December 1999

I GOTZ SKILLZ [Author: wirehead]

Raging debate of the moment pretty much everywhere in UO now is skill gain and has it been nerfed.

Here’s what I see as the problems with skill gain:

Trade skills are too hard to increase. Specifically smithing and bowcrafting, although most of the others aren’t pretty either. Combat skills are, on the other hand, pretty easy to raise, except on Siege Perilous (which is why most folks hate the shard with an undying passion and post “BRING BACK ABYSS YOU PUDS!!!1!!!” as their sig on CoB dev board posts.)

The random number generator in UO isn’t. This has been a subject of debate ever since UO began. The developers insist that the random number generator in UO really works. The players insist that, no, they consistently get runs of successes and failures that are statistically improbable, to say the least. The developers respond that this is proof of randomness. The players then pull out a Glock and go Xerox on the developers. The resultant death of the developers is possibly one of the reasons Necromancy is not yet ready for release.

Skill gain is tied to global usage of that skill. This is a philisophical underpinning of the skill system in UO and, no offense, is a crock of festering insert-disgusting-dead-thing-here. Its purpose is to slow down skill gain to make grandmastery rare. However, since in almost all skills grandmastery is required just to compete on a level playing field, players macro the skills to gain them as fast as possible. This drives usage rate up and makes them harder to gain in, thus increasing the desire of players to macro them. It’s a vicious cycle, and instead of fixing the problem, Origin simply created brand spanking new ones by just outlawing macroing. Gotta love that linear thinking.

How do other ORPGs handle this problem?

Everquest slows down skill gain by instituting a level system and putting a skill cap per level on most skills. This moves the problem from skill gain to level gain. Macroing isn’t a problem in Everquest because you, um, can’t. Even if some clever weasel figured out how to, there’s not a whole lot that could be macroed efficiently anyway since so much of EQ is basically sitting around waiting for a level-appropriate creature to magically spawn.

From my brief experience with Asheron’s Call, the skill system was one of the few things they nailed. The system works off of experience points (you have levels, but they are pretty much just marker points and have no in-game value) which can be spent to increase the skill of your choice. Skills can also be gained via use as in UO. I don’t know enough about AC to comment further on skill gain, but it seems fairly straightforward.

Now, I could refer you to some highpaid consultant’s $500 guide to how to fix online games, but heck, I don’t have $500 on me, so I don’t know if it actually addresses skill gain. So instead I’ll just make my own suggestions. I won’t charge a dime, although of course if you WANT to send me $500 you can. (On second thought just send it here, they can use it more. I’ll just spend it on more computer games and perpetuate the problem.)

These games are inherently competitive. Even in “co-operative” games like Everquest, players compete with one another, to see who has the most toys or the highest level. Competition is a part of basic human nature. At least for males, which make up a good portion of the gaming demographic. (My wife insists she doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body, and since most of her time in ORPGs is spent helping newbies it’s hard to argue the point.)

People like to compete on a level playing field. Very few folks like to start at a disadvantage. In UO, that means grandmastery, whether in combat skills for PvP or in trade skills for economic domination. No one wants to bring a knife to a gunfight. Sean Connery will laugh at you.

People will try to get to that level playing field as fast as possible. It’s human nature, again. No one wants to be inferior. Especially with the allure of what’s around the corner so readily apparent in such community-based games. So, in UO you macro (attended, of course, to stave off the Happy Macro Police), in EQ you camp and powerlevel, in AC, I dunno, kill 9,000 Matt Drudges for experience. You want to get to the real game.

In UO, especially, the journey is not the reward. The process of skill gain is pretty damned tedious, for the most part simple repetitive activity. It sucks. No one enjoys macrosmithing or macromining or powerlumberjacking or even sparring polar bears. It’s stupid and fiction-breaking (for those 4 people who still care about that).

Skill gates aren’t the answer. Sorry, Abyss freaks. It didn’t work. Skill gates utterly destroy the concept of a persistent world. There has to be SOME journey to validate the reward. Possibly not the ironman endurance test we all grit our teeth and experience now, but popping through a moongate and popping out a GM Everything only rewards the twinks who like to make instant characters for grief purposes. It doesn’t work for normal play.

So. Those are the problems. The solution?

I think a solution could be cribbed from EverQUEST. Allow in-game quests to reward players with skill gain. We see this implemented already with the newbie quests already in place, so it is do-able. Allow master blacksmiths to find the Holy Forge of Truth or something to get a point of skill gain. I don’t know. We have lots of overly creative minds which could be put to use on this problem. Yes, they could and would be “powerused” by folks to get to GM quicker. Um, so what?

If the journey becomes more of the reward, people wouldn’t be so intent on shortcircuiting it. And we’d quit bitching about the fershluggin’ random number generator.

IT’S OFFICIAL… [Author: wirehead]

From Blizzard’s PR department comes this…

The release date of Diablo II has been the subject of great speculation in recent weeks as the result of delays in starting the beta test. After discussing the time needed to fully play-balance, polish, beta test and debug the game, we feel that it is important to let the gaming community know that we do not expect to release Diablo II before the end of the year.

Diablo II is the most ambitious project we have undertaken to date. The game is many times larger than the original with a much more complex system of character development. Additionally, we have redesigned the Battle.net architecture using a client-server network to prevent cheating and to expand the multiplayer component. With the release of Diablo II, Battle.net will be a true global network with servers in Europe and Asia to support players around the world.

While we appreciate that Diablo II is highly anticipated by many gamers, we also know that gamers have come to expect a high level of quality from Blizzard products. We have worked hard for many years building this trust, and, as we have promised before, will not take development shortcuts at the expense of disappointing our customers.

The game is now slated for a worldwide release in early 2000. We plan to start beta testing before the year’s end with a limited beta test of 1,000 players. We then will conduct an open beta program to stress test our new Battle.net servers. We will keep you updated on the game’s progress once the beta test gets underway.

Over the years, we have been praised by the industry for taking our time with games and never losing focus on the attention to detail we pay to every aspect of our titles. As the team continues to work extraordinary hours to deliver the best experience possible, we hope that this tradition of support continues.

Hopefully this new Battle.Net doesn’t have a “Download User’s Registry” feature installed…

ASSORTED OTHER NEWS THAT WE DIDN’T MAKE UP [Author: wirehead]

Gamespot, that utterly unimpeachable news source (as all of you with twinked Asheron’s Call characters know!) is now reporting that Eidos is buying out Todd “Dominion ROCKS!” Porter and Jerry “God Of All Art” O’Flaherty and assuming control of Ion Storm. Ion Storm, for those of you who ignore any news not involving Ultima Online, Everquest, or nudity, is John Romero’s little outfit. Todd Porter, formerly the President of Ion Storm, distinguished himself chiefly by grabbing other men’s asses. More on the train wreck that was Ion Storm in this excellent Dallas Observer article, including actual spreadsheets and email from the company that the paper got sued over. Journalism is fun!

Other fun things today include our homeboys at Old Man Murray proving, conclusively, that Roberta Williams is the devil through the use of ancient pornography.

THE LATEST DUPE BUG – GET GMS TO DO IT FOR YOU! [Author: wirehead]

At Lum th’Mad, we’re equal opportunity GM-bashers, and lately we’ve been getting wind of a whole lotta EQ GM hate.

One original “intent” of Everquest was to enforce that everyone in EQ had a proper fantasy-sounding name. As anyone who actually plays EQ can tell you, this has kind of fallen by the wayside, with gnome wizards named “Poopie” (I actually saw this the other day personally) and approximately 9,000,000 variations of the name “Raistlin”. (And, as someone observed on our message base, all those Raistlins always seem to roleplay the insanely powerful wizard without roleplaying the insanely crippling asthma.)

However, as with any loosely defined and widely broken rule in ORPGs (like, say, oh, I don’t know, macroing?) the true problems occur when it is enforced, not when it isn’t. Take this tale from alt.games.everquest:

There is a paladin on the Rathe who chose ‘Angelfire’ for his last name. A beautiful and fitting name for a paladin if you ask me. Ol’ Zat [Zatozia, lead GM on the Rathe server] decided that ‘Angelfire’ was a title and changed it to ‘Anglefire,’ a pointless, silly-sounding name.

And going from making your character look like an idiot who can’t spell to truly fucking with your online experience, we have this, again from alt.games.everquest:

I was grouped w/ a 18 lvl caster named Lanceolott. He died fighting orcs in HHP [Highhold Pass] and the rest of the group had to zone. When he respawned , he found a very rude surprise — A GM HAD CHANGED HIS NAME! Because of the name change he could neither loot his corpse or access the bank. He repeatedly petitioned and was not answered. This has got to be a very black eye for Verant and Gms.

The GMs are inconsistant, as I petitioned on his behalf the GM stated his name was not conforming, but he didnt change mine, which was almost as bad.

And just in case changing your name while you’re trying to get to your corpse isn’t bad enough, we have this — a tale of GMs actually helping people on the PvP server dupe items. Word on this comes from J the Yellow, who noticed the following thread on the Shadowbane dev board:

Our guild had one of the worst nights in PvP two evenings ago. It seems EverQuest is a “You’re guiltly until proven innocent” world. One of our members logged the conversation with the GMs (Do`vassir and Yeln). Just a message to WP – this is how NOT to run a PvP game. =) (Though I’m sure you already have a good idea of what to do and not do).

Please read:

http://www.inconnect.com/~jff/eqlog.txt

This is the log from one of our guildmembers.

And, in response to a question about that note —

Jackass Andy wrote:
> I thought you’re able to loot one item, and then the
> corpse becomes unlootable…did that change? It has
> been a while.
> Jackass Andy

Yes that’s correct. The problem lay in the fact that the people who were looted /consent guildmate (which allows whoever they consented to loot their entire corpse), and once the guildmate has all their items, they scream that the killer/looter used an exploit/bug to loot their entire corpse. Thus, those that they are at war with get in trouble/banned, and they get a full duplicate (or better then they had before) set of equipment back. This is one of the reasons we started killing them in the first place – because they were lying to GMs to get equipment on the server that they could not get on their own.

Now, as a caveat, the person posting this is a member of SiN on Rallos Zek, and those of you on GL with a memory know that SiN were not exactly innocent lambs when it came to being exploiting kewldewds their own bad selves. Sedrik, the poster, had this to say when that was pointed out to him:

Kren wrote:
> That hasn’t changed, but sin has been accused of
> utilizing some exploit or cheat allowing them to
> loot all items or items in bags.
>
> If there was actuall proof to this however, I’m sure
> they’de have been booted long ago.

If anyone in SiN actually did what we have been accused of, I agree 100% that they should be booted from the guild and banned or whatever. I do not cheat, and I stand behind the guild in that believing none of them cheat either. We have asked Verant GMs to show us the so-called proof they claim to have, so that either we may take action to remove the person(s) that are cheating from the guild, or more likely, to show them that we were not in fact cheating or exploiting.

This isn’t an EQ whine board however – I simply want WP to know that in a PvP world, (esp one that is focused on PvP), there are many people that will try to get GMs to intervene when they can’t fight their own wars….. and that’s something I don’t want to see in Shadowbane.

So what’s it all mean? That you don’t need to use sex as a weapon to get what you want in ORPGs — sometimes just who you know is enough.

YOU CAN PAY THIS GUY $500. OR, YOU CAN JUST READ THIS SITE FOR FREE. OR BOTH! [Author: wirehead]

Greg Costikyan, former wargame designer and current online gaming pundit, has a new article out. Unfortunately, it will cost you $500 to read it. Really! (Of course, if he sells one copy to Origin and one copy to Verant, he’s made a profit, even if Turbine reads over Verant’s shoulder.)

Here’s some excerpts from the excerpts:

Think about Ultima Online. EA gets maybe 50% of the retail price of the boxes it sells; call it $25 a copy. The rest goes to retailers and distributors. It gets $120 a year out of a player’s monthly fee …What’s more important, $25 or $120? Duh… They aren’t in the business of selling boxes any more. Selling boxes is a necessary evil; online subscriptions is where the money’s at…

Structure a game to reward inappropriate behavior, and that’s what you’ll get.

Despite the best intentions of UO’s developers, UO is a Hobbesian war of all against all, a chastening reminder of the horrors of anarchy and lawlessness.

[Origin] defined the use of macros as cheating. They said anyone caught cheating would be punished… the last thing they should have done is chosen a response that defined many of their own customers as cheaters, required them to punish their own customers, set up a situation of antipathy between the sysop staff and the customer base.

What Everquest represents is not “a graphical MUD done right,” but a graphical MUD done well enough to provide tantalizing hints of what a really well done graphical MUD could be.

Wide-open anarchy is appropriate for IRC or UseNet; it is not appropriate to a community. A community has standards, and it must have the means to impose its standards on those who would violate them. A commercially-operated community–which is what any online game is–must be policed, consistently and fairly, by the company that operates it.

Community is more important than the game.

RESPONSE FROM TURBINE TO “TWINKING” RUMOR [Author: wirehead]

Damn, everyone reads this site. Chris “No Silly Nickname That I Know Of” L’Etoile, game designer at Turbine, writes with this:

I don’t know who started this rumor, or what they were smoking at the time, but this is 100%, swear-on-my-gramma’s-grave **FALSE**. We would not do this, as it is completely unethical. I don’t believe it’s technically possible, for that matter.

And that’s all he gots to say about THAT.

THANKFULLY, NO SMURFS WILL HAVE TO SLEEP WITH BILL GATES FOR TWINKED CHARACTERS [Author: wirehead]

Desslock, a normally level-headed news source, has this rumor to relay about Asheron’s Call:

the rumour that disturbs me the most is that a “major U.S. software chain” has cut a special deal with Microsoft/Turbine. According to the rumour, and because of my hectic schedule I haven’t been able to do my normal digging to get you confirmation (although it sounds accurate), purchasers of Asheron’s Call at that chain will get a more powerful starting character. It’s an annoying anti-competitive practice (Activision tried something similar with Heavy Gear/Walmart a while back), and you’d think that if any company would have learned from the error of its anti-competitive ways, it would be Microsoft. Bah.

If true, um, that would suck, Beavis.