[MUD-Dev] Star Wars Galaxies: 1 character per server

Sasha Hart hart.s at attbi.com
Thu Jan 9 02:45:33 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

[Michael Tresca]
> [John Robert Arras]

>> - The game is a racewar/pkill/kingdoms at war game with a few
>> sides that fight each other. You are friends with your side and
>> can do whatever you want to the other side(s).

> This makes all the difference.  We have a "War" function where
> players can, at their option, join in a fight against other teams.
> We don't make it required.  It is not the full functionality of
> the game.

> Games that are constantly at war are more akin to a sport (like
> football) than a real MMORPG.  An important distinction for this
> discussion, because Star Wars isn't (near as I can tell) going to
> be about PKing the other guy.

It's a great distinction to draw, but MUDs tend to fall within the
fuzzier bound between sportlike and not-sportlike. Genocide has
full- on resets and is very like a deathmatch but I'd still call it
a MUD.  Other games have team PVP in a world with more persistent
state, but the character of the fighting is similar. Dark Age of
Camelot, as a few other games, is persistent and has team PVP with
some consequences to them (the gameplay is still pretty similar). I
would suppose Star Wars to have team PVP?

MUDs/MMORPGs often could be described as composed of several
interlocking games. This often includes games that are very sport-
like. Certainly that does not make the game as a whole sport-like,
but it does make a substantial part of the gameplay sport-like.

It isn't clear to me, then, that the qualities of the 'sports-like'
game John described shall not bear on any other MUD/MMORPG. I'm not
requesting this, but more specific reasoning (e.g., suchandsuch is
like a sport in this specific way, and SWG is not, and this feature
is the important one to consider).

>> - Objects are not level-based or power-based. If you are a newbie
>> and you get the Ultimate Sword of Doom, you can pick it up and
>> use it.

> This is a huge problem because it encourages players to give hard
> earned equipment to newbies.  That is, the barrier to getting an
> item is time and effort.  Time and effort are in the hands of the
> player -- once the player gets the item, he can give it to
> whomever he wants.  We learned very quickly that making things
> almost impossible to get but then making them incredibly powerful
> is NOT a balancing factor.  Once it's in the game, it's in the
> game -- nothing should be so hard that it's ridiculously rare, and
> nothing should be so powerful that it has to be ridiculously hard.
> If you're creating such items, it's unbalancing.

This is trivially correct (esp. imagining it as a change to Retro or
something fairly similar). Level restrictions are a pretty foolproof
way around it, too.

> From the other end, though:

It also lets higher-level players do something nice for newbies
(though admittedly it does short-circuit one of the usual
treadmills, so I suppose it has to be bad). It also increases level
rate and rate of the decisions which are usually the only meaningful
ones in the game (though admittedly a major goal of these games is
to retard the player's progress, and this makes some sense in the
context). It also lets newbies live on a more even playing-field
with higher levels (though admittedly higher levels need their power
trip, so I suppose it has to be bad). In any case, level
restrictions are the equivalent of stone age technology for sure - I
don't really disagree that they are THE way to go in the games where
they've been applied, but if you really wanted this feature there
are multiple ways to do it other than level restrictions. E.g., fast
wear, rent, blah blah blah.  (Though I detest these and would take
level restrictions if I had the choice).

In a couple games screwups like not enforcing level restrictions
were the only thing that made a miserably stupid pain-of-longing
game any fun at all. But, again, I suppose it has to be bad since
the pain of longing game is usually considered the benchmark.

>> - There is a remort system. Players who get to high levels can
>> choose to remort and go back to level 1 with slightly more power.
>> This system is skill-based so one of the things you get is a
>> slight increase in the number of skills you can learn. There are
>> also several remorts so the players will constantly be going back
>> down to low levels.

> This is just a big leveling treadmill, making it really obvious
> you go nowhere.  I've played on these.  People get bored after the
> second or third remort.  It's only a "slight increase" -- so a 100
> level system is an illusion since you can remort and climb the
> levels again.  Woo, infinite treadmilling with just more piles of
> stuff.

> Result: people do not play these games for long.

I've seen people play games with several hundred levels and remort
for a year or two, which is not bad at all by diku standards. And
look at the bald success of simpler treadmills, which are at worst
just the same thing.

Anyway, I'm sure Matt Mihaly wouldn't be crying in his milk if
someone paid $50 and played for a couple months. Surely 'long' is
relative to how much money you need to cover costs, how much you
collect per head, and how many paying players you have.

Maybe in time the costs of developing & running these games will
decrease to the point where running a game in the long-run for
smaller communities will be more economically feasible.

I suppose this might happen in 3025, after SWG IV (which cost $1.2b
to develop) is wearing out after 80 years of play ;)

>> - When you kill monsters for XP and loot, you get the same XP
>> regardless of whether or to you're level 1 or high level.

> AAAGH.  If Third Edition D&D learned something (from MUDs, but I
> have no proof), it's that level of effort should be rewarded.  Fit
> the reward to the effort.  As much as possible, because goal-
> oriented players will look for maximum reward with minimal effort.

I dunno, you could look at giving players one new ability per level
this way - 'they're not getting more at higher levels.' That works
OK just the same. Most CRPGs and MUDs I've played, let alone
enjoyed, have not shown massively increasing actual rewards. If
anything, the number values increased while the actual rewards
stayed the same (you opened up a new area, you got one new command,

Players can understand that the xp value per kill reflects the value
of the kill NOT scaled by level. A level 50 player is not 100 times
as excited because his experience values are 100 times what they
were at level 1. I'm also not sure what the effect of the
ludicrously high scores in some pinball games is. I suppose it might
make some sort of difference, but don't see anything fatal about it
(at worst, it's a quick change - xp displays multiply by 100 * level
or whatever, without mechanics actually changing at all).

I am also more than a little confused about how work at higher
levels necessarily entails more effort. Then again, that is another
design doctrine that I don't particularly enjoy, although I guess it
allows players to determine their own "break points" and get out at
exactly the amount of frustration they can handle ;)

>> The result of all of these mechanics is that you have advanced
>> and newbie players interacting more, and powerlevelling is
>> fun. It's fun even if you don't know the people being
>> powerlevelled. I have to admit that I've seen this done on small
>> MUDs only, so there are probably issues involving larger groups
>> of players and guilds that I haven't considered, but it works
>> very well in smaller games.

> No, it's fun for a particular playstyle, goal-oriented players.
> It also burns out quickly.  The powerleveling "rush" comes and
> goes.

It's a little sad to say, but the MUD-playing 'rush' comes and goes,
too. And deliberately throwing in filler and making levels take 200
hours + 10 hours per levels previously gained doesn't really fix the
problem or make the game more noble, it just creates a longer period
of play for the people who are most susceptible to this kind of
obsessive stuff. That's not entirely charitable on my part, but
neither is it all that inaccurate about most of the games.

I like interaction across levels, and have had fun in games with
powerlevelling. Of course, Retro fights tooth and nail in a
different direction and does great in its own distinct way, and I
have admired it for a long time, but it is a particular playstyle
too, and can burn out like any game must.

> What you're proposing works well in sports-type games, wherein
> there is a score and everything resets at the end of a season.
> Perpetual treadmilling is everything we try to avoid, precisely
> because in the long term, your immersive virtual environment is
> wasted on short- timers who are not interested in being immersed.

The idea of a game which is similar to most of the ones out there
but with a shallower power difference between players is very
interesting to me, in part because it challenges this assumption
(that there is not much fun to be had, or that there are no good
players to be had, unless you can allow one person to become
massively more powerful than another for good by virtue of nothing
but the amount of time they have sat in-game.) The other reason is
that it solves multiple awful and persistent problems, some of which
prevent all kinds of other interesting ideas from being implemented.

Just as a sampler: player population is cut in pieces for purposes
of meaningful interaction, grouping, cooperation and
competition/combat.  Similarly, you have no reason to interact with
most of the players you run into. There is also a problem suspending
disbelief that one player can stand for 40 minutes while the other
bludgeons him full- force with a club, or if one player can simply
not be hit by another's arrows (they all just miss). In PvE, higher
level players are often fighting one version of 'pixie' that is
inexplicably 50 times as dangerous as the one in newbie
school. Without level-based or overall pkill restrictions, higher
level characters squish lower level characters like bugs and have no
problem doing it for fun, either - which is REALLY not fun for lower
levels. No form of retaliation whatever is available unless the game
has implemented some kind of tattling policy, which is rarely
satisfactory. Lower levels have no ability to deter higher-level
attacks. Higher levels are encouraged to treat lower levels without
any regard; after all, they are pathetic and fight baby monsters.

With shallower combat power differences, combat can give more scope
to the individual player to make good decisions. That can be a very
good thing; I much prefer to win by skill and thinking than because
I spent more time or joined the game sooner than the other guy,
though naturally if that is what wins I will try to spend more time
or join sooner.

With shallower power differences, combat can become less certain and
more risky. That can act as a deterrent and can allow players to
enforce social contracts and rules. Even if there is a moderate
power differential, e.g., if 5 bullied newbies can team up and
retaliate on one bigger guy (rather than standing around 'missing'
him with their fists), or can defend themselves, that can moderately
increase accountability.

With shallower power differences and the same or less time per
skill- point/level, less is invested in the character. Surely, you
might say, this is madness - we want the player to have more
invested so he sticks around. Maybe so, but when the character
really dies, or when the character loses something, or when the
player wants to try a different kind of character or a different
identity, then less is lost and there is less to be discouraged
about, too.

The only purpose I can see, and for this there is no substitute, is
that big power differences allow you to put players on a
power-gaining treadmill for a longer period of time, and to give
relatively more recognition and status to the people who have sat in
the game longer.

Many games use that, and more power to 'em, but it's just a design
decision, not a law. Lots of games have had shallow power
differences and did fine, but they did live in a different landscape
than (again, as an example) Retro does.

> Somehow, I don't think the above is going to be Star Wars.  At
> least, I really hope not.

I hope not too. But it certainly would be interesting if I saw a few
more games that were not apparently designed to be a club for the
people who have sat in the game for the longest total time and/or
play so constantly that it transcends the casual/hardcore
distinction and gets more into the has job/doesn't have job
distinction. And I don't know if it's necessary to say that such
games might have an easier time avoiding charges of deliberately
addicting players as well. I wouldn't stake $50 million on this,
though (for that matter, I wouldn't stake $50 million on any issue
I've discussed here!)
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