Monday, December 19, 2011

[SWTOR] Shared Reality

I find SWTOR's use of phasing to be fascinating.

The world changes. NPCs do different things and even die.  But the areas where the changes occur are cordoned off from the rest of the world, and are explicitly marked off using red and green force fields. If you enter one of these areas, there's an explicit note on the UI, telling you who controls this reality. It's generally the first person in the group who enters the area.

To put this in WoW terms, imagine if all the changes to the throne room of Stormwind in WoW's history still existed.  Bolvar and Lady Prestor start there. When Onyxia is revealed in the Great Masquerade, it phases to become just Bolvar. Then when Varian returns, the phase changes again. But the throne room would have an explicit entrance. When you enter, you get put in a specific phase, and you know who's phase you are in.

WoW uses what I call "seamless" phasing. The world changes, and you really cannot tell where the change starts, or who's reality you are seeing. Or more accurately, you are always seeing your own personal reality.  Two people in the same group can be in the same area, but be out of phase with each other.

By having the explicit entrance to the phased area, SWTOR has its phasing be less seamless and more like instances. Which makes it seem more gamist and less world-like. But this system has the advantage of making things clearer for group play.  And parts of the world still change in response to events.

The problem with phasing has always been, given a group of two players with different states, determining which player's reality should hold for the group. I have seen many algorithms and strategies proposed, and they all have some flaws.

SWTOR chooses to delegate the decision on which reality to use back to the players. It is a very interesting strategy. It is a lot easier to deal with, at the price of making the world less "world-like" and more "game-like".


  1. Think a WoW could benefit from adding an optional group toggle to their phasing system. Something like sync" to the party leader's phasing so people could go back and help their friends in older phases.

  2. From my time in the beta, I found myself actually preferring the "seamed" phasing experience.

    Anyone who spent more than 5 minutes in a WoW phasing zone recognized the seams of the seamless phasing zones (entire groups of mobs fading in an out). And the negatives associated with invisible mob aggro, disappearing resource nodes, and groups never being in sync with each other far, far outweighs whatever suspension of disbelief issues that come from arbitrary force fields. Remember trying to summon people at the stone outside ICC? We typically had to send out 4 people just to be sure.

  3. I have been grumping about this for years now in WoW. I have even suggested multiple times that they need to implement into the interface the ability for the party leader to select which phase/state to use out of those available in the party, or at least sync to party leaders state.

  4. I like the way it's done, too.

  5. It's not a bad approach in my opinion; I agree it disrupts the simulation, but then I was always horribly vexed by WoW's seamless phasing ("where have you gone, I can't see you??").
    if you really must phase areas, at least this way players can tell and control it.

  6. City of Heroes, with the release of (IIRC) the 'Going Rogue' expansion that added the additional starter world of Praetoria, added open-world phasing where actions taken by a character in their missions would affect how the world was displayed; the way CoH handled disjoint phasing was that, for all the players on a team, the phase of the player whose mission was active was used. This could create annoyances -- there was a Resistance mission contact that disappeared if you completed a particular Loyalist mission, for example -- but it was a single consistent method that worked