This is an old item from about a year ago (June 2005) that I figured I’d use to get a running start.

There’s an interesting entry at TerraNova that I just noticed today regarding the overall concept of “known territory” in MMOGs/virtual worlds/whatever the term of the month is. Lost in v-Space takes on an interesting topic, I think, and I wanted to at least comment on my own perspectives on the issue.

The gist of the article, for anyone unwilling to click through and read it in it’s entirety, is as follows…

It is fairly easy to get “lost” in most virtual worlds today, but most games offer some mechanisms and methods to help you find your way around: mini-maps, overlays, etc. The underlying question: is the possibility of “getting lost” really a part of the game? Do such “crutches” take something away from the game? Are there better ways of doing this?

My take on the question of “is this actually part of the game”, as with nearly everything, is “it depends”. I’m one of those that thinks the Bartle classification system (i.e. Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, Killers) has some merit in terms of helping determine what kinds of players you best serve with a particular design, and to me, the possibility of “getting lost” equates to providing some opportunities for the Explorer type of player.   (Since that happens to my type, I can personally vouch for the draw this can have…)

The general problem with most implementations ends up being that this “opportunity” is relatively limited in scope, and the frustration level created for other player types is fairly intense. The thrill an explorer-type gets from finding a particular cavern or alcove is, at best, a one-time event per player, after all… and any such thrill is largely muted if, immediately upon discovery, she finds a massive line of other PCs waiting for their chance to enter the dungeon instance (sorry, had a brief The Realm flashback there…)

Are there other, “better” ways of assisting players in terms of finding locations in the game? Depends on your perspective, I suppose. Mini-maps and waypoints are probably the best method in terms of sheer efficiency, for example. They are also fairly direct and simple to implement. As such, it’s hard to argue against them in terms of raw effectiveness.

Other methods do exist, of course… just consider similar issues in real-life, and possible alternatives quickly come to mind. Many of them are perhaps more in tune with certain genres than the prototypical “magic compass”, but they would also require a fairly extensive paradigm shift to be truly appropriate, IMO. Most MMOGs today that make any pretense of being a role-playing venue are tuned toward Achievers and/or Socializers (I know, I know, again with the Bartle-stuff… get used to it), with a sub-set attempting to accommodate Killers as well. Explorers are simply too content-hungry to effectively deal with in the mass market: and if you can’t please them long-term anyway, why would you impact/frustrate the remainder of your potential base with systems that are best suited for that “pariah” interest sector?

So, setting those concerns aside, what could be done? Some ideas I’ve daydreamed about over the years include:

Asking for Directions
Is there anything more frustrating, more immersion-breaking, more irritating than NPCs with the apparent intellect of pocket lint? (Yes, my pen-and-paper bias is showing. Deal.)

One of the things I first liked about WoW was that certain NPCs had some small ability to direct you to major local sites/businesses.  AO was another game that provided this, if I recall.  Merchants and others couldn’t be bothered to provide similar info, of course… and soon after leaving the low-level areas it became obvious that such functionality was reserved for a very select set of areas… but at least it existed.

It should be fairly obvious how that concept could be expanded upon to help direct players to specific locations… if less cumbersome methods of implementing PC-NPC communications were discovered first.

Maps
A “map” sub-system could be added. Actually, I am fairly certain I’ve seen something like this, but I’ll be danged if I remember where. The idea is to have equipment/inventory items that allow the character to reference them and get a waypoint to the locations referenced on the map. My own personal feeling would be that a map could only be effective in general if you were in an area covered by the map: having a map of London can direct you to Buckingham Palace, but it’s far less useful if you’re standing in Chicago.

Knowledge
Directions and Maps are both essentially just tools in the real world to communicate something, a thing I would classify as a “unit of knowledge”. In this particular case, the knowledge relates to a location, and how to get to that location from somewhere else.

You see an extremely limited example of such a concept in WoW, the “flight path” mechanism. A more robust example might be the Waypoint mechanism in EQ2. Expand on those, have a list of “known locations/points of interest” that the player could actually develop and maintain over time, and then use to navigate through the game world in a manner similar to EQ2 Waypoints.

I personally like this one because it easily expands into/tacks onto one of my personal “pet concepts”, the concept of accumulation of “units of knowledge” as the primary avenue of advancement, largely replacing generic experience (levels), equipment and wealth, etc. in that regard. It’s a very “Explorer-centric” paradigm, IMO, but I think it also accommodates other styles of play.

Anyway, the collection, management, and sharing of such “waypoints” fits perfectly into the larger “unit of knowledge” concept, as I imagine it, so it has a special draw for me. As a stand-alone concept in a prototypical D+D-inspired design, I’m not nearly as enamored of it… I’m not sure it actually meets the needs under that paradigm.

Anyway, those are some basic thoughts on alternative mapping and directional implementations.  If anyone reading this has additional ideas or experiences, I’d love to hear about them…