Ongoing Uru Review #4: A Brief Observation about Fun

Last week I got into the Aegura City area in Uru.

(Background: Cyan has not yet solved the slowdown issues in overcrowded areas, so Aegura was limited to 30 players at a time. (Now raised to 35.) It's almost always full, of course, so getting in is a matter of luck.)

As it happened, the slowdown bug wasn't bothering me that night -- because of a different bug. I couldn't see any of the other players in the City. We could all talk to each other -- the chat system was working fine -- but we couldn't see each other. And since my client wasn't trying to render any other character avatars, my frame rate was excellent.

Now of course there's been endless discussion (and ranting, and lecturing, and pleading) on the subject of these bugs. And when, and if, Cyan will fix them. I can't imagine anything's been left unsaid about that, so I won't try to say it.

Instead, observe this: I really enjoyed that evening.

I was exploring new stuff. (A lot of the City has been opened in the past couple of weeks.) And I was hanging out with other players. And it was great. Even though it was only a text-chat form of "hanging out". It still worked. We were running around, telling each other the great stuff we were finding. There's a simple hunt-and-find puzzle which Cyan has made available (in advance of the full Uru launch); we were helping each other that. We had to describe landmarks verbally instead of being able to lead each other around; but so what?

Exploring is fun. Exploring in company is really fun. And the definition of "in company" is flexible. We're people; we're good at connecting with other people, even over low-bandwidth channels.

You might say: then why bother to have multiplayer games at all? Just have a single-player game and an IRC window!

But this is my point. Forget Uru; imagine you're designing a new multiplayer adventure game. You really have a lot of flexibility. You can trade off a lot of realism, as long as players are communicating somehow. It'll still work.

You could, for example, accept a very sharp pop-up limit -- players only able to see each other if they're in the same room, or less than ten feet apart. You could have other players represented by simplistic models, or (if animation is costly) you could downgrade the animation. These resource limits are undesirable, but they won't destroy the game.

On the other hand, you can't interrupt verbal messages. Text chat (or voice chat, if that's your design) really defines the scale of player interaction. If people can see each other, but they can't talk, there's no community -- only dolls.

Uru's chat system has some interesting aspect. Players can join Neighborhoods, to form sub-communities within the Uru game. Each Neighborhood has a chat channel, which works anywhere in the game; if you're talking on that channel, every neighbor who is logged in can hear you. The scale of interaction is the entire game (at least, the entire Uru server) within your group.

Now, I haven't made much use of this. My primary Uru character has a solo Neighborhood, nobody else allowed to join. (Because it amuses me, that's why.) If my observation is accurate, there should be groups of players exploring disparate parts of the game -- not Aegura, rather areas with no population limit -- while still staying in contact via their Neighborhood chat channel. I should ask about this.

(Although conditions aren't ideal for this right now. Aside from Aegura, the only places open for exploration are the Ages from the single-player game, which have been available since mid-November. Nearly all of us have cleaned out their crannies long since.)

(The Neighborhood chat system does have one other disadvantage, for this sort of use: you have to coordinate with your neighbors to be playing at the same time. The great thing about Aegura, once you get in, is that you can hang out with whoever's there.)

(On the other hand, it may be that very populous Neighborhoods have the same advantage. If you always find several neighbors logged on when you log on, you always have someone to hang out with, no matter where you go. I really should create a secondary character to join a populous Neighborhood, to investigate this!)

(I think I'm out of hands now, so I'll stop.)

Last updated February 4, 2004.

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