[MUD-Dev] Re: let's call it a spellcraft

Adam J. Thornton adam at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Fri Sep 25 14:52:36 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Fri, Sep 25, 1998 at 10:55:27AM -0700, S. Patrick Gallaty wrote:
> This is a flawed precept, IMO.  Taking away the newbie 
> stage has two effects.  One it thrusts the new player into
> a complex situation (already developed skills)

So?  "You are Big John Wallace.  You play the bass really well, have a
magnificent singing voice, and consequently are in high demand at parties.
You can also drink more than three normal men."

> and secondly
> it robs the mud of that initiation phase where new players 
> have to struggle and adapt.

Which is precisely the phase that scares most of them off.  That whole
levels-one-to-three (in D&D terms) where I'm having to worry about dying
from a rat bite, or, worse, starvation because I can't make the three gold
that it would take to buy food is, for me, a stumbling block: if I play for
a while and I'm so weak that I'm continually frustrated, I'm going to leave
and never come back.

Face-to-face RPGs do this better because you have but one party and the GM
can tailor the challenge to an appropriate level.  You can't do that in a
multiplayer environment where there's no way to stop a party of 10th-level
adventurers making life miserable for the 1st-level party nearby.  If
everyone is "on the map" simultaneously, the high-level players will be
bored if the challenges appropriate to entry-level players are all that's
around; conversely, it's really frustrating to be low-level and keep
running into--through no particular fault of your own--things way too tough
to handle.

> Stop!
> The 'leveling' concept amonst adventuring muds is a 
> tried and true concept.  You are doing what UO did, imo
> which is to confuse playability.  There's a very good reason
> why levels and level concepts work, and that simply is 
> because it's an unambiguous marker of accomplishment.

So it is.  It's not the only way to do it, though.  Back to Real RPGs
(yeah, I know.  Just tossing a little gasoline on the fire) there are
systems, like AD&D or MERP, that are level-based.  There are also those
like GURPS or Chaosium's BRP-derived systems that aren't.  It isn't clear
that one is better than the other; just two different approaches to
character development.

> Whenever you are thinking of designing a satisfying game
> system you have to remember the three elements.  
>     1) Suspension of disbelief
>     2) Progress related to effort
>     3) Goal and reward
> We suffer through the design decisions of UO already - no 
> need to emulate that.

One of the design decisions I would have done differently in UO is the
extreme weakness of beginning characters.  Wander around.  Go into the
woods.  Get killed by a deer.  Try again.  Get killed again.  Wander onto a
road outside the town.  Get killed by a thug.  Try again.  Go into town.
Try to steal something since you can't buy anything much.  Get killed.  It
gets frustrating quick.

This has nothing to do with levels or their absence, and everything to do
with the design decision to make beginning players weak and make
advancement early on a very arduous process.

And then there's the question of progress related to effort: are only
players with the free time to play 8 hours a day to be rewarded?  If so,
you have no commercial potential at all: people with jobs cannot devote
that much time to your game.  There's no way (that I can think of) to do a
level-based game and make it much fun for casual gamers given the existence
of those who spend Entirely Too Much Time playing.  Either you end up with
no positive reinforcement for the great majority of your players, or you
end up with a few powermad demigods stalking the landscape.  The latter may
not be bad, depending on what you want to do with your game, but there are
certainly other approaches to take.

> If you don't want to let players become wizards, let them become
> something else - let them become in-game demigods or heroes,
> through quests and *cooperation of other players.*  
> Instead of hard numbers, where the player has to tweak and max
> his own character, give him additional powers if he can convince
> other players to worship him, thus granting him additional powers
> once he has enough followers...

> My point is that this is a multi-player game.  Leverage and maximize
> that multi-player aspect.. use it to your advantage and you have a 
> whole new dimension to pursue.

IOW, make your rewards at least largely social, rather than purely
mechanical.  Absolutely.  Plus, if the players start creating plot
themselves, it's less work for you as a designer.

> The solution is not throw away the basic elements of successful game
> design.  That won't get you anything but frustrated players and more 
> ambiguous problems.

Nothing wrong with ambiguous problems, IMHO.  As long as your players have
some feedback of how they--and those around them--are doing, be that
levels, skills, gold, social status, whatever.  I just remain unconvinced
that levels are a basic element of successful game design.  I can think of
too many interesting non-level-based systems (not, however, in the CRPG
world) to think that it's a sine qua non.

I think traditionally CRPGs and muds have been level-based largely because
they proceed from the D&D mechanics tradition, and it's easy to produce a
correct translation into computer game mechanics.  Or at least easier than
it is with a fuzzier problem space.  Still, if this list isn't the right
place to talk about approaches to fuzzy but maybe rewarding problems, I
don't know what s.

adam at princeton.edu 
"There's a border to somewhere waiting, and a tank full of time." - J. Steinman

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