[MUD-Dev] Continuous versus Discrete Functions

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 25 12:59:59 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

On Saturday 22 December 2001 8:19, Koster, Raph wrote:
>> From: John Buehler

>> 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.

> 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?

My own article on balance at Skotos talks about something that I
think applies here -- namely that there are multiple kinds of
balance (or, from another point of view, multiple kinds of things
that might need balancing).

  I won't repost the article here, since that would go against my
  contract with Skotos... unless Shannon or Chris says it's OK.  The
  article is at:


Players, particularly those who have an investment made in a
particular character type, generally worry about balance of
character power.  As Raph mentions, an "unbalanced" class, skill,
ability, or whatever in this sense will generally sort itself if
allowed -- you'll simply wind up with lots of players choosing that

There are cases, though, where it may not sort itself out.  One
example would be if there's a limited number of it available.  E.g.,
if there are 50 of the Sword of the Ubermunchkin in the game,
character power balance may not be able to be reestablished without
intervention, since those who don't have the swords can only get
them by getting them from someone else who has one... and no one who
has one is likely to want to give it up.

A second kind of "balance" is having balance between various classes
and races.  The goal I have in mind here is that the player
characters should be a fairly diverse lot -- we don't want every
character to wind up being nearly the same.  An overpowered class,
race or whatever can be a problem here -- character power will sort
itself out, as those who want the power choose that class/race.
However, having 60% of player characters be elves (or whatever) may
give the mud a greatly different tone than is desired.

> 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.

This is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about -- here, you're
not talking about a balance of individual character power, but a
balance of having a desired mix of player types.

Balance of importance is also touched on here, indirectly.  The
Rebellion, as a group, may not have the same level of power as the
Empire -- put they are *very* important to the setting.  In spite of
their lack of relative power, the Rebellion is "where the action
is".  Without them, the setting is much more boring.

> 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.

This brings up another kind of balance, though -- balance of
opportunity.  If who can be a jedi where to be, say, randomly
determined, that would make a lot of players angry.  "Why is it that
he can be a jedi and I can't?" is probably the most polite question
you'd get.  :-)

  (Please note that I'm not saying that I think Raph is going to do
  it randomly -- Raph's much smarter than that.  I'm just pointing
  out that while that would be a simple answer, it's also one that's
  not going to feel balanced to the players, and will therefore make
  a lot of people unhappy.)

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

Yep.  That's exactly what we wound up doing on SWmud.  If we
followed the setting, we shouldn't have many PC jedi -- one could
even argue that we shouldn't have *any*.  We chose instead to make
it fairly difficult to become a jedi -- you have to get to moderate
level in another class first, then do a quest, have to take a
reasonably high Force score (which means your other scores won't be
as high, hurting you in your pre-jedi phase), etc.  We still wound
up with a lot of jedi, since so many people want to be jedi, but we
knew that we'd either have a lot more jedi than the setting should
have, or have very unhappy players.  We chose the first option.

  (In some ways, what we did is similar to what D&D has classically
  done with wizards -- we balanced across time.  A D&D wizard "buys"
  his/her great relative power at high levels by enduring/surviving
  the low power D&D wizards have at low levels.  In the same way,
  SWmud jedis had to make suboptimal choices at low levels in order
  to "buy" the opportunity to become a jedi later.)

       |\      _,,,---,,_     Travis S. Casey  <efindel at earthlink.net>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-' 
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