Hope you like sand, because you’re in for a lot of it!
The other day an unnamed party and I were recording an unnamed podcast in while we were discussing the music that played in MMORPG desert zones. I can neither confirm nor deny that you will hear this conversation in the future, but boy did it trigger a few nasty memories. In Syp’s hierarchy of most-disliked video game biomes, the list goes:
- Volcano & lava zones
- Desert zones
- Jungle zones
There are different aspects I hate about each, but what sets desert areas apart is simply how boring most of them are. There’s only so much you can do with a desert, since its very definition means “lacking anything cool.” Developers probably can’t be blamed for dumping the desert area design on the interns, because the their toolbag is pretty limited here. Cacti? Sand? Scorpions jumping up out at you from the ground? A tan rock? A brown rock? Spiders? The one token oasis? TAN. BROWN. BROWN. TAN.
I guess I can’t blame MMO devs for working deserts in — after all, it’s easiest to draw upon actual earth biomes for inspiration, and deserts are pretty prevalent on our planet. But can they ever do anything neat with them? I doubt it. At least, I can’t say that I recall any that have made me go, “Ooh, that’s cool, I want to spend a whole bunch of time questing here!” No, usually I feel like I’m being punished for some unknown crime that dogs me from game to game.
Now of course, I’m mostly speaking of a classical desert that seems to be the go-to type for video games. When devs aren’t being totally lazy by creating zones with a whole lot of nothing in them, they attempt to emulate two popular desert concepts.
There’s the Egyptian motif, with pyramids, more green (thanks, Nile!), large statues, and all of that ancient world feel. It’s not a terrible theme, and it’s probably the one desert type that I will gladly tolerate. I kind of regret that I never got to see Warhammer Online’s Land of the Dead, which was (from what I understood) old Egypt meets undead horror. Often this gets paired with the Indiana Jones/archaeology flavor.
Then there’s the Arabian Nights collection, the enjoyment of which depends on how much you like that source material. Me? Not really. I don’t like the architecture, the over-reliance on camels, and genies who have never really granted me the wishes I wanted in video games.
My preferred desert, although it is rarely labeled as such, is the western Utah badlands design. Lots of picturesque rocks, a wild west feel, deep canyons, and the like. Maybe it’s the addition of a wider color palette — especially those dusky reds — that helps make it a more enjoyable desert.
Still, if given a choice between a desert zone and anywhere else (save Volcano Land), I won’t give my exit from the desert a second thought. Luke Skywalker couldn’t wait to leave Tatooine, after all, and I don’t blame him.
Can MMO desert zones ever be cool? Can’t see it happening. Include it so that you have the whole earth collection if you must, but you’ve got a massive uphill climb to ever getting me to gush about such an area.