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How complex is too complex?

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Posted by Dralnu   USA  (277 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Wed 26 May 2010 01:26 AM (UTC)
Message
I've been pouring over ideas, notes, postings and such related to MUDs and MUDing recently and have come to a question, partly spurred by a post by Nick regarding ways to retain players as well as possible issues I have come up with regarding my basic idea for a fighting system.

Some things, like eating and drinking, seem to be simple enough for most people to handle (being a minor annoyance to many) with little to no effort, or sometimes with a simple script to handle such a tedious task.

Some things, like a complex combat system with numerous variables and dozens of diffrent things to compare (resistances, armor versus a specific weapon type, weight, ect) could easily overwhelm a new player because of how demanding these figures may seem when comparing two similar peices of armor.

On the opposite side there is too simple, where things can easily be figured out and offer no real flexibility or provide experianced players with few things of interest once they know the mechanics intimatly.

This also may affect crafting, proffessions, and other aspects of a MUD where realism versus complexity may be an issue (mining for select ores in specific areas to craft a sword compared to mining iron ore to make a sword, for an example), so my question is;

How the hell does one know when something is too complex? Or, probably a better question would be 'What is the correct level of complexity?'.

I know that personally I like some complexity in any game (I find MMOs predictable fairly quickly), but from a newbies perspective things like having to find flour, water, a fire, a pan or plate, and such to make a simple loaf of bread would be far too complicated, especially for someone low on cash and still trying to remember how to put on their armor or where they head north to get to the Well of Newbies so they could avoid the level 99 dragon lord who roasted them over an open spellflame before (which, I will state now, is a terrible design decision if these two kinds of areas are near each other. I want it going on record that I'm not the kind of GM that would want to kill their players outright).

The only real way I can think of to avoid such issues (getting ingredients for a potion instead of buying the same potion) is to give them the option to not go through with the complex option by providing a way around it (a baker to provide bread, a smith to supply a sword) while providing some benefit to those who take the harder route (cheaper bread, better sword) without making it a requirement (Player-made bread is only 5-10% cheaper than the bought, the sword could be made of an alloy to make it lighter or sharper by a percentage).

Things like these are simple to work around in my mind (in practice it may well be diffrent), but some things like armor, skills, combat, magic, and maybe even traveling could be made more complex than can be handled well by a new player but could offer any options for an experianced player to take advantage of (and possibly abuse).
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Posted by Nick Gammon   Australia  (21,322 posts)  [Biography] bio   Forum Administrator
Date Reply #1 on Wed 26 May 2010 03:27 AM (UTC)
Message
I like your general approach. Let newbies buy bread, for example, but later on they may learn how to make it themselves more cheaply, or possibly make better bread that gives stats enhancements.

One idea I like a lot is to gradually introduce things. For example, not having to (or even be able to) train certain skills until you are level 5 or 10, so newbies can concentrate on the basics.

- Nick Gammon

www.gammon.com.au, www.mushclient.com
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Posted by KaVir   Germany  (117 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #2 on Wed 26 May 2010 09:44 AM (UTC)
Message
Dralnu said:
How the hell does one know when something is too complex? Or, probably a better question would be 'What is the correct level of complexity?'.


That's really going to depend on your mud and your target audience. But I agree with Nick about gradually introducing things when possible - I prefer a system that's easy to learn, but difficult to master.

In my experience, most veteran mudders seem to have much more trouble with 'unfamiliar' than with 'complex'. But you can mitigate the problem a fair amount by keeping the interface simple and consistent, and providing solid documentation.

I actually find that first-time mudders often get to grips with my mud faster than many veterans. They lack strong preconceptions about muds, don't need to unlearn anything, and aren't too proud to read the hints and help files.
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Posted by Dralnu   USA  (277 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #3 on Thu 27 May 2010 03:21 AM (UTC)
Message
KaVir said:

Dralnu said:
How the hell does one know when something is too complex? Or, probably a better question would be 'What is the correct level of complexity?'.


That's really going to depend on your mud and your target audience. But I agree with Nick about gradually introducing things when possible - I prefer a system that's easy to learn, but difficult to master.

In my experience, most veteran mudders seem to have much more trouble with 'unfamiliar' than with 'complex'. But you can mitigate the problem a fair amount by keeping the interface simple and consistent, and providing solid documentation.

I actually find that first-time mudders often get to grips with my mud faster than many veterans. They lack strong preconceptions about muds, don't need to unlearn anything, and aren't too proud to read the hints and help files.


I've run into this problem back when I MUDed alot when trying diffrent code bases (cut my teeth in RoD back before the Shattering), and keeping the interface normal seems like a good idea, though some things (slist vs. practice) seem to be so randomly named (the latter being far better than the former at providing info on learned skills) it makes me want to pull my hair out.

I have thought of putting some data on what I have changed regarding command names and such on a website but someone who randomly connects and doesn't read the site would still be lost, even though they know the standard codebase, and force feeding them info seems annoying, slightly rude, and annoying (did I say annoying?).
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Posted by Dralnu   USA  (277 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #4 on Thu 27 May 2010 03:24 AM (UTC)
Message
Nick Gammon said:

I like your general approach. Let newbies buy bread, for example, but later on they may learn how to make it themselves more cheaply, or possibly make better bread that gives stats enhancements.

One idea I like a lot is to gradually introduce things. For example, not having to (or even be able to) train certain skills until you are level 5 or 10, so newbies can concentrate on the basics.


My main concern is actually the unavoidable complexities, like the combat system. Introducing the skills is easy, but how does one gently introduce armor (defense versus hitpoints, for example) to a new player?
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Posted by David Haley   USA  (3,881 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #5 on Thu 27 May 2010 07:19 AM (UTC)
Message
To introduce concepts, "simply" make them not matter at first, or at least not matter very much. Point out that you could have defeated that enemy with more HP left had you had better armor. In fact, why not give the player that armor: let them win their first encounter, heal them up, give them armor, and let them win again.

Basically, a good system is one that introduces choices, without forcing you to make irrevocable choices before you understand the consequences. Far too many games force you into choices you can never reverse as you create your character, and if you make these choices inappropriately, you will forevermore be disadvantaged.

Several D&D CRPGs have this issue: you can create characters and give them weapon specializations. "Oh, Katana, that looks cool, I'll take it." Little do you know that there are in fact only two or three katanas in the whole game that are actually worth something compared to the other weapons. Oops: you just wasted your initial weapon specialization points.

Of course, beyond not making irreversible choices until you understand them, you need to be careful to not have too many even reversible choices if the "wrong" ones prevent you from enjoying the game.

Although it sounds simplistic to say so, the right answer here is to create a system that: allows initial exploration without real penalty; makes for a fun first impression; allows the character to grow; allows for the player to grow; explains clearly what the trade-offs are in general.

David Haley aka Ksilyan
Head Programmer,
Legends of the Darkstone

http://david.the-haleys.org
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Posted by KaVir   Germany  (117 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #6 on Thu 27 May 2010 03:37 PM (UTC)
Message
Dralnu said:
My main concern is actually the unavoidable complexities, like the combat system. Introducing the skills is easy, but how does one gently introduce armor (defense versus hitpoints, for example) to a new player?

My approach is to give new players a full set of starting equipment tailored to their build. They can then replace it later if they wish, once they've a better understanding of how armour works, but it's not something they need to worry about for the first few hours of play.

The biggest problem I have is with newbies who are stuck in the Diku mindset of "more gear is better". They pile on layer after layer of armour until they can barely move, ignoring the warning messages, then get frustrated when they can't keep up with their opponents.
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Posted by David Haley   USA  (3,881 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #7 on Thu 27 May 2010 04:04 PM (UTC)
Message
KaVir said:
They pile on layer after layer of armour until they can barely move, ignoring the warning messages, then get frustrated when they can't keep up with their opponents.

Are there cases where layering armor is in fact helpful? If not, why not just disallow it to avoid the frustration? If the "dumb" combinations aren't allowed, it seems that it might help the learning curve without really hurting the strategy.

David Haley aka Ksilyan
Head Programmer,
Legends of the Darkstone

http://david.the-haleys.org
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Posted by KaVir   Germany  (117 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #8 on Thu 27 May 2010 08:40 PM (UTC)
Message
David Haley said:
Are there cases where layering armor is in fact helpful? If not, why not just disallow it to avoid the frustration? If the "dumb" combinations aren't allowed, it seems that it might help the learning curve without really hurting the strategy.

Attacks pass through each individual layer of armour before striking the victim, so if you're wearing a 50% soak breastplate over a 50% soak chainmail shirt, only 25% of the damage is going to reach you. You could also mix and match different materials - a red dragonscale breastplate to better absorb heat damage, a woollen undershirt to protect you from cold, etc.

So yes, layering armour is very beneficial, and an essential part of many builds - when done properly, by someone who knows what they're doing. But it also has drawbacks, and blindly slapping on as much armour as you can physically carry will result in a suboptimal performance.
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Posted by David Haley   USA  (3,881 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #9 on Thu 27 May 2010 08:49 PM (UTC)
Message
OK. What about disallowing the "dumb" combinations, assuming they're relatively easily identifiable? You mentioned warnings printed to players, but you also said they ignore them. If this is a big issue that causes players to leave, maybe it's worth simply preventing it, rather than trying to warn them about it. If there are combinations that are fairly unambiguously lousy (as opposed to the strategic choices one might make, that have trade-offs) perhaps they shouldn't be possible early on. Of course, this it quite a bit of hand-holding, and some people might object to "big brother" telling you you can't do something to hurt yourself.

David Haley aka Ksilyan
Head Programmer,
Legends of the Darkstone

http://david.the-haleys.org
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Posted by KaVir   Germany  (117 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #10 on Thu 27 May 2010 10:36 PM (UTC)
Message
David Haley said:
OK. What about disallowing the "dumb" combinations, assuming they're relatively easily identifiable?

They're not easily identifiable, because they're not necessarily "dumb" - even an unconventional combination can have its uses. The real problem is when you wear too much, and that's what the warnings identify.

When I referred to it as "The biggest problem I have", I meant within the context of introducing armour to new players. But I think it's mostly part of a bigger problem - people who ignore the hints and help files, then get frustrated when they get the stuffing kicked out of them. Such players either quit, or rethink their approach, and I'm not sure that I can really push them in the right direction before they're ready. I guess I could stop the mobs insulting their poor performance...but that actually seems to motivate some players to learn just to get revenge.
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Posted by Twisol   USA  (2,257 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #11 on Thu 27 May 2010 11:27 PM (UTC)

Amended on Thu 27 May 2010 11:28 PM (UTC) by Twisol

Message
Instead of letting people wear too much and getting penalties, couldn't you just stop them at a certain point and prevent them from adding more?

Another idea I had was a "newbie mode" where restrictions (like the above) are placed on you until you voluntarily disable that mode.

'Soludra' on Achaea

Blog: http://jonathan.com/
GitHub: http://github.com/Twisol
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Posted by KaVir   Germany  (117 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #12 on Fri 28 May 2010 12:01 AM (UTC)
Message
Twisol said:
Instead of letting people wear too much and getting penalties, couldn't you just stop them at a certain point and prevent them from adding more?

I do limit them - "heavy encumbrance" is the maximum. But it needs a penalty to offset the bonus of better protection, otherwise there'd be no reason not to load up with as much armour as you could physically wear.

Besides, heavy encumbrance isn't always a bad thing - one of the starting concepts ("knight") actually gives you as much gear as you can physically carry. However it mitigates the penalties by also giving you specialised armour-based talents, and the ability to summon a warhorse.
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Posted by David Haley   USA  (3,881 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #13 on Fri 28 May 2010 04:12 PM (UTC)
Message
Twisol said:
Another idea I had was a "newbie mode" where restrictions (like the above) are placed on you until you voluntarily disable that mode.

People who ignore hints because they think they're above such "newbie help" -- the people who are running into problems here -- are also the most likely to exit out of newbie mode as fast as they find out how. :-/

KaVir said:
But I think it's mostly part of a bigger problem - people who ignore the hints and help files, then get frustrated when they get the stuffing kicked out of them.

How prominent are these hint and warnings?

I guess that to some extent you're dealing with people who refuse to help themselves, and to that point I'm not sure there's really anything you could do about it assuming that you want basic levels of learning in your game.

David Haley aka Ksilyan
Head Programmer,
Legends of the Darkstone

http://david.the-haleys.org
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Posted by Dralnu   USA  (277 posts)  [Biography] bio
Date Reply #14 on Fri 28 May 2010 05:03 PM (UTC)
Message
Twisol said:

Instead of letting people wear too much and getting penalties, couldn't you just stop them at a certain point and prevent them from adding more?

Another idea I had was a "newbie mode" where restrictions (like the above) are placed on you until you voluntarily disable that mode.


I kind of like this idea, without giving the player the option of leaving it (or forcing them to use it until a later level). Limiting some layers should be fairly easy (thus limiting the number of locations they have to over encumber themselves), only unlocking them once a player has reached a specific point or disabled newbie mode.
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