Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

7 December, 2006

Movement abilities
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 1:58 AM

There’s a new expansion for EQ2, so I’ve been a bit bad and playing more than I should. But, one of the new features they have is a race called the Fae: wee pixies with cute wings.

But, the real fun isn’t just the race, but what the race can do: Fae take no falling damage, and one of the racial abilities they can choose is called “Glide”. This allows the fae characters to jump a further than your average character. You can often do amazing jumps that would cause other characters to simply plummet to their doom.

So, this got me thinking, what makes movement abilities so darn fun in these types of games?

One thing that really got people talking about City of Heroes (CoH) was the movement abilities in that game. After a few levels, you could get an ability that gave you super speed, super jumping, teleportation, or really slow flight. I remember lots of people grinding out levels just to get to the level where they could get the super movement ability just to have fun with it. My favorite was the super-jump, where you could literally leap across a whole zone in half a dozen hops.

It’s interesting how movement played a role in the other thing people really remember about CoH: using the Z-axis in gameplay. You could sit up on a shelf or fire escape and blast enemies with distance powers. Of course, almost every enemy had a ranged attack (read: gun), so there wasn’t much advantage to attacking from a distance. But, it was still neat not to have to always engage enemies face-to-face, or to have the risk of pathing problems taking all your immersion out of an encounter.

But, why is movement so interesting in these games? As an Explorer type, one of the things I like about movement abilities is that I can get to some places easier. As a Fae running around the city of Kelethin high in the trees, I can jump from one platform to another easily. This is something other characters can’t do. When I got the flight ability in CoH, I flew up to the tops of some buildings just to see what was up there. I also got some interesting views of the zones as well.

I think Achievers enjoy these types of abilities as well, mostly for the convenience. As I was running around the same area later with my higher level character with another friend, we accidentally jumped off a cliff together; this was a cliff our Fae characters would have not even thought about, but our normal characters narrowly avoided death by falling damage in this case thanks to a convenient nook we were able to hit instead. The convenience of the movement ability was denied to us with the older characters.

The problem is, of course, that too much freedom in movement becomes problematic. Our games are generally made in such a way that the experience is controlled. You have to turn a corner to get to the next area because that blocks all the polygons in the previous area from your view, which makes rendering easier. In CoH, you lost a lot of detail of the world when you were jumping super high in order to not make the typical computer of the time cry for mercy. So, it’s not like a game can just throw in easy movement as feature; this is something that must be carefully planned, and that will affect many aspects of the game. I’m sure that there will be some problems in the near future when the Fae characters in EQ2 find a way to get someplace the original developers never intended. Heck, witness the ability for some characters to get around in WoW with the few movement-related abilities there!

So, what’s your thoughts? Do you enjoy movement-related abilities? If so, why do you enjoy them?


  1. When I was playing Everquest 1, I thought it was strange, at first, that Ogres and trolls moved exactly as quickly a gnomes( and because the view height of trolls and ogres was higher, this meant that you FELT like you were moving much, much slower as a result). But after a while, I realized that movement abilities get REALLY complicated when games encourage or require grouping and team travel. People sort of need to be clumped together. Movement abilities greatly complicate that.

    I think this might be why (at least in my experience) all sorts of changing / progressing movement abilities are explored much more fully in single player games.

    Comment by Nathan McKenzie — 7 December, 2006 @ 4:00 PM

  2. covert.c wrote:
    Even improved swimming speed could change transport options for aquatic explorers.

    This actually reminds me of one option that frustrated me: the aquatic for for Druids in WoW was a bit disappointing. First, there were not very many places where it was really beneficial to go into the water for long periods of time. The main use seemed to be for Druids with Herbalism to go harvest stranglekelp. Second, the Druid couldn’t cast while in aquatic form. So, if you wanted to actually fight and cast spells in the water you still had to find a way to breathe underwater. It wasn’t really all that neat of an ability other than to frustrate your friends while you swam circles around them.

    Which brings us to Nathan’s comment: yeah, you really need a way to make sure you don’t outpace your friends significantly. Auto-follow tends to make this less of a problem if everyone can just auto-follow the slow guy. Of course, if you’re on the fast mount (or whatever) and are the only person that knows where you’re going, you will do a lot of waiting.

    Some interesting observations here. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 December, 2006 @ 4:54 PM

  3. Indeed, I spent some time acquiring the alchemy skill to create potions of water breathing. They’re not big sellers since there are no places where they’re absolutely required. I definitely share your opinion about the treatment of aquatic options in WoW. I suspect that these aspects were simply not completely explored in the design. The same is true for fire, cold, etc. – there are no large environmental barriers where such resistances are necessary (other than MC but that’s a different threat). This goes a little beyond movement and transport and more about the environ itself.

    Oh well, there’s always lots of cliffs to jump off. :)

    Comment by covert.c. — 7 December, 2006 @ 6:06 PM

  4. I think it’s a theme that could be explored, mind you. Oops, sorry for that pun.

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 8 December, 2006 @ 6:05 AM

  5. I never thought much about movement enhancers until the EQ2 EOF expansion. I rolled a Fae and at first, I didn’t like how it felt to fly and glide. It was awkward for me. However, after just a few days it became very natural and now I lament every having to walk again. I’m also the adventurer type and it’s allowed me to get to places that I wouldn’t have attempted on my normal character. I can jump across ravines to explore. I can glide down into valleys or caves to see if anything is actually there, and recall to get out if it wasn’t some where they expected a player to go. And I’ve jumped off the sides of cliffs to cheat death from mobs and other players. That one is my favorite – they think they have me cornered, this little frail flying thing and as they advance, I turn and leap to safety.

    Comment by Saylah — 8 December, 2006 @ 11:01 AM

  6. The movement powers are *far and away* one of my favorite parts about CoH. I really wish that the vehicle-based powers they were talking about back around the game’s launch had been put in. Motorcycles? Hell yeah.

    What Saylah mentions in her comment, and what you’re driving at in your post, is the ‘feel’ of doing something more than running. I think that’s completely what the movement powers are about. I never *felt* more like a hero than when I was using my movement power. I respecced to super-jump later in my career, but when my primary in CoH first got a movement power it was Flight. Several buddies of mine also chose flight, and the four or five of us soaring across a zone together was completely awesome.

    The ability to do something different from our daily lives is kinda the whole MMOG thing, after all, right? That’s one of the parts of the appeal of WoW mounts. I’d give my eye teeth for a ridable velociraptor! It’s also something I think Vanguard *mostly* has a bead on. You can own a ship, and you can fly on a blimp, and you can ride on a pegasus … but their horse looks like it has terets.

    Comment by Michael — 8 December, 2006 @ 2:30 PM

  7. And I’ve jumped off the sides of cliffs to cheat death from mobs and other players. That one is my favorite – they think they have me cornered, this little frail flying thing and as they advance, I turn and leap to safety.

    HUGE PVP ramifications. Suddenly one race has an advantage others don’t…

    Comment by Grimwell — 9 December, 2006 @ 12:53 AM

  8. I preferred the super-jump in CoH as well and, like Michael, I thought it added to the roleplaying quite a bit…being able to reach places non-supers couldn’t reach. Another element that added to the roleplay was having to chase down villains, like Batman would, so being able to cut the villain off by jumping on the store’s roof rather than following him through the alley was really fun.

    If movement abilities like this are included in a game, it could be worthhwile to design movement-affecting environments. Similar to how particular attacks might excel in one combat situation and meet their own personal “cryptonite” in another situation, movement abilities might have both optimal environments and difficult environments. An area with strong winds and lightning might make flying difficult, while the trap-laden terrain of another might make flying particularly advantageous. A maze-like area with short paths and sharp turns might somewhat negate a player’s speed ability, but speed might make it infinitely easier for that player to catch the creatures of another area which are infamous for running away before death and being speedy devils. Those creatures might even be in an open area at the end of the maze, thereby using the player’s frustration to build tension before a big release and revelry in his speed ability.

    I’m a big fan of dynamics and replayability, so anything that significantly differentiates one play experience from another is of great interest to me.

    Comment by Aaron — 9 December, 2006 @ 10:32 AM

  9. It just occurred to me that it could be interesting to have a 3D game based entirely on movement, as Frogger and Joust (if i remember it correctly) were in 2D environments. Any number of movement variations and skill upgrades are possible now…creeping, sprinting, jumping, climbing, swimming, flying, rebounding, shoving, diving, strafing, etc. A game based entirely on escaping, and perhaps strategic leading (leading enemies into traps) and movement puzzles, could be a lot of fun. You could even add a multiplayer element in which some players attempt to escape while the others take the role of the hunters.

    Comment by Aaron — 9 December, 2006 @ 2:03 PM

  10. I once watched a friend play part of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, and most of the game is a puzzle where you have to figure out the right way to climb, jump, swing and otherwise navigate your way through the level. There’s no time limit and you have to think before you act. But throughout the game there are encounters with this giant supernatural beast which have a very different feel, because you have to frantically run away from this thing and not let it get close enough to kill you (it has these tendrils that snake out and grab you, causing a nasty cutscene death). The chases usually occur in areas you haven’t explored before, and the level design takes this into account–you have to make split-second choices of where to go, but its usually pretty obvious, unlike the rest of the game where leaping without looking will just get you killed.

    These full-tilt chase sequences really get the adrenaline pumping. And its a nice reversal of the usual gameplay situation; usually the player fights things one by one and overcomes them all, but this thing was so much bigger and nastier than everything else in the game that there was nothing you could do but run away from it, fast.

    Comment by moo — 9 December, 2006 @ 9:52 PM

  11. I still remember when I acquired the acrobatics skill in Gothic I.
    It gives your character the ability to make long distance leaps and instead of falling from heights and receiving damage, your character dives down head first in some sort of Superman-flight with his fists forward, elegantly performing a shoulder roll upon impact on the ground.

    I spend hours upon hours just jumping from places.

    It never occured to me to think about WHY it was so much fun until I read your article.

    I guess it comes down to the sense of [b]freedom[/b] it gives you.

    Raw [b]speed[/b] is essential to give you a sense of freedom.
    Controls that result in a slow response on screen (a slow moving char) give me the impression of restriction and can even evoke a “claustrophobic” feeling, so I’d always favor faster movements.

    But raw speed is only one of the benefits.

    The other one being your ability to [b]“move differently”.[/b]
    Getting down a hill by running down the preset path with your new gained raw speed is fun, but it’s even more fun when you’re able to just jump right over the edge, down to the ground and land with a cool looking shoulder roll.

    Again, this could be summed up as speed, you’re getting faster than usual from A to B.
    But the way this is done gives you new options (leaving preset paths) thus enhancing your sense of freedom.

    Anothe example being Super Metroid.
    It’s such a great feeling when you acquire the powerup that lets you gain height by constantly performing somersaults in mid-air.
    Even though you had the High-Jump Boots by then, they suddenly felt (a little) outdated because the somersaults gave you even more freedom.
    You were no longer restricted to plattforms you could land upon/jump from, now you could just move through the air to… wherever.

    I think in the case of Gothic I, which didn’t rely as heavy on jump ‘n’ run elements as SuperMetroid, the standard movements would have been sufficient if I never knew that there were these acrobatics (or if they never had been implemented) but as soon as I got them I had this moment of realization: “So now THIS is freedom.” I never knew how much I was missing.

    Comment by DMP — 28 January, 2007 @ 4:49 PM

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