The Importance of a Base (home) in Games

| Friday, September 28, 2012
The other day, in response to Syl, I wrote about the concept of homes in games, places where you can sleep and retain your sanity and perhaps even comfort.  At the time I thought it was merely a pointless concept that is fun to talk about but has no relevance to the actual game or its design.  As so often happens, I was wrong, as proven by the fact that I disagreed.  Homes, or as I will call them, bases, are important in shaping how we play.

I'll use the term bases rather than homes because the concepts are different.  Homes make us feel warm and fuzzy.  Bases are resting points, hopefully safe, where we can refill, restock, and empty our bags.  Stalker has no homes, but it does have bases and those are very important to how I play.

As I depart from Skadovsk, the rusting ice-breaker in a swamp, I save my game.  As I leave I am transitioning between the safe area and the unsafe.  Within there are no stray bullets, anomalies, or mutants.  Outside, there are.  Having a base creates this transition area, perfect for saving the game.  It's also perfect for quitting the game.  As I return or leave there is a clear change in mental state, from the alert outside to the relaxed and more thoughtful inside.  For me, that makes it a good time to quit.  It is a break in the game.

Contrast that with Civilization which doesn't have as clear breaks.  There is the end of turn pause, but that is merely a button press waiting to happen.  And besides, that pause is time for checking on production, making sure nothing was missed.  It is a pause, at most, and definitely not a break.  This is part of what drives the "one more turn" phenomenon, that despite being turn-based and presumably disjointed, it is actually quite smooth, with one action flowing into the next, with no logical point to start.  There is the start of the turn, right after the AI has gone, but that is an even worse time, when you've just seen all the consequences of decisions and have that information fresh in your mind.  To quit then is to discard all you've seen and all you plan to do, in hopes of remembering it later.

I found this in WoW as well.  When I return to a town there are the mailbox and vendor, inviting me to empty my bags and free myself of the worry of those.  There is the inn, inviting me to log out for a while.  The town is safe and there are usually no quests within the town itself.  Maybe there is a quest giver, but the exclamation point will be there tomorrow.  Unlike Civilization there is not a memory loss from logging out for a while.  However, bag space, despite seemingly to be a stopping point "bags are full, gotta go now", is instead a starting point to another task: empty the bags, knowing where to mail items, what to sell, perhaps what to go to the AH for, or if a bank alt handles the AH, then the bank alt has mail to open and bags to empty and auction to post.  Eventually there is a stopping point, when mail and bags are settled and auctions are up.  It may add another half hour or more, but it is eventually there and will nudge you off to dreams of epics.

Guild Wars 2 is different in its break points.  The anywhere AH sale and ability to deposit crafting materials means that I've not gotten into the habit of using bank alts, so I don't have that pull to jump around to clean up everything.  But this also means that cities do not stop me.  A city is just a waypoint away from more questing, so it's more of an inconvenient loss of silver than a note to stop.  Similarly, the heart system means that I won't return to a town to turn in a dozen quests and have that sense of completion and therefore of stopping.  However, since I am unaware of the existence of rested xp, wouldn't want it anyway, and there is no logout timer in the wild, I have little problem logging out wherever I am.  In that regard it is easier to log out, but there is no nudge toward doing so.  There is even a nudge to stay on: since the marketplace is global, there are always buyers and sellers, so odds are, someone is just about to buy your auction if you wait just a few more seconds and maybe you'll get some of your orders filled so you can craft with that and post it which will sell and in a little bit you'll post more buys and pick up those and why does my clock lie to me and claim that hours have passes when all I was doing was picking up my auctions?

I like having break points.  Call it paternalism if you like, but I think gaming would benefit from design bits such as break points which encourage more moderate play.  They don't at all force it, but they help.


Kring said...

In addition to that, GW2 cities are often not safe spots. They get attacked and if you just stood around there afk you might get killed. I love that. The world feels more alive if the "threat" doesn't stop at the border of every city. Then again, it's hard to call anything a "base" in GW2 besides the 6 big cities. All the other villages lack some stuff like TP access, bank or specific vendors (e.g. kits for karma).

Tesh said...

Yes, moments of respite are important to storytelling, game pacing and even just the basic psychological and physical needs of the players. All-action, all the time can be a conscious choice to ratchet tension, but we really do needs places to step and feel at home. If nothing else, it gives us a connection to the game, as we feel "at home" in those places. That's a good way to keep people playing, and happy with your game.

Keidot said...

I teleport back to Rata Sum every now and then, even if not logging out. I just like being "home" even if it is not necessary.
Additionally when I need a bank, TP or crafting station I usally go to Rata Sum aswell, at a cost of 3 silver if need be. Everything is nicely structured, gotta love it.

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