Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What happens when we're not looking?

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound? The real question is of course - can we be sure of anything that happens outside of our cognitive senses? If we don't experience something, how can we say that it happens? In the case of reality and falling trees in woods the answer is fairly simple. Anything in that happens in the world has some effect on something else, so even if we don't see step a, we can deduce that step a must've happened because we can see step c. If the ground is wet we can assume it is because it has rained even if we never saw the rain. This is much how advanced physics actually works. When astronomers claim to have found new planets they rarely actually see the planets, they rather deduce that they have to be there because of effect they see on surroundings objects, like stars. So that's how reality works.

But not necessarily how it works in a game. A game is set up by the rules of its creator and these rules don't necessarily have to be that because C there must have been A. At least not in the visible world. Programming wise that might be true but the visible effects can be totally whack where real life physics and logic are concerned. Some games take advantage of this. Some of the best aspects of games like Mario Galaxy are based on this concept. It made me wonder about how it works in our favorite game, World of Warcraft. Does anything happen when I don't see it? Do the mobs move and do their scripted business even when I'm not around to check on them? If a wolf attacks a critter and no one is there to experience it, does it really happen? Let's explore.

There are some reasons that this question was raised in my mind. There are actually a couple of mobs that seem to behave very oddly at the exact moment that they zone into my visual field. Take the burrowed worms in Hellfire Peninsula as one example. They're generally below ground, but the moment they zone in they're actually above ground. Odd. And now that we had the elemental invasion I noticed that they didn't always disappear until I had loaded them into my cache. Then for some reason they moved on to the next step of their existance. But not sooner?

But even if mobs didn't act odd, is there any way we can be sure that they actually do something when we're not looking? Or do their scripts only activate whenever there is a player close by that's loading the mob into their cache. Does it matter either way? Of course not. But it'd still be damn interesting to know.

A couple of years ago I asked myself if mobs spawned with their loot, or if the loot was spawned on the corpse. Practically it doesn't matter either way. But psychologically it does. If you knew that mobs spawned with their loot, you'd know that somewhere out there mobs ran around with whatever you were after (like some really rare pet). It wouldn't make a difference at all to whether you had a chance of getting that item or not, and you'd still have to kill tons of mobs to get it. But somehow knowing still makes a difference. Actually, back then mobs did spawn with a certain set of loot. And people knew how to abuse it. By trying to query the server for a certain type of loot (that hadn't already dropped somewhere on the server, like some really rare boss loot), when entering the raid instance, you could tell whether the boss had the loot or not. Because if he did, the query would come back. If he didn't, you'd disconnect for trying to query an item that didn't exist on the server. That way people could check, in a rough way, what kind of loot a particular boss had. This only worked until the first item had dropped of course, and it might still work actually. Don't know if Blizzard ever fixed that. Or if this is just an urban legend. In the end I'm not entirely sure how it works.

And I'm not entirely sure how it works with this question either. Do mobs move when we're not looking or not? I discussed it with Love and he had some interesting feedback.

Consider the mobs that move along a path, like Steepsnap in Thousand Needles (pre-shattering anyway) or any rare mob that hunters look for. Are they moving when we're not looking? If not, they'd almost always be found at their spawn point. Most people don't kill Steelsnap whenever they see him, so one could imagine that this type of walking mob just walks away from his spawn point eventually. This is not true for most rares however. Most people kills a rare as soon as he sees it, and that means the rare would have to be found at the spawn point, and killed by the spawn point in almost all cases. But we know this is not true, so how to explain that if the mobs don't move when we're not looking? Actually there is a simple explanation for it. If the mobs move only when they're loaded into someones cache, that would include anyone in the who's just passing by. In say, a flying mount. Many mobs will be loaded into the cache of a player who's simply flying by, be it on their own mounts or on some flight path. Would this account for all the rare spawns out there? Hard to say. Not impossible, but it might be pushing it.

There is a way of testing this of course, but I haven't got around to it. You need a mob that moves along a path, a friend and a secluded area. Best an area where you know no one flies over. You load the mob into your visual field, note where it is and then move out. Then let your friend do the same thing and compare the position of the mob. Has it moved a reasonable distance in the time you were absent? If I do this experiment I'll be sure to post the results. I've been busy with everything else that is happening in WoW right now, so eventhough I am really curious about how this works it has had to step aside to other things at the moment.

Another way would be to simply ask a GM. But as the true conspirationist that I am (actually I'm not, I think everyone tells the truth. No wait, that's not true either...) I'd just think anything he says could just as easily be a proof of the opposite being true. I'd have to test myself before I'd be sure in any case. The same goes with the loot question, but since I can't think of a good way to test it (except the mentioned, if it still works) I'll probably have to ponder that question for ever.

Picture from wikipedia.


  1. "If a wolf attacks a critter and no one is there to experience it, does it really happen?"

    The real question here is: If the wolf kills the critter dose anyone get experience (points)?


    In general I believe that mobs (whether in mmos or in games in general) don't necessarily have fixed spawning points to begin with. They have an general area and in turn are scripted to randomly take a few paces in a random direction now and then whether or not someone is there to observe them or not. All in all it reassembles random placement when they appear on your screen.
    Your test would mainly inquire as to whether or not the game remembers where the mob was when in or out of someone's cache, and that is assuming you know where that line is drawn and that they don't move while running back and forth.

  2. That is assuming only one person could affect the creatures, but in my thought experiment anyone could "activate" them so the game wouldn't need to remember where the creature was last time you saw it, just where it was the last time anyone saw it. I'm not sure which would take more computer power. Have it running all the time, or activate it each time someone comes close. In the end I actually do think the Warcraft world is active on its own.

  3. Lol. You're such a loon to think about stuff like this!

    That being said, I've thought about this as well. I have concluded that the mobs' location information does indeed change and update even when no one is around to see them. Also I beleive that yes mobs are indeed attacking and killing each other even if no one is watching.

    But the mobs' actual visual representations do not exist until some one is around to see them. That's why sometimes when mobs come into view, they are all above ground when they shouldn't be, or they all fall out of the sky, etc.

    Oh and just so you know mobs do have set spawn points. It's just that some mobs (such as some rare ones) have up to 5 different spawn points that they can randomly spawn at.

    BTW this is the same Anonymous person that posted a comment on one of your blogs and suggested the end-of-the-world tour a couple weeks ago.

  4. @Ryan
    Hi there, yeah I remember you :)
    Thanks for clearing that up, it's about how I thought it would work. Sometimes my thoughts just get stuck on something like this and I have to debate it through before I am satisfied ^^