[MUD-Dev] Re: Thoughts

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Thu Jan 14 11:00:19 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

-----Original Message-----
From: Koster, Raph <rkoster at origin.ea.com>
To: 'mud-dev at kanga.nu' <mud-dev at kanga.nu>
Date: Thursday, January 14, 1999 7:36 AM
Subject: [MUD-Dev] Re: Thoughts

>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Caliban Tiresias Darklock [mailto:caliban at darklock.com]
>> Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 1999 6:32 PM
>> To: mud-dev at kanga.nu
>> Subject: [MUD-Dev] Thoughts
>Now to actually comment on the laws you offer. :)
>> The code is the contract:
>This is a really common problem on muds.

Objects suffer as well as skills. A common "prank" by builders is to provide
a useless tool: a gun when there are no bullets in the world, for example.
These aren't funny. They carry a definite sense of having fun at the
player's expense.

Also compare the "Cartman's Father" fiasco on South Park. In a truly
inspired practical joke, Parker & Stone never intended to make the episode.
They built up viewer expectation in a manner very similar to the "Who Shot
J.R." thread on Dallas, and then provided South Park viewers with an episode
featuring only Terrence and Philip -- with no mention of Cartman at all.
(This was probably another Dallas reference, if anyone remembers the entire
season that turned out to be just a dream.) They were reasonably
disappointed when they received all the hate mail, since it underscored how
many of the viewers just didn't "get it"; to satisfy the demand, they
delivered the promised episode.

There is probably some other law in there about the intellectual level of
your game dropping more and more rapidly as it becomes more popular. ;)

>> The power of two:
>Hmm. I assume you had something in mind, but this actually seems to
>generic to be a Law, to me.

This applies to just about everything. The human mind recognises patterns,
and will apply them very rapidly. If you break the pattern, it disrupts the
player's sense of reality. This relates to the law about players expecting
the world to be fair; players also demand consistency, because consistency
is fair. It's the Einstein side of the quantum debate; the real world
follows real laws which are immutable and consistent.

>> The law of ill repute:
>It's not so much that the information about the cool stuff won't spread,
>but that i won't be "watercooler talk" so to speak. It won't be a
>subject of discussion, merely noted in passing. People like talking
>about bad things more than good, generally speaking.

Exactly. This is poking at the edge of some profound insight into human
psychology which continues to elude me. People are fascinated by adversity,
whether their own or that of others. They slow down to look at car crashes;
they form communities of victims; they perpetuate their own suffering in
memory long after the suffering itself has ceased. A psychiatrist of my
acquaintance in college once reported that many of his depression patients
actually *preferred* to remain depressed, because they had become
comfortable with that depression. Perhaps it relates to consistency.

>> The theory of player relativity:
>What about benchmarking against the game system, such as what monsters
>you can kill?

Still reasonably worthless, unless you know what monsters *others* can kill.
People are naturally competitive, and in a multiplayer scenario competing
against the designer or developer is not as important as it would be in a
single-player situation. People prefer to compete against their peers. The
designers and developers are never peers of the players, no matter how hard
they try to achieve this.

>People crave ladders.

Excellent rephrase! Elegant and precise!

>> How benchmarks are built:
>Possibly too specialized to be a law, given how few games fail to give a
>way to measure your character's accomplishments.

Many, however, fail to provide an *acceptable*  way to measure them. In a
skill based system, you might consider the average ranking of a player's
skills to be an effective measure of accomplishment; this may even be
statistically correct under your system's mathematical model.

Players, however, may observe that this includes several skills they don't
consider important. A player with many low skills may prefer to count the
number of skills in which you have a ranking; a player with a few high
skills may prefer to count the number of skills you have "maxed out"; a
player with many skills of varying level may prefer to count the average
rating of your five highest skills. If specific skills are seen as valuable
to the game and others are not, the non-valuable skills will be dropped from
consideration by players.

Another consideration: most statistics reach some point at which their
values lose all meaning. While the difference between one dollar and five
dollars is significant, the difference between one million and five million
is less so, and the difference between ten billion and fifty billion is
purely academic. If your measure of rank or level or score ever reaches such
a point, then players MUST create a new benchmark in order to maintain
interest in the game.

The desires and prejudices of the playerbase will redefine your game's
goals. This will further impact the natural tendency of your game to attract
people that like it: the perceived goals are what attract, not the actual
goals. Unintended features have a distressing tendency to create new goals
which attract lots of people you didn't want.

>> Peek-a-boo:
>Hmm, whatever happened to "all games have levels, though it may take a
>pedant and a magnifying glass to find them"? :)

Compatible. Players who do not examine the game closely enough will not see
them, and believe the game has no levels. Players who do *will* see them,
and admit their existence. Also compatible with mechanics determination:
those who have not determined how the game works internally will accept what
they can see as the game's internals. This is the Bohr side of the quantum
debate; reality is created by perception, and what you cannot perceive does
not exist.

Paradoxically, players also demand the other side of the debate, consistency
and predictability. When the player DOES see the internals of the game, he
demands that they be consistent, and all players who invest the effort can
see such internals. Compare Schrodinger's cat.

Perhaps a better title for this one would be "out of sight, out of game"?

>> It's the thought that counts:
>Now this is one that clicks as very much correct for me!

I've observed this for a long time, but just never really had a way to put
it into words. I think it has something to do with commitment and
investment. When the player is deciding whether to play, he is trying to
*avoid* investment, because it is a limited quantity. When he has decided to
play, he is trying to *justify* his investment, for the same reason. As a
result, undesirable features are *less* undesirable when discovered after
the investment.

| Caliban Tiresias Darklock            caliban at darklock.com
| Darklock Communications          http://www.darklock.com/
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