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Time is the Fire in which We Burn

Hello again, and welcome to the 8th in our series of development blogs for Pathfinder Online.

First up is a quick status update. Since the last blog, we've moved closer to finalizing our middleware, and we're also about to make our first hires outside of the executive team! We should have more to share on those topics in the next few blogs.

I personally spent most of last week in San Francisco at the Game Developer's Conference, where I met with some media contacts and industry insiders. The halls were as busy as I'd ever seen them, and the companies who participated looked healthy. I also spent time examining more middleware options, which helped convince me that we're on the right track with our current plan!

Thanks to everyone who has helped us with our video project! Please keep them coming! We really appreciate the effort and passion you've put into the project.

Just Passing Time

It seems a simple thing really: the passage of time. But in fact, the time scale of a virtual world is as important as the scale for length, width, and height. As we discussed what the scale of time should be in Pathfinder Online, in the context of designing for a single server, these were factors we considered:

  1. Players should not be forced to play in a constant state of day or night based on their local time
  2. Golarion has four seasons just like Earth, and there is value in reproducing those seasons in the game—for the sake of immersion and the value in storytelling, and also for marketing and promotions
  3. Distance creates value, in that time is required to transport objects across it; also, when initiating or responding to aggression, distance adds strategic complexity to the game... but the time to cross long distances can also be boring and creates a reason to quit playing the game

The following represents the current design of the game and is, as always, subject to change based on community feedback, future design work, and playtesting.

15 Seconds to a Minute

Everyone playing Pathfinder Online should have the experience of some time in daylight and some time at night, regardless of where you're physically located and what time you regularly play. So there will be a day/night change every three real-time hours in the game. That means that days in Pathfinder Online will pass four times faster than real time—each in-game minute will pass in 15 real-time seconds.

With respect to seasons, the River Kingdoms are in the northern hemisphere of Golarion, and they will have seasons that correspond to the Earth's northern hemisphere. When it's winter in Seattle, it will be winter in Pathfinder Online. (Of course we'd like to have visual seasonal changes like snow in the winter, flowering foliage in the spring, leaves changing color in autumn, etc. That's a long-range objective which may not be implemented in-game for quite some time, though.)

To preserve this mapping between Golarion seasons and real seasons, the Pathfinder Online's version of Golarion will need four times as many days per year. This is a change from the Golarion of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but it shouldn't create any significant continuity issues, as one year in Pathfinder Online will still map to one year in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which maps to one year in real time.

It seems likely that Golarion's moon will orbit four times as slowly in Pathfinder Online as well, but moon phase by day is too fiddly to worry about in terms of continuity between the tabletop and the virtual world so it may not matter. (And the moon may not even have phases in Pathfinder Online, at least not for a long time—it's pretty far down the list of priorities to worry about at this stage of development!)

The Physics of 4× Time

For game design purposes, we assume an average human can walk about 3 miles per hour. Hexes are about three quarters of a mile from edge to edge, so it takes about 15 minutes for a character to walk across a hex. At 4× time, crossing a hex on foot will take less than four minutes, assuming the character can walk in a straight line from edge to edge. This passes a basic sanity test when considering the travel times required to cross the zones in other MMOs.

The Crusader Road area is about 12 miles tall by 11 miles wide. It would require an hour of game time to walk a line from top to bottom—a few minutes less to go from side to side. There are 256 hexes in the area, so if you could walk straight across every hex, it would require about 16 hours of play time. This also passes a sanity test when compared to other virtual worlds. And as the area of the game expands with future development, the total time to traverse the area will grow as well.

Of course, it would look silly if we sped up the movement of your avatar by a factor of four; your character's walk will appear perfectly normal, as will the rest of the physics.

Real Time and the Game Clock

Many aspects of the game design (like skill training, for example) require the passage of real time. We'll ensure that there's a good way to differentiate between game time and real time when providing information about these kinds of timers. We expect that social organizations will also want to do scheduling for activities in real time (although they may then need to specify certain objectives or time limits in game time) so we'll be thinking about ways to address that as well.

Unusual Movement

So far, we've talked about walking as the standard mode of transportation. In fact, we expect that characters will use a variety of mounts to move about the game world, many of which will move faster than a walking character. The variables involved are complex enough that trying to describe them in this context is not going to add much value. Even on a fast mount, the time required to move from point to point within the game world will still be fairly significant.

Of course, you won't always move at the fastest possible rate. Tracking, searching, and other such activities will slow you down. And while some conveyances will allow you to move a lot of stuff at one time, the draft animals that pull them generally move at less than walking speed. Terrain conditions will also affect your speed—slogging through a muddy marsh is going to take longer than traversing a good road.

And in a world of magic, you may also find your character affected by enchantments which could speed up or slow down your movement.

Fast Travel

This has been a topic of much interest on the messageboards, and this is a good place to address it.

Fast travel is a mechanism that allows a character to move from place to place in the game world faster than it would take to walk. Typically, fast travel in MMOs is "hands free," meaning players don't have to interact with the game while their character is traveling.

In general, fast travel in Pathfinder Online will not be instantaneous. Instead, characters that are using fast travel are assumed to be moving at a rate of up to five times normal speed (that is, 20 times real time). Traversing a hex at this rate requires less than a minute. During fast travel, you will not have to direct your character—it will simply move to the destination you've selected.

To engage in fast travel, you'll need to start at a defined location; you can't just be wandering in the wilderness. And you'll need to know the location of your destination. These locations are discoverable as you explore the world, and can be shared by members of social organizations as well. To initiate fast travel, you'll access the in-game map, find your destination, and select it.

Your map has several levels of magnification. At the highest magnification, you can see a fairly detailed visualization of the hex you're currently in (or as much of it as you've explored). Zooming out, you can see the region surrounding your current hex, and the locations you know of in that region. You'll be able to use fast travel on this level. At the lowest magnification, you'll be able to see the whole Crusader Road area, with only certain kinds of locations visible—likely settlements—enabling you to make the longest journeys.

Typically, a long-distance journey would start by setting your map to the lowest magnification and fast traveling to the settlement nearest your final destination, then zooming in and fast traveling in a series of hops towards the closest defined point that you're aware of near your destination, and then walking the rest of the way if need be.

During fast travel you may be ambushed (see our previous dev blog to read about hideouts and how ambushes are triggered). If you're ambushed, you'll drop out of fast travel and will have to take control of your character and navigate to a place of safety where you can initiate fast travel again. You won't be able to enter fast travel while you're engaged in combat, or for a while after you've engaged in combat.

You can't use fast travel if you've been flagged as a criminal.

There are likely to be other effects that restrict or negate your ability to enter fast travel or have the capability to force you out of fast travel into normal movement. So even though it's a "hands free" method of movement, there will be a risk to your character. If you leave your computer or don't pay attention to what's happening, you could find that you've been ambushed, attacked, and killed while you thought you were moving from place to place.

Please feel free to discuss these topics on the Pathfinder Online messageboards. We're always interested in hearing your feedback about the direction of the game design.

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