I am glad that forthcoming MMOs are stepping back from the precipice of the uncanny valley– a revulsion to the near real. Quite a few upcoming MMOs are hedging towards stylized graphics, ala Team Fortress 2 or dare I say World of Warcraft, which are also less taxing on system requirements than photo realistic styles. The stylized feel for things also gives the MMO artists another opportunity in creating some artistic moments through simplicity.
Wizard 101, for example, is a very graphics light game. It doesn’t have huge polygon counts or untold amounts of shaders, but it does have style. It’s simple and clean, filled with teenage wizardry, and fairly evocative spells. Even in the age of Aion and Crysis, Wizard 101 still has some moments that made me appreciate the artistic direction. The spells are the obvious choice, but I want to focus on the level design.
In my play through Wizard City and Kroktopia most of the PvE zones have been a street or street-like tomb with buildings and props off to the side. There is the occasional tree or sarcophagus, but the space is not really much for looking. Most of it is actually rather mundane. It really just sets the atmosphere. However, in nearly each zone the level artists made sure to add a stop and stare moment. In Wizard City it might be a portion of the zone torn asunder with pieces magically floating in the distance, or deep below in Kroktopian tombs it might be a cave with a quiet lightning storm below the skinny stalagmites the wizards stand on. I do not think that these moments would be so evocative without the simplistic baseline the rest of the zone portrays.
Lord of the Rings Online, on the other hand, is debateably one of the most beautiful and atmospheric MMOs. Yet, how many vistas and painstaking creations get lost in the clutter. I was very excited to walk in to the Prancing Pony for the first time as a young lad. I stepped through the door, saw Butterbur, and was thereafter sensually overwhelmed. There were patron NPCs, “roleplayers,” countless tables, a fireplace, things on the wall, maybe even wooden or antler-built chandeliers. I focused on the thing with the quest icon above its head. Any stop and stare moment was completely lost in the business of the place.
The most picturesque moments on Lord of the Rings Online, for me, have been the interplay between the sky and the distant landscapes, or a night upon Amon Raith, or finding a quiet fishing hole. The more active the environment whether through props or moving players or NPCs, the less stunning it becomes.
I have great respect for the artistic minds that create levels above and beyond mere game design. The whole zone becomes a type of symphony having many active allegro and vivace moments that come from movement, combat, and realistic business, but I think it is equally important to have a holding coda as well. The base tempo for each zone will definitely affect the spikes in either direction.
obliged to be industrious