Pure Exploration

Hopefully the personal story acts as a guide through the zones because that will be necessary. Players need more purpose than pure exploration… — Ravious

He is probably right, but I wonder.

The first generation of graphic MUDs had far less guidance. I started with Asheron’s Call, which had almost none. There was no quest book. Some NPCs would trade for something in a dungeon or from a monster, and that was how most quests were structured. Some locations had stories that you could follow. For the most part, though: here, have a world, go nuts. (I could not tell you the current state of Dereth.)

We moved away from that pretty immediately. Asheron’s Call 2 was organized by vaults the way The Lord of the Rings Online™ has its epic story, although it was a ways from the now-familiar on-rails quest hub structure. A Tale in the Desert added levels and EVE added certificates to help guide people. Can I hope that Darkfall is a last sandbox without a trail of breadcrumbs?

I understand the desire for guidance. I know the feeling of “so now what?” But I also liked the Asheron’s Call feeling of deciding what I want to do tonight. It was more of scattered attractions than theme park rides. And that left us wondering what else me might find if we ran fifteen minutes in a random direction.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Pure Exploration”

  1. The problem with the viewpoint that you need to ‘guide’ players through zones, hold their hands, is that most games now a days take this TOO far.

    Ideally a quest would tell you that you need to take the northern road until you get to the town of so and so, or some other landmark.
    That landmark should be pretty far away.

    Meanwhile there should be all sorts of wilderness and other things that you pass along the way. All this should be enticing to the player to go off the beaten path and explore.

    Games now a days though, the quests take you to every possible point of interest in the zone. The cave to the east, the old witch house on top of the southern hill, the shipwreck down on the western beach.
    You get your hand held to each and every one of those.

    There is nothing to ‘discover’ or ‘come upon’ anymore. Everything that is interesting in the world has a quest that leads you right to it and tells you “Please go fetch my necklace in the awesome hidden cave system and funky dragon den to the west behind the big oak tree.”


    1. Not in WoW. I’ve come across quite a few interesting places that didn’t have any quests that sent me there. Might be fewer places than in other games, but it isn’t as bad as you say either.

      1. As a general rule, if there’s an interesting place in WoW, there’s a quest that sends someone there; it might just be the other faction or a different class.

  2. I definitely remember those directionless days. I played a MUD called MUME from 1996-2001ish and I don’t think I saw every room that game had to offer (I think there was over a million).

    Community was a big thing back then because thats who you turned to for answers. The in-game chat channels were full of interesting and informative conversation.

    Then again, we had maybe 200 people playing the game at peak times split between the dark and light sides.

    I think that speaks to a couple important things: The smaller community is tighter and more helpful and a directionless MUD, even a very popular one, really only appeals to a small niche crowd. I think the same can be said for MMOs.

  3. Direction and a direct, hand-holding patch from start to finish are two different things though.

    For instance, Darkfall does have quests which direct you to mob camps or a dungeon. Thing is, once you complete that quest, the mob camp or dungeon still has value to you, which is radically different from a game like WoW, where once you complete a quest hub, you never return.

    If anything, the quests in Darkfall simply show you the local neighborhood, but what you do once you move in is still totally up to you. WoW is a cruise, with every destination pre-planned, and at every stop you are told exactly how much time you have, what to go see, and when to be back on the boat to move along like the good little tourist you are.

  4. I do remember here’s a world go nuts, and when you stumbled across a quest it was almost treasure itself. Of course you savored that quest and made sure you read every part, like a hungry person with a jelly doughnut. You would cover a lot of ground because you didn’t want to miss out on the “what if”.

    I like the idea of getting with friends and deciding to head to X city. You stumble on a few small quest along the way. When the questing is done you find yourself needing to camp for the night, so you camp in a small village and will try for City X another day.

    It did have it’s moments.

  5. I loved Asheron’s Call for the unassisted wandering it enabled, but their monthly events had me ragequit after I was discovered by a level 70 skeleton captain in a level ~20 middle-of-nowhere and lost the composite bow I’d spent a month making.

    I have, however, enjoyed the same sort of wandering in A Tale in the Desert (possibly moreso due to the social nature of the pilgrimages) and Vanguard.

  6. I think the problem with exploration and such in most current MMOs is the level system. There’s very little incentive to explore, and considerably much more to follow quests or camp spawns. More than that, the linear leveling system essentially forces you into specific zones, and makes other zones trivial after a certain level. The rush to the level cap emphasis really ruins the feeling of a world, especially when the designers designed the game to support this.

    EVE is actually fairly good in this sense. When I log in, I rarely if ever feel any need/pressure to actually DO anything. My character is advancing at it’s steady, plodding pace whether I log in or not, so when I’m playing I do whatever seems fun at the time rather than what will get me ahead.* Unfortunately, EVE has very little to explore.

    *Of course, making isk (cash) replaces grinding levels for a fair portion of people playing the game, especially for new players who don’t quite ‘get it’ yet.

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