Do you like games/worlds which have an ecology?

I was levelling an alt recently, which meant a trip through several zones that I haven’t seen for awhile. This is partly because they’re lower level zones that my lower level alt needed for quests, but also because I was levelling herbalism from scratch.

Most games with gathering skills have some variety of herbalism and some variety of mining. But somehow I always struggle to imagine my character pulling out a pick, strip mining the local landscape, and then refining some copper. Besides which, mining is hard labour and not exactly the thing for a caster (or any adventurer). Picking herbs, skinning kills, or fishing is simply much more immersive. (Note: I have no idea how many players even think about this but it always bugged me!)

I’ve always enjoyed herbalism the most of the WoW gathering skills and it’s because the flowers have a basic sort of ecology which you will have to learn if you want to find them easily. Some plants are only found in specific zones. All of them have favoured habitats. So some grow under trees, others by the side of rivers, some in open grassland, others on rocky hills, and in one case, underwater. Even though the base UI itself will show all herbs up as dots on the minimap, a bit of ‘herb lore’ will make it quicker to gather the ones you want.

So even riding around empty low level zones looking for herbs is fun for me. It’s peaceful and I’m able to brush up my world lore by knowing where things grow without needing to look it up. In other words, it helps to bring the game world alive for me. The ecology feels immersive – it’s like I’m there.

I do think people notice when the mobs and plants are well themed to a zone. The jungle of Stranglethorn wouldn’t be the same without the lush trees or the tigers and panthers. It’s all part of what gives a zone an atmosphere of its own.

I would love it if more virtual worlds had proper ecologies that weren’t based purely on what level pigs you can find in each zone. You could imagine becoming a virtual plant expert or virtual bird watcher. To be honest, I would much rather study virtual creatures in their natural habitat than kill them. Especially if they have interesting behaviour to watch. Even though addons and websites would kill any knowledge advantage, it’s still fun to spot rare creatures for yourself.

The problem is, of course, that players screw up all ecologies by mass slaughter. But I can still dream of that birdwatching MMO that probably no one except me would ever play …

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12 thoughts on “Do you like games/worlds which have an ecology?

  1. Vibrant and dynamic ecologies would certainly add a lot to the immersion of a game. Imagine if the ecology of an area changed over time depending on how populated the area was or how much combat occurred in it. The more fighting which occurred, the less natural animals and plants for crafting resources would be available. That would be really interesting and – aside for the obvious flaws :) – it would force players into taking decisions about the environment they want to hunt in.

  2. We could have a more living ecology by beast born as low-level, and grow up. If you mass-slaughter all the boars, the respawned ones would be lvl 1, giving only lvl 1 loot. So you would have to wait for them to grow up, you couldn’t grind them mindlessly.

    Oh wait! Any game that cannot be done mindlessly is definitely not “casual”-friendly :-)

    • It’ll be just like RL, all the hardcore business goblins could clearcut the pretty trees, exhaust fish supplies in all the water, pollute the air and make all the bears extinct! :)

  3. The WoW zone that someone definately thought about the ecology of is Grizzly Hills. I have to admit, bears fishing for salmon pretty much impressed me.

  4. I’d play a birdwatching mmo :P My grandmother was an avid birdwatcher, and I used to go out with her all the time. I’ve done quarterly counts, gone owling, banded birds, and so on.

  5. I really dig it and will pause in a zone when life appears to be functioning in some way. Like the above mentioned bears eating fish in Grizzly Hills or zones where animals are fighting each other or will come sprinting out of the trees to chase down a critter. It adds a certain ambience and a sense that animal mobs aren’t just wandering some set course back and forth.

    Wouldn’t it be cool if we competed with the local herbivores for herb nodes? Maybe If I cleared a few yellow elk I could find a few more mage royal. And maybe more salmon pools would spawn if I took care of a couple of Grizzlies.

    I really like the addition of rare beasts, but they are SO rare that they are primarily just lore. I would like to see some more slightly less rare beasts that you could find by learning in-game information about what they eat, what time of day they come out, etc.

  6. I’m definitely a fan of games that plan out ecologies; it shows a better sense of worldbuilding. Since I look at these MMO things more as worlds than games, anything that leans in that direction makes me happy.

  7. Here’s a quesiton, though, would different ecologies and atmospheres affect how you play, interact with other, and feel in each zone? Do they at present in WoW, I wonder?

    I always felt cranky when I was leveling in Desolace, for example, and loved going to STV – even though it was gank central, there really is something awsome about that lush jungle. Guildies wouldn’t hesitate to help me there, but pretty much flat out refused to lend a hand in Desolace or the Badlands.

    But still, when you’re just going through the kill count or finding doo-hickies, does the atmosphere matter? I like to think it does, but am I alone in that?

  8. In WoW, the amount and type of fish are quite realistic, because Greg Street (Ghostcrawler) was a marine biologist in a former life. I enjoy that I’m fishing up semi-realistic fish instead of “generically named fish that grants X buff when cooked”.

    I like realistic ecology, or at least ecology that feels like it would be real, if the place was real.

    • Awesome. I didn’t know that, but it’s very cool. And I agree, realistic probably isn’t viable (like I say, players would deforest the trees, use up all the minerals, leave all the species extinct etc) but giving a realistic appearance … that could be.

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