Reminiscing about Ultima Online in the comment-field in a different post made me all nostalgic, like. And I came to realize that no MMORPG (or MMO, if you prefer) I have played since has struck a chord with me to the same extent as it did. Not just because it was my first MMORPG – I recognize that very little compares favorably to one’s “first”, but also because UO awoke in me a desire for virtual worlds. Take note that I used the word “worlds” there and not “games”. I like games. I’ve played games all my life, and will continue to do so for as long as I am able to. Virtual worlds, however – that’s the stuff dreams are made of! Also, the Matrix.
Let’s take it from the beginning
On the 31st of December 1997 I started playing Ultima Online. It sounded like a dream come true at the time; to be able to run around in the Ultima-universe alongside other real people living out our alternative lives, dispatching hordes of monsters, living the stories, even baking bread? Hallelujah!
A cousin of mine got the game as a Christmas gift, after I had been drooling over the game for months and he had barely heard of it! O, what cruel fate! Luckily for me, though, his computer did not meet the minimum required system specifications (Pentium 133MHz, 16MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM Drive!) to run the game, so the game ended up being installed on my beast of a P200 MMX instead *rubs hands gleefully together sometime in the distant past*
A couple of months later I got my own copy of the game and from then on there was no looking back (until now).
Teleportation: The ability to instantly transfer matter from one location to another without actually ever moving in the space between those two locations. Scientists have been chasing this dream for decades, and Science-Fiction writers and/or movie directors have been using it as a plot-device and/or a generic method of transportation for even longer.
In the context of MMORPGs, it is more and more often used as a way of letting players quickly “return to base” after having done some random quest in a far-off area of the game, instead of forcing them to spend what is seen as unnecessary time and effort fighting their way back the way they came. Usually it comes disguised as some sort of “fast-travel ability”, but whether it’s described as a map you use to find your way quickly (LotRO), as a special traveling ability using your knowledge of the “hidden paths between here and there” (AoC) or as magical spell that instantly transports you (World of Warcraft), the effect is exactly the same – you instantly teleport from one location in the game-world to another.
Another common feature comes in the form of fast-travel to specific parts of the game-world by the use of “space shuttles” (SWG), “wagoneers” (AoC) or just plain ol’ magic portals (UO, WoW).
In some games, you can also summon teammates to your location by magical spells, or to the entrance of a dungeon by the use of magical “meeting stones”, or open magical portals of your own which other players can step through to travel half way across the world. And as added in the most recent World of Warcraft-patch, the ability for members in a group to instantly teleport to the entrance of any specific dungeon, and when leaving said dungeon later on, being teleported directly back to one’s original location.
All of this is very handy, of course; it makes content instantly accessible to the players, makes it less of a hassle to team up with random players for a dungeon-rump, and ensures that you can meet up with your friends and guild-mates at short notice.
Note #0: It’s been a while since I posted anything at all on this blog. Just to let you know, I haven’t completely given up on it just yet, I have just been busy(TM) with other stuff.
In April 2000 a revolutionary methodology for reviewing video-games saw the light of day at the Old Man Murray-website; the Crate Review System. The basis for this new reviewing-system was very simple; since virtually all games contain crates, all games could be judged empirically on those crates. The longer you could play a game without seeing any crates (wooden or otherwise), the better the game. Or to put it in completely different terms: The shorter the time (in seconds) from the start of the game until the first crate is found, the worse the game. This unit of measurement was dubbed “Start to Crate” (StC for short).
I had forgotten about the above until recently, when I came across (through another blog, but unfortunately I can’t remember which!) an old Gamasutra-article by Ernest W. Adams (also listed on his “No Twinkie Database“-page). The article was not only an interesting read (along with everything else in the No Twinkie Database), it also contained a link to the Crate Review System at Old Man Murray.
While I was reading the old crate reviews there, I started thinking about how well this system of reviewing games would apply to MMORPGs, which are a very special breed of games indeed. With only one way to find out, I put on my research hat and started downloading numerous free trials, as well as re-activating some of my old MMORPG-subscriptions, determined to check the StC-times in an ungodly amount (Thirty-one in total) of MMORPGs.
Note #1: The original system didn’t differentiate between crates and their cousins, the circular crates also known as “barrels”. I check for both separately, and thus ended up with StC and StB values for each game.
Note #2: Some of the games I tried had multiple starting locations. In those cases I visited all the available starting locations and timed the StCs and StBs for those one by one. Unless I didn’t like the game, or I was distracted by food/TV/all the walls that keep staring at me. In those cases I only did one starting location.
This is the first installment in a series of posts I’ll be making about Raph Koster’s The Laws of Online World Design, as explained in this introductory post. I will start at the top of the list, and work my way down until I’ve poked and prodded every law in the list, not skipping any unless I really feel like it.
In this, Part I of the series, I’ll concentrate on the following law: