Over at the Nerfbat Forums, a question was (poorly) asked about instances and zones. I say poorly asked because I think what the original poster meant to be the focus of the discussion is if people preferred the use of instances over shared zones, as well as zones versus a “seamless” world. EverQuest is probably the best most popular answer for zone based design, while World of Warcraft would be one people would recognize on the seamless world based design. In the grand scheme of things, both use instances, however for a more comprehensive instance based design you’d need to look at City of Heroes or Guild Wars.
I threw in my two bits on that thread, but the crux of my post, and that which relates to the title of this post, follows:
I’d love to see games mix it up… you put in a town, and outside that town is a zone, the zone is shared by everyone, maybe its huge, but inside the town you also put in a “raid” where your raid leader talks to an NPC and flags his raid for the “Defend the town” raid, and when the raid members leave town they don’t go into the shared zone, but instead go into an instance of that zone, or if the zone was huge just a section of that zone made as an instance to support the raid. Then, three expansions later you decide to implement an “Escort the king to Other Town” raid which uses the same outdoor zone, again as an instance, but this time the raid has to escort the king and his caravan to the other town at the far end of the zone, defending the king from waves of attackers.
I think games need to get more creative with their use of “space” and game/art assets. Designing a whole chunk of land to be used once in only one way just seems like a gigantic waste of effort.
That last paragraph really is what I want to ramble about. It surprises me how often games seem willing to spend so much time and effort building a zone or area in a game, and then don’t bother to reuse it. They’ll reuse item and NPC models left and right, just throwing tints on them to modify their colors, but they’ll spend a month designing a castle only to put one objective in it and never use it again.
The example I outlined above is something I’d absolutely love to see. Take a zone that is normally a shared hunting zone with animals and monster camps, the usual treadmilling trash mobs, strip it of the animals and camps and throw in an organized raid objective utilizing the same (and to the player, familiar) landscape but in new ways, or even take the original zone file and then build a fort in the middle of the forest that the players need to burn down.
I think the roadblock to this is the misconception that the player wants new stuff to be entirely new, but the truth is that for most players is just needs to be new “enough” and familiarity in some aspects can actually be comforting. Personally, while I do enjoy going into a new zone and learning new stuff, I think I’d also like going into an old zone with a new objective just about as much. I’d know the general lay of the land, that while we are currently approaching the enemy camp from the north, there is a path through the trees that will allow us to flank their position because its the path I used to use to approach the old goblin camp that used to be there.
That kind of reuse might also impact the desire of players to seek spoiler sites, not that the content itself would be immune to spoiling, but that familiarity with aspects of “new” content would actually foster a level of knowledge and confidence in the player that might keep them from feeling they need to look up information before continuing.
Anyway, it is something to think about.