I was reading this post by Syncaine on travel time in MMOs. And it got me musing a little bit. In real life (or meatspace) there are no instant teleports. You either get to drive, in which case you are occupied with the task of steering, or you are a passenger. In the case of the passenger you are essentially waiting. Waiting for transport to arrive, and then waiting for the place you intend to disembark. The act of travelling and travel time can thus become a moment of multi-tasking. In the digital age we all have our noses in a phone, a laptop, an ipod or a book (or a kindle!)
If you’re driving you might have music on, but in many places it is illegal to be fiddling with a phone (not to mention down right dangerous.) There are some correlations to this when travelling in WoW – you can fly up high and be ‘safe’ in a way that travellers in RIFT cannot, but if you tab out while flying you risk flying off the map and dying of fatigue. Or the curious situation of flying into invisible walls (such as the SKY) and coming back to the screen to find your mount squawking at you in an undignified fashion.
In RIFT you either teleport over great distances/between zones, or you run and weave a path through the dangerous mobs. Sometimes a zone has several teleports, enabling easier questing and crafting, other times it has one. WoW also has portals, although really the flight points to Vashj’ir aren’t that bad, and the hearthstone mechanic. Now the comments over at Syncaine’s article make some great points.
- Faster travel changes your perception of space
Every day I get the bus into a nearby town. I did this when I was a child going to school there for 7 years, and I’ve done it again as an adult going to work. I tried walking it once. Oh boy. It was a long walk, although the ridiculous thing is that I’ve walked further than that on hikes for fun.
- Group content always needs a way to get everyone in one place NOW.
So what is meaningful? ‘Lobby’ is an accusation often thrown at WoW by critics, and sometimes with all the portals I feel they may be right (do we really need one to Vashj’ir, or even to the Storm Peaks?) However is ‘meaningful’ travel time, as in where you actively have to drive, really fun? Other than an exercise in influencing your perceptions of space and the feeling of danger; is it a fun gaming experience? That’s going to be different for everyone, as some will relish the ‘feeling of danger’ and see it as part of the immersive experience, while others will see it as getting in the way of the immersive activities they prefer to do.
I can’t put this book down
One final thought. Both WoW and RIFT have a ton of in-game books. WoW mostly has them in the forms of static books that need to be read (and there are even achievements for reading a lot of them.) These books contain some brilliant snippets of lore (biased sources of course). There are also items you can hold in your inventory that you can read, but these tend to be grey items and not many folk hang on to them. In RIFT they actually have a book collection, allowing you to keep hold of the texts without cluttering up your inventory.
Something I’ve missed from RIFT was having a moment where I can open those books up and read them. For some reason they haven’t been compatible with crafting, so I can’t flick through the history of the Bahmi while Caerys smelts Titanium. And of course there are no flight paths enabling me to sit back and read a book while I travel from one end of the continent to the other. I won’t say this is a missed opportunity in RIFT, because most people would rather teleport instantly than be forced to take a flying taxi, but as a perpetual passenger in real life, a lot of my life is spent immersed in whatever it is I’m reading while I travel. (Or should that be engrossed?)
So the attempt to use travel to enhance immersion and sense of space, while it works, does make me smile. For me, travel is a moment to check out of the world I’m currently in, not something that necessarily engages me with the wider world. At least until I reach my destination.