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Sep 03, 2005

Comments

1.

BTW: i played WoW in November 2004 (US Open Beta) and wasn't impressed at all by the graphics. Yes, WoW hat a certain look and atmo and it is somewhat nice, but regarding good graphics and sound Lineage 2 is still the best (at least it was then).

Graphics in WoW uses far too less polygons (octahedral tree-trunks for example) for both environment and MOBs. The colors are somewhat overdone and artificial for my taste, but YMMV. The music is not played by an actual orchestra but by a mere synthesizer. That doesn't make WoW a bad game - in fact, it was quite nice as a game - but it is no a reason for too much an excitement either.

Watch Lineage 2 (too bad there isn't any trial available), the video files on the Website www.lineage2.com will give you quite an impression as most of them are actually ingame frapsed. And there is also a lot of very fine ingame music available for download on the very website as well.
That is what I call Graphics, Sound and Atmo.

The game L2 itself is rather a hard one regarding extreme level grind and a mostly harsh community.
(YOU GO! I PK! RANG RANG! - you know)

2.

I've been playing Project Entropia and am generally disappointed in the weather aspects of the game. Sometimes it's cloudy but that's about it. Nor are there seasons in the game -- which is possible on a given planet of course, but boring. Now and again an upgrade will have areas suddenly flowering but these flowers have no connection to the fruit that is found in the game. I enjoy the fantasy of exploring a new planet and climate would be a welcome enhancement.

3.

I actually find GuildWars to have some of the most organic, varied and stunning scenery/architecture I've seen in any online game. Granted it's not entirely persistent and there isn't really any weather. Anarchy Online, despite it's 'dated' graphics, is an excellent marriage of environment, architecture, character design and music.

I'll never forget the first time I saw it begin to rain outside of Athen.

Me: Wow, I didn't know it rained here.
Random MP walking by: Yeah, it does everything here.

Random MP stopped and we watched the rain cycle. We chatted and she invited me to her guild.

Took me two years to climb out from behind my computer after that. =P

4.

Yeah, actually, I had my WoW avatar hearthed in the lakeside hotel in Astranaar for a while even though she was too weak to quest there. It was actually physically relaxing to me to log on there, and I've had similar feelings of relaxation looking around at other parts of the environment. My guildies are used to me /yelling "Catalina Island!" or "Ah, Vancouver!" when an environment looks pleasantly familiar.

I'm incredibly tired of the grind in the game at this point, to the extent that I'm not really playing. If exploring places was a bigger part of the game -- say if solving puzzles yielded access to new places -- I'd play more.

I should clarify that my meatspace avatar is hearthed in Washington Heights, New York City, and I crave nature badly.

5.

Can you cite cases where the texture of place and environment is reason enough; where it is more than just a backdrop to fiction or an angle on play? Is there a case in a virtual world where it becomes the reason for travel?

I think many of us can cite times when we've been taken in by the beauty of virtual geography -- for me the landscape in both WoW and Asheron's Call had moments of real wonder and beauty. Even in M59 there were places where watching the pixelly moonrise was highly evocative.

Even in single-player games like the recent remake of Pirates the environment has its own attractiveness, and definitely adds to the game.

But to answer your question, I really can't think of a case where the environment itself was sufficient reason to be in the game on it's own -- at least not after the first-moment novelty has worn off. Then again, given the lack of physicality of virtual worlds, I don't know that we'll see the equivalent of people reveling in the rain inside MMOGs anytime soon.

6.

(The above post was me - not sure how my info got knocked out.)

7.

My favorite memories of EQ (my 3rd MMORPG but the first I consider a virtual world) was sitting on the boat from Butcherblock to Freeport and watching the digital sun go town over the digital ocean right as I crossed the area where the sirens are on the rocks. I was stunned! And consequently took about 20 pics. Other shots such as a misty shot of a far away giant spider in Lesser Feydark or the Luclin shots when it first came out.

For some, yes exp and efficiency is everything, and at times I will sacrifice my surroundings for better exp or loot. But more and more, as I play more and more games/walk around in more and more virtual worlds, environment seems to matter more. Between spot A and spot B, all things being equal, environment will be the deciding factor almost always.

8.

Environment is more than just graphics and is, I feel, directly dependent on the set of desires and feelings each user brings to it.

For instance, having gained several levels at one particular location imbues that place with a deep, often indescribable feeling that over time can become inseparable for the environment itself.

When playing Anarch-Online, I find the Temple to be a beautiful place: The room ceilings are high, the columns are magnificent, and I've partied with some of the most considerate gamers I've ever met while there. I now associate the weathered tan of the temple walls with a feeling of relaxation.

Unfortunately, confusion is my only association with temples when I travel back to the days Goldeneye 007. The secret temple level in Goldeneye featured narrow halls and several doors. Not to mention, I never lasted more than two minutes when proximity mines happened to be my best friend's weapon of choice.

To summarize: I think that a game's atmosphere can evoke a feeling akin to "travelling afar to dance in the rain" or can as easily be objectified "pretty wallpaper." It depends on the social atmosphere and the user's experiences. The graphical backdrop to these crucial factors can become a symbol for either.

9.

Great post, Daniel. I couldn't agree more. I too am at that stage where environment seems to retain me far after game mechanics have dried up. The environment becomes inextricably lnked to the social dimension of a game for me as well.

Aaron

10.

Thanks for that post Nate. The points you raise are very interesting and highly pertinent. I've been playing RPGs since I was 6 as my dad and his friend ran a 15 year long campaign in a world they created and one thing the group often discussed are the main attractions for RPGing, particularly since, at the time, we were the only group in Malta (my home country) that knew what an RPG was and trying to describe the game to other maltese kids at school just got me a lot of "what's the fun in that you weird nutter, come play soccer on our roof..."

One of the main attractions for all of us was to imagine settings which we dont have in Malta, forests mountains rivers and so on that for us represent something magical (Maltese landscape is basically huge fortifications built by the knights on one side and cliffs on the other with a few sandy beaches between. most of the place is covered by windy maze like villages and a few fields here and there, barely a tree in sight). With the advent of MMORPGs and picturesque greenery portrayed by worlds like WoW, the imaginary 'magical' nature is made visible and shareable, making a place like WoW really attractive. I still remember the first few times abroad, I would just look for cheap accomodation in the closest little wood so that I could easily imagine I walked into the fantasy places I read about and played in...

...three years ago I moved to New Zealand...

11.

It had been awhile since a virtual world had pulled me in with deep self-consistency. Even with its relatively low-tech graphics, WoW does. The only thing it lacks is any real weather affects, but then, most games use weather for little more than sight-range limitations. I long for the days when rain speeds up the decay of armor, a foot of snow on the ground slows the average walk speed in that zone, or fire spells don't work well in the pouring rain. How bad could this be? Just another puzzle to solve...

But I've been told I'm somewhat unique in that regard :)

In any case, the last game to really impress me with the environments was SWG. Some condemn the "random" look of the world, but I've always wondered if that was a bias because they'd been told how the world was built. To me, I found the byplay between geography and atmospherics very impressive. I did a lot of travelling for my energy business though. With the stuff I'd see, it was easy to forget any sort of technical discussion that deconstructed it.

Prior to that was EQ. The hand-crafted zones were very artistic, and at least there, two environment conditions seemed self-consistent: you drank more water in the Northern Desert of Ro than elsewhere, and you couldn't breath in the vacuum that was The Grey.

12.

Myst. Many, many people were quite content to wander around the original Myst, taking in the scenery, never progressing very far towards actually solving the game.

I think Loom had a similarly magnetic effect. (It was the first game I played with VGA graphics, so perhaps that's just my memory.)

Tourism in Ultimas IV through VI felt quite worthwhile, as well -- V especially, for seeing the world "live" around you and appreciating how the virtues had gotten twisted.

Of today's crop of MMOs, Lineage 2 is beautiful. I have a friend who, during the beta, just liked to hang out by a waterfall and relax. (She also asserted that actually playing L2 was one of the most appalling grinds she'd ever endured, and didn't subscribe.)

I remember that on early PernMUSH (text-based MUD), an effort was really made to keep exactly to the geography of the books, and a lot of people really enjoyed just wandering around, taking in the atmosphere. I recall an early morning when, up all night studying (while still logged into the MUSH), I was sitting around idle, when I saw the morning routine play itself out in text on my screen -- the change of the watch, herds going out to pasture, everything coming awake. All automatic code, and nothing but text, but it was strangely affecting.

13.

Lydia>I was sitting around idle, when I saw the morning routine play itself out in text on my screen -- the change of the watch, herds going out to pasture, everything coming awake. All automatic code, and nothing but text, but it was strangely affecting.

I'm starting to be ever more convinced that dynamic elements that cohere with a given world model's diegesis trigger some really strong cognitive mechanism. Maybe somethng related to our own internal simulation/prediction engines.

I also wonder how much the mapping between gameworld time and RL time has to do with it.

/shrug

cool stuff

14.

I actually intended to play WoW when it came out, sys reqs and money allowing. Not at all for the gameplay. I was shooting for Alliance purely so I could go out into Elwynn Forest, watch the scenery, and listen to the music. It was the distance from my ideals in the gameplay that more or less decided for me that I wouldn't try to play. And watching my friends play when I'm over there... well, I haven't seen it all, but what parts I have seem pretty dull.

15.

I really like sunrises and sunsets in Second Life... I remember seeing an early photo of them with local lighting on (AHHH THAT GLOW), and it really drew me into the world. Also, I've taken many pictures of them over time and they look to get even sweeter with 1.7 -- as they've become more of an ambient glow, less jagged and more melt-in-your-mouth sort type dealio.

It's amazing what a few tweaks of color away from the "real world" will do. For example, if you took land in SL and turned it purple, I wonder what would happen to land values? Or if the sky was green instead of blue? Residents have noticed many times when the sun suddenly rose due to a Linden's intervention or sometimes a bug, and those, even simulated on a computer screen, have an effect on mood and... just seeing the reaction can be priceless.

I'd like to see more types of varied global (or large-scale, as opposed to the crafty but limited particle simulations some come up with) weather in SL. I think SpeedTree RT being integrated will bring one sense of that, as the image of a tree being through the ages is a familiar one. Crunchable snow and micropowder is still a ways off though, likely...

There's one place in SL, Waterhead and the Hidden Lakes, it's kinda like the Pacific Northwest. I recall when that area was new and a lot of Residents remarked this and flocked around as the sun came up. It was very magical. :)

16.

I don't know about monsoon holidays (although I do come from a place where people throw "hurricane parties"). But I'm one of those who enjoys rain, real or virtual.

During my stay in EQ there was a period where I spent a lot of time on Sisters Island (between Butcherblock and Freeport). Every so often there'd come a sudden shower of rain, at which point I'd take out my fishing pole and go sit under the dock and fish.

I didn't get any less (or more) wet; nor did the quality of stuff I'd randomly catch appear to improve. But the ambient graphics and sounds were so well done that it felt completely natural to behave as though there were "real" effects. I got much of the same feelings of pleasure from fishing under the dock in the rain that I'd get from a real rainstorm, nearly to the point of perceiving the air as smelling a bit fresher.

Being outside on Naboo in SWG is similar, if not quite as intense. If I hear the "it's raining" music cue, I'll actually stop what I'm doing just to go outside for a while. (For some reason, I recall the rain in EQ as being "colder" and "gustier" than in SWG. Curious....)

Personally I wouldn't mind if there were "days" of rain in SWG, or snow, or global weather effects (possibly with secondary consequences), but of course there'd be people who'd complain loudly that the sun wasn't shining and it's gloomy and depressing and shouldn't the devs be spending their time fixing bugs and making more Jedi content instead of wasting time on pretty but pointless weather effects?

Sigh.

--Bart

17.

Asheron's Call's scenery provided that serene moment when I needed that five minute break from making the portal loop hunting PK guilds. It was the first MMORPG with scenery that impressed me.

As for single player, I was pleased with Morrowind. The blight storm made my eyes water most every time I walked into the wind.

Cheers,
Chris

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