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Jun 01, 2005



I'm not familiar with the definition of "magic circle", but from context, I'm going to take a guess that it's the immersiveness of the ruleset.

To me, this has always been a fault of computer RPGs. The fact that there's not a live game master to help you through the difficult points. This is, in a sense, better since you don't have the GM fudging rolls so his girlfriend gets the treasure, but it's bad in the sense that you could run a character (in game) who has unerring direction sense and never gets lost, but never in a MMO.

Everyone, I think, has something that really bothers them and breaks the "magic circle." It could be getting around on foot (that first run in WoW to Gadgetstan is brutal, and it's a lenghty griffin ride from Auberdine to Theramore). Yet EQs solution (PoT stones) breaks immersiveness and washes out the world.

It could be mapping, but there are plenty of ways to hack maps to give extra information, or otherwise ruin the immersiveness of the experience.

Worldwide party communication and chat channels? There's another area. Imagine a game without constant "LFG SM" but how would you meet people and socialize?

A live game master can smooth over those problems. An online game needs to break the circle to make it not unpleasant to play.


I also like to use SWG's 2d transparent map-overlay. (For those who haven't seen it, it's very similar to the pale-green vector-art "map" overlays the old FPS games like Doom provided.) I don't need the wine to feel comfortable with it- (but I always did have a slim enough grasp on reality to gain the effects of intoxication without drinking....)

I don't see this method damaging immersion in any MMORPG. Instead, I feel it helps me gain a "situational awareness" that is closer to what I would have if I were truly immersed in the world- with all my senses intact, a wider frame of vision, and the ability to glance about better and more efficiently. It's a UI tool, not an in-game tool, so it doesn't need to be styled to meet the genre (a HUD inside a helmet, for example)

I know many who would differ. When EQ2 players forums discussed the need for an "email" service, there were two distinct camps:
-One saw e-mail as a UI tool- something to make up for shortcomings in the way we experience that world- it lets us leave messages for offline players and coordinate things when real-world schedules don't mesh. It's a player-to-player communication device.
-Another group argued that the mail should be "immersive" and be limited in ways the genre would be limited. To them, mail was a character-to-character tool. They wanted a "post office" that could be checked, or "letters" left in a player's residence. Players who weren't near their homes or "post offices" could hire "couriers" to appear. They preferred no mail over one that "destroyed immersion."

In the end, I believe SOE gave the immediate functionality desired by the first group, but with at least a gesture toward making it appear to fit the genre. I haven't had a chance to experience it- had to limit my MMORPG time due to work, and EQ2 drew the short straw.


I don't give a rat's ass about the magic circle in my virtual world experiences and I'm almost always lost in them. Perhaps because I don't sweat the sanctity of The Circle I don't sweat being lost either. I am only interested in maps insofar as they can tell me where other people are and where the big events of the day are happening.

Compasses drive me crazy. What I'd really find helpful is a UI that affords more peripheral vision. Will probably have to wait for fully immersive headsets for that.


When I want POV#1, I go Isometric birds-eye.
When I want POV#2, I go 3rd person
When I want POV#3, go 1st person

In all three POVs, I hate being lost too, especially when I drive (since I'm stuck with POV#3). So I hope to buy that fancy GPS-enable talking navigator for my car.

Likewise, I got no problem with compasses and tools.

If I want to go fully into the Magic Circle I go play Live Action Role Playing with full costume!

Now that's full immersion... well still got to imagine that guy dressed up as a goblin is a monster :)


As manly as I might like to be -- I always felt one of the simplest ice-breakers for socializing in game is asking for directions.

All these breadcrumb trails, maps, and pointers seem to feed to feed the over-wrought intrumental nature of the current crop of MMOGs -- the idea that if you are not doing something productive you aren't doing anything at all. OMG - thats just like regular life isn't it.

I think getting lost when you had no intention of it is a crucial part of the gameplay (geeting lost on purpose is very different) - its not fun perhaps but frustration which is a quality emotion that we shouldn't always want to bypass.



I'm currently experimenting with a low-information approach with a new world - there are maps and all, but I don't use them. Also, contrary to my usual practice, I am not spending any time on websites trying to optimize my character in advance, find quick clues to quests, or anything like that.

I get lost quite a bit, and find myself really paying attention to landmarks, paths I took, and so on. You know what, it feels a lot more immersive. Being a magic circle type, I am liking it very much. Just say no to maps.

(I meant that for users like me - I know most users like maps, and of course designers do well to allow them.)


Just to fill in missing information:

EQ2 mail can only be checked from or read at "Norrathian Express" kiosks. A kiosk is in every city zone and at large settlements out in wild zones.

Text and coinage can be sent for 10c; a single item can be attached for 50c. (Economic scale: a beginning player trying to maximize earnings gets a few hundred c per hour; a level 50 gets 100000+)

Players who are logged in get an icon in their HUD (in the 'spell effects' region) to alert them that they have new mail, but they have to go to a kiosk to get it.

EQ2 chose to only enable mapping in civilized zones; a significant number of players have a free community addon that maps every zone and shares user-designated 'points of interest'.


Interesting. I've never thought about the mapping within virtual worlds.

I used to play WoW and now I play Guild Wars, so I know what you are talking about there.

When exploring in Guild Wars, I only navigate via the minimap and medium breadcrumb map. I may glance at my characters point of view to look for walls and the like, but I usually just use the minimap to watch for enemies and the medium map to determine the right path to take.

Does this make the game less worthwhile? I'm not

I know in MUDs, I always disliked the automapping feature. To me, it seemed like something of a crutch. I preferred to only rely on my mental maps. It's funny that even now, thinking back, I can remember the mental maps of a number of muds. I can "see" them still. I can walk through them in my head.

I don't really have mental maps of Guild Wars/ World of Warcraft. I have a mental image of the provided map, but not of the actual rendered world. I couldn't imagine from the point of view of the character the walk from say Menethil Harbor to the Arathi Highlands, even though I walked it quite a few times. I could do it with a mud or in real life. I navigate via the minimap/bigmap, so I remember the minimap/bigmap.

I think that having a "real" map, ie one that just showed the terrain and the cities, not your position relative to them, might help community somewhat. Asking for directions and players asking other players, "where am I?" would be a common occurance.

It would be more exciting to walk from one place to another, especially if you had no minimap either. It would feel more like exploring. The knowledge gained by it would have real value to the achiever/killer too. (You'd have to do away with the minimap too, so people really wouldn't know where they were without landmarks.)

It would also be incredibly frustrating. You would get lost. It would take a while to learn your way around the world.

All in all though, it would be fun I think. A huge, 3D, first person virtual world where you had to find your way around with a real map and compass? That could be very very cool. Especially if the designers put in lots of unexpected goodies.

Although it would never happen in a large scale virtual world for the "Newbies Propogate Bad Design Decisions" reasons. (Newbies expect the features they had in their old VW to be present in their new VW.) Oh well.


It's a two-level problem. First is how a virtual world represents knowledge that your avatar or character should reasonably have about his or her environment, how it finesses the visual awkwardness of being on the outside looking into the world. If I were fully in such a world, in every sensory respect, I might hear the rush of some enemy running up behind me. The game needs to find a representational substitute for that sensorium--indeed, to provision not just immediate sensory knowledge of environment but all the in-built knowledge of the world that we have by being materially within it. Hence various awkward UI conventions like radar windows, maps with a dot to mark your current location, and so on.

Then there's the question of knowing the world in terms of the experience of gameplay itself, and here arguably becoming lost is important for the same reason that not knowing how to use new abilities or powers is important. We've all seen what happens when someone tries to play a fully-developed character acquired off eBay: it's like watching a five-year old try to control and inhabit a 40-year old's body. They don't know what to do or what they can do. That applies just as much to the environment as the avatar. Knowing what's in the world requires getting lost within it. Getting lost is part of finding where the hidden pheremone trails to food and gold and power are emplaced within the environment.


Mapping is there because of the demand for it.

There were no internal maps in the original EQ, and creating and publishing external maps was a major pursuit for the explorers out there. At the time stepping too far off the roads was a major risk, particularly when it might be followed by a corpse run to an indeterminate place.

I'm surpised someone could even consider it possible to get lost in the current generation. Between waypoints, 100% reliable compasses, and over head maps that give relative position. The exploration aspect of games has been significantly diminished. Now exploration is mostly getting there first, or knowing the content of an area.

As far as the magic circle. Any significantly advanced science is equivelent to magic, and vice versa.. Since most games are backed by one or the other the prevalance of maps isn't a big deal breaker there.


I get the feeling that people are talking about differing kinds of "lost".

For me, getting "lost" really only means one thing: I can't find my way home again (Or back to whatever major town/landmark I'm using as a current base of operations). In WoW that has NEVER happened to me. And it should be more or less impossible, especially since you can just use the magical stone to get you home.

In the original EQ, that happened to me ALL THE TIME. EQ had no internal map. You character had to LEARN how (with practice, and lots of failure) to tell which direction was north. I spent a great deal of my time in EQ lost and dying because of it. I can't count the number of times I ended up getting eaten by a bear because I couldn't find my way home. It didn't help that the graphics sucked so bad that there really were no distinguishing landmarks in Neriak forest.(Is that the newbie log or is that a different log?)

The only other way in which I will describe myself as being lost is if I have no idea what to do next or where to go or how to get there. But in such a case, I'm not really lost, I'm just stuck. Or lacking in obvious direction. One reason I finally quit WoW was that I had no personal motivation...no interest in bothering with the quests I was handed. (Why should I care about your need for Ungoro dirt? seriously) But that is another discussion, methinks.

In closing, I guess my point was just that getting lost in the current generation of MMOs is just about impossible. But there are plenty of oportunities to get stuck.


In the olde days, we deliberately didn't provide maps, the reason being that making a map was the best way to understand the layout of the virtual world. Of course, textual worlds with their room-by-room layout are much easier to map than continuous-scale 3D extravaganzas.

We did, however, appreciate that people would sometimes get lost (in the sense of mislay themselves), so we had a command, OUT, that moved you one room towards the (nominal) starting point. This worked very well: it encouraged players to explore while giving them a mappable lifeline if they explored too much.

It probably wouldn't work so well with a large-scale graphical virtual world, but then what does?



Anthiypatus wrote: "I couldn't imagine from the point of view of the character the walk from say Menethil Harbor to the Arathi Highlands, even though I walked it quite a few times. I could do it with a mud or in real life. I navigate via the minimap/bigmap, so I remember the minimap/bigmap."

I just had to comment, because I find this almost incomprehensible. One of the things I love about WoW is the ability to use the landmarks and the compass to navigate reliably. Unlike EQ, places actually look distinctive enough to do this, and in more settled areas there are street signs that actually help. I use the mini map for two purposes: the compass and noting gathering locations. I use the big map only to get basic directions: e.g. Stranglethorn is south of Duskwood, and in infrequently visited cities, which are inevitably and realistically more confusing.

In EQ I was far more dependent on third party maps because the areas often lacked suitable distinctive landmarks, and also because where there was a landmark: a path for example, that landmark was often smack in the middle of the most dangerous part of the area. The first problem was partly due to limited tile sets I'm sure, but the second is bad level design.

I've played Guildwars some: there the character's view is sometimes useless because there are so many invisible walls. You can't navigate in a meaningful way just with the information that point A is south west of point B and the characters view, because you will almost certainly run into the impassible 1 foot ditch. The breadcrumb map is necessary in order for you to figure out that to get to point B you will in fact have to go through that pass to the north east. Again, to me thats just bad level design.

I hated the maps in SWG because the big overland maps didn't match the terrain. The overland map would show a river where there isn't one for example. The hud was nice, but really only useful in cities.

I guess the summary would be: I want maps and mapping aids that work with the terrain and the directions given by npcs and other in game devices, not those that replace the terrain and/or positively disagree with it. I don't mind getting lost, but I want getting unlost to be a process that makes sense. If I have a map for example, I want to be able to look at it and say: ah, if I follow the river north then ... .


In real life my travels are limited by my poor ability to traverse anywhere by landmark. I need to see a map before going anywhere as that is the only way I have half a chance to get back; written directions help too, but I can't backtrack with those.

If games refused to provide maps, my ability to play them would be severely limited.

I used to play Everquest before it had in game maps. I followed others around in game and when I got lost, they spent their time finding me.

I don't mean when I was new. I mean after I'd been playing for a year, I followed people around. Even after maps were added, I still get lost in dungeons with multiple levels.

It multiplied my level of enjoyment of the game by 10 at least to be able to go places alone and join groups in progress, not having to interrupt what they were doing for someone to come get me and babysit me to the location.

You have to take into account that different people think differently. Some folks prefer to navigate by landmarks; for them, make landmarks distinctive and make them take you through the parts of the world meant for traveling (not hunting or adventuring). Others prefer to navigate by maps; give us maps.

Just as my enjoyment of Everquest and its virtual world was expanded by the maps, my enjoyment of travel in the real world was expanded by services like yahoo maps and mapquest. Now I am able to get a map to go anywhere in the USA and I am much more mobile! It's wonderful :) In the modern era of GPS and online map services, it is not an expectation only of virtual worlds that a map be available at all times.


As a sidenote to Dee, I found myself less able traverse areas in EQ after the addition of the in game maps. Or basically I could only relate to the space as the 2d map, instead of relating to the 3d representation.


B*2 > I don't give a rat's ass about the magic circle in my virtual world experiences

Does no one care about rat’s butts? I should start a society for the caring of virtual-rat asses especially as they seem to be fodder for so many.

But to the point, I think that magic circles are as important in social worlds, it’s just that they are constructed by the people in the world and tend to be transient. This would certainly apply to games that people might make up in social worlds.

This gets me wondering how broad the notion of the magic circle is. For example, for cyber sex to be erotic does it exist within a magic circle or is the imaginative space that transcends the merely instrumental something different?


I'll leave your last question to someone else, Ren, and just point out that the concept of being "lost" in a cyberspace calls to mind that bit in Aaseth's Cybertext about unicursal and mutlicursal labyrinths (page 6 or so). The point being that, once you're in a virtual world, you're lost by definition -- the only way home is the "off" button.


Wow... so many paths we can follow from here.

We have the "magic circle" discussion- Do UI features need to be catered to fit within the genre lest they break that "circle" or are certain elements necessary to provide more realistic levels of situational awareness?

Some see detailed maps as extremely beneficial to the player experience, even advocating for more mapping features. Maps, "lfg" tags, and other UI's help get past some of the barriers inherent in the game (varying schedules, etc)

Still others see a critical element of gameplay (exploration, learning one's bearings, etc.) diminished by today's mapping features. Part of me agrees with them. The other part is still stuck in the (unmappable) maze of City of Heroes' Perez Park and curses them for such concepts.

I wonder... what about intentionally inaccurate maps.... like the kind you get at gas stations around the country... something that gives us our bearings, but gives the explorers something to discover: "No, don't go down there... there's no bridge over the ravine anymore. It's on the map? Well, the gnome who was supposed to survey this site was afraid of trolls, so he never actually came out this way..."

Finally, Ren advocates for an end to the widespread disregard of rodent posteriors. It's a noble cause, and to that end, I'll share this true story:

When my wife and I had just started dating, I was walking her to her door when I noticed that her cat had been in a generous mood, leaving the carcass of a rather large rodent on her welcome mat... well, part of it: the head, shoulders, and upper torso were all missing. There was a brief awkward moment as we each tried to figure out how the other would react to the finding. She broke the silence with, "See, she [her cat] really does give a rat's ass about me."


Wyatt - "I use the mini map for two purposes: the compass and noting gathering locations."

No way. Well, I guess it's possible but...
You don't look for rivers in the minimap? You don't watch for terrain features that look familiar and/or similar to the big map? You don't even watch for roads?

I guess it's possible to do, but I can't imagine just using the minimap. I need the minimap to tell me where I am, or else I am hopelessly lost in WoW or in Guild Wars.

"I've played Guildwars some: there the character's view is sometimes useless because there are so many invisible walls."

Wow. The more I think about it, the more true it is. I've gotten to the point where I can sometimes tell where an invisible wall (ie a "cliff") will be, but that is only after 100+ hours of gameplay. I still have trouble with it. Just the other day I died trying to convince my character to go down a gentle slope.

(In GW, Your character is not allowed to run up 45 degree inclines for example. You can't jump either. I assume this was done because it was more convenient for the design team.)

Thabor- That's an interesting thought. I never knew why they had minimaps. I just thought it was because players found them convenient. But I guess they do offer a dim approximation of your sense of smell, the feeling of the wind, and sense of hearing. Well sort of. Are they better than nothing though? I'm not so sure, if we are talking for "realism's" sake.


The issue is an intriguing one, indeed. First time I asked myself similar questions about mapping out a game space was at Zork I's times, and considered it at first like cheating, then accepted to some extent (a teammate drew it for the group during play sessions), but still feeling it somewhat lessening the fun of making up the virtual space through imagination and memory. After all, the more you explore (interact with) the env. the more and better you learn about it (and possibly benefit).

Now, in the context of MMOG environments things are different (on one hand) but not very much. I believe that the most rewarding playstyle (in terms of deep gaming experience) is the one that rely mostly on in-game information (including tips from other players), and only when really stuck or need to see thinks from a broader perspective (when making a long-term decision), to set up one's goals, could one seek out info from oog sources.

I like Castronova's post and I definitely agree with it, as I had the same idea, that is taking a situated perspective and experimenting gameplay as an active player (learner) interacting with the game, trying to find an inner logic in my character's paths and choices, embodied in and dictated by the environment (in large sense) I was immersed in. Even so, there have been times I had to consciously stop and reconsider things, seeking info to be able to make specific decisions, contextually raised. The advantage being that I did it at the "right" time (in the logic of my char's evolution, and its particular, unique story throughout the game).
I know, this is about being-lost as getting-stuck...

But being-lost, as being-stuck, aren't they similar from a game-knowledge management perspective? (I agree that getting lost strictly speaking is impossible, otherwise can I ask: how did it happen that? How could it happen all of a sudden? Can I figure out why? Did I miss something?...
What does raise up the feeling that the map is like cheating is IMO the extent to which the knowledge provided is functional to the gameplay (and of course made somewhat available to all), or instead it is just "too much" and makes me lose interest (it's ok to show where the mish-point is, but I don't want to know everything in advance). Or I'd have the feeling that a fully detailed map is turning the game toward a strategy one at the expenses of other aspects.

What about limiting the use of maps by making them an in-game service; that is, say, you have to pay to exploit it as tolls one would pay for transportations, for instance?
In so doing they would still be available to players for relevant cases, and for the rest the gameplay would rely more on getting information from the environment, mainly (including other players). In my view, players ought to learn from cognitive interaction with game env. and then I would prefer that tools available would only facilitate (like a cross showing a mish-point) without flattening and rendering the game linear.

Another idea (somewhat brought back from strategy games) about new kind of maps, just on the spot: making it a dynamic object that can show you only a portion of the env., embodying contributions from chars you interact with (if not teammates only), by inheriting their knowledge (elaborating suitably this feature). This location system could act as a variably distributed radar based on players around and their sight skills, so that one could recover its location through them.
(just my 2c)


Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.


Funny how "penis enlargement" isn't one of those three phrases -- and yet, it's rapidly becoming one of the most common phrases in the English language.


Riccardo Leone wrote:
"What about limiting the use of maps by making them an in-game service; that is, say, you have to pay to exploit it as tolls one would pay for transportations, for instance?"

I think it would be interesting to use maps as a character skill - some classes and professions would have more ready access to map information, i.e. in Guild Wars Ranger may be the only type to start with the breadcrumbs map.

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