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The End of a Trigger, The Expansion of Information June 5, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, TorilMUD.
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While I do not play TorilMUD any more, I do watch their for updates and remain interested in how the game continues to change and evolve nearly 20 years after I started playing its direct antecedent, Sojourn MUD. (Interesting that they distinguish the two now.)

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An update went out last week around some new changes that included this item:

The “You receive your share of experience.” death message has been replaced with a new message that shows you the exact numerical XP gain as well as the percentage to two decimal points.

That was notable for me on two fronts.  The first has to do with triggers.

I miss triggers.

In a MUD or like game (MUSH, MOO, whatever) a trigger is generally something set up in the client you use to connect to the MUD (in my case, zMUD) that parses the text scrolling by on your screen waiting for a specific set of characters to which to respond.  There were endless useful and silly ways to use them, and they totally failed to translate into the graphic MMORPG world.  Macros and log parsers and such are neat, but triggers were a world apart.

In the case of the bit above, one of the first triggers I made back in the day was to save when I got experience from a kill.  As we have discussed before, MUDs crash to the point of dictating player behavior… and influence the whole MMORPG genre.  However, most MUDs I played, including TorilMUD, did not save the state of your character to the database on every change event.  Rather, there was a timer that would save your character every 5-10 minutes.

You could see it happening.  Every once in a while a little “saving” message would appear which, aside from being mildly informative, made a great base for a keep alive trigger to keep you from being disconnected for sitting idle too long.

Anyway, if you gained experience, looted a mob, or generally benefited from you actions and failed to save… and the auto save hadn’t rolled around yet… and the MUD crashed, your character would be set back to the last save point.  (In the perverse nature of such games, all the really bad things… death, corpse destruction on a resurrect attempt, and so on, included a save point.  A crash couldn’t help you there!)

So, on obtaining a decent MUD client, one of the first things you would end up doing was creating a set of “good thing happened, save now!” triggers, giving you things that looked somewhat like this.

ExperienceSave

There is the “You receive your share of experience.” message that was part of the quote above.  The “save” after it, in yellow-ish text, is the trigger response to parsing that string.  I think I picked up zMUD over 15 years ago (having used a simple terminal emulator before that) and have had that trigger ever since.  And now it no longer works.  It is like the end of an era.

Not that it is the first trigger of mine to fall by the wayside.  The first mildly complex trigger I had to create was to retrieve a fumbled weapon.  You used to drop your weapon on a bad roll.  You would get a message like:

You fumble and send an inlaid silver longsword flying!

The trigger would have to get the weapon off the ground and then equip it again.  That was easy enough to create, just copy the line to trigger off of, and then put in a response like:

get longsword
equip longsword

Piece of cake!

Then you would find a better weapon and suddenly the message would be:

You fumble and send the flaming holy flamberge of the efreeti flying!

Your trigger would just sit there.  No match.  Back to the drawing board.

You could just make a trigger for each new weapon.  Or your could be lazy in the long term and work hard in the short term and create a trigger that knew which part of the message was the name of the weapon… the red part in the above… would save that in a variable and then parse out of that the right word… or just take the last word… and use that for the get and equip commands.

You had your universal trigger!

Then you would get a weapon where the visible name had none of the keywords for the weapon and curse the immortals and the perversity of the universe.  I had a couple of different “longswords”  that had keywords “long” and “sword” but not “longsword.”  At one point you could use the generic term “weapon,” but that would pick up the first weapon on the ground, which might not be yours, and swearing would ensue.

The fumble mechanic was one of the things that never made it into the live version EverQuest… I expected it might, but am very happy it did not… and eventually it got turned off in TorilMUD, so I need not worry about that one any more.

Enough on triggers.  Now the second front on which that initial quote was notable for me, and that has to do with information.

The idea that, in TorilMUD, you would be told exact experience gain numbers as well as percentages down to two decimal places… well… at one time it would have been Bizarro world insane to suggest it.

The founders of TorilMUD had a specific philosophy on how you should play in their world.  And included in that philosophy was the idea that all the underlying numbers… and as many of the character level numbers as practical… should be hidden from the user.

You were to adventure in the world and not focus on min/max or optimizing or beating the numbers.  You were there to group up to go forth and find adventure.  Your mind needed to be on the world described, not on some die roll.

And so when you rolled up a character, you were shown only vague descriptions of your stats.  Your charisma might be average, your strength excellent, but your constitution above average.  Do I take that character to be a ranger, or do I roll again. (Roll again, anything with less than excellent CON is not worth having, as I learned the hard way.)

Once you were in game, the stats got more precise descriptions at level 10, and you got to see actual numbers at level 20, and by level 25 all of the stats you were going to be allowed to see were finally visible to you.   The thinking here, I gather, was that by 25 you would be committed to the character.

The reality was that a lot of characters hit 20 and never went forward.

Likewise, you couldn’t see gear stats directly.  You could guess the armor class by seeing how that changed when you put on an item… unless you were below level 20, where there were only descriptions at every 10 point increment, so unless you crossed a boundary, things would remain the same.  And +hit or +dam on any weapon could only been seen after level 20 as well.

The only was to get the stats on a weapon was to use a scroll of identify, which were prohibitively expensive for new players.  But if you could afford them, it would give you a read out like this:

Name ‘the flaming holy flamberge of the efreeti’
Keyword ‘flamberge efreeti flaming sword holy’, Item type: WEAPON
Item can be worn on: WIELD 2H
Item will give you the following abilities: NOBITS
Item is: MAGIC NOBURN NO-CLERIC NO-THIEF NO-MAGE NOBITS
Weight: 25, Value: 100000
Damage Dice is ’7D4′
Resists:
Fire  : 5%
Can affect you as :
Affects : HITROLL By 6
Affects : DAMROLL By 3
Special Effects : Flaming Ball

You had better copy and save that off, because once that data scrolls off screen, it only exists in your memory.

You can see the keywords to which I alluded before.  And that, but the way, is a weapon with about all the stats you can expect.  It does 7D4 damage on each hit, is +hit, +dam, will proc fireball randomly, and applies resist fire. I always think of this when I get equipment drops with a laundry list of stats and bonuses.

Oh, and the value is the base vendor value in copper coins.  But since vendors were eventually set to buy at a fraction of the base price (and sell at a multiple, to prevent fraud exploits ambitious money making schemes), that number had little practical value.

Anyway, if you were lucky and could afford it, you could get that much information… unless the item had the “NO IDENTIFY” flag, in which case your scroll of identify got used up and you got nothing.

Basically, information was hidden as much as practical and players were encouraged not to share information they learned in any general way.  And the idea that you would publish data in a public fashion was, as I discussed in the past, practically an anathema.  The idea that there would ever be an online stats database was just crazy talk.

And that applied to experience earned.

In the early days all you got was the message at the top, indicating that you earned some experience.  To find out how far into a given level you were, you would have to go to town and visit your guild, where in response to your query you would get one of ten responses that indicated how far along you were.  Somewhere I have all those guild leader messages saved.

Later, in the most recent age of TorilMUD, players were allowed to see their experience progress in the “score” result, first as a series of has marks, each representing 2% of a level, and then later an outright percentage.

Now you can see raw experience.

And I couldn’t tell you if that makes the game better or worse.  If more information is always good, or if hiding things away made for a better game.

The latter certainly kept us busy trying to figure out the stats… which I guess meant we weren’t playing the game right.

Comments»

1. Wilhelm Arcturus - June 5, 2013

I forgot to mention that in addition to scrolls of identify giving no persistent knowledge, stats of items, especially the “good” items, changed rather regularly throughout the history of the game. This was because, with no rise in level cap over 20 years, they had to go back and reitemize what amount to raid gear over and over.

So while WoW trivializes past raid gear with each expansions by introducing greens that were better, TorilMUD spent the last 20 years nerfing gear to keep the newest content worthwhile.

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2. Whorhay - June 5, 2013

I’m of the opinion that having access to your stats is always important in games where they matter. The players will always just figure it out anyways so obscuring it is rather pointless and just helps disinterest new players because it hinders their ability to make decisions early on.

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3. Xyd - June 6, 2013

Your soul leaves your body in the cold sleep of death…
Your vitality drains away.

*** Welcome to Toril ***

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4. Xyd - June 6, 2013

Heh, just had a memory. (Getting old is like that.) Remember when my (ex-)wife waited in the car for hours for my CR? Those three lines were followed by:

Your wife stops following you.
Your marriage is disbanded.

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5. Wilhelm Arcturus - June 6, 2013

@Xyd – I have considered, now and again, how to turn that episode with your ex sitting in the car waiting… for how long… into a blog post. That was some serious dedication to the game… or something. A legend that needs to be transcribed.

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6. Potshot - June 6, 2013

“You were to adventure in the world and not focus on min/max or optimizing or beating the numbers. You were there to group up to go forth and find adventure. Your mind needed to be on the world described, not on some die roll.”

This.

This is the difference between a world and a mere “game”. It’s probably the biggest thing missing from today’s games.

The irony of course is that “success” whatever that is in games now depends on players becoming experts is managing, assimilating and responding (correctly) to all that data.

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7. Wilhelm Arcturus - June 6, 2013

@Potshot – The problem is… and was in the environment that quote described… feedback to the player. There was, absent the stats revealed by a scroll of identify, no way to tell what might be helping you and what might be hurting you. Something was generally better than nothing (dead rat excepted) but once you have two things for the same slot, how does a player decide?

For example, in the elf starting area, there were about 5 or 6 different swords you could find. There were longswords that came off of kobold guards, short swords that came off of trainees, and bronze longsword that came off of a kobold warrior, and a few others in the mix.

But as a player… and especially a new player… there was no way for me to distinguish between the swords to tell which one I ought to wield. None fit better in my hand or were obviously easier for my young elf to swing. The descriptions of each sword had really nothing to do with the underlying stats. The best of them was described as somewhat dull and cumbersome. The worst said it was razor sharp.

Actually using the swords over time might give some vague sense of which was better. But when you are using dice rolls that give feedback along the lines of “you hit lightly/hard/very hard” that also reflects the number of hit points left on your opponent, it becomes another data analysis job.

So it devolved to stats, which in turn lead to optimization. You always want the 2d4 sword over the 1d8 sword, as the average damage will be higher for the former, even if only microscopically so.

We can hide the stats if we can solve the feedback problem.

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