Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

WildStar Weflections: The Nexus Housing Initiative

Ah, player housing. Of all the wonderful trinkets promised to us during an MMO’s development cycle, player housing is the most often to be cast to the wayside. Even World of Warcraft, a game that found the time to include a fully functional replica of Plants vs Zombies in their past expansion, has never followed through on adding this feature. Newer games scoff at the premise, deeming housing a superficial and unwieldy waste of time. Me, I’ve always longed for a place to kick up my feet after a long day of adventuring.

It looks like WildStar is throwing their hat into the ring, and they mean business – literally. Carbine Studios released a trailer earlier this month advertising the Nexus Housing Initiative. Framed as an advertisement paid for by the dubious galaxy-spanning Protostar Corporation, the trailer plays out as an infomercial for real estate on the planet Nexus. The bulbous green host espouses the joys of clearing an acre of wilderness on the frontier planet, erecting a home there, and furnishing it. In the final quarter of the trailer, it is revealed that players will even be able to vault their dwelling into the heavens, turning it into a floating island.

This latter feature is probably one of the most intriguing game design choices Carbine Studios has revealed so far. The floating islands solve one of the cloying problems that player housing faces in MMOs: real estate. Unless your game is a massive procedurally generated sandbox like Minecraft, your world is eventually going to run out of usable and desirable plots of land. Servers in Ultima Online grappled with this issue for years. For this reason, recent theme park MMOs that have toyed with the notion of player housing have generally pitched it as an instanced area. Although this allows for a nigh-infinite number of dwellings to be placed, the prestige and utility of housing is diminished by segregating it from the true game world. WildStar’s solution hedges the line between these two models. By employing the z-axis, the game keeps player housing accessible and visible while preventing unmitigated urban sprawl from suffocating questing areas.

It’s a clever solution, but it raises a lot of questions. Do we have to raise anchor and lift our home off the ground, or is it only an option? Are we going to be able to pilot our islands freely across the horizon of Nexus, or are we stuck in a fixed position? Are we going to need flying mounts to get up there? Will my guild mates and I be able to merge our islands together into an ominous floating continent and rain down righteous fire from the heavens? Okay, so that last one is pretty unlikely, but I’m genuinely eager to see how this feature pans out.

Carbine Studios, you’ve once again capture my imagination.

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By Mathew
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer