Thursday, June 25, 2009

Skills, spells, and classes

Today, a long-pending project finally got turned on for general use in the game: monster lore, and a few specialized versions for particular mob types. The current specialized skills are demon lore, elemental creature lore, undead lore, animal lore, and dragon lore.

In coming up with appropriate class distributions for these, I once again ran into the shortcomings of only having the four basic classes. There's really just a few things that don't fit nicely into combinations of those four buckets.

So I've been thinking really hard about just how much effort it would be to add other classes to the game. The first most obvious one would be a ranger class, which already has a handful of skills and could probably appropriate a bunch of stuff from cleric and mage.

I wouldn't just want to add one more class; if you're going to change the infrastructure enough to allow easy addition of classes, you might as well make a handful of them and get some really solid groupings going. I'd feel better about it if I had more than just ranger to work with; I think a lot of other skill sets can simply be specializations of existing classes, and don't justify a separate class.

Good examples of these would be necromancers (cleric), elemental casters (mage), and barbarians (warrior). I don't think any of these so much need a separate class as just appropriate spell and skill trees.

There's also a question of how many classes are ideal. Keeping with the exponential leveling scheme, a level 30 character should have levels of approximately 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5, with levels in six classes. I'd actually expect there to be more people in the upper ranges similar to Boa, with something more akin to 33, 32, 31, 27, 22, 17, 12, 7, and 2, for a total of 9 classes. This indicates to me that even the most hardcore players would have difficulty bringing up to the top more than ten or so classes.

As far as code modification, there's a handful of specps and some other places where the code would definitely need work, but I'd like to think that once the fifth class is added, a sixth and more would be much, much simpler.

The final issue is: does this improve the game enough to justify the effort? It certainly adds some concept of end-game and more opportunities to advance high level characters, so perhaps the answer is yes. Then again, perhaps not. What do you think?

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I've been out for almost a week, so when I came back it was time to pull forward code from Locane and get some other minor things out of the way. As it turns out, he's been working on secure trading between players, and while I was away I read some articles on that same subject.

There seems to be quite a hubbub going on in the MMO world regarding trading, in particular gold farming. The general consensus seems to be that gold farming is something that should be utterly squashed wherever it crops up; further, anyone caught selling gold (or other in-game currencies) for real life cash, outside of the game environment, should be penalized as harshly as possible. Most games delete not only the accounts of the farmers, but the accounts of the purchasers as well, and occasionally the accounts of anyone they trade with.

This seems ridiculously harsh to me.

When I first started the game, I didn't really have an opinion on this topic. I originally didn't think trade would be big enough for it to really be a problem. Over the years, players began to donate to the game simply because they liked it; we (I and the other admin at the time) decided to give minor perks to those contributors as a way to say thanks. Many years later, we now offer a wide host of things for purchase from the game store.

While we were setting all this up, I got a lot of very good advice from some very bright people. The overwhelming majority of them were very clear on one point: thou shalt not sell things that unbalance the game. This includes characters, equipment, gold and a number of other nasties I have seen for sale on (less than successful) games in the past.

Players don't like the idea that someone without skill can buy their way to the top. If you take a look at our list of purchasables, you'll notice that everything on that list is either convenience, customization, or a minor boon. This policy has worked rather well for us over the years.

But back to the issue at hand, which is trading. I don't see any reasonable way that it can be completely prevented, and from my standpoint anything that's traded had to be obtained by someone somewhere. If they're going to be doing it anyway, I'd much rather put in some sort of secure mechanism for it, so people can't be ripped off.

Locane's code starts this off by handling in-game currency only. Once that's stable and working well, I'm going to add the ability for people to trade dollars, but only ones that have already been donated. Once dollars are donated to the game, you can buy donation things with them or trade them to other people. Eventually, I'll probably set up business accounts that let people withdraw those dollars from the game.

It will be interesting to see if this model works for any other MMOs. So far, I'm not aware of any that have tried it.

One major concern I have is regarding duping and generation bugs. If someone finds a way to exploit gold or certain items into existence, it may quickly become very difficult to clean up.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


After a week of forcing myself slowly, piece by piece through this code, I finally managed to boot in player customization on character create. I don't know if it's just me being in a coding funk for a week or not, but it seemed abnormally hard to get this done and installed.

The upshot is that we now have basic character customization for new players. They get to pick a handful of obvious traits, from which a generic long description is created. This will hopefully solve two problems:

1) The long description problem, which is that most players seem utterly incapable of generating proper long descriptions. Those who are capable don't want to take the time. Everyone now has a sane long by default.

2) Far more important is the issue of player investment. Specifically, new players are insufficiently invested in their character to return after their initial playing session. The hope is that customization will pay off in the long run, as the people who do take the time to customize will be more likely to return. I should be able to verify this over the next few months by tracking stats.

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done here, including ways (other than long descs) to see your features, and ways to change them. Changing them is actually going to be more interesting than I expected - as was pointed out to me, age is technically quested for via the fountain of youth, why not quest for most of the other attributes as well?

Things like changing hair length or style are clearly easy to do (got some scissors?), but other things might be interesting for players. Changing skin color for example, could be a pretty involved process.

Now that this is done, there's a whole raft of low level changes on my todo list. Lack of player investment is only one part of the problem; the remainder is that the game just isn't as fun as it should be for low levels. I have several more quests to add, as well as a couple more shopkeepers and more utility items. There are also some structural additions to be made, but those can wait for a while.