Over at Healing The Masses, J3w3l (or Eri, as I’m going to use from now on because it’s a lot easier to type!) has been singing the praises of multiplayer Terraria and what this may imply for sandbox MMO worlds, such as EQNext Landmark.
I’m here to give you the other perspective and the potential pitfalls, in a semi-serious, semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Insufficient Lebensraum / Resources
Of all the things that could plague a sandbox MMO, I worry about this one the most.
The first pioneers get the best locations.
In A Tale in the Desert, areas near the chariot stops for convenient travel later get taken up very quickly. In fact, the crowd is so great that veterans tend to stay a little further away because they know they won’t have space to expand later when all the beginners are off squeezing in their little buildings near each other to form a sort of ghetto.
In my brief time with Wurm Online, anything near the spawn point was over-worked to the point of ludicrousness from the horde of new players zoning in, and I walked for miles and miles finding settlements all over (many seemingly abandoned) and I wouldn’t even dream about peak waterfront property along the coast. This was, of course, on the free server so overpopulation woes would be expected.
Over in Terraria, as the first players, Eri and her friend Grish have taken up the spot that most people in single-player games will build on. On the surface right near the spawn location. (The game’s design encourages this as the guide needs to be housed in a building, and between hostile mobs and his pathfinding AI… let’s just say we want a roof over his head pretty quick.)
They built themselves a massively grand castle.
(And it just underwent a recent renovation to make it even grander. It’s lovely to behold.)
Now, being that I’m a guest and don’t want to be rude, it makes little sense to try and settle in the same space they’re using. So I looked around, found some real estate near them but off to the west a little and decided to go mostly underground.
If you’re a new settler coming by to the server at this time, your only other option nearby at this point is probably a base in the sky overhead. (The east side is over-taken by corruption.)
Or you’ll have to move a little further off to the west – though you’ll have to contend with a small lake and our sky bridge highway in the vicinity.
I did find two fairly creative buildings – a treehouse and a small obsidian underground lair – in my explorations, but I’m not sure if they were made by the starting pair or natural spawns or by well-equipped visitors popping by.
As for resources, well, suffice to say that you’ll be picking up after our leavings.
I had to do a much deeper and expansive exploration to find copper and lead (iron equivalent) as I’d started a new character. Fortunately, I like exploring and the other two seem more in favor of long highways and tunnels, so I managed to sneak into a niche of going around all the naturally formed caves, breaking vases and grabbing the abandoned ore that the two were no longer interested in after a while via progression.
For anyone coming in now, my suggestion would be to travel along the well-lit areas and venture further out. Just like the other two, I’ve now stopped digging out every last copper and lead ore I see, I only stop for gold and higher.
Chests with equipment in them? Haha. I didn’t see any for a while, until I started venturing into the unexplored caverns.
Luckily, like a number of players, underwater does not seem to be a hit with the two.
I wandered over to the East Ocean, struggled with trying to learn the new changes to the biome, made a makeshift survival elevator down into the water to get easier access to the bottom without drowning by being too gung-ho, and discovered it doubled up rather nicely as a shark trap. Rampant OCD farming for a while yielded a Diving Helmet and Jellyfish Necklace. (Fortunately, mob spawned resources are forever.)
Eventually, I made it over to the West Ocean to find that there were still two water chests left there – one with a Breathing Reed and one with Flippers inside! So now I have Diving Gear. New niche: Underwater Warrior Extraordinaire.
If you’re looking for those items, you’re now outta luck when it comes to the oceans. Maybe you’ll find a water chest randomly while digging underground.
As for the dungeon, I’m sure a good part of it has been picked over, as I dared (screamingly underleveled) into the place with them for a time until I got insta-gibbed.
World Progresses At Speed of Fastest Player
Which brings me right to my next point. Both of them had 400hp and were decked out in many shiny objects. I was waffling at around 140hp and had lead items then.
Out of pure screaming survival, I rapidly revised my goals (which were originally to explore and progress up the tiers and slowly read the wiki to catch up on changes) and did not protest when they found Muramasa in a chest and chucked it at me, because OMG, a sword that can kill things in here! (A nice sword at that.)
After which, it was an easy slippery slope to accepting the extra life crystals that were thrown at me, then picking over what seemed to be the ‘donation room’ chests to grab a better pickaxe, the first hit of demonite ore, and spare shadow armor, which immediately catapulted me several tiers ahead and expanded my exploration range much more rapidly.
If you’re coming in now, help yourself to the stuff in the chests here. We three have been overloading it with things. I now keep finding life crystals, which I no longer need!
Last night, I got another free upgrade courtesy of Grish, who threw Palladium stuff at me. (Palladium, what the hell is palladium? Some wiki-ing later revealed it to be hardmode stuff, apparently.)
That promptly extended my range downward and I ventured into Hell to find it pretty darned survivable, as long as one didn’t try to take a bath in lava. So now I’m amusing myself collecting hellstone… for fun, I guess.
It’s not like we have a shortage of hellforges here.
(Also in the background, two obsidian generators that off the scale for anything I would ever make, and a large sign pointing out the west highway.)
This is something a lot of sandbox MMO players are going to have to come to terms with. There is very little point reinventing the wheel.
In A Tale in the Desert, the first pioneers suffer through some exceedingly tedious grind with primitive technology, and proceed to unlock much better technology for all players to come.
The bottlenecks that are designed in place can be quickly overcome by making use of communal public resources, or becoming friends with a veteran player, who will usually not mind chucking resources like leather, papyrus seeds, better flax seeds to get a new player coming in late to the Telling started with a much easier time.
If you try to solo it all, you’ll probably drop out after a month or two, tops.
Obnoxious people will now proceed to throw the ‘this is a -multiplayer- game, after all’ line in your face.
As a solo-preferring player, I’d just say that one needs to be open to social interaction and opportunities that arise and adjust your niche accordingly, and use the presence of other players and communal resources as desired to get over humps that are designed into the experience.
You’re never going to come in cold and be just as good as the vet player who’s played since Day 1. Be patient with yourself, adjust your expectations, work your way through the wiki in sections, learning one aspect of the game at a time.
I started one Telling as a complete noob, and ended up sharing the resources of a nice guild that befriended a newbie. With that experience, I began another Telling solo and worked my way through that, learning additional aspects of the game. Which made the Telling after that a very easy powergamer start – I was now an intermediate-level player and probably could claim some vet-hood (but not as much as the players who had been around for all the time.)
Player Creativity May Affect Experience
Back in Terraria, I have to confess that I would never build the structures I’m seeing the pair create. They’re of a scale that is quite beyond me.
I tend to just build ugly functional rectangles.
(Underground farm experiment in perpetual state of under construction)
In a single-player game of Terraria once, the most creative thing I probably did was to balance my wood tower on top of a single door. Because the idea struck me on a whim and looked highly amusing.
In Minecraft, if I manage to make a two or three floor rectangular cottage with corresponding mine shafts and a rail line highway, that’s already a big accomplishment for me. I tend to just tunnel into a stone wall and set up operations there. Decorative architecture? Large bases? Expansive castles? Not at all likely to happen.
In a multiplayer world, -I- benefit from seeing the structures other players create. They’re a lot more beautiful than I would be able to make, I get to wander and explore and get creative inspirational ideas that I would never have come up with on my own.
Other players, however, would have to contend with my corresponding lower aesthetic sense impacting on their designs.
Differing Player Goals
Which brings us to how player goals may end up clashing in a sandbox MMO and lead to either compromises or drama.
Eri’s friend, Grish, is a veteran Terraria player. He runs around being very familiar with everything, and his goal appears to be to finally beat the hardmode bosses with the benefit of extra hands in multiplayer. Progress is dizzyingly rapid as a result. Goals clash: I compromise by inwardly shrugging and saying thank you whenever the next set of equipment I don’t even recognize is thrown at me. I can always learn at my own pace in a single-player world another time.
Eri seems to be a big decorator. The castle is her baby. A very lovely looking place it is too. Her appreciation of aesthetics is evident. Also, expansive highways tunnels for convenience. She’s taming the wilderness one straight line at a time. Goals clash: I’m just guessing, but she probably winces every time she walks past the eyesore that is my permanently-under-construction no-time-for-decorating-yet base, or the many torches I dot around the place because I’m blind as a bat and prefer all the places I go to be clearly lit up.
The problem with turtles is that they can’t see worth beans.
In this case, I’m a guest. I just try not to be too annoying and go with the flow of whatever the plan seems to be.
In a sandbox MMO, what this has a tendency to promote is each person (or group of players) spreading out far enough away from another to develop their own homestead the way they like it and do their best to live and let live. Until some idiot builds too close to them – whereupon the drama starts.
Take home message: Remember plenty of lebensraum. If you’re a designer, try to make the world large enough for many players to settle in with sufficient resources not to end up fighting over them (unless that’s what you want players to do.)
Property and land ownership and access rights are going to be very important to get right, including what players are able to do with aesthetic eyesores (especially those that are abandoned.) In A Tale in the Desert, the player-arrived solution is to allow other players to remove them after a certain number of days have passed if the owner has quit the game. In Wurm Online, they appear to be left to rot slowly, I’m not sure. In Terraria, anyone can modify anything apparently, which involves a fair amount of trust and compromise.
If you’re a player, try to settle sufficiently far from other players if at all possible. One potential problem, of course, is that one’s idea of ‘sufficiently far’ is never really accurate when one is new to a game. The room needed for expansion can always end up surprisingly large.
And finally, let us not forget the griefers.
I am sure there are worlds in Terraria where friendships have been broken because some guy’s idea of fun is to go around being destructive and troll-y. Even while not trying to, we run into opportunities for potential problems.
In the earlier days of starting out, I had a bad habit of finding uneven holes to fall into, or wooden platforms that weren’t level and thus inadvertently cause a precipitous encounter with gravity and the ground. It’s not hard to extrapolate to intentional pitfall traps from there.
There’s always the risk that each others’ aesthetic designs overwrite or annoy one’s fellow players, and from there, it’s an easy step to intentionally trying to be offensive via trying to destroy another player’s creations or create an ugly eyesore.
In Terraria (and presumably Minecraft), the host can always boot with extreme prejudice someone being a pain.
In an MMO, rules are going to have to be built into the design as to how players can end up affecting each other, and what recourse players have if they feel someone is griefing or harassing them. Be it griefing them back or killing them (a la Eve Online and other FFA PvP MMOs of that ilk), or clear and strong land claim and property ownership rights, or being able to vote out a non-cooperating player, or having a few people with the power of enforcement and authority to turn to, etc. And when the final stage of taking it to the GMs is appropriate.
Emergent Properties and the Right Attitude
After all that, you may ask, why would anyone bother playing a sandbox in multiplayer?
I’d suggest that one should play it for what you can’t get in a singleplayer game. The opportunity for emergence that arises between player interactions and the opportunity to be social..
You can get emergence from NPCs in a single player sandbox, and you can talk to them if you want to, but they’re unlikely to return meaningful conversation
When two self-interested parties interact, one has the opportunity to choose cooperative, selfish, altruistic or indifferent behaviors.
Depending on one’s viewpoint and goals, this can lead to welcome or unwelcome results. (Someone acting in altruistic fashion may not always be welcome by someone wanting to be left alone. Someone being indifferent can be taken as a massive affront by someone with the expectation of more friendly behavior. It’s not always easy to cooperate at a skill level that matches the other and having a shared goal is often a prerequisite. Selfish behavior can benefit oneself at the expense of others, which may be the primary goal of the individual in question.)
I think it’s important to have the right attitude and expectations that all this can and will happen at different times, between different players when one plays a multiplayer sandbox, so that one isn’t surprised or disappointed when it does. It’s never paradise or utopia. It’s humans, and they bring with them heaven, hell and ordinary earth wherever they go.
If this is heaven, there are many holes in it now.
(Aka the effect of player depredation on a limited resource. Most of the building was gone by the time I arrived. I took apart a few more bricks to find out what they were. And added the tunnel to hide from harpies and collect both cloud and rain blocks. I also mined out the gold. Still silver left!)
The actions of one may also randomly impact on the landscape and others around them, which leads to unpredictable occurrences.
One can look upon them as problems / crises or opportunities to take advantage of or tell stories or laugh about.
The recent castle renovations in Terraria have necessitated a moving of the combat arena over to the west. Right on top of my house, in fact, which has now been dubbed ‘the hobbit hole.’
Did I mention that I would never build something so expansive on my own? They took the opportunity to enlarge and prettify it, which is very awesome because I get to use it without expending any effort at all.
It is also really conveniently nearby. I am a very lazy person and hate walking, so all amenities close by is great. I’m big on functionality.
In the process, a water tank/reservoir was set up on top of it to create a waterfall effect. Except… there was a leak.
I was fairly deep underground digging out my glowing mushroom farm at the time, when I saw water cascade into the tunnel just a few blocks away from the farm. (Thankfully, it wasn’t connected.)
Mildly amused and relieved at the close call, I call out: Hey, there’s a leak.
Oops, comes the reply. Will fix it.
Turns out one side was a block shorter than the other.
Chuckling to myself that this exchange was something that wouldn’t happen if not in multiplayer, I finish the farm and in truly lazy fashion, use my magic mirror to port back home, barely one screen away…
Whereupon I discover that I am effectively ‘snowed in.’
It’s around this point where I just crack up and die laughing because the juxtaposition of the turtle looking at his front door with that expression is priceless.
The back door was also ankle-deep in water, so opening either door would not have been the wisest maneuver. (I did, of course, eventually open the back and have to bail out some water. They came in handy for watering waterleafs later, Silver lining, laziness to walk and all that.)
This would so not totally happen when playing alone.