Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Can See Your House From Here!

Virtual worlds allow us to do many things we'll never really do. Fight with dragons. Conjure demons. Swim lakes in full plate armor. Close to the top of most of our lists is flying.

Immersion? We don't need no steenkin' immersion!

Really, who wouldn't want to be able to fly? We dream about it all the time. Although in my dreams of flying I'm not usually sitting on a reindeer.

The problem is, our virtual worlds are also games. Allowing players to move with complete freedom in any direction isn't always a great idea. Why would you fight your way through a heavily defended  pass if you could just fly over the mountain and wave? In the jargon it risks trivializing content.

  In MMOs that have flying hardwired into the milieu it's not an issue. You couldn't really have a superhero game without flying.

Wallet? Check! Keys? Check! Jetpack? ...

 It's when flying gets bolted on to a game that's managed without it for years that the trouble can really start. I was very apprehensive about the introduction of flying to EQ2. I didn't really think it would work. Well I was wrong.

Evaporation? Wash your mouth out!
Not only does flying work wonderfully well in EQ2, in all but the oldest zones it works seamlessly. All those desert mountain peaks, islands in the sky and vast plains seem to have been made for free flight all along. I suppose it really shouldn't come as such a shock. We've been cadging lifts from NPC flight-masters for years, after all. EQ2 had griffon flights even in beta. The real surprise is that it's taken so long.

No fair! I wasn't ready!!
The way that new freedom of movement for our characters has been introduced is exemplary. If I was skeptical about flying I was positively scornful of the proposed Leapers and Gliders. Ludicrous! Ridiculous! Laughable! But they really work. It's a great progression, from a ground mount to one that makes prodigious jumps to hang-gliding on the back of a giant flying lizard. Culminating in the glory that is true free flight.

The different mounts don't even supersede each other. There are places easier to reach with a leap upwards than by flying around and down. The ground mounts are much faster on land than the flying ones. It actually makes some kind of sense!

I'm not saying I'm sold on flying in every virtual world. We don't have it in Rift yet and I'm not sure what it would add there. But I'm much more sanguine now about the prospect that all MMOs will inevitably go airborne in the end.

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