If you’ve ever lived in Chicago as I have, you know that the mass transportation in that city can be a bit…challenging. There’s the CTA “L” line, or elevated train, which gets you around downtown Chicago. There’s the Metra train, which goes out to the suburbs. And I think there’s another CTA rail line that takes you to the airports. I have to confess that during the 7 years that I lived in the area, I never did quite get the whole system figured out. The point is that sometimes getting where you need to go can be expensive, confusing and tedious.
So why do game designers feel the need to make transportation in their virtual worlds expensive, confusing and tedious? Don’t we get enough of that in real life?
My first dedicated MMO experience was Dark Age of Camelot. Perhaps things have changed since I last played the game over 5 years ago, but back then getting around in Albion, Hibernia or Midgard was a giant PITA! Yes, there were teleporters in the major hub areas, and your character could eventually purchase a mount. But the majority of the game was spent taking the public transportation, which consisted of watching your character riding a horse. For a very…long….time. Some of the longer horse routes make the flight times in World of Warcraft look like a jog around the block. It was tedious, boring and unnecessary. How much fun can you really derive from looking at the back of a horse’s butt for 20 minutes?
Speaking of horse’s butts, let’s talk about the transportation options in World of Warcraft. Here’s a quiz for you: You’re a level 60 human warrior standing in the middle of Gadgetzan. You own conventional and flying mounts, but you’ve recently used your hearthstone, so you can’t teleport to your bind point for another 30 minutes. You need to get to Zangarmarsh on the Outland continent. Quick! How do you get there? And how long will it take you?
The recently released children’s MMO, Free Realms takes a refreshing approach to game travel: Open your map, click on where you want to go, and *poof* you’re there. Want to meet up with friends in the game? Click on their name, select “teleport” and you’re instantly standing next to them. It couldn’t be easier, and it makes the game a lot more enjoyable. You can still be pedestrian and explore the world on foot to your heart’s content. But you’re not forced to do so.
Which makes me wonder, why don’t all MMOs make transportation this easy? Sony realized when they were creating Free Realms that they needed to make “getting to the fun” as simple as possible, or kids would quickly lose interest. But developers seem to think that we adults ENJOY tedium, or at least they believe that we’re willing to tolerate it. Sure, it’s fun to explore. But at what point does ‘exploration’ become an imposed potty break?