Marc Nottke at Massively writes his last column on “phasing” for MMOgology, a column that had a very good run. Phasing is a mechanic in a persistent MMO world where prior to some event horizon players are all in phase alpha of a zone. After the world-changing event, players belong to the phase beta club. A town that players once loved is burnt to the ground, there may be new mobs, new quest-givers, etc. in the beta phase.
The problem with the big MMOs current use of phasing (namely World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online to a much lesser extent) is that the community is partitioned. The door goes one way, folks. When you raised the ire of the enemy and your city was burned, well you can’t go back in time to see the city unburned. That would be silly. Now it’s time to eke the new world order out of the ashes.
Guild Wars phased the world between the starting area and the rest of the game with the first offering, Prophecies. Players refused to leave. They stayed in phase alpha, and to some degree – as much as is possible in Guild Wars – built a community there. This is an extreme, but it does highlight the dangers of phasing. People are not happy when people in the beta phase club cannot come back and group up with the slower alpha phase club. Developers therefore have to be careful to limit the scope of the alpha phase in width and depth. Areas unaffected by the event should not be partitioned, and players should not have to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to pass through to beta phase. More thoughts after the break.
What I want is more of a photon phasing, where the only thing that really changes is what I see. It’s nice to have new mobs, quest givers, etc., but what about all the small things that really add up. We’ve all stolen that statue (which momentarily disappeared), killed that guy (who momentarily died), or buried bodies (which momentarily turn into dirt mounds), and when we run by a few minutes later there are those statutes, guys, and rotting bodies for the next chump. Would it be too much to ask to have the server tell my client that phase beta of those things are there? Instead of the server telling my client to show the dead body model, have it forevermore tell my client to show the buried ground model.
Lord of the Rings Online does this to a minimal degree because quest givers will yell out things to players that have completed the quests in order to achieve some faux phasing. “Thank you, Bobthefarmer, for killing the orcs. Our camp seems much safer now.” No one else sees this. They might get the same message for their character if they completed the quest to turn on that phrase, but those that haven’t completed the quest get nothing. It is personal viewsight phasing. Photon phasing.
Another suggested use of phasing that needs more work would be interzone phasing. A player beats a quest that “clears the cave of rabid wombats including the wombat queen.” In most perisistent zone MMOs, if that player returns to that cave the wombats will all have returned. I think it would be cool if the server decided that players who had vanquished the wombat cave saw no wombats in the cave. The server would not bother to “create” the wombats for the players in the cave. If the player wanted wombats to return, a simple chat with the quest giver (“Have the wombats returned?”) would return the cave to phase alpha for that player. The problem occurs when a player in phase alpha comes to the cave with a player currently exploring the cave in phase beta. Does the server only show wombats to player alpha? Does player beta see player alpha fighting air? Etc. If a game designer smarter than this humble armchair poser figures out how to make interzone phasing, I think it will send shockwaves through the MMO genre.
I think phasing is a great mechanic, but it has to be expertly used. I do not think it is, as of yet, viable to replace instancing.
looked into the eye of this island