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How to Make Traveling Long Distances in RPGs Enjoyable

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Donniel_Lewis, Jul 21, 2018.

  1. Donniel_Lewis

    Donniel_Lewis

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    I am creating a game that requires the player to travel long distances in an open world. The player isn't told how to get there, there isn't an objective marker on the map or visible in the world. The player is usually traveling between large cities with other cities between them.

    My problems comes in when I am thinking of ways to make exploring traveling enjoyable. There are things to do like: mini bosses, gladiator arenas, side quests, and hidden dungeons, but I want to know how I can create an enjoyable experience for the player while they travel.
     
  2. Ryiah

    Ryiah

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    My immediate thought reading this thread was to Skyrim's Touring Carriages mod. It replaces the normally static carriages fast travel options with carriages that move in world space that the player can ride. While riding the driver will comment on the world as they move past different locations.

    https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/38529/
     
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  3. Donniel_Lewis

    Donniel_Lewis

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    Oh so like a train.

    That's a cool Idea for passive travel, but I was thinking more towards if the player wanted to travel on their own.
     
  4. Shiro_Rin

    Shiro_Rin

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    In my opinion, just give unique travel options. A little project I had allowed the player to use flying magic, while people on the ground could also cast a teleporting arrow type spell, where they would shoot the arrow and teleport wherever it landed. It was fun to try and think of unconventional ways to travel.
     
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  5. Donniel_Lewis

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    Thank you, since the player has the ability to control wind. I'll think off some way to implement movement through that.
     
  6. snacktime

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    I think it's a good time to stop and ask the obvious. Why huge open spaces? I mean if you are struggling to make them fun, why do you have them? Especially in light of the feature likely adding significant extra dev time.
     
  7. kburkhart84

    kburkhart84

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    Wind Control.....I'd say a land version of the sail boat...the wheels don't have to be wheels though, if the setting fits your game, you could have a sort of sphere like the BB-8 of the newer Star Wars movies.
     
  8. hopeful

    hopeful

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    I would suggest using a tool during development that allows the player to skip immediately to the next destination. Then after a lot of the rest of the game is in place, see if your travel solution feels better than skipping directly to the next destination.

    My personal experience is that players enjoy short travel if they can control it, but long travel is best handled with the equivalent of a teleport.
     
  9. verybinary

    verybinary

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    im kinda agreeing with snacktime on this.
    if traveling is boring, shrink the world so the player isn't bored as much
     
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  10. Arkade

    Arkade

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    Didn't Mark Brown (@britishgaming) do a video about something like this? Examples including latest Zelda and Mario.

    EDIT: Here's the video I was referencing


    I'd say there are the other examples like Assassin's Creed. All of them fundamentally have reasons en route like secrets or clues that benefit your travel.

    But yeah, like most here, I agree with @snacktime. When I was wondering the same thing for my still WIP Game, I decided just shrinking the distances was a 2 birds, one stone solution.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  11. Donniel_Lewis

    Donniel_Lewis

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    It's not that traveling is boring to me, but I'm aware that my opinion is biased because its my game. I haven't been able to ask my friends and family to play test it because it's still early in development so there are lots of bugs and exploitable mechanics that I need to fix.
     
  12. Murgilod

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    There will always be bugs.
     
  13. Donniel_Lewis

    Donniel_Lewis

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    I know but these bugs are game breaking, but fixable.
     
  14. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    This thread is a good discussion. Thanks for starting it, @Donniel_Lewis.

    As long as a game is even just roughly playable, even if it occasionally breaks, it's worth getting people to playtest it. No sense fixing bugs in a system if playtesting may cause you to completely redesign that system anyway.

    To follow on snacktime's thoughts, what is the purpose of huge open spaces? Everything should have a purpose. If your game didn't have open spaces, what design reason would absolutely require the addition of huge open spaces?
     
  15. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Orienteering is practiced as a sport. If you don't know what orienteering is, it means finding your way cross country using a map and compass.

    So if orienteering is a sport, that means people like it. Which means it's fun. So if you make traveling in your game a game in and of itself, and you make it clear to the player up front that finding their way cross country -- using whatever means you give them -- is part of the game, it will be fun to people who enjoy that sort of thing.

    If you don't let player know up front that they'll need to use their brain and some patience to figure out where they are and how to get where they're going, they're going to cry. It's a matter of knowing your audience, and letting your audience know what exactly you are going to offer them. If you game is 90% orienteering, but it gets marketed in a way that makes it look like any typical RPG, you are going to have a lot of butt-hurt babies.

    If you are targeting the largest demographic -- teenage first-worlders with the attention spans of gnats -- I'd say just nix the large open space and use fast travel. Or, if you just don't want to do that, fill the open wilds with S*** tons of grind-able enemies so the player can get some level-up satisfaction along the way. You can make the traveling the quest -- i.e., rather than walk somewhere and they tell you to walk somewhere else and bop something wiht your sword, you get told to walk somewhere and inevitably have to do some sword bopping along the way, but when you get there, thats victory and the quest is won.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
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  16. Donniel_Lewis

    Donniel_Lewis

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    Alright so I just gotta let my players know that they're going to be traveling and they better make the most of it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  17. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    No idea. Never played those games or even that genre. If you are dead set on keeping traveling in the game, I'd look at survival games, such as The Long Dark, to understand how they've made "walking around doing nothing but collecting items and making decisions" fun.

    No matter what you do, the question doesn't require any novel answers. Features in and of themselves are nothing. It doesn't matter if you use the wind to travel around, or small creeks, or black magic voodoo. That's just aesthetics for the theme. What determines fun or not is what's happening in players mind. You have to first identify what kind of player you want to target, and then figure out what kind of patterns they expect and prefer given the genre.
     
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  18. Ryiah

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    Visiting the reddit communities for open world games is a good idea too. From time to time the members of the reddit communities for Fallout and The Elder Scrolls will have threads where someone decided to play without fast travel and have provided their thoughts on the experience.

    The Fallout community had far more good results for "fast travel" than the other communities but I managed to get a few entries for Skyrim. Oblivion had nothing that stood out to me. I didn't check Morrowind. Daggerfall would be an exercise in futility to try to play without fast travel (and it's basically just 161,600 square kilometers of monotony).

    https://old.reddit.com/r/Fallout/comments/8ww0sf/doing_my_first_fo4_survival_run_4th_total_and_the/
    https://old.reddit.com/r/Fallout/comments/3tu1i1/playing_bethesda_games_without_fast_travel_is_a/
    https://old.reddit.com/r/Fallout/comments/87ylpj/i_recently_started_my_first_survival_play_through/

    https://old.reddit.com/r/skyrim/comments/37c07b/not_using_fast_travel_changes_everything/
    https://old.reddit.com/r/skyrim/comments/5c77m6/tip_for_anyone_who_hasnt_experienced_it_yet_dont/
    https://old.reddit.com/r/skyrim/comments/884q8z/my_fast_travel_rules_lead_to_interesting/
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
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  19. Arkade

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    FYI I found the video I was referencing before (edited in above and linked below). It fundamentally says similar things to this excellent thread but its strongest point is that all the game overlay gumf (waypoint markers, etc) mean you're basically playing in the mini-map rather than engaging with the world. So ideally we place enough information and mechanics (e.g. being able to ask for directions) in the world so that players can navigate without the overlay. (Yeah it's one of my favourite of his videos.)



    Also relevant is this one where the designers pushed content closer together. It's kind-of a sequel to the other highlighting that "navigating the environment is gameplay with a win and a fail state" (6:50) and how playing in the world (rather than in the quest system) enables environmental story-telling.

     
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  20. angrypenguin

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    No, don't just tell them about it. Also make it an interesting experience.

    When characters travel in books, what makes the experience interesting to the reader? It's not descriptions of miles of puttone one foot in front of the other, or sitting on a horse or whatever. When writers talk about travel they pick the interesting bits - what are they?

    You're not writing a book, you're making a game. So what aspects of travelling somewhere are interesting from the perspective of player interactivity, decision making, and other things that make games cool?

    Personally, I love travelling in The Witcher 3. Here's some stuff they do.
    • Compress the world. It feels large from any single place, but there's not actually more than 10 or 15 minutes between most places.
    • Fill it with places of interest. Make sure there's a variety of stuff along the paths that the player can stop and look at. Side quests to stumble upon. Bandit camps. Monster nests. Interesting views. Travelling shopkeepers.
    • Make the landscape interesting. Don't just make your paths and roads just routes from A to B. Think about visual composition, and set up your world so that every corner and straight looks pleasing / scary / frames something / and so on.
    • Give your world lore which can be expressed through the places in your travels. Have statues of historic figures, famous battlegrounds, major landmarks visible in the distance. (The latter is also a very helpful navigation aid.)
    Can you make environmental challenges - mountain passes that pose a threat, rivers or ravines to navigate? Can you provide a travelling companion? Is resource management relevant to your game? Can you put forks in the road that give the player clear decisions to make - go through the forest or the desert? Cross the river or climb the mountain? Take the long safe path or the short one through enemy territory?

    On the note of orienteering, if finding places is important then make sure that your world is chock full of things that can be used as clues and refer to them regularly.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2018
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  21. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    That's part of the equation... my equation anyway. Whatever you do, you should never just accept somebody elses thoughts because it sounds good. You are the designer, you've got to think it all through for yourself, make sure everything is going to work together towards a cohesive experience that is fun for the target player. You won't know until the end, but once you are reasonably confident you've got a workable plan, it's time to get started on the work. As soon as you can be playing your game, be playing your game.
     
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  22. Kiwasi

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    This. I remember reading an interview with Sid Meier on the design of one of the civ games. At one point he was driving a tank through open plains to take yet another city. He asked the question, "could I have just is much fun with half as much driving and half as many cities". Which is why plenty of the civ games ended up with worlds and civilizations much smaller than their real life equivalent, even though modern computers could easily handle something full size.

    Even more significant with the Assassin's Creed example is that most players only traverse the terrain once. After that you use the auto teleporters to move between locations. Skyrim has the same design feature, you explore the terrain once, and then magically teleport to locations.

    Which makes the OPs question more 'How do I make travel interesting the first time'. This is an easier question to solve than 'how do I make repeated travel over the same area interesting'.
     
  23. astracat111

    astracat111

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    A) Reward long distance travel with exp bonus, lvl up or stat bonuses
    B) Carriage fast travel for if you don't give a sh*t about getting the exp bonus
     
  24. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Whatever the player is doing after they start the computer/console, that is the game. There is no separation between traveling and gameplay. They are playing the game the whole time. If you make traveling so that it just seems like traveling, in other words, boring, nobody is going to like the game. But if the traveling is a game, and a fun game, good job.

    Whether you are on a quest to kill goblins or not, you are moving your character throughout a game world with some goal in mind. The key is making the goal juicy enough that the player wants to attain it. Killing the goblin leader so you can get enough XP to level up might be a good goal. Walking for ten minutes to get to the start of the mission to kill the goblin leader -- not a good goal. Battling through a nightmarish swamp to get to the embattled village that desperately needs your help -- that's not traveling, that's just another mission with a goal.

    To me, fast travel means loading screen. Boring. Why not just make the game world and quest givers interconnected enough so that when you go anywhere, you get a quest that will take you somewhere else where yoyu can get another quest? So there is no traveling at all, you just do a quest and that quest's path takes you throughout the game world.
     
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  25. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    But this is all arbitrary goals, which, IMO, is the cheesiest type of gameplay. The kind that becomes a game I lose interest in fast and forget about faster.

    The best games are games that you continue playing because they provide a fun challenge. There is nothing to acquire in theHunter after you've unlocked all weapons, but the gameplay is challenging and it is just fun to play without the game displaying any arbitrary reward. The reward is in just besting the challenge time and again.

    So if just wayfinding across tough terrain is a challenge enough, and it's fun, there is no need for any gimmicks. Maybe the only thing the player does in the entire game is kill goblins. Player is the goblin hunter. That's their only quest -- kill all the goblins. Each time you kill a goblin, the mystical goddess comes down and gives some cryptic clue about where the next goblin leader is. Then, you have to put the clues together, get lost, struggle against tough enemies, run low on supplies, etc etc before you even get to the next goblins lair. The game is nothing but traveling, but the player never feels like they are just traveling.

    This is, in essence, theh Shadow of the Colossus gameplay loop, a game that many people remember fondly and revere. However, in SotC, there wasn't jack between the goblin leaders. But there was nice art and atmosphere, so it was ok. Doubtful you'll have such nice art and atmosphere, so put some challenging, fun gameplay between the bosses instead.
     
  26. Kiwasi

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    Another thing to consider is the risk/reward side of travelling. The Pokemon games did this well. There was a pretty good chance you wouldn't be strong enough to make any given trip. So players had to strike a balance. Do I stay around in this area to improve my stats? Do I risk taking the whole trip in one go and loosing a lot of money? Do I play it safe by taking the trip in small chunks?

    This risk/reward mechanic is actually present in a lot of games that require travelling. Making travel inherently dangerous certainly adds more interest.
     
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  27. Kemonono

    Kemonono

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    I think Sunless Sea is also a very good game to reference on this point.
    Maybe it's important to differentiate between commuting and exploring in games. Both involves traveling but might need different designs.

    Maybe not directly related, but I'll mention it anyway,
    One of my "pet ideas" is making a game where traveling was the game.
    Perhaps, more accurately, navigation and travel. Would it be fun though? No clue, perhaps not on it's own.
    Here is my concept of using a sextant, triangulating position based on celestial objects
     
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  28. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    @Kemonono , absolutely that would be fun. I'd love to see more games that make a simplified version of real-life challenges. Plenty of people love simulations like this. Just look at The Long Dark. Half the game is just waiting on little loading bars to finish, and yet it's endlessly fun because of the challenging decision making/time management player has to constantly make.

    Study the first people who sailed to Polynesia. Amazing stories. I would love to imagine being these bold explorers. Disney even made a movie about it (Hawaii anyway). You could design a number of game types. It could be hardcore navigation simulation. It could be simplified navigation with a survival element. It could be simplified navigation based on time hacks. Any number of things.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
  29. Kemonono

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    That is exactly the sources of the inspiration for it (link), or more precisely, Thor Heyerdahl's recreation of the journey in 1947.
    I started to read a lot about what kind of dangers early explorers faced. Turned out navigation was a pretty important part of the "pve", if not the most important part.
    The Chinese, Polynesians, Vikings and various English and Spanish Captains provides great inspirations about what kind of dangers a long journey would involve.

    I'm a fan of Long Dark, but I consider the exploring and journey part of the game a missed opportunity. I read about the their thoughts on "mapping" (where you need to click the map every time your in a new unexplored location), and to me, the result, felt more like filling out a set of checkboxes than exploring.

    The most important part of exploring is thinking that you are in one places, but are in fact in a completely different place.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  30. BIGTIMEMASTER

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    I think Long Dark was working with some major restrictions regarding the environment. It's not very large really. And you can't really get lost in that game because you have no goal of anywhere to get.

    However, later in the game you might know your way around via landmarks, and you may concoct a plan to move to some different place, and on the way there get lost during the night if you plan poorly...which is pretty awesome. I've had a few epic, run-for-your-life night runs because I wasn't paying attention while moving all of my stuff from one area to another.

    But, yeah that's not really complex navigation, it's just memorizing landmarks via repetition. Actually reading the stars and having to trust that you are making the right choices over a long journey with little or no landmarks -- that would be an intense challenge. I think it would be too slow paced for a game, even simulation, and you might need some other side survival type stuff to keep busy in the downtime.
     
  31. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner

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    One of the biggest problem that I have with long travels in big maps is getting distracted. Skyrim is a great example: Okay, I'm heading to Whiterun. Run. Run. Wolf! Run. Bear! Run. Bandits! Random NPC. Sidequest. Where was I going again? Oh yeah, Whiterun... ugh, now I'm further from it then when I started.

    I have the same problem in The Legend of Zelda. I'd be heading straight for my next target, but end up going way off the track for a Korok seed, or because I see a group of enemies to fight with and I want their loot.

    There was a game that noticed this (a pokemon game I think) and they got around this by looking at how the player was moving. If the player was meandering and making lots of turns, they were likely just exploring, so the number of random encounters jumped up so that you always had something interesting to do. However, if the game detected you moving it more-or-less a straight line, it assumed that you were heading somewhere specific, and therefore greatly reduced the number of encounters getting in your way.
     
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  32. RockoDyne

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    There's a spectrum. On one side there is exploration and on the other is travel. Exploration is all about kicking over rocks, and ultimately about being receptive to whatever narrative jumps out at you. Travel is purely the drive to go from point A to point B, with all likelihood being that nothing that happens between those two points matters at the destination. There's probably an argument about immersion versus engagement in this regard. Exploration is soaking in the world, but travel is trying to do something.

    The problem with travel is that there is a variable receptiveness to interruptions, and they are interruptions. Random fights and other sorts of random encounters almost always mean nothing as to why the player was traveling, but are usually tolerated thanks to other priorities regarding leveling and general kleptomania. Watch the value of those encounters become vapid to the player, or see a player who wants to be done with their task, and what should be adding something to play becomes a nuisance.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that travel itself can be a challenge. Both straight up navigation and movement mechanics can be used to heighten engagement, but this also requires competent level design and/or some traversal mechanics to be implemented.
     
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