TMC: Daedalian Musing – The Bored Elite

The Bored Elite
by Delphine Lynx October 28, 2002

This piece is not intended to be directly (or perhaps even indirectly) applicable to M**s which aren’t combat-centric in nature or whos focus is PvP. Additionally, for the purpose of this article I will refer to ‘players’ and ‘characters’ in a somewhat arbitrary and interchangeable manner; mentally substitute if I made the wrong choice based on your own philosophy.

“Everyone is a bore to someone. That is unimportant. The thing to avoid is being a bore to oneself.”

In any combat-centric MUD, players will ultimately ‘max it out’, reaching, in one of two ways, a point from which there is nowhere to advance further. In a MUD with a reasonable cap on progression, the players will simply reach the hard-coded limitations to their character development. Similarly, if the MUD in question is without a (reasonable) level cap, the players will simply go on to advance until they’ve outclassed everything else in the MUD, at which point they have, for all intents and purposes, reached a point from which further advancement is needless.

Naturally, arguments can be made against the above, and not without merit. There are, after all, some MUDs with the capability of creating higher level areas fast enough to keep pace with the players advancement. Others have implemented creative solutions along various different veins for reigning in players on the verge of reaching their level cap or surpassing the strength of the areas. But in my experience this is by far the exception rather than the rule, and any implementation of such a system into most MUDs would entail drastic changes to the core system of advancement. As such, anything put forth in a discussion of this scale would be of insufficient scope to deal with the vast issues that go into such a restructuring. So instead I will focus on the alternatives available to the administrator faced with such characters and looking for ways of coping with the situation.

It is here that the concept of ‘remorting’ is often interjected, typically based around allowing the player to begin as a slightly stronger level 1 character, though appearing in a multitude of related forms. Ultimately, however, this serves no purpose – the player will, given enough time, still reach a point where they outclass the game’s monsters and/or have reached the maximum allowable level. So we are forced back to where we were, having merely prolonged the inevitable. This isn’t to say remorting is a good or a bad thing in and of itself, but in either case it has no impact on the problem at hand.

As players begin to reach the point where they can no longer achieve any significant benefit from ‘hunting’, they begin to grow bored and drift from your game. Alternately, and, perhaps, far worse, they grow bored but do not drift from your game, instead lingering as nuisances for the purpose of fooling around with areas and quests designed for people half their level. Naturally, there is no ‘cure all’ solution to the problem. If there were one, universal fix-all, it would have been implemented ages ago, and this article would be pointedly unnecessary.

Now, there are several different concepts that may be applied to providing higher-level players with something to do. For the sake of clarity, I will group them into three different categories: Equipment, Areas/Mobs and Research & Development.

To follow the order set down, then, we will begin by discussing equipment. Just as in reality, it is, past a certain point, more a matter of form than function when it comes to items. Few buy a Rolex because of how well it keeps time; a Rolex, however well it may or may not work, is purchased as a status symbol. Likewise, very few people that buy a sports car are doing it for the actual features of the car; most do it to show off their wealth.

Similarly, it is important to provide such items within a MUD. Higher-level players are not going to care all that much about the difference between +10 Strength and +11 Strength. On the other hand, they may well pay millions extra for an item that, whether simply on account of the style of its description or some unique ability, is able to provide them with elevated status among their peers. Doing 1001 damage rather than 1000 is of far less import to most such players than is the ability to have or do something amusing. Perhaps an item that allows them to restring their recall message, cast spells of identical effect but custom descriptions, or various similar features – things which provide little actual benefit, but serve to be collected and shown off.

Continuing on the same tack, collection is exceedingly important. Players, as a rule, love to collect things; sets of related equipment, old tomes, anything of rarity. Take advantage of this in your area design. It’s not always necessary to make that extremely-hard-to-get item exceptionally powerful, so long as it provides a unique element worthy of note, it will be sought after by certain players.

It is important, though, to provide something to do with these collections. Fewer players are willing to collect for the sake of collecting than those who are willing to collect for the sake of status. Provide things such as equipment racks, top ten listings, etc, all with the intent of providing players a way to show off their riches. Remember: If you bought it for the purpose of acquiring admiration, it’s useless if no one knows you have it.

An imperfect example of this is a game like Diablo II, where many players are willing to spend ages looking for that perfect set of equipment. True, in Diablo II it’s typically as much a matter of power as prestige – but a significant number of players do collect for its own sake, accumulating piles of matching equipment which they’ve no intention ever of using.

Putting areas to work for you is far more difficult, and is a problem most often attempted from the perspective of quests and puzzles. However, given given the volume of very well written material already available in these areas, I am going instead to focus on a different aspect. The idea with this is to complement an item scheme such as that presented above. While both will stand on their own, a combination becomes exponentially more effective, as will become apparent.

At the point that a character has reached the ungodly levels of power discussed herein, they are typically no longer in need of areas where experience is to be gained – efficiently or otherwise. Because of this, you need to rethink what areas are all about. To these players, the hunt becomes only a matter of prestige, the challenge, and the ever valuable phat loot. My suggestion? Provide them.

In many CRPGs it is possible, after reaching a certain point of the game, to unlock a special area of extreme difficulty. In these areas progress is often slow, with the experience earned being nowhere near commensurate to the risk involved – but for those who can survive it, the items and prestige involved in getting through can be well worth the effort. I’m a strong advocate of including such areas in MUDs. While perhaps not very conducive of either a realistic environment or lively roleplaying, they do work to create dynamic interaction and engagement for higher level players – and provide the perfect place to locate many of your game’s collector’s items.

In creating such a dungeon, the idea is to begin at a difficulty which would require a small group of high level players….And from there steadily increase it. In theory, the dungeon ought not to ‘end’ as far as the players can see, but merely progress to a difficulty level where even an enormous group can progress no further.

The benefits of such a scheme are twofold: As the players become better organized and better equipped, you can continually add more levels to the dungeon so as to keep them busy. Unlike a standard dungeon, the players will rarely outpace content with dungeons of this nature, provided you keep the difficulty level balanced. Likewise, because they are no longer expecting to gain levels or progress quickly, there is no longer the need of providing areas which are balanced and fair by conventional standards. The difficulty can increase as quickly or as slowly as is necessary, providing the players with a constant challenge to concern themselves with rather than strolling about newbie areas and firebolting rabbits.

Obviously it is important to have well constructed, conventional dungeons to form the bulk of your game. But by employing a dungeon of this style for players who have ‘finished’ the game, you provide an environment in which they will not only have a challenge, but have a challenge where they are able to develop the sort of teamwork and camaraderie often missing from hack and slash style games.

My last point of discussion is as regards the category of Research & Development. A category much neglected in MUDs, R&D represents the next logical step for masters of their respective fields. Provided a suitable system can be implemented, a system of R&D will give players the chance not only to work on non-combat activities, but also eventually to, if it’s something they’re interested in, develop a business selling their designs.

Given the volume of excellent articles written on crafting in MUDs, I will not be presenting any detailed thoughts on its implementation – that will be left to those who’ve spent far more time on it than I. Rather, my reason for mentioning it is to tie a prevalent problem into a seemingly unrelated feature – one often left out entirely from games of this nature.

Obviously, these are just some of the possible solutions to the problem of high level characters. Hopefully, however, one or more of them will be of use to you in creating a combat-centric MUD capable of handling the accumulation of players bound to await you in the event of success.

The Bored Elite – copyright © 2002 by Delphine Lynx – All rights reserved.

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