Airspace

Has there ever been an interesting and/or fun flying mechanic in any game?

I keep asking myself that question, as my eyes glaze over while holding Shift + W in an attempt to get somewhere in Ark on a flying mount. Flying anywhere in Ark is especially egregious, as not only is there no auto-Run/Sprint, letting go of the W key will cause your mount to stop moving altogether. Flying is not particularly engaging in WoW either, but at least you can hit NumLock (or other keybind) and then Alt-Tab for a while.

Which then begs the question of why flying commonly works the way it does at all.

In WoW, it is in perhaps its most banal form: a land mount that moves on a 3rd axis. Up, down, sideways, for infinite periods of time. Back when Flightgate was occurring, I was firmly in Camp Fly, but not because flying itself was particularly fun. Back in Burning Crusade when there were actual concerns – Fel Cannons and flying enemies capable of dismounting you – but those have largely been abandoned in favor of… attunements and grinding. Not a particular improvement.

In Ark, things are a tiny bit different. The biggest difference would be the existence of a Stamina meter, requiring one to eventually land somewhere. This need for landing does slightly alter the gameplay of flying, insofar as you must make decisions to, say, attempt to cross the Swamp at low Stamina or rest up beforehand. Otherwise, flying is largely identical, with no real to worry about running into trees or being attacked by really anything (PvP aside).

Know something that I do find compelling gameplay? Gliding. A lot of people have gone on about GW2’s introduction of gliding in Heart of Thorns and how great it is, but I’ve never experience it there. In WoW though, the Goblin Glider has been my fam for most of Legion. And don’t get me started on how lethargic it feels to play any other class after experiencing the Demon Hunter for 20 minutes. Double-jump plus glide everywhere? Give that dev a raise.

Gliding has a lot going for it, mechanically. There is the gameplay necessary to get to a high enough location to glide in the first place, for example. Once you actually take the leap, your time is limited in a very real, intuitive way. Stamina bars can technically limit flight too, but only abstractly. There is something engaging about the way you might scan the ground ahead, making minor course corrections, seeking to avoid the dangers at the end of your decaying trajectory. Even if you are not actively moving left or right, your mind is still performing the prodigious, subconscious calculus of triangulation every second. Compare that to Shift + W.

The “obvious” solution is to make flying mounts handle more like gliders. But is that really a winning combination? Maybe.

I think the challenge is the threading of the needle between making flying engaging without it being onerous. Having to press Spacebar for each flap of the mount’s wings is probably not the way to go. Being able to dive bomb though? Catching updrafts? Gliding around obstacles? Having to actually pay attention when flying through forests? That is something I can get behind. One of my favorite mounts in Ark is actually the Giant Toad, as its huge jumps are infinitely entertaining in of themselves. Can you imagine a game, MMO or otherwise, that had a flying system fun enough to be its own reward, rather than merely a mechanism to get from A to B?

If it already exists, let me know where.

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Posted on October 2, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Gliding in GW2 is fantastic. Gliding in ArcheAge wasn’t bad either. I do think that, when you consider technique, gliding has it over flying but simple flying as in WoW, EQ2 or Vanguard is sublime. Its almost exactly like my own dreams of flying (which I had long before I ever flew in a video game) and there is no more joyous experience than complete freedom of movement in three dimensions. I fly around in all MMOs that have flying just for the sheer pleasure of it and increasingly I resent time spent traveling in MMOs that don’t feature flight.

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    • I’m in favor of all the things flying does in WoW, gameplay-wise, but the actual action itself does nothing for me. Well, scratch that, I do enjoy whenever my Phoenix/drake/etc put their wings out and appear to be sailing on the wind. It’s fake gliding/momentum, but it works for a few seconds.

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  2. The gliding mechanic of Demon Hunters would make Blizzard another mint of money if they sold bolt-on wings in the cash shop. I would have bought them for every character. You are absolutely right – there is no better way of getting around then the gliding mechanic.

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    • Blizzard probably believes too strongly in class identity for that to ever happen. Which is… probably a good thing, even though it kinda sucks. Should they travel down that path, I’m pretty sure the cash shop would consume the entire game.

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      • You are right – I would settle for a goblin creation or potion effect. They just really nailed the feeling of gravity with that demon wing gliding ability. Yet just couldn’t get into that class. Ah well.

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  3. The new griffon mount in GW2 seems like it’s a blend of flying/gliding (ie. it starts out as falling/gliding with style and the occasional wing flap for a brief height burst) but seems to get slightly more complicated to operate after its masteries are unlocked.

    https://en-forum.guildwars2.com/discussion/6243/guide-how-to-fly-the-griffon-mount

    Having juuust managed to get my hands on the basic griffon last night and not yet done with the masteries, I can’t offer any firsthand opinions as to the experience as yet.

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  4. To answer this quickly : ” Can you imagine a game, MMO or otherwise, that had a flying system fun enough to be its own reward, rather than merely a mechanism to get from A to B?”
    All flying simulator game ? From arcade ( rogue squadron, crimson skies, wii play plus ) to more simulation ( elite dangerous) to pure flight simulator.
    How to make this into a MMO is another question ; -)

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  5. Super-jumps in Morrowind were always an exciting proposition. Hole-in-one challenges can be a great way to make a long journey more interesting.
    One-off wildly-inaccurate ballistic skill-shots are fun for the occasional trips but would probably get annoying if used frequently. For actual flying, I nominate GTA3’s Dodo. A flying machine that doesn’t want to fly and requires finesse to keep it in the air.
    For WoW I would introduce either a random path deviation (similar to the random stagger effect when drunk) or give flying mounts a very large turning circle.

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