On Making a Tutorial

tutorial-dash-evade source Five years ago, I wrote a post here basically complaining about game tutorials. Having spent the last year on Cloudbuilt alone, and spending the slight dev time I had on its tutorial level (I had a handful of other things to do), I believe it’s time to explain myself to my 5-year-younger self.

In other words, consider this a “making of a tutorial level”.

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Travelling in MMOs

The 1st of Mars last year, I wrote a post about MMOs and time-waste, where I – among other points – wrote: “For instance, you get a quest to kill some bears right outside town. Now, this town is on the top of a mountain, and the bears are down in the alley[sic], so you’ve got to get down that mountain to kill bears and then back up. Sure, this sounds like a small thing, and it is. It is when traveling includes flying all over the world back and forth taking several minutes for nothing that it, in my opinion, gets bigger. Or when I have to run down that same mountain the tenth time. Why can’t I just teleport around, moving to the target instantly? It’s not like I won’t have to know where I’m heading to make a precise estimation of where I’m about to teleport.”

Sometimes, the world behaves in mysterious ways. Yesterday, Rock Paper Shotgun (RPS) posted an article asking why you can’t teleport in MMOs. Knowing I’ve asked the same, and during this year of education might have found a few answers, I feel I could make a post going a bit further into the subject. Some of the link’s comments made a lot of sense, as well, so I might bring a few quotes from there.

The perception of speed

The first reason springing to my mind is how the perception of speed is relative to itself. For a real-life example: Imagine a distance you bike or take the car in very often. You start to get a sense of how long this distance is. Imagine this vehicle would break down, and you’d have to walk. This would feel like taking incredibly much time. Now imagine you’d use to walk said distance, and instead one day take the car. The distance would be over in no time at all!

Now, of course, this is not only the perception of speed, but the speed itself. But when you’re used to a certain speed, be it the car, the bike or the walk, it becomes the norm, and you compare the new speed with the one you’re used to. Being able to teleport in a game, any game, would quickly make teleporting the norm to which any non-teleport transportation would feel like a snail slowly crawling forward. In short, being able to travel instantly would be more frustrating then travling slow to start with.

The tension

Anyone who has been ambushed or “ganked” in an MMO knows what I’m talking about already, but let’s explain it and elaborate why this is a good thing.

MMOs with a free PvP element usually attract people who take every chance they get to kill other players, the easier prey the better. The prey is usually “ganked” after this has happened, if tends to be a bit frustrated as they hadn’t counted on being ambushed. After awhile, this creates a tension for said player, close to paranoia. You are always prepared to be ambushed, never let your guard down and never let a potential enemy get a good opportunity to kill you. This is a part of the social aspect of the game, and although it frustrates some, it’s an important part of the game.

The best defence against being ambushed like this tends to be to either move a lot faster then the ambusher, or be out of range so they can’t hit you. WoW’s flying mounts did this, and consequentially killed the tension while you were on your mount (there’s no such thing as a Anti-Air turret in WoW), although it just increased it to a level of powerlessness while you hadn’t. As you may already have guessed, being able to travel instantly would multiply this indefinitely. No tension for the teleporter, a feeling of powerlessness for the other.

Meet new people

The upper side of the “social game”-coin is that you run into strange new people and might get new friends. This is partly up to the players themselves, but also to the game-mechanics. If everyone is too focused on reaching their goals, they won’t bother talking to others except if it furthers their goal, and then they’re business-partners rather then friends. Also, if they don’t have any reasons to meet, they won’t. This is one reason to why there’s things such as instances, group quests and public quests in these games, and it is one of the points I got criticised for in my post on “time-waste”.

Anyway, instant travel comes into the picture pretty easily. If  you have places to meet up, there’s also space between these, and sometimes people get a chance to run into each other during said travels. Making them instantaneous erases all such chances.

The Hardware

I’ll simply quote RPS-commentator Theoban on this: “If you walk around in an MMO, even run, even fly, the game data is loaded into your RAM and the area behind you is unloaded. This leads to MMOs being very RAM intensive, more than any other genre of game out there.

If you port however, it has to remove all that data and reload all the other data of the next region. It’s almost like logging out then logging back in again for the amount of information that has to pass not only from your RAM but through your network adapter.

I thnk the lack of porting in MMOs is frankly because the average user’s internet connection isn’t up to it yet, and neither is their RAM (meaning they’ll have to wait ages for the loading/unloading of data). Remember, we’re only just getting to the area where 2gb of RAM is considered normal.

Give it a few years and I can see this happening. Just not yet.”

Conclusion

There’s several reasons why instant travel, how tempting it may sound on paper, in practice wouldn’t be the best of features. On the contrary, making travel slow but interesting (I believe it’s the lack of interesting things that makes it boring, not the travel itself) is in the best interest of these games. But, if so, I would almost demand decent directions so I don’t run to the wrong place. That’s just… bad.