The Theory Behind the Great Rebalance of 2020


(Please see <panic 2020rebalance> for the log of the changes discussed here.)

Our touchstone for this whole patch is "progression."

SWMud originally had 19 levels. Based on the archaeology of some of the older areas of the codebase and the oral history passed down from days of yore, the game seemed to have a clear and well-designed progression from level 1 to 19.

Things changed with the addition of HM levels. Areas became muddled with mobs of very different difficulty. Mob power curves scaled up to 50, but player power curves remained artificially limited. Quest rewards were set too low for their intended levels. Essentially, players would play the last 60% of their character in a game designed for the first 40%.

Those issues, and issues like them, are what we wanted to fix. The heart and soul of this patch are these two things:

  1. We indexed all of the areas in the game, figured out their current level ranges, and counted up areas designed for each level range. Then we moved things around to make sure there were enough interesting areas to explore in each (roughly) 10-level range.
  2. We identified a few pieces of "standard" gear - weapons, damage-adding armor, and stat-adding armor - and made one for each (roughly) 10-level range, and for almost all combinations of weapon type and stat.

Now that we have a reasonable progression through all levels, we are able to tinker with things like the mob hitpoints, experience, and damage formulae, in order to quickly adjust the difficulty or grind of the whole game. We now have balance dials that we can turn at will, and a lib that will respond to those dials in ways that we can easily predict.

(An important point about those dials - we implemented the backend before we actually made all of the area changes. We mathed out a lot of things, but I am certain that the lived experience of playing the game will not always match what the calculators say. So, please give us feedback about how mob fights feel.)

Of course, a huge number of other things had to be taken into account in order to actually make those two changes. Many new armors and weapons needed to be written and placed. Quests needed to be adjusted to match the new area difficulties. New mobs needed to be written and placed. Old mobs needed to be updated.

The prompt for this change was a mass of inconsistencies in our game - we didn't want to leave the game even more inconsistent than when we found it. Many, many of the notes you see in the changelog were a direct result of needing to fix these inconsistencies. We touched just about everything in the game.

Well... everything in the area directory at least. For this patch, we touched skills as little as possible, and we didn't really add very much new content to the game (with a couple notable exceptions) - we just moved around and tweaked things that already existed. As I said in my post back in February, this is just phase one.

Now that the game has a consistent progression in its areas and equipment, our next area of focus will be guilds - trying to give a purpose to each new skill, and building a progression of new things a player should be able to do as they advance levels. And then, once you are tricked out with your new gear (this patch) and your new skills (next patch), we will turn our attention to building new mob fights that test the your new abilities, and your skill at using them.

But I'm rambling - don't jump on the future stuff yet, please! We really want you to play this change and give us your feedback! We aren't going to start on our next project for a little while - I'm going to be playing for a boot or two myself, if you can believe it. I think this will be really fun to play.

Finally, and most importantly: This patch is the result of an enormous amount of work by a team of amazing people. Willow, Kryssa, Zvarsh, Coffee, and Smoky all put in real time and energy to this project, and all contributed immensely. In particular, Coffee and Smoky did the lion's share of the work - this thing would not have happened without them.

This is one of the most fun projects I've ever worked on. If you all enjoy playing it half as much as we enjoyed putting it together, it will be a huge success. See you in the game.

Thanks, Break