Photon Phasing

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

22 thoughts on “Photon Phasing”

  1. I love the idea, but one of the issues we’ve had a bit with phasing is how difficult it is to go back and help someone else with a quest that’s in a different phase.

  2. Ever since I first heard about how Guild Wars was going to work, even though it never came close to what I was hoping, I’ve considered this the Holy Grail of MMOs for me. If someone can make this work it will be an amazing thing to see. The Death Knight experience in WoW was fantastic and one can only hope that it bodes well for the future of this type of technology.

  3. Although it’s not nearly as conducive to a good conversation as a flame would be, I have to say I completely and utterly agree. Phasing is interesting.. but in just about every instance I’ve seen it used in WoW, the circumstances would have been better served I think by instancing.

    The other problem I have with phasing is that what is supposed to be a cool experience for your character, can often be ruined by the fact that its’ still shared by other characters in that phase. So while I watch Arthas and the head of the Blood Knight’s duke it out, DrDeathAlot is jumping up and down in the middle of their models.

  4. Final Fantasy XI Online had plot events that would only work for you once, and then the world would be a little different — for you. But you could go back and help someone with their pre-plot event quest; I think you had to be grouped with them and they had to initiate it.

    I DON’T remember if there were any graphical changes, now that I think about it. There was this grave in a graveyard near San d’Oreo, but I don’t remember if it changed after you defeated the ghost.

  5. Everquest 2 uses some of the techniques you mention.

    For instance, in Darklight Woods, there is a series of quests from Vornlin B’Vytyl at Wanderlust Fair that revolves around dealing with the mushroom folk in the zone. As you progress through the quest series, you accidentally bring the infrestation to the camnp, and it gets progressively worse. Other players see the camp as determined by their own quest-state.

    EQ2 often has non-fightable NPCs that can only be seen and interacted with if you’re at the right point in a quest, one example being the Erollisi-day NPCs who would only be found outside Qeynos/Freeport until you completed their first quest, whereupon they would be found at the Antonican grove.

  6. FFXI doesn’t have actual phasing, what it has are cutscenes specific to each player. If you do a quest or mission, the cutscene plays just for you. If other people do it, they each individually see the same cutscene, unless they did it before and chose to skip it. To an outside observer you are standing stock still.

    Nothing about this changes the world for the player more than a normal quest would.. If you see a cutscene of the Yagudo attacking Fort Karugo en masse, when you get out of it they won’t be in front of you duking it out with Mithra and Tarutaru. The area will be the same as you left it. You just gain access to an instanced area specifically for the fight that follows it.

    However what this does allow is for cinematic cutscenes impossible to render in the in-game world. You can show bahamut and every greater wyrm in the game hovering over you and friendly npcs with the cutscene, to try and do that in game for everyone to see would be hard to impossible.

    I haven’t had any experience with phasing otherwise. I just wanted to comment on how ffxi works.

  7. @Arkenor or the hilarious thing in the TD newbie quests where as you complete quests to bring plants to the plant quest guy, he stacks them around him until by the end, he’s surrounded by the plants you have harvested!

    But you know, it isn’t innovation until WoW does it.

  8. @Tipa: Credit for innovation does not always go to the first to do it. It often goes to the first game to bring it to you. When you first see something, it is assumed innovation and from then on you will credit the game that showed it to you first.

  9. I have been an advocate of this for years. However perhaps the developers are scared of keeping such info on the client file as it makes it a teeny bit larger. You need a boolean for each phasing item if not more than that. Still its pretty easy to see that the technology is here to do it, its just something else lacking.

  10. The key with the wombat cave is probably only to show wombats that are engaged in combat; phase beta players can see the wombats the phase alpha players are fighting but not any other ones. Group questing would be the beta player seeing this big empty cave, phase alpha player yelling, “Watch out, it’s a wombat!” and then beta saying, “Where? Oh, there! Let me help with that.”

    I suppose that makes sense with generic mobs – there can always be stragglers after you kill the orc tribe or “a few that got away” after you wipe out the death bugs – but it’s more problematic with unique named monsters. An easy way is for alpha player to see “Dr X” and beta to see “The Ghost of Dr X” and handwave anythink that that lacks consistency-wise in the interests of good gameplay.

    And of course, as you suggest, the ability to fully reset to alpha is key, otherwise you have beta players waiting for alphas to engage enemies they want to see but can’t in order to kill-steal.

  11. What about going one step further and having fully dynamic quests? The Wombat cave is empty, and will be fore every player. However, its a good cave to Wombats, and Wombats may well infest it in the future. Depends on local Wombat population, breeding conditions and the like.

    Maybe now its clear of Wombats, some bears will take residence? Maybe now you’ve killed the bears too, some moonshiners will setup an illegal alcohol still. Who knows…Depends on the dynamic conditions of the PERSISTANT world.

    Funny how the word persistant doens’t mean the same thing when applied to MMO’s. It relates to the world being the same each time you visit. It relates to the player character state and the things you’ve achieved.

    Funny how it doesn’t relate to the world recording the things you’ve done via photon phasing (to quote Ravious).

    Maybe its time to change the whole shebang.

  12. @Steve Conlan: I fully agree. Public Quests in WAR were the start, I think, but the event cycle that Guild Wars 2 claims it will have is what I want most.

    I think that it is still important in a dynamic condition oriented persistent world to have “win conditions,” where that wombat cave is cleansed… for a time.

  13. What’s funny Steve, is that UO in 97 had that exact eco system, where if the players killed too many sheep the local wolf population would push further and further into town looking for food. If the wolves were killed, the local dragon would need to attack players to eat.

    The problem was, the players never cared and slaughtered every sheep and wolf they found, then complained when the dragon killed them and they lost their loot. Shortly after the system was removed for the now traditional spawn system. Yay players…

  14. Wow, that is amazing. Learning a bunch about less-known games with great (failed) innovations. But, I think it is telling with UO. The dynamic-ism should be created so that players WANT to push the world, not be punished for it. Sure, in the UO example the players would have killed every sheep and wolf willy nilly, but the feeling that you are moving towards something you want to achieve I think is important.

  15. What is this “Guild Wars 2” you speak of. I remember talk of some game like that, yet it was something like


    I think soon passed.

    (Now, BTW…Bears MUST DIE!!!)

  16. @Syncaine Its funny you mention that. Every cool innovation I come up with for MMO design, or game mechanices, someone tells me “Oh, UO had that”. I feel like they blazed the path, now unknown, and perhaps the wheel is slowly being reinvented.

    @Ravious I kindof agree. But I’m thining about the title of this blog. I really think we need to leave that Cave of Wombats alone. Why should we kill them really? Perhaps its a moral choice….Perhaps you might sell your soul for money.

    I’m really thinking of a new paradigm for MMO gaming. Why must it be kill ten rats, clean the cave of wombats, kill 40 Kobolds (Everquest II). Is it so hard to start blazing another path to innovation? Perhaps the MMO making companies out there are afraid to learn the lessons that UO learnt. Perhaps those companies are afraid to fail.

    Perhaps its us players ourselves who have created a playing field that is stagnating, with little room left for innovation or surprises.

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