Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On phasing vs. meaningful impact on the environment

Ixobelle and Tobold are discussing epic quest chains and phasing in Wrath of the Lich King.

Phasing appears to have a mixed reaction. In World of Warcraft, phasing allows players to interact more uniquely with the game environment without inconvienencing others. This makes for a fun experience. However, there are noticeable quirks that can leave much to be desired.

One issue is that players who are not at the same point of a phase quest cannot see each other in the game until everyone in the area has completed the quest(s).

The other issue, however, might a bit more troublesome, depending on how seriously you take World of Warcraft. Ixobelle used a tree as a good example. If you were to cut down a tree while phased, no one else can see it happen or the end result of the action. The discussion then moves into something I find very interesting. The world changes around you in real life every day but you generally have nothing to do with it. Someone builds roads and bridges, seasons change, forests burn...

World of Warcraft has a few environmental cycles such as weather (rain, fog) and night/day and a some events such as the fair and holiday activities, but that's about it. I understand that warcraft envrionments are very moody so it might be very difficult for them to implement proper seasons in all of their zones, but it would be very cool if they did. How about trees that "go up in flames" from time to time from lightning strikes in a thunder storm. Mudslides or avalanches. Quakes that bring down city walls and we get to see workers putting them back together.

Some players might say "No, we'd rather the developers put their time into adding more general content such as instances and gear or new battlegrounds and races or classes." Their argument is sound, but I think the world would be much cooler with some more randomized events.

But what does this have to do with phasing?

What if when the lightning strikes the tree, you have the option of putting out the fire? What if you could help put the wall back together after the earthquake? What if you could pick up new skills or minor professions that allow you to repair decaying infrastructure such as fences and lights along roads, or help sick animals in the wild, or clean up environmental hazards in rivers and lakes...these are things that could be seen to evolve into opportunities that players could watch.

Let's say you're running along the road and you see an old rickety fence falling apart (not the entire fence following the road, there would be "spawn points" so other players can do the same). Check your skills to see if you have the right level to fix it. Gather some supplies and get to work. Now you have a brand new fence. Maybe it only lasts for a few hours, or maybe a few days, but other players get to see your handy work.

Rewards might consist of fluff gear such as cover-alls or toolboxes to carry or other tools. Maybe some titles. Certainly achievements would involved.

The point is that having the opportunity to make an impression on the game world is possible without hindering other players and their goals. Yes, the developers might have to take time away from the implementation of new classes and races and other stuff, but it sure would be cool.

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