What is it about MMO designers and pigs?

It is a sad fact that as your character goes through its MMO life, you will end up fighting monsters that look very similar apart from minor colour changes. Those scary level 67 pigs that chased you all over the high level zone are only a quick paintjob away from the level 2 piglets that bothered you as a young orc.

I’m giving pigs as an example because designers seem obsessed with them. I noticed this in Warcraft. What’s the first thing you see on stepping out of your new hometown in Outland? It’s a frickin’ felboar. They can label it as a demon all they want, I know a pig when I see one! DaoC had major pig issues also. The whole of Albion was plagued with them, conveniently congregating in appropriate level zones. I’m sure WAR will also have some favourite monster models that we’ll learn to hate.

But it’s the level-appropriate zones I wanted to talk about. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking: “But what stops a level 35 pig from going into the newbie zone where it won’t have any predators? I’d do that if I was a pig!” Nothing stops it, just the internal logic of the game doesn’t work like that. Every creature has its allotted location and allowed roaming area, all laid out to make a comfortable progression path for player characters.

The level 35 pigs aren’t necessarily more powerful than the level 3 piglets. It’s not as if they will ever fight each other so that you could find out anyway. The level just indicates at what point in a characters’ ‘life’ they’re intended to be encountered. You could see each PvE zone as representing a spot on a timescale, which is why you start in the easiest zones and move on with the monsters changing with you.

Old school MMOs used to have very mixed zones with high and low level creatures in together. These days, you don’t expect to see much of that and where you do, the high and low level areas are well marked out. The zones are there to shepherd characters through their levelling curve. We like MMOs because we have the illusion of total freedom of action, but in practice they’re pretty much on rails. Still, the ability to go anywhere and get killed quickly (by pigs) if you weren’t ‘supposed’ to be there is probably more freedom than we get in real life …

Is that how WAR will manage things? Probably, it’s a convenient way to keep players of the same level together and we all seem to enjoy it, but we’ll have to wait for the NDA to drop before we find out. We know that the zones are arranged into tiers, where tier 1 is lowest level and tier 4 is where the capital cities and huge fortresses are. Will we be able to go explore higher level areas without pulling half the zone a la WoW? Will they leave it to the other players to keep the lowbies in their level appropriate areas via PvP/ ganking? And, more importantly, will there be pigs?