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The calculator is greater than the sword

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I started writing this in response to this post, but decided to take it a step beyond the original topic. I've written posts on topics similar to this one, but I decided to focus my "number crunching is the devil" message on the PvP elements of MMOs. I've started out discussing the cap-less advancement the original post is themed towards by relating the way my favorite MUD handled it, and moved on to what it meant for PvP. Here is what I started (and will now finish) writing: I used to play a MUD (the MUD if you ask me), called Dragonrealms. DR really didn't have any caps (to my knowledge). Your level was based on your skills, in that to level up you had to work various skills designated by your (NPC) guildleader. He/she would say "Work your ability to maneuver in chain armor, your 2 handed mace ability, your ability to harness magic, and your mechanical lore", and so to level up you'd have to have creatures swing at you while you were wearing chain armor, presumably swinging back with your 2 handed mace, and in your off-combat time practice harnessing your magic and crush things up and combine them using a mortar and a pestle along with some reagents. The exp system was a little more complex in that you were essentially raising your skill's level (a percentage with a floating tail), but there was an innovated "experience absorption" system in which repeatability merely gave your character more to think about to eventually absorb the knowledge/practice he/she attained by repeating these practices into the numerical values over time (through hidden bursts). Anyway, even if there was a level cap (and again I don't think there was), your level only contributed to you getting more/better abilities and increasing your base stats. Concievably (though near impossible in practice), a level 1 could take out a level 60 because the level 1 could raise his/her combat skills indefinitely, though magic would definitely be an issue as the level 1 wouldn't have much stamina and thus not be able to take many (unavoidable) hits. But that was the cool part, was that your level didn't govern how powerful you were, though it certainly contributed to it. So if you wanted to be the most powerful character in the game, you'd damn well be training any of a dozen aspects of combat to levels greater than any other player in the game, as well as your level. Even if you were level 80, a level 60 could take you in straight, no-magic combat if his/her melee weapon skill, evasion skill, armor skill, parry skill, (optional) shield skill, and (optional) crossbow skill were significantly greater than yours, even though your reflexes, strength, stamina, and agility were higher. All of this made for unlimited development in the most interesting areas. For example, my thief didn't progress too fast, because the majority of my time was spent in combat and flirting with girls (I was 13, so sue me). And while my sword, parry, and dodge skills were good and my strength and stamina were decent, my light crossbow skill and my agility and reflexes were great. This meant that one day as we were fighting (what were really difficult for us at the time) death spirits, I could not stand at melee with the thing and hope to survive long, much less score a blow with my cutlass. However on a flash shot (as in not aimed at all) I managed to take the things head off with a single shot of my crossbow (with blessed bolts, of course). Needless to say, my companions were impressed (I really just got lucky, that kinda thing didn't happen too often). What really made this interesting in PvP was the fact that you really had no idea how knowing how powerful an opponent was, and the fact that PvP was discouraged and thus didn't happen too often. If you killed other players frequently, you would both gain a reputation for being a PK'er (and thus taken out by the other players), and possibly solicit a visit from the GMs (with subsequent game suspensions). So while I might walk up to the person wearing simple leather armor, and nothing more than a backpack, a sheath, and a crossbow (a common item to keep with you as you could wear them loaded), and you might be decked out in exceptionally fancy plate armor, a very expensive cloak of swirling colors, and carrying a well balanced and sharpened axe, this simple person of unkown profession, level, and skill might well finish you off with a simple, well-placed jab of his simple short sword. So if you're going to attack someone, you'd better be familiar with this person by reputation enough to know what he/she frequently hunts if you want any indication of how ell you can kill him/her. It's for this reason (and that death in DR was a huge thing, especially after they took away the cleric's ability to resurrect) that PvP didn't take place too often, because often times, you just didn't know. The point is this. In WoW, I know right away what my chance of survival is in one on one PvP. I can see my opponents class and level (as long as he/she isn't like 10 levels above me). I know that if it's a rogue or a warrior of no more than 2 or 3 levels above me, I've already won provided nothing goes horribly wrong. I know if it's a druid or a shaman 2 or 3 levels below me or above, the battle will be tough and I likely won't survive (can you tell I'm a mage?). I know if it's a priest, I'm turning it into a sheep and running because it's simply too iffy and I'm not going to bother. What's cool is that the game largely comes down to skill in all but those one-sided battles (a warrior 4 or 5 levels above me is a challenge and I probably won't survive, but if I play it right and he/she isn't super good, I do stand a chance). A good warlock can put enough DoT on me such that if my Ice Block isn't ready, even if I do kill him/her that I'm dead regardless of the fight. A poor warlock falls in seconds. So while the game does often come down to skill, I can pretty much gauge my chances given the standard deviation of how the battle's skill-dependence (even non-skilled shaman are tough for me). And why is this? The numbers. I know exactly how much damage I can dish out, I know about how many hit points a warrior around my level should have, I know how long I can stun him for and how often, I know (roughly) his chances for resist, and I know there's not a darn thing he can do when he's a sheep or frozen but sit there and wait for my next nuke to take more of his life away and slow his ascension upon me (which will only get him re-frozen or swinging at the air as I've already teleported (blinked) past him). It's a more complex version of rock, paper, and scissors, offset by (an albeit significant) amount of skill. It's of course still fun, especially since I've refined my techniques for various situations and can usually stay at the top of my team in battlegrounds, and that there's still a chance for me to die, but it can be better. How? By taking away the numbers. When you hit someone in DR, you don't know how hard and how much life he/she has left. You're given an approximation of the hit (you score a light hit that lightly scratches the left arm, or you've scored a hard hit that causes a deep laceration in the light arm), which his a pretty good indication of the damage you've dealt, but it is by no means an indication of where the fight has left to go. And going into the fight you have even less indication than that. My WoW warrior knows the exact range of damage each hit his axe is going to do (minus the 10-25% of armor absorption that could take place), and that his heroic strike ability adds X onto that. They even calculate the damage per second (DPS) you should be doing with the weapon for you. Of course there is variability, but you can pretty much gauge how much damage your first few hits have done to give you a pretty reliable estimate of how much damage you have left to deal. In DR, an appraisal (a skill based task, I might add) yields the following information: How the weapon is balanced How the weapon is weighted How the weapon is suited for puncture damage How the weapon is suited for slashing damage How the weapon is suited for blunt damage It's easy to compare two weapons for your warrior when one does 45 DPS and has +12 to intellect and the other does 49 DPS and has +8 to strength and +4 to stamina. But which weapon do you chose when one is well balanced, decently weighted, does great puncture damage, decent slashing damage, and poor blunt damage, vs. one that is poorly balanced, extremely well weighted, poor puncture damage, excellent slashing damage, and good blunt damage. Well, for that you have to weigh the situation. Against a lightly armored opponent, you probably want that quick, well-balanced scimitar that you can get some quick hits in on and hopefully puncture the armor. Against the plate-wearing tank, you probably want that massive axe so you have some chance of getting through the armor absorption. Against a thick skinned troll, take the axe. Against a swift moving sprite, take the sword. Of course you're going to have to take into consideration that you only have 80 skill with the axe as opposed to 140 with the sword, and the fact that your strength is much higher than your agility, so you're going to land stronger blows as opposed to frequent blows. The point here is that strategy should be situational, not mathematical. Don't get me wrong, I love WoW. I love all the skill that goes into it. In fact, I'd even say it's much more skill-dependent than Dreagonrealms. DR was still fun to play, especially combat when you had to weigh in balance and position when choosing whether to jab, thrust, chop, bash, slice, draw, etc. as each would perform better in various situations, but WoW really takes the cake here. If I'm to beat a warrior, I've got to open with a fireblast to prevent a charge from critically stunning me, then open up with a polymorph (which will regrettably heal the warrior to full), backup, chain frostbolts until the warrior is close enough for a cone of cold (which I then do), fireblast (instant fire damage), frost nova (which freezes him/her in place), backup, and repeat until dead (or edges are golden brown and crisp). So I guess in writing this, I guess both games have their strengths over the other. WoW with its great emphasis on skill, and DR with its obscure and complex skill system. I suppose the ideal game would have a marriage of both. Still, I suppose there are many out there who enjoy crunching to find the ideal gear, the ideal spells, the ideal combinations for maximum power. I found DR to be much more relaxing, as it was very possible that I wasn't using the absolute greatest sword available to me. My sword sufficed, and if I wasn't dealing enough damage, I simply worked on my defensive skills. If I wasn't dealing significant damage, I worked my offensive skills. Very rarely did I swap equipment out in DR. In WoW I do it constantly (less os with my mage than my warrior). Well, perhaps I'm a different type of gamer than the norm. I like not knowing all the exact numbers, knowing that this is better than that, or that this skill is useless compared to this other one. I like not knowing if I can take so-and-so in a straight up PvP fight, regardless of the fact that he's 12 levels higher than me. He probably can, but ya never know. A well placed crossbow bolt... Anyway, comment as you will. EDIT: Heh, I didn't even see this post on the main game design page. That's kinda funny. Checking out this other post now.

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Just because the mud didn't show the numbers, doesn't mean they don't exist, and wouldn't be determined by some dedicated and/or bright players. Also, adding more "take his head off with a lucky shot" is interesting, and lessens the 'numbers' game a bit, but adds a lot more luck and randomness to the game. Luck and randomness hurt the strategic elements of any game.

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Original post by Telastyn
Just because the mud didn't show the numbers, doesn't mean they don't exist, and wouldn't be determined by some dedicated and/or bright players.


True, but the average player would not go to such lengths, and thus for many the numbers would remain hidden. Only the most hardcore players would be playing the number game, and with a heavy level of speculation at that. The WoW community still isn't entirely sure exactly how much intellect increases your chance to crit on spells, though they speculate that somewhere between 50 and 100 (100 being the more widely accepted) more intellect gives you 0.01% more chance to crit. And the cool thing about DR is, because the combat system was much more complicated, determinig the factors of one sword compared to another would be very difficult, as the creature's reflexes, armor, evasion skill and whatnot (which all might fluctuate per creature) must be taken into consideration as well as your character's sword skill, agility, balance, position, let alone the stats on the sword. Combine that with the fact that there are hundreds of different weapons and I welcome you to develop a comprehensive set of statistics (though I believe for DR they actually did, based on leaked figures).

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Also, adding more "take his head off with a lucky shot" is interesting, and lessens the 'numbers' game a bit, but adds a lot more luck and randomness to the game. Luck and randomness hurt the strategic elements of any game.


Well, it was indeed a lucky shot, but was only possible given my skill with the crossbow. The fact that it was the spirit's head was incidental. The fact that it was "taken off" was irrelevent, as it was merely a head shot that turned out to be a killing blow. I'm not even sure if that's the exact wording (this was like 6 years ago). A tougher creature could have recieved the same shot in the same location and survived. The only level of luck and randomness came in how hard I hit that death spirit and the fact that I hit it in the head (which may or may not contribute more heavily towards killing the creature. I'm not sure how the mechanics worked as they were hidden [wink]).

Thanks for your response!

[Edited by - CyberSlag5k on June 23, 2005 3:33:28 PM]

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True, but the average player would not go to such lengths


Only one player ever needs to [and then post the results online]. It's the same with pirating games. Not everyone needs to know how to crack a game in order to 'benefit' from the results. In fact, if you look at it, finding the equation for damage dealing and the equation to generate a CD key are almost exactly the same. We've all seen how well CD key algorithms stay secret...

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Original post by Telastyn
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True, but the average player would not go to such lengths


Only one player ever needs to [and then post the results online]. It's the same with pirating games. Not everyone needs to know how to crack a game in order to 'benefit' from the results. In fact, if you look at it, finding the equation for damage dealing and the equation to generate a CD key are almost exactly the same. We've all seen how well CD key algorithms stay secret...


Indeed. I suppose the argument I was trying to make is that it won't be a mainstream practice. As I said, I'm pretty sure figures such as those exsited for Dragonrealms, but I never came acrossed them. I don't have much of a problem with other players running numbers on their own, it is enough for me to simply not have them be common knowledge. The average player isn't going to dig up tables on the internet, and with enough equipment, those tables won't likely exist for every piece of equipment in the game, as gathering them does involve a degree of meticulousness and some guess work. And they are only pieces of a much greater puzzle.

I don't know, perhaps people will. But if they did for Dragonrealms, I'm certainly not very aware of it, short of what I've heard, and it wasn't mainstream enough for me to even consider worrying about it. I stuck with my razor-edged cutlass and light crossbow, because they served me well. I increased in power along the way because my strength, agility, reflexes, and stamina increased, along with my skill in those weapons. There was no "this sword is way better than that sword, there's no reason to use that sword" for me, and that's the way I liked it.

Perhaps that's just me.

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And let's take it a bit beyond the player's perspective for a moment. Let's look at all the content in games that simply doesn't get used because it is commonly known to be inferior to other content. Take battlegrounds in WoW, for example. Apparently, a great many players are forsaking Alterac valley because the honor recieved from winning a 2 hour match of alterac is nothing compared to winning four 30 minute matches of warsong gulch. Players have simply run the numbers. Now if players didn't know excactly how much honor was yielded from both, they would probably play alterac if they had the time. But the information is staring them right in the face.

Or what about all the skills in Diablo 2 that never got points put in them beyond those needed to get to other skills because they were simply worthless in the end-game. Granted a maxed-out fireball would still be worthless in hell mode, that's a simple flaw (alleviated partially by the synergy patch), but would there not be many players that would be happily hurling (and I'm just making up the figures here) 3 350 damage firebolts a second, not knowing they could be hurling 2 400 damage fireballs per second for equivalent mana? They might just not notice if the numbers were that close and staring them in the face.

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Original posts by CyberSlag5k
Your level was based on your skills, in that to level up you had to work various skills designated by your (NPC) guildleader. [..detail snipped..]


Mmm, sounds like the grind that got transferred over to MMORPGs. ;)

Is the exp system (and their combat system?) detailed anywhere? It sounds quite interesting.

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But that was the cool part, was that your level didn't govern how powerful you were, though it certainly contributed to it.


Personally I don't think that's cool. I think that's a failing of their system. Levels are often talked about as being quite restrictive, or being a lazy design, but in truth they are really a very effective game mechanism. In one unified concept you address player rankings, measurement of achievement, abstract goals to attain, a major component in skill/combat resolution, and stratified distribution of skills or abilities. If you then make the level largely unimportant, you lose a lot of those benefits and mislead people new to the game. I think you should either use levels 'properly' and have them exhibit a very high correlation to ability, or remove them entirely and track all the above variables using different methods.

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What really made this interesting in PvP was the fact that you really had no idea how knowing how powerful an opponent was, and the fact that PvP was discouraged and thus didn't happen too often.


Arguably though, this happens on a level-based game anyway, especially if your PvP range is restricted to a small number of levels either side of your own, and you don't know what equipment they're using (etc).

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But which weapon do you chose when one is well balanced, decently weighted, does great puncture damage, decent slashing damage, and poor blunt damage, vs. one that is poorly balanced, extremely well weighted, poor puncture damage, excellent slashing damage, and good blunt damage.


You've not really taken away the numbers. You just replaced interval or ratio data with ordinal data. Your adjectives will be ranked and compared just like the upper and lower bounds of a weapon's damage rolls are compared. You go on to talk about weighing the situation, and how that makes the game fun, but that is really independent of how you choose to present the data to the players.

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The average player isn't going to dig up tables on the internet


I think that you're wrong, given that more and more players are joining guilds in these games and the guilds inevitably push players towards whatever information will empower them.

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Now if players didn't know excactly how much honor was yielded from both, they would probably play alterac if they had the time. But the information is staring them right in the face.


I suppose you can argue in favour of hiding statistics in order to hide problems with your content. ;) Personally I'd rather try and fix the underappreciated content. Also, even if you hide the values, people will avoid certain areas based on 'superstition', where they've guessed the values, rightly or wrongly. You can also add in some sort of auto-balancing system where commonly-used areas yield progressively less gold/exp/loot/whatever to encourage people to migrate.

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Original post by Kylotan
Is the exp system (and their combat system?) detailed anywhere? It sounds quite interesting.


I did a big post on DR here if you're interested, but here's what you're looking for from it:

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Another cool thing about DR was the way skills go up. Let's take medium edged weapons. You aren't going to go up in skill each time you swing your weapon, or after swinging your weapon X number of times (not directly anyway). How it works is there is a time-based experience absorption system in place. So you swing and swing and swing and swing and as you check your experience, you'll notice your learning status in that particular skill go from clear to learning to concentrating to pondering (those two may be switched, it's been a few years) to muddled to very muddled to perplexing to bewildered to mind locked. Once you're mind locked you cannot learn any more without taking time to rest your mind/muscles and rest/reflect upon what you've learned. You don't need to be mind locked, you'll learn from anything beyond learning, but mind locked represents the most learning.

Now, let's say we get our ME (medium edged) up to muddled and then go in for a breather and some healing. Oh and there's no generic hit points here, kids. you receive wounds in specific areas and as they get worse your performance gets worse. So if you sustain serious leg injuries, you may have trouble moving and maneurvering in combat. If you sustain a nasty wound you may start bleeding at a varied rate and if you cannot tend the wound well enough you'll eventually bleed to death. To clear these up you need to visit an empath which is....a non combat class! That's right, empaths CAN'T enter into combat. Not at all. Well, technically they can but they don't 'cause they lose their abilities for doing so. So, not only do you NOT have to fight creatures to level up (although for the first couple dozen levels almost all classes have some sort of combat requirements for advancement), but a few actually can't.

Anyway, while the empath is healing your wounds, your character has a chance to think of all he/she's learned and THAT's when your skills go up. It's not instantaneous, either, but they go by spurts based on your wisdom, intelligence, and discipline. So every now and then you'll receive like 0.12 more towards your next skill. Of course that 0.12 from being a muddled spurt will decrease as your skill goes up, so if you have a really high skill it may only go up 0.01 from being mind locked (ahh glorious, hideous repetition. you are a cruel mistress indeed). What an innovative advancement system, eh?


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But that was the cool part, was that your level didn't govern how powerful you were, though it certainly contributed to it.


Personally I don't think that's cool. I think that's a failing of their system. Levels are often talked about as being quite restrictive, or being a lazy design, but in truth they are really a very effective game mechanism. In one unified concept you address player rankings, measurement of achievement, abstract goals to attain, a major component in skill/combat resolution, and stratified distribution of skills or abilities. If you then make the level largely unimportant, you lose a lot of those benefits and mislead people new to the game. I think you should either use levels 'properly' and have them exhibit a very high correlation to ability, or remove them entirely and track all the above variables using different methods.


Ah, sorry, I guess I emphasized that poorly. As I said, levels play a big part of how powerful your character is. Your stats go up (stats govern just about everything on some level) and your character gets new/better ability. My point was, though, that while levels are incredibly significant, they are not all there is to the game. When I said a lower level character could beat a higher level one, I meant that it was possible, but unlikely. The lower level would have to have much higher skill numbers (yes, those are shown) than the higher.

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But which weapon do you chose when one is well balanced, decently weighted, does great puncture damage, decent slashing damage, and poor blunt damage, vs. one that is poorly balanced, extremely well weighted, poor puncture damage, excellent slashing damage, and good blunt damage.


You've not really taken away the numbers. You just replaced interval or ratio data with ordinal data. Your adjectives will be ranked and compared just like the upper and lower bounds of a weapon's damage rolls are compared. You go on to talk about weighing the situation, and how that makes the game fun, but that is really independent of how you choose to present the data to the players.


You have a point here, the numbers are still there and still shown but in a more vague representation (I'm not sure if there's a difference between two "goods" or "poors"). So yeah, I did deviate from the main idea here.

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The average player isn't going to dig up tables on the internet


I think that you're wrong, given that more and more players are joining guilds in these games and the guilds inevitably push players towards whatever information will empower them.


Perhaps. With the broarder audience WoW has brought to the table, this may yet to be seen, though I think you are, in fact, right.

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Now if players didn't know excactly how much honor was yielded from both, they would probably play alterac if they had the time. But the information is staring them right in the face.


I suppose you can argue in favour of hiding statistics in order to hide problems with your content. ;) Personally I'd rather try and fix the underappreciated content. Also, even if you hide the values, people will avoid certain areas based on 'superstition', where they've guessed the values, rightly or wrongly. You can also add in some sort of auto-balancing system where commonly-used areas yield progressively less gold/exp/loot/whatever to encourage people to migrate.


Touche.

Thanks for your input, Kylotan.

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There was no "this sword is way better than that sword, there's no reason to use that sword" for me,


And this is the base argument. Wether a weapon is useful or not, wether it is in essence obsoleted by another weapon is something game designers can control. Hiding the numbers doesn't cause that though. If one weapon is better than another [does x+1 damage compared to x], no amount of obfuscation is going to change that. Doing proper game design and weapon balance, so that weapon choice is a strategic decision... making two weapons where one is not clearly better than the other [via trade offs usually]... that will solve the base problem, not hiding it.

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Original post by Telastyn
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There was no "this sword is way better than that sword, there's no reason to use that sword" for me,


And this is the base argument. Wether a weapon is useful or not, wether it is in essence obsoleted by another weapon is something game designers can control. Hiding the numbers doesn't cause that though. If one weapon is better than another [does x+1 damage compared to x], no amount of obfuscation is going to change that. Doing proper game design and weapon balance, so that weapon choice is a strategic decision... making two weapons where one is not clearly better than the other [via trade offs usually]... that will solve the base problem, not hiding it.


I can agree to that. The burden of game balance (through items, stats, etc.) is on the developer, and the burrying of the numbers should not be employed as a tactic to avoid this (as you guys have pointed out some of my examples were). However, I think the point to remove the mathematical elements to preserve immersion is still a valid one, even after you remove some of the problems that have been outlined in this thread.

One way this is illustrated is in the experience system. It is a unique one, to be sure, but the fact that the numbers are hidden adds all the more to it. Simutronics, the company responsible for Dragonrealms, has another game called Gemstone (3 when I played it before DR, now 4). This was your typical "You killed the goblin! You have gained 265 experience points." A system allowing you to increase your lockpicking skill through experience gained killing goblins isn't the most well-thought out, in my oppionion. But that aside, seeing that experience in numerical form takes from the experience for me. I prefer thinking "Well, I need another 0.22 ranks on my sword and another 0.18 in my armor, so I should probably fight these goblins for another hour or so" to "Well, I need about 1500 experience, so I should kill about 7 more goblins".

So I'm glad we've had this little conversation. You guys have shown me that a lot of the appreciation I had shown to the "hide the numbers" system was in fact shown to a "hide the balance issues" system. Those issues aside, I still think a system where stats are given on a numerical basis is inferior to a semi-realistic evaluation (sharpness rather than damage bonuses, proper weight rather than strength bonuses) as they add a bit of realism and reduce precise number crunching.

So can we agree that as long as it is not being used to conceal or aleviate imbalances, a systme that obscures the numbers adds, in general, to the overall immersion of the game? That a well balanced sword is better than a sword with +12 to chance to hit? Or is it reasonable to leave the number crunching for those that prefer direct, visible advancement to a more subtle, relaxed (if you will) system? Or would you argue that power levelers are merely finding a way around the "flaw" that is the daily MMO grind?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
One of the things I think is that showing the numbers can be as much of a crutch for the designer as hiding them can be. This of course depends on what you want for a game.

One of the things I personally don't like with most RPGs is the dependance on the strength of the equipment. In the real world, it doesn't matter if one sword is 5% sharper than the other sword, if someone really strong swings it at your neck, you head will stil end up on the ground.

I would rather see the numbers for the sword make very little difference so when they are hidden, it doesn't really matter to the user. As long as the sword is not so blunt you can't split a watermellon with it, you will be able to do nearly as much damage with a 75% sharp sword as with a 100% sharp sword.

With this setup, the players skill in swords is far more importiant than their choice of swords (assuming a fencer doesn't pick up a mace that is...).

Just my thoughts

- Drethron, never posts at home where he has access to yahoo e-mail for his password... mutter.

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For role-playing... yes, hiding the numbers is a good thing, but overall the reality is that gamers want to know what is 'the best' combination of items.

My take on it? I've never heard someone say "I quit playing the game because I knew what my 2h slashing skill was.

Some people have made comments about how one sword is 'better' than another, so they discard the one that isn't as good. My take on that is that as someone uses a weapon more, they will start to feel more condifent and comfortable with that item and do better with it. My old weapon may do 1-30 damage normally, but I've been using it for 4 months, so I've got a 15% bonus with it, so I'm now doing 1-35 damage with it. Do I want to give that up for a weapon that does 1-32 damage?

Everyone has different ideas on how things should work. Show the numbers or don't, but either way people are going to play the numbers game.

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