The Daily Grind: How important are invisible zone lines in your MMO?

    
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Rise of the TREE more like.

A while back, Pantheon promoted a player thread about zone lines, in which a Visionary Realms developer is paraphased as saying that the zone lines in the game will basically be present but invisible to the player, such that the team can “stream the entire world around the player as they walk around.” There’s still zone boundaries, he said, “but it removes the requirement for having hard zone boundaries.” Pantheon players were pretty excited about it, and initially I was too. I mean, who doesn’t want a completely seamless open world to really sell the immersion? This is pure candy for explorers!

But then I thought about the immersive MMOs I already play, many of which have hard zone boundaries and full-on loading screens, and you know… maybe this isn’t really as big a deal as I used to think. In fact, one player in the thread points out that zone lines aren’t really any different than scene changes in a movie, an analogy that I’ve been chewing on every since. On my Big List of Essential MMO Things*, this just isn’t anywhere near the top. (*Not a real list. But maybe it should be?)

Let me kick it to you. How important are invisible zone lines in your MMO or theoretical future MMOs? Are they critical to your sense of immersion and convincing you that you’re in a truly open world that you can traverse in every direction? Or do you even really notice them at all?

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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Bruno Brito

It isn’t that important unless it’s overused. ESO has a LOT of loading and i hate it. GW2 has loading from zone to zone, but zones are so big that you almost never feel it. WoW has no loading between zones, which is amazing in itself.

Demon of Razgriz
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Demon of Razgriz

As long as a loading screen has valuable information like “Go. Hunt. Kill. Skuls.” I’m ok with them. I’m more concerned about making sure frame rate doesn’t drop as I get closer if it’s a seamless zone boundary.

Fisty
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Fisty

I hate load screens for new areas. I used to just stop playing MMOs that had them, but have since had to play them since nothing new really comes out. Now, I am mostly okay with them and any harsh zone switching. ESO fading to black when entering towns and buildings still takes me out of it.

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treehuggerhannah

I think it’s a nice idea if the devs can make it work well, but it’s not a priority for me.

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Robert Mann

Depends. Status quo MMO where I am queueing up for things? Zone lines and loading screens aren’t any worse than that by any means.

Actual full virtual world with more going on than combat backdrop? Yeah, then it starts becoming more important.

Basically, the more freedom you have to explore, interact, and change the world around you… the more important this becomes to me. If I’m in a game where I can conveniently skip across the world, it’s not happening without some sort of loading screen (even if it’s a blur and fade) so it won’t matter. If I’m in a game pursuing a more realistic approach with things that aren’t combat focused like trade involved, then it’s more likely to matter a lot.

The other thing that this applies to is also situational. PvP. Specifically games with open world PvP. Where a loading screen can mean you are put into an ambush while loading in. Where that also only applies to certain games and people, it is also something for developers to consider. Being able to see, for example, that there’s a big ring of enemies standing around one point (where you would zone in) makes for a major change avoiding a design issue.

That said, I like zones not to be such absolutes either. One of the best things I have seen done in gaming (to my tastes) is having mixes of content and difficulty in places. You are fine in zone X, but don’t enter cave Y as a newbie! It brings people back into areas, and that means a world that isn’t quite so… linear, but without the scaling issues where you feel no real progress.

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Utakata

…it beats invisible walls any day.

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angrakhan

Yes, loading screens are one thing, but don’t make it look like I can go somewhere only to run into an invisible wall that stops me. That’s why I quit GW1. Hard pass for me.

If I have my preference it would be for a seamless, open world.

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Kickstarter Donor
squid

I mean, I played Vanguard with its grid zonelines for years and it never put me off the game, even when you happen to run through an intersection and zone two times within the span of three steps.

Zones vs seamless feels like one of those meaningless things MMOers use to judge games without playing them. It has taken a back seat to ‘impactful’ combat these days, however.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Well, in VG grid is only visible on the map. World felt seamless

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Ardra Diva

I just had the urge to yell out “TRAIN TO ZONE!” haha.

I really miss that element of EverQuest – that mobs would aggro on anyone in their range. Why shouldn’t a group of Orcs, seeing their quarry disappear behind some kind of veil, instead turn their rage onto anyone else in range?

This whole “encounter is over, i gotta run back to my station, ignoring everything else” behavior we see in mobs in other MMOs is lame.

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t actually mind loading screens as long as zones are large enough and the game has fast travel that prevents having to go through multiple consecutive loading screens.

Besides, sudden difficulty spikes when crossing an invisible zone line can be more jarring than loading screens, so it’s possible to make the invisible zone lines actually feel worse for me than having loading screens between zones.

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Vanquesse V

having a seemless open world with gradual transitions between biomes is a “nice to have” not a “need to have” for me