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.
OZONE! Street dancer.