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5:46pm on Monday, 10th December, 2012:

Seasonal Changes


My CE317 lecture today had an extended section in it about MMO time. I pointed out that some MMOs (for example Asheron's Call 2 and Saga of Ryzom) had meaningful seasons, so that lakes froze in winter, vegetation blocked places off in summer, animals behaved differently depending on the time of year, and so on. I also said that they used compressed time, so it may be that each game world season corresponded to four real days (which it did in Saga of Ryzom). This kind of time compression works well enough, but it does mean that real-world events don't map onto the game world's time structure very well. For example, if you want to celebrate new year in Saga of Ryzom you can have it either once every 16 real days or once every 22 SoR years, neither of which is ideal. If you add in Christmas, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Children's Day, Hallowe'en, Easter and so on, it gets even less than ideal.

Assuming that you want the game-world versions of real-world festivals to coincide with the real-world celebrations, there are basically three ways to do it:
1) Have no game-world seasons. The game world is the same all the time, so when Christmas comes up in the game world it's the same time as in the real world. Don't bother with seasonal changes in the game world: leaves stay on the trees, it never snows except where it always snows, no monsoons, etc.. This is how World of Warcraft and most modern MMOs do it.
2) Have game-world seasons but detach them from real-world seasons. The game world has a new year every so many real days, but the game world only celebrates it every so many game world years. This allows for seasonal variations but the fiction is stretched somewhat. Saga of Ryzom does it this way.
3) Have game-world seasons that tie in to real-world seasons. When it's spring in the real world, it's spring in the game world. If you can only access the ice palace when it's winter, that means you may have to wait 9 months to get into it. However, seasonal events match their real-world equivalents in timing. No modern MMOs do this as far as I know, but it may be that some textual worlds did.

So, last year when I asked my students which one of the above they preferred they all went for 1). This year, only three of them did. Only one of them liked 2). I thought that no-one would like 3) as well, and that the reason that 1) and 2) had got so few votes was because the students didn't like putting their hands up in public (especially as I had told them to put their mobile phones down and pay attention for the vote). However, that wasn't the case: the vast majority of them preferred 3). This means they're more hard-core than last year's students, at least in terms of having fiction matching reality.

I'd like to see 3) done, too. I'm not sure anyone on a AAA title is likely to get it past the marketing department, though...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).