Game Design Spotlight #22: The Old-School Way Of Boat Travel In MMORPGs Needs A Comeback

Waiting by the pier and riding a boat with other players further sells the experience.

Anthony Jones
By Anthony Jones, News Editor
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MMORPG Boats

Welcome to the 22nd installment of the Game Design Spotlight! This column is your weekly dose of my analysis of game design elements across many multiplayer titles, such as the mystifying world design behind The Secret World and the battlecry feature in Chivalry 2 that adds flavor to its body-slinging chaos.

Last week, I talked about Foxhole and how its player-led MMO elements reimagine what the genre means for the game. For today, I'm discussing a much broader topic that spans old-school and modern MMORPGs: Boat travel.

In my pursuit of older MMORPGs that I either missed as a youngin' or couldn't play due to subscriptions, I've noticed a few have communal systems in place for different modes of travel. Notably, boat travel was not an individual-based event but a voyage with others to a far-flung land.

Waiting by the pier with players sporting varying levels of gear and riding with them across a short span of real-world time had charming magic to it. In this hub space where the developers forced players to pause, many opportunities for gamers to submerge themselves further into the game world are ready and waiting.

Boat Travel GDS 1

You could socialize with someone about challenging content, pop off a sales pitch in the general chat, whisper at a player that you love their sick armor set, or do whatever else suits your fancy. The world is your oyster!

During these quiet moments when questing, level grinding, and farming are on hold - you feel encouraged to relish in a crucial characteristic of MMORPGs: Interacting with the player base.

An Opportunity To Spark Community

World of Warcraft is the only long-running modern title I could think of that continues this feature faithfully. Whether you ride a sea vessel from the Eastern Kingdoms to Northrend or a zeppelin airship to Kalimdor, you may run into other players traveling the world if they're not portal hopping from place to place.

As busy as players get from reputation farming and questing across the globe, these modes of transportation present a breather from all the blending systems and establish a bit of realistic travel.

While I believe it's a neat feature that adds to the MMORPG journey, many today would be against that. The existence of portals and warping akin to Final Fantasy XIV's aether teleporting is all the rave now.

Boat Travel GDS 3

Players desire new locations but are against trekking on the same pathways to reach familiar lands just to afk on a boat and finally arrive at their destination. All you need to do now is click a button to cut all travel worries out of the picture, streamlining the process so players can focus on content and nothing else.

By making travel brain-dead easy, the worlds within these games lose their massive, fantastical scope and sense of exploration. Even worse, the community element of naturally stumbling upon players with diverse pursuits and experiences is lost during travel. Developers can still beef up the spectacle of their worlds through new content and find ways for others to mingle, but some players wish for those times to return.

Mainly for that opportunity to spark a conversation with someone or to enjoy the slow transportation. Its meandering design gave purpose to traveling far distances and made the game world feel busy with players coming and going. This old transportation style sought to emulate the real world even though the MMORPG genre has often been the apex of escapism.

Immersion Colliding With The Real World

For example, boat transportation in Final Fantasy XI is like how it is for us to ride a subway in a bustling city. You cough up money to ride a sea vessel from one continent to another, and NPCs will send updates on travel times / when boats are approaching their destination.

Could the intention behind its design be a limitation rather than a deliberate emulation of real life? I couldn't say. Though, I know how it felt to step on one of those boats with different players and how it added weight to the world. Because of this, boat transportation needs a comeback to revive in-game exploration and make travel feel less empty.

Boat Travel GDS 2

The ease of today's travel systems welcomes the same boring formula seen in single-player games, which can seriously handicap the scope of a multiplayer game world. Not to say warping doesn't have a place, but when traveling far distances, a feature that represents the length of space from one place to another should get considered during development.

That concludes another week of the Game Design Spotlight! Are you a fan of slow travel in MMORPGs? Would you want to see more upcoming games return to more communal-based travel? Let us know below! Also, feel free to comment on games you would like me to cover for future stories if you have any suggestions!

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About the Author

Anthony Jones
Anthony Jones, News Editor
Anthony Jones is a gaming journalist and late 90s kid in love with retro games and the evolution of modern gaming. He started at Mega Visions as a news reporter covering the latest announcements, rumors, and fan-made projects. FFXIV has his heart in the MMORPGs scene, but he's always excited to analyze and lose hours to ambitious and ambiguous MMOs that gamers follow.

Discussion (2)

zariarn 1 month ago
The instant port boat travel in ESO is a big let down. ESO is an amazing game with big boats everywhere. Many of these boats can be explored inside and out however the travel is just meh. The days of EQ2 and WoW with boat travel was great. Time to bring it back.

1
dysnomia 1 month ago
I would love to see more of this but it doesn't fit "i want all and i want it now" profile of players that MMORPG has been catered for nowadays.

1

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