What to do about power creep.

Okay so there's one big flaw this game is dealing with from a mechanical perspective, and it's one that's been baked into the very core of the design. That is, the lack of a level cap and periodic soft gear resets. Just so everyone knows what I'm talking about, take the example of World of Warcraft.

You play the game, you level up to the cap of 60, you do dungeons and raids and PVP to get better and better equipment, and eventually you find yourself decked out in the most powerful stuff you're willing to put in the time to get. At that point you pretty much just roll around doing PVP or farming gold or collecting pets or something, until you eventually get bored and start thinking about unsubscribing.

But wait, here comes an expansion pack. Now the level cap is 70 instead of 60, there's a whole new continent to visit, and routine quests there hand out equipment more powerful than your hard-earned raid gear or whatever. Your character technically isn't any weaker than it ever was, you haven't actually lost anything, but in practical terms you've been reduced to some newbie 10 levels below the cap wearing gear weaker than quest rewards. So you play the game, you level up to the new cap of 70, you do dungeons and raids and PVP to get better and better equipment, so on and so forth, repeat every couple years.

Ultima Online was built on a completely different philosophy. Levels didn't exist in the classic sense and the power difference between a newbie and a developed character was relatively low, compared to games like Warcraft where a high-level character might have hundreds or thousands of times higher stats than a low-level character. More importantly, gear wasn't as overwhelmingly important as in those later games. Vanquishing weapons and Invulnerability armor were stronger than plain GM crafted items, but they wouldn't let you just crush things effortlessly.

Most importantly, items could be lost if a corpse wasn't recovered, and items wore out over time with use. This made it much harder to ever hit a point where you didn't need gear anymore, since you were never more than one unlucky unrecoverable death from losing everything you were wearing. At the same time that possibility didn't represent complete catastrophe, since even ordinary GM crafted gear would allow you to reasonably return to action.

Then Age of Shadows came out in early 2003 or so, and fundamentally broke the entire system.

Now suddenly there's powder of fortification, meaning items never really need to wear out. Now there's insurance, so that nothing important decays with a corpse anymore. Now all you can do is keep adding slightly more powerful items as time goes by. Artifacts once considered powerful and valuable slowly become inexpensive newbie junk as more and more of them are farmed, and more desirable items are introduced over time. The content systems rewarding those artifacts fall into disuse.

That's about where we've been ever since. Various developers over the years have tried to tackle this problem in different ways, but nothing has fundamentally changed the equation. Draconi had an idea for a "diminishing returns" system whereby one would need much more of a given equipment stat in order to get the most return from it, but the whole thing was just too counterintuitive. If having 30 energy resistance and adding an item with 20 energy resistance ended in a value of 43 or something, people were going to give up on understanding their stats. Other developers have tried adding various cursed, brittle, ephemeral, and otherwise temporary items, but those things have never been more than a sideshow.

So the question is, assuming we don't want to just shrug and keep piling on stronger items until everyone hits the caps in everything, where do we go from here? Despite all the talking I'm doing, I don't have a single magical answer at the ready. I do, however, have a few suggestions for the team.

Put up a special TC shard for the explicit purpose of testing fundamental changes to the game, with a pop-up upon login informing players that the changes in question are experimental only and won't necessarily ever come to the rest of the game. Then you start doing some crazy stuff. Maybe you remove all item property caps and let people build insane suits. Maybe you raise the skill cap just to see what happens. Maybe you flat double everyone's HP and damage. You let people really stretch out the engine, while you show up on weekends to host PVP fights and spawn monsters for people to kill while you observe. Offer some simple but unique custom items on players home shards as prizes in order to encourage people to optimize as much as possible.

Then you sit back and watch, you look for changes that create the greatest amount of new optimization possibilty space, and then you ask yourself if that space can be preserved in a way that allows for decent game balance. You make real observations of things we would otherwise just take for granted. Like we know that unlimited skill and property caps would probably unbalance the game horribly, but in what ways, and just how high can those things go exactly before it starts getting out of hand? What if skill-boosting items stopped letting you go over your skill cap, but the skill cap was 900 or something? Look, maybe that's a terrible idea, but I wouldn't mind seeing it put to the test.

This isn't the kind of game where a developer can just boost Paladin damage 5% in a spreadsheet and call it good, we need to see how questionable changes play out in real practice but in a way that leaves room to go "Never mind, that was stupid!" without making a big deal out of it.

Comments

  • ThalonThalon Posts: 61
    Your post shows considerable thought, but I do not think the power creep is a big deal in Ultima Online. I am not saying it doesn't exist:
    - Top gear drops are definately more powerful now than in 2000, 2010, or even 2015.
    - New expansions release new Creatures, and Eodon Dinosaurs or Ter Mur Void creatures are strong compared to a regular dragon or daemon.

    As you mentioned: base Skill total and Stats total stay the same; item property caps are easily adjustable. The encounters and creatures in new content can be setup in a way that makes it more challenging as opposed to just standing toe-to-toe with a big nasty. This allows new content to be added to be challenging on game mechanics rather than raw stats.
    - Dark Fathers have been around since Doom was released and they still wipe the Gauntlet clean of players who forget the rule DO NOT RUN.
    - The Bar released in Shadowguard (kiting 101) can be completed without casting a single spell or swinging a weapon.
    - Try the dragon turtle spawn yet? The apes in the second stage are a problem for some templates.

    Ultimately the developer in Ultima Online has to deal with:
    - Variety of player Skill.
    - One above performing PvM template, a dozen useful and infinite under performing templates.
    - PvM templates rarely work well for PvP.

    The saving graces of Ultima Online:
    1) no class/level system (which you mentioned).
    2) it is a Sandbox design; very little quest locked content (some ML Dungeons & Stygian Abyss). Just like the real world you may go where you want when you want to. BEWARE.
    3) Character Skill or Equipment not up for it yet? he bring some friends and make it a group event. You can kill dinos faster if you have help even if you have a Sampire that CAN do it by himself. 

    So, power creep of equipment vs. content you can attempt anytime with any template, solo or in a group. I think the developers are doing a decent job based on Time of Legends.
    Thalon, Merchant Sailor of Pacific for fine Tools, Clothing, and Potions!
    Blacksmithing, Carpentry and Inscription services offered through afilliated subcontractors.
    Exotic beasts available with proper authorization from the Crown.
  • Lord_NythraxLord_Nythrax Posts: 41
    edited March 2018
    The thing is, they can only slap so many stats on things before people are hitting the caps in everything their build cares about, and the tide is only rising.
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