Friday, October 23, 2009

Imaginary Magic

to dg cuz i ruined his day
anyone who had to walk home in the pouring rain


today i was thinking about guilds and imms, game theory, level caps and the endless question of how to make players interested in playing their characters for a long period of time. what makes a game interesting to play for more than ten years?

in game theory terms, a mud, specifically the mud i own, dark risings, is
a hybrid game containing cooperative and non-coperative elements. for instance, coalitions of players are formed in a cooperative game (guilds) but these coalitions play against each other in a non-cooperative fashion

i find this language very difficult to navigate, needlessly convoluted. sometimes i wonder if the trouble with math right now is a lack of good translators from math into spoken language. seriously. a "non-cooperative fashion"? that means competition. games are either about working together, or working against each other. they are about cooperation, or about competition. hybrid games offer both.

in our hybrid game, a mud, characters work/play together to form a group (coalition, guild), but then the groups play competitively against each other. so gamers can both work/play together with other games, and they can compete against each other.

if there is going to be competition, there must be fair competition. i think level caps are important for this reason. it's important to have a level to reach which everyone can attain, a point at which, theoretically, the field is fair. this is the point at which all race/class combos are balanced, the point at which all of the many bonuses and checks have cancelled all of each other out. a kine mage is the equal of an ogre ranger. equal, but different.

but it's also at this point that people start competing. gamers like to be the best. they are not content with being equals in any type of game. even among teammates, gamers will compete to see who can be the most valuable to the team. competition on a ROM-type mud takes two forms: pk (or player killing) and rp (role play).

when players compete in pk, there are real and obvious winners and losers. since players are pking with characters which are (ideally) balanced (that is, an avariel druid and an ogre barbarian are equally matched: they will have very different fighting strategies, but taken as a whole (ie, counting in resistances, vulnerabilities, stats of all kinds, power of spells, power of spell combos, etc etc etc) both characters are equal. since both characters are equal, the controlling variable is the skill of each player.

some minor gains (ie guild, were, vamp) are available for those who are lucky or competent enough to get them, but ultimately, skill will trump any combo. There have been many instances where a great race/class/vamp/guild combo char has been beaten by a simple race/class combo controlled by an excellent pker.

(sidenote: i think there is also skill to putting together a good race/class combo, to using strategy to gain other enhancements such as guild spells and so on, but ultimately, i think any decently-built character in the hands of a good pker will win, regardless of whether it has a lot of extra perks or not. granted, i haven't seen someone playing the worst pk race and the worst pk class (drow wildmage imo) dominate the strongest pk race and class (drac ranger), but i think this is only because i've never seen a drow wildmage character try to pk. nobody would try that, because gamers like to win, not give themselves handicaps. a very few gamers push themselves to the limit and fight with unguilded no-perk characters. i've seen these types of chars win. it's awesome to watch. and even more awesome to win with them. there is no rush like the rush of beating a heavyweight with a lightweight.)

so clearly the real competition in pk, what is needed to win (and thus earn the respect of the other gamers) is skill in building and using a powerful character to compete with other characters.

this is where a lot of very problematic conflict came in on dr.

remember: competition on a ROM-type mud takes two forms: pk (or player killing) and rp (role play).

the real competition in rp, what is needed to win (and thus earn the respect of the other gamers) is skill and building and using a powerful character to compete with other characters.

sounds the same, right? the difference is, often rpers will create roles for themselves in which they are incredibly gifted or powerful people, and expect everyone to respect that role and treat them with utmost respect. when those rpers can also pk, there is no problem, because they can assert their power. when they can't, they are just a bunch of safe-hugging crackheads who wave their arms around making flashy lights and colours appear as they tell anyone who will listen how awesome they are. or at least, that's how they look to pkers who have been rping with them and now want to rip their arms off.

the question of "power" is problematic: in a game set in imaginary fantasy land, anything can happen. so who is to say what power is real and what power is tolerated for the sake of the game? is being able to beat someone up with your sweet script powerful? is your claim of possession of the power of a thousand-year-old demon (who seems not to be able to affect anyone else but you) powerful? doesn't having power mean having power over other people?

one can play the role of a "powerful magician" on dr, but since all mages and magic-type classes have the same basic, balanced skill level, players cannot actually realize this assertion except through pk. this means that players who cannot pk cannot try to be the best through this natural method of player-vs-player fighting.

often in the past, there have been players who did very little fighting, but were still very powerful. they were powerful because many people respected them and did what they said. they were respected not for their pk skill, which was negligble, but for their ability to weave a story around people, to bring other people into the living web of the game. i would like to see there be a way for these sort of people to earn the power to destroy their enemies without having to pk in the traditional means.

imagine a powerful mage guild in which the magi contantly research and
practice magic, toiling day after day to enhance their power and strength -- but having their "power and strength" built on imaginary concepts invented by the magi...or plagiarized by the players controlling the magi... where the magi do not research their own magic, but instead discuss new spells which they will never be able to cast without an immortal to help them fake it. it's like they are play acting, because when an inferno guild comes to attack, all these great and fine magical "arts" they've "researched" and written about do nothing to help them fend off or destroy their attackers. and the attackers, who have worked hard to become skilled assassins, worked hard to gain real power, can't really be blamed for not cowering before the imaginary might of the magi.

but the fact is, the magi who have become part of a magic guild, who work and toil day after day to discover and enhance magic, these magi SHOULD have exceptional power to protect themselves. if the game is trying to be realistic (and to me, it should be, even if it's a realistic fantasy about vampires and elves), there should be a way for non-fighter classes to protect themselves and even to be the best WITHOUT having to fight. after all, they CHOSE a non-fighter class.

magi should be able to join a magic guild and study magic, and gain power according to the work they put in. imagine a mage with the ability to kill someone with the utterance of a word... but only once a day. assassins would not be so eager to attack, nor should they be... but they might be cunning, and succeed. there are ways to silence a mage.

i think the concept of guilds needs to change. i think they need to incorporate trades, in a way. a magi guild might have one trade for each circle of magic: one for nature magic, one for death magic, one for healing magic, one for destructive magic. each of these circles might have tasks to do, rituals to perform, potions to brew, etc, etc, tasks which might take years for a character to perform in completion, each granting significant over-other-characters power. in this way, a player who most loves exploration, or who most loves doing quests, or who most loves performing rituals, can rise to power alongside someone who most loves to pk.

the question is...

could it be done without imms? it could be done without actually having "guilds" with their pomp and circumstance, but rather just guild areas which supply what is needed, and achievable powers over who can access the supplies in the guild... imagine a magi guild with limited resources... a powerful mage might force other seekers away, using the secrets he's unlocked for himself. a thief guild, which might teach new ways of sneaking, new types of sneak attacks, secrets to picking unpickable locks, poisons, how to apply sleeping potions.... that sort of guild might be totally secret, forcing one who wants to join it to think like a thief to find the hidden knowledge of the masters. a thief guild, which perhaps turns thieves into assassins.

to me, this idea has opened a new door for potential.


ps did you know stock ROM 2.4 beta has a "heroic" (level 51) which morts can attain? i wonder why this was taken out, and what muds with it in are like....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rain and Witches

hello everyone. welcome back.

this post is supposed to be my thoughts about how dr fits into game theory. i have been working on that idea, and writing about that idea, and learning about game theory (or at least, wikipedia game theory, which i recognize for what it is. game theory. on wikipedia. i get it.).

(note: i came back and added the aside below as i was editing this post before publishing it. this should probably not go right at the begining, since it's my thoughts from after having finished the post. before i got distracted. i know, i haven't told you about the distraction yet. that's because for you, right now, this one time only i'm from the future, and for you, right now, i will make a prediction about the future of this post: after this note, and the aside which follows it, which seems to be about what my original topic was, i will get distracted...)

(aside: the simplicity of wikipedia allows me to get a basic understanding of game theory. i assume that parts of it might be wrong or misrepresented or amaturish, but at this point in my game theory development, that's okay. i think i am learning. i've been playing with putting the terminology into more intuitive terms. than "co-operative" vs "non-cooperative" by looking at dr as an example. i feel like i'm learning how an engine works. this is the mode of thought i was in when i came up to my room to write. just before getting distracted. i can't write about this tonight because my earlier distraction became inspiration in a roundabout way for the new game, and i want to share with you how i become inspired.)

well, i came upstairs and into my room tonight to write.

i settled in to write about game theory, but then i noticed an odd sound. it's raining out, raining hard. the streets are slick and black with rain, the air is full of raindrops which flicker and glow like lightning bugs, catching the light here and there as they fall.

night rain is the best kind of rain. rain on the prairies here is magical. it seldom rains in these deep thirsty fields east of the Rocky Mountain ridge. one of the things i love about calgary, nestled between the foothills and the fields, is how often it rains. in saskatchewan, where i grew up, a solid rain that might soak through your clothes to your skin was rare to the point of scarcity. and for the last two weeks it's been cold here in our almost-mountain city, past the crisp cold evenings that make the end of your nose feel nothing but cold, into sharp nights where the very lights also are cold, cold unwavering stars in an uncaring sky. winter is a time of beauty, and of risk.

but tonight, it's raining, a heavy soft warm rain cleansing the city, washing away the dirty slush of the day. i open my windows as far as they will go, and it's far. life in this city is rich even for mendicants like me. the window far open, my feather pillows pressed against the sill, a warm feather blanket over my legs, silky and grey like the down of a silver swan. warm light from the beautiful dusky rose shades of two lamps. i feel surrounded by warmth and beauty, and the soft gentle sound of rain. this will be the last rain before winter. the land now must sleep.

people think that saskatchewan is a land without nature. when people think of nature, they think of trees. forests, woods, possibly the beach (though one should note when people say they are getting "back to nature" no one assumes they are heading to the beach). for most people, woods are necessary for a setting to be considered "nature". in the long dull drives through saskatchewan, most often done in the heart of winter on a dreary trip to stay with in-laws for the holidays, the land is hidden. all that can be seen is the dark muddy fields and spots of patchy snow which may not even be snow but salt flats, where the land has been destroyed and left untillable by nature itself. the few trees in sight are desolate and fornlorn. what a barren place, these strangers think, and they drive on.

but saskatchewan in the summer is a wholly different place. in the summer there is nothing but one day after another of long, cloudless summer blue sky sunshine. all creatures live and grow here, but they are subtle and small, delicate-looking but hardy and resistant. this is the paradise to which creatures return in the summer. there is nothing like going out on horseback, riding for five or ten minutes over a rise and looking off into eternity, until the eye can no longer follow the low stretch of land to the horizon, until nowhere can be seen any sign of mankind. instead, there are: deer. antelope. songbirds. hunting birds. harmless snakes. rattlers. gophers, dozens of gophers. grasshoppers. butterflies. nowadays, as the wide wild places dwindle even in canada, there are moose. even the moose seek sanctuary in the deep secret places of saskatchewan.

you see, the land looks flat. but looks lie. as you continue out into the plains, away from the highways, amazing things begin to appear. lac pelletier is a lake hidden entirely within a folded valley. it is long and narrow. one can drive within ten miles of it and not see that there is a lake hidden below.

near my hometown is a tiny crevice which holds a forest, complete with a creek for wading or fishing, and full of animals such as wild beavers, birds of all kinds, deer, and, if you believe my father, cougars. they are woods built equally for exploring, and for lying beneath the trees and staring up at the ever blue sky just visible through the swaying branches. these are the whispering pines.

much of my childhood was spent exploring the nature of the prairies. watching gophers or badgers or anthills for hours, bringing home baby magpies, baby hawks, injured kittens, plastic crates of grasshoppers, plastic buckets full of frogs or garter snakes, my pockets always full of pretty rocks i'd found and often wearing crowns of golden dandelions which i had plucked long-stemmed and woven together.

once i found a bumblebee which was clearly dying, and although i was afraid it would sting me, i felt sad that it was dying all alone in a playground. i argued with myself: never trust a bee. they sting. And i argued back: they do. but even bees deserve to have someone care that they are alone and injured. i built around it a beautiful temple of dandelions as bright as the bee, so it wouldn't feel lonely, and then read aloud to it from my book. when i looked down again, the bee was clearly dead. the next day i went back out to that spot of the playground, and the dandelions were there, looking sad and limp and dull, but the bee was nowhere to be found. i hope his bee family found him and took him home.

i have tried to paint a portrait of the prairies, a place which i love and miss dearly. i want you to understand the frame of mind i am in when i am building and designing for our game. the rain tonight brought me back into this dream of nature and compassion, of innocense and happiness and hope in faith and goodness. this portrait of empathy. imagine this portrait now as the backdrop of one of only two classes the new mud will have: the witch.

the witch. witches in our game will not be the witches of fairy tale, nor the wiccans of new religion. our game will have no religion. witches will be as i imagine them, in the secret unfolding land of the deep prairie. i think a witch would be someone with compassion and empathy to build places of power for injured creatures. witches would tap into the power of nature, becoming one with all things, all people, all living creatures who whisper and breathe, from pine trees to insects to birds and animals of all kinds. no witch would ever harm a living thing, believing as they do that all living things are one. to kill another would be to kill the self. gains in experience and advancement for the witch will not be brought about through the deaths of live things... unless... the witch herself were to become evil, and her powers darken into destruction and capricious chaos.

i meant to write about gaming tonight, and was distracted by the rain. thank you for bearing with me. i will write more again soon. there is so much more i want to write about, such as why we are only going to have two classes on the new mud, and what made us decide that, and of course, what the other class will be. (psst. it's ninja. very. cool. class.) but for now, writing has wrung me out. i debated about posting this or not, since it's not typical game blogging fare, but what the heck. this is what came out tonight. blame it on the rain.

i will be back with less girly thoughts soon.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Consider This Your Invitation

dear people who are interested in thinking seriously about gaming, in writing about gaming, in writing period, in reading the writing of a mad blonde game designer,
--i don't where you all are out there. but i am writing to you, and would love further correspondence.

dear people who are interested in the specific game of dr,
--this blog is not primarily about dr. it is about gaming, but will probably contain references to dr if i can use it to illustrate examples about my theories of game design. you may learn interesting things about how dr works, but nothing that is secret. dr's secrets will not show up here.

to: people who nitpick writing
--if you are are feeling distracted by the absence of capitalization or quotation marks in this work, then please take a moment to consider the following:
-my thoughts have few capital letters.
-my conversations have no quotation marks.
-punctution describes how writing should be read.
-let conventions slide.
-those things are not important here.

i am a game designer who recently left off working on someone else's vision for a game and decided to make my own. making a game, designing a game from the ground up, is sheer pleasure for me. although i feel i did many innovative and interesting things on the game i just left, there was too much there which i felt needed correction and change, too much that had gone bad and too much that had been lost. i also found myself itching to change the story, to make it better, to make it more rich, more interesting, more alluring, more real. i did this in many quiet ways, like replacing dusty felt curtains at an old theatre with heavy velvet ones, rich and red. my partner in crime (ie my coder, a most talented, gifted, and generous coder. he has a good sense of humour, too.) and i did good things at that mud, but we left because what we want now is to create something new and better, something beautiful.

when we left we didn't know exactly what it was we wanted to do. there were no longer any limits. we weren't shackled to an irregular buggy code patched together in snippets and drunken amateur coding attempts. we no longer had to be concerned about player outrage over the changes we felt should be made. there were many reasons we felt we had to leave that other mud which may, i suspect, come up often in my writing here. however, i must point out that although my coder and i still are owners of this other mud (along with our third owner there who is not involved in our project here), we have given up all direct control of this other mud, and no longer have any creative or coding or staffing input whatsoever. i have been playing again as a mortal, the way i used to be able to play before i became involved with the staffing of the game. it is a very enjoyable game to play, which makes me proud and happy. my coder and i no longer pay for the mud either, but we have told the players how to donate, and how cheap it is to keep the mud afloat. between the dedicated staff and the solid commitment and loyalty of the players, i think dr will stay afloat. it will be eleven years old on october 31. <3

anyway, ultimately, to make a long story short: we now want to create a perfect prototype for a mud.

we see a lot of problems with how traditional mudding has worked. the main problem, i think, is this.

muds were created by people who were learning how to code as they coded. muds were then taken and adapted by other people doing the same thing, and new versions were released. we were running a rom 2.4 mud which not only has gone through several revisions (how muds developed is a fasincating story... i'm unsure of whether to tell that story right now or not... perhaps later, let's go on). anyway, it had gone through several revisions just on the code base itself, which is available for download for free to anyone. then, it had gone through several coders with varying levels of coding proficiency. rom code is COMPLEX. it's full of tables and tables and tables and tenuous links from one part of the game to another. rom code is a delicately patterned, like lace. people who don't know how to make lace, when they try to add to an existing piece of lace or try to fix it, these amateurs may try hard but often accidentally make a clumsy mess of it. that's what the code of dr is like. it's like lace into which clumsy fingers have blundered many times. some of these blunders came from dr's own coders. some came from the blunders of previous rom designers. some came from horribly blundered "snippets" which are patches, patches on lace.

the point is, problems in game play arose from problems in code. since people who work on muds are often not good programmers, attempts to correct those problems were not done with code, but with putting rules into the game. in order to have rules, someone must enforce the rules, and so a game with rules needs arbitrators or "immortals" as they're called in dr) (note: i will not call them immortals on the new game. the term muddies the story of creation since that speaks only of three deities. this is one of the many problems i have with dr. it has such bad form.).

in this type of game, where the conflict is meant to be between players, the introduction of rules inevitably creates conflict between players and staff, instead of just the game-conflict which is player-player. in some cases this player-staff conflict is treated like game-conflict by one or both of the player and staff member involved. this inevitably ends in a player getting banned from the game, whether the staff member is at fault or not, because i am the one who has to deal with it, and i hate it. there is nothing worse to be pulled out of building or writing because i have to deal with some dope who thinks it's okay to pick a fight with the referee. my game, my referees, they know the rules. people who have a problem with them should come to me privately. i am harsh with people who knowingly break the rules, especially if those people are staff, whom i hold to a much higher standard. the player should talk to me about the situation and then find some other player to fight, not keep trying to ko the staff. the staff will always win, and the player will always lose. the staff is immortal. however, i do investigate suggestions that any staff member of mine is corrupt. i police my staff to uphold my ideals. most of the time i have tried to choose staff who share my belief in these ideals of honesty, fairness, honour, like a gentleman's game. sometimes people have fooled me, pretended to beleive in these things to gain power in the game, and behave unscrupulously whenever my back was turned. these people have made me a less trusting person than i used to be. other people do not cheat because they know i am watching them. those kind of people also make me sad.

but i think the ability to cheat is a flaw in game design. games can be ideal worlds, a programmer's ideal and perfect place. places of magic. places of fear and mystery. places of excitement. if a programmer can create all this, then he should be able to create a world in which all attempts to cheat will fail.

if it simply isn't possible to cheat at a game, there don't need to be any rules for a game. if no rules, then the only conflict which can exist will be player-player. i would kind of like a way to make immortal status real and achievable. i think that would be pretty fun. as it is there are only a few things that immortals can do to cheat, and only a very few which could affect someone detrimentally. i think those could be controlled with good coding. then players could become immortal. that would be a pretty cool ability. i think immortals should also be players. dr doesn't have the code to support that, because there are such massive power imbalances between morts and imms there. but the new game can.

in my next post, i will be writing about game theory and applying it to the game of mudding. i will try to use math to explain what i think makes a great game. other posts will relate how the new game is finally coming together, in terms of what it will be, how it will look, what races and classes we will be implementing, the new variables we will be adding to the game, what we will be taking away from the game, and many other things. it's very exciting!

one last thing today. judging from the last blog i wrote on (which was also the first blog i wrote on, an admin blog which my coder created a few months before we left dr), there are many people at dr who are unhappy that we kept the code for dr locked when we left. i know there has been a fear of stagnation, and although to me the game seems vibrant and alive, i do understand your concern. i don't want dr to die off either. i left because i had faith that dr would not die off. i still have that faith. anyway, my coder and i have been discussing whether or not to release dr code, either as it is now, or as it will be once we strip away all the bad and polish up all the good. maybe we will release both versions. maybe not. there are a lot of things to consider, but we are considering things.