Saturday, August 25, 2007

Travel Times in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by hudi:
Ok I was thinking if this game is going to come as close as it can to being realistic how long it it going to take to get to a destination. Say 7 light years away. Don't scream at me if I am wrong but if you were going at Warp 1 that would take approximately 7 hours.
To me, this depends a lot on how densely stars are packed in a Star Trek MMORPG.

If it's realistic (and why shouldn't it be?), seven light-years would probably be in the ballpark (though on the low side) of the average distance between any two stars in Earth's neighborhood. (A cluster would have more stars, and the average distance between stars would be a lot greater in the space between two arms of the Milky Way galaxy out in Federation space.)

So let's say 10 light-years is the average distance between any two stars in Federation space. Assuming further that not every star will have a nice, friendly Minshara-class planet orbiting it, and that a Star Trek MMORPG will have some stars and planets that aren't seeded with explicit content (pre-warp civilizations, advanced lifeforms handing out missions, pirate bases, etc.), then very goal-focused players who only want to take missions could wind up needing to travel for 20-50 lightyears or more to go between star systems with local civilizations. At one light-year per minute, we're potentially talking about needing an hour of travel to get from one populated world to another.

Now, that doesn't bother me, since I'm hoping that interstellar space won't be completely empty and that player ships will be full of interesting systems -- this combination will give players plenty of things to do while traveling from Point A to Point B. But that's me --- today's typical MMORPG player is notorious for loudly throwing hate at any kind of "delay" in leaping from one source of content to another. I don't agree with catering to that kind of complaining or attitude, but these folks will be paying customers, too. So it's appropriate to give their interests fair consideration in design.

It looks to me, therefore, like the big question in terms of travel will be a choice:

Option 1: Travel will be free-range, where players can drive their starships wherever they want in space whether there's "content" there or not.

Option 2: Travel will be a point-and-click kind of deal where the only way to get anywhere is to bring up a sector map, click on a destination world (presumably one that's been pre-rendered and populated with NPCs), say "GO!", and then getting there takes you only the time required to load audio/video assets. You'll go from Point A to Point B in a few seconds and never see anything in between.

I personally much prefer Option 1. I think it works better for exploration. But I expect there'll be a lot of people who think it's blindingly obvious that only Option 2 is acceptable.