26 October, 2006
Ryan Shwayder wrote a bit on his blog about WYSIWYGn’t Loot. He argues that if you see it on a monster, it should drop in the loot when the monster dies. It’s rewarding and fun, after all.
Of course, he realizes that there are some problems with this. So, he talks about how to make it so that tons of loot that would likely drop won’t bog down the economy, primarily by making most items worthless. Of course, he doesn’t consider the impact of this behavior on the technical side.
So, let’s talk about why some ideas, like this one, aren’t implemented in current games.
I talked a bit about this before in a post about, “That’s not very realistic!” talking about use-based systems and how people optimize their gameplay at the expense of “realism” in use-based systems. The assassin skipping along collecting flowers is doing what is necessary to advance. It may be more realistic for said assassin to skulk along at night looking for mushrooms under logs in a swamp, but that isn’t as much fun: it’s hard to see at night and you could be eaten by a grue (or the Oblivion equivalent). And, ignoring certain plants because they aren’t “assassin” enough for you means your alchemy skill (needed to brew those vile poisons) will go up much slower.
But, why is that assassin skipping through the meadows picking flowers instead of doing more assassin-like thing? Because the player is playing a game, not necessarily living in the world. (We start to see shades of the “game” vs. “world” debate rearing its ugly head, hmm?) The player made the choice, and the game side won out.
Okay, so what does this have to do with the issue at hand? The reason why monsters don’t drop all their visible loot is because it’s most likely part of a game, not a simulation. As long as goodies drop on a regular basis that are worth something, it doesn’t matter that does or doesn’t drop from the monster for most people. In fact, one of the comments to Ryan’s post suggests that you could just shunt off the items to a separate window nobody has to look at. So, the question is: why include it if it’s going to be ignored by most players by design? One commenter mentions that the single-player game Titan Quest did something similar and it was just annoying, even with a mechanism to highlight non-junk items.
Further, there are additional costs to dropping a bunch of “useless” loot as suggested. This means more development time writing descriptions, making art, and adding entries to a database, but for what result? Let’s be honest here, most people don’t care about this. Does any developer really think we need more tasks added to the development of an online game that will have practically no useful result? Even though adding useless items isn’t necessarily going to be complicated, adding a few hundred of these items will take up an amount of time that could have been spent making quests a little more interesting or balancing out some other aspect of the economy. I think either of these goals is preferable.
Now, let me tell you what happens when you don’t think these things through. In one update to Meridian 59 when I was still at 3DO, we added human-looking faction soldiers to the game. These looked like player characters and were intended to be enemies players could fight. They would spawn in common areas around flagpoles the players could claim. I was tasked with coding the faction soldiers, and like Ryan, I thought it would be neat for them to drop the equipment they had. I mean, it made sense, right?
Well, it was a mess. After the patch, the economy for equipment, weapons and armor, went through the floor. It was depressingly common to get these items, since the faction soldiers were standing in easy-to-access areas, in some cases right outside the gates of major cities! I did eventually put in a check so that the soldiers only had a chance to drop the items they carried. It took a while before we found a good level for this, but by that time the damage had been done. By the time we relaunched Meridian 59 under Near Death Studios, the problem had been fixed. But, it was a very poor decision back in the day.
The other problem here is that once you start down this road, it always seems that you can never do enough. As one commenter points out, if the monsters have the items they drop, why would they ever drop a potion? Wouldn’t they drink it to save their own skin? Well, sure. The problem is that this adds a layer of unpredictability to the game. If I’m killing a monster and it happens to have a few healing potions, the fight may not be quite what I expected. In most level-based games, this is going to throw the “consideration” system out of whack.
But, we can see some people suggesting some interesting alternatives in the comments. The most interesting suggestion is to allow players to salvage this “garbage” loot to make components for crafting. That orc mail shirt might be useless, but it can be melted down to some iron which can be reformed into something useful. Now we are finally getting rid of the useless aspect of the treasure and it becomes an interesting design question: is this better than having players harvest nodes or locations? Is the additional development work to come up with garbage loot worthwhile? This is similar to the system in DAoC, or the enchanting system in WoW, where even useless items can have some purpose for crafters.
So, what do you think? Do you think development time should be spent on “favor” like this? Do you think that adding a more interesting system would be better? Or, is it all a waste of time and developers should get back to cranking out expansions?