be my specific answer. I generally enjoy the various FF settings and think their worlds and creature creations are awesome. But, the game itself didn’t sit well with me, the zones were too small so it didn’t feel like a living world and I didn’t want to commit to another game with rampant vertical progression. I would have loved to see way more of the world they created, but the game just wasnt good enough.

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Oleg Chebeneev

BDO felt like a typical asian grinder in pretty package. Could be so much more.

Another clear example for me is Archeage. Its not that bad as is, I just think whole leveling in this game was unnecessary. They could scrap levels and quests completely (or leave procedurally generated quests that push for players confrontation), introduce more sandbox elements, more motivations for PvP and it would make a game far better.

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Fenrir Wolf

I have a strange example.

I was upset — yet unsurprised — to see in Path of Fire that in order to represent fancy Elonian technology, ArenaNet had co-opted aesthetic styles from both the Charr and the Asura, which was deeply unpleasant on a number of levels.

You can see it as soon as you arrive at Amnoon, the irrigation technology is just reskinned Charr technology. I did a double-take when I first saw this. At first I assumed the Charr had been helping them out with their irrigation technology, but narratively that wasn’t the case. So I donned my deer-hunter cap and did a little sleuthing.

The models are indeed stolen directly from the Black Citadel and the Plains of Ashford, with only minor (or worse, no) tweaking. The skins had changed to give them a more golden appearance, but that’s it. Now, they could’ve designed technology that looked similar to how humans usually design it, yes, but ArenaNet’s too lazy for that.

The next unfortunate bout of appropriation was the Holosmith. In a purely aesthetic sense, this was clearly Asuran technology. This is what everyone had assumed prior to the release of the game, and it aligned so sublimely with the madcap, mental, manic nature of those machiavellian misfits.

I mean, charging into a battle and swinging a lightsabre around was a fitting image for those diminutive psychos.

Yet both were supposedly Elonian. Not only does this rob both the Charr and Asura of their cultural identity, in the same breath it makes the Elonians look like dirty, low-down purloiners and plunderers. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, given the ethnicity of the Elonian peoples.

It suggests the all too common perception of the “urban” thief. They’re not clever enough to design anything of their own, so they just half-inch it off of those more capable, clever, and deserving.

It was grating to see that the same was true with Balthazar’s Elonian recruits, the Zaishen. Their forts, once again, I witnessed appropriated Charr technology. I initially believed that the Charr had set up forts around Amnoon to help, which the zaishen had captured. Yet the lore would tell a different tale, that all we see is authentic Zaishen technology. Cringe-worthy.

I think ArenaNet should’ve spent the time to create proper technological assets for both the Elonians and the Zaishen.

It’s pretty easy to compare the armaments and forts to models found in the Black Citadel and around the Plains of Ashford to see just how little work they actually did in differentiating them. The Zaishen tech, unbelievably, was still black iron.

This really put me off Amnoon. I’m having trouble returning to Guild Wars 2 thanks to it. In my mind, like I said, I can’t escape that notion of the Elonians as thieves and how this impacts the significance of cultural identity for both the Charr and the Asura. I have to ask, is it truly so terribly difficult to be tasteful and considerate in design?

I’m reminded of how the new Elder Scrolls Online expansion (Wraithstone, I believe) uses an archaic racist trope in its trailer. That of the intelligent white scholar guided by the shifty native tour guide. I thought that trope had died a long time ago.

It couldn’t have been a Redguard scholar, or even a Khajiiti one! Nooo… That just won’t do, children. The scholar has to be the most lily-whitest of whites. Salt in the wound, once again.

I don’t think I’ve really seen an MMO do a minority ethnicity justice. This might be my admittedly limited exposure to MMOs but, from my experiences, it just hasn’t happened.

On topic, without any further segues, I felt disappointed with Path of Fire. it managed to let down the Charr, Asura, and Elonians all in one fell swoop. The beautiful assets they’d designed for Elonian ziggurats are unfortunately demeaned by how burdened they are with stolen Charr models.

It just feels… ugly. Not necessarily aesthetically ugly, though the obvious visual clash is that as well, but ugly in how lazy it is and what that laziness means from an in-Universe perspective.

I feel bad for GW2 fans.

Kalavier
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Kalavier

I don’t understand how you find the waterworks of Amnoon to be stolen Charr tech. Yes, anet does reuse models from time to time but this isn’t a lore thing that is now robbing Charr or Asura of their culture. The holosmith is an elonian and Zephyrite creation. You can even talk to one near Amnoon.

I spent some time wandering about those forged camps near Amnoon and couldn’t find these supposedly stolen charr models either. Everything I saw was a new model, or changed enough that it didn’t look the same.

You are over-analyzing these models and making deep assumptions about them, when it’s simply that Amnoon has it’s own irrigation and waterworks, the forged have their camps, and the Holosmith is tech native to that area that is similar to Asura tech, but not quite the same. Like the giant statues in Amnoon are similar to the model of the hawkgates, yes. But they are explicitly and clearly modified enough to be different.

Living story season 4 has explored much of Elona, And the Charr, Asura, and Elonians aren’t ruined or presented badly.

Nothing in the lore, game, or even anet has suggested at all that Elona’s tech or gear is taken from other cultures or stolen. This is literally just you taking a look at model and saying “THEY STOLE THIS TECH” I have never seen anybody before now suggest that the people of Amnoon stole tech, or that Elonians are “thieves”.

As a GW2 player from the start, I have never looked upon Elonians as thieves, and I feel sorry for you for jumping to that assumption even though it has little to no basis.

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Toy Clown

From my perspective, any game that has gorgeous graphics that are inviting to stop and explore, take screenshots of and enjoy are wasted in free-for-all PvP MMOs. It’s a frustrating affair trying to enjoy the artwork devs build the game around when someone’s waiting to kill you the second you let your guard down for screenshots and stuff. Granted, it’s made for humorous moments to catch a gank kill in a screenshot, but it’s just old.

I don’t play free-for-all PvP MMOs anymore, even though most of them have the most gorgeous graphics.

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Greaterdivinity

City of Steam. Dug the Steampunk aesthetic, but damn would it have benefited from a full budget and all the bells and whistles that come with it.

Oh, and Bullet Run. Setting up FPS shooter matches as if it’s a game show complete with commentators and stuff? Hell yeah, it was janky as hell and rough around the edges but there was still something appealing about it to me.

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Sleepy

Firefall! All the suits not only looked amazing in their own right, but very distinctive from each other too. The single zone was a masterpiece of design aswell, lots to discover and some really good vertical space to put your jumping/gliding skills to good use.

I hope the designers ended up somewhere good. Possibly with a picture of Mark Kern on the wall with some darts close at hand.

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Bruno Brito

That picture probably have some shotgun shells on it too

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Castagere Shaikura

I miss Firefall. I loved exploring that game world.

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Arktouros

I don’t think I’d use the comment section of MassivelyOP as exactly an accurate barometer for how well a PvP title will or won’t be received. It’s notoriously filled with people who are more PvE oriented. It’s like going to a pie convention with a new flavor of ice cream; expect to get a ton of rants of how much superior pie is and how doomed your ice cream is.

Aesthetics are very personal. I didn’t think Lost Oasis looked very compelling, in fact I found the “wood-punk” style very off putting. Most I don’t really care too much about. The only aesthetic/art style I ever really cared for was the Warhammer IP. I like their designs and looks so I guess it was pretty wasted on a mismanaged game like WAR.

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Utakata

Err…nobody is gauging the success or lack there of PvP games based on the commentary here. That’s an absurd claim. I think it’s more the author’s, staff and informed readers’ observations of failed games and lack of any PvP MMO’s that have displaced the triple “A” PvE MMO’s currently. So it’s not a very popular model outside of our opinions and the occasional exceptions (ie. EVE Online). /shrug

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Schmidt.Capela

The way I see it, the kind of gameplay most PvP players seek — as seen in games like Fortnite and LoL — isn’t feasible in MMOs. In particular, most PvP players seem to gravitate towards games with instanced matches and little to no persistence, where every new battle starts from a level playing field, which kinda goes against the spirit of a PvP MMO.

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Utakata

I am not sure I would say spirit…rather the grain. Many of us have been asking for an even playing field since the inception of MUD time. It just might be simply untenable in a MMO setting where gear and equipment progression is concerned.

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Schmidt.Capela

Against the spirit as in, you need to discard persistence in order to have that kind of experience be the core of a game, and persistence is kinda central to a MMO.

In contrast, PvE-based MMOs can more easily offer this kind of no-progression PvP experience because the PvP isn’t at the core of the game, but merely a side-pursuit; as such, you can isolate it in an optional activity that neither influences nor is influenced by the rest of the game, like GW2’s Arenas or DCUO’s Legends PvP.

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Cate Mehlos

BDO I feel like has the most ‘wasted’ aesthetics IMO. The game has beautiful environments and yet seems confused about what it’s trying to be. The hud has numerous popups that are unnecessary, like quick slot potions, put your weapon away, and neon green PARKING for your horse. It gets in the way of what a lovely world has been built and takes away from the experience. Not to mention the horrible pop in and anti-aliasing that just make the game look extremely flickery and difficult to stare at for extended periods.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Yeap, BDO is perfect example of it. Beautiful graphics, which are completely negated by their awful LoD system with object pop-ups which annoyed me like in no other game, plus the gameplay sucked ass.

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Arktouros

LOD, Pop In, Rendering, or whatever people want to refer to it as has been around for a super long time now. I noticed it first back in RIFT back in 2011. Basically the trade off for graphics vs performance. If you want beautiful graphics, you’re going to give somewhere and it’s usually a hard balance between removing things or performance.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

LOD, Pop In, Rendering, or whatever people want to refer to it as has been around for a super long time now. 

I am aware of that, but once again, other modern games do it much better. And even in Rift it never bothered me as much as BDO’s version.

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Schmidt.Capela

BDO’s implementation seems to be heavily flawed, basically a real demonstration of what happens if you either doesn’t have enough LoD (Level of Detail) models or haven’t finished loading them yet and resort to simply not rendering distant (or not so distant) models instead of replacing them with less detailed versions. A well made implementation avoids visible pop-in.

What you saw in that Rift clip wasn’t the kind of pop-in that BDO is infamous for, BTW; in the video what you see is player characters being selectively loaded, apparently due to a small limit on the number of characters that either the server sends to each client or that the client itself can display. BDO’s pop-in issue is related to the display of static elements, pieces of the scenery whose full definition is stored in the client, and thus that the server does not have to send to the client. Character pop-in can be caused by bad connection speeds or some other issue between your ISP and the game server; scenery pop-in, on the other hand, is purely a client design flaw.

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Arktouros

It’s actually more of a design decision rather than a design flaw.

Character based rendering is very common and what people are used to. Too many people in a single area, lets start to cull out some of the people based on distance. A lot of games do it this way. It leaves all the scenery and all the environment objects, it only culls the players if there’s too many. It’s a trick of the technology because unless you actually know there’s people there (such as a large guild meeting) you wouldn’t assume there’s people there so you don’t perceive as anything is wrong.

However that hasn’t stopped titles from still using it in competitive settings. For example in GW2 a common tactic in WvW was to abuse the culling mechanic to portal bomb people by portaling in and overloading the engine leaving most your players invisible/unrendered but free to attack. Similarly Planetside 2 had issues where vehicles would prioritize loading other vehicles rather than infantry leading to the inevitable scenario of vehicles getting sniped by invisible infantry using anti-vehicle weapons. As an aside, it’s why you see Camelot Unchained focusing so heavily on working out the kinks in their engine and making sure it can handle large scale competitive battles.

BDO handles it in a different way. It basically says we’re going to render EVERYTHING in X radius, and anything outside of that we’re going to cut from. This makes it more noticeable because even if you’re solo in a forest the engine is actively removing unimportant background features and then slowly having them pop in when they become immediately relevant/interactive. However from a competitive angle it works out better because I’m never going to get hit from invisible opponents (unless they’re a ninja (: ) because it forces to load characters in where they could interact/attack me. You get stunning graphic detail and visuals in game across no zone lines and the trade off is trees pop in. First world problems ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Schmidt.Capela

The thing is, scenery pop-in shouldn’t be a trade-off.

Contrary to characters, you don’t consume any network bandwidth when displaying scenery; it’s all in the game install. It also consumes almost no CPU time to draw them, as they tend to be static or only have vertex shader-based movement. You might want to skip on them to lighten the load on the GPU, but even for that there is a better solution: use lighter models that appear okay from a distance to replace the full detail models you use when close to the object.

So, the short version is that noticeable scenery pop-in is almost always incompetence. Either by the devs, who didn’t have the competence to set up a proper LoD system to prevent it, or by management that decided to not spend any money solving the issue. There is no technical reason that mandates this kind of pop-in, nothing useful to be gained in a trade-off.

BTW, scenery pop-in has little to do with character pop-in, and even then only if the bottleneck is in the rendering pipeline rather than network speed or server load.

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Robert Mann

Just about every MMO looks fairly pretty anymore. And yet, there’s no depth in them. Even the survival themed ones are just grid building, a few more options to your click and craft basis, and combat.

So, uh, ALL OF THEM.

If the focus of the game isn’t on being something more than the status quo, and ideally more than the games that came before the status quo, then it’s wasted. We used to have at least the tiniest hint of a world there, outside lore and background. Most recently, we tend to even lack much of the lore.

*There are a few games that do break this trend, but they tend to either not be good at anything social but personal space mixing (like OWW), or they tend to have the open world PvP with no rules problem that ensures the game will be locusted and gone in short order. And the second group here tends to also not be great about bucking the trend en masse, but rather just has a couple very rare examples of doing so.*