NUMBERS NEVER LIE [Author: Savant]

As we push forward in the gaming industry, the budgets for our games become larger, the “talent” becomes more experienced, and the ideas leap by bounds. The PSW genre is booming, the corporations have gotten a whiff of the sweet smelling dollars and the quiet ding!’s of virtual cash registers. A genre filled with such a passionate fan base, that we even propose higher fees for ourselves! With such growth and advancement, are we going to see better-designed systems? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

These projects are no small undertaking, and thus, have considerably large “teams” that work on them from day one. The teams are broken up into several departments, each with their own little niche in the process, usually with a Lead Designer or Designers overlooking the project as a whole. What’s been missing so far is the mathematician, the lone person who can save the gamer from ever weeping again.

Mathematics and numbers are a constant; they reside on their own plane, and do not need us to exist. The core of these games, even deeper than the code itself, is machine code. Simply put, nothing but numbers that do every single little bit of work you see. Billions of structured 0’s and 1’s produce every solitary thing, including what you’re reading now. Why? Because numbers don’t make mistakes, numbers don’t lie, numbers don’t have cyclopean opinions, and they never ever nerf. Code is code is code.

Designers, while often quite intelligent and insightful, are absolutely horrible at core system design and balance. They look at games from an artistic viewpoint, and not a functional one – “This is my game with my rules.” Whether you add in thousands of variables (read: players) or none, if your system is sound, it should never require a redesign or change.

Breaking the argument down into how I see it.

Character Creation: You start with a base of 0. Designers give the mathematician on board the specs of what they want with the creation module. You then apply the pro’s and con’s of say each race and class, with the end result always being 0.

Dark Elf: +10 Intelligence, +10 Wisdom, -5 Reflexes, -5 Strength, -10 Constitution.

Giantman: +20 Strength, -10 Reflexes, -10 Dexterity.

While each game will be designed differently, the fundamental rule here is that mathematically each character will always equal that base 0, while still being unique and different.

Combat: Far more complicated a system to give a simple example of, however, allow me a feeble attempt.

Melee Attacker – Defender = Combat

x – y = z

Magic Attacker – Defender = Combat

w – y = z

x = w

The idea here is that while each sect of combat can be completely different, if they were mathematic equals, problems such as “class balance,” “PvP balance,” and “Unabalanced Items” would never exist. I know this is terribly oversimplified and likely will not convey my point across well enough, but the message is clear, if different play styles are programmed equally, regardless of the variables you throw in or what direction you try to take them, the constants will always remain the same.

I won’t bore you by going into the details of every intricacy within game mechanics.

There’s a reason math doesn’t change and does not require change, it’s because it is wisdom at its finest. Perhaps game design needs to move towards scientific precision over artistic. Designers and those who would be doing the mathematical aspect would not be mutually exclusive, either. I think the two can work together quite well. After all, the job of the designer is to design, isn’t it? The coders is to code. Add in the number-wrangler into the mix, and the unit will still be cohesive. A well-oiled machine.

When all is said and done, we come to our final question: Is game design, by definition, artistic? I don’t know the answer to this one; I can only offer my opinion as I have in this article. Yes, the game will be free of nerfs, but will it still retain its “fun?” Can you have an “evolving” world exist if its core were designed strictly from mathematical concepts? Can the world change if you stick to the numbers?

I’m sure you will all let me know.

STRATICS SUCCESSFULLY INSTALLS THIRD DAWN, POSTS MANY EXCLUSIVE COPYRIGHTED SCREENSHOTS [Author: Lum the Mad]

While you’re waiting for your Third Dawn Alpha (ALPHA – ALPHA not BETA – no I do not have a time machine and have warped forward in time to bring you less-buggy CDs for a silly contest) you can read Xena Dragon of UO Stratics’ account of his adventures in a curiously dimensional Britannia.

Please note that UO Stratics (hereafter in this document referred to as “humorless asses”) is a registered copyrighted trademark of Stratics Gemeineschaft A.G. Ltd. and violaters of any and all official copyrighted Stratics trademarks, message board rules, chat room diktats, or anything else owned and operated by The Stratics Corporation will be pre-permabanned from any and all future and present massively multiplayer online games. Also, they’ll cry. Come on. You don’t want that.

YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT READING STRATICS IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. NEITHER STRATICS, NOR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, CONTENT PROVIDERS OR LICENSORS MAKES ANY REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND REGARDING THE SERVICE, THE CONTENT, HOW CURRENT AND/OR ACCURATE IT MAY OR MAY NOT BE, ANY ADVERTISING MATERIAL, PRODUCT PLACEMENT, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS WITH OUR LOYAL PARTNERS (HEREAFTER REFERRED TO AS “GAMING COMPANIES”) OR THE RESULTS THAT MAY BE OBTAINED FROM USE OF STRATICS. STRATICS IS PROVIDED ON AN “AS IS” BASIS AND STRATICS SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIMS ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, WARRANTIES OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR WARRANTIES AGAINST INFRINGEMENT.
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IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THE TERMS STATED ABOVE OR ANY CHANGES THE SERVICE MAKES IN THESE TERMS THEN PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY STOP READING THIS WEBSITE. RIGHT NOW. PLEASE. WE MEAN IT.

PART V: THE END OF IT [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

“You are?” repeated Scrooge. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”

“It’s only once a year, sir,” pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; “and therefore I am about to raise your salary.”

Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.”A merry Christmas, Bob,” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year. I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob. Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843.

Scrooges and Cratchits alike,

may we all find charity in our season.

Arcadian Del Sol

EVERQUEST – KID TESTED, MOTHER APPROVED [Author: Lum the Mad]

In another “it’s Christmas, let’s all feel better about ourselves!” article, MSNBC is touting Everquest as the harbringer of a new age of kinder, gentler video games. Well, when compared to Carmageddon and Soldier of Fortune, maybe.

Verant\’e2\’80\’99s pro-social strategy isn\’e2\’80\’99t just a touchy-feely novelty. It makes good business sense. \’e2\’80\’9cTo prolong the longevity of the game, you don\’e2\’80\’99t want to promote people playing alone for a few hours and then quitting,\’e2\’80\’9d says [Jeff] Butler[, Everquest’s producer]. Especially since EverQuest relies on a $10 monthly subscription fee. So far, Verant\’e2\’80\’99s strategy seems to be working. Butler says more than half the players who buy the game keep playing. That makes 285,000 active subscribers. Fans say the social focus is key to the game\’e2\’80\’99s success: \’e2\’80\’9cIt will be a long time before any other games can offer the challenge I get from playing against real\’e2\’80\rdblquote and thus unpredictable\’e2\’80\rdblquote people I meet online,\’e2\’80\’9d says Jennifer Bowen, a 28-year-old mother who\’e2\’80\’99s been playing EverQuest since its inception.

For more on the future of online gaming as seen by MSNBC, check the full article.

UO2 NEWS: THOUSANDS OF PLAYERS ALREADY BANNED [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

The question was raised on the offcial uo2.com boards about players banned from Ultima Online over it’s three year run. The initial question was “If you were banned from UO, would your Origin (uo2) account be flagged?”

G.Bob, our former updater and now the OSI borgified Community Coordinator for The Game With a Thousand Faces responded with a very clear and concise answer:

If you were banned from UO you will also be banned from Origin.

The thread degraded into a scammers vs victims flamewar, and ultimately the thread was locked. Before the doors were jammed shut, both sides had made some valid points, but the final decision does belong to OSI. Personally, I think this is a great idea, and will only serve to get Origin/UWOO/Nexus/UO2 off on the right foot, but will serve to make its first year less of a hassle for players new to the genre. Ultima Online was plagued with unspotted scamming, unchecked exploitation, and rampant cheating – all while OSI turned the other way. This situation damaged the growth curve of UO (while countless hours were devoted to finding solutions to scamming instead of banning the scammers), and the game started bleeding good players like a speared fish. It was coming to a pre-mature end to its life cycle.

When a convicted felon is released from prison, he has paid his debt to society, and can move on with his life. But for the remaining days of that life, he will always be a convicted felon. He could become a husband, a father, and a good employee – but he will always be a convicted felon. Every credit application, every loan request, and every job application, will force him by law to list in detail what his crimes were, and how long he had to spend in prison for those crimes. Banks can deny him a loan on this point, and employers can offer the job to other applicants on this point – and this is just the way it works. If you are willing to cause physical, psychological, and financial harm to others in order to better yourself, then you have to live the rest of your life with the fallout from that egotistical, selfish world-view. Sometimes, the consequences of poor choices are harsh – but without harsh consequences, you make criminal activity just a little more appealing – a little more tempting.

So I vote in favor of this action: Banned from UO? Then Banned from UO2 or any other products that OSI develops. In fact, I’d like them to find a way to ban these players from shopping at the same mall that I do.

THE PLOT THICKENS… [Author: Savant]

The Good.

The new dungeons absolutely require teamwork. This is a good thing for AC. Teamwork within each new dungeon, and teamwork between all levels of players to progress the plot. It’s simple, but it works. Overall, executed well.

The new loot to be found in the dungeons fall in the “decent” category, as should be. They’re not overly uber, and they’re not completely worthless (Aerfalle’s Pallium anyone?). Someone’s definitely gotten the clue to make quest items “good” without turning them into “the best.” Overall, excellently done.

The storyline continues in its usual above par pace. The plot thickens, the fight between good and evil continues. Who will emerge victorious? Asheron himself has sent “Chosen of Asheron’s” who carry a missive of his. It speaks of three items needed to defeat that big bad demon\’e2\’84\’a2\’e2\’80\’a6

“These items, together, would allow me to weaken Bael’Zharon from afar. He is far too powerful to be defeated in open battle, but with my ritual working to undermine him, powerful human champions will be able to overcome him. Be warned, however, that Bael’Zharon cannot be truly killed, nor can his influence, his altars, be eradicated. The best to be hoped for is that he will be banished from this plane of existence for a period of grace, and steps can be taken to prepare your civilization to deal with him should he ever again return. I request that any human who wields great power in this world take up arms to stand against the Hopeslayer.”

The Bad:

Triggered events are boring. The patches come once a month for a reason, having an event time or admin “triggered” only delays what could have been introduced on patch day. It was cute the first time, but now players just know it’s coming after about the first day of the patch and go back to business as usual until the magic button is pushed. It’s not exciting to sit around and wait. Why not take the time to have a multitude of triggers? Split the quest into pieces that can be accomplished once per week or so.

The Ugly:

In an attempt to appease the melee players, Turbine geared content and quests towards the melee classes. In the process of being “pro melee” they inevitably went “anti mage.” The mage and archer community at large has let loose a unified groan again this month. Several of the past dungeons contained “magic traps” (Ones that would remove every single spell and/or all the players mana in one shot). Several others contained “hollow creatures” (Creatures that hit through magical protections and only take into account the base protection of the armor). Granted, there has been some “mage luv,” but there’s no reason the dungeons like this month’s that requires teamwork to be filled with hollow and anti-magic creatures.

Falling into that acid pit means death and low chance for recovery. I think they exaggerated a bit much with it. Definitely an ugly.

So, to put it simply: Plot, loot, teamwork GOOD. Triggered events, BAD. Picking on mages, poorly designed dungeons, UGLY.

PLAY TO DANCE [Author: Lum the Mad]

The long-awaited “UO Faire” video of Ultima: Origin that was shown at the UO World’s Fair party is finally up on Origin’s FTP servers in small (8mb), medium (14mb) and large (20mb) sizes.


Necro Death Meerlings!

Jackie Chan In Full Plate!

…and it wouldn’t be UWOO without the Dancing Gimps!

Ultima: Origin will be released sometime within the twenty-first century.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS, WOLFPACK. NOW WE WANT SOME ANSWERS, DAMN YOUR EYES!” [Author: Lum the Mad]

J over at Crossroads of Shadowbane once again puts forth questions to anyone listening over that ever-existential question, is the much-hyped Shadowbane going to get literally everything right?

The dirty secret here is that other companies would do well to see how they answer these questions as well. Even if J only has eyes for Aracroix.

Even if by some miracle of talent, Wolfpack’s managed to achieve relative balance, will players be able to recognize it? Will they ever have reason to abandon that old mindset, or will be be just as useful as ever, even if it isn’t true?

And what are battles going to be like; when it isn’t one on one, it’s 40 on 40? Not only will players have to figure out how to play defensively and pick fights accordingly, the possibilities of warfare, or any sort of event that requires the participation of many players at once, may truly be endless.

PUNISHING THE PLAYER [Author: Savant]

It’s a disturbing trend that began long ago and has been ever so slightly increasing with time.

With UO, you had the mind-numbing punishment of having to click endlessly for trade skills. With AC, the punishment comes with having to buff every few minutes and having to shop every hour. EQ is by far the most punishment-heavy, of which the most note-worthy is the death penalty. It even goes back to games like Gemstone III where your “mind” would get full and you’d “absorb” no more exp until you sat down and did absolutely nothing while it cleared.

Designers have adopted the notion that a game needs to be tedious in order to provide a challenge. I’m sorry, but I just don’t subscribe to this theory. I should not be struck down with carpal tunnel because I want to enjoy your game. I should not be forced to read a book because you decided in order to “control the population” I have to do absolutely nothing but sit down and stare at some spell book in order to regain my mana and health points. If I wanted to read a book (and I often do), I would read a book. Somewhere along the line of game development, the core reasoning for making and playing a game got lost; to have fun.

Within the next two years we’re going to have a slew of new MMORPG’s hitting the market, and with that comes my fear that they’re going to follow behind the industry leader: EverQuest. Gameplay has not made EverQuest king, lack of competition has. As romantic as it may sound, the numbers do not speak for themselves. If other games are going to look at the success of EverQuest and follow suit with equally tedious and agonizing game mechanics, I fear for our future as Online Multiplayer gamers.

It’s a fine line between making a game too simple or too challenging, I understand. We also know that player retention is the real goal now, but there’s no reason these things need to be exclusive of one another. You do not need to make your game tedious to the point where you’re making your player work in order for them to stick around.

The solution to the dilemma is not simple. I’ve no delusions that this is a problem that can easily be solved. If you make your game too easy, players will become bored and leave. If you do not challenge them or impose some penalties, you will always be adding new high level content playing a game up catch-up. If there’s no risk, the reward is far less sweet. It is definitely no easy task, and no one game will be able to come in, sweep through, and magically create the game we’ve always been looking for. But the question is: Can each new game improve one aspect of this, until there’s enough information that someone will come in at the right time, combine these years of research and make a game that allows you freedom, lets you have fun, and still provides a challenge? I’m hoping the answer is yes.

I think a good start would be to place “mini-games” within each game in order to relieve some of the stress of downtime. If you’re going to make the player sit down for 30 minutes in order to regain his hit points or mana, then allow him to spend some of his earned coins in a virtual slot machine. If five people have downtime at once, allow them to spend that time playing a hand of poker.

Make trade skills fun. Endless clicking does not a trade skill make. Traveling into the belly of a level 100 demon in order to find a single component does not a trade skill make. Don’t be afraid to allow a little bit of freedom for your players to create “fun” things with trade skills. Secondary pets that do nothing but “critique” the combat of you and your group come to mind. Potions that temporarily change your avatars gender. Little things that cause your players to smile once in awhile.

Make “offline” time appealing. Your player does not need to be logged in 17 hours a day in order for him to enjoy your game to the fullest. Now no one is saying “make not playing as good as playing,” no, but give even the most hard core of powergamers the opportunity, and you’ll see him, if nothing else, exploring different character classes. Make characters go “off camera” and earn some experience and coin for every hour it’s not logged in. Nothing drastic, perhaps 1/20th of the average on the account.

I think the importance of the (Multiplayer) numbers of games like Quake 3 and Counter-Strike are being overlooked because of the difference in genre, and that’s a mistake. FPS or not, those games are fun because if your opponent kills you, you come right back with your weapon of choice and are able to jump right back into the heat of battle. Granted, the games themselves are simplistic and completely different, but if we’re going with the notion of “numbers don’t lie,” well, I guess that speaks for itself.

There’s no definitive answer here, and it would take much more than a single article to dissect this beast, but it’s a start.