Node travel is kind of a big deal. While you are moving between the different nodes, you will be put into a specific situation - possibly with other players. In space, moving between nodes can happen at any time, and during the significant travel time, you will be free to wander around your space ship and do other things. When moving between outdoor locations, like between towns, caravans leave at specific intervals between major locations and all players traveling that line will walk in the same group.
Travel may initially seem like down time, but the effect I'm going for is that travel means something. Going from one planet to the next takes time. Going from one city to the next takes time. You don't just teleport between locations. And yet travel is also a community thing.
Take the caravan as an example. You will be traveling with others as you move around the landscape. During this time you can talk, trade, play games, and generally get to know each other. Random raids against the caravan may happen depending on the route, so you may even be called to work together. Perhaps different caravan members can use skills to spot raiders ahead of time or take shortcuts through safer areas. The caravan will stop at specific locations along the way, so a trade route is something that's going to end up putting lots of people on one path rather than ending up with people going a whole bunch of different directions.
Space is something that you travel through alone, but you basically bring your house with you. Being able to build your ship, fill it with junk, access trading terminals, mail, and whatnot will give you plenty to occupy your time. Your friends can even visit virtually, having their hologram visit your ship while they are on their own ship going somewhere else. There is a sort of internet where you can post on a forum, advertise your wares, shop virtually, or even step into virtual chat rooms with other players. Want to do some crafting or increase your engineering skills? Just do your thing while the ship is on autopilot.
Basically, I want to make traveling between points on the map into an experience completely to itself. In MMORPGs, travel is usually quite boring because you do it alone or because you are concentrating on the navigation between two distant locations while avoiding enemies and stuff. While travel is not interactive, I want to put a lot of the stuff people do in their down time into the travel experience.
The nodular map, similar to that of a boardgame, actually has a lot of really cool uses. It's an abstraction of terrain that allows an easier time for players to actively modify the world. For instance, players can buy nodes and turn them into cities. Or perhaps you can't travel between certain nodes without equipment (a spaceship without a warp drive can only go between planet nodes in the same system, node across water requires travel on a boat, etc). Maybe a PvP style game where players from different factions can take over nodes, thus cutting off routes between nodes for their opponents. There's a lot of possibilities, and I intend to talk about a very specific use of it in an upcoming entry.
But this time, I wanted to set up the travel concept. I want a map where a player can literally click on the nightclub on a different planet and their character will automatically chart a course there from across the universe - and then the player can spend the travel time interacting with other players and doing all those things that players do when they aren't actively engaged in combat while on the go.
Update: A Response in the Forums|
The idea is that, with space at least, you bring with you an entire customized space of your own. If you are a crafter, you would fill your ship with crafting equipment. If you just want to chat with other players, you can virtually visit their ships or go to virtual shared environments others also attend. Want to grind some experience points, visit a virtual combat simulator with others. Pretty much the idea is that your physical location may be stuck in one place, but the much of the game can travel with you. Caravans are more restricted, but take less travel time. There might be something in between, like a cruise ship which takes you across space in a single shared environment that offers unique things to do.
Obviously, your physical presence is required for some things. You can't explore a cave virtually, for example. Nor can you engage in warfare. You can't trade physical goods without picking them up. Going to a friend's space station will be a much more rich experience than visiting it as a hologram (there are some places you can't go, you can't interact with objects, can't engage in combat, etc). But in general, everything you can do in the game, you can do in some capacity while traveling.