The Pause That Refreshes

One of the worst things about MMOs, in my humble opinion, is the requirement usually for a block of uninterrupted time to play.  Uninterrupted is the key sticking point.  The pregant wife needs laundry carried up the stairs, a new episode of Fraggle Rock needs to go in to the DVD player, the dog dares you not to take him out, the roommate burns popcorn in the microwave, or your significant other decides to talk to you about the day “right now.”  All of these things are temporary.  The game just needs a pause.

I feel this feature is most necessary in persistent PvE zones commonly found in the vanilla MMOs.  I relished the days I could “pause” my instance in Guild Wars for an hour or two knowing no respawns would gank me while I was gone.  However, in a persistent zone where mobs need to be constantly re-fed for the grinder and things need to wander around to keep players alert, the pause button is hidden.

There are a few ways to cheat this without any suggestions.  The first is to play a class or race that can hide in plain sight.  I remember my World of Warcraft night elf days where I needed to take a quick break, and I would pop Shadowmeld to go do my business.  The workaround is not infallible because enemies can spot stealthed players if they try hard, but if the player is familiar with the pathing and line of sight of enemies, indefinite “pause” may be achieved.  Another way is to mess with line of sight.  In Lord of the Rings Online Mines of Moria there are quite a few nooks and crannies throughout the underdeep where enemies passing by will never get line of sight.  This is risky, though, because enemy line of sight is not a guaranteed thing.

Some MMOs have a pause feature built in.  As mentioned above, Guild Wars instancing allows players to carve out a safe spot for a period of time, but many games have respawns in instances.  Wizard101 has a unique feature where enemies will only attack while players are in the street making the sidewalks a kind of safe zone.

The best way to pause, however, is also the most knowledge intensive.  Many MMOs are huge, huge worlds, but within each sub-region there are usually mob-free zones.  It could be a huge staircase or an NPC hiding by a tree in the forest.  Either way the pockets of safety do allow players to take a quick bio without running 5 minutes back to a guarded quest hub.

A good developer will also pause the action in many instances or dungeons.  An NPC will stop leeroy-ing forward to await the player’s command to move on, or the ledge overlooking the boss’ courtyard will demarkate a place for freedom to discuss strategy unabated and the fight.

Either way, I think it is a small crucial but often overlooked feature where a developer really has to get into players’ minds in creating the area.  Obviously PvP areas and timed defense instances would usually be exempt, but for “normal” areas where a solo player spends most of the day, I think a pause is extremely welcomed.  As MMOs become more mainstream the developers will have to consider all the distractions of the real world, and I think the A-game developers will figure out ways to give a pause that refreshes.

–Ravious
OZONE! Street dancer.

12 thoughts on “The Pause That Refreshes

  1. Ethic

    Give me a port out to a safe spot and a port back and I’m happy. When I need to go afk it usually comes up unexpectedly so I need an immediate pause with the ability to quickly get back to where the action is.

  2. Finster

    In WoW, when I got flying mounts, this was definitely the best way for me to pause. Especially on a PvP server, there is no better way of “pausing” then launching straight up for several hundred meters. Although, for my lowbie alts, this becomes problematic.

  3. Lars

    A port to a safe spot usually means you have to run all the way back, and given how many quests require “meaningful” travel, that could be a lot of lost time. And in Guild Wars you still have wanderers that keep pathing while you are away.

    Certainly, we can’t expect a true pause button in multiplayer instances but why not have one in a personal instance where you are the only player? And furthermore, even have the server instance be saved temporarily to disk (similar to how persistent instances in EQ2 works), so we can even log off and log back on at a later date and continue exactly from the point we left off at.

  4. Tesh

    I like single player games for this reason, especially on the DS. I’ve put in something like 70 hours on FFTA2, just in 10-15 minute increments. I’m looking forward to playing for another 50 hours or so.

    When an MMO is built around sucking up huge blocks of time, it’s just not going to be something I can indulge in, no matter how fun it is.

  5. Andrew

    With some of the instances in LotRO you can take use of the ‘chat to NPC X’ moments as a form of built-in pause feature.

    One of the easiest ways to add in a pause in all games is to make players ‘invisible’ to enemies when AFK. Simple, easy, and would work just about anywhere (outside of instances only, perhaps). The only downside might be clearing out an area of enemies, going AFK, then returning to find that they had all respawned, surrounding you in the process. Also, if someone bumped your mouse or keyboard while you were gone it might all go badly, too.

    Still, it’s better than having to ‘port to safety whenever you need to do something.

  6. mbp

    How I miss Shadowmeld. It saw me through many a bio break.

    My general instinct at these times is to go off the path and aim for a high spot. A lot of mobs seem to be vertically challenged.

    Lotro can be cruel in this respect though, there are a number of regions that have no apparent safe spots or which have mobs with irregular or just very long patrol routes. Not fun to come back from dinner and wake up in a resurrection circle.

  7. DM Osbon

    Surely, in a fantasy MMO setting, more could be made of the ‘campfire’ scenario?

    Once a campfire is set then naturally it would draw attention to other players more than mobs but it could allow players to sit-out the game for whatever reason, safe in the knowledge that their character had a ‘time-out’ in a safe player created zone(timer driven & cool-down limited). Players joining the ‘campfire’ would only receive a fraction of the time left as a safe area. It could also act as a good area for RP activities too.

  8. Sente

    A campfire setting which could act as a temporary safe spot would be nice, which could be expanded on with various sizes and facilities – a bit like the ranger camps in pre-NGE SWG.

    But any facility to make the player intangible but in game would be nice, similar to exit the game but still be present. Spawns could be dealt with like the de-spawn feature of City of Heroes/Villains (mobs always despawn around the entrance/exit when someone exits from an instanced area). Or possibly have the option to be transported to a safe spot before becoming tangible again.

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