[MUD-Dev] How much is enough?

Justin Coleman JMCOLE at MAIN.DJJ.STATE.SC.US
Wed Apr 24 16:44:25 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


Quotes from Brian Hook:

> Power gamers can never have too much information.  They derive
> enjoyment from optimizing their playing time and play styles.

Exactly. The problem I see (from playing EQ way too much) is that I,
as a non-powergamer, find that there is simply too much emphasis on
the numbers. IMPG (in my perfect game) there would be only enough
combat to allow one to practice skills and complete the quests,
while the main form of entertainment and reward would be the quests
themselves.  I realize that social engineering (of playstyles) on
the scale I am hoping for is a very head-in-the-clouds
possibility. However, I'd still like to gather enough concepts
together to make the attempt.

> don't *need* to see their stats, however many players enjoy this.
> They like to see quantification.  And if you don't quantify it for
> them, they will quantify themselves through trial and error.
> Qualitative statistical assessment in advancement oriented games
> almost always ends up as a failed experiment.

This begs the question of exactly *why* the experiment failed. I
understand that some (most?) players will do their utmost to discern
the numerical values of statistic that is not shown as a numerical
value. However, which are you considering the failed experiment -
hiding the *numbers* from players, or removing the necessity of
*seeing* those numbers? If the game is more than half based on
combat, then yes, numbers will be much more apparent to the
players. If the game doesn't emphasize combat however, wouldn't it
be reasonable to assume that players would then be more interested
in things like collecting a suit of matching armor, or exploring the
world, than getting the most numerical value out of the world and
its objects?

>>  I envision a system in which all numbers are relayed to the
>>  player in an inexact format - HP and mana are displayed as a
>>  percentage bar, skill levels and damage are given in verbal
>>  approximates

> This is fine, but it will not appeal to advancement oriented
> players.  Which, in today's commercial games, consist of a good
> chunk of the player base.  They will likely feel frustrated and
> annoyed.

Frustration is not my goal here, rather it is a side effect of
taking away the numerical crutch most players lean on to determine
their character's "worth". I would like to see (and play!) a game
where more emphasis is placed on using your character's skills on an
appropriate manner (aka tactics) than on having the best numbers,
the most people, etc. There will always be a condition of "more is
better", I think, but I'm attempting to find a way to turn these
players back from the dark side of number crunching, and back into
enjoying the game for other reasons.

> in general, this just comes off as contrived.

I agree, this does often come off as contrived. What I'm looking
for, though, is a way to make it fit better within the world, such
that it isn't seen as contrived, rather it feels like a natural part
of the world. If the game is designed, from the ground up, to be
internally precise but externally (player information) vague, isn't
there some way to make it "feel right"?

(Some of this following may be branching into another topic(s), but
I feel it's all closely related to the reason I think hiding the
numbers might be a good idea...)

In the same vein, the best character in the game world *should* be
head and shoulders above the rest, but IMO should *not* be in high
orbit. Instead of having 60 levels to give players a sense of
achievement, maybe have the equivalent of 5 or 10 levels, but don't
make it obvious that they even *are* levels.

Scale all your encounters such that most any average human (bandit,
for example) would be roughly equivalent to an average (30%
advanced) character, or maybe 3 or 4 low-level characters. If you
make the majority of enemy entities humanoid, you have a fairly
"flat" world, in that there's not a lot of different gradations
(levels) of things to kill. However, you can provide plenty of depth
and variety to the world simply by providing more different
entities.

When you create a town, there should be plenty of people living
there - in EQ for example, there's an average (from personal
experience, no hard numbers) of one merchant for every 1-2 normal
townspeople. Don't hide those potential npc's away, saying they're
boring - make them interesting, let them give quests, let them be
involved in palace intrigue, let them propagate rumors, anything.

People perceive a lot of the "flatness" in today's games due to the
less-than-stellar AI. (I haven't made any better myself, but I'm
trying :) Almost every enemy has the same behavior pattern - they
stand in the same spot day after day, until someone kills them, or
aggravates them enough to give chase. Give the npc's some life - let
the baker npc go to the market and buy flour, then go to the mill
and start making bread.

Give characters a useful way to estimate combat effectiveness -
don't take only level into consideration, use things like HP, damage
per hit, skill leves, etc. Then modify this based on roleplay
factors - if you consider a palace guard, he will seem more
impressive than regular guards with the same stats, based on perhaps
the shininess of his armor.

Make quests dynamic - the same quest over and over gets old, and
usually isn't coherent within game context. How many times can you
rescue the same child from the same orcs?

(Finally, my point ;) Give the players more to do than they could
ever *hope* to actually complete themselves, and I think a lot of
the insistence on numbers will go away. If there's always something
new and interesting to do, how many people will do the same thing
over and over just to have slightly better numbers? I'm hoping not
very many. (I refer to camping here, not practicing a craft
skill...)

>>  sufficiently fine granularity of these verbal and visual
>>  approximates, players could still have a reasonable sense of
>>  accomplishment given to them as reward for desired behavior.

> You're then just dictating that their advancement is in some
> predefined increments instead of at some arbitrarily fine
> granularity.  So what's the difference?  Shades of gray?

Yep. But really, isn't everything? Does it really make that much
difference to see a number, as long as you *know* you are improving? 
I'd much rather be a journeyman baker, for example, than to have an
83 baking skill. Heck, use quests for advancement - once you are
skilled enough to make a certain item, the palace chef could ask you
to cater the royal wedding (he's going to elope or something) as a
test of your skill. If you make enough treats with the supplies
onhand, and they are good enough to please the king, you become a
master baker in your own right. You probably haven't actually
increased a skill, but you have a new title. Isn't this advancement
enough, as long as it actually means something to the player?

>>  My opinion, possibly ill-informed, is that a system like this
>>  would be less susceptible to being "gamed" by those people
>>  obsessed with being numerically "the best" at any given system.

> And you would be wrong =3D) What would happen is that the hardcore
> gamers would have sessions where they experimented and determined
> the exact interaction of weapons, armor, skills, levels and items.
> And then they either publish the information or they hoard it to
> their advantage.  This happened with both EQ and UO in various
> forms, to the point where EQ players knew more about the mechanics
> than it seemed the designers did.

Well, as a current EQ player, I agree with this viewpoint. If you
have a good RNG you can do anything though :)

Ideally though, you could make this such a long, drawn-out process
that by the time they figure things out, not only are they far
behind even the casual players in terms of seeing new content, but
they are at a disadvanta ge in catching up because they have
basically (in game terms) been wasting their time.

>>  instantly know which one is better, encouraging comparison and
>>  min-maxing.

> Why would you discourage something that players enjoy?

I'd much rather encourage alternate playstyles that they don't enjoy
*yet* than discourage what they enjoy now. I don't want to
discourage, just make it less useful than spending the same amount
of time (see above, testing session) actually experiencing the game.

>>  I know I would rather play in a world where people are more
>>  about community and working together than who has the biggest
>>  sword, but it's not easy to attract the Achiever / Killer types
>>  to a purely social world.

> Um...why would you?  I'm a bit confused by this -- why would you
> want to attract the type of players you don't like to your world?
> And then, at the same time, try to invent mechanics that makes the
> game less interesting for them?

Well, someone has to be the "enforcer". IMPG, the Killer type of
player would all band together to be bounty hunters or assassins,
and the normal (other archetype) players would hire them to do what
they do best, and the others would rather not have to do. The
Achiever could be a competitor, gladiator maybe, or a crypt robber
type, who would try to be the first at everything.

>>  Wouldn't a world with more balance between all four archetypes
>>  be more fun for almost everyone?

> Define "balance"?  If someone is a social player and primarily
> engages in talking and discussion, is he "unbalanced" vs. the
> advancement oriented player?  Players get what they take out of
> the game.

I meant balance in the purely numerical sense, as in 25% of the
playerbase would be primarily Killers, 25% Explorers, etc. Talking
and discussion are great, that's where political careers come
from. Plus, if they're primarily talking and socializing, they will
have plenty of time to dabble in the other parts of the game, like
crafting, minor quests, etc. It's true that players get what they
take out of the game, but it seems to me that in most games, only
Achievers really have anything they *can* take out of the game.

> Even uttering the word "realism" in a gaming context tends to get
> me all irritable, so I won't bother addressing the above other
> than to say "Who gets to define reality?" =3D)

We do, of course. The developers of a game are the ones who decide
what's "real" to them, and therefore what they put into the system
for others to experience and enjoy. I really do enjoy EQ and what
little of UO I played... but I feel there's so much *more* that
could be done with a little more pre-coding design work, that I'm
compelled to attempt it myself.

Here's hoping I didn't just accidentally enrage anyone who's worked
on or enjoyed EQ et al :)

    -Justin
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