When Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, I was enthralled. It was Star Wars, it was Bioware, and it was everything I wanted it to be: fun, iconic, and enthralling. I spent several months at launch, playing multiple characters up to level 50, before I became bored with the repetitive nature of the end game (grinding out badges with dailies, much like almost every other MMORPG out there from the current and past generation or two).
Fast forward several years later. I cannot, for the life of me, remember specific waypoints in that game. Landmarks and points of interest? Nope, not a one. And this is despite having gone back and played the game several times with friends over the years since then, including as recently as 2016. I remember the game being fun and Star-Warsy. That’s about it.
SW:TOR isn’t alone in this category. There have been multiple MMORPGs that I’ve played over the years where I can’t remember how I got from point A to point B in the given zones, or even questlines. Some of that has to do with the “milk run” nature of these games, but most of it has to do with the simple fact that I was led around by my nose from point A to point B from the start of these games. Speeders and flying mounts and horses whisked me away from city to outpost to dungeon and back again, and any time there was a quest I needed to complete there was a glowing trail leading me directly to the mobs I needed, or the groundspawn I needed, or the dungeon entrance.
At no point was I ever invested in the game world with my mental faculties. I never had to learn my way around the game world, commit anything to memory. Convenience was (and is) the name of the game, because convenience sells lots of copies to the masses and makes games accessible to the everyday person.
I might get accused of rose-colored glasses here, but I’d like to take a step back in time to EverQuest. Before the addition of minimaps, before the addition of the “find” feature that added glowing trails leading you to NPCs and zone entrances, and before you leveled up your sense heading skill, it was all about memorizing the zones. The maze of bridges criss-crossing through Kelethin. The tunnels of the Warrens. The caverns of SolA. The city of Runnyeye. And one of the most important elements of getting around in early EverQuest was the use of landmarks (and your sense heading skill, or learning how to use the /loc functionality), just like you would in the real world if you lacked a compass or didn’t know which way was north.
Technically, we can go back even further than that to MUDs, where it was literally all about memorization (until players started posting maps telling you how to get through certain areas of the game: N, N, W, E, N, N, W, S, E, etc.). And yes, even in EverQuest, players eventually created and posted maps up in EQ Atlas, but prior to that point, we all had binders where we drew our own maps to help us get around.
Rather than relying on a game feature to lead you around, you had to learn your way around. You had to immerse yourself in the game world. Become the character you were playing. Actually invest a portion of yourself into the world of Norrath. You had to use your brain. And for this reason I can still, to this day, lead you to the bank in Kelethin while blindfolded, despite the fact that it was only a starting city and in the grand scheme of things I played there only a fraction of the overall time I spent in the game.
Memorization produces a more efficient memory, taking it beyond its limitations of capacity and duration, effectively enhancing your cognitive abilities and thus your overall self. There’s a boatload of scientific data out there if you want to delve into the subject of memorization and cognitive function.
Recently, as we’ve delved back in with our Winter Session of 2017/18 with our Saga of Lucimia community, it’s been a surprise to see just how much of the world was branded into our memories. And it’s not just EQ: it’s every game that any of us ever played which didn’t have a minimap, which didn’t leverage convenience features to bring in the masses. Those games which were light on features, the ones that forced you to learn, to adapt, to survive…those were the games that branded themselves in our memories as easily as the mathematical equations we all had to study as children.
Some might label these games “hardcore”. We disagree. They aren’t hardcore; they simply mirror reality. The focus on realism to the point where they ignore many of the modern-day features that players have become reliant upon, like instant travel and minimaps and glowing trails leading everyone from point A to point B. Because these old-school games focused on realism, they engaged our brains in a way that no other modern-day games do.
For us, our primary focus while building the Saga of Lucimia has been immersion. This isn’t just a game. It’s a living, breathing world. And as such, we want players invested in that world. We want them engaged. So from day one we knew we weren’t going to include a minimap in our MMORPG. No glowing trails leading you from point A to point B. No flashing icons over NPC heads telling you who you need to talk to. You’ll have to immerse yourself in the world if you want to get around. You’ll have to actually pay attention to conversations and dialogue because there will be valuable clues and directions, landmarks and waypoint that you need to look for.
We want our game to be one that players remember even 15 or 20 years (and beyond!) later. As such, we are focused on immersing the players into our world as much as if they were there physically.