Day/Night Cycle in MMOs

kithicor woods

I love how such a simple mechanic can add so much depth to a game.  When used properly, time of day in a MMO can do more than just make the world dark or light.

Night time can:

  • Bring out different types of monsters
  • Raise the difficulty of an entire zone or area
  • Reduce visibility to make it impossible to travel
  • Give a reason for certain races to have different types of vision bonuses
  • Make light sources important
  • Influence the story and lore

I remember in the original EverQuest that my Dark Elf had no trouble seeing at night.  I could run around and it really wouldn’t phase me one bit.  I met a human in the North Desert of Ro and we decided to team up and fight Dervishes — a type of bandit set up in camps throughout the zone.  We were on our way there when I realized he was running right at a mummy… “Stop, wait, what are you doing?!”  I asked him why he ran right at the mummy and he responded that he couldn’t see him.  It was then that I realized how different the races could see at night, and how blind humans were compared to my elven eyes.

I think Ive told the story a million times of Kithicor.  That zone was moderately scary during the day, but when it turned night you simply didn’t go in.  People waited at the zone line and chatted because entering at night was like asking for a corpse run.

Day time can:

  • Be just as scary as day for some races.  Think about a vampire race, or a race that sees better at night than day.
  • Swap out the monsters in a zone.
  • Provide a window of opportunity to travel
  • Open shops for business
  • Alter the ‘feeling’ of a zone to be happier and come alive

I see daytime as an underutilized part of the day/night cycle in every MMO.  Most MMOs with any emphasis at all on time focus only on the night, with day being neutral.  I say make them both equally as impactful on the gameplay experience.

How long should one day/night cycle be?

I typically play later in the day because of my schedule, and usually for only a few hours at a time.  I need the day/night cycle to be fairly quick, but long enough to impact gameplay.  EverQuest I and II timed it perfectly.  I think a 72 minute full rotation works perfectly.  Anything longer and I may only see night or day, and anything shorter will probably night give enough time for a zone to change or players to feel a difference.

How about you?  What neat ideas do you have for the time of day, and how long should a full rotation take in a MMO’s day/night cycle?

  • How long should one day/night cycle be?

    It really depends on the changes it provides.
    There indeed should be changes regarding day or night but i don’t think they should be very drastic though.

    A 50-60 minute full day rotation is more towards my tastes but it really depends on what you can do in that time in the game in general.

  • I’d love an MMO to have a detailed day/night cycle. 10 minute dawn, 20 minute day, 10 minute dusk, 20 minute night. Shops and most NPCs are closed up or in bed at night. Villages in “dangerous” areas won’t let people enter at night.

    Things like that make the world feel much more real to me.

    And if you add in a full lunar cycle you get to mess with lycanthropes and still let non-night-vision races have some nighttime fun when the moon is full.

  • I agree. I think there is also an opportunity for weather and seasons that MMOs, particularly recent ones, have not taken advantage of. And I am not just talking about pixelated rain drops, but thunder, lightning, snow accumulation, etc., or certain monsters or NPCs that are more likely to appear during certain weather patterns.

  • Day/night and weather systems are vastly underutilized in MMOs, to the point it’s criminal IMO. The length of the cycle isn’t so important as is the % of day vs. night. I’d prefer something like a 2 hour cycle where the night time lasts maybe a 1/2 hour. Enough to add to the complexity of the system but not enough so I’m reaching for the gamma. “sight” is a crucial sense in terms of a video game and I think it would be very easy to take it too far. EQ is the only MMO I can recall that even came close to the right balance for me, every other MMO never even tried

  • That some very good ideas for a Virtual World 🙂 Unfortunately, last years no MMO seem to care about the virtual world and immersion..the care more about the game aspect of it. Also races with certain benefits? no…companies focus on homogenization of races and classes so kids don’t cry because they cannot do what their friends can…

  • Nothing beats the day/night cycle in DayZ. It was a completely unnerving experience playing at night, hearing zombies in the darkness moaning. Not knowing where they were until you were meters away. Seeing a burning trash barrel in a abandoned construction site was a mix of pure terror and elation. Finally you had found a place to grab a can of beans or an axe if you were lucky. Light was a double edge sword, while you couldn’t see, neither could the bandits or zombies for that matter. And forget about using a flashlight… that was like a beacon of death.

  • I think Mabinogi’s 18 minutes of day and 18 minutes of night work well (90 seconds real time is 1 hour in game). If you are hunting down the Arc Lich who only spawns at 12 midnight (at despawns at daybreak) you really have to be gunning hard to take it down before sunrise.

  • Going to be honest. EQ was so dark that I took the game back. I couldn’t work out where to go or anything and had zero exp with online games. So took it back. Lol

  • I think the 72 minute = 24 hour timeline is perfect.

    The things Jeff mentioned would bring so much more life to a game. I could totally get lost in a world like that.

    TESO really better do some Day/Night cycle stuff. Day/Night cycles play such a huge role in Elder Scrolls games it would be too big of a missed opportunity for them to leave details like that out or just half ass them in.

    Final note, I love it that whenever a picture to emphasize “Atmospheric awesome” is required it’s a picture of Kithicor.

  • I think that day/night and weather are key to immersion in MMOs. My most memorable EQ moment was actually the first hour that I played the game. I was a high elf and went out into the forest starting area. A thunderstorm started and I thought it was just the coolest thing ever.

    I’d love to see a game that intertwined class mechanics with weather — magic users whose spells are tied to the weather, guns that don’t fire when it’s wet, wet and muddy terrain causing fatigue, etc. I’d love to have to think and adjust my playstyle to the conditions of the game world.

    I also enjoy the way that darkness can be used to enhance challenge. If any of you have played Dark Souls, there is a fun section in an area that is almost pitch black and full of pitfalls and tough enemies. If you aren’t a magic user with a magical light source, you have to think about using a lantern in your offhand vs a shield. You find yourself paying very careful attention to the surroundings, which adds a lot to immersion.