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Player-driven Fast Travel

gfaydark spires

Greater Faydark Wizard Spires from the original EverQuest

Graev and I were reminiscing tonight about fast travel in the original EverQuest.  These days, fast travel is known as a WoW Mage’s teleport to any city, or a hop on a flight path followed by an afk session.  Fast travel used to be a truly player-driven interactive and social experience.

Teleporting was a way for players to develop relationships with other players, create a reputation as someone who is helpful, reliable, or simply capable, and ultimately a way to make some fantastic money.  Not everyone could teleport because not every class had the spells.  Only Wizards and Druids were able to teleport, but that was fine since in reality not everyone wanted to play those classes.   For many players, the ability to teleport alone was reason enough to trudge through the first 29 levels just for the ability to finally be able to teleport people to fairly common locations.  For others there wasn’t a desire to play a kiting, mostly solo class that could sometimes do well as an off-healer, or a class that was basically a glass cannon.

This type of player-driven fast travel is necessary to help create a sense of a huge world that requires actively seeking the aid of someone else.  Having the obligation to have to find another player creates scenarios for the aforementioned social dynamics to occur, and it also creates a reason to risk the trip.  That danger involved with crossing the world fuels the need for the portal, but it also gives a reason for a dangerous world to be rewarding and begging for exploration.

In general, for player-driven fast travel to be done right, teleport locations should be generalized, and not specifically to cities.  That’s what made the EQ portal system so robust.  Some of the Druid Rings or Wizard Spires were out in the middle of nowhere important, requiring the traveler to still make a lengthy journey, yet they cut off an hour or more of boat rides and running.

Here’s hoping EverQuest Next, EverQuest 3, the supposed greatest sandbox of all time, takes a page from their own best hits and brings back the player-driven fast travel.

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Comments

  1. WoW has lost a lot of this but it did have Mage portals for the player driven aspect – much more important than their ability to teleport themselves as you mention, was their ability to teleport others.

    The removal recently of automatically gaining flight points on new characters may cause an upswing in “LTB portal 7 stars” or similiar once more. Also I liked the inverted system of Warlock summons – the idea of Warlocks acting as a kind of fantasy logistical support by dragging players to a dungeon or quest area.

  2. Travel has always excercised me. I think that most virtual worlds would benefit from slower or more dangerous travel. So I was pleased to hear that Camelot Unchained will have only limited fast travel options. Even as a mage, I feel that teleporting is too easy, and makes the world smaller for me.

  3. Like you, I played Everquest heavily throughout the period when the only way to travel fast was to have ports or by ports. While I share your general appreciation for how that system worked and I certainly accepted and enjoyed it at the time, surely it has to be recognized that the combination of reliance on other players for fast travel was one of the most complained-about aspects of the game at the time.

    Maybe it was different on your server, but on most of the servers where I played (among them Luclin, Brell, Ant. Bayle and Lanys T`Vyl) porting druids and wizards were not widely seen as “helpful” or “reliable” but as, at best, mercenary and at worst exploitative. OOC chat was perpetually filled with often bitter arguments about porting and so were the forums.

    EQ gradually added a whole slew of other ways to travel that put the decision in the hands of the player doing the traveling and while there has always been a body of opinion that presents these changes as “trivializing” the game, for most players who went on playing EQ, the Luclin spires, Plane of Knowledge, Guild Portals, log in to home city, Veteran reward clickies and all the various “get you where you want to go” options were seen as welcome quality of life improvements.

    Ironically it seems most of the players who complained about the dumbing down and trivialization that these conveniences brought moved on to WoW and later MMOs whose stock-in-trade was increased convenience, not least in travel.

    I actually liked the Luclin era best, myself. I thought it was the perfect compromise between convenience and immersion when it comes to travel. I think that’s very much the minority view, though. Almost everyone I played with at the time was 100% in favor when Plane of Knowledge portals arrived.

  4. Sine Nomine says:

    “Could sometimes do well as an off-healer” has to be the most old-school MMO phrase I have heard in a long time. Talk about windex for even the most incredibly nostalgia-tinted glasses around.

  5. “Ironically it seems most of the players who complained about the dumbing down and trivialization that these conveniences brought moved on to WoW and later MMOs”

    What is ironic about that? People move on, they recognize each game they play sets the bar even lower for required player intelligence, and they complain.

  6. WoW mage teleport to a short list of selected locations is bad.
    EQ Druid teleport to where-ever Druids teleport to is good.

    Got it.

    Wait, what?

  7. Blargh, sometimes I swear you are friggin obtuse on purpose!

    I explained it simply enough in the post, but I’ll word it different and hope you key into what I’m trying to say.

    Mages in WoW can teleport to cities, directly to where people want to go. Azeroth is a very, very safe place. You can flight path and afk across the world, or even take a portal from any capital city to another, with absolute ease. The world feels small. Getting a teleport in WoW isn’t a big deal, and often players don’t develop social credibility (as outlined in the post) for offering their services.

    In EQ, Druids and Wizards teleport to general locations within zones, often still a good trip to where people want to go. There aren’t flight paths, so the only method of fast travel is provided by other players. The world is dangerous — often way too dangerous sometimes to travel alone. The world feels huge. When a portal is solicited in EQ, it is done so with the knowledge that the service being offered is worth a lot of value.

  8. And now it suddenly makes sense – why didn’t you say all that in the first place ? :D

    So – the size of the world per se does not really matter much, does it? It is a question of (in)convenience, where danger can be called a highly inconvenient inconvenience. A ten second sprint through purple con packs is worse than a 2 minute hike through gray cons. That said, imo lack of social visibility for mage services in WoW is just yet another facet of the low level of social interaction it has, and probably a minor one tbh. I’ve asked on my mage to “tp to XXXX, 10gp?” .. once or twice. Then there is the whole “no one goes to BC/WOTLK/old zones any more” thing.

    I doubt that EQN will challenge the “convenience status quo” as much as Smed claims (or did he?) — or as much as we would wish it to. EQN will definitely target the mass market and I think most people here can pretty well extrapolate from there.

    As I understand Brad McQ has been shunted back to EQ from EQN and Steve “Morgard” has been punted from Vanguard to EQN.

    As much as one can pile bile on Brad (and I seldom miss a chance to do that), to me it looks like EQN has had an “ideas” guy taken out and a “good in an admin job” guy put in. So, um, duno, really duno…

    I wouldn’t bet on EQN releasing before MJ’s CU is playable ;)

  9. /facepalm

    make that “I have BEEN asked on my mage”

  10. Everquest was my favorite mmorpg experience. In general, I try not to hold it on too high of a pedestal because I know there were a lot of things eq could have done better. The ideas, though, I always liked the ideas that eq was built on. I agree that norrath always felt big and always seemed dangerous, and that the nature of travel in eq played a large part in that perception.

    At its best, a single trip could be a pulse-pounding adventure; a dramatic chain of unplanned events that pulled you off the beaten path and into the fellowship of strangers, to barely overcome some mighty adversity and leave you with a story you’d still be posting on internet message boards 13 years later. At its worst, a trip was merely a tedious and uneventful process of hugging zone wall after well-trodden zone wall in a consciously boring attempt to avoid anything of interest – no time for adventure when you’ve got someplace to be!

    Either way, though, eq never let you forget that the world was big and dangerous. Player-driven teleportation cut out some of the direct legwork, but it still channeled you out into some of the wilder places in the world. And it promoted interaction with other players and all the adventure, good or ill, that could (and sometimes did) spark from it.

    Traveling in eq wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t even great, although it occasionally came really close. It is still, however, my favorite traveling “system” in a mmorpg. I wouldn’t have expected that to be true 13 years ago. I knew there were things that could be improved with how traveling worked and I honestly assumed that, moving forward, we’d come up with new ways to make traveling more of an adventure. I really didn’t think we’d go the other way.

    So, flaws and all, traveling in eq remains my favorite. It served most faithfully what I consider the greatest purpose of a mmorpg: a vast, exciting world full of adventure. I don’t hate convenience. Player driven teleportation was a good start. It’s just that I, personally, don’t find it convenient to have the most remarkable aspects of my favorite hobby diminished. Honestly? I’d rather wait for the boat.

    (my referenced eq experience consists of classic through velious era + p’99)

  11. Although, what you describe is true for the early days of EQ (I played 7 years of it, first few as a druid). It didn’t take long for a /taxi chat channel to be setup by players. Asking for a ride in that channel would would have somebody come to your location and take you anywhere. No real player interaction there apart from the “where do you want to go?” and the exchange of plat.

    It’s not just the developers who try to dumb down travel, it is also players who try to optimize it…

  12. Player travel was one of the biggest reasons why I washed out of FFXI over the course of a few weeks back in 2006. As a newbie, I didn’t have enough money for it to be worth anyone’s time to help me – one player was at least helpful enough to explain that the reason they weren’t willing to sell me a teleport was because they would be required to accompany me to the location that was “near but not at the place I wanted to go” – i.e. certainly not where they wanted to end up themselves for a few thousand gil. With no access to player travel – and too low in levels to get at the NPC-based travel options (chocobo’s and airships) – I had no way to get where I needed to be if I wanted to try to find a group in which to play the game, though I lost at least one level in death exp penalities trying to do so on foot.

    (As an aside, this led to the one and only time in my MMO career where I seriously considered paying an unauthorized currency seller for in-game currency. Access to the NPC airships that could take you from city to city – which would have at least alleviated the problem, and was actually necessary for one popular level 20 camp – required a relatively high level quest… or half a million gil in cold hard – and illicitly purchasable – cash. The only thing that stopped me from pulling the trigger was that I realized I actually did not care whether I was discovered by Square and banned because I wasn’t having fun in the game.)

    With that as context, I look at the following statement from the original post and I wonder whether there isn’t some other way to accomplish the goal of atmosphere-setting that you want without completely screwing over players who legitimately want to start playing the game but who do not have the resources to pay the market rate for necessary travel. Whether or not there is some segment of the market that will tolerate the travel mechanics of 1998, I don’t think that going back to the days where being located in the wrong location meant literally not being able to play with your friends (or possibly anyone) that day is a good plan.

    “This type of player-driven fast travel is necessary to help create a sense of a huge world that requires actively seeking the aid of someone else. “

  13. a “good in an admin job” guy put in.

    I like to think I have a good idea every now and then, but I could be deluding myself.

  14. Hey Moorgard, are you working on EQ Next? I remember reading you were on the Vanguard team. If they have you back on EQ, that’s great news!

  15. Yeah, I’ve been off Vanguard for a couple months, I think. Time flies!

  16. If travel needs to be meaningful to make the world feel large and immersive, why allow several classes to bypass it? To give these classes more flavor or make up for that fact that they are glass cannons? To stimulate a player-run economy? Or because lore says mages can teleport?

  17. Well think about it for a minute. If you want the size and danger of the world to matter, the more people who can bypass even a small part of that world, the less impact it will have. And it’s also not just about emphasizing the world, but also the social interactions between players.

  18. The system in UO worked fairly well with the moongates in proximity to major towns, but you had to deal with the moon phases and learn which ones corresponded to which locations. And I’ve always liked the teleportation spells where you can mark a runestone at a specific location and then teleport back to that location. This created a lot of value in both the marked runestones, and characters that could use them. And for found/looted runestones there was always the element of surprise and gambling, i.e. “Does this runestone mark someone’s treasure hoard? Or does it take me into a dangerous trap? Well let’s give it a try. . .”

    That said, EQ’s system was brilliant. The way it limited fast travel made it special, encouraging player interaction, making location in the world more important, and enhancing the overall sense of wonder.

    I’d personally like to see a hybrid between UO’s and EQ’s mechanics. For group travel you could use the EQ-style, with the specific immutable locations (i.e. the Wizard Spires and Druid Circles), but the runestone system could be convenient for individual travel. (Although, to maintain balance, the runestones would probably need to be expensive, and deteriorate or be consumed by the teleportation spell.)