[MUD-Dev] Continuous versus Discrete Functions

Brian Hook bwh at wksoftware.com
Tue Dec 18 23:26:15 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

At 05:18 PM 12/18/2001 -0800, John Buehler wrote:

> Something that frequently surprises - and disappoints - me is the
> practice of the use of discrete functions when applied to
> character abilities.

Short answer to a long question:

  - discrete functions are easier to balance, in theory, especially
  when the discrete aspect is "on" vs. "off" or "success"
  vs. "failure".

  - discrete functions, in the form of tables, are easier to "draw",
  as opposed to trying to fit a polynomial to a set of arbitrary
  data points.  I would MUCH rather have game designers intuitively
  "sketch" their idea of a function instead of forcing them to
  derive the appropriate N-degree polynomial.

  - the idea of "level of success" is fairly prevalent in modern
  RPGs (specifically, the dice pool style games like Vampire, L5R,
  ShadowRun, etc.).  I would be very surprised (and dismayed) if
  future online RPGs didn't use varying levels of success as part of
  their game mechanic.

I'm a firm believer in orthogonal game mechanics.  Trade skills, as
much as possible, should work the same as combat -- it's either "you
vs. the anvil" or "you vs. the orc", and the decision tree should
(hopefully) be fairly similar.

And just as you generate a varying level of "success" in combat (6
hit points of damage vs. a miss), you should be able to generate a
varying level of success when doing a trade skill ("high quality
pottery" vs.  "broken pottery shards").

> 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.

Right, primarily because of the fear that you can't balance all of
it.  If you make an expressive magic programming language that lets
the end user create spells with a set of variables (mana cost,
recharge time, range, damage, AoE vs. targeted, duration, casting
time, etc.), they will min/max the hell out of it, and will likely
find ubercombinations that make other versions obsolete.

One of the common struggles when giving flexibility to players is
"give 'em too much, and they'll min/max it into the ground"
vs. "give 'em too little, and you're basically not giving them
anything at all".


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