[MUD-Dev] Continuous versus Discrete Functions

John Buehler johnbue at email.msn.com
Sun Dec 23 11:55:03 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Raph Koster writes:
>> From: John Buehler
>> Raph Koster writes:
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: John Buehler

>>>> Is it possible that a smart game designer could obviate that
>>>> entire problem by eliminating the player-versus-player race
>>>> that forms the absolute backbone of games of this genre?

>>> I am not sure you can without also removing all forms of
>>> feedback. People simply like to compare themselves to
>>> others. "Keeping up with the Joneses."

>> I don't doubt that this phenomenon will remain intact to some
>> degree, and we can argue the degree forever I'm sure.  Can it be
>> reduced in the near future to the point of being a sidelight -
>> such that min/max fears and 'balance' are no longer a significant
>> concern of system designers?  Can designers cease fearing the use
>> of continuous functions, and to cease fearing the use of other
>> mechanics/mechanisms that 'give up control' to the players?

> I am not not entirely following the logical leap you made there to
> the "give up control" issue, but that's OK.

The desire to be able to 'balance' gameplay currently implies a need
for control by the game designers.  That the game is played 'this'
way, with certain permitted deviations by the players.  Fighters
fight, casters cast, thieves sneak, etc.  Fighters don't sneak
because we don't know what that would mean to gameplay.  It would
very likely produce a dreaded 'imbalance'.  A cast spell uses 'this
much' mana and has 'this' range.  No more and no less.  This sort of
structuring keeps control of gameplay in the hands of the designers.
Continuous functions produce a broader range of possibilities that
the designers will have a lessened ability to anticipate.
Continuous functions put control of gameplay into the hands of the
players instead of the designers.  Just as other techniques do, such
as a class-less system, or a system where players are permitted to
kill each other without significant restrictions.

> There's a philosophical question to ask ourselves, one alluded to
> in that Shannon Appelcline essay that Michael Tresca just
> referenced. To what degree is "balance" something that we as
> designers desperately pursue, as opposed to the "balance" that
> players pursue?

> After all, if there's an overpowered class according to player
> perception, they seek and find equilibrium. The correct proportion
> of each class naturally emerges, as players who are too invested
> in particular character archetypes refuse to change, and those who
> are min-maxers pursue the class or profession du jour. Often a
> designer's "fix to balance" doesn't come along until well after
> this new equilibrium has been reaches, so all it does is upset
> players, rather than aid in this mythical "game balance" anyway.

> So the philosophical question is, if something is out of whack,
> should we as designers care? Do we need to always have everything
> in mathematical perfection?

If the player base can relatively painlessly adjust to imbalances,
then there's no problem.  But that's the point of the whole
'control' issue that I brought up.  If players have control, then
the game uses continuous functions at all levels.  The game isn't
strictly and inherently structured along specific lines.  If it is
and an imbalance exists, the tools for the players to rebalance
their gameplay won't exist.

As an example, consider that there are too many rangers in Dark Age
of Camelot.  In a continuous world, those who find too many rangers
in a given area/social-group/level-range can retrain their
characters to have other skills that are more in demand.  In a
discrete world (e.g. class-based), players are obligated to toss
their character in order to retrain for those skills that are
*currently* more in demand.

> As an example of where we are wrestling with this in Star Wars
> Galaxies--we have several very large overlapping constituencies of
> likely players. One, for example, is all those players who want to
> be Jedi. And Jedi, frankly, crush everything else in the
> setting. Then there's all these players who want to be melee
> fighters. All those who want to be Rebels and Imperials.

> In the movies, the Rebels win by luck and pluck. It's not
> surprising that many players want to play Rebels. They are also
> all continuity fanatics, and keep insisting that everything be as
> like the movies as possible. If it were, the Rebels would wink out
> of existence in the first week the servers went live. We as
> designers feel an imperative to supply balance there simply
> because otehrwise, a major attractant to the game goes away.

> On the other hand, we're just plain giving up on the issue of
> melee combat.  A good ranged guy is always gonna take a good close
> quarters guy, and there's no getting past that. Yes, we've
> innvested a fair amount of time in vibroblades and stun poles and
> what have you, and there's skills to learn for melee, motioan
> captured moves, and all sorts of goodness. But really, we already
> know the min-maxers won't use that stuff. So it's there for those
> whose self-image really calls for it.

> Lastly, there's those pesky Jedi. They're barely balanceable. So
> we're making them extremely rare (and no, I'm not going to say
> how, not even here.  ;) and we're going ahead and giving them the
> power. They're gonna be superbeings, and if you see one, run.

> Mathematically elegant? No, not really. But frankly, I'm going to
> sacrifice the "balance" for the sake of the players'
> wish-fulfillment.

> We're getting asked whether the crafters and the peaceful people
> will get equal access to the goodies as the people who are
> declared Rebels and Imperials. Well, the answer is yes and
> no. There's perks on both sides. Are they "balanced"? I don't
> know. My main concern is whether the two playstyl;es each have
> fulfilling gameplay that they find fun. They're not even advancing
> on the same scales, so that they do not feel like they have to
> compare themselves. Nonetheless, they already do, and I don't
> doubt they always will.

As far as I'm concerned, balance is only an issue when two people
are in competition with each other.  If you structure the world such
that the basis of entertainment is competition, then they will
reject the perception of unfairness directed at them.  That's been
said many times on this list.

It is my belief that the only wish that a multiplayer game can
fulfill is one of cooperative successes.  If my wish is to be able
to cooperate with others in order to accomplish things, then I can
see a multiplayer environment providing for that wish.  If my wish
is for personal goal attainment, that is fundamentally in opposition
to the attainment of others' goals.  Everyone is acting as a spoiler
for everyone else.  Note that there is a hybrid of the two where
competition - and not winning - is the goal of the entertainment.
THAT is also obtainable.  We can fight the good fight against each
other, one of us wins and the other loses, and we're both happy that
we were able to engage in the good fight.

I'll be interested to see how you tackle your three types of combat
characters.  Ensuring that players perceive them as being on
different scales is going to be very important.


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