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Coman's response to Ptah on System Design

1996 Topic Archives

Posted by Coman on 10/03/96

The main reason that I started this series of posts was to address the issue of how the mud design actually encourages cheating. Bulk suggested that the cheating was necessary to allow flexibility in character development. He also suggested that changing stats by holding items was necessary to allow newbies to correct errors in judgment in setting their stats initially.

The second of these assumptions is based on the newbie knowing that holding items during leveling will help to change those statistics faster. If the person is a complete newbie, they wont know this anyway and will likely spend quite a lot of time advancing until they find it out. Secondly, that issue could be addressed by giving the newbie help in designing a new character. Sometimes it is fun to play with all of the variations, but there is absolutely nothing wrong in helping a guest or new player in choosing the order of their statistics. Third, the true effect of this form of advancement is that older players/new characters are given just that much greater an advantage over truly new players/characters. If statistics went up only based on true characteristics, the calculation would be simpler for one, the unrealistic somebody help me level! would be reduced (as far as equipment exchanges were concerned), and that advantage for older characters and players willing to cheat by getting equipment they shouldnt have would be reduced. (Btw, Bulk. I liked your reply. It showed that you were willing to be honest and also spent some time thinking about what you wrote, lagged or not.)

As to flexibility, I cant address this directly. I addressed that point in a post to a question I was asked earlier which might be posted on the web board. Basically, I believe that, unless you are directly involved in real combat, and there are real lives at stake, there is no excuse for cheating flexibility certainly is not enough cause.

Cheating takes AWAY from you. At one point, I had the choice to risk a character with which I identified more closely or to create a new one in order to explore. To risk something that is worth nothing to you is no risk at all. It is also not worth living or experiencing - even on a mud.

You may be right about people running bots, but I believe there are ways to detect bots for one. For another, it would be boring for the people playing them because they wouldnt be able to run another character while the bot was running. And, then, the mud has been crashing so much lately that their bot would have to save so frequently that it would become obvious. There are also several problems with either random movement or programmed movement.

There is no system which is going to be perfect. In the end, however, adding hour limits to level advancement would solve more problems than it would create.

As you pointed out, Bulk, some people, regardless of the environment, will cheat. It could be stopped, but it would require too much overhead - something like maintaining the KGB. Police states are usually very peaceful and law abiding. The idea is to slow it down and make it harder. Usually cheaters are lazy they want it easy. Thats why they cheat. Most such people will go elsewhere. Will their leaving hurt the mud? Well, it would reduce the load for awhile, but others would take their place. Legend is too good a mud for anything else. And, in the end, do you want them playing with you? Because cheating is what everyone does doesnt make it what you want going on.

Eliminating it would actually increase the flexibility by increasing the amount of role-playing on the mud. In a static system like a mud, it is the role-playing that gives individuality to the characters Not the equipment they carry or their levels.

As to there being more problems than just system design and cheating, I agree Ptah. However, I had hoped to hold the conversation down to something I could finish in my lifetime :) Some time ago, I gave some of the early internet/mud material to a friend of mine who thought it was interesting enough that I think she used it as thesis material for some of her graduate students.

The issue of maintenance (both human and computing overhead) is exactly what I was trying to keep in mind while I was writing. You are already working on making your overhead more costly using the skill trees. What I was putting out for thought was ideas that I believed delivered the biggest bang for the buck, or, the most cost effective (greatest gain, least overhead) and which would not radically alter the true nature of the mud.

Now, I wouldnt know Bruno Bettelheim from Baby Bethlehem Greg, however, is another matter. Greg does (or did) some good game design. If I had to quote game designers, though, I would sooner use Lou Zocchi, Steve Peek, and Jim Dunnigan (I also know Craig Taylor, Steve Jackson, and a few others as long as we are doing this ... :) (Who the wrack is Bruno Bettelheim?) I know all of these to some extent or another (although only Peek and Zocchi well). Notice that I deliberately left out Gygax (for personal reasons of distaste) and Arneson (because I think I met Arneson possibly once). The real question is one of playability versus reality. Reality always imposes a computing limit (whether that limit is human or mechanical). There will be a tradeoff between those two for a long time to come. But, my intention was never to eliminate goals (or levels). They give you a means to measure progress. I like belts in martial arts. I like degrees in school. I like levels. Levels are good. Levels even work well in abstracting personal advancement in things like D&D and muds.

I agree with what Ptah said about the difficulties of dealing with multiple characters. It is always a tradeoff as to how much you are willing to spend for detection and protection. It isnt impossible to enforce restrictions on multiple characters. It is just expensive. There is some experience I dont have here. How about requiring a legal e-mail address to log in (checked out only during the original registration), but then allowing the player to connect to any of the characters registered under that login? No. You could not eliminate it altogether. But, you can slow it down and make it too difficult for most to bother.

You misunderstood the one character per month issue (or X characters per month). The intent wasnt to make anyone wait a month for a new character (but, you are right that with only 1 character allowed that would be the effect). If X characters were being played, and one died permanently, then, yes, a new character could not be started for a month. But, the player would have X-1 characters to go on playing. The intent was to force greater roleplaying development on the players, to force more personal investment in their characters. With a static mud, That is what gives a mud flexibility.

I have to completely disagree with Ptahs time/competition/leveling statements. Being able to advance 10 levels in a week of play has nothing to do with competition or measuring of oneself against others. People who truly wanted to measure themselves would do their quests Alone and with as little help as possible. That is where pride and achievement lie. Measuring yourself in combat against someone else is what pkilling is for. A major problem with this rapid advancement is that it is seriously unbalancing against those who will not cheat or dont have the friend network to help them. Another major problem is that it makes the Monty Haul aspects of the mud just that much worse (yes, there are other problems contributing to that aspect). With such advancement, you have people gaining magical items through combat far too easily (or, more easily than they should). It devalues every item on the mud. It promotes cheating. If the items are valueless, why is it cheating to duplicate them or give them away in bulk or store them for a clone to pick up?

And adding time to advancement would not rid the mud of competitiveness. There are Many ways to compete. What it might do is force some more interesting forms of competition (staged wars, soloed quests, standing on your head and thumbing your nose). And, essentially, I dont believe that this rapid advancement has anything to do with competition. I believe it deals more with laziness and desire. A true competitor doesnt require a cheat in order to compete. Once upon a time, I ran a shop for a friend of mine who had become ill. The shop was fantasy oriented and sold quite a lot of D&D materials there. It was one of the first in our area, and D&D was quite young. One day, a couple of boys came in and asked what do you do when youve gotten to 30th level and youve killed all the gods? Our response was, kill all your characters and start over. That type of advancement isnt competition. Competition implies a chance of failure, a test. These kids, and the players who will Only play if they can get lots of goodies quickly, wanted only to satisfy desire they did Not want to compete. I dont know, though, that it would so radically alter the spirit of Legend. And, I certainly believe that, even if all of your surfeit of current players suddenly couldnt stand the changes, Legend would be back to capacity in only a few months.

Lets see, have we covered enough diverse areas yet? ... :)

-- unique quests - god, each one of these areas requires several pages ... the best way to obtain unique quests may very well be to utilize players. With a bit more sleep, I might even have something on that which would be quick, dirty, but flexible and fun.

-- DTs - which, at the rate at which are covering ground, is something I may enlist in. The necessity for DTs shows the weakness in the rest of the economics of the system. I have always hated a trap which was, essentially, slam. bang. youre dead. no saving throw. It usually pointed out a failure in either design or execution. With a static mud and infinite equipment, is there a better way? Wrack, is there Another way? The worst part about DTs is that they kill exploration and any fun to be had from it. The next worst is that the experienced players already know the DTs and will avoid them with future clones and with friends. Finally, they are bad because they eliminate all vestiges of role-playing equipment (strung equipment, or just unique equipment that a player may have acquired at great difficulty in order to role-play). It would seem that the real penalty is against new players, not new characters, and are they the ones you are really trying to penalize? If you truly want to take equipment from existing players who are too heavily equipped, how about a DT that acts like the meteorite (or a magic item seeking missile :), it zooms across the skies until it finds an appropriate concentration of magic and then plops down a Balrog or two (boy, would THAT implementation cause howling or what :). Seriously, though, without making the DTs dynamic and random, I would have to wonder if the DTs are having the effect you believe they are on the group that you want them to affect.

-- Mob AI and Dynamics - wonderful idea. There is, however, no such thing as artificial intelligence. There is a lot of good artificial stupidity (no sarcasm intended), and there are good techniques taken from a.i. theory, but there is no such thing as a.i. So, getting my pet peeve (and the subject of a graduate degree) out of the way, its going to be awhile (Meier et al notwithstanding) before you have efficient techniques and computing power for more than keyword attention and simple parsing.

-- Avalon - once I had created a few characters and strolled around Avalon for awhile, I was no longer surprised by what had happened. It may be confined to one or just a few of their gods, but one is enough. Talking to many of their experienced players, I came away with the impression that this act was common. There was not One player who was surprised that it had occurred. The telling blow, however, was when Avalon support refused to answer my letter (which was not rude and inflammatory, btw, as I was hoping for some kind of rational response from them). So, we voted with my wallet and left.

--On doing level limits on equipment
There is nothing wrong with using levels as a measure of progress. Most game systems, human or computer moderated, must be somewhat discrete in their treatment of reality. Reality tends to take care of itself in a, quantum mechanics notwithstanding, continuous fashion. Humans and computers dont have the capacity to compute all of that. So, we have levels. There is Nothing Wrong With Levels ... Im not being sarcastic, just striving to not be misunderstood. Now, as to whether or not to use level limits as limits on using items, it depends on what level of abstraction you want to use in simulating advancement. In the extreme (which you wont be able to do for at least 10 ears at the current growth rates in technology - that available at less than government or major corporation level), you would track all of this advancement from experience to experience - skill usage, skill usage with each individual item, different experiences, health and environment effects, all of it. The more you used a skill, the more it advances. (Yes, the new skill trees will have some of this. Yes, there are muds which track some of this type of advancement for stats/characteristics. Im talking ... in the extreme ... like tracking the difference in skill between using a katana for most of your life and then picking up a scimitar, or the difference between using a Ka-bar and a punch dagger., or a jo and a bo. Knowing one does not lead to the same level of skill with the other.)

To begin with (one paragraph after the beginning), we already have abstraction built into the level system. Generally, you dont get stronger, smarter, and more spiritual just because you have fought a bunch of fights. Youve killed 20 mutts, *poof* you now advance and stand a much better chance of killing man- eating sharks. ... not. Each human characteristic changes through either direct application of use or through experiencing life and increasing your world-view and world-knowledge. Furthermore, they change in direct relationship to the experiences and training sustained. Being a great dog killer in Agrabah doesnt equip you for hunting killer whales in the arctic. Therefore, advancing statistics due to level advancement is already an abstraction. Because of the abstraction you have already started, there is nothing wrong with taking it further and using it to limit weapon/item usage. Yes, it would be more accurate to look at stats/characteristics and determine whether or not the proper characteristics were there first. That is just an extension of the discrete advancement system (generally, you tend to advance from a 10 to an 11, not from a 10.000 to an 11.673). Im not sure that it even really matters whether we are talking levels of holistic advancement (all stats, general experience, etc. advancing at the same time) or individual levels measured by independent advancement of statistics.

The implementation may be different, but the end result is the same. This particular point is that using levels rather than individual statistics to limit item use is simply an extension of an existing abstraction. I would prefer using limits due to stats and not levels, but its easier to compute using levels. Using stats rather than levels might be a subtler design, but, as always, you have to keep the entire system, its burdens and capabilities, in mind.

(And, yes, Virginia, I think the level system is good.) And, personally, I also think that it would be great to limit items by era. After all, an industrial era Nazi would probably have no idea of what to do with a flying carpet and a flaming sword (although the Arabs around him would have no doubt whatsoever).

I do agree, btw, with Ptahs introduction of limits on rents. It would not solve all of the problems. But, it is doable, and it helps.


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