Spatial evolution in MMOs

Closely related to my earlier post about the evolution of space in multi-user environments, Richard Bartle commented about a paper he wrote on that topic. The author's starting point is that there is less discussion about virtual worlds ARE than WHY people play them, and he claims that VW are places. He basically describes the evolution from text-based MUDs, to 2 1/2D (with isometric or first-person viewpoints) and 3D MMORPGs.

His paper revolves around the display format of virtual worlds, a characteristic Jake Song did not address in his speech at LIFT Seoul:

"Given, then, that virtual worlds should endeavour to approximate reality for their everyday workings, how can this be implemented? The real is at a distinct advantage over the virtual in that it works entirely in parallel. It can ray-trace every photon in the universe simultaneously, whereas even the best of today’s home computers have a hard time rendering a few shadows in real time. Virtual worlds therefore have to cut corners. As it happens, they have developed three ways to do this, which correspond to the three main display formats: (...) Contiguous Locations: Textual worlds represent space as a set of interlinked nodes. Each node represents an atomic location (commonly called a room), which generally conceptualises the smallest meaningful space into which a player’s character can fit. (...) A map for a textual world therefore consists of a network of rooms connected by a set of arrows that correspond to movement commands (...) the arrows on the map need not be bi-directional (...) nodes need not represent rooms of the same size (...) A location can link to itself (...) Tessellated Locations:r ender the world graphically as an array of tiles. The major advantages over a network of nodes in this respect are the constant scale and the implicit connection between the squares. (...) Using an isometric approach, height could now be shown; this meant that hills and mountains no longer had to be suggested by a change in a square’s background texture (...) introduce a degree of nodality back into the system. (...) Access was gained through particular wsquares flagged as being coincident. As an example, if on the main map you walked onto a square containing a staircase leading upwards, that would teleport you to a submap for the floor “above” where you were; (...) Continuous Locations: a location is instead a mere point in a 3D co-ordinate system (...) In a true 3D world, the representation finally goes from contiguous to continuous. Strictly speaking, however, because computers store information using discrete bits, even their “real numbers” are not actually continuous; nevertheless, the level of granularity is so fine that to players it feels continuous."

Why do I blog this? material for a paper about cross-media studies of location-awareness interface in a MUD, 3D space and pervasive gaming. The elements discussed by Bartle are interesting wrt the literature review about the evolution of space.

Bartle, R. (2007). Making Places. In Borries, Friedrich, Walz, Steffen P., Brinkmann, Ulrich, and Matthias Bottger (eds.), Space Time Play. Games, Architecture, and Urbanism. BirkhÔø?user: Basel / Berlin / Boston.