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Aug 29, 2007



In WoW (or in any other MMO), are there places where you get lost where you'd prefer to have a mental map?

I've usually been able to find my way around all areas in WoW easily, although I know many people who have trouble with the circular layout of the Undercity.

Conversely, in LotRO, I get lost all the time in Bree, and often enough in the countryside areas.

Are there places where your mental map is too clear and you'd prefer to get lost more often?

Being lost is usually a frustrating experience for me; I'd prefer to have it as little as possible. I'm all for exploration, mind, but I want to be able to find my way back as long as I'm reasonably careful.

Which spaces are too big and which are too small?

Ironforge is much too small, and Orgrimmar has some of the same problem. On the other hand, many of the open spaces in DAoC (at least, back when I last played) were just too damn big and featureless.

Is it right that virtual ecological diversity is simply "chrome" that masks repetitive game play -- or does that create a false dichotomy?

Well, I'd prefer it to be meaningful, rather than chrome, but I'll take chrome over nothing at all.


I don't play online games, but regarding urban spaces, 'mind maps', and the like I noticed something interesting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I now live.
When I first arrived I found that hardly anyone uses maps, the usual reason given is that they will be too old and something will have changed since then (construction of roads and new neighbourhoods proceeds at a rapid pace here). When giving directions, people tend to use landmarks, not names of roads, or such. For example: 'go along the main road, when you see the HSBC Bank, do a u-turn then turn left at the Petronas station.'
This is not unusual in Europe either, but it seems to happen so much more here. I think it has to do with less signposting and the more rapidly changing environment. The last point may be relevant to online games.


Back in my MUD days, on DragonMUD, I had a very popular build called The Illusion Garden. This area was very hard to map conventionally because there were discontinuities -- down a "rabbit hole" through a fountain in a courtyard, or a curtain of fire that must be traversed quickly enough to not catch fire -- with a deadfall on the other side (that fall ending in the back of a giant, and rather outraged, eider duck).

But what I found was that people took great delight in returning me a map of the place, finally having explored all they found of it.

The funny thing is, I didn't develop it from a map at all, just a running storyboard with some branches.

In each discontinuity, there was what I would now call an interstitial -- a frame of experience they passed through without an option to navigate.

Something like, "The fountain spray parts before you as though you were wrapped in a bubble of air -- not a drop touches you, but a breeze passes your cheek cool and moist. As you look up through the streaming water embracing this egg of air around you, the ground falls out..."

"Tumbling at a leisurely pace, you see the ancient stonework of a well, each stone growing mossier and mossier, darker with the fading light of the sun-rimmed fountain above -- the bubble caroms you gently from wall to wall, into the dusk..."

"You find yourself in a stone cavern, lit only by the biolumenescent scum on the walls."

So, the person takes an action, sees the consequences -- experiences the interstitial travel -- and then lands in the next area where choices can be made.

This caused folks to accept the discontinuities in the assumed map -- and made some folks crazy! But what made folks really nuts was when I didn't do this for the eider duck fall, and people complained of various things -- that the pacing was off, that they didn't like the duck, that the deadfall was a trap. There were similar experiences all over, but when I added an "interstitial" to the fall, the complaints stopped.

It was odd, even to me...:)



Your interstitials provided the Promenade Architectural.


Most places are fairly easy to get around in in WoW, with the exception of the dungeons. Some make a lot of sense, even ones that aren't completely linear. However, Blackrock Depths is an excellent example of a dungeon where I really wish I had a better map. I rarely find myself wishing I could get lost though. That mentality is not very popular in an MMO, where time is the most valuable commodity.

I was thinking a similar subject you might find interesting is the differences in travel capabilities between WoW, and the WoW expansion. Since The Burning Crusade added the ability to get a flying mount to the game, they had to design Outland to accommodate the ability to bypass obstacles, and see the world from an entirely different perspective. I think the thoughts on the cities can be applied similarly to the outdoor areas, particularly in the original zones of the game. Players are channeled to certain locations, and must pass through other locations in order to reach their destinations. Not true when one can fly, but Blizzard didn't have that in mind when they designed Azeroth, only when they designed Outland. Perhaps there would be some interest in exploring the differences between the two "worlds" with that in mind?


Flying isn't available in Outlands until you hit the level cap; at that point, being able to bypass some content isn't that big a deal, since you couldn't while leveling.

Blizzard has also stated that players WON'T be able to fly in Northrend (the upcoming expansion) until at or close to the (new) level cap... to prevent easy bypassing of content while leveling.

The function of the zone designs still channels and directs; the restriction only gets removed later.


I actually find Undercity to be one of the better capital layouts, because it is symmetrical and geometric. Back in beta when there were no city maps, a lot of my friends who started Undead or Tauren had severe trouble navigating Orgrimmar due to its irregular layout.

On the other hand, 3 years of WoW and I still can't find my way around Blackrock Depths, so it might just be an individual perception problem.


Greg, just out of curiosity, where did you pick up on this particular title? I pinched it out of Daniel James' reading list a few years back and it's interesting to see it making the rounds.

If you're the one who recalled it from the RU Libraries on me, I'm very upset... ;)


Hey Silvia --

I actually don't recall where I first heard of it, but it must have been in a book about the internet and space (Maybe William Mitchell?). But what really pulled the trigger was Margaret Corbit praising it when she was guest blogging. That was what convinced me to order a copy.

Oh, and, no, I don't have the RU copy -- don't be mad at me! :-)

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