Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Instancing the Newbie Experience

I tried out a decent amount of new MMOs last year and I noticed some interesting trends concerning newbie zones. It seems that a lot of developers now prefer to use shared instances to create a common newbie zone. This is very different then what I was originally used to in my games, but I've grown to like the idea. Instances give the developer more control over the beginning experience and allows scripting and storytelling that might be hard to pull off in the regular game world. Also older games can increase the currency drop rate in the starting instance to offset any inflation that occurs. Nothing is more annoying then creating a character in World of Warcraft and seeing most items your level going for several gold.

There are a couple problems using an instance as a newbie zone, but thankfully most developers seem aware of the situation. In World of Warcraft and Everquest there is a newbie zone for almost every race and this adds some re-playability to trying out different characters. Unfortunately, this also leads to balance problems with some areas being better designed and more popular then other ones. I like how classic Everquest introduced a common newbie instance later on in the game to combat this problem. A player can choose to either play through the Gloomingdeep Mines instance or go to their race's starting area. The experience and items are much better in the Gloomingdeep Mines, but someone might have already played through it several times. In general I'm always in favor of anything that gives players more choices.

Restricting players to a single choice almost always results in bad blood. I'm sure Funcom thought a single newbie zone in Age of Conan would allow them to put more time and effort into the experience. They were correct since Tortage is probably the most fun and polished part of the game. However, they forgot to account for the lack of re-playability by having a single newbie zone. The day quests are always the same and it can get old quickly if you play the same archetype since that makes the night quests also the same. The game later splits into three different areas after Tortage, but they aren't setup for low level characters. This was especially devastating for Age of Conan since a lot of end game content was broken and creating new characters was one of the only things players could do once they reached max level.

I guess from my experiences I think it might be better to have small newbie areas for each race and then introduce a shared instance later on in the game. Lord of the Rings has two shared newbie instances, but they're hardcoded to the races you play. Since I liked the humans and halflings I found myself playing through the Archet scenario over and over again. I really wish they had separate starting zones for both races and maybe made the shared instance optional. Blizzard seems to be going this route with the new Death Knight class which gets a starting instance inside the plaguelands. It seems like the instance will involve a lot of lore and equip the character for their journey to the Outlands. I'm believe players will be able to skip it though if they just want to go straight to the Light's Hope Cathedral.

Already players have asked if other classes can get inside the instance or if it will only be for Death Knights. As far as I can tell there are some specific scripted events which would prevent it from being a good instance for other classes. However, if players keep clamoring for a shared leveling instance I could see a WoW version of the Gloomingdeep Mines being made. With the way World of Warcraft is stating to get a little end game heavy it will probably happen sooner rather then later. After all players have long asked for new mid or low end content and this would fit the bill. It's funny that Warhammer Online avoids this situation since the beginning areas for each faction are linked by flight path. Also by introducing RvR areas into the early game it allows players to level by PvP which has a lot of replay value.

P.S. What did everyone think about Fringe?


Bill G said...

I didn't catch Fringe, but the average viewership was 9 million people. Somewhat below many expected, but should pick up when it starts following House next week.

Openedge1 said...

Fringe is killer and good JJ Abrams material.
Word of mouth will be the seller here.
It had a slower momentum than Lost or Alias, yet has so much more potential.
And yes, House will kick it up a notch.
I will be there for the long haul.
As to your post. The instanced starter zone seems to be a good way, in my opinion, to build a story, and I have no issue with it.
Funcom messed up though in respect to how long you stay there.
Since I am a returnee to AoC and started a new Necro, I do see that it is enjoyable. Especially if you know the story, you can whiz through. But people will do this only so often.
My point is, it should have a way to bypass and leave the area by level 10. This was backwards looking on their part.
They should have had new content in the regular zones by level 10, should have stopped the game at level 40 or 50, blah, blah.
Truly sad, as the game is really quite fun compared to another new game that releases next week.
But, I digress.
I think the starter area in LOTRO is the one thing they got right.
I hope they can figure out how to move people to Moria, as no one will want to play through all of the original game to go there (I sure would not)


Relmstein said...

Hmmm. I guess the right amount of levels for a newbie instance is probably between 1-10. Age of Conan deffinitely did seem to take too long by keeping you in Tortage from 1-20. Then again maybe when they make a new expansion they'll put in another starting area for the new oriental race.

Rochmoninoff said...

From what I've read about deathknights, they need to complete the quests to unlock thier abilities.
If true, then it would be crazy to leave the instance early.

Regarding Fringe:
what's not to like about evil twins, mad scientists and a witch with a bionic arm?
Feels kind of like x-files but with better delivery. And I like the characters better.

Rhey said...

Not only did the male FBI guy look a lot like sheriff Carter but the science was on par with Eurekas. But it was still good I will watch it on Hulu but not bother to catch it on the night it plays.

Thallian said...

In Lotro, if you've done the newbie area once with a race, the second time you can skip it by selecting "skip tutorial instance" from the first guy you talk to after you make your char.

Relmstein said...

I don't remember that feature when I was doing my stint in Middle Earth, unless I just kept on not noticing it. Turbine has always been one of the best companies about making improvements through patches so it wouldn't surprise me if they added it in right after I left.

I quit right before player housing and I was this close to going back to see what it was like.