Re-calibrating item balance across the entire game

 
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jaeger



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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:16 pm    Post subject: Re-calibrating item balance across the entire game Reply with quote

I have just hacked together a SQL database of the items in the mud for which I build. I parsed all the items and now I have them in a pretty fine-grained searchable format. I'm finding lots of interesting things, like there's no armor that can be worn on the arms for players with level < 8, and so forth.

Some of these fixes are obvious (like above), but others are more difficult. There's no useful item guidelines that still exist, so how should I go about determining the item balance for the world?

I know a few things:
There's a standard set of eq for almost all player levels in the game that is considered the best eq, regardless of class, except for the mana/hp distinction for a few items.

There are a LOT of multi-remorts running around, and we have had problems with nerfing all the gear so it's harder for them, and making it impossible for new players. I do not want to do that again, so I'm looking to balance (either up or down) any items that don't have a good reason to not be along the item balance curve.

I want players to make choices that are interesting, not just HP vs. mana depending on whether they're a warrior or a wizard.


Can anyone suggest some places to start, or talk about the establishment of their own item guidelines, and how they stay balanced?
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Vopisk



Joined: 22 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 2:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, never faced this particular problem myself, but I'll share my personal opinion on the matter.

I have glaring problems with the majority of MUD equipment that is to be found in most codebases. The problem is this: I have two shortswords, why is one particularly better than the other?

Generally, one has let's say a damage of 5 and the other has a damage rating of 10. But why? There are a lot of factors that effect weapon... efficiency?... but none of these are ever really implemented.

For example, with edged weapons such as the shortsword example above, the blade would have a weight, the edge would have a sharpness, the overall sword would have a balance, the hilt would be made of particular materials and wrappings that allow it to be more or less easily held in the hands.

The importance of these things, some of them can be changed in an actual, corporeal sword. For example, if I have a real sword sitting here on my lap, I can sharpen it, I can replace the leather binding of the hilt that has become frayed, I can add a counter-balance to the butt of the sword to help increase the balance, I could even grind the blade down and make it smaller and more narrow, thereby reducing the overall weight of the weapon, which of course will effect how long and fast I can reliably swing the weapon.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of a weapon is directly tied to my own training and physical prowess. For example, if I am stronger than you, I will swing the sword harder, thereby imbuing more force into the strike, which will inherently do more damage, or you might be more skilled than I am and be more successful in placing precision strikes that hit the weaker areas of opponents and drop them quicker.

All of these are factors that could be implemented, and in the case of weapon properties, could make for not only very interesting weapon distinctions, but also greatly enhance a very standard crafting system. If Bob the Blacksmith makes his swords in one fashion and Tod the Blacksmith makes them in another, then you have a meaningful option or choice if you will, although neither blade is simply "better" than the other, but there are factors that may make one better suited to your character than to another.

As a final note, my personal feelings about "enchanted" weapons and armor are that these things should be exceedingly rare and hard to come by. If everyone is going to have a +5 Breastplate of Mana Regeneration, then why not just give everyone five more mana points. Once everyone has anything, then that thing becomes a moot point.

So, I'm not sure if this helps in any way, but maybe will shed light on a new way of doing things. If you're thinking about doing a massive overhaul of your item system anyway, it may be worth a thought to try a different tack than the old default.

-Vopisk
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KaVir



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 8:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Furthermore, the effectiveness of a weapon is directly tied to my own training and physical prowess.


Aye, and that's a point many muds miss.

But steel's not strong, boy
Flesh is stronger . . .
What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?
Look at the strength of your body, the desire in your heart
I give you this!

-- Tulsa Doom, from Conan the Barbarian, discussing the riddle of steel.

Quote:
If everyone is going to have a +5 Breastplate of Mana Regeneration, then why not just give everyone five more mana points.


Firstly because it provides players with a reward that they can earn during play. You don't give everyone a second attack just because it's possible to learn the 'second attack' skill, nor do you give everyone access to the fireball spell just because it's possible to find a wand of fireballs. Character advancement is a strong incentive to play a mud.

Secondly because, unless that's the only breastplate in the game, it forces the player to make a tactical choice. Do you want the breastplate that gives more mana, or the one that gives more health? The one that protects better vs physical damage, or the one that protects better vs mental damage? The heavy one that provides better protection, or the light one that gives fewer encumbrance penalties? The more powerful one that uses most of your total magical item allowance, or the weaker one that enables you to also use your vorpal sword?
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jaeger



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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 11:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vopisk:
Thank you so much for your in-depth reply. You have very interesting ideas, but most of them address the skill system, it seems to me. We have concepts of swordsmanship and fencing, so your own skills can improve the weapon's effectiveness. But even if we make a carefully thought out system of weapons in which all statistics are real, we still have the question of balance.

How many of that sword should there be in the game? Should it be possible that everyone get one (and what about hoarding)? But then, what level should it be? We aren't going to do away with levels, so for our level-based equipment system, we still have to place this very realistic sword somewhere in the hierarchy, and that's the root of the question of balance: how much power goes where?

So even if you have different ways to measure the power of a sword, you have to find a way to balance it. How would you go about doing that?


Quote:
As a final note, my personal feelings about "enchanted" weapons and armor are that these things should be exceedingly rare and hard to come by.

This is also a good piece of advice. I think that we tend to make every piece of armor good for AC and for magic or elemental resistances. In reality, though, you should have to choose between something that will give you resistance, and something that will protect you in battle. This gets into a whole different issue though, where everyone has to do physical melee battle, so even if your combat skills are poor, you're still stuck in a fist fight while you shoot off spells.
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Vopisk



Joined: 22 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 2:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

KaVir wrote:
Firstly because it provides players with a reward that they can earn during play. You don't give everyone a second attack just because it's possible to learn the 'second attack' skill, nor do you give everyone access to the fireball spell just because it's possible to find a wand of fireballs. Character advancement is a strong incentive to play a mud.

Secondly because, unless that's the only breastplate in the game, it forces the player to make a tactical choice. Do you want the breastplate that gives more mana, or the one that gives more health? The one that protects better vs physical damage, or the one that protects better vs mental damage? The heavy one that provides better protection, or the light one that gives fewer encumbrance penalties? The more powerful one that uses most of your total magical item allowance, or the weaker one that enables you to also use your vorpal sword?


You do have a point here KaVir, but sadly, I think it applies to only your game and a select few others. I can attest personally to looking at two different robes that were nearly identical, with maybe a +/- 1 point difference in two different stats and having to heavily weigh which one would better help my character (at the current point in time). However, your game is also much more open-ended than the standard MUD. For example, in your standard game, all warriors will gain the same skills as they advance and their stats will more or less all be pretty closely grouped together, why? Because that is the established and accepted "best model" for how to build a warrior character. This does happen in your game too, to some extent, at least, new players seem to often ask what is the best way to build a character (but the older characters tend to take their own path with some interesting results).

Anyway, when characters are so closely similar, i.e. they have the same skills, relatively similar stats, it would follow suit that the same piece of armor is going to be pretty much best suited to every warrior. This is why I referred to "everyone having the +5 Breastplate of Mana Regeneration". Generally, in these games that we're loosely referencing, the only thing that stops a character form having said breastplate is either being too low a level to yet possess it, or not having had the opportunity to kill the monster that drops it. But in the end, whether by trading some in-game currency, begging a friend, or getting blood on one's own hands, you will get that breastplate, because it is the "optimal" choice for your build, the same as everyone else.

To be truthful, your system is the first that I have ever seen that actually charges you for the enchantments you are wearing, thereby making the decisions even more meaningful.

With that said, back to the OP:

jaeger wrote:
How many of that sword should there be in the game? Should it be possible that everyone get one (and what about hoarding)? But then, what level should it be? We aren't going to do away with levels, so for our level-based equipment system, we still have to place this very realistic sword somewhere in the hierarchy, and that's the root of the question of balance: how much power goes where?

So even if you have different ways to measure the power of a sword, you have to find a way to balance it. How would you go about doing that?


How many of a given item should be in a game? A very good question. If you look at the example of my previous post, it can be assumed that I was talking about a pretty generic shortsword, kinda like you'd find in the army or some such. Therefore, I would assume that such swords would be available in an abundance that should always sate your players thirst for them, that is to say, unlimited.

What needs to be established, is what exactly is a rare and/or unique item? Most games consider a rare or unique item to be one that only drops 1 in 20 kills of Big Baddy #37 as opposed to the generic crap that drops every time a town guard dies. However, if you're going to spawn a new one, even once every 20 kills, eventually, every player is going to get one, it just means they have to kill the monster 20 times instead of just once to get the loot.

I consider a rare/unique item to be one that is the only one in the game or there are only a very, very limited number of them ever available in the game. These are the weapons and armors that are above the norm in terms of their performance, whether they deal more damage or they can take more damage or they have a bigger health or mana buff. It's fairly easy to write a little snippet that will automagically create rare/unique items and you can easily code it into your game so that these things only drop randomly from high level mobs on a very rare and also random occurrence.

This basically solves the problem of the "best set" of weapons and/or armor in that, everyone's got something that's a little different. And if you happen to find a rare item that doesn't suit your build so well, you can trade it with other players who may have something that's more optimal to your advantage. So by eliminating redundancy of your player's accoutrement choices, you can also spur growth in the player-based economic model of the game.

If you insist on sticking with a level-based equipment system, then it's rather easy to assign values to certain enhancements and assign a level based upon the cumulative total of those said values. Let's say that for each +1 of health, the "level requirement" scales by 1.5 (rounding up). So at +1 health, the minimum level is 2, +2 is level 3, +3 is level 5, +4 is level 7, +5 is level 10, +6 is level 15, +7 is level 22 and so on and so forth, scaling as the enhancements become better and better.

You could do it differently, but that's one way. Anyway, I kinda lost track of my train of thought there, so I'll end this post and hope something in there helps to further the conversation.

-Vopisk
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jaeger



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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vopisk wrote:
I consider a rare/unique item to be one that is the only one in the game or there are only a very, very limited number of them ever available in the game. These are the weapons and armors that are above the norm in terms of their performance, whether they deal more damage or they can take more damage or they have a bigger health or mana buff.


I have no problem identifying rare or unique items, and by virtue of being rare, they have little effect on the balance. What I'm trying to explore is the much more mundane issue of that "norm," wherein 90% of the eq should lie. Right now, we're all over the place, and it's an abundance of above-average eq (that got spawned too many times to be rare) that messed up our norm. So there's untold amounts of cruft underneath the set of standard gear.

I'm assuming here that everyone agrees having a meaningful choice is better than just going after the same 5% of desired gear in the game.

Quote:
If you insist on sticking with a level-based equipment system, then it's rather easy to assign values to certain enhancements and assign a level based upon the cumulative total of those said values. Let's say that for each +1 of health, the "level requirement" scales by 1.5 (rounding up). So at +1 health, the minimum level is 2, +2 is level 3, +3 is level 5, +4 is level 7, +5 is level 10, +6 is level 15, +7 is level 22 and so on and so forth, scaling as the enhancements become better and better.


Randomly generated items are not possible right now, in part because we don't have a well-defined average item curve.

But is that how other admins do it? You come up with an algorithm and everything's along the line? How do you get there? I'm not asking for an algorithm that is tailored to my game, I can do that myself, but I'm asking how one gets to that algorithm. I've never been the one to decide such a scale, so I don't want to make the game unplayably difficult, or entirely too easy.

Perhaps what would help me, personally, would be to see someone else's thought process of getting to that algorithm. When I begin to think about it, I start to take into consideration available mobs, experience between levels, average stats, available gold on those mobs, and then it gets infeasible to actually come up with something useful in a reasonable amount of time.
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Vopisk



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would definitely agree that having a meaningful choice is better than going after the 5% of total "most desirable" gear.

In my experience working with classical codebases and working for other admins goes as follows:

Builders are tasked to design an area that fits for levels between X and Y (let's say 20 and 40 for the sake of argument).

Therefore, most of the equipment drops that occur here should be between level 20 and 40, at least in terms of armor and weapons. Then you do have to think about what types of mobs you have there and what types of things they would realistically drop. A gypsy camp would probably not have all that much awesome weapons or armor for example, while a mercenary camp most likely would have some pretty good weapons and armor. You probably know all this already, so I'll move to my idea of how to create a smooth EQ curve.

I would think that MOB levels should scale logically, along with EQ and this provides a great backdrop for determining how the EQ should scale. For example, if the average mob gets an additional +20 HP per level, perhaps weapons that are of the same level would get +4 damage. This obviously makes the weapon better against higher level mobs as it does more damage, and would probably take 5 less turns of combat to kill the mob than say the one without the +4 damage.

Similarly, if the average Mob and Level X does an average of 10 damage, perhaps a piece of armor (like a breastplate, something major) might block +2 damage. But if Mobs of the next level do 50 damage, then perhaps the same breastplate at the same level might block 10 damage?

I know I'm throwing out numbers, but they're meant only as examples. As you said, the correct algorithm for your particular game will be up to you, but if I were going on a level-based EQ system, that's where I would start to come up with the curve. What does this piece of equipment need to do its job better than the previous level?

The job of balancing a game is probably the hardest, and takes a lot longer than say, making the game or coming up with new stuff for the game, but it's also probably the most important step, as it is what makes the game playable to the players. Once things get out of balance, it can be tricky to wrestle them back under control, but it's not impossible, it just takes work. You might want to begin by defining how you want the scale to work, do you want an exponential scale where things start to go up far more drastically at higher levels, or a simple linear scale, where say, things double at every 10 levels.

All questions that need to be answered before you can even really begin to get your hands dirty with the actual code itself.

-Vopisk

Edit: It's probably worth noting, that if you first decide the scale, or EQ curve that you're going for, you can pretty much just define level 1 objects, then assign them a level and let their values be computed based upon their position on the curve.
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Molly O'Hara



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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 5:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd say one of the main problem with balance is to keep your Builders in check. It's pretty easy to keep the balance if you do everything yourself, but once you have several different builders involved, it becomes more of a problem, and you have to check each new submitted zone closely.

We have Equipment guidelines in 4D, which set a value to each stat. (Different stats are more useful for different classes, so hit- and damroll items aren't necessarily the best for everyone, although the players often seem to prefer them, possibly out of old habit, or from playing other Muds. Generally we get three different sets of 'best equip'; for fighters, rogues and spellcasters, but they can be put together in many different ways).

For instance:
Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Hitroll and Damroll are all worth 2 points for each +1 to stat with a maximum for any one of them of +5.

Maxhit, Maxmana and Maxmove are worth 1 point for every +5 to stat (with a maximum for Maxhit being +50)
etc.

Then we also have rules for how many points they can assign to each item, dependent on the level range of their zone:

1.Any item with more than 3 affects given to it needs to be approved by a head builder.
2.Items between level 1 and 25 can have 5 points worth.
3.Items between level 26 and 40 can have 10 points worth.
4.Items between level 41 and 50 can have 15 points worth.
5.You can balance a stat with a negative addition on another stat.
6. Higher stats than the above are sometimes allowed on Artifacts and Quest rewards, but these too have to be approved by a Head Builder.

The problem is that every builder wants their zone to be played as much as possible, and the best way to ascertain that is to put some really good piece of equipment in their zone - something that players will come back to get again. Thus the builders always try to stretch the borders a bit, with the result that you get a slowly spiraling curve, where newer zones tend to have slightly better equipment than the older ones. It's so subtle that it is hard to catch each single case, but the tendency is definitely there, and sometimes the checker also lets something slip by mistake - we are after all only human.

We have had to make a general downgrade of the equipment twice during the 8 years the mud has been on line, and both times it caused an uproar among the players and half of them left, so trying to restore the balance once lost is no easy thing either.
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Detah



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 1:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like the points that Vopisk made. His examples bring up some other interesting design questions that you should consider for balancing eq.

Vopisk said:
Quote:

If everyone is going to have a +5 Breastplate of Mana Regeneration, then why not just give everyone five more mana points.

It is my feeling that eq should be more diverse and that there shouldnt be one ultimate (obvious choice) armor for each body slot. But rather there should be some eq (armors) which do somethings very well and others things poorly. eg. a Armor of Light may have extremely high ac protection vs the Infernal damagetype, but have low or zero protection versus Fire damagetype. This makes the player think carefully about which eq they want to wear during each fight. Does this solve your balance issue? probably not. It probably makes it harder, because now players are going to want to own/carry more than one armor. But if weight is meaningful in your game, then players will need to make trips to their house to change gear or they will just have to settle on one set of eq which best protects them for the monsters that they usually fight. If you follow this diverse method of eq creation, then every player will not choose the +5 Armor of Uberness. Variety is better.

Quote:

As a final note, my personal feelings about "enchanted" weapons and armor are that these things should be exceedingly rare and hard to come by.

This really is determined more by the mud's theme, than some logical distribution. In my mud, Arcania, as the name suggests, there is an abundance of magic. And there are an abundance of enchanters, both PC and NPC. So it stands to reason that there is an abundance of enchanted eq. This doesnt mean that every player is walking around with a great set of eq. But it does mean that pretty much every character can easily obtain some magical eq. That eq may not be powerful. It may only have a continual light spell cast on it. The distribution of nonmagical/magical eq should be determined by your theme, not an a priori percentage eg. 10% of all eq is enchanted.

Quote:

For example, in your standard game, all warriors will gain the same skills as they advance and their stats will more or less all be pretty closely grouped together,

If this is true, then you have not coded sufficient variation for your guilds/classes. If every warrior is the same, then you probably need to rework the skills systems and/or the 'cost' to practice skills and force people to specialize more in a given area. If everyone can be an expert at sword, blacksmithing, smelting, mining, and enchanting by the time the character is age=30 days, then everyone will. But if it takes 30 days to get one of those skills to expert, then you will find players choosing to specialize in one skill and bartering for the rest. Ah, now you have the makings for an interesting economy. The implications for eq balance are obvious.

Detah@Arcania
PS. these comments are not directed at Vopisk. I simply used his examples to make my points. I have read enough of his posts to know he would probably not support any of the pitfalls that I have outlined.
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Zephen_Descartes



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 5:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to say, I agree with Detah. Our crafting system takes a lot of effort to completely rank up in and it takes months for people to be self-sufficient enough to make most of their own gear. Add to that that potions and enchants all use spells which players custom craft, and it's easy for there always to be some market need for a particular bit of crafting. Potions and enchantments are one of our bigger sellers, but randomly generated gear is also a big seller from people that hunt for them.

Not to derail the thread. Back on topic, I think the best way to re-balance across the entire game is if each item has a specific prototype it's based from. I.e. Steel Shortsword, Mithril Chainmail, etc. Then you can easily re-calibrate everything based upon the stats inherent in the items.

However, not everyone is so lucky as to have such a system planned out originally so I'll give another option. Create a list of specifications for zones. If your items are level based this is made easier, but if not just tie the level to the average level of the zone they're based from.

Run a program to iterate through all of your items, compare them to the amount of points that are allowed for said level, and have builders manually go over and check them. You'd probably also want to add checks for if they're over a certain amount in any particular stat, or if they have stats on a piece of gear that shouldn't have said stats.

In our MUD, hitroll and damroll are unattainable on non-weapons except for extremely rare quest items. The only way to get hitroll and damroll is through enchanted or random dropped weapons, and thus if we were running such a program, we'd want to definitely check for out of place damroll.

This might also be a good time for you to sit down and think out just how you want to re-balance everything as well as the utility of each stat. Since you're rebalancing it all, you can now gauge just how useful each piece is by analyzing the benefits that are granted from said piece. I might be getting a bit too detailed for the building thread though.

If you need any further help, or have already completed such a system, please let us know.
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quixadhal



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 1:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vopisk wrote:
In my experience working with classical codebases and working for other admins goes as follows:

Builders are tasked to design an area that fits for levels between X and Y (let's say 20 and 40 for the sake of argument).

Therefore, most of the equipment drops that occur here should be between level 20 and 40, at least in terms of armor and weapons.


Personally, I hate the idea of "levels" for items. My old mud didn't have them, we solved the problem with rent costs. That is, if a level 1 character managed to get ahold of the berserker axe of doom, and they had enough strength to wield it, they were welcome to wreck havoc until they logged out. At that point, the rent cost would be so absurdly high, there's no way they could afford to keep it.

However, back to the point, even if you have level-based equipment, I would suggest pretending you don't. Consider, instead, what those levels are supposed to imply.

If a level 10 warrior in your game should have 100hp, and the average level 10 mob hits for 12hp per hit, and they get to swing on average once every 2 seconds... then your weapons should probably do an average of 6DPS at that level.

Obviously, you may want a dagger that hits for 3hp, but you get to swing twice a second. You might also want a warhammer that does 1d24, but you only get to swing every 4 seconds. Piercing, slashing, crushing, smashing... if you add special effects like fire damage, reduce the normal stats a bit so it does the same average against normal foes -- but would do more against things vulnerable to fire.

Likewise for armor... how many hits from an average mob of the player's level should it be able to take? How much should it slow you down vs. mitigation? How fragile is it? Gold armor is really good protection for the first few hits, then it falls apart. Titanium would be nice and light, but would crack under heavy blunt impacts.

Balancing a computer game is different than balancing a paper RPG. Most muds draw from AD&D as their basis for numbers, yet those numbers in D&D were meant to be adjusted on the fly by the GM based on the actual challenge those 15 halflings turned out to be.

Personally, I like to error on the side of weak rewards, because it makes the occasional rare item or burst of exp that much more special. Then again, 3d6+4 was the absolute most damage ANY weapon did in my game. Smile
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Vopisk



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 6:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just for the record, I dislike levels of all kinds. My comments were in regards to the topic, which was trying to "balance" weapons and armor across a game world that seemed (to my opinion) based upon levels. In my little, probably screwed up, world, all swords are capable of doing the same amount of damage (this is a factor modified by things like sharpness, hardness and such of the blade)... Perhaps some metals can be sharpened more than others, some weigh less (or the items themselves are less bulky) and allow you to swing faster, or are better balanced allowing you to hit your target more accurately. But it doesn't matter if it's a roman gladius or the shortsword of Doom, they're probably fairly even in terms of what all they can do.

-Vopisk
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Deadsoul



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PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2007 7:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Randomly generated items are not possible right now, in part because we don't have a well-defined average item curve.


This average item curve should be your first goal in item administration and proliferation. If you do not have this curve, then all your nerfs and gains are for nothing, because your nerfing something for the sake of it looking to power in accordance with everything else you have in your item database.

~K
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