In the early stages of designing Worlds Adrift, we spent a lot of time crafting the overarching rules of the world, because we wanted them to be intuitive and easily taught to players. With a clear and concise set of rules, players could hatch a plan, and try to carry it out, and whether it ultimately worked or didn’t work, the world would react according to these easily-understood rules. This would feel empowering, and make players feel like they could create their own strategies and playstyles outside of what we, as developers, prescribe.
One of the the first rules we set down early on, which became a core pillar of the game, was that the game needed to take place in a seamless, physical world. Objects in the world ought to have a weight, be simulated physically, and affect everything else. As in every videogame, there are exceptions (particle effects, very small objects, certain edge cases, concessions when fun outweighed realism, etc.) but at a high level we stuck to this rule. It was one of the biggest ambitions of the project – a physics-based MMO – for many reasons, not the least of which was managing server load. We knew that this rule meant that we had to design almost every feature around it.
For example, though our inventory system works very similar to Diablo and Neverwinter Nights, we couldn’t let players drop inventory items on the ground like those games do. Some curious player, somewhere, would try to drop thousands of oak, 1 unit at a time, which would result in thousands of physical objects. We’d already seen that spawning mountains of cheese wheels just to play around in was something of a pastime for Skyrim players, and so we affectionately nicknamed this the Cheese Problem. The difference was, of course, tanking your own client in a single player game is different from tanking the server in an MMO.
Now, to solve this, we had to keep in mind our high level goal of keeping the number of artificial rules to a minimum. So, to answer the cheese problem, we decided the best solution was to create natural, in-universe phenomena to recycle objects and maintain the ecosystem of the world.
The first of these is the playerbase itself – objects can be salvaged for their resources, removing them from the world. The second is the lightning that strikes from the storm below, which create mini-earthquakes that bury some objects and renew or bring out of the ground others.
But these manage “normal” situations. Players in Worlds Adrift have likely already been in situations where the server has been overloaded. Anytime physics objects are moving slowly (for example, when trees get chopped and slowfall frame-by-frame, or your ship slows down to a crawl) there’s some time dilation going on due to server load. Early on in the Closed Beta, this happened tons, but since then, we’ve scored some easy optimization wins. There’s still plenty more for us to do, but irrespective of server physics optimization, there will always be situations where more players can bring more ships to the same spot; for when a giant battle results in tons of ships exploding into hundreds of physics objects each, all raining over the same island – or when someone makes a ship with the express purpose of approaching the sun in sheer size. We’ll ultimately always need a failsafe against the cheese problem.
Enter the Blight.
This swarm of raw, uncontrolled energy will materialize from the permanent storm below, rising up in a gigantic column to devour anything in its way. If you see it starting to form, you’d better get a move on quickly, and get out of a high-density area. Nothing is safe, not tree logs and random objects on the ground, nor bolted on panels and wings – not even your Atlas Core or the storage containers holding your most prized possessions! And if you see one in the distance, keep a wide berth, and make sure it’s not coming your way.
Under the hood, the Blight has a priority system that attempts to take into account how important objects are to players. If a fuel canister that’s just been harvested and is rolling around gets eaten by the Blight, likely no tears will be shed. But a ship engine that’s still attached to an abandoned ship? That affects the world much more. Even more important would be an engine attached to an owned ship. And at the top of the priority system sits Atlas cores on owned ships. No doubt we’ll add more complexity and tweak these priority rules in future updates – we’re counting on you guys for feedback here – but hopefully our current rules provide a base we can work off.
Ultimately, we want players to understand that the Blight is there to deal with the cheese problem, but be able to suspend disbelief and not be taken completely out of the magic of the world when a giant tornado of destructive energy engulfs your island!
See you in the skies,