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Feb 04, 2006



I don't know if this is in-line with what you have presented here, but I remember when I started playing EverQuest I created pretty much one character of every race. I did this simply because I was enthralled by the variety of (and in) the races as well as the variety of environments. It wasn't until months later that I realized what I did lose: the experience/enjoyment of discovery. By starting one of each race I had a character in each starting zone, soon to have links to several nearby zones. In doing this I greatly accelerated the rate at which I experienced the available zones in the game -- I revealed much more of the world map than I would have had I just started a single character race. It was a small disappointment, but being several places at once (so to speak) DID diminish the game experience for me to an extent.


My 5 year old (who loves to experience WoW's hippogryph flights) has commented on how a snowy area is oddly abutted on a desert/volcanic area. Though it may seem "higgledy-piggledy", I think the presence of diverse geography serves several important functions, the stark juxtaposition of which is an artifact of designing the player experience.

Firstly, it is a distinct delineation of zones for players -- a "Danger Ahead" sign on the ground as well as a way of gently saying "Oops you must have missed your quest objective back there somewhere". Secondly, it gives some variety to the quest system, a quick transition to a new vista to explore as the player performs the same differently-lipsticked quests. Lastly, by having very different zones of the same difficuly level, it allows a player to quest through more than one zone simultaneously, alleviating a sense of zone-ennui that sometimes sets in. You can follow quests very similarly to the way in which one would follow links in gopherspace in the nascent days of the Internet -- a sort of "Oh, let's see where this leads" type of excitement.

To follow the rules of more conventional geography and geology within the relatively small confines of a typical MMOG's virtual world would lead to little variation in environment. I think those knife-edge changes are where the developers have chosen to temporarily suspend immersion for the greater longevity of the player experience. Star Wars Galaxies has the perfect backstory to cater to diverse environments -- they're different planets!


Another point to make is that, as Rick R. suggests, it was deliberate, but also that Kotaku neatly and unexpectedly made their hack easy to see. The Google Map was not part of their original design, I'll bet.


Good observations, Rick. It reminds me of an area I've always been fascinated by in Disneyworld, where "Frontierland" abuts "Adventureland." There are some subtle architectural changes and others that are stark -- pillars that look different on two different sides. But even though the transition points are in may ways obvious, they are I think intentionally so for many of the reasons you mention (or their theme-park analogs). They may break the first-order immersion, but in a sense not the meta-immersion: I still know that both areas are (different) areas of "adventure."

That said, the transition in WoW from, say, Mulgore to the Barrens, or (by Zeppelin) Tirisfal to Durotar always makes me want to check the gamma settings on my screen -- the WoW artists having done a spectacular job of using widely varying color values in the environment, so that when you change areas you know immediately you're in someplace different.


MapWOW is a fantastic example of an approach Google is taking that I'd like to see more of. GoogleMaps is produced not just as a "Google app" but provided as an API for people to quickly and efficiently throw a great map interface on top of some good map data. MapWOW blows all other World of Warcraft map collections because GoogleMaps makes maps easy for users to use and the API makes it easy for developers to deploy.

With regards to transitions between zones, its a great point to be made that at a macro, high level view, the transitions seem a little jagged and unblended. Whats really telling about that is how its so much harder to notice as you're actually playing the game. Transitions between the zones are done so well with no loading times, smooth terrain transitions and the music fading from zone A's music to zone B's music that the player doesn't feel like they're too abrupt. This is one of WOW's many triumphs in the area of creating a vibrant world that feels alive instead of many invidiual zones tied together with a loading screen.

Also interesting to note - the transitions from Snow zones into non-snow zones (Dun Morough to Loch Modan, Felwood to Winterspring) are done through tunnels, not open terrain. The transitions into snowy zones are clearly the most noticable and in game and they've used tunnels to mitigate that terrain difference to make the transition smoother.


While the transitions between some zones seem sharp and non-sensical, significant effort does some to have gone into making the climate of some zones make sense. Dun Morough for example is much higher altitude than its surrounding zones, so its cold temperature is due to the altitude rather than because of its latitude. The tunnels to neighbouring zones conceal the fact that their is no smooth transition going down the hillside.


What amazes me is how this design (also common in EQ and a few others) really does mold player expectations.

I've seen players comment on the lack of "diversity" in environments- going as far as to ask "where's the winter zone?" more than a few times in these games.


While the transition between Dun Morough to Loch Modan are done via tunnel while you are on foot, travelling via Gryphon doesn't allow for the 'hidden transition'. So they did it via snow to waterfalls to the greenery of the Loch, down the sides of the mountain. Expertly done!


As someone who has walked the snow areas between Dun Morogh and Loch Modan/The Wetlands I can tell you that the transitions are done pretty well. Curse Blizzard for removing cliff walking. I still hadn't visited places like the house on top of the Northshire Abbey Falls.... Anyway, even from the air they've done a good job with the transitions. Most of them are smooth and well done. Even though the world geography shown on google maps doesn't seem to support a climate system of any real design, when playing the game the transitions from zone to zone seem to work and don't express any of this lack of continuity.

It will be interesting to see how the 1.10 weather effects add to or take away from this well crafted area of the game.



Is there a real point to debate this transition stuff? Is there a point to debate geography logic in games?

I don't think so. Games are games! If we would debate all these "non-real" stuff we would end up with boring games... Most games are built around Fantastic Worlds where the Artists/Designers have the complete freedom to create non-cohesive world that looks and play well.

I never cares about the WoW "abrupt" transition since it's done with so much dedication and smoothness. My first regions transitions felt like I was dreaming... My characters was always smoothly projected in a new visual environment without abrupt or non credible transition. And most of the time, I noticed how well the transition was done when I traveled back by Gryphon/EarthStone to another location. At that I could visually noticed how different my last location was.

Forget about geography, climate control, topology! Why not only enjoy a game for what it is! An incredible virtual waorl to spent time forgeting about REAL-WORLD stuff!


For the ones interested in more cartography stuff, there is a very nice application called "Cartograpy", that is a mix of a wiki and a map tool. Everyone can submit information and changes of the map content and share information this way.

It can be found at http://tixu.scribe.free.fr and features maps from WoW and DAoC.

I would like to see such a thing for large cities, though.


If I remember right Active Worlds had a whole seperate devoted group of people who created a program to dynamically map an every changing cartography. A pretty daunting task if you ask me considering many people would fly up to 3,000 feet altitude just to build their own city. It's a pretty interesting experiment in mapping a dynamically changing world.

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