Friday, 3 June 2011

Importance of Night and Day in Modern MMOs

I've personally seen a decline in any sort of relevance or importance given to the time of day in modern MMOs. For many games on the market, day, night, and time of day are as important to game-play as how much fuzz a player has in their navel. We need not look back more than 10 years, to EverQuest 1, to see a game where, prior to the huge influx of expansions, we can see how important day and night cycles are.

With EQ1, an entire game day is not on a 1:1 scale like in World of Warcraft (a game where the time of day is reflected by the server's local time). Instead, one day is 72 minutes, with each in-game hour being 3 minutes. This impacts the game several ways, because some aspects of the game change based on the time. Here's a small list of examples:
  • Some enemies spawn only at a certain time and place, like some quest mobs (an example would be the gnoll Gnasher Furgott in Qeynos Hills, whom spawns only at night to have a secret meeting with a human to arrange plans to smuggle illegal alcohol into the human city of Qeynos). They will only spawn @ a particular time, go through their scripted events, and then despawn after a particular time.
  • Non-named mobs also behave in this way, but in a more general sense. Some zones will have undead spawn in place of normal spawns (or in some cases, stronger undead than normal will spawn, as with Kithicor Forest at night)
  • Some merchants are only open during certain hours of the day. However, for the most part, merchants are almost always open; there's just some rare exceptions.
  • Some spells can only be used at night. However, the only spell (IIRC) that functioned this way was the Druid/Ranger spell "Dance of the Fireflies", which summoned a globe of fireflies that acted as a light source when held. Still, it is a good basis for what could have been.
Of course, there's more than just that present in the game, but this is merely meant to give an over-view of what I am referring to when I say that time of day plays an important role in Classic EverQuest game play. Modern MMOs do not do this, and one reason I can assume that things are the way they are is because day and night are based on real time, and any sort of mechanics that rely on a day/night cycle would be very clunky and inconvenient.

I do feel that a fantasy MMO that had mechanics based around a day/night cycle could create some interesting effects on game-play that would deepen the game and make it more than just another WoW clone. It creates a world that is alive and does not stagnate due to static content. Some examples I had come up with for my fantasy MMO project, "Tales of Galria" include:
  • Day and night affect "trash" spawns. A newbie zone might normally have rats and wolves to kill during the day, but when the sun goes down, bats, owls, and undead would spawn instead once spawn points became available as day time monsters slowly despawn over time to simulate them going to "sleep". Night time or day time only spawns could also be possible, by having enemies like Werewolves or Vampires being in the game, possibly putting powerful NPCs within lower level zones to create a fear of the dark.
  • Shops could have "Hours of operation" based on the game time, with inns open at all times, bars and taverns and "seedier" shops only open at night, with regular shops open during more favourable hours. This also creates a possibility of having a "holiday" where in most or all shops in a location are closed until the next day, based on local events. For example, perhaps a shop in the human city is closed due to a human holiday, but to the south a dwarven settlement doesn't practice this holiday and would be open.
  • Shops can have limited stock that is restocked only on certain days. A blacksmith might sell a limited selection of weapons and armor, and once he's sold out, perhaps he will not restock until Tuesday when a new shipment of ore is brought in. Merchants who sell tradeskill items would function in the same way, only having a limited quantity of raw meat and would not get in more until a rancher or farmer brought in more animals to be slaughtered. This would make the world feel like there's an economy and limit the reliance on NPCs. A monopoly on merchant purchases could be prevented by having "Limit of 4" on a single item from a single merchant. Items that are popular could also fluctuate in price to follow a simple "Supply and Demand", but I'm getting into a topic that's best reserved for another post...
  • Spells could only work during the day or night, and/or be more powerful during a certain time of day, weather event, or location. Sun or Moon based magics could function only when the sun or moon are in the sky.
  • Undead could become more powerful during the night, and necromancers or other "dark" individuals could drop up to prey on people. Bandits and thieves could stalk alleyways in cities during the night and there could be less guards walking around.
  • Caravans could walk the roads during the day but the roads would be empty at night.
  • Scripted NPC events that function during a time or day. With WoW, events would happen at preset intervals (e.g., NPC walking into a shop, making a /say comment, then despawning shortly after, or having a crowd of people periodically yelling at another NPC every 3-5 minutes), which is highly boring and static. The way EQ works for scripted events based on time works wonderfully, and should be expanded to encompass many parts of the game.
Day and Night should be important, and as you can see from the examples above, it can be applied to many areas of the game: combat, shopping, and lore. The trick is to balance it so it does not become prohibitive while at the same time its meaning is not diminished. No one wants to feel like playing at a certain time of day is a bad thing, but at the same time, an MMO is about the world and the people in it (including the players' characters), and as such it needs to feel alive.

That's something that many modern day MMOs miss out on, and why players are craving the Classic EverQuest or Ultima Online experiences.