So, let's talk about community size for a second. No, not total game size, community size. Previously, it was decided that each colony area would be the "server" of each place. But, how large?
Well, there are a lot of factors here that are often overlooked. First, real size. How far can you actually see?
A good for here would be to use a school. I feel a good in game colony sizes would be about the size of a standard university. From the top of the highest building, you could see the whole place, and perhaps a bit farther party the walls for safety reasons. Remember, the player will be on a hostile barren planet after all.
Larger than this, the colony and alone feeling would be diminished. This also brings about another aspect of the community, NPC's. Some games have as few as possible. Others, there are non-essential NPC's running around everywhere. Here is where I like to draw upon my DM Roots. In Dungeon and Dragons, when the DM sets up a scene, that's what it is. NPC's are actually a shapeless blob until someone talks to them, and after talking they return back to that shapeless blob. But, how would you carry this over to a Visual game?
The answer is actually simple. Remove NPC's from being important. They should remain a shapeless blob, moldable clay only made manifest when the ENVIRONMENT needs it. If you force the player to constantly interract with NPC's over and over, I feel this is what kills individuality. Yes, you completel this quest, but so does the next guy. And the next guy. And even the next guy. You don't feel important, unique, or special. In fact, next time do do that 'quest' you pretty much don't even read it. One of the largest failings that this system of massive amounts of quests does is what is happening in WoW now, people just skip the text and follow the objectives.
Let's face it, the quest system has been in existence since RPG's were around, and I think we've honestly grown past that. They deserve to stay in Single Players. 'Quests' are how you turn progress-lists into leveling tools, it just isn't necessary in this day and age. I'm all for the questlog being replaced by something more like an adventure journal. This would be the first major feature, and major features are usually make or break. Remember, this feature will remove the need for constant NPC visiting. However, this is more a mechanic issue, so it will be addressed later. That said, the world will need not as many PC's as an Everquest or WoW, making it easier to keep that colony feel.
Back to the shapeless blob. Think of when you are at the mall. Do you see each person, or just a sea of faces? Now, here is where it gets interesting. When the player moves around, how will they be moving? Will they be traveling like anyone else, or will they take shortcuts? That's probably a dumb question of sorts. However, being post-apocalyptic of sorts, we won't have tons of cars or vehicles, and while solar is still possible, thats something we'll cross later. Animals however are a possibility, so it may look more like a circular wild-west town from an old western.
Why that style? Well, anyone that would be a traveler or stranger would probably take the 'walking across the middle/street' style of travel and the townsfolk would just take normal routine paths along the edges. With this, you can keep random NPC's walking around, but most likely people won't even really 'see' them, kind of like guards in most games.
Tomorrow, we'll tackle the dead horse. Environment in real mmo's, which is combat heavy.