Specific Issues and Topics

A Few Thoughts... (Feb 12, 1998)

I've been doing a little thinking, and there are just a few little things I'd like to comment on. Some of these ideas are not completely new, but haven't gotten much attention lately.

First off, I don't know if anyone else has noticed but the summoned daemons "float" above the spot in which they are standing. This gives the illusion of them standing in the square that is NE of where they actually are. For this reason, they appear to "look away" from you when you're right next to them, and you're calling their name and giving them orders. This has the added effect of shoving when it looks like you're going around them, and not shoving when it looks like you're walking right through their legs. However, polymorphing into a daemon seems to look correct. What I wonder now, is whether the NPC daemons in the dungeons also "float" (god I hope not, it can make things a little confusing in battle). This is a cosmetic issue, but when it comes to being able to tell where the beastie is relative to me, I take it very seriously.

One of the ideas that myself and a few others were suggesting back in the beta test was to make spellbooks equipable on the paperdoll. This in itself would cause mages not to carry weapons while casting, rather than just simply getting the "your hands must be free" message. I figured that the reason this wasn't added was because of the art that would have to be created. Well, guess what? Most of it already exists. All of the 3D art for showing a character walking around with a spellbook exists. In fact, there are two versions of it. So the only thing that might be missing would be the the 2D art for the paper-doll, which is small enough that it would be feasible to include it in a patch.

Thinking of mages, another idea hit me. Perhaps having the spellbook readied would be optional, such that casting can be done as it is now if the mage so desires, but would also have the option of carrying a wand or staff without it restricting spellcasting. Why? Because it would encourage mages to use those weapons. Right now, since a mage can't have *anything* in his hands, whatever he has is going to have to be removed anyway, so mages tend to use whatever they want, be it crossbow or halberd. If they have an actual reason to use staves and wands, then they'll be more likely to use them instead of "warrior" weapons. And it certainly would be good incentive. As it is now, mages have to rely on wrestling if they get attacked while preparing a spell. A staff would afford them some protection. I'm not sure how good a wand is as a melee weapon, but I would think it would be similar to a club.

I also think crystal balls should be equipable, even if no 3D art is used (and thus is only visible on the paperdoll). It should go in the "off hand", I think, so that you can still carry a dagger or some other one-handed weapon. It would be a nice "decoration" for characters that are mystics, sorcerers, seers, sages, gypsies, etc.

An idea I've seen knocked around since the beta was to also have a resource harvesting skill similar to mining and lumberjacking, but perhaps called "herbalism" or something, which would allow players to harvest reagents rather than always buying them or picking up the extremely rare one that has spawned in the woods or in a dungeon. The ones that spawn are so infrequent and hard to find that they don't really help much (they only help if perhaps you just ran out of pearl, and need one to recall away and are lucky enough to find one, which has actually happened to me). People could open their own mage shops and sell reagents at competative prices without using up the NPC stock to do so, if they could find their own. I think which reagent gets dug up should be completely dependant on where the digging is done. For instance, ash might only come from certain mountains, and mandrake might be found only in swamps, and nightshade in the woods. Spider silk might only come from dungeons and caves. This would not only allow for PC-run shops to be competative, but it would also give mages the opportunity to be self-sufficient without teleporting from one mage shop to the next to get what they need. And being an additional skill, it will eat up skill points, and thus make mages a little less effective at warrior skills, or if they choose fighting over this, it'll still cost them lots of money to keep stocked with reagents. This would also help to reduce the whining about how people can't store enough in their bank boxes anymore, since reagents would now be easy to obtain if you know where to look.

With the recent explosion of role-playing guilds that are trying to play various types of creatures and the like, I thought the addition of another skill would be useful too. Some people want to play tribal characters and cave-men. Personally, I think it should be possible for them to find what they need in the wild. And what do they need? Clubs, spears, and the materials to make tribal masks. I noticed that the game has 3D art for two types of full-length spears (in addition to the short spear). Perhaps one should be designated as being an all-wood spear that can be made using a "carving" skill. This skill could also be used to make clubs, and to make tribal masks. Perhaps using it on dead bears and deer would give you the option of making bear and deer head-dresses. I think this skill would be invaluable to any RP group trying to play primitive tribes and cavemen. In fact, clubs should be so easy to make, that you should be able to just go out into the woods, pick up a fallen log, and have yourself a club. No one uses them right now because, well, who wants to buy a club when they could get a mace or a sword? Clubs should be *very* easy to find/make. I also think they should be relatively valueless. I've noticed that shopkeepers buy them, but won't buy war-forks. Perhaps these should be switched, so that clubs become the abundant but worthless weapon.

On that note, bowyers and hunters (and tribal guys if carving is ever added) rely on their dagger. While everyone starts with a "newbie" dagger, the problem is that newbie items fall with the corpse when you die if you happen to be dastardly or worse. Personally, I think the dagger should stay on your corpse regardless. Actually, all newbie items should, but the dagger is particularly important and thus should be treated like a spellbook. It should stay with you no matter what.

Addendum: (more thoughts) :-)

One thing I've seen that I think is unfair is how people can still steal from you, even though you're hiding, just because they opened your paperdoll before you hid. I think this is ludicrous. I've been harassed in this manner before. People can chase you around, and unless you are significantly faster or can recall away, you're at their mercy. Personally I think successfully hiding should close the paperdoll and packs of yours for everyone who has been snooping you. That way, as long as you stay silent, they can't re-open it and start steling from you.

It's a shame that all spells use reagents. In some games, such as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and even Ultima 7, there were "petty" spells that didn't cost much in the way of mana, and used no reagents. These were easy spells, and the first ones that an apprentice would learn. Mostly they were useless in a practical sense, and therefore more like novelties or toys. An example would be a fireworks spell, or something that makes a strange noise, or even turns your skin (or even someone elses) a strange color for several minutes. I think such a group of "level-0" petty spells would add a little spice to UO.

Another nice feature to have, but not a critical one, is for players to be able to choose one and only one non-newbie item that will stick with them when they die. Many people have that favorite weapon, or a certain rare item that they want to keep. Personally, I'd choose my mage's hat, or my britain rune.

One thing that has always annoyed me is that when you cross server boundaries or log out, the contents of your pack are turned "upside down" (things that were in front are in the back now, and vice versa). When crossing boundaries, it's not very noticable because your pack's contents are not re-transmitted to the client if you had the bag open. This is a dangerous thing in general because items that you think you buried under other items to protect them from theft are now on top and exposed. Personally, to get around this I sandwich things between robes, and yet somehow theives can still snoop into hidden bags (haven't figured that one out yet). But it's not just an issue of security, but also of sanity. I like for things to stay where I put them.

Furniture should be relatively unstealable. Personally, I think you should be unable to take furniture from a house without the key to that house being in your posession. In RL, you rarely see thieves take off with bookshelves in broad daylight simply because it's large and bulky, and not as valuable as more easily concealed items. If someone is going to rob a house in UO, they should be limited to smaller items that you would expect to easily fit in their packs.

I think lanterns may be broken. They're sold in stores now, finally. But as far as I've been able to tell, they only emit light and glow to the person who is holding. Everyone else hears the sound of them igniting, but can't see the light.

In some ways, Ultima 7 was superior to UO. It had gradual light shifts to simulate high-altitude clouds, for instance. There were also cloud shadows, ambient sound effects for water and birds and the like (only a slight bit in UO), weather, and there were even different color-temperatures based on whether the light source was the sun, moon, llight-spell, or candles/torches. But one of the things that really added to the ambience also was the fact that the NPC's looked like they were doing things rather than just standing around and walking at random. For instance, in Rudyom's place in Cove in U7, he would go back and forth between his cauldron and the tables making various potions. The material inside the cauldron would change color each time, and occasionally he'd sit down at his desk and open his book, only to close it a few minutes later and resume working with the potions. Why don't UO NPC's do things like that? Would it really be that difficult, for instance, to make a tailor actually walk over to her spinning wheel, use it for a few moments, then go over to the loom, and a few moments later start making scissor sound effects? This sort of thing would really add to the atmosphere, IMHO.

Anyway, as usual, various thoughts hit me, and I will undoubtedly post more later. :-)


On Bank Boxes (Jan 30, 1998)

I just wanted to put in my $0.02. I hear a lot of complaints about the new limitations on the bank boxes, how it is a pain, it's too restrictive, there's no good apparent reason, etc..

Well, personally I agree with the decision to have limits on the storage as such. What I feel is unfortunate, however, is that these limits are being imposed now, rather than in the original design. OSI probably did not realize that most people would become pack-rats. Personally, I'm an insatiable packrat (both in RL and UO). And what I've seen around the bank proves that most others are too (I've seen a lot of useless junk discarded in the last day, including severed heads and the like). I for one have multiple lanterns, crystal balls, fishing rods, masks, robes, you name it. How often do we actually use most of the things we store? In the original design of UO, you could store only gold in the bank. The idea of the bank box was to have a place to store those unique items that you don't need to carry everywhere you go, and to have maybe one or two sets of spare armor (not half a dozen plus about 30 extra weapons). The new item and weight limits allow this, but are restrictive enough that you will want to pick and choose what you keep. If an item is truly useless to you, you'll let go of it now, won't you?

But this brings me to the real important point about *why* such limits *need* to be imposed. In general I don't care who keeps their boxes filled with useless junk. However, it *does* lag the system. From a playing standpoint, it looks like you leave these items at the bank. From a design standpoint, the entire bank box follows you around, like an invisible second backpack. When you cross a server boundary, the entire thing has to transfer with you. Personally, I noticed a HUGE increase in lag at server boundaries the day the bank boxes were first added to UO. But it doesn't just lag you when *you* cross a boundary. Everytime *anyone* crosses one, it's using system resources, which means less resources available for normal play. If this only happens with one or two people, it doesn't make much of a difference, but when you have over 1000 people with full boxes crossing boundaries, the system is bound to lag.

So my point is this: OSI thought about it, and they made a good choice. These limits are not punishing the players, nor are they unreasonable, but rather are just forcing you to be less "wasteful" (in terms of space), and thus be less likely to abuse the space you have been given. In reality, 100 items (the goal they intend to reach within a few weeks) is not a nasty limit. That's enough to store a few extra weapons and sets of armor, keep 8 piles of reagents, and have some extra recall runes. Everything else you can try to sell and just keep the gold. I'm looking forward to getting rid of all the junk I've accumulated. :-)

Addendum: (reply to responses on the CoB)

OK, I've read over everyone's rebuttals to my post, and unfortunately they don't hold together well.

Yes, it's true that people will use their houses for storage more. That's the idea!! Houses do not travel across server boundaries, and thus are not a major problem. The problem is not with people hoarding things, it's with them carrying those stashes across server boundaries and the like.

As for having the bank boxes stored on one server, I've though about it too, but in reality that situation would be far worse. Just think, these inter-server transfers that cause all the lag would now ocur everytime someone yelled "bank" near a banker instead of when they walk/recall/gate from one end of the map to the other. Besides, why should OSI buy an additional computer per shard to do something that can be done equally well if not better with the ones already in operation?

I also saw an argument that this would somehow hamper role-playing. Well, I would submit that it is this attachment to weapons, armor, and other gizmos that gets in the way. You can role-play with a naked character. (if you haven't read it already, click on my commentaries link below and read the article on materialism in UO).

And of course, storing lots of reagents doesn't cause much lag unless they're in lots of small piles. It's unfortunate that they decreased the weight limit by half at the same time as the item limitation. This will indeed limit your reagents quite a bit, but this will force you to pick and choose. Do you want to be a warrior or a mage? Perhaps you should make up your mind and stop trying to have the trappings of both.

However, I do agree that having some sort of indication as to how full the box is would be useful, rather than just guessing or waiting for that "container is full" message.

The fact of the matter is, that most of the complaints and suggestions are coming from people who don't understand how the technology works; And all technologies have their limitations. There is only so much bandwidth and processing power available at their disposal. Simply suggesting that they design it to have no lag is not only wishful thinking, but unreasonable. They're doing everything they can do to give the functionality they feel it should have, while making it as efficient as possible. You have to remember that the bank boxes weren't even part of the original design.

What I see is a lot of people arguing with a "me! me! me!" attitude, completely ignoring the global impact. This is the same way of thinking that is leading to the rainforests being destroyed at 1 acre per second.

Also- In general I tend not to pay much attention to messages that use the word "stupid" in every other sentence. Heheh! :-)

I would contend that DD did NOT mean for houses to become the new banks, and if you don't think houses cause mega-lag you should try walking by some of the houses around, you can literally take 10 seconds per step until you're several screens away from them with no one home.

Houses will always cause some *local* lag. This is always the case. But we're talking about reducing *global* lag. Also, it was stated early on in the beta that houses were intended to be a safe place to keep your valuables, though not a secure one. Besides, I'm not arguing against the existence of bank boxes, in fact I was one of the ones that kept begging for them to be added. I am merely saying that it has been abused, and needs to be limited due to the global impact on the system.

Who's saying anything about buying more equipment? As it stands now, ALL of the servers carry bank information back and forth, and every time you cross a server line it has to pass it off to another server. You cross server lines often, 100x more often than you access your bank I'd wager. Yet you think its better that we have a somewhat smaller amount of data getting exchanged 100x or more often than allowing a larger data set that gets accessed less than 1% of the time by comparison? My 15 years in computers says NO WAY!

That's true, they don't need to buy new equipment. They could take the server that tends to have the least load and put it in charge of the bank data, but this also adds problems in terms of the back-up cycle in keeping everything synchronized and lag-free also.

And in actuality, there seem to only be 5 or so servers in each shard. There is one for wind and the dungeons, one for the eastern half of the map (vesper and most of the islands) and the western side is apparently divided into 3 sections. I don't know about you, but I open the bank 3 or 4 times per city visit, and I would hate to have each one of those take multiple seconds. It is certainly true that everyone has a different playing style, but it seems like an extreme exageration to me to say that the bank is accessed 100 times less often than one crosses the boundaries.


Death & Life (Jan 20, 1998)

I was planning on posting this article today anyway, so it was by pure coincidence that I spotted an article on the Vault about changing UO to allow players to play various races (which I get into further below).

But first, I want to discuss the situation of death in UO. When I first started playing UO, I thought it was a brilliant move to have player characters become ghosts when they die. This opens a wide range of possibilities for the game, most of which are as yet unrealized. There are a few things I think could be changed to improve the whole death situation.

For one thing, when I started the Ghosts of the Castle (my guild of ghosts), I used to stand near the healer's shop in Britain and attempt to recruit. The thing I was shocked about is how oblivious other ghosts seemed. People are so worked-up over being dead and needing resurrection that they don't pay attention to anything. I remember one time the healers were missing from the shop (this was before they could teleport back to their shops). I knew where they were though, and I shouted the directions to a small group of ghosts that was forming... repeatedly! Eventually after I walked right into their faces and said "I know where they are!", they then asked "where?". I said I'd only repeat myself again if they promised to listen this time. At this point I realized how futile my recruiting efforts for the guild were. No one wants to be a ghost for long, so when they find themselves in that state, they just want resurrection and will ignore everything else.

I had made several suggestions to OSI on many occasions about my opinions concerning the undead. So far they haven't been used. :-( The only answer I got was that they intend to develop the undead, and that's the whole reason why the ghosting is there. Well, I'm a little impatient. :-)

One idea I had was to make ghosts actually semi-transparent. This is purely a cosmetic thing. Another cosmetic thing was to fix the paperdolls to draw the hair UNDER the hood instead of on top of it. This one was finally done. And I'm glad to see that they're trying to change it such that ghosts auto-manifest (temporarily) when they speak. However, this would work much better if they would fix those darned "phantom" unrobed bodies that are always left on your screen when the ghosts go invisible (something I've also reported to them repeatedly).

But beyond these simple changes, I thought it would be very interesting to have some NPC ghosts. Some of these would be visible and could be spoken to either by a ghost or by a human with spirit speak. And then there would be the invisible NPC ghosts that could only be spoken to by other ghosts. These NPC's would have information and clues that wouldn't be found anywhere else, thus giving a reason for players to be dead or use spirit speak beyond the need to speak with your fallen comrades in battle. Of course, I also thought it would be nice to have certain quests or something that would be available only to ghosts, so that there is something to do should you get stuck as a ghost for a while, or to give a reason to not get resurrected immediately.

I then took it a step further and suggested creating a city of the dead, a place that can only be entered by dead/undead creatures. However, I suppose it could be designed to allow entry to mortals too, but perhaps they would have to have a certain minimum amount of spirit speak to be permitted in. That could be controlled by having an undead boatman (charon?) that they must speak to in order to convince him to take them across.

Thinking even further, I thought it would be interesting to allow players to play skeletons, ghouls, or zombies instead of humans. Personally, if I were making the decisions during the initial development of UO, I would have wanted to create the system to have the internal graphics and code to allow an individual to be a skeleton, human, orc, elf, etc, and still show the clothes and equipment appropriately, even if I didn't intend to make them options until much later, if at all. But at least the option would exist.

Now, there could be some potential problems of course. What if everyone wants to be a skeleton instead of a human? These undead creatures should be relatively rare compared to humans. For this reason, I think that undead should be handled in a way that makes them potentially a lot of fun, but also a challenge to play effectively. I used to play a table-top war-game called Warhammer. There were a few different versions of the game, but one was Warhammer Fantasy Battle, which as the name implies was a fantasy battle game. Personally I played undead all the time (and you wouldn't believe how large of an army I could field). It was difficult but fun. You see, in Warhammer, there are point-values assigned to everything from creatures to weapons, to help the GM design a balanced battle. A standard human with a hand-weapon (any standard one-handed weapon, such as an axe, scimitar, sword, mace, etc) was worth 5 points. A single skeleton with a hand-weapon was worth 10 points, and yet was less strong and less tough and a lot slower in battle than a human. Why? Because of psychology. Undead could potentially cause any unit that they charged to turn and run in fear (referred to as "routing" your enemy). Any unit that would run off the edge of the battle field was as good as dead for all practical purposes since they would be removed from the battle permanently. Routing could also be achieved by causing enough damage all at once (you see you're entire unit hacked down, and you're the only one left, you'll probably run). Undead themselves were immune to all psychological effects. This was their edge. In a one-on-one battle, they couldn't hope to win, but if they scared enough enemies away they had a chance. This made them a challenge to play, but were a lot of fun for someone like me who particularly likes playing the undead.

So I would propose something similar to control the undead players in an on-line game like this. Any undead creature played by a player would be significantly weaker and slower than any possible human character. And upon being "killed", these creatures would not have the instant-resurrection option, but rather would become a ghost that could not manifest at all. To get "resurrected" back into a corporeal undead form would require travelling to the city of the dead (or a graveyard). This would have several effects on how the undead are played. For one thing, from the human's point of view, when the undead beings get killed, the creature would appear to be utterly destroyed; No ghost appears, and no instant resurrection. Also, the undead would probably not venture far from their city. In a way, the city of the dead could be viewed as a "spawn point" by the other players. :-) By keeping the undead in the vacinity of their own city and graveyards, not only would this keep the undead from appearing in every city around the world, but it would also help keep the undead city and graveyards populated. Undead would still be able to venture away, but they would have a much larger distance to travel to get restored after being "killed". Also, perhaps they should only be able to regenerate hit-points when in the undead city or in a dungeon or in the graveyards, thus giving them even more incentive to stay in those places. Also, all undead would speak ghost-speak. Spirit speak would be an important skill for anyone who would want to speak with any undead creature.

Of course, playing undead shouldn't be fraught only with disadvantages. There should be interested things to do as an undead being. Perhaps certain forms of necromantic magic should be available to them, or perhaps they could have certain skills that wouldn't be available elsewhere (like the ability to make bone armor). But in general, I would want the undead to be constructed such that it focuses on only two things primarily: Playing the monsters AND/OR role-playing in general. This means that it would *not* be heavily geared towards stat and skill development (there should still be some, but not to the extent that it becomes a major concern).

But if we're going to think along these lines, why limit the expansion to undead? The ability to play orcs, elves, lizardmen, ratmen, and so on would also be interesting. I would probably limit it to the above, and not include trolls, ettins, ogres, etc. In fact, in the undead thing above, perhaps it should be limited to skeletons. We do, after all, want to have some actual monsters left in the game. So the player-options should probably be limited to the most humanoid of the creatures.

In each of these cases, as I've seen suggested elsewhere, there could be a language skill that everyone else could use to be able to speak to any given species (though they all understand human-speak, and thus human-text is never scrambled). Imagine the scene: a lizardman and an orc begin to talk. They both see garbled text (similar in nature to the ghost's "OooO Oo OoOoo"). Then when they both successfully engage their skills for each other's languages, they can speak freely.

Now, I'm not sure how these would be handled, as I haven't put as much thought into them as I did into the undead, but perhaps they too would not be driven by skills/stats as much either, and once again would be more of an opportunity to play the monsters with a little role-play. They too could have limitations on resurrection. Perhaps they too would be non-manifesting ghosts. For instance, if an orc gets killed, he can not manifest, and can not get resurrected by normal means. But as soon as this orc-ghost steps into an orc fort, he gets restored.

I think these would be some interesting additions to UO. After all, I know I probably speak for many when I say that we would probably like the opportunity to play monsters to fight against the "good guys" and at other times get into some deeper role-playing of these unusual species and beings (or role-play and fight at the same time). :-)


UO Burnout (Jan 19, 1998)

Like many of the other long-time players of UO, I've been experiencing a bit of what we would call "UO Burnout", though perhaps not nearly to the same extent as others. But before I get into this issue of why we either stop playing or simply take a break from the game, I want to point out that many of us have been playing UO for far longer than any other game. There has *never* been a game that kept me glued for so many hours a week for months on end. I started out playing in the beta test, back in July, and played consistently right up until the holidays. That's over 5 months of playing anywhere from 20 to 50 hours a week for me. And I know that many of you out there have logged similar amounts of time.

And even though UO is great, it does have its limitations. But that's only part of the issue. I think what often happens is that a player will at first be rather excited about the possibilities, and then will spend weeks or months building up his character. However, he will have many setbacks due to PK's (defined here as killing *without* a role-playing context) or bugs. Frustrated with this, he will have to rebuild many times, which may include any one of many repetitious activities (like tailoring, or mining). After a while, UO begins to seem like work, since it is a constant struggle for practicing skills or keeping enough gold so that you can keep yourself loaded with reagents and armor.

Since about late December, I personally started to get fatigued with the routine I seemed to have fallen into. In order to maintain an ample supply of reagents (since I'm a mage, first and foremost), I need gold. To get gold I either need to do lots of tailoring (for a time I spent 2 hours a day doing *just* that), or find something else. I discovered that there was a very nice market for marked runes, so I began selling them. Then I discovered that I could make even more money by opening up a shop with a vendor NPC. But more profits means higher turnover of stock, meaning more time invested in keeping myself supplied. It got to the point where everyday I would go to the same spawning chests, mark runes in the same places, and fight the same monsters in the same spawning points. I began to actually get bored with the unchanging tedium that I had to deal with. And PvP combat was out of the question for me since I don't intend to be evil with my primary character, and I don't have the desire to start a new character that I'll only have to go through the same tedious steps over weeks to build up to the point that the character can withstand even the slightest amount of combat. So in general, I find myself stuck. And believe it or not, my primary character still has yet to become a grandmaster, even after all these months.

Some of my displeasure with being stuck in terms of being interested in some PvP combat but can't do so due to notoriety is what led me to write my notoriety article below.

The thing that can really keep players involved over a much longer period and keep them interested is roleplay, and having interesting storylines, quests, events, and the like. However we all know just how hard it is to find some real role-players in UO. The good thing is that with the advent of the Seers, there will be many more interesting things happening within UO, and I will be participating. :-) Also, there are player-organized groups that have plotlines in mind, such as the CoS group.

The point is, I am not gone, just taking a breather of sorts, though soon I'll be doing much more again. :-)


Damned Notoriety (Dec 29, 1997)

Lately my outlook on the game has evolved slightly. The title of this particular article can actually have two different meanings, the first being an expression of frustration, the second making a statement about the fate of the notoriety system. In general a system that attempts to quantize "good and evil" or social reputation into a linear scale is doomed to failure. With enough tweaking and added complexity the system may eventually start to approximate things in a somewhat acceptible manner, but there will always be problems in determining who is "good" and who is "evil" based merely on who threw the first punch or the first lightning bolt, since the entire dialogue leading up to the fight has a bearing on the context. For instance, if you just found the guy who brutally murdered your sister, throwing the first attack should be "morally acceptible" within the game context, but the nototiety system will instead label *you* the murderer if the other guy has managed to keep a decent notoriety title.

It's this mismatch in what we as players, as human beings, and even as citizens of Britannia see as "right" and "wrong" compared to what titles get bestowed upon us for such actions that presents the most serious problem. We find that killing thieves for stealing from us earns us an evil title, when the guards in town clearly also consider theft a capital offense. Another unfortunate detail is if someone attacks you without provocation and you were caught off guard. If you run off to gather yourself, then run into him an hour later and decide to kill him for trying to take advantage of the fact that you were vulnerable at the time, you may need to think again.

In general what I'm finding is that this notoriety system in starting to cause me some serious role-playing problems. What if a PK decides to attack a friend of mine just because he has low notoriety? I can't defend him. Nor can I defend the customers that visit my shop. If my notoriety goes too low, my shop will cease to exist because I will no longer be able to keep it supplied with what I specialize in (runes to all the cities) because entering the cities would mean KOS ("killed on sight" by guards). So for these reasons, I stand back and watch my friends get attacked, or maybe I throw in a fire field or two but those rarely kill anyone in open spaces. Since PK's seem to like to "patrol" the area that my shop is in, even I myself have been attacked and fire-fielded just for visiting my own shop.

In fact, one of my friends is a Dread Lord because he decided to ignore notoriety and just play as he wants to play. He killed theives and "noble" PK's (which many people agree are the worst kind), and earned his title. He became evil for killing people who actually behaved in an evil manner. And how is he repayed? He can no longer enter town, so to keep his shop running smoothly he has to have items smuggled out to him. He also has to constantly look over his shoulder for Notoriety-PK's (NPK's) who wish to kill him for no other reason than the fact that he is a dread lord (though they are usually surprised by their own transformation into a ghost when they try) :-)

Quite frankly it is extremely frustrating. Between these notoriety problems and the fact that I just saw notes on the UO Vault about people being able to steal your entire pack and being able to buy from vendors for 0 gold, I'm not sure what to do. Lately I've been logging in to check up on my shop (add a little stock, and bank the gold), and little else. My hands are truly tied. I can't defend anyone except myself, and I can't act out on "vendettas" because of these notoriety problems, and some of the bugs I hear about are serious enough that I tend not to want to take any risks.

I knew that starting up my shop was a financial risk, one which has already paid off, so I can technically close my shop at any time and come out ahead. It may happen, because I'm not sure whether it is worth all the trouble. It certainly has been a much easier way for me to earn gold than to peddle my wears myself, or to do the tailoring tricks, or anything else I've tried except for scavenging. So yes, starting the shop was a risk, and I knew it was a risk, but unfortunately it also brings out the problems with notoriety in a way that I did not expect. I can't maintain my business effectively if PK's attack my customers and all I can do is watch. And of course, it makes it absolutely necessary for me to keep my notoriety up. :-(

Notoriety isn't all bad of course. There needs to be a method by which to determine who is "worthy" of being a virtue guard, and who should be killed on sight in towns by the guards. The problem is that the current system seems to work a little backwards. In many cases "evil" characters are the more honorable ones, since you can get evil titles by defending friends and strangers (acts which are usually considered the *most* noble things you can do). It is not certainly true of all cases, since you can become evil even faster by murdering people. However, the only way to keep a "good" title is to never throw the first punch, and to stand by and watch when others need help. In fact, many of the so-called "noble" characters I've seen have been rather self centered (which also leads to not defending people), and even rather abusive (fire-fielding newbies and the like). Many of them are also cowardly, which also keeps them from doing things that would lower their notoriety. So what we see is that people who come out "good" behave badly, and those who behave honorably end up "evil", on top of a slew of people who really did earn their evil titles appropriately.

So what exactly does all this mean? It means that you generally can't trust "good" characters. You also can't trust "evil" characters either, though you have a slightly better chance with them because some of them got that way by being "good"! Confused yet?

So my hands are truly tied. I can't do what I need to do in some cases, because doing so would earn me that damned KOS status, which in turn would be deadly to me in the sense that a mage that can't buy reagents or supplies is no mage at all (and there currently isn't even a semi-reliable method for harvesting reagents in the wild). It wouldn't be quite as bad if in death you were able to keep all your newbie items regardless of notoriety. I think it is pretty harsh to lose your dagger and your pants just because you're dastardly.

Basically I have two choices right now. I can either opt to stay "good" and just put up and shut up... *or* I can just do what I think needs to be done, become a dread lord, and be *forced* into being a PK. Now why is that? I'm a mage. I need reagents, and in order to keep my shop going I need to have goods to sell. I need to keep the shop going so that I still have storage space that I can access whether or not I'm allowed into towns. So how do I keep the shop stocked and my reagent bag full? I'll be forced to hunt for such supplies, and the only things that will likely be carrying what I need are other players. It will become a matter of survival.

The point here is that I think that the notoriety system may need to be removed or replaced. This is rather ironic considering that I was one of the ones that kept screaming to have some "bite" added to the notoritety system so that playing a nasty murderous villain would be difficult to do. I'm thankful that it is hard to play such a character now, but I'm also quite annoyed that the same rules that make it hard to be evil also have the unfortunate side effect of making certain forms of very good behaviour also result in being "evil". However, some efforts have already been made to make things a little more fair...

The "criminal flag" is a good start. Unfortunately it's not working in regards to theives right now, so retaliation against them makes you evil unless they themselves were quite evil. However against people who cast fire-fields, you have a short time to do some damage to them witohut losing notoriety points. The bounty system is also a good start, in that those who kill enough people may get bounties on their heads and will have forced stat losses and the like when they die. This particular idea works well in the sense that you actually have to kill a lot of people in order to get this status. Just fighting off someone who attacked your friend (perhaps doing nothing more than forcing a retreat) will not result in a problem for you down the road as such. Perhaps the bounty system should be expanded so that notoriety can be toned down again to a point where KOS is not such a problem (maybe having a bounty on your head would now determine if the guards nail you on sight).

If the notoriety system is kept, I would suggest (as I stated a moment ago) making the bounty system determine KOS, and also I would adjust the penalties for various actions. For instance, attacking someone who is "good" should probably only result in about 5 points loss (instead of the 20 or so you now get hit with), however actually killing the person would still lose you 20 points. This way, only those who succeed in killing will drop to dread lord very fast. If you just attack but run away, you still go down at a decent rate, but not nearly as fast as someone who actually kills his victims. I would also place caps for certain actions too (or adjust the current caps if they already exist). For instance, I would place a cap on the notoriety loss for just attacking without killing at just shy of evil lord. You should be able to get fairly low by attacking people, but only actual kills could possibly take you down to dread lord and the like. I would also cap begging at dishonorable (since when did you ever find a "dastardly" hobo?). I also think that the begging penalties should be scaled. If you have any less than "honorable" status, you would only lose 1 point per attempt, whereas a "great lord" would lose 5 per attempt. People tend to be more disgusted by such behaviour from more well-off people. Well, maybe the scale should be based on total wealth rather than title. :-) I would also cap carving human corpses at dastardly. You shouldn't be able to drop to the really evil titles just because you're a cannibal unless you also kill the people yourself. :-)

Unfortunately, I don't have any ground-breaking solutions to this problem, only these few minor tweaks. However, I merely felt the need to express my thoughts on this matter so that the problems may get a little bit more attention. Also, if I think of some interesting ideas for fixes, changes, or improvements, you can bet it'll show up here. :-)


Magic Systems (Dec 23, 1997)

I was just reading over the UOR page (Ultima Online Revisited, similar to UOX), and was quite pleased to see some of the ideas put forth about the magic system that may be implemented there. In general there are quite a few interesting methods for handling a magic system in a game, and most of the time it is unfortunately handled in a very simplistic way, such as in Diablo or UO (though the introduction of other forms of magic such as pagan magic in UO have been hinted at for quite some time).

Personally, I think somewhat more complex and mysterious magic systems are much more interesting and can make mages truly be set apart from other character classes in the game. If you haven't read my other article that touches on some ideas for a magic system, take a look HERE. In that article I described a possible system of magic in that there would be potentially hundreds of spells, most of which would be unknown to the players at the beginning, and every mage would be limited to learning a certain number of them so as to promote not only a system for magic experimentation but also to promote diversity amongst mages.

The idea of using "magic words" is not a new one either. UOR is doing it now, but technically there's nothing to stop it from being done in UO as well. I remember in Ultima Underworld there were "mantras" that could be spoken to the ankh shrines to receive skill and stat increases (the method of character advancement in that particular game). In fact, it can greatly simplify things in the sense that you don't have to have spell-icons or spellbooks to control what spells you know and interface to them. It would be a simple matter for the player to create macros for the spells, and technically the spell system would be open-ended. Spells could be added to the game at later times without having to change the game interface.

One idea for a magic system I saw a long time ago that I liked was in a game called "Dragon Lord", in which you had a set of reagents (like 30 or so types) that you would use to prepare your spells. You could choose how to prepare each one by whether you choppped it, ground it, etc, and then how much heat you would apply with the burner or how much chilling you would apply by how far open the valve was on the condensor. The reagents fell into various classes, including a director which would determine how strongly the spell would apply to the intended target, and so on. But each reagent had multiple effects, and so you would have to add other reagents to counter those side-effects. So in effect, you were creating the spell yourself from scratch every time, and they didn't always work right (or could even explode if you weren't careful).

I wrote a game called "Acheron" as a multi-player game to run on my BBS a number of years ago. It was always a work in progress, as I kept making revisions and additions to the game. It was text-only, as that's how BBS's were. I wanted the magic system to be complex and require some "research" to understand. I broke it down such that there were 8 major spellcaster classes, including necromancers, demonologists, elementalists, and so on. Each caster class had it's own moon (8 moons, and there were also 8 planets but they didn't belong to each class specifically). The motions of the moons had direct impact on the caster of that class (when Lithitikki was in high sanction, elementalists were at their best, and when it was in low sanction they were weakened). Also of direct impact on the strength and effectiveness of spells was the ethereal flow, which followed a repeating cycle that was over 2-weeks long. When the flow was high, magic worked well, when it was low, it was less efficient. These two things impacted spellcasters the most, but there were more subtle things at work too, such as how far away the planets were from a conjunction (which you could calculate by looking at the graph of the current positions and their orbital speeds), and also any spirits that may be haunting you. You could summon creatures appropriate to the type of caster you were to do your bidding (or maybe even use them as "mana-cows" to an extent), or you could summon "daemons" (seperate from the "demons" that are part of demonology), which would usually be angered and attack you daily afterwards until they forgot about it. These daemons were "persisitent" in that they existed both before and after the summoning, but there was a slow turn-over in that occasionally they would move on and be replaced. There were also gods in the game that the players would become followers of (and I role-played these gods), and there were strange powerful beings that would occasionally make their presence known (one would cause earthquakes every time he saved up enough mana). In all these cases, the players had to figure the details of these things out for themselves. Only through careful observation could you discover the "side-effect" of being haunted by a particular spirit, and only through mathematical calculation could you determine when a conjunction would ocurr, or when your spells would be at their best.

Going back even further, as I mentioned in my "paradigms" article, I created a text-only game in Basic a long time ago called "Dungeon". I actually made a small series out of it, 4 games in all. The second game was a severe kludge and was completely replaced by #3 and #4 (both of which were identical games, except for a few bug fixes in #4, and except that one was a single-character game and the other had a party of 5). In the latter versions of the game, spells were completely controlled by 4-digit number codes. If you knew the number, you could cast the spell. Since there were only 30 or 50 spells (don't recall the exact number) in 9,000 possible 4-digit codes (could not start with "0"), your chances of accidentally discovering a spell were low, but it was not impossible. Chances were that you could play the game through and still not find a few of the spells. There were only two spells that you would start with (I think they were heal and fireball), and they were the only ones with 3-digit codes (111 and 222), and all of the other spells were assigned random numbers so that every time you started over you would have to find the spellcodes again. Of course, I used numbers at the time because it was simple from a programming standpoint. This could be entirely replaced by a system of magic words in a more modern game, which brings me full circle.

There are a lot of ways magic can be handled in a game, and I'm glad to see that some people are not falling into the trap of having a single set of pre-defined spells that any and all mages can attain, and then have no real way to improve once they've mastered them all. The idea of slowly learning the components of the spells is a good one. The idea of having more spells out there than any one mage can learn is a good one. The idea of having it open-ended so that there is not just a small set of predefinied spells is a good one. The idea of making reagents not always required, either because some spells don't even need them, or because you can cast without them just with increased difficulty... these are good ideas too. Perhaps some of these things will be added to UO in addition to the current magic system, for I doubt the current one would ever be scrapped. And if some new forms of magic are added, I would also like to see a resource-harvesting skill added, such that reagents could be collected from the wild. Of course, I feel that some other reagents would be hard to get, such as bones from certain monsters or from humans, but those that are hardest to find would only be needed by the most powerful spells, some of which may be arduous ritualistic spells.

Somthing that could be done is to make certain very powerful spells (such as summonng a liche or a daemon) require a ritualistic spell. And other lesser spells (like summoning a skeletion) could be done as a battle-spell, or if the caster so chooses he can do a complex ritualistic form of the spell that creates a token (like in pagan magic) which can be used quickly and easily. Giving the player this choice could prove interesting, for he could either do the quicker and easier route, which also uses up mana in battle, or do some more drawn-out preparation but be all the better for it when the time of battle is it hand. The possiblities are endless, so the magic system used should be too. :-)

One thing I would always try to avoid is placing limitations on the choices available to the player, though placing limitations that cause them to make use of such choices can work quite well. For instance, making armor a hindrance to magic is a good idea. In UOR the explanation is that stiff heavy armor restricts movement. Another possible explanation is that metal absorbs/disperses mana, making spells much more taxing to cast while wearing armor (this makes leather and bone armor safe for mages). I also like the stat-adjustments that the magic hats give in UO (INT+5 STR-5 DEX-5) because that encourages mages to wear them, and discourages warriors from wearing them. I really would like to see more such ideas put forth that help to make the trade-offs between being a warrior and being a mage more noticable, and more encouraging to go one way or the other without mastering both (damn those tank mages!). :-) But I also want to see choices between spells that are difficult and time consuming, and those that are quick and easy but not as effective. I'd like to see better ways of obtaining reagents, more variation between spells and their required materials, and so on. There are many things that can be done, whole new systems of magic and spells that can be adopted. And UO is a good place to start. :-) (I'll also be making more articles and comments here from time to time as I think of more points to make about magic)


Avatars Umong Us (Dec 18, 1997)

The world of UO has begun to develop into something much more than a simple game. As was mentioned recently on the Update Center in the "Comments from the Team" section, some of the recent guild creations and player events that have come completely from the minds of the fans are showing that the community within this virtual Britannia is starting to have a life of it's own.

However to fully experience this new world, you may need to get involved. I don't mean just join a guild, kill a few people that are playing orcs at the fort, etc. What I mean is that it can be a lot of fun to develop your own storylines. Create your own scenarios, whether they involve other characters or not. Set your own goals, maybe even post your own player-quest announcements to the UO-Vault. It's not hard, all it takes is a little imagination, and the guts to try.

I've been playing my "Bones" character for quite some time, in a variety of forms since the beginning of the beta-test. I too have been a little too hung up on notoriety, gold, armor, weapons, and so forth at times. And even though I too get distracted, I'm enjoying the struggle to develop his personality.

But one thing we must not forget though, is that true role-playing does not necessarily mean leaving yourself behind. Many people like to base their character in the game off of their own personality, or the way they *wish* they could be in real life. This too is role-playing. (the people we get frustrated at for not role-playing are the ones that are just there to kill, steal, make money, etc, without showing concern for character, whether it is based off of their own personality or not).

"Brother Bones" is in many ways an incarnation of *me* in the game. He is an avatar, for he is more than just a simple nameless character in a cast of thousands. He represents me, even though he is not me. For this reason, he will always be a "good guy" (even if his notoriety doesn't make that obvious), for he will never steal, never kill in cold blood, and will try to protect your belongings should you fall in battle, but he is free to take revenge when it is someone he doesn't like or he feels he's been wronged by. He behaves in this "good guy" fashion because this is the way I would want to be treated, the way I would prefer to treat people in general, and because it reflects back onto me. Brother Bones may not actually be me, but he is an extension of me in a sense. In that respect, he is truly an avatar, for he represents the "higher being" (the real person) within the world that he exists in (UO).

However, at times it can also be a lot of fun and very relieving to play a character that is completely outside your normal life and personality. I'm starting to discover just how much fun it can be while playing my newly created thief character (whose name I will not disclose since I don't want him associated with me). In this persona, I can lie, cheat, steal, scam, you name it. All the things I would never do in real life, or even as my avatar. In general I really hate that sort of behaviour in people, but UO gives us a realm in which we can be both good and evil, and choose between the two whenever we wish. The interesting thing about my thief is that he tries to only target people of ill-repute or with those "shifty eyes" (translated: negative notoriety), and is therefore somewhat like Robin Hood, except for the part about giving to the poor (he only gives to one charity- himself). And of course, I usually get killed and everyone gets their stolen items back off my corpse, so in the end it's all in good fun.

That is one of the greatest things about online virtual games, and UO in particular. We have the option to be something we're not, or something close to what we are, or something in between that mixes either the good or the bad from our own experiences, thoughts, opinions, and actions. In a sense, every player-character you see in UO is an avatar, for the character can seldom be completely seperated from the person that is "behind the curtain". And we should never forget that there are real people involved, that these are more than just graphics and sprites on the screen. It is a living community that we are all a part of, and what you do and say will affect those around you. We are truly surrounded by avatars.

(just as a note- yes at times I choose to negatively impact people within the game, or else it would not be possible to play a thief. I do however try to pick my targets carefully. And it is afterall a game that needs to have some "evil" to fight against. In general, I try to refrain from negatively impacting people in my life in any way. One of the more "interesting" facets of my personality is the war I wage within myself on a daily basis, the struggle for balance between opposing forces and concepts... good/evil, right/wrong, easy/hard, emotion/logic, etc. We all do this, but I am particularly aware of mine, particularly at odds with myself, and forever fascinated by it, so it's only natural for me to explore these sides seperately to some degree in a game. After all, I'm an INFP :-) ... though with a few INTP qualities too).


Protected Zones (Dec 18, 1997)

(forgive me if this seems a little bland, a little incoherent, or whatever... I wrote this one at 3am) :-)

Yesterday I had a had a run-in with the guards that I felt was innapropriate. Actually, this week I had several. Also, I tried playing a thief as an experiment and came to a few conclusions about the current situation with how guards react to "crimes" both inside and outside of the protected zones. As it stands, I think there are several things that ought to be changed.

I've noticed that the guards are not very discriminating about whether or not something has happened within the guard-zones. For some hypothetic arguments, let's assume that in each case Player-A is the perpetrator, and Player-B is the victim.

Player-A attacks Player-B, with A being inside the guard zone, but B is not. A gets whacked. Now let's assume B is in the guard zone, but A is not. A is safe, unless the method of attack was a field spell. Unfortunately I don't think this works well, since people expect to be safe inside the guard zones, and unsafe outside. I would recommend changing the system such that the location of the victim *always* determines the guard's reactions regardless of the attacker's position. That way, no matter where A is, the guards will only whack A if B was in the protected zone at the time of the crime. This isn't 100% realistic, but it's a lot easier to decide on the risks you will take, and it is more consistent with what the players expect.

This brings up another point. If A commits a crime outside the protected zone against B who is also outside, it seems that B can run into the guard zone and call the guards, as long as he does it quickly. This I don't feel is fair either, and is actually being exploited. By using this method, thieves can actually get their victims guard-killed (and of course they then loot the body), and the guard is dragged further out of town (which may present other problems that I'm getting to)...

Another current problem is that if a guard gets called slightly outside the guard zone, perhaps by the method I just mentioned, anything the guard sees it will respond to. I had the unfortunate circumstance of being guard-killed for using lightning on a monster in the graveyard, simply because the guard had come in response to a thief using the exploit above, and then the guard wandered deeper into the cemetary. Guards should NOT kill you for using offensive spells *outside* the protected zone; They're only supposed to be illegal in town right? Right now they kill just for seeing it, no matter where it ocurred. Perhaps the nature of the target should also be factored in. Perhaps directed offensive spells should be allowed anywhere, as long as they are not cast on humans (be they PC or NPC). That way, we can still fry monsters that wander into town (or were led into town) without leaving them to the guards too.

Another less critical change I would recommend is to make both the notoriety penalties and guard-retaliation for attacks only happen once the first swing/shot takes place. Right now you can double-click on someone while in war mode, who happens to be about 30 feet away and get a notoriety penalty and lose your head to a guard at the same time, just for "intent" to attack, without actually ever getting near your victim. On the notoriety side of this particular issue, this change would help keep people from losing notoriety on accidental attacks (since they would not get penalized for attacks that they never actually followed through on). In terms of the guard retaliation, this would merely help in the cases where someone tried opening a paper-doll while forgetting that he/she was in war-mode.

Anyway, these are just some ideas that I think would help to make game-play a little easier. We all hate getting guard-killed for attacking monsters outside of town, and we also hate getting guard-killed for trying to tackle a thief while outside the town. (I hope you guys at OSI are paying attention) :-)



= Ed T. Toton III / NecroBones Enterprises / Contact
(Copyright 1997, All Rights Reserved)