Syl wrote about day/night cycles in MMOs a couple of
weeks months years back. Clearing of the drafts fodler here, as you might guess. Of course, one aspect of that is how long such a cycle should be. At one end of the spectrum is World of Warcraft, where Azeroth turns on a literal 24 hour cycle, and server time is in-game time.
EVE Online also runs on a real-world 24 hour clock, though I am not sure that a day/night cycle makes much sense there. It is always night in space, right?
Anyway, in Azeroth that means if you are like me… I live in the US Pacific time zone but play on a server in the Easter time zone, 3 hours ahead of me… you might spend most of your time in WoW playing at night.
Not that night is all that big of a deal in WoW. Every single instance group screen shot has been taken during the night cycle and most of the time you couldn’t tell it was night.
This is night. Stars in the sky.
There is, as Syl noted, a nice sunset period if you are on at the right time, and likely a similarly pleasant sunrise, though I’ve never seen that. I’ve been online when it has happened, I was just deep in Uldaman at the time.
Other games have a much shorter cycle. In EverQuest you passed through the day/night routine every 72 minutes if I recall right, 3 minutes per in-game hour. That could leave you running around in the dark a few times in a single long play session.
Night, when the Scarecrows come out in West Karana
And at the extreme end is Minecraft, which has a 20 minute day/night cycle, which means if you play for an hour… and who plays Minecraft for just an hour when you’re into something… you will spend half that time in daylight and the rest in the dusk, night, and dawn portion of the cycle, during which time the night life will be coming for you.
Coming to get me…
Of course, the Minecraft example brings up what is probably the key question when it comes to a day/night cycle; should it have impact on game play?
In World of Warcraft there is almost no impact on game play. As noted, you can barely tell it is night as the moon over Azeroth apparently reflects 80-90% of the sun’s luminosity during the night time hours. And I am hedging by even using the word “almost” there, because something in the back of my brain believes there was a “night only” spawn at some point. But that could be me.
At the other end of spectrum is Minecraft, which isn’t an MMO but is MMO enough for this discussion, where the transition from day to night changes game play dramatically. It actually gets dark out, so lighting matters. But even more so, as noted above, things come out at night. Bad things. Things that seek to kill you or blow you up. So you either hunker down and wait out the night… or sleep if you’re alone on your server… or get out there and fight the encroaching zombie/skeleton/creeper menace.
Maybe that is an extreme example.
But I do hear calls now and again for not only a day/night cycle in MMORPGs, but that the cycle should impact game play, that night should be different than day, and that NPCs should behave in a way attuned to the cycle of the world and their lives. They should go to bed at night.
That last bit… that is one of those things that always sounds better in theory that it does in reality. And I say that as somebody who has lived a bit of that as reality in an online game.
Back we go again, back through the mists of time, back to TorilMUD and the days of text, triggers, and ANSI color characters as a substitute for graphics.
All text, all the time
I’ve written about TorilMUD many times before, and specifically about the hardship of the elves of Evermeet, stuck until recently in their own little corner of the game until level 20 with few zone choices and not much in the way of gear available. The sorrow of the eldar is never ending and all that, as my Leuthilspar Tales series has illustrated.
But we did have one advantage there on Evermeet, and especially in the city of Leuthilspar. For the most part elves don’t seem to need any sleep. Shops were open all night long and even the city gates, which the guards closed and locked at sunset, could be passed through after hours if you spoke the right word. (It was “peace.”)
The rest of the world however…
It was a sure sign that a player was fresh through the elf gate and in Waterdeep for the first time when, locked outside of town, they would stand there saying things like “peace” and “please” and whatnot trying to get the gates to unlock so they could pass through.
And imagine to confusion in the a poor elf’s eyes when a vendor in town suddenly announced they were shutting up their shop for the night and wouldn’t be serving customers until the morning.
Outside of Leuthilspar, shops had business hours!
The vendors wouldn’t go away… though I think one in Baldur’s Gate used to move into another room… they would just stand there as usual. However, when you attempted to interact with them, they would announce that they were closed and admonish the player to come back later.
In a way, it sounds quaintly archaic in today’s world. But TorilMUD, measuring from its predecessor Sojourn MUD, is past the 20 year mark as well. It was a simpler time and a different audience in an era when game devs sometimes felt the user ought to conform to a much more rigid set of rules.
I couldn’t imagine a MMORPG today putting something like that in place. But TorilMUD was smaller than even the most niche MMORPGs we’ve seen. I would guess that maybe 10K people created accounts on the game over its lifetime. During its peak it could get a couple hundred people online at the same time, which was considered quite the crowd. In that sort of small, self-selecting environment, you can set different rules.
And the vendors didn’t just have hours, but would also only deal in specific goods at times.
But, at least the day/night cycle was short. The ration was one real life minute to one in-game hour, so a day went by in just 24 minutes. Not as fast as Minecraft, but close.
Anyway, such were the was of the past. How niche would a game today have to be to get away with that sort of thing?