Thursday, February 26, 2004

SWG: Higher Education

I dreamed up a new profession some time back that I'd like to bring out of mothballs. Namely, I'd like to see a Higher Education profession.

It never has made much sense to me that the Artisan profession is the required starting point for both theoretical and hands-on advanced professions. Some people naturally prefer Thinking, and some prefer Doing. Both are valuable ways of dealing with the world, but these approaches require very different kinds of education. How does it make any sense that both Chefs and Droid Engineers are based on the Artisan profession?

The Artisan profession is mostly a hands-on profession concerned with Doing things. So let's be consistent about that -- let the Artisan profession teach the basic skills needed to do the relatively simple hands-on crafts from which extend the more advanced (but still similarly hands-on) professions of Chef and Tailor.

The problem is the Engineering discipline. This doesn't belong in the Artisan profession! What we need is a new Thinking-specific profession that includes an Engineering discipline (and three other disciplines).

The first step is to replace the existing Engineering discipline in Artisan with something like a Machining discipline. The skills of this discipline would allow you to increase your maximum number of Action points or decrease all Action point costs (to simulate an Artisan's improvements in manual dexterity). Another possibility would be a Mechanic discipline. Not only would this allow for a much more enjoyable crafting experience for vehicles (not to mention some great extra features for vehicles!), it's a more appropriate starting discipline for the Shipwright profession.

The next step is to create a counterpart to the hands-on Artisan profession, which would be would be the more theory-oriented Higher Education profession. This new starting profession would provide basic research and application skills that act as foundation skills for the advanced/elite professions requiring more education such as Droid Engineer. Other disciplines within the Higher Education profession would support other existing professions such as Architect and Doctor, as well as new professions such as Industrialist and Scientist.

The Higher Education disciplines that make the most sense to me are Engineering, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, and Arts. Starting with those disciplines, some of the existing and new advanced and elite professions might break down like this:

Engineer *Engineering [Higher Ed]
ArchitectEngineering [Higher Ed] + Arts [Higher Ed]
Miner *Engineering [Higher Ed] + Surveying [Artisan]
Droid EngineerEngineering [Higher Ed] + Machining [Artisan]
Weaponsmith, ArmorsmithMachining [Artisan]
MerchantBusiness [Artisan]
Chef, TailorDomestic Arts [Artisan]
Journalist *Social Sciences [Higher Ed]
Industrialist *Social Sciences [Higher Ed] + [Artisan]
Scientist *Life Sciences [Higher Ed] + Social Sciences [Higher Ed]
DoctorLife Sciences [Higher Ed] + [Medic]
Bio-EngineerLife Sciences [Higher Ed] + Hunting [Scout]
MusicianArts [Higher Ed] + Musicianship [Entertainer]
DancerArts [Higher Ed] + Dancing [Entertainer]

* = possible new profession

A sample skill tree for the Higher Education profession might look like this:

  • PH.D. (10 additional skill points)
  • ENGINEERING (Master of Engineering)
    • Physics (improves effectiveness of armor and weapons)
    • Computer Science (improves effectiveness of droid components)
    • Mechanics (improves effectiveness of harvesters)
    • Mathematics (improves effectiveness of crafted components)
  • LIFE SCIENCES (Master of Life Sciences)
    • Medicine (improves healing effectiveness)
    • Zoology (improves creature identification skills)
    • Botany (enhances food creation stats)
    • Chemistry (improves effectiveness of engineered tissues)
  • SOCIAL SCIENCES (Master of Social Sciences)
    • Military Science (10% bonus to all damage done when grouped)
    • Economics (allows access to Bazaar sales statistics)
    • Political Science (reduces city maintenance costs and taxes paid by 20%)
    • Linguistics (10% bonus to all interactions with factional NPCs)
  • ARTS (Master of Arts)
    • Architecture (allows customization of buildings)
    • Sculpture (additional image customizations)
    • Music (improves effectiveness of music)
    • Performing Arts (improves effectiveness of dancing)
  • NOVICE STUDENT (reduces cost of skills training by NPCs by 5%)

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Summary of Ideas

[2008/05/06 note: Although version 4 of this document was posted on February 26, 2004, the original version was posted on SOE’s official pre-launch forum in late 2002, and most changes were merely cosmetic. It’s sort of fascinating to see how many of the concepts described here made it into the Jump to Lightspeed expansion as actually implemented.]

I expect that "space" will be implemented as new areas that you can only reach either by taking off from a planet, or by emerging from hyperspace. Each planet will have a space area "around" it, and there may be other space areas that exist independently of planets. From a space area, you will be able to select a new destination from your ship's navigation system: either landing on a particular planet (if you are in a space area around that planet), or entering hyperspace to travel to a new space area. (Note: It is extremely unlikely that you will be able to travel through a planet's atmosphere to land "manually," due to the potential for griefing. Atmospheric flight remains a feature that most players want, however, so if it can be included it'll make a lot of people very happy.)

Some space areas should contain asteroid fields. It should be possible to land on sufficiently large asteroids (for mining, exploration, combat, etc.), and it might be intereting to permit houses to be placed on asteroids, although only special new "enclosed" types might be allowed. Allow gravity and sensor-jamming effects near stars (but also allow "burning up" if one gets too close to a star). Allow the "Kessel Run," and possibly something like "pod racing in space" where the goal is to navigate through an obstacle cource in the least time. Gas clouds, comets, and other stellar and interstellar objects should have appropriately entertaining effects on ships.

There should be a number of new skills added with the Space Expansion, possibly creating up to three new professions. The basic skills necessary for crafting ships, flying them, fighting in them, fixing them, and transporting cargo in them should be available as new starting professions. Appropriate skill trees (disciplines) within the new professions could include: Spacecraft Piloting, Spacecraft Navigation, Spacecraft Combat, Spacecraft Design, and Spacecraft Construction/Repair. (Please see my SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Proposed Skilltrees essay for more details on one way to implement these new skills.)

You should be able to walk around inside ships (especially capital ships, if implemented) just as you can walk around inside a house. (This is probably the single most popular player request.) A wide mix of ship types from the movies and Expanded Universe (EU) should be available to players. Among the most requested types of ships are: X-wing, Y-wing, A-wing, B-wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Bomber, TIE Interceptor, Z-95 Headhunter, YT-1300 (Millenium Falcon), YT-2400, Firespray-class policecraft (Slave Zero), Naboo starfighter, and Lambda-class shuttle. (Note: I'm well aware that, following the Star Wars universe timeline, not all of these ships are available in the period during which SWG is set. I've chosen to list these ships along with the others in case the developers feel that perfect fidelity to continuity is less important than having a rich fleet of starships to choose from.)

Spacecraft should be complex structures composed of multiple subsystems. Each subsystem should be a named physical unit that has attributes (quality, condition, max speed, damage type, etc.), and with a few exceptions and limitations can: 1) take damage, 2) be repaired, 3) be replaced, and 4) be upgraded. The key systems are: hull, engines (hyperdrive and sub-lightspeed engines, as well as power and fuel systems), weapons (lasers, ion guns, missiles/torpedoes, mines), and defenses (deflector shields and armor). Other possible starship systems could include: computers (including navicomp), sensors (and sensor-jamming or -faking devices), communications (and communications jammers), accomodations (crew berths and passenger staterooms), security (if ships can be boarded), cargo bays, and escape pods. Ships, like other in-game structures, will require regular maintenance payments in addition to repair, refit, and refueling costs. Speaking of refueling, some appropriate method of fueling starships will need to be devised that takes numerous points into account: refueling costs should be a near-constant price of engaging in spaceflight, but should also recognize that Star Wars is a high-tech universe (and thus presumably has high-tech energy energy sources); what happens if you "run out of gas" in space?; can you find fuel somewhere other than planets?; should there be different types of fuels with different effects?; and so on.

Normal space flight maneuvering and weapon firing will be controlled by mouse, probably with some keyboard controls as well (such as for thrust/braking). Joystick support would be welcome. The default button and key action assignments should be consistent with those provided for vehicle control (once that feature is implemented), but all keys and buttons used in the Space Expansion should be fully remappable. Displays should be uncluttered and easy to understand at a glance, with an audiovisual look-and-feel appropriate to the origin of the ship's electronics (in other words, a TIE fighter's HUD should look and sound different from that of an X-wing). Icons for ship-related functions and commands should be added to the existing list in the Actions screen. A ship's radar display should use appropriate color-coding and symbology to indicate the relative positionl, facing, lockon status, and faction of nearby ships.

A way to communicate with other ships that fits within continuity is vital. Players must be able to transmit nav coordinates (as waypoints) to each other's flight computers so that they can remain in formation after flight through hyperspace. It should be possible to target other ships or groups of ships on specific comm channels and send short pre-composed commands ("cover me!", "he's on your six!", etc.) through a hotkey. For players with sufficient connection bandwidth, voice communication would be appreciated.

Flying spacecraft will be "twitch"-based rather than purely RP. (Note: This has already been called "likely" by the developers, and is supported by existing video of game action.) In-flight maneuvering will be controlled by the player in normal space, while hyperspace flight plans will be pre-programmed into the navigation computer. Certain player skills or racial stats may affect some in-flight actions (turning speed, defensive bonuses, targeting bonuses, etc.). In particular, a Jedi player should receive bonuses to ship control and combat proportionate to his Jedi rank. For faster-than-light travel to another star system through hyperspace, the time required to correctly program a navigation computer should increase with distance to the target system and decrease based on the quality of the navigation computer and the Navigation skill of the player doing the programming. "Hasty" navigation should be possible, but should increase the chance of exiting from hyperspace in an unplanned location. There should always be some inaccuracy in where a ship exits hyperspace; this inaccuracy can be minimized (though never completely eliminated) by improving one's Navigation skills. Ships exiting hyperspace should never intersect an existing spacecraft, although a badly calculated (or unlucky) course may result in exiting hyperspace dangerously close to stellar objects such as asteroids and stars. (Question: should ships emerge from hyperspace with their facing and speed intact? Or should they emerge dead still and have to turn and speed up to go anywhere?)

Ship-mounted weapons should include those from the Star Wars movies; laser cannons and ion cannons in particular. Lasers should cause damage to other ships, while ion cannons should degrade the effectiveness of engines (and possibly other electronics). Various types of missiles (small, fast, variable accuracy), torpedoes (big, slow, highly accurate), and mines (contact, proximity, and time-delay) should be available to make tactics more interesting. Multiplayer ships larger than starfighters may have direct-fire turrets or batteries that can be controlled by a player. If it's possible to walk around on some ships, then let ships be able to dock with each other in space, and allow for boarding parties. Faction should determine whether a player-controlled ship can fire on or dock with another player-controlled ship without the targeted player's consent. (The rules for firing on or docking with NPC ships may vary slightly from this, but faction should still be considered.) The "lock-on" system currently used for ground combat should be sufficient for direct-fire weapons, but certain other weapons and commands should require "active" lock-ons in which it's not enough to merely target some object; your ship's targeting system must then acquire its own target lock. Once this is done, you should be able to use "fire-and-forget" weapons such as missiles and torpedoes, as well as attempt to break another ship's sensor jamming.

Ships should be made of standard sets of parts, which must be combined using schematics by someone with skills from the Spacecraft Construction discipline -- basically they're built using the same system by which architects build planetary structures. (They should also be able to build spacecraft-specific furnishings as architects do for houses. "Hey, where does this Nemoidian Birdcage go?") Some parts necessary for spacecraft should be relatively simple components that require Engineering skills from the Artisan profession (so they'll have a useful part to play in the Space Expansion). Spacecraft systems can be repaired and/or replaced, but you can't add new systems without a new design. A ship's owner should be allowed to place "decals" (selected from a very comprehensive pre-built list) on that ship to allow distinctiveness. (Or the owner might have to find a Spacecraft Constructor to do this in the same way that an Image Designer is necessary to change the appearance of player characters.) Ship hull types available should be those that can be purchased by players and PAs. Multiple configurations for certain hull types is a very popular player request -- players want to be able to have distinctive vehicles. Players might not be permitted to craft capital ships, such as Nebulon-B frigates, Mon Calamari cruisers, and Imperial Star Destroyers, but the rare inclusion of these ships in some way (possibly NPC-commanded, or controlled by Live Team members for special events) would be hugely entertaining in creating that "Star Wars" feeling. If capital ships can be constructed by players, require that construction take place in (probably orbital) spacecraft construction yards.

Freighters should be one of the available ship types that offer some number of "spaces" for carrying items (similar to item counts in houses). If being able to move around inside ships is not implemented, then there should be a communications subsystem that allows goods to be bought and sold electronically and "automatically" moved into and out of the cargo hold. It should be possible to carry passengers, although this system will need to be carefully constructed to minimize grief play (e.g., "kidnapping" other players instead of taking them where they want to go). If walking around on ships is implemented, it should be possible to craft starships with multiple staterooms of varying quality; NPCs and players could then require appropriate levels of accomodation when traveling (and pay accordingly). It should be possible to carry vehicles on board a ship, cargo space permitting. Finally, one of the most-requested features has been hidden cargo spaces (for smuggling).

The Space Expansion should open up many new missions that occur in space or require objects or skills specifically related to the Space Expansion. Missions that require space travel or space-related skills should be selectable at terminals related to space assets: starports, space stations, and communications terminals inside ships themselves. There should be a good mix of missions: escort, rescue, and straight faction-based combat for those who want to fly starfighters primarily, and delivery missions (including smuggling) of freight, cargo, and passengers. (Note that "freight" is merchandise you transport for someone else for a flat fee, while "cargo" is merchandise you speculatively buy on Planet A and sell on Planet B in the hope of making a profit.) Other missions should be available for those players who want to work in space but who either can't afford or don't want to own and operate their own spacecraft -- survey, salvage, and exploration missions, for example. Space Expansion missions should also be integrated into the "player missions" system when/if that's implemented.

The possibility of large and complex capital ships being available as places to adventure is broadly and strongly supported. Space stations would also be nice to have. Another concept with fairly vocal support (but some disagreement) is that military-class ships should only be available to overt faction players. Astromech droids (like R2-D2) should be allowed to improve the status of and enhance the effectiveness of ship systems. There should be minigames such as Dejarik (the game popularly known as "holochess") available for playing on multiplayer ships. Ships should be able to carry ore from asteroid mining operations. Ships should broadcast ID codes (possibly with IFF) from a "black box" transponder, but it might be possible to alter that ID code (for a high price, a short time, and with severe penalties if caught). Capital ships destroyed in space should leave behind some wreckage out of which a few useful items might be salvaged -- possibly a "/salvage" command similar to the "/forage"-type commands could be applied.

Other options not really expected but that would be nice to have include: atmospheric flight and manual landing (not likely given the programming effort required and opportunity for griefing), planetary bombardment (needs anti-griefing limits that may make it too unrealistic), mine-laying, PA ownership of capital ships, and commodore- or admiral-level control of multi-ship fleets.

Friday, February 20, 2004

SWG: Modified Jedi Progression

If we're going to rethink what Jedi do, we need to spend a little time thinking about who Jedi are. What is it about Jedi that really makes them distinct from everyone else, and how can we incorporate these differences into SWG?


There is a simple and well-known two word sentence that tells you everything you need to know about Jedi: "Power corrupts."

Power is seductive; when you have it, you want more. For some people, power changes from being a means to some end to being an end in and of itself. Instead of using power to achieve a goal, power is used to gain more power. When this happens, the person or institution wielding that power has become corrupt.

What makes this corruption so seductive is that it's always so easy to rationalize the quest for more power. "Well, if it [a dictatorship] works...." "Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son."

Some people are able to resist this temptation. For whatever reason, some people are so constituted as to recognize the importance of limits to individual power, and to voluntarily impose those limits on themselves, even at those times when greater power is most desirable.

Not everyone can be so strong. Sooner or later, everyone succumbs to the whispers... "Take your Jedi weapon and strike me down with all of your hatred." "I wasn't strong enough... but I promise, I won't fail again."

Power corrupts.


In the world of Star Wars, both these elements of power and choice are always present for a Jedi. Training in the Force confers ever greater power on a person, but with that power comes the responsibility of choice -- not merely of when and how to use the power of the Force, but the more difficult choice of when not to use it.

Those who choose restraint when temptation beckons remain Jedi. Those who yield take their first step down the path to the Dark Side.

Ultimately, being a Jedi is quite simple. The lessons take many forms, and can be painfully hard to learn, but in the end there are only two lessons.

The first and easier lesson is how to use the Force. The second and vastly more difficult lesson is when to use the Force. When you're a Jedi, every situation is an opportunity -- and a challenge -- to learn these two lessons.

Progression through the ranks of the Jedi is based on the student's demonstration of ability and understanding of these two lessons. Much attention is given to learning Force abilities and improving in their use. This obvious manifestation of the Force is what most people see, and what most Jedi novices focus on (since without ability there's nothing to control). But as a Jedi advances, he must begin to show restraint in the use of the Force and demonstrate that he understands why this restraint is necessary.

The Jedi trials are designed to test the Jedi's mastery of these two aspects of the use of the Force. Within each level, a Jedi is expected to learn and demonstrate ability in a defined set of skills. When the learner's teacher feels the student has advanced sufficiently to earn the next rank, a mastery test will be administered in which the student's understanding of when to use the Force is assessed along with proficiency. Students who fail to demonstrate a proper understanding of when and why to limit one's use of power, or who fail key proficiency tests, will not be advanced.


Bearing the above in mind, there are two sets of features that need to be implemented. One is the system of Jedi powers; this is already in the game and looks OK, so no need to change this. The other necessary feature is the set of trials designed to test the student's understanding of the proper use of Jedi powers.

The first item -- Force powers -- has already been implemented. But when to actually use these powers should also be considered when generating answers to the list of developer questions about Jedi.

NPCs players might interact with throughout the quest

A Jedi goes wherever she's needed in the service of freedom. (Or, in the case of Dark Jedi, in the service of order through force.) In other words, there's no such thing as a "typical" Jedi interaction. Jedi must speak and work with people from all walks of life, from the high to the low, from warriors to scholars to crafters to entertainers, from kings to farmers and all points in between -- whatever it takes to accomplish their mission.

Progression quests and trial ideas

Typically a Jedi trial is a requirement for the student to confront some menace. In most cases this menace should take some external form that mirrors the student's greatest internal temptation. This will test the student's readiness to responsibly use the greater powers granted at the next level of mastery.

Within SWG, some of a player's typical behaviors should be recorded, then analyzed when a trial is needed. If a player has a habit of attacking anything and everything with his lightsaber no matter what his surroundings, the quest might be to locate and eliminate a monster threatening some villagers... except that the "monster" is actually just the manifested dreams of one of the village's children, and destroying the monster by whipping out one's lightsaber will cause the student to fail the test. (The correct answer would be to use Force Awareness to locate the true source of the disturbance, then use the appropriate non-combat Force power to solve the real problem.)

Similarly, a player whose typical reaction is to run from perceived danger might be required to risk death by actually battling a real monster. A player whose dedication to the Light side is to be tested should be required to refrain from use of the Force rescue friends or even to save her own life; a Dark side player would fail a test by showing mercy to a weaker opponent.

In all cases the test of Force understanding will take the form most likely to require the student to act against his nature (as determined by monitoring what the player typically does). Only when the student can control himself can he be trusted to control his use of the power of the Force.

What skills a Jedi might use on these quests

The usual lot: Force Awareness, Force Push, Force Pull, Force Speed, Force Heal, Force Reflection, Force Grip, Force Absorb, and Force Lightning are the ones that come to mind.

Quests for different profession types, for instance, social quests, explorer quests, combat quests, etc.

I don't think there should be different quests based on a player's other professions. Different types of quests for different types of other players are fine, but they should all be thought of and structured to be Jedi quests.

To paraphrase West Side Story: "When you're a Jedi, you're a Jedi all the way."

Jedi Titles earned through the quests from Force Sensitivity to Jedi master

Guardian, Padawan, Sentinel, Scholar, Consular, Knight, Master, Savant, Dispatch, all with "Jedi" or "Force" stuck in front. In particular I'd like to see four separate lines (disciplines?) through the Jedi skills -- maybe Offensive (Grip, Lightning), Defensive (Reflection, Absorb), Manipulation (Push, Pull, Speed), and Sensitivity (Awareness, Healing). Each discipline would have its own trainee titles for each the four levels -- for example, the titles of the Sensitivity discipline (beyond the "Force Sensitive" novice skill box) might be:

Jedi Initiate -> Jedi Seeker -> Jedi Scholar -> Jedi Savant

Another possibility would be to restrict Force users from advancing more than one level above any existing level. That is, you wouldn't be able to learn a Level Two skill until you'd learned all four Level One skills. Additionally, once all Level One skills are learned it would be necessary to pass the appropriate trial to open up the Level Two skill boxes.

In this case, progression through the skill tree would be keyed to the well-known level titles (plus a new title for level 2):

Force Sensitive -> Jedi Padawan (1) -> Jedi ? (2) -> Jedi (3) -> Jedi Knight (4) -> Jedi Master

Still, it would be interesting to see Jedi recognized for something other than fighting prowess (although all Jedi should be required to demonstrate fighting skills). I find the notion of progressing from Jedi Scholar to Jedi Savant fascinating!

Sunday, February 15, 2004

SWG: The Imperial Stormtrooper Water Ballet Team

So far I definitely approve of the Imperial crackdown -- it's a much-needed boost to the Star Warsy-ness of this game. I thought I'd share a couple of the experiences I've had that lead me to this conclusion.

My first sign that something was different came a few minutes after I logged in for the first time following the Imperial Crackdown code patches. I had just stepped outside the front door of my house to check on a wind harvester when I heard an odd sound... the sound of a starship. "That's funny," I thought. "How can there be ships out here? I'm nowhere near a city."

As I looked around, I realized that a Lambda-class shuttle had just landed a few meters away. Suddenly out from the back of the shuttle poured a column of Imperial stormtroopers!

As the shuttle took off, I ran back to my house. (I'm neutral, but these guys might not appreciate that, I thought.) From my doorstep, I could see the troopers lined up in a formation, not moving. They didn't seem inclined to open fire on me, and they didn't appear to be coming after me to check my ID, so after a minute or two I calmed down and went back to my usual routine.

Following this I needed to go to Tatooine. While I was there I visited Mos Espa... but I don't recommend it. First, it took so long to log in there after the shuttle trip that I thought my link had gone dead. When I finally appeared, there were so many Imperial troops milling around in the street that my frame rate plummeted to approximately 1 frame per second. Trying to move was so painful I headed back onto the shuttle as quickly as possible. It was nice to see the strong Imperial presence, but the frame rate just can't survive the number of troopers in Mos Espa.

OK, now jump forward a day. I'm back in my home on Naboo after the trip to Tatooine, and I've just logged back in. I walk outside to check on my equipment factory when I see five or six Maulers on the other side. I try to sneak up to my factory, hoping that the Maulers (like Trade Avengers and swamp rats) will continue not to notice me like they haven't for the past few weeks... but it's no good; they aggro on me and start firing.

I can just barely hold my own against a full Mauler if I'm lucky, but there were a pair of them after me. I raced back to my house... when with a shock I realized the stormtroopers were still there.

And then a funny idea occured to me. On my way back home from Tatooine a different group of Maulers had chased me into a nest of shaupauts. After I'd managed to get away I noticed that the shaupauts had attacked the Maulers.

Now here was another bunch of Maulers after me... and another group of mobs who could protect themselves was nearby. "Hey, maybe stormtroopers don't like Maulers, either," I thought, and with the Maulers on my heels I changed course and ran right into the middle of the stormtrooper formation.

In seconds, my prayers were answered as every trooper opened fire. Weapons blazing, the troopers converged on the Maulers. After thirty seconds of brightly colored laser bolts filling the air, both Maulers were smoking corpses on my front lawn. Briefly raising their hands into the air in celebration, the stormtroopers then calmly returned to their staging area by my front door.

"Great!" I thought. "I can just keep leading the Maulers back here, and the stormtroopers will finish them off for me." But no. After a moment's pause, every stormtrooper continued walking... straight into the river that flows in front of my house. In seconds, what had been a crack squad of death-dealing Imperial warriors had become a water ballet team, complete with synchronized swimming moves straight out of an Ethel Merman movie.

Fortunately for me the stormtroopers had called in a few of their pals to the other side of my house. In a small group were a couple of lieutenants, an exterminator, a swamp trooper, and a random stormtrooper. So for thirty minutes I led respawning Maulers to their doom -- I'd wander over, get one or two of them to aggro on me, and lead them back to the Imperials who made short work of them. Eventually the Maulers quit respawning and I was able to manage my factory in peace.

Bottom line: I'm no longer afraid of being harassed by Imperial troops. Rather than fearing them, I now regard these stormtroopers as my own personal home security system. Cool.

One other funny thing happened, however. As I was checking some harvesters on the other bank of the river (where the Imperial water ballet team was still in action), a rogue faamba appeared. Given my pretty good /maskscent I wasn't worried for my personal safety, but I did notice that the swimming stormtroopers seemed to be getting closer and closer to the faamba.

Sure enough, they finally got a little too close for the faamba's comfort, and he waded into the water. Suddenly the stormtroopers realized their peril and opened fire. Oddly, they were able to do so while in the water -- they'd stand up as though they were on land, fire one shot, then go back to swimming.

Eventually the faamba succumbed to the massed fire of the stormtroopers... at which point they went right back to their synchronized swimming routine.

So developers -- for all the grief and whining you get from this board, here's one player who's fairly pleased with what you've accomplished in the Imperial crackdown. Please keep on coming up with such interesting NPC behaviors!

Especially if they help me stay in business.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Player Contracts +

Let's look at the sigh-inducing problem of griefing with respect to the system of player contracts as I've suggested it. How can this system be hardened against the exploiters?

The main thing to note is that I think of a contract as having three "boxes" into which anything (usually goods or money) can go:

  • Payoff Account -- what you pay when the contract is activated
  • Provision Account -- what you get when the contract is activated
  • Penalty Account -- what either player gets if the other player breaks the contract
Assuming there was a way to allow purchased items to be transferred from a waiting Bazaar terminal to a contract Provision Account (something I didn't think of but that is an excellent idea), the contract would be loaded up in something like the following way:

The Payoff Account would contain the 1000 credits you offer for delivering the hat. The moment the contract is accepted this money would be transferred from your bank account to the contract's Payoff Account. (If you don't have enough cash in your bank account at that instant to pay off the deal, it never happens. This helps increase trust in the system.)

The Provision Account would contain the hat you purchased. Note that the player who takes the delivery contract never actually has the hat itself as an inventory item. It's considered to be "stored" in the contract's "inventory" to which players don't have any access -- the system itself automatically handles all transfers if it decides that a contract has been successfully activated (or restoration of items/money if it decides that a contract has been broken).

The Penalty Account would hold whatever sum you and the contracting player decided was fair as a penalty for failure to meet the other terms of the contract. To insure you against having your time wasted, you could set the Penalty amount at 1,000 credits. To take the deal, a contracting player would have to put up 500 credits (and so would you). This money would be transferred from each player's bank account the instant both parties agree to the deal -- this insures that the penalty can and will definitely be paid if anything happens that breaks the contract. Again, the point is to help players trust that the game system itself will fairly and impartially enforce any and all commitments made by participants in a contract.

So when a player honors this particular contract, several things happen:

  • the 1000 credits in the Payoff Account are transferred to the other player's bank account
  • the hat in the Provision Account is transferred into your bank vault (or personal inventory)
  • the 500 credits each of you paid into the Penalty Account are restored to your bank accounts
  • the contract documents are deleted from both your inventories
But what about those without honor? Well, if a contracting player decides that he just wants to annoy you, several things happen the moment he breaks the contract:

  • the 1000 credits in the Payoff Account goes right back into your bank account
  • the hat in the Provision Account goes back to the Bazaar terminal from whence it came
  • the 1000 credits in the Penalty Account gets deposited into your bank account
  • the contract documents are deleted from both your inventories
In other words, if a would-be griefer breaks your contract everything gets reset to exactly where it was before you wrote the contract -- the hat is still available to you and you're not out a single credit (since the 1500 you paid into the Payoff and Penalty accounts is restored to your bank account). There are only two differences:

  1. You're out however many minutes it took for all this to happen.
  2. The griefer lost 500 credits and you've got them.
The obvious potential problem here is that a rich griefer could run around taking contracts he has no intention of fulfilling. This is easily minimized: don't let anyone become a contracting player for more than N contracts (where N is some low number like 5 or 2). Player should probably be allowed to offer as many contracts as they like, since the fact that they have to put up goods or money in the Payoff account up front will tend to limit how many contracts they can offer.

From the griefer's point of view, the only practical result of griefing someone would be that they themselves lose money nearly every time they break a contract -- the griefed party wouldn't be out anything but a little time (during which they were somewhere else doing other other things). I suspect this setup would tend to limit griefage pretty effectively.