[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

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


  Change Tiamat's strength to 1,000.


  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

>> 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

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...

More information about the MUD-Dev mailing list