I’ve been playing Champions Online a bit lately, partly because I’ve felt a bigger need to get my MMO fix and partly because I have a Lifetime subscription. One of the things that I find particularly about the game is how they do instanced zones.
Cryptic has always been big on instancing, City of Heroes was one of the first games to really get the instancing fully integrated. Anarchy Online was really the first, but CoH took it to a whole new level. Basically, when a particular zone became too congested, another instance of that zone would be created, and when future players tried to enter the zone they’d be given the choice, oftentimes removing previous instances as they fill up. Every zone in the game was instanced, and to take it a step further, all dungeons were instanced specifically for the group entering them. Most games since CoH has done instancing dungeons at the very least to some degree, EQ2 had its dungeons instanced, both to the world and to the group.
Champions Online took it a step further. First, they allow for bigger populations in bigger zones at any particular time, this was natural progression. However, they also allowed for players to turn off their ability to select. Basically allowing the servers to make the selection for you. This really took a lot of the instancing out of the player’s eyes in my mind. Personally, I’d rather they would have left this done as default so that only if a player was wanting to select zones, they would have the ability to turn it on. (For instance, you could at any time click on a box in the map to switch zones if you wanted.)
This really makes me wonder about the concept in a larger scale. I for one am not a fan of zoned games like City of Heroes or Everquest. I would much prefer a game be without zones entirely like Asheron’s Call or Ultima Online. These games seem fewer and far between these days, though I do appreciate World of Warcraft’s Psuedo-Zones which don’t actually feel like zones but still are.
Seamless worlds aren’t much different than WoW’s psuedo zones realistically. The world is always split up into several zones. I know both UO and AC had these boundaries which cause lag spikes and dupe bugs when crossed that were the zone boundaries. WoW is really just a little more blatant on these zones.
The point I am getting at is, why can’t we just instance these seamless boundaries thus lowering the amount of people in one particular seamless zone? The player doesn’t even really need to be that aware that it is even happening, it would just happen behind the scenes.
The real trick is making it so the player doesn’t notice as much. The first trick is easy, just have players enter the same zone as other players in the same group. After this, I think you could institute other tricks. For instance, when you zone in it could look at where your guild mates are or where people on your friends list are. This way making it more likely for you to enter an area with people you know. This would get rid of the awkward talking to your friend and trying to meet them only to find that you are in a different instance. Also, just the ever expanding ability to have more and more in the same area would help alleviate the issue as well.
Today it seems you can have 100-150 easily in the same area, maybe tomorrow it will be 500 and with 500, you will likely have more than enough for any given location. Major cities would really be the only areas that would need more than 100 anyway. Wilderness areas and even dungeons would probably cap at significantly less, maybe 50. And more serious areas, you could instance to the group like most other major MMOs do, just seamlessly.
There of course would always be complications, and it is with these that you would need to give the player the option to switch servers at will, like they allow on City of Heroes and Champions Online. However, I could see this being a rare problem that wouldn’t detract from the experience greatly. Maybe just at launch time, after all, I think the population spreads out enough once launch periods are over that most worlds could probably do fairly well without multiple instance.