Back to Basics

Written by  on March 13, 2015 

I broke the game.

I’m not referring to some kind of catastrophic bug. I’m referring to the game’s “Balance”.

This game has evolved over the years, from a PvPvE (player vs. player, vs. environment) game, into a PvEvP (player vs. environment vs. player) game. That can be roughly summed up like this: Before JavaTrek’s in-game robot ships, the primary focus was on direct competition between players trying to kill each other and the secondary element was the “metagame” environment- the alliances, the map, the scoreboard, etc. After in-game robots were introduced, the focus of gameplay gradually shifted towards a contest between the player–and the game itself. (robots) And there was a secondary focus on players’ relative skill to one another (aka the scoreboard) -or more precisely, players’ skill at killing robots.

In the early/mid 2000’s, I (and a handful of other players) sensed this shift in focus, and didn’t like it one bit. Being a veteran of the “old” Multi-Trek, I didn’t feel very challenged by the robots since afterall, they are mindless programs- and when introduced to specific variables, they will always behave the same way. As a player, once I managed to decoded any particular robot’s behavior, earning gold became a simple matter of repeating certain moves in certain classes against certain robots. I quickly came to view this as a form of “legalized point-shipping” and anathema to what I viewed as the “spirit” of the game.

Turns out, I was wrong. And even though I can say that today, my prejudice towards the robot ships remains. The shift in focus I sensed in the early JavaTrek days, was infact, a shift in Balance. I can’t quantify the shift; I can’t say for sure whether the bots made the game more or less balanced. But there was a shift. I tend to to believe the bots made the game less balanced, simply because some players such as myself have been trying to play the “old” game… and failing miserably because that game no longer exists. As a developer and admin, I’ve been trying to beat the game back into its old glorious self and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. The problem is, …balance. “Old Multi-Trek” cannot exist with server-side robot ships any more than JavaTrek and later versions can maintain a healthy playerbase without them. The Balance is what made Chuck Peterson’s game what it was, and the Balance is what made JavaTrek, and now this game, what it is.

“In game design, balance is the concept and the practice of tuning a game’s rules, usually with the goal of preventing any of its component systems from being ineffective or otherwise undesirable when compared to their peers.”
source: Playing Fair: A Look at Competition in Gaming by Mark Newheiser
^^^ a good read for anyone interested in game design concepts

In this case, the “rules” are the mechanics of the game itself and the “component systems” might be ships, strategies, tactics, or even the players themselves. The problem here, folks, is that the Players have changed. There are fewer players. The players are now much older and more mature. We now play the game with different goals in mind. And finally, many of us have a hard time letting go of the past. Players can’t be rewritten… They can however, be enticed to adjust themselves according to the rest of the “rules”. Which is precisely what I’ve been trying to do all along. Only, I’ve been going about it the wrong way. Taking the above definition of game balance a step further. One of the components could be the strategy of fighting human players to gain rank (and reward) on the high scores, while the opposing component would be killing robots to achieve that same rank and reward.

I’d like to see a return of the “PvPvE” model, but as long as we have a plethora of gold-laden robots and relatively few human players, the “rules” of the game are pushing players towards “PvEvP”. The easiest way to earn gold, is to kill robots, and the easiest way to die, is to fight humans. Players are rewarded for earning gold and penalized for dying. Do the math. The simple, “basic” answer is to turn off robots. But we all know that won’t work because there aren’t enough human targets to keep everyone interested in the game. The real answer might be to balance the risk/reward ratio slightly in favor of killing other human players whenever possible. I say “slightly” because players still need something to do when there are no human targets on.

Players should still be rewarded for killing robots, but they should be rewarded significantly more for killing other human players. So it really all comes down to economics. Robots need to pay out just enough, so that “expensive-to-operate” ships such as the excelsior can be played and enjoyed. Human ships need giant golden bullseyes on their backs; the bigger the ship, the bigger the bullseye should be.

I can’t however, forget about the handful of players who simply do not wish to play a Primarily “Player vs. Player” game. Those players should have an option to compete and be rewarded by mostly killing robots.

Here is my proposed next incarnation of the game:

A high score reset will mark the beginning of the next update cycle.

That cycle will run for 365 days minimum, without any major changes, high score resets, or updates. The only exceptions would be bug fixes, or (knock on wood) the results of some unforeseen catastrophe.

mtrek.com will effectively be split into two games. One will be a “classic” flavored PvP game, and the other will be an “updated” PvE game.

Players will decide which version they want to play by either (A) selecting an appropriate ship class or (B) moving their PvP ship into the PvE game. Players will not be able to take PvE ships into the PvP side

Scoring: When exiting the game, players will see six pages of high scores.
1st–“Classic Multi-Trek” high scores (top 20 PvP ships sorted by Gold)
2nd–“mtrek.pro-style” high scores (top 20 PvE ships sorted by Gold + Damage Given + Bonus)
3rd–Top 20 Individual Class PvP ships sorted by Gold
4th–Top 20 Individual Class PvE sorted by Gold+DmgGvn+Bonus
5th–The player’s PvP fleet
6th–The player’s PvE fleet

The PvP game will be a “near-clone” of Multi-Trek as it was played between 1995-2001. It will be about 99% accurate to the Multi-Trek documentation from that era. It WILL have robot ships though, and there will be a “Spatial Anomaly” that players may use to move into the PvE game. PvP can only be selected by creating a new ship from the original classes a-n (iia thru warbird).

The PvE game will be a version of the mtrek.pro “canonball” map transposed onto Delta Quadrant. Players can enter PvE directly by creating a new ship of any class other than a-n (iia thru warbird) or by flying their PvP ship through the Spatial Anomaly.

Robots will spawn with a roughly 50/50 split between the PvP and the PvE sides. Since the PvP side houses 4 quadrants, it is expected that there will be a lower density, which will give players the chance to battle while still having something to do when no other humans are on.

Robots & Gold: (applies to PvP and PvE sides) When Robots dock at starbases, their Gold scores will be adjusted to 1% of their Damage Given + Bonus. That means when Robot with 10000 DmgGvn+Bonus docks, it will have 100 Gold, regardless of whether it has picked up gold from another ship. All dead Robot ships will drop 100% of their gold.

Human Ships & Gold: (again, this applies to PvP and PvE) All Human controlled ships will be awarded a standard 10% of DmgGvn+Bonus when they dock at starbase. All dead Human ships will drop 100% of their gold.

The Spatial Anomaly will be slowed down and placed in Omega quadrant. Older versions of it cycled quickly which sometimes made it difficult for slower ships like the KEV-12 to reach it before it closed. Alternatively, I suppose I could make it a permanent object.

Mull it over. I’d like to hear what you guys think. I personally think this could be a way forward, and I’m particularly excited by the possibility of not having to “fix” anything for an entire year. Honestly, I’m beginning to exhaust myself with all of the updates and struggles to make the game “right” to the point where I feel like I’m running out of options. Frankly, I’ve seriously considered wiping the slate clean, starting all over with a completely stock basic JavaTrek server and calling it a day.

As always, thanks!
obit