Monday, September 28, 2009

MUD Code Update Life-cycle

I'm sure some of you probably wonder how we chose what parts of the code to update, what has priority over others, etc. So, that is what I'm going to talk about.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Player Killers Soul

The truth about player killing is that, it’s good! You heard me, player killing is a good thing and is not only good, but a sign of a player who is playing their characters correctly. Now it’s time for the but part. Player killing is good, but when used improperly it is a break to immersion, a harm to the game, and basically a sign that the person who does it might be a huge jerk! I think today’s article will be interesting.

The first thing I’d like to explore is, why should someone player kill? Well, there are a few reasons as to why a character should kill another character. Notice I’m saying character and not player. This is because the first reason you should kill another character is because your character would, not because the player wants to. Another good reason is if they are a male channeler and you know this. Pretty much everyone in the Wheel of Time universe will either attempt to kill a male channeler or flee immediately. In all actuality, the best reason to player kill is if it’s something your character would do, makes sense in terms of a setting aspect, and progresses your story in a meaningful way.

The next logical topic would be when to player kill. The time to player kill is dependant upon two things. The most important of the two being, does killing this character have an extremely large negative repercussion if done now. The secondary concern is Does my character really care about this negative repercussion? If the answer to those two questions is no and no or yes and no then you have yourself the right moment to strike!

So, with those easy to remember and apply guidelines to player killing. We can now look at the metagame downside to player killing. For the most part a lot of players look down on player killing. This is probably because they believe that if you kill someone else’s character you may kill theirs. This is to be expected and hopefully overcome with time. When this happens you just need to continue to role-play your character the way you always have. Just remember that with time and patience most people will get over your player kill and move on, as long as you make sure it is 100% a character choice and not just a player one.

All seems pretty basic right? Make choices about player killing from your characters point of view, don’t worry if people get a little wary of you metagame wise, and keep to your guns regarding your characters actions. There are some some finer points to actually executing a clean kill, but those are for people who are brave enough to try a kill to learn.

Just always remember that role-play and story should be the thought that drives all your characters actions. Including the need or desire to kill another character. When you stop playing your character and start using them to satisfying players desires is normally when you’ve forgotten what makes the Sea of Storms great. It’s also probably when you’ll discover you’re a big fish in a small pond.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Story from the Old Days

***Disclaimer: This is mostly story with a little commentary.***
Yesterday there was supposed to be a devblog but clearly there was not! Instead we will be talking about the old days and when I say old days I mean like eight years back. So, long, long ago in the before time, there was Jeshin and he was new. He was a mute and a channeler. Perhaps that’s not the most unique first character, but I was new.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Storm Leaders

Contrary to Jeshin's belief (or at least his publicizing), this isn't just a development blog, and I'm going to post whatever I want.  =-)

So, with that sorted out I figured I'd spare a couple minutes to write a blog post about a blog post.  If that seems silly then you are right on the money, but it won't stop me from doing it. Hit the thingy below to get the rest after the jump!

Friday, September 18, 2009

I’m the Dude Playing the Dude Disguised as Another Dude

A hilarious line from the movie ‘Tropic Thunder’, where Robert Downey Jr. is playing an actor playing a black soldier from the Vietnam war. It’s also an oddly relevant line to most of us as roleplayers. I’ve seen a lot of players come to The Sea of Storms over the years, who have started characters only to meander aimlessly, further and further from any semblance of character concept.

The idea of a character concept can be a little tricky for the average gamer. In almost all cases, we never need one for the other games we play. A character concept is who, what and why our character exists. Each of these helps to provide a better foundation for roleplaying our character and having direction. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, people who have characters seemingly driven by metagaming goals such as level 2 channeling, level 7 forms and ultimate power. In most cases, these characters are poorly roleplayed because they have no concept, they’re just vehicles for the player to reach those goals. The biggest pitfall with thinking this way is that the Sea of Storms is centered on roleplay. So, to enjoy the game and fulfill your goals, a player needs to roleplay well and enjoy it!

The first step to creating character concept is to take what you want to achieve as a player and put it into terms your character can understand. I think a good example is someone who wants to be in a lot of events, get forms, skills, and not be restricted to one city. These are pretty common desires from a player prospective. The good news is there are a lot of different character concepts that can attain these things. So to achieve these desires lets take a hunter for the horn, who has lived on the docks of Illian until he was in his early twenties. This gives us nationality, appearance, age, and a possible motivation to rise up out of the hard life of a dock rat. That is who our character is, a young man who worked the docks in Illian. 

Now what is our character? Well, having heard stories of glory and respect for the hunters of the past, he quickly drops his life as a dock hand when the hunt for the horn is called again. This gives us his view on his life. He finds the act of hunting for the horn a way to rise up out of his current life to gain fame and adventure. The character we have so far may have been thought of before, but just because it has been used before doesn’t mean the concept isn’t viable. You don’t need to break the mold every time and have a unique, one of a kind idea. In fact, you’ll probably come up with more bad ideas that way.

With our who and what in place we now need the why. It should be pretty simple with the who and what thought, we can surmise he had a boring life and wanted the piece of the glamour sung of in the stories. Maybe he had friends who joined the hunt and it goaded him into joining. Perhaps he borrowed money to buy gear and a horse to go hunting for the horn and now he has people from Illian looking for him to repay his debt. These are all ideas that give your character the why for his decisions and actions, such as learning forms to defend himself.

The above is a quick and dirty way to figure out a character concept that gives you as a player what you want in your character for roleplay. Another benefit of having a character concept is that Immortals love it. It’s so much easier to design events for people who have an established character concept that an event Imm can look at and understand. Character events also impress older players and make them more likely to give you those forms and skills you want because you’ve thought about roleplay not just code.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Everyone Hates Channelers!

Ok, so not everyone hates channelers. Everyone does, however, get tired of new players making channelers all the time. It’s not so much the fact that making a channeling character is bad. It’s really that so many people make them, and they don’t exactly always roleplay them very well.

The reality of creating a channeler is that it is really one of the hardest roles to play on the MUD. In the Wheel of Time setting, channelers are a very touchy subject ICly for people. For example, in the first book pretty much everyone in Rand’s village had a very strong and culturally driven view on Aes Sedai and channeling in general. Thus, it is natural to assume that our characters on the Sea of Storms would also have opinions formed by the fact channeling caused the end of the greatest age of the world. This means that not only do the players not like channelers, but that the NPCs of the world are also not overly fond of them… Everyone hates channelers!

So, what’s all this nonsense about people not roleplaying channelers very well? It's pretty simple really, there are a lot of common roleplay mistakes that lead to players approaching the character in a different way than is really logical. The first issue arises from the simple fact that in most cases the character wouldn’t want to be a channeler, but the player does. This gives rise to the cases of male channelers that are excited to be destined for insanity and death, as well as female channelers that don’t want to go to the Tower, because channeling is just too cool for school. While these character types are completely possible, albeit rare, the truth is almost every new player who makes a channeler falls into one of these two categories.

The second issue that comes up is absurdly knowledgeable characters. The kind of knowledge that an average character in the setting wouldn’t really have, but a player would. For example, most players will understand at least a little bit about subjects like (sa')angreal and ter'angreal from reading the books. However, almost every single person in the setting would have absolutely no clue what these were and would never have heard of them or even suspected that they existed. So we have the difference between player knowledge and character knowledge. This causes things like channeler level 0 people talking about angreals, knowing that a tingle means a female is channeling, and chatting to each other about what flows they’re skilled in as if they were trained in the Tower. This particular issue is annoying to me personally, mostly because it borders on a policy violation for using OOC information in an IC manner. I don’t really enjoy busting people, especially new players, for not understanding the role of a channeler very well. It’s not really their fault after all, the channeler is a harder character to understand and roleplay.

The third issue isn’t really the players fault, it's just something that becomes more and more noticeable over time. At certain points during the month, depending on the new player count and some other factors, we can expect the nonchanneler to channeler ratio to be like 1:2 or even 1:3. So with 10 people online, we can expect at least 6 of them to be channelers. The reason why this isn't a problem is the simple fact that people like to play this particular type of character, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that! Unfortunately, it means that the population imbalance becomes pretty noticeable. Channelers were a relatively small percentage of the population in the books after all. We've kicked around ideas like making the only options in creation random and non-channeler. That would certainly make things more realistic, but would also be a pretty big detractor from the 'fun' aspect of things (this is a game after all, right?). It's just food for thought to those of you who love to create channelers.

Despite these roleplay difficulties channelers provide a lot of benefits. They are good for players who like a little bit more solo play. They also have quite a bit of good roleplay potential. The channeling system on the Sea of Storms is pretty deep once you start delving into it. A channeler can easily spend a couple months reaching the second level of power, then several more months making themselves a force to be reckoned with. Some of our best roleplayers have been channelers. The concept allows for very in-depth roleplaying, along with some interesting interpersonal relationships with the non-channeler population.

Some of you may be asking yourselves, when is a good time to make a channeling character on the Sea of Storms? The answer is any time, as long as you understand the pitfalls of the character. If you’re not in the White Tower, then your female channeler won’t be to well liked by the NPCs of the world. If you’re a male channeler, then everyone and their mum will want you dead. A player should have an open mind about how they play their channeler and be willing to re-evaluate the approach they’re taking if someone offers advice. If a player can understand and accept these simple truths about playing a channeler, then they are well on their way to playing a great one.

On a side note, I’ve finally decided to write a how-to guide to roleplaying a channeler on the wiki. I hope that this will help new players and regulars alike enjoy their characters more. I also hope that this will prevent older players from seeing a bunch of misplayed channelers and deciding to off them!

- Jeshin

Monday, September 14, 2009

Events for Players by Players!

It’s a pleasant Monday morning with little to no chance of the Foregate getting any easier to finish. After mapping it for the last steps of the review, the staff discovered that someone managed to botch the layout. Clearly it wasn’t me! Regardless of which event immortal may or may not have caused the issue in layout, it is in the process of being fixed and will only add a few more days onto the release schedule at most. However that isn’t what this article is about, this article is about events. Not just any events, mind you, but events for players by players!

I am, of course, speaking of player events, those often mentioned and rarely seen set of circumstances where a player can run an event just like a staff member. As the only active event immortal on the Sea of Storms, I’ve often wondered what players want out of the game. At first glance I can surmise they want roleplay and story. With a second pass, I can determine that excitement and growth of power is important. On a final overview I can see that, despite the previous two observations, maybe I don’t have an inkling of what the average Sea of Storms player wants out of their gaming experience.

So the event immortal has come to the conclusion that he doesn’t actually know what the players want. Being in charge of creating an fun experience for players through story based roleplay, makes that a bit of a problem. Yeah, it was pretty jarring for me as well. I kind of sat around for a couple weeks looking at options. I could try to change how I ran events to make them less scripted and more reactive to players. When I tried that with my co-event immortal Orson a group of players ended up staring at a door for 4 hours in a roleplay. Clearly a disaster had evolved with the approach of reacting to players instead of providing plot and guidance. To be honest, I only really tried this before realizing maybe the best people to run the events are the players. The only problem with this approach is that players can’t be trusted with forsaken, shadowspawn, rulers of countries, captains of the guard, children of the light, assassins in the great game, etc. etc.

From this impasse with allowing players to run their own events arouse the current player event design. A group of players can join a roleplay and have universal control over non-restricted NPCs; barkeeps, serving girls, citizens, travelers, scholars, even Ogier on occasion. I thought maybe I’d discovered the key to providing the players with what they want. Giddy with excitement, I brought the Idea to Luthien and he quickly agreed. In almost eight months of being in place it has been used less then eight times!

I hope that the above explains why I created the player event system, if it doesn’t then here’s a simple version. I trust players to know what they want. I thought players would like to tell their own stories. I know the players on the Sea of Storms can be a creative and fun group.

With all this being said, I will be using this devblog entry to announce a new tool in the player event line. Hopefully this will help entice players to use it and grow comfortable with running their own events. Starting on 09.14.09, I will be providing player event kits. These kits will include NPCs with descriptions, motivations, and roleplay notes. In addition, they will include holodeck room descriptions and in some cases premade items.

It is my hope that with these easy to use player events, players will start to use the system. There’s a lot of really cool stuff that could be done on the Sea of Storms if the player event system was more widely used. In fact I’ve designed some storylines completely around the player event system. Which causes a bit of a problem considering it has been used only rarely. I can’t release these storylines until players have actively shown they can responsibly control NPCs and story first.

- Jeshin

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Under the Hood of Our Kitchen Automobile

Just like almost all other muds in existence, the Sea of Storms runs by the grace of its volunteers. Most of the people inhabiting the mud today do not know those who started it, and I am one of those individuals. As such, the codebase I am toying with today has suffered 10 years of coding by different TSoS volunteers, and it shows.

It might even be said that Smaug is a crappy codebase from the beginning. Our version is well over 10 years old, and while we of course made our own modifications, the latest Smaug that was released has had bugs fixed and features added. Simply Smaug, without our realm-specific changes, is already a beast - no coder wants to venture into it if he values his sanity.

To give an idea of the things that many mud coders need to deal with, there is an abhorring lack of comments in the code, indentation exists in such a way that it tends to make the code more confusing, mysterious variable names, randomly hard-coded numbers, and oh, did I mention there are no comments? Think of a city where they speak a language you do not speak, and street signs are missing or beyond your ability to pronounce: the only way to get around would be to make your own map of sorts.

Especially for me, who never coded on a mud prior to joining the TSoS staff, it is really easy to get lost. Now that I am done with the city analogy, I will compare TSoS with a bowl of spaghetti. At the base you have Smaug, where every strand of pasta has a purpose but it is very hard to comprehend a bigger picture of how they all fit together. And when you get our own modifications, you can think of it as throwing some sauce into the mix, hiding even more from sight. The end result is very tasty, but to me, it feels as if I am preparing dinner while using someone elses leftovers. Mmmm, TSoS.

Take today's kitchen affairs for example... a player came to me and went 'yo, Kim my man. I can weary [[his]] ass off, but it is only my ass getting tired'. I went to investigate, and yup, somehow, weary had become a rather dull weave that didn't do much (besides tiring the weaver out). I quickly found the cause: yesterday, we had introduced some updates, including some new weaves. This required some changes elsewhere in the big file o' weaves, and numbers that basically define the importance of these weaves changed as a result. Oops.

Now, the Code is not supposed to check for any numbers in specific (they only rank the 'importance' of a weave), but one of our past coders had a moment of wisdom and decided that since refresh and weary were so much alike in effect, they should be very much alike in the code. Smaug isn't truly meant to turn weaves into such siamese twins, and using the number that signifies importance, he managed to make it possible to recognise a weary from a refresh weave.

Did all that go over your head? Don't worry, most people do not have the programmers mindset, and I figured it might be nice to explain a fair bit to those who do like to know how things work. But if you think this post is just pure junk, just log on @, port 7070, and send me a tell to inform me that I need to stop blogging.

- Kimadi

Friday, September 11, 2009

Channeling Strength and Game Theory

OK, hold onto your hats for a minute while I discuss some mathematics before getting to the game portion of this post.

There is an area of mathematics called game theory that attempts to formalize what it means to play a game in an intelligent manner. When you apply this area to the study of competitive behavior you get some interesting things. For instance, it deals with solutions of games (how to win, no mater what the opponent does), optimal strategies in general, etc.

Where might you have seen this area of mathematics before?  Well, if you've ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind, about the life of John Nash, then you've seen a movie about one of the most famous game theorists of all time. It is an area that is heavily applied in economics, which is how Nash won a nobel prize in economics...for doing some mathematics. (He developed the concept of a Nash Equilibrium, which is pretty nifty when looking for solutions in a lot of different cases. Even if, as John von Neumann said, it's "just a fixed-point theorem" after all.)

So, what area of game theory are we interested in here? It's one of the first things that a new student of the field will learn, the idea of domination where it applies to different strategies. Essentially, if one strategy is better than another in every situation, it dominates that other strategy, and no sane player would ever use that weaker strategy. Domination isn't necessarily the best concept to apply in all cases, but it will serve the purpose for this discussion.

The Thought Behind the ‘Algorithm’ Update

Recently a patch known as the aLGORITHM has been released on the Sea of Storms. The first thing someone might notice about this patch is the awful use of caps lock. That’s mostly due to my inability to properly type which got it dubbed the aLGORITHM by Luthien. So with the most obvious question out of the way, the next question must be. What exactly did we change?

Well dreaming was moved back to its rightful place as a major talent. The scholar talent has been properly supported now with the ability to teach various languages such as old tongue or Ogier. Finally we modified our drunk code to affect posts. I know awesome right?

Wait… we also brought back gifted and strong channelers. In fact the very nickname to the patch was given in reference to the new formula that dictates flow strengths for channelers. I suppose that is the most important update, well that or the ability to finally post URLs containing & in them without double typing &. Nah, channeling is totally cooler so lets cover that.

Channeling has long been debated by mortals in its balance. Mostly you would have non channelers such as blademasters or soldiers denouncing weaves like wrap, airblind, and any of the more powerful weaves that essentially allowed channelers to pummel others in one on one combat. These complaints have always been responded to by channelers saying that all a non channeler had to do was bring support or simply not go toe to toe with a channeler. Which if you think about it seems a little like common sense. Still with the claim that channeling was to powerful, we still got requests to unlock the strong and gifted channeling talents.

I asked our new assistant coder Kimadi to give me a statement about the update for the players. Here it is: “The problem with the re-implementation of strong and gifted channeling strengths did not lie into making them possible - that was a few simple lines of code. The true difficulty lied in several aspects, the main aspect being our wish for a 'realistic' environment, which is something that is hard to describe by requirements yet easy for a human to recognize. We did not want people to distribute their flow points to gain very specific code-wise benefits while other matters would be neglected beyond any comparable realism. But on the other hand, restricting players was too much is another matter of concern - both for the purpose of playing, and the fact that even in the world of the Wheel of Time, there are those odd few people who defy the norm as we know it. In the end, both realism and oddities have become fully possible in the new system” – Kimadi

That pretty much captured the intent of the update in my opinion. However, I still haven’t really told you what we changed in channeling, so I’ll get to that now. In the olden days way way back in the before time there were gifted and strong channelers. These old players could allocate their flow strengths however they pleased the only system in place to moderate the maximum  strength in each element was a rather wimpy little +1 extra pt required to raise a strength for every spot above 25. Today’s gifted and strong channelers must have a fair bit of balance to their builds. Just like in the books most channelers are proficient in more then just two flows and none really had an inability to do anything in one flow let alone two.

Without revealing the numbers involved in the formula I can say that if you have 26 or higher in your main flow then you can expect to have at least 9’s in your lowest. In the past it was 1’s so from the get go we’ve already balanced things significantly. In this patch we also fixed some of the flow skill requirements on fire weaves. The older numbers were higher then their earth and air counterparts and during testing we realized that these ‘slightly’ higher flow skill requirements equated to significant changes in male channeler builds. This was mostly due to their low flow skill modifier in comparison with their female channeling counterparts. This has allowed channelers to have variety in their weave selection. No longer will people be using the same three weaves in every situation.

Not a lot code was changed in all honestly. The real change has been the in the framework we’ve placed. With the new algorithm in place and new levels of channeling open we can begin to introduce new weaves. A project we are already working on. In addition new channeling talents and possibly a new way to use weaves in combination with other weaves will be implemented. Really this update marks the beginning of what will hopefully be a long line of successful updates to our code engine to support realism and roleplay for our players!

- Jeshin

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Building the Foregate

Recently on the Sea of Storms the staff has been reviewing an area called the Foregate. This new addition to the game has been a trying experience for me personally in two ways. The most painful of which was a hard drive failure leading to the loss of a portion of the area as well as the near complete loss of almost 4 months of work on another area. The less painful of which has been my personal laziness to complete it. This area has actually taken me longer to complete then I have been a staff member on the game, just to put it into prospective.

However, in early august I finally got over my aversion to finishing the area and began in earnest. Upon what was most likely my 242nd attempt to complete the area in the last six years, I realized why it is I always ended up not doing so. The place is a bloody mess! It’s no secret the Foregate has been passed amongst several builders before arriving on my doorstep. One can not imagine the amount of different issues with the area upon final review.

Normally a single builder for a MUD has a certain style. They also have certain weaknesses. I’m a little iffy on my grammar as you may notice during the course of this blog. So when I build an area, I can expect to have to edit room descriptions from time to time. Well that’s just my personal weakness when it comes to area building. This area has been through several people before me, so now imagine four different problem areas for the whole area.

I’ll admit the review process of this area has been a lot more work then I’d hoped. I was originally only required to do 25 rooms or so of the area to complete it. Yes, It took me almost five years to do 25 rooms. Of course even after completing those rooms in early August, myself and Luthien have been reviewing the area ever since.

The review process is pretty straight forward. A sign that we don’t like to let an area sit to long in a complete state without implementing it on the live server. First we go through all the rooms of the area, and by we I mean Luthien. He reads the room descriptions and makes sure they’re grammatically correct and coherent. If they’re not he might put a note up with the rooms VNUM (virtual number) or simply do some immediate triage on it himself.

The next stage is dealing with MOBs (Mobile Objects) or more commonly known as NPCs by the average roleplayer. I just want to tell you that the Sea of Storms has a custom race listing and MOBs are completely customizable. That being said the MOBs in the Foregate were all Aiel and had 2’s for all their stats. Most if not all had no equipment. Still the greatest sin of all was that one of the previous builders had made these mobs active. So you can imagine me at 3:00 am in the morning chasing down errant NPCs to make edits to them or zap them with a sentinel command to make them stand still long enough to fix them. I can tell you it was not a fun experience to have to hunt mobiles that seemed sentient and intent on avoid me despite my impressive array of commands on the builder port.

Eventually I ended up stealing the mobs directly from their area into a special room with no exits. I don’t have to mention how creepy this can be for someone running on coffee in the early morning hours but I will say I started to question my ability to be a good stalker…

Despite all of this, and I do mean IN SPITE of all of this, Luthien and I have managed to bring the area to near completion. I just need to kidnap some more innocent MOBs back to my dark lair for editing and the area will be ready to go live! (Forces Vandread to backup the server just in case!)

- Jeshin

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Return of Text Based Gaming

About 30 years ago games like Zork and Enchanter existed. These were text based single player games much like the first Monkey Islands. From those games spawned something called Multi-User dimensions  or MUDs. These were the precursors to MMO’s of today and are probably still just as much fun if not more then the average WoW instance.

One of the biggest draw backs to text based gaming is a lack of immediate satisfaction. More often then not a players first experience is had on a telnet connection which tends to be crap. However, recently guys have designed something called Fmud or Flash MUD. A easy lightweight webclient that allows people to connect to MUDs with ease. With this new, clean, and simple client out there for free it is possible to start trying to bring players back to text based gaming!

That being said, I’d like to invite anyone who enjoys a great story and some character development to come try out The Sea of Storms. We are a Wheel of Time themed MUD with a lot of friendly players and staff waiting to introduce you to the fun of text based gaming

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