Airlocks

Continuing through classic WoW, the zones have great diversity between them but little within. You notice that each zone has its own palette, although it may take some reflection to notice how thoroughly and well that is done. I will get back to within-zone sameness another day, but let’s discuss for a moment how you execute the palette swap.

The problem is non-trivial. The seasons change as you cross onto a new map, but few comment on the walk from the perpetual winter of Dun Morogh to the perpetual spring of Loch Modan. You must have noticed at some point, but did you notice when the transition happened?

Some of this is gamer suspension of disbelief: we are used to having everything change when we get to a new level of the game, and moving to a new zone is the MMO equivalent. The game environment also facilitates this the same way it keeps you on the theme park quest path: channelization. How many zones have wide-open borders that you can traverse, rather than walls of impassable mountains with narrow openings?

Those openings can become rather like tunnels for about a draw distance, so that you see big rocks covering the transition point. The transitions to and from Loch Modan really are tunnels, enclosing you so that you cannot see the set being swapped, like taking an elevator in Portal. In other zones, see bridges and rivers serving a similar purpose. You may note this as a problem at the border of Westfall: river and bridges, yes, but it is brief enough for you to see the transition. On the way in, there are quest-givers to distract you, but Duskwood makes it look like the world ends across the river.

Touring through some other games of my acquaintance: City of Heroes does the same thing, complete with loading screens. Asheron’s Call never does, since you can run everywhere from anywhere, and there are large areas over which you can watch the land change. The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™ is mostly open, with channelization into the lategame zones and the ones added post-release. The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two: Mines of Moria™ channels everything, but it is set in caverns anyway. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates has separate islands, with boats as loading screens (WoW does the same at points). A Tale in the Desert takes the same approach as Asheron’s Call, with some really impressive geography reflecting years of effort from volunteer world-builders.

: Zubon

Impassable hills are also good for hiding the Potemkin village nature of most of the landmass. Cataclysm needs to re-do the whole landmass anyway so flying mounts cannot show that there is nothing behind the backdrops.

6 thoughts on “Airlocks”

  1. Hmm interesting post, I hadnt really thought about it or indeed noticed it before but you are right. As you state the best example of this is the use of tunnels outside dun morogh.

  2. DarkFall, being huge and seamless, also uses the AC approach. You can see the transition of the areas, but it never gives off that ‘you are now entering a new zone’ feel. They also save the most extreme changes (snow, desert, badlands, jungle) for the four large islands in the corners, while the very center of the map is a very fitting black/dark area that gives off an ominous feel when you get near it.

  3. Outland is a special case, since it’s REALLY is a patchworld at the edges of reality. I dont think that the zones it’s made of are really adjacent in classic geographic terms – they are probably still located on their original planets and the “borders” between them are just miles wide (or, infinite) planes of loose portal magic – remnants of the world-tearing spells cast at the end of warcraft 2. How do you measure distance when portals exist anyway? The distance from Stormwind to Irongorge is exactly the distance to the closest friendly mage lvl 40+. Hell, Zangarmarsh and HP dont even have to be in the same galaxy to be neighbours in the Outland.

    And that’s why outland rocks.

  4. Outland is/was one planet, it’s just been wracked by magical energy. The overall layout matches what was known of Outland before the portal storms, too.

    On the main topic, one weird counterexample to the way that zones normally work is Borean Tundra, which is made up of several discontinuous subzones with (excepting Coldarra) no “gateways” between them. You just crest a hill then suddenly the grasslands give way to steam pools or muck-filled ravines. Even looking at the map gives the same patchwork impression as Wow does as a whole. In fact, it even softens the “hard edge” to Dragonblight by starting the snow much earlier: just after the Taunka Village, before Death’s Stand.

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