Small World, Big Places

| Friday, January 14, 2011
In my continuing saga of possibly pointless comparisons between WoW and Elder Scrolls, I want to look at sense of world size.

Both games use a "discover it to get there" system. Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has a 'fast travel' system where you can just click on a significant location you've discovered and the game will play out as if you'd run there; passing time, moving NPCs, but taking no more time than a loading screen. Similarly, WoW has flight paths, which are slower, but since you can go afk during them, aren't too dissimilar.

Teleports, whether we call them portals in WoW or fast travel in Oblivion, tend to reduce the sense of world size. As humans we unconsciously measure distances in time. This is why walking a mile can seem longer than driving ten miles, even setting aside the physical labor aspect. When travel time goes down, perceived distances goes down as well. Despite being a big world, the outside of Oblivion doesn't seem gigantic. Imperial City and Bruma, despite being several hours away in game time (this would be 10 or 15 minutes in real time running), are a few seconds away to me. I go back and forth between them often.

Beside the outside world, there's also the inside. In these places, Oblivion is much bigger. Recently I carried out the greatest heist of all time. This involved running through all manner of sewers, then crypts, and in and out of buildings. The distance covered was at least as much as that previous 10-15 minute run, spanning the city (which is pretty wide), back and forth (think spiral, not loop), and over it all again. It took much longer than 10-15 minutes, thanks to being filled with enemies. That wasn't what gave the full sense of size.

I kept trying to find my hearthstone. You think I'm kidding? I was carrying tons of armor, really valuable stuff, or at least my noobish self thinks so, but I was running out of strength to carry it, so I'd keep finding a new thing, estimating value/weight ratios, and dropping stuff. I would have loved to hearth out and vendor some of it. Or teleport out of instance. I needed to recharge my dagger too. The enchant ran out way too quickly. And I was low on arrows.

When you're loaded with loot, barely halfway in, your items are breaking, and there's no quick way out, that's when you get a sense of scale. Location mattered. Maybe the dungeon was a lot smaller than I think, but it felt huge.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see an Oblivion MMO. The key though would be keeping the sandbox feeling that made the single player game so great yet successfully applying it to a MMO setting. Also, the way quests could be completed in a variety of fashions was truly inspiring and that would be tough to pull off on such a grand scale. But if they could do it... then it would be a wonderful roleplaying experience.

Syl said...

Ahh...a proper sense of travel, don't we all wish it.
seems we don not, or there wouldnt be so many games with HS-like items? in any case, I'd love to see distance matter more in WoW and even things like loot weight impact on speed; but please not the way they did it in EQ2, where a bunch of flowers and mushrooms wears the plate-wearing adventurer down....

Reala said...

Damn it Kleps you're making me want to play Oblivion again! I completely empathise with the (often painful) heirarchy of loot and decision making there.

There was a weapons and armour shop, I'm not sure where, maybe Bruma, where I used to break in, ransack the place for all I could carry, break out the back door, drop it all down the well, break back in. Rinse and repeat until I had it all, then sell it off bit by bit in my own time.

Swigging brews surrounded by my most precious items in Rosethorn Hall says that was a good decision. Speaking of which, I wonder if you were like me in so far as I would *painstakingly* place one-off weapons and full armour sets on all the surfaces and in the display cabinets in the house. I wasted so much time trying to align it *just* right. I'm beginning to wonder if I did any actual work at uni.

Klepsacovic said...

@Gordon: As best as I can tell, level is pretty much irrelevant except for having more strength to carry more loot. No one challenge me on that, I am greatly enjoying this illusion. That means there's no "leveling vs. end-game" and thanks to the difficulty slider, we don't have to worry too much about min-maxing loot.

@Syl: I can't say I like the weight-speed impact, but I do like that what I carry is a decision, even if at times it was a decision I didn't want to have to make.

The sad part: I didn't yet have a vendor high enough to handle 2000 gold items, so I have a set of drawers filled with all the loot that I refused to drop but refuse to sell at 1/3 price.

@Reala: If you don't like what I write you are free to leave! I kid of course.

I never had that problem. Well, not quite. I did have the problem that since I am a compulsive thief, after I pimped out Frostcrag Spire I immediately started grabbing stuff off tables. Then I thought that it added to the ambiance and tried to put it back, but it all just fell on the floor and I cried. Thankfully that wasn't my real alchemy bench upstairs.

Nils said...

I, too, would love distance to amtter again. But it must not feel annoying!

To make it feel meaningful instead of annoying distance must be a central part of the game(play).

Examples would be
- long range trade,
- self sufficient cities with only lose ties to other cities,
- no quests that want you to go from one corner of the map to the other,
- local mindset of NPCs,
- ...

Klepsacovic said...

Distance should mean something other than a waste of time, I like that idea.

Leah said...

I've been playing Mass effect recently, both one and 2. the actually travel in both games is incredibly short - I mean you are literally hopping between star systems via relays.

and yet the world feels big, though now I'm wondering if the first game felt bigger due to its inventory system?...nyahh... honestly, when you're out in a world, killing things or interacting with them and you keep moving along and finding more things to interact with - that in my opinion is what gives world a scope, not long travel between spots. Most people just afk while traveling, so they miss all those distances anyways.

I actually feel like in WoW at least, the world seemed bigger when questing was more open ended and there was less phasing - you explored, you fought through, you met other seemed so vast. I miss that feeling.

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