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I would like to share with you guys a story of a unique gaming experience I have encountered recently that completely surprised me, but was also pretty cool and amazing. Namely, nostalgia linked to locations in a virtual world that only exists in-game. (And maybe along the way, praise this game a little bit as a gamer advertisement for other gamers that have not played this game, or have but didn't get that much into it - /end disclaimer).
I played Ryzom for about a year back in 2004/2005, then I left for WoW and then on to other games. I just recently came back a few months ago because of the Open Source initiative and the addition of Occupations, and as I was traveling around getting re-familiarized with the game, something unique happened.
As I ran around the world, I started feeling really really nostalgic. It took me by surprise. I had no idea that a game, a "virtual world", could do that. I was running around to different areas reminiscing old times, and not just old friends that are no longer there, but the actual physical locations of the places, which was unchanged and little details of the area came rushing back as I see them. It is similar to the feelings you get when visiting old neighborhoods or schools. Here was where I did a 20 hours marathon hunting with a good friend, there was where I met this group that grew into a huge hunt group that almost got wiped by the water, I sat by the water here watching the sunset while another friend was digging, etc.
Ryzom was launched a month before the launch of WoW back in 2004, and like WoW with its unique art style and direction, the graphic still holds up pretty good 6 years later. Atys (the main tree planet in Ryzom where everyone lives) feels more like a living world as oppose to a "game area", mainly due to the animations details (swaying trees and fireflies for example), day/night cycles, weather system that affects game play, yearly seasons cycle (transforming the same area to snow covered winter lands or colorful foliage in other seasons), and complex mobs behaviors. Mobs don't just stand around waiting to be killed - carnivores hunt the herbivores, herbivores band together for protection, huge herd migrations between seasons to different places, non-aggressive animals running up to you to sniff you, or dragging aggressive mobs to you while you're digging... such simple things that add so much to the immersion of the world.
Add to that the opposing religions of kami/karavan, the differences in the 4 civilizations with their own unique histories and lore that make sense, a common enemy called the kitins (which are like giant insects that poured out from the Prime Root, the underground area of the tree planet), live events, players crafted items that are fueled by mats collected only via players harvesting or hunting down mobs and quartering their body parts (as oppose to just dropping pieces of armors and sword from their animal pockets ^^), and it's very easy to slip into roleplay and/or just feel like your character is living in the world, as oppose to being a gamer hacking through it.
I have seen comments in different places on this site, e.g. the rating pages and some of the threads here, where I don't think the posters realized all these details unless they're paying attentions to it -- and especially if they haven't left the starter area to experience the more stunning places in the main land like the windy desert of Dyron, the rolling snow covered hills of the Void, or the tumbling waterfalls of Hidden Source.
It is probably the only game that I feel such powerful nostalgia in, almost like fond childhood memories, and I think it is due to the details of the world I mentioned above, but also because of the sandbox style of game play and the open skill system that lets you train all skills and group with different level players easily, so you tend to spend a lot of time in certain good hunting spots and social gathering places, 'living' in those places as oppose to being hand-railed around in games like WoW, EQ, Tabula Rasa, LOTRO, DDO, Conan, Fallen Earth, etc (games I've played) where you go to an area, do all missions, leveled, and move on to another area, repeat until you get to the end game.
The other "sandbox" game I played was EVE, and while not hand-railed, I definitely didn't get emotionally attached to the coldness of space or the slickness of empty space stations Ok, I probably do get a bit of the same feeling about Ironforge and Stormwind in WoW, but not as powerful.
Has anyone else experienced such nostalgia also for locations in a virtual world? Please share!