[MUD-Dev] Re: Levels versus Skills

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Fri Jan 15 18:53:01 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


On Fri, 15 Jan 1999 22:15:28 +0000 (GMT) 
Marian Griffith<gryphon at iaehv.nl> wrote:

> On Fri 15 Jan, J C Lawrence wrote:

>> Comments on zero-sum games etc are apt and welcome.

>> The problem with both of course is that they are demoralising.
>> There is no winning, you can only stand still or fall behind.  We
>> can cover up this flaw in #1 by repainting it as "re-inventing"
>> or other cute terms.  The principle remains the same however, the
>> game is regeared to put everybody back at ground zero -- just
>> without making them feel that they've lost in the process
>> (concentrate on the new race/game instead of what is lost).

> Do not most muds already do just this every time they add new
> features, races, classes, areas?  They up the levels in some way
> by increasing the power level acheivable to players.

Yes, but its a finite solution for an infinite problem.

  1) Consider a game X where Tiamat has a strength of 100.

  2) Players play this game and initially are fleas before Tiamat's
might.

  3) Later the same players are able to kill Tiamat with some ease.

Solution:

  Change Tiamat's strength to 1,000.

Problem:

  Sooner or later the cycle restarts from #3 and you need to rescale
Tiamat.  This in turn forms and endless ratrace and all that really
changes is the fact that the numbers get bigger -- but the ratios
stay (mostly) the same.

>> The problem from a game design viewpoint is that #2 is horribly
>> expensive.  It means that you can't just put a game on
>> maintenance, but you have to actually re-write and re-design and
>> re-do the whole damn thing with fair frequency,

> I am fairly sure I do not understand at all why this must be so.

Because every time around the loop yuo essentially have to redesign
your game.  Just scaling the numbers bigger is a very temproary
bandaide.  You have to add new features, new races, classes, spells,
etc etc etc, all of which require reblancing the game (very
non-trivial), active monitoring, and all the other aspects of game
redesign.

>> What's the key problem?  The very concept of the advancement
>> scale.  It just doesn't work over the long term.  It is an
>> evolutionary dead end.  Why?  Because you can't maintain the
>> process that drives the advancement scale.  No matter how hard
>> you try to make and keep the game open ended (which is really
>> what I am talking about), sooner or later, and likely far sooner
>> than later, burnout beckons.  You *have* to divert to softer more
>> organic realms where non-deterministic development is more
>> important than direct comparison and ranking and linear genetalia
>> measuring is no longer your stock in trade.

>> Even then atrophy isn't really a solution.  All it really does is
>> make the scale longer.  Now, instead of being able to climb from
>> 1 to 100 in simple fashion, you're now walking uphill against
>> "atrophy".

> True, though if you manage to separate the power level from the
> player level it should be more manageable I think.  Instead of
> concentrating on ways to make characters weaker you can concen-
> trate on handling the more socially oriented aspect of player
> levels.

Exactly.  You have to get players off the power-is-everything kick
and into less direct interests before the scale runs out.

>> Expressive fertility seems like the real key here.  Have a look
>> at the Walled City in Gibson's Idoru.  Look at the general
>> handling of virtual reality in the same book.  There's a *LOT* of
>> careful, detailed, highly imaginative and really really
>> engrossing (to the people who created those things) expresiveness
>> in there.  Look at the construction and details of the shrine/hut
>> (I'm working on memory here) where she first meat the Japanese
>> fan club contingent.

> The problem of course is getting the players to go along with it,
> especially if there is a ready way for them to prove their worth
> through combat.

I'm going to go out on a limb here:

  I suspect that the main problem with the combat model of most MUDs
is that it is survivable.  What seems the real solution: Make combat
deadly and make combatants very short lived.  Yup, there are people
who try and live/play by killing things.  They don't live long (say
a few days RL time), but they make a lot of noise.  There are also
more moderate players, active in a wide range of areas -- they tend
to live far longer due to the lower risk levels.

The next problem of course is that typically the non-fighters are
perfect and readily available prey for the wanna-be fighters, and
due to the nature of their non-combat lives, and so have no defence
against the fighters (cf you're wonderful Tailor scenario).

Possible address:

  Defence, even against excellant and skilled attack, is easy and
cheap (as long as you are on your own territory), but you *can't*
attack while defending.

  Attack is viciously effective, but only against other attackers.

  The game tracks your attack/defence actions, much in the manner of
UO's reputation system, and players on the negative side can't
defend.

I'm not happy with this, but it seems a start.  Need to think about
this some more.

>> Advancement scales are fun.  That's great, but you have to get
>> people off that bandwagon and into more interesting and less
>> deterministic affairs before they realise that the ladder ends
>> and that there is nowhere to go from there.

>> How to do that?  Make things other than advancement more and more
>> enticing.  You don't want it (non-advancement) TOO enticing too
>> quickly, as the presence of the scale is important.  It gets
>> people playing the game and knowledgable about the game and game
>> world.

> Not to certain this is possible, nor that it is at all important.
> You describe something of the average mush where combat mechanisms
> are absent or rudimentary at best. Players are interested in those
> games and the apparent lack of advancement does not seem to disap-
> point them in the least.  If the game offers many other things to
> do then you should not be surprised that they actually go out and
> do them, nor should you feel that is somehow inferior.  Combat and
> levels need not be the by all and end all of a game.

<nod> Understood.  However in simple numbers combat MUDs are more
popular than MUSHes, and have a much lower barrier to entrance than
such MUShes (anybody can figure out Quake, many never did figure out
Myst).  The trick I'm desribing is how to attempt to make a
low-barrier-to-entrence combat game that later, as the players
continue to play, mutates into a more MUSh-style game FOR THAT
PLAYER.  The goal is player retention.  Combat players burn out,
move on, get bored.  Softer players last longer and make you more
$$$.

--
J C Lawrence                              Internet: claw at kanga.nu
(Contractor)                             Internet: coder at kanga.nu
---------(*)                    Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honorary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...




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