03/04/2014

Weather Changes and Day/Night Cycles in SWTOR

There aren't any.

The end.

Ha!

That would be a pretty short post though, wouldn't it? Let's go into a bit more detail.

Syl recently wrote about her love for day/night cycles in MMOs and how they contribute heavily towards making her feel truly immersed in a virtual world. Rav then followed this up with some comments about how much she appreciates the changing weather conditions in Lord of the Rings Online, while also noting that this is something that she really misses in SWTOR.

I heartily agree with both of them. I still remember the amazement I felt when I first experienced rain in World of Warcraft (my first MMO), and I'd love it if SWTOR implemented weather and day/night cycles tomorrow. However, I feel that it's a bit unfair to draw a straight comparison between a game like SWTOR and your average fantasy MMO and to accuse Bioware of being lazy for not having all the same features.

Most fantasy MMOs that I know of take place on a single world (things like WoW's trips through the Dark Portal not withstanding). Once the devs figure out how day and night work in that world, how often they alternate and how they change the sky... they are pretty much done. If you add a new area to play through later, it's still going to be in the same time zone and look up at the same sun and moon. (I'd be quite curious about a game that includes different time zones as an in-game feature though, or day/night cycles that change with the seasons.)


In a sci-fi MMO where you hop around between different planets on the other hand, things are a bit different. Every sky is unique, with the differences ranging from a variety of colours to there being different numbers of suns and moons in the sky, so the changes between night and day would be different on every single planet - meaning that day/night cycles would be an extra piece of work that would need redoing every time they add a a new planet.

There is also the question of how the passage of time would work. Right now every planet is forever stuck at the same point in time when you visit - on most of them that's day time, but there are exceptions where it's dusk or night whenever you land. Now, it would be possible to simply tie day and night to the server clock and make it pass the same way everywhere, but personally I feel that it being night on every single planet in the entire galaxy at the same time, wherever I go, would be no less weird than it being the same time on each planet (but at least different on different planets) whenever I visit. So if you wanted to go for something truly immersive, you'd have to come up with unique day/night cycles for each planet - more busywork!

I don't think there are really enough space MMOs out there to establish a shared standard as for how much work should go into features like this, but I did do a quick bit of reading up on how it was in Star Wars Galaxies (which I never played). According to this page, different planets did indeed have different day/night cycles there, based on a pretty simple system - however, it's worth noting that even after eight years of operation, Galaxies didn't have as many different planets as SWTOR launched with.

So I can completely understand that this is not something Bioware chose to go for. At least when you develop a day/night cycle for a fantasy world, players will actually get to experience it most of the time (unless they are in a cave or a dungeon for example). A day/night cycle for Tatooine on the other hand would only ever be experienced by the small percentage of players who actually spend time on Tatooine at that particular moment - and the same would be true for every other planet, with the percentages getting ever smaller the more planets you add and the more you spread out the population. It just seems like a lot of work for a very limited pay-off.


Now, weather... that's something I feel less sure about. I can understand it always being day when I go to Alderaan, but I don't understand why it's always sunny. It seems to be a planet with a moderate climate, so there should be some rain occasionally. And unlike day and night, I could see weather being something that would be easier to "recycle". It doesn't have to be on a fixed timer, so it could just be randomised for each planet, drawing from a pool of existing options that seem sensible for the planet in question (e.g. no rain on Tatooine). Things like cloud cover and the animation for rain (which already exists on Dromund Kaas at least) could be reused on different planets without it feeling weird. (I probably wouldn't want to drink the rain on Hutta for example, but it would be perfectly fine looking the same as other rain.) It would still be extra work compared to just having no weather variations at all of course, but in this instance it strikes me as more of a case of having to put in the work once and then they'd be able to re-use a lot of the assets whenever they add another planet.

So in summary, while I'd certainly love to watch the twin suns set over the Dune Sea one day, I can understand why that's not likely to ever happen in The Old Republic. But a bit of weather? One can always hope.

14 comments:

  1. This would be fantastic. Tatooine at night sounds amazing!! If you look at The Sims 2 & 3 (also EA games, as Bioware is under EA), the weather expansions were released a lot later than the base game. Bioware could even implement combat buffs during certain types of weather. For example, inquisitors getting a buff during rain/lightning. This does look like a lot of work for our devs without a lot in return though, but the increase in gaming immersion would be wonderful.

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    1. That's an interesting idea, though that would add a lot more complexity than simply having the weather change occasionally. Then again, if it actually affected gameplay, they could make it a proper feature expansion. I can see it now... coming in 2015: The Galactic Weather Forecast! :D

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    1. Yep... then they would just have to change them a bit and we could have sandstorms on Tatooine too!

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    2. If you are feeling particularly nostalgic, you can always go to the edges of the map or to some of the higher mountains on Hoth: there are snow storms there! Only the unfortunate side-effect is that your character will die if they stay in there too long...

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  3. Good points... although I'd love to see weather in SWTOR as well, I think the chances they are actually going to implement something this fundamental so long after launch are slim. One can hope, though!

    Also, nice change of blog layout. The green looks good with the commando healing beam. :)

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    1. Thanks! To be honest the green-healing beam connection is something that I meant to go for from the start, it just didn't quite work out the way I had intended after too much fiddling around with the previous version. :P

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  4. It'd also change the mood of the some of the planets quite a lot. For instance, look at Taris, which is a daytime planet for Republic and night-time planet for Imperials. Putting it on a rotating regular cycle would eliminate some of the mood for both sides.

    I do agree that the lack of a day/night cycle can feel a bit stale after a while, but at least it does allow Bioware another tool when it comes to crafting the appropriate mood and tone for each planet.

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    1. That's a good point about the time of day setting the mood for some planets. (Ilum by day would certainly feel very different!)

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    2. It would still shift the mood some, but there's nothing that says you have to keep the day and night the same length -- Republic Taris, for example, could have a cycle that was 3/4 day and 1/4 night, and Imperial Taris the reverse. And there's nothing that says the day/night cycles have to be anywhere close to a 'real' day -- City of Heroes, for example, ran a half-hour 'day' (although part of the reasoning behind that was not making players wait when they got missions to defeat mobs that only appeared at night), but for practical purposes I would think you'd want a longer 'game day' -- set the 'galactic standard day' at, say, six or twelve hours, with planets varying in day length up to, perhaps, an hour each way from that; the faction fleets might keep the 'standard' day/night cycle with lighting shifts, but the planets would drift apart as time went on.

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  5. There's a little bit of changing ambient weather in game already. (I know I've seen snow in the air on Alderaan, and I'm pretty sure that either it doesn't rain all the time on Dromund Kaas or the rain gets heavier and more noticeable at times.) It seems like it would be easy enough to tweak that for weather on most planets. (Tatooine is kind of the odd one out, since it's canonically _so_ short on water.)

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  6. I'm having trouble trying to decide whether a) Hoth has any moons, and b) if it doesn't whether Hoth would be so dark and desolate that you could easily speed right off a cliff.

    It's an interesting premise, but not all worlds have a visible sky. Considering that a lot of Nar Shadda and Coruscant takes place inside, and the jungles of Taris aren't much better, that I'm not sure whether it is worth the development time.

    Me, I'd prefer to have Bioware zap that annoying bug which makes a taxi disappear in city-planets (Nar Shadda and Coruscant) before tackling day/night cycles.

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    1. Huh, I've never heard of or experienced that bug. What happens, do you randomly fall to your death?

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    2. No, you're flying around in the big taxi, and the ship flickers in and out, which makes it seem like you're flying in space. At first I thought it was an nVidia vs. ATI bug, but since I've seen it on both I guess it's not graphics card related.

      The thing is that I've only seen the bug on the city-planets, so I suspect it's related to the background material.

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