How much travel is too much?

One of the many details that came out of the discussion of the New WoW New Player Experience is that travel has been greatly reduced. There’re more flight paths and lots of NPC’s offer you a temporary mount to get from quest hub to questing grounds.

I think we can all agree that in Ye Olde WoW Darkshore had way too much traveling back and forth. LOTRO is another game that gets dinged on too much time spent traveling.

In my [it was a joke people!] WoW in 5 Years post I postulated a time when there was NO travel. Instead, the quests and scenery came to you. It’s pretty clear that none of us would really want that.

So what’s the perfect amount of travel? We don’t want to have our time wasted, obviously. For many of us time is our most precious resource. But at some point reducing travel time gets to a point where it begins taking away from the game.

Here’s what I, personally, like about traveling:
1) The chance to encounter other people. Now in today’s landscape of highly instanced quests and dungeons and automagical instance-joiners, I’m the old man waving his cane at the youngsters. I miss the old days when you’d be traveling from point A to point B, and yup, maybe grumbling under your breath about it, when you’d encounter a group of players taking on a beastie just a wee bit too hard for them. They’d give a shout and you’d join forces, help them defeat the Evil and then go on your merry way, perhaps after adding a few names to your friends list.

The less we travel, the less likely it is to have this kind of encounter. On the other hand hardly anyone fights in a group outside instances these days, I guess.

2) Exploration. I enjoyed trying to find the most efficient way between point A and point B, and discovering neat things that the game’s artists had left laying around for me to find. A crashed gnome flying machine deep in the woods of a swamp; one that appears to be there just to be a cool thing to find? I love stuff like that!

Of course, no one is stopping us from exploring randomly at any time, so this is an arguable ‘Pro’ in this discussion, but a good world builder can look at likely travel paths between locations and drop some surprises to be found along the way. And I do find that I sometimes get caught up in ‘keeping up’ with friends and thus don’t take time to stop and explore and having to travel could be a nudge in that direction, reminding me to stop and look around now and then.

On the other hand, there’s nothing in the world more boring than running back and forth from point A to point B and back to point A and never encountering other players or discovering new things, and honestly the ‘chance encounters’ that I so took delight in were the exception rather than the rule. We all quickly figured out how to get best use out of various ‘teleport home’ spells that most games give us.

Looking at WoW again, just from the point of view of it being so familiar… I sure don’t want to go back to the way Darkshore used to be. But I kind of miss those random encounters and the sense of distance and scale games used to have. When it took you 20 minutes to get somewhere…you knew you were way the f’ out there in the middle of the wilds. That felt like exploring and you’d tend to work a little harder at doing everything you needed to do before you made the long trip back.

I don’t envy game designers finding the right balance here, particularly since the right balance is going to be different for every player. I’m sure that somewhere there’s a player that thought my joke post sounded like a great new system. And I’m sure there’re people that really miss those epic, peril-fraught treks accross Sossaria (that’s the Ultima Online world, in case you didn’t know).

I like enough travel time to feel like, well, I’m traveling. But I don’t want to spend an evening getting from point A to point B, either (well, unless it’s an evening spent on new discoveries and quick adventures with random travelers). I think Fast Travel points once you’ve reached a distant place are a good compromise but they tend to quickly be known by all and suddenly you’re back to no one traveling on foot any more.

I’ve got an idea (with no clue how the mechanics would work) of some kind of Fast Travel system that worked on a sliding scale. The more often you traveled to a specific location, the most often you could Fast Travel there. Maybe when you’ve been there once you can Fast Travel back once/day. After you’ve visited 5 times you can do it once ever 4 hours. And when you’ve been there 10 times you can Fast Travel whenever you like. Because the more often you go somewhere, the less likely it is that you’re going to discovering something new along the way in subsequent trips.

Anyway, I’m just wondering if anyone else had an idea of what’s an acceptable amount of travel time in their MMOs?

16 thoughts on “How much travel is too much?

  1. You know me, exploration is 90% of my fun. So I intentionally choose the long way, or the way still not uncovered on my map, or even to walk over mount up many, many times in my adventures. I don’t think the game forces (mount quests aside) me to travel fast — it’s just there as an option when I choose it. And I’m glad it’s an option at a much younger age… you think Darkshore is bad, try running all over the dang Barrens! That was tedium defined by the time you were on your third trip back to kill the Queen Harpie, or tenth trip south for the Next Level of Whatever Quest. As you stated, there gets to be a point where even hardy explorers like me breath a heavy sigh and groan when a quest-giver sends me back to where I’d just been for the gazillionth time and it’s now a chore instead of a joy. So I like that there are now 5 birds per zone instead of 1 or 2, but by the same token, I tend to only use them to get home or back to where I left off.

    So Jaded m’dear, this is one of those cases where I’d just suggest you just do it your way, it’s okay to take the road less traveled, and stop worrying about what you think the designers meant for you to do. Cuz I can promise you, there’s still random bits of glee out in the middle of nowhere you’ll miss if you do stick to the obvious path. 😉

  2. I am definitely the explore-every-nook-and-cranny type. But I only like to do it once. On alts, I don’t necessarily need to do the whole exploration yet again. You right, it is a hard balance to strike. I was thinking the other night while exploring on my max-alt, “Dang, now I have to find all the new Flight Points!” lol

  3. Gwyn — Oh for sure I’ll play the way I want. This was more an academic question than anything.

    I do have to say, my strongest MMO memories revolve around traveling. Finding a player-made town out in the middle of nowhere in UO, traveling to Highhold (?) in EQ 1 because Cragsclaw needed some brick or something and that was the only place it could be obtained, even though we were all terribly underleveled to make the trip. Creeping around Stone Talon Peak fighting those salamander things and knowing how far from ‘home’ we are (until we later found the flight path up the road…doh!)

    And remember roaming the countryside of Rubi-Ka?

    Rowan – Yeah, and the total flip side: wishing tagging a flight path was an “account” thing, not a character thing!!

  4. Ha! I didn’t discover the Alliance FP at Stone Talon Peak until I was working on the Explorer achievement in WotLK.

  5. Heh, so like me, you’d run in from Darkshore through the goblin lumber camps and all that…? I did that a bunch of times before I found the FP.

  6. Not sure, honestly. I think I would come up from the Barrens or Nigel’s Point in Desolace. Astraanar (sp?) in Ashenvale was fairly close, too. Was there a quest that had you humping it all the way from Darkshore? I spent most of my time in Stonetalon as a hordie, in any case. I was recently there (this year), slumming and trying to get the Loremaster of Kalimdor ACH.

  7. You’re right, it was Ashenvale. I’m forgetting my place names. Left from Astraanar, took a pass through the mountains at the edge of the zone and went through that way.

  8. Best exploring ever was in Rubi-Ka. And those were the hugest zones ever, too. Talk about travel times, we’d go days sometimes before hitting a town again, just to avoid having to make that bloody run. And that was always a fine balance too, because if you didn’t go back to insure, then any death meant losing all the xp gained on that outing. Good times, I miss that kind of game play.

  9. Perhaps it’s because I work in the travel industry or perhaps just because I march to the beat of my own drum, but I totally separate travel from exploring. To me, “travel” is A to B. Exploring is just that. Do I occasionally start off traveling then switch to exploring? Absolutely! But that’s because travel in and of itself is boring. When I’m in the mood for exploring, I enjoy vast worlds. Vanguard comes to mind. But Vanguard is also my best example of travel interfering with gameplay when I joined a group and it took me 30 minutes to travel there! And that was even with using the Riftway system. 30 minutes the other guys had to stand around waiting on me while I rode my horse as fast as I could to get there. There is simply no excuse for that.

    On the other hand, when I’m exploring, it’s neat finding some obscure art asset someone plopped down hidden, but I’d much prefer if there were also some optional hidden “content” associated with it.

  10. So is the ideal a big world with lots and lots of insta-travel options? Do you think there’re enough explorer types to justify building content that won’t be seen except by people who choose to explore just for the fun of it?

    I absolutely remember (and not fondly) having to wait 20-30 minutes for a group member to arrive. Not fun to wait, and not fun for the one traveling either. Maybe everyone needs to have a ‘teleport someone to me’ option?

    Does anyone have an example of a game with too little travel? If you can instant travel anywhere, does it make the world seem too small?

  11. Yes! The “hardcore” (or perhaps it’s just everyone who bothers to comment on forums and blogs) seem to think in black and white. Either it’s lengthy (what they seem to think is “meaningful”) travel or it’s instant travel. I prefer both. At once. Give me a massive virtual world to play in and if I choose to travel and/or explore, let me. If I have somewhere to be NOW then let me get there NOW. There are lots of times in Guild Wars where I’ll just stay “in the world” and travel from zone to zone but if I need to get somewhere fast I can map travel. Typically if I group with someone it’s only a few mouse clicks and I’m standing next to them.

    If I remember correctly (and I may not) in the LOTRO beta originally there was not a quest to find the three trolls that were turned to stone in the Trollshaws. I stumbled upon them and thought “oh neat!” but not having read the books in nearly 20 years I had no idea they were of significance at the time. Later the quest was added as part of the storyline to go find them.

    Also the thing now with “explorer content” is that every iota of data gets posted to multiple sources on the internet. Many (too many?) MMO players are obsessive compulsive completionists and will go out of their way to accumulate all the out-of-the-way “explorer content” they learn about as well, especially if it gives some reward, achievement, title or some way they can prove they’ve done it.

  12. Fast travel is making the game worlds smaller. I wonder (LOTOR) how long in real time it would take one to travel (on horseback) From Northern Forochel to southern Enedwaith or from Thorins Hall to Dol Guldar in Mirkwood? Now everyone teleports around like some SF game.

  13. Perhaps some randomness of hidden caches or random roaming monsters that have unique items. These would not be in the same place when they respawned. give some real meaning to the exploration even though 20 players were in the same area earlier that week, you just hapened to get lucky and find the “shiney”.

  14. I’ll bet people who want lengthy, “meaningful” travel, don’t travel much in real life. I am all for exploring, but I spend too much time on airplanes and in hotels to want to deal with that in a game. meaningful travel in that sense is an oxymoron.

    Now if you were traveling with a group, doing things along the way, that would be meaningful. Getting on your virtual horse or griffin and walking away from the computer for thirty minutes (or worse, having to steer for that amount of time) is a waste of said time.

  15. Yeah but what do you think is more common among MMO-playing nerds… people who travel a lot, or people who mostly stay home playing games?

  16. I think travel would have meaning if the territory wasn’t so static. After a while most territory in MMOs ends up as flyover country between your quest giver and the quest. Or the dungeon, or the raid. In EQ2 when it first came out, Antonica was a dangerous area, mysterious, filled with exploration, and lots of other players you could help out. Nowadays, if you get a quest there, it’s annoying, since there is this huge swathes of territory with gray mobs that yo have to run across simply to get to the item you need to click on. It’s wasted space because you know there’s nothing in there that’s challenging, and – once the game has aged – you pretty much know you won’t run into anyone who needs help or will want anything to do with you.

    To make travel meaningful, the empty space has to have meaning. Travel without purpose is work/drudgery, and that’s why all modern games have been getting rid of it. Of course, that has the drawback of making the world seem smaller. So, I agree I’d like to see travel put back in the game, but it has to be structured so that that empty space still offers something to the player.

    From what I hear Rift may add meaning to the empty areas with its rift system, as these random events and enemies can appear anywhere. I’d like to learn more about that. Maybe Guild Wars 2 will up the ante further with its take on dynamic content as well. A game with a conquest mechanic like Eve Online keeps travel meaningful because who knows where my enemies might be cloaked between me and that station I’m heading towards ten jumps away.

    I think when travel has a PURPOSE or risk factor (i.e., you can’t just hit autorun, aim for the horizon, and go make a sandwich, like I have done in some zones in Final Fantasy XI), people will enjoy it.

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