I don’t profess being a forum hound dog. I don’t spend hours of my day sifting through posts about this or that game topic so I can join in the argument. I have never really found the time to entwine myself in a forum community in order to become one of its more active members with a post count in the tens of thousands. I typically just look in on a couple of forums from time to time to get an idea of any current trends in topics or discussions on games I am following. That is the extent to which I troll.
That said, I recently came across a forums discussion on Bethsoft’s website about collision detection in Elder Scrolls Online that caught my attention. The thread started as a poll of sorts, asking for voters to choose whether they would or would not want collision detection in the game. The thread naturally devolved into a “heated” discussion on the matter that went on for several pages, leading nowhere as they often do. Despite this argument being akin to beating an already dead horse back to life at this point, I thought I might present some of the more noteworthy, well-thought-out ideas expressed in that forum’s thread.
One of the first thoughts expressed was, “Skyrim had collision detection, why can’t ESO?” The answer to this question is simple really. Skyrim only had one player to keep track of as opposed to thousands of players in an online environment. Not to mention that even with Skyrim there were exceptions to the collision rule. Ever notice that some tree branches and bushes could be walked though despite their rather hardy, impeding appearance? Very few single player games have full and complete collision detection for absolutely every object a player might come in contact with. Though Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls games did a great job of providing players with an immersive, interactive world to explore, there simply are not enough hours in a day to program collision for absolutely everything.
Most of the main focus on this debate for collision detection stemmed from the sentiment that some players don’t like the feeling like they are fighting a ghost because they can move through an enemy while fighting. My personal thought on this is that players can always choose not to move through another character model intentionally in order to simulate collision if it really matters to them that much or for role play value. I know that I personally find myself stopping short of “bumping” into another character model by nature and therefore have never really noticed if there was any form of collision detection at work or not. It’s all in the psychology of how you play I guess.
Another layer to the discussion was leveled with, “Age of Conan and even EVE Online have collision detection that works.” I can certainly appreciate the idea behind this argument since both of these games are online games like ESO will be, but the developers for those games chose to add collision detection to their games for their own reasons. In addition to that, the games in question here are different in style and concept from ESO, especially EVE Online. From my limited exposure to EVE, it seemed to me that collision detection was designed to add to the reality of the game meant to keep players aware of their surroundings when flying through the vastness of space else they should destroy their rather expensive ships in an accident. As EVE Online is based in a fully realized 3D space (literally) where players can not only move horizontally, but vertically too, I feel it serves as a poor example by which to compare ESO. Besides that, EVE Online’s battles are at long range for the most part and it would likely be hard to impact another ship intentionally, be it an NPC or player. ESO on the other hand is ground based and collision detection becomes a whole other ball of wax to deal with.
One particular concern on this subject involves PvP. Admittedly to my limited knowledge; Age of Conan’s PvP did not play any major role within the game itself, unlike the intention for ESO. PvP battles in ESO are going to be a major element of the game, so this could, and most likely will, lead to exploitation of sorts. Players may constantly find themselves on the receiving end of repeated “strategic griefing” that could lead to complaints and subscriptions lost due to unfair PvP balance issues. Rage quit much, you ask? Yes, I have quit playing games in the past due to balance issues and I’m certain I’m not alone there.
However, collision detection in PvE could be a different story. It could greatly add to the “realism” of a combat situation if enemy mobs strategically backed a player into a corner or other tight spot that made escape impossible and death a certainty or vice versa. But, unfortunately you can’t have collision detection in one part of a game and not in another because collision detection is at the heart of the game engine. It is an all or nothing prospect.
Though I am certainly not a game developer or programmer, my understanding of collision detection as I have learned of it so far leads to this final thought; at this point in the development cycle, it could most likely delay the game by up to another year or so if Zenimax chose to add it in. It would require tearing down all the base code of the engine, writing in the collision detection code, then testing and re-writing again and again to stabilize the engine once more. Basically going all the way back to the alpha phase which would mean a delayed release, potential lost interest in the game and heaps upon heaps of additional money spent in development that isn’t being recouped by sales which could then lead to funding being dropped and the game never being realized. I for one would rather not wait that much longer for the game as I am eagerly awaiting its release.
Some food for thought before I go. A good friend of mine once told me that life is like a series of battles. You have to pick your battles carefully because some are more important than others. Though I do not really have a strong opinion one way or the other on the subject of collision detection, it seems to me this would be one of those “little” battles he was talking about. A high quality Elder Scrolls game that feels like an Elder Scrolls game that I can also enjoy with others online seems like a better cause to fight for on the whole and collision detection is just a small part of that.
If you wish to learn more about the complexities of collision detection, here is an excellent article written by a game developer back in 2000 detailing all the background math and consideration that goes into creating realistic collision detection: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131598/advanced_collision_detection_.php?print=1
And another article on the subject of collision detection from a developer’s point of view written more recently, in April of this year, can also be found here: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/java/library/wa-html5-game8/