Mocked From The Pedestal

A mysterious week lost to the cold bug; despite having taken an extra 3 days of sick leave, I was too busy reacting to cold symptoms to accomplish much of anything.

I will say that it was surprisingly easy to surpass my old Guild Wars 2 Engineer's level with my Mesmer.   When I started getting back into the game, the Engineer was in his early 30s and the Mesmer at least 10 levels his junior underclassmen.  After maybe 20 hours mostly spent faffing about the starting areas "completing" them, the Mesmer is now in his mid-30s and showing no sign of slowing.

Skee Ball.  I'm not sure if they call it the same thing in your neighborhood.
I find myself ashamed more than happy about this: the number of levels strike me as a measure of the amount of time I wasted chasing carrots in an MMORPG when I could have been pushing the boundaries of what virtual worlds are.

I can tell you what virtual worlds are not: they're not a damn theme park. 

The activity in Guild Wars 2 is almost entirely to the ends of earning prizes from turning in the tickets you earned playing the virtual world theme park equivalent of Skee Ball.  Need to give the players another reason to keep playing?  Add another form of Skee Ball: world PvP tokens, rare crafting reagents, exploration credits, daily goals, or whatever it takes to keep the kids running that grind.

Of course, it's shockingly effective.  But, as a wannabe virtual world pioneer, I want to spit on the eye of the guy who handles the ticket exchange and say, "Screw this, I was here for the atmosphere!"

Then I'd feel pathetic because I see how much better at this they are than me.  Not only because Skee Ball is probably more effective at keeping players playing than anything I am likely to come up with, but because these guys actually built a virtual world environment and did a superlative job of it.

Compared to that, where am I?  I am messing around with Unity, an engine powerful enough to make another Guild Wars, cruising the asset store, looking for tilemap engines.  Because I figure a good virtual world ought to be fully mutable, Minecraft proves cubes are a great way to do it, but I set my sights lower to 2D because I'm a one-man indie developer and that seems a lot more accessible.

Tilemaps are a ridiculously inefficient use of Unity.   You don't take a powerful 3D engine and turn it into an emulator for games that utilized tilemaps so they could run on 8-bit processors and 64 kilobytes of RAM.  This is the main thing I learned from the Rog Framework for Unity and in investigating frameworks like it: if Unity is capable of presenting a huge scene like is typical in Empyrion, then there is something seriously screwed up when I can't have a tilemap of about 200x200 tiles without the frame rate falling through the floor.

The whole point of using TileMaps is you can reuse small chunks of memory several times a screen.  Unity really isn't optimized to do that, reserving memory for each Sprite Renderer as though it holds a different sprite.
That's where I'm at: instructing a great 3D engine to work against itself so much that it can't present a map a computer 20 years ago could without being unplayable.  It's pretty pathetic place for an aspiring virtual world developer to be.

So why work in tiles?  Guild Wars 2 demonstrates a virtual world can be plenty mutable without the need to think in boxes.  A single texture mapped polygon could convey a sense of space that would be many tiles wide.  That's what a 3D engine is made to do; that's how Empyrion does it; that's how to use Unity correctly.

Of course, Arenanet did far more than just utilize a 3D engine to simulate virtual space.  They devised means to seamlessly integrate peer-to-peer communication to create a low maintenance virtual world that never needed to consider charging a monthly subscription.  These guys are at the top of their game, true pioneers of virtual space simulation.

Then, with Guild Wars 2, they took that awesome ability I wish I had and just casually throw it away.  The mutability of their virtual world is demonstrated hundreds of times, then neutered to create a self-sustaining theme park where every change the player makes is doomed to reset on a timer.  In other words, in each "world changing event" in Guild Wars 2, the jack-in-the-box is crammed back in the box to await the next schmuck to turn the crank.
What do you get if you let players do whatever they want in a virtual world? Apparently, a lot of them take up prostitution.
What an insult; they are inadvertently FLAUNTING that they could have made the changes players make to the world stick, but deliberately chose not to.  "Eat it, newbscrub, if you were a professional you'd know theme parks are where it's at."

Well, I know why they chose to go that route.  The prospect of allowing random spazzes off the Internet to make lasting changes to your virtual world is terrifying.   Second Life did that, and it's metaphorically wall-to-wall furry dildo vending machines now.  Players would seem to ruin anything you let them.  To many players, virtual worlds are just a place to vent frustrations about the impulses they can't carry out in real life.

However, I say there's a medium where you can give the players meaningful consequences without them fucking up everything but also without resorting to turning the whole game world into a theme park.  

My mission can't be to try to do what Arenanet does solo.  It is to prove virtual worlds can matter without self destructing so that great talents like Arenanet will stop copping out.  I could do this with a tilemap engine, if only I could get it to simulate a world large enough, but I am open to a more modern approach.

Despite my insistence I'd have done things differently, I'll admit Guild Wars 2 is fun to play... but I'm not getting any closer to my real goal by playing Skee Ball.


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