[MUD-Dev] Continuous versus Discrete Functions

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Tue Dec 18 17:18:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Something that frequently surprises - and disappoints - me is the
practice of the use of discrete functions when applied to character
abilities.  I'm thinking primarily of the big graphical games, as
those are the ones that I've played the most.

The example that I'll use is that of cast spells with a limited
range.  Cast spells almost invariably have a range aspect to them,
where the effectiveness function is 1.0 until maximum range is
reached.  At that point, the function's value drops to 0.0.

The aspect of this that is most disappointing to me is that the
designers have eliminated the possibility of players choosing a
variety of strategies and uses of their character capabilities.  If
a caster chooses to walk up to an opponent and get extra potency due
to the short range involved, that would be one particularly
dangerous strategy.  If a caster chooses to stay at a great distance
and just barely ding an opponent, that may be a strategy that is
more complex, involving an ambush or some other tactic.

Another element of cast spells would be the amount of magic
resources they require to cast.  Always uniform.  If a spell has a
maximum potency, why am I unable to use the spell for a lessened
potency and a lessened consumption of resources (mana, power,
concentration, etc).  Perhaps multiple casters can cooperate to cast
a spell of intensified potency through a shared increased cost, etc.

I post this more as a question than anything else because I assume
that specrum solutions produce more entertaining combinations for
players.  Yet designers don't seem to implement their systems in
this way.

This doesn't apply only to spell casting.  It applies to all of the
either/or outcomes in action systems.  In EverQuest, all failures of
a trade attempt consumed all components of the attempt.  Dark Age of
Camelot goes beyond this with a function that permits failures with
varying degrees of loss.  But that continuous function demonstrates
its rather discrete characteristic when doing something like
assembling a weapon.  A weapon assembly attempt might use a sword
blade and a sword hilt.  The continuous function is very step-wise
in that either the entire hilt or blade is lost or not lost.  There
is no notion of returning a damaged hilt or blade that can be
reworked or itself disassembled for its component materials.

This pattern is fairly common and I'm stumped as to why the discrete
function (apparently implemented as tables or cascading
conditionals) is the function of choice for system designers.  My
time on flight simulators showed me the power of continuous
functions - especially when multiple continuous functions are
contributing to the outcome of any activity.

JB

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