2000-01-24: The Nature of Change

The Nature of Change

Jan 24 2000 5:33PM

This was originally posted to Development at[1]

I remember at the age of fifteen blazing home, which, for my mother, was probably 45Mph, to install Ultima III on my Commodore 64. I was astounded by the fact that there was music in the cities, the people were not blotchy squares, and there was a story within the game and not just in the manual. (Yes, I had an Atari 2600 before the C=64.) I had a great feeling that day going home from the store, playing the game, ignoring my mother’s demands that I go to bed, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to be the guy who got to instill those feelings in other people. Much of my decision to work in the gaming industry was a direct result of several like experiences. Working on Ultima Online, I have a benefit that early game developers did not, direct feedback. It is great to see someone talk about their wonderful experiences in the game, but I am also amazed by the posts that equate the UO team with an evil empire when a change is made to UO. Don’t get me wrong, I have been on the other end of some of these changes, (I really liked potting) and I understand the frustration of losing hours of effort. So I thought I would write about some recent changes, why they were necessary, and how many box tops to send in to get your Evil Empire Badge.

There are several factors we must take into consideration when determining if a system should be changed or not. Will the majority of the community benefit from this change? Is it possible that this fix will break other systems? Is this going to destroy a lot of effort and time put in by a certain player type? Is this change allowed within the terms of our secret government black-ops contract? Obviously more questions than this are asked, and these questions cause a lot of discussion (read: fisticuffs) among the team. I am going to write about two changes that are close to me.

The first change I would like to address would be that made to precasting. For months we have been hearing about a spell-hally combo able to do 80 points of damage faster than you can say "Kal Ort Por." While this may be a great PvP tactic, it was also being used for evil™ . I know this may come as a surprise to some of you, but many players were using this outside of the boundaries of consensual PvP, and smacking anyone that crossed their paths. If this were not bad enough, it should come as no surprise that a precast recall while looting a corpse allowed player vultures to "loot" and "fly" without worry of reprisal. Thus, we determined that precasting needed to be changed under certain conditions. We did not remove precasting. We changed it so that a pre-cast spell would be interrupted if the player equipped something or took something. Will the majority of the community benefit from this change? The answer is "definitely." While there were some legitimate uses for pre-casting, it just was too much of a danger to keep in the hands of those who would misuse it. The general population benefits from less danger of "one-hit deaths" and insta-vanish grave-robbers. Is it possible that this fix will break other systems? Not really. I know a thousand hands are going to be raised saying mages can no longer stand up to dex-monkeys. This really is not true, but no examples I could give would convince anyone. I will just say that, in this case, question number one holds precedence, and unfortunately we have to weigh these questions against one another. Is this going to destroy a lot of effort and time put in by a certain player type? No. Magery is still arguably the most sought after skill in the game. Mages might become less effective at PvP, but in the overall scheme of things, nothing will be broken for the mage.

The second change to address would be that made to the thieving profession. Believe it or not, this change was introduced to help the professional thief. In order to steal from another person in the game, a thief would have to join the thieves’ guild. When you join the thieves’ guild, you will be a perma-criminal, for lack of a better term, though you highlight as blue. Players who were not in the guild would be able to attempt to steal from you, and if they got anything other than a message stating that they could not steal from you, you were toast because they knew you could be attacked without reprisal. Obviously, this was a big issue to the "honest" thief. Truthfully, some textual changes could have solved this whole issue, but the system seemed a bit hypocritical. A "good" player should really not be able to steal from anyone. It is not fair to single out criminals and thieves as open targets for other criminals. If anything, this should get someone in trouble with a thieves’ guild faster. Let’s see if the questions fit in this case. Will the majority of the community benefit from this change? The truthful answer is that the majority of the community won’t be affected by this change. This is a pretty localized issue. Is it possible that this fix will break other systems? It is possible, and in this case, a little worrisome. By removing the ability to steal from players, we were worried that a person might not be able to raise their thievery above 60, which of course is the requirement to join the thieves’ guild. This is not the case, but we will be watching this issue to make sure everyone knows this is not the case. Is this going to destroy a lot of effort and time put in by a certain player type? No, but leaving the issue alone would have. Those players who are conforming to the systems we develop should not be harassed by a side-effect.

Some people will invariably write to me and ask if we fixed "this", why don’t we also fix "this." Time is the important element. We have to pick our fixes, but that doesn’t mean we will be ignoring other issues. These "guideline" questions aren’t something I have attached to my bulletin board, nor do I graph poetry appreciation based on examples from the Pritchard textbook. The truth is that I am using these questions to illustrate why we may make changes and what considerations may come into play. The biggest question to me is one I have left off from the list. How do we know when we have gone too far and "nerfed" something? Sometimes it is hard to tell, but this is why we solicit feedback from the community and why that feedback is important to the development process. We try to temper our changes with wisdom based on available data, our experience, and player feedback. If all else fails, sometimes we just throw a dart at a wide variety of possible fixes. (That was a joke, management doesn’t let us play with sharp objects.) Seriously, I want everyone in UO to have a good time, but sometimes, you hurt a few to help the majority. I do apologize to those players who have to make unwanted changes. Oh yeah, how many box tops? Just keep collecting them. The Evil Empire knows when you have enough, even if you live in Oklahoma.