It was a good run

Farewell dear friends………………….

No, actually I have been having absolutely horrid packet loss for the past few days. I thought this had been resolved a week ago. Things were going fine but it seems to have returned for the time being. I am going to have to call up my internet service provider on Monday.

Unfortunately trying to get long posts up on Blogger is impossible when under this condition. I will try and resume again tomorrow.

Two Different Methods of Item Balance

This post did not make it up on time! I’m sorry but after all the Thanksgiving excitement I just did not feel like sitting down and writing something. I felt more like sleeping.

Since the dawn of time players and developers have fought an epic battle over item balance. Developers would create items. Players would gather those items, combine them, abuse them. Developers would have to come down with the mighty nerf bat and swing it in many directions, breaking up these unbalancing combinations. The players would then come back and rebuild what had been ruined.

Actually for Ultima Online, this has only been an issue since the Age of Shadows expansion. Before that there were very few properties and items were designed to be expendable. That all changed though with dozens of new properties and equipment lasting forever. There is next to no information available as to the design and thought process when it came to making these new systems. So we can only go by experiance.

When Age of Shadows launched there were no cumulative caps on item properties. None. So you could stack as many as you could find. If I had to guess, I would say that the developers planned on balancing properties at the creation stage. They would only carefully evaluate what items could be introduced into the world. But even before new stuff was being added, the system fell apart.

One completely unbalancing property was Lower Mana Cost. At launch, it was possible for players to accrue up to 68% Lower Mana Cost. So an eight circle spell Earthquake which normally cost 50 mana, now cost 16. You could easily cast Earthquake, an extremely devastating damage spell, a dozen or more times in a row compared to just 2 before the expansion. If this was left alone, today it is most likely possible to reach 100% Lower Mana Cost. Meaning it would take no mana to cast any spell or use special moves!

Within about 6-8 months, more and more players were loading up on the new properties. It became abundantly clear that the system was out of control. Mages were now casting spells in the blink of an eye with 4 Faster Casting (which every 1 added reduced spell timers by 0.25 seconds). But there were so many bugs introduced with the Age of Shadows expansion, that is all they could handle. Unless something allowed a player to one hit kill another, it just was not on the table. It wasn’t until over a year later that the developers sat down and tried to rein it all in.

Finally the hammer fell. Lower Mana Cost capped at 40%. Faster Casting capped at 2. Many other properties were capped as well. The fundamentals behind balancing the system flipped from a per item approach to a global approach. Now developers can add any item into the game they wish without having to compare it to everything else out there. This took an enormous pressure off the team in general and freed them up their creative ability. If they wanted to add a special helm with 20% Lower Mana Cost, it was possible. Some advantageous players would not be able to take the new helm and combine it with their other equipment to reach a new level of lowering mana consumption. They will always be limited to the 40% cumulative cap.

But this opened up an entirely new problem which have never been addressed. Well one developer tried, but the concept (decreasing returns) was just unpopular and hard to understand. With a set of hard caps, players now build suits in which they can maximize as many properties as possible. So instead of having insanely high Lower Mana Cost, they have the highest amounts of Lower Mana Cost, Lower Reagent Cost, Faster Casting, Mana Regeneration, Defense Chance Increase, resistances, and anything else they desire. I actually have a potential solution to this problem and was going to reveal it as part of a series of topics on the Stratics U Hall, but never got around to it. I will post it here some time soon.

All the trimmings

Yesterday’s post was not as good as it should have been, I apologize. As I sit here with the smell of baking pumpkin pie dancing around me I find it very difficult to concentrate on writing this blog post. Lets hope this one turns out better.

It is a funny thing in Ultima Online history about holidays. At first every holiday was celebrated. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day. Yes, there was actually an observance of St Patrick’s Day where they gave out green mugs. It was a Mature rated game back then. I doubt they could get away with observing a holiday that is mostly about drinking and being drunk today.

For the first few years, there was always holiday related stuff to be found. But then it virtually stopped. I believe the whispering Valentine day roses were the last holiday observed. They still kept up with the Christmas……….I mean holiday gifts. But for some reason every other one was tossed out the window. Only in the past year or maybe 2 years have they begun doing more holidays. They even did an IOU card for April Fools. For Thanksgiving this year all champions are appearing as turkeys. Maybe we will be treated with something more on the actual day tomorrow (or today rather since this is getting posted at midnight). Who knows.

Other MMOs such as World of Warcraft tend to celebrate their own made up holidays instead of official ones. It is pretty much up to the game designers how they want to handle it. Warhammer Online had a week long witching event to coincide with Halloween, so I guess that would be considered an official holiday instead of a made up one. Either way is fine. If you decide to make up one it wouldn’t be very easy to get into a winter themed one in the middle of summer. So as much as you would like to create your own, you are still bound by the real world.

In my opinion, a game that decided to observe holidays shows a more dedicated and loving team than one that does not. Holidays are something that are experienced around the world no matter where you live. A MMO world would be a rather dull place without them.

RIP: Roger Wilco – How we barely knew thee

I was so busy today I almost forgot to write a blog post!

The way MMO gamers communicate today and expect from games is a world apart from a decade ago. When I started playing UO there was no guild chat or voice chat. All communication as done by overhead chat. If you became good friends with someone you would exchange ICQ numbers and be able to converse over a distance. Thus, unless you were standing next to someone in the game you could not communicate. Even more, there was no such thing as private conversation unless you went into a house.

When UO Renaissance launched there was a new revolutionary tool, the party system. You could party up to 9 other people and chat over any distance. This is most akin to the current today’s modern chat box, but not quite. The message appeared for a short time and if you missed it then you had to read your journal. Unfortunately the journal is cluttered with all the other game text. And once it scrolled out of your journal (which only holds about 100 lines) it is gone.

Despite limitations, the party system made it possible to have truly private conversations for the first time. It was possible to stealth around and eavesdrop on other unsuspecting players, even in their own home! When the Age of Shadows launched in early 2003 that became impossible because homes could now be set completely private. Around this time gamers started to take charge of their own communication abilities with 3rd party voice chat programs.

Things would never be the same. Now you could easily coordinate any activity. You were no longer restricted by what the game offered. Speaking also freed up your hands. Could you imagine not being able to talk on the phone and do whatever (driving for example) at the same time? Now you could at least double your game playing efficiency.

In the Samurai Empire expansion UO finally added the long request guild chat feature, allowing communication to everyone you know at all times. In my opinion, this was the death blow for how communication used to be. No longer did you have to party someone you know or make sure you were both in voice chat. Just press and speak in private guild chat. Often you will encounter people in game asking why you never talk. Well I am, it is just through voice or guild chat.

While this is obviously progress, it ends up taking away from world immersion. But there is really nothing developers can do. Players will communicate however they wish to.

One caveat, UO did implement an IRC like chat room system before the Renaissance expansion. However usage was next to nil and continues to be so to this day. In fact the button for it was removed from the Paperdoll, although you can still access the menu via a macro.

PS – The title refers to a brief stint in late 2000 when some UO players tried to start communicating via voice chat. It was not popular and died out for some reason. Perhaps due to most still being on dial up connections. Voice chat didn’t become big until several years later.

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