Time

| Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Why is time of day nearly meaningless in WoW? A very few things will change from day to night, which I must now admit I cannot even remember. Darkness changes nothing, except to cause me to constantly sit higher up in my chair, attempting to take advantage of the change in brightness based on the angle of my monitor. Incidentally, I had this same problem in Minecraft, except constantly, until I finally just gave up on conserving torches.

A world with relevant time of day could be much more in depth and interesting. Want to raid a city? More guards sleep during the night and they can't see quite as far. They'll be woken of course, but if you can start out with an easier fight, that helps. At night many animals and people will sleep. But more undead may awaken along with nocturnal animals. Adventures may be easier or higher depending on time of day, but none will be trivial or impossible.

This is an easier mechanic to work with in a single-player game. Wait or sleep mechanics can allow a player to skip to the time they need, something which I cannot see a simple solution to in a multiplayer world. Even if there are not these mechanics, the particular time isn't such a problem, since there are many activities to do, all ready to be picked. In contrast WoW has a narrower band of relevant content and the social aspect means that people will want to do a particular activity. It would be awful if late night raiding guilds never got to do Sunwell because it closes after 10pm. Similarly, raiding Naxxramas at noon when all the bosses are napping would be terribly boring.

I see two ways around these problems.

First, don't directly link game and real time. Make game time run at a different rate, such that a player logging in at the same time each day will be able to see each section of the day, so that if the day is only night and day, then every other day there would be a full cycle, while night, dawn, day, and dusk cycle would repeat over four days. I do not meant that each aspect would take a day, though slowing down time could work. Instead time would go faster, such that in a four-phase day over a four day cycle a 24 hour period of real time would cause a 30 hour passing in the game, so that if you always log in at 18, then you will see game times of 18, 24/0, 6, and then 12, before the cycle starts over again at 18.

Second, players could use some sort of mildly expensive reagent and cooldown to create a time bubble, allowing them to run instanced content in a more suitable time, or possibly even triggered a phase change for outdoor content. The idea here is to offset the potential irritation of being unable to play due to relative time of day, without making game time meaningless.

The changes due to time do not need to be very big. It is probably best that they are not, since too dramatic of a change could tip the balance from immersive to annoying. For example, in Oblivion there is a fence who sleeps at day and hangs out at an inn at night. His house is close to the inn, so that the difference in convenience is maybe 30 seconds of running. But it helps to establish that day and night are different. If I arrive in town at night, I go to the inn, while at day I go to his house.

But if the changes were significant enough, even that could add to the fun. If I arrive somewhere and everyone is asleep, I could buy a room for the night to pass the time. Or, I could rob some houses under cover of darkness. Limitations can spawn creativity.

Unfortunately the loot-focused nature of WoW puts a lot of limits on the possibilities. We become very goal-oriented, with the experience often being little more than a barrier. With this perspective, fighting the Day Dragon isn't a novel change from the usual attack on the dragon lair at night, in which we'd fight the Night Dragon, instead it just means we're fighting a boss that doesn't drop the loot we want. Or more dramatically, if during the day all the dragons are off flying, making this a great time to steal dragon eggs for gold and cooking, we're going to be annoyed that we can't fight the actual dragons for loot.

I don't think a dynamic world can coexist with a focus on loot acquisition. Maybe I'm wrong.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Time of day affected fishing in vanilla. Certain fish that were prized for raiding only appeared at certain times of the day. El's Extreme Anglin' explains the 6 hour rule of fishing really well. Basically a zone is broken down into 4 different time zones. Certain fish appeared in 3 of those time zones (1st and 3rd time zones the fish were at average drop rate, the 2nd the best drop rate) and in the forth not at all.

Another example of time would be the graveyard in Moonbrook. Before during the day Fleshrippers spawn there and at night zombies or some type of undead spawn there. Not sure about now, but this place is usually highly camped before and during the winter event for the small eggs.

I'm pretty sure there are more events and stuff that happens but I can't remember right now.

Tesh said...

"I don't think a dynamic world can coexist with a focus on loot acquisition."

I agree with this assertion.

Also, I would actually *love* it if the Naxx bosses were to take a nap and let me roam around the place (after all, I don't care about the loot, I just want to look around). Give the night back to Rogues; let them skulk around and steal stuff to finish quests.

Two other thoughts, though: One, I always see the game as "night", since I can't play until the kids are in bed. I guess I could try a Euro server and catch the wee hours of the morning, but that's silly. I happen to like night time in the game, but I would be happy to have some sort of shifting schedule, if only to see different events and lighting schemes during the constrained window I get to play.

Two, thinking about that, though, if there are players who are trying to catch time-sensitive events, but the schedule only allows it every four days (because of when they can play, and the system is shifting under them), that could be annoying, especially since that would effectively cut their opportunity down by 75%. That *sucks* when you're paying for the privilege to play; you're throwing money away.

(Insert sympathy for those players who regularly lose playtime to server maintenance. Maybe scheduled maintenance is less painful overall than rolling restarts?)

lightsfury said...

Way back when Pokemon was a big thing (is it still now, or have I just matured past the point of not caring?), the big feature of the "Crystal" game was night/day cycles. I LOVED it. I would wait for the clock to tic over to the night cycle and putter around endlessly. Little changed in the game, other than different pokemon spawning - people were still out, you could still do quests, etc... I really would like to see this adapted to WoW. Change how the mobs spawn - perhaps at night the defias are a little more bold, during the day they are a little more sparse. Interesting concept for sure!

Klepsacovic said...

@Anonymous: I didn't know about the graeyard. That's interesting. I do remember the sunscale and nightfin salmon.

@Tesh: The whole "it's not the right time when I can play" thing is why I proposed the offset clock and the time shift spell. As for the rogues, I do wish there was more to encourage them to be rogues rather than just another generic melee DPS.

@lightsfury: That seems perfectly applicable to the hunter obsession with rare spawn pets.

Anonymous said...

EverQuest "You weren't there man!"...

EQ used to run something like 90 minutes per game day. It was a mechanic used quite a lot in the original game but a lot less later on. Of particular note was a zone Kithicor Forest. A lvl 15-20 zone during the day, where if you stuck to the paths at virtually any level you'd be safe, perhaps bumping into a mildly annoyed Bear if you were unlucky. However, go there at night (or worse still be running half way across the zone when it switched) and it suddenly became a lvl 50+ zone swarming with undead. The trains to the zone line were a sight to behold somedays...

Certainly a mechanic I wish more MMO's would make use of, and something that was handled particularly well in EverQuest.

Puily
Frostwhisper

Mike ... said...

Also the inhabitants of the village next to Shadowfang Keep used to change depending on the time. By day they they were human, at night they were worgen.

That did sometimes cause a problem for people because there was a quest to kill worgen, but if you went there during the day then there weren't any.

'course that has probably changed now.

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