Friday, 11 March 2016

Food in MMOs

Today's 5 Fandom Friday is about favourite fictional food. Looking for my traditional gaming twist, I decided to investigate why we have food in games. After all, if you think about it, there's no need to use food in a digital environment. However, I will argue that food does play a role in MMOs - the game type I spend most time playing - as a method of implementing realism and familiarity to digital environments. Here are some examples from the games I play. As always, your own examples from other games are very welcome in the comments!

SWTOR: no food, drugs!

In Star Wars: the Old Republic, my characters live on stims (short for "stimulants"). These are consumed in raids in particular and give a major boost to one stat of your choice. Stims stay active for three to nine hours and the higher quality ones stay on after defeat. Other consumables are adrenals, giving a short boost with a three minute cooldown, and medpacs for regaining health. This makes SWTOR one of the few games I play in which food seems to play no role at all. Even in strongholds, the SWTOR name for player owned houses, no decorations involving food exist. You can only get some tables and cupboards displaying flasks.

Tl;dr: using consumables in SWTOR means everyone gangs up to pump drugs into their veins. Now that's a whole different perspective to the game!

Hobbits cooking food in LOTRO

LOTRO: one cannot bring enough pies into the field

In Lord of the Rings Online, food is primarily crafted by players of the cook profession - a common approach in MMOs. LOTRO shines in its great variety of available food. So-called trail food gives a stat increase, cooked food (often some sort of pie) gives power and morale over time and soups increase your character's resistance against negative effects (such as diseases). Often the effect that is bestowed has a (albeit vague) connection to reality: soups strengthen your immune system, tea increases your vitality, raven pets get bread crumbs and bear pets pots of honey. Consuming alcoholic beverages bestow "drunk" effects that give you blurred vision (even double vision if you get really drunk), making it hard to see where your character is going. During festivals, players can participate in a pub crawl visiting all inns in the Shire.

Because food effects disappear after defeat, it is not uncommon to bring stacks of, say, 50 pies (or any other consumable) into difficult group instances.

For the choice of available food, the developers have looked at what would be feasable in Middle-earth, going with historically inspired food without exotic ingredients. This in opposition to Guild Wars 2, as we will soon see.

Out of the three MMOs I'm writing about, LOTRO was the only one where I could find plenty of pictures of food. While this makes the illustrations of this article a bit one-dimensional (sorry about that!), it says something about the strife for realism of the LOTRO developers.

Housing decorations in LOTRO: table with sausage and pretzels, laden butcher's table, laden tasting table and breakfast table. Source: Lotro-wiki

Guild Wars 2: all the food you can imagine

Food in Guild Wars 2 takes a similar place in the game as in LOTRO. While I feel there's already quite some choice in LOTRO, Guild Wars 2 has even more, including modern varieties, such as chocolate cookies and banana icecream. The downside is that playing Guild Wars 2 makes me want to eat these in my analogue life!

Food usually gives an XP buff in addition to something specific to the item, such as extra magic find chance or boon duration. Players that have chosen the craft of cooking will have to travel all over the world to collect or buy ingredients (or be ready to pay a lot on the trading post). What I personally like a lot about cooking is that you discover new recipes by mixing random ingredients together. It is always a fun surprise to discover what product you end up with. This makes that out of all the crafts in Guild Wars 2, cooking actually is the one I enjoy the most.

All consumables in these three MMOs have in common that they are a small addition to the game. They give a small boost to characters, but they are not a game changer. If your character never eats or drinks (or uses drugs), they may be slightly weaker, but they won't starve to death - in opposition to games from the survival genre in which characters need to drink and eat in order to survive. Adding a little extra flavour to your MMO with food is fine, but the general development direction seems to be that it shouldn't distract from the core gameplay by becoming a game mechanic of itself. Realism is fun, also in MMOs, as long as it's not cumbersome.

What role does food play in the MMOs (or other games) you play? Do you enjoy it, or do you feel it could just as well have been left out?


  1. Back in the old days of CRPGs, you had to actually eat food to survive. The Ultima series probably being the most famous for implementing this kind of mechanic. This was back in the days where the genre tried to be simulationist. So any kind of mechanic that added "realism" to the game was implemented. I never played those games but personally I never thought it was something fun. Food as buffs is something more recent in gaming.

    Anyway, one of the things that made me fall in love with Everquest 2 back in the days was the variety of crafting professions. Including provisoners who are the ones who make food and drinks in there. Besides giving some small stat boosts, food and drinks there help you regen HP and power (read: mana) faster. You even get equip-able slots for food and drinks so you can just throw a stack of those there and whenever its effects run out another one will be automagically consumed. It is one of the few crafting professions that can make something for any adventuring class.

    There quite a few food items for house decoration too, including holiday ones. So when Frostfell comes (the games version of Christmas) you can decorate your house with a feast. Or during Valentine's Day you can give a box of chocolate to your sweetheart that they can place in their house.

    The food for house decoration tends to be made by carpenters though or by anyone if it is a holiday recipe. Only a few of the food house items are actually made by provisoners.

    And this is all to say that I thought the way food works in Everquest 2 is neat. :p

    1. I was hoping you'd pop up here and bring your wisdom of gaming history to the table!

      With all you've told me about Everquest over the past few years, I think I'd have enjoyed the game had I played it on its peak. Of course I wouldn't be able to since I was too young at the time, but hey, let's dream. (Uhm, sorry if I made you feel like a dinosaur now!)

      It also sounds like MMOs drew on Everquest a lot. For instance, food in LOTRO (my oldest MMO, as you know) isn't all that different. Some of the table decorations with food on it are also crafted. Only thing is that it's cook who does so, but that's just tiny details. They probably did that so other crafters could make some decos too: the vast majority is, unsurprisingly, made by woodworkers.

    2. Thanks but it not as much wisdom as just a lot of random trivia I collected by spending too much time in the internet. Other veterans can give better stories. :)

      Sorry to nitpick but it isn't Everquest that I was talking about but Everquest *2*. They are pretty different games and although Everquest does have housing too it was added years after Everquest 2 had its own. They are pretty different housing systems too and that is all I know about it. Even my knowledge about Everquest 2's housing system is getting outdated as it's been months since I played it. There has already been some new content added to it since then.

      I never played Everquest myself. I only started on Everquest 2, when it was already had a few expansions released. I started on it at about... 2007, I think. And don't worry, I am getting used to feeling like a dinosaur for various reasons. :p

      But yes, MMOs drew a lot from Everquest. In fact, World of Warcraft took everything Everquest did right, refined it, added its own stuff and became the success it was.

      There are some food decoration that can be made by provisoners in Everquest 2 but they are very few. Some others that can be made by anyone as they are recipes from seasonal festivals. But yeah, the bulk of it is from carpenters as historically they are the ones who made everything for housing.

    3. Don't worry, I know it's Everquest 2, it's just that I'm exceptionally lazy when it comes to referring to game titles! I write "Guild Wars" a lot, too, when I'm actually meaning "Guild Wars 2". In my opinion, the developers should just have come up with something more original! :P

  2. Haha, you get 'drunk' when you drink alcoholic beverages in WoW too! You get blurred vision, can't walk straight, and everything you type into chat gets all much fun. I loved the stims in SWTOR, it totally made sense to me that they'd all rely more on drugs than food:P

    1. I hate getting drunk in WoW! Sometimes the blurriness is just too much and it makes me a little motion sickness-y. Brewfest is particularly tricky for me, thank goodness for the beer goggles that aren't as bad :)

    2. Ahah, LOTRO probably 'stole' that being drunk thing from WoW then. Now I'm wondering what does beer goggles do...

  3. Yeah, WoW takes the same approach as LOTRO, more or less. I have to admit I really don't miss that in SWTOR though. I don't enjoy watching my character sit down and eat, and carrying a stack of food (and drink too, sometimes) around everywhere just means that there's another thing clogging up your bags at all times. I much prefer SWTOR's default regeneration animations, which achieve the same effect of pacing your combat without requiring bag space while also being neat to watch.

    Interestingly enough, it never would have occurred to me to liken SWTOR's stims to food - in WoW there are potions and flasks that give stat boosts, and I always considered stims the equivalent of that. My characters in SWTOR just don't need to eat, in the same way that they don't need to go to the toilet either - and I'm OK with that because that's one bit of realism I can do without.

    1. I do miss it! I'd totally love having food decorations in my stronghold. Space food, I wonder what it'd look like; hopefully really exotic. I also wouldn't mind some decos for a bathroom. I know our characters don't need it (and I'm happy about that, don't take me wrong), but I'm just a sucker for realism in games. Strongholds represent a sort of "space Sims" anyway. :P

      I took the approach of regarding any consumable as "food" because it varies so much in different games. A bit lazy perhaps, but I didn't want to need to go into detail because it would distract from the topic of the article. :)

  4. Food for me (LotRO) is just fun. I never use it as a buff, don't need buffs in my kind of playing), but I use it just the way I would on the Real Life server. Smoke some weed after a fight (I don't smoke irl), drink some mead when celebrating something. That's how I use those things ingame. In LotRO both weeds and alcoholic bevarages are pure 'cosmetical' btw. Just makes the RP funnier :)

    1. I'm with you there. I actually ran into a company of four walking along the road from Ost Guruth to the Trollshaws yesterday. I chatted a bit with them, turns out they were on their way walking to Gondor (my assessment: RPers are crazy :P). The hobbits among them were complaining they hadn't had second breakfast yet, so I traded them some of the superior kidney pies I happened to be carrying with me. I didn't walk with them all the way to Gondor, but it was a small distraction from my questing that made me happy. No regrets that I've transferred to a RP server here.

    2. Hahaha, love that. I once walked from Rohan (highest level area then) to Bree, just for the heck of it :) I only milestoned my way out of Moria, if I had to walk there I would still be walking now :) Yep, RP'ers are crazy ;)

  5. Actually, SWTOR does have stat boost booze (and maybe food too?) available from cantina vendors. But no one really bothers with it, since it's easy to miss and not - if I remember right - very good compared to the drugs.

    Or, well, it used to. I haven't checked in a while. It was just one of those "huh, that's interesting" things I noticed early on when I was seeing what different vendors sold.


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