Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Conductor" as a new MMO profession

One major difficulty in designing a "true" MMO of the sort I'm always ranting about is reconciling the so-called "casual" and "hardcore" extremes of player time investment. Travel time provides an excellent example. In order to lend a persistent world an appropriate feeling of vastness or grandeur, in order to maintain its scale, teleportation must be very heavily restricted.
Yet if for an obsessive escapist willing to live in such a world around-the-clock it's nothing much to take an hour-long cross-country trip, assume you're just an average player putting in an hour a night of active play time. But your guild wants you to spend some time moving to a new location. Or maybe you need to go visit a school / temple / business center. What do you do? What dooooo you dew?

Hop on the bus, of course. Now, most methods of automated transit in MMOs fail miserably because they are fully automated, requiring no player action at all. Thus they become the only means of travel, the easy way out. What we need is a way to saddle those "hardcore" players with too much time on their hands with others' timesinks. Create manually player-driven vehicles with passenger space.
In effect, this has already been the rule in both versions of Planetside at the very least. A long dropship or APC trip is a chance for all but the driver and his gunners to go AFK for a minute. Don't look at me like that. You've all done it.

So extend the concept. Create safe spots, transit hubs or designated stops all over the game map, but no automated service to them. Allow passengers to choose where they will accept to be disembarked. Make disembarking automated and allow it while offline. So one player charges a stipend for taking passengers in a vehicle he's likely already using for cargo trips, or provides that service to his guild. Passengers get on board then log off. As the vehicle hits designated stops, passengers automatically leave the vehicle, and will be at the new location when they log in.

Wrinkles abound, of course, but that's half the fun.
What if the vehicle gets destroyed? Killing off the passengers would likely be a bit much to swallow, but waking up in the middle of nowhere, possibly in bandit territory, might be amusing, so as to provide that thrill of the unforseen but not leave players entirely helpless. Possibly notify the passengers of the vehicle's destruction while logging in and allow them to choose a spot where they were "thrown from the vehicle" within a variable radius.
How do you prevent hostage situations? The vehicle isn't destroyed but left to rot in the middle of nowhere to incapacitate the passengers. Allow them to teleport back to the stop at which they boarded? In order to prevent this from being abusable as teleportation, no trading should be allowed within the vehicle.
How much loot should passengers be allowed to carry? Obviously it shouldn't be so much as to cut into freight shipping as a game mechanic, but it must be enough to allow casual players to arrive somewhat ready for whatever they need at their destination.
Pickpocketing allowed in passenger compartments? Luggage thieving? Counteracted by the driver's spot/listen check or whatever the equivalent might be? Probably too easily abusable as trading to teleport goods if the escape mechanic above is allowed.
Traveller's insurance? I dunno, just throwing ideas out there.

In any case, one thing's for sure, we might have a new playable class on our hands.

"Haaaaail to the bus-driver, bus-driver, bus-driver..."

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