Publish 2001 (More Thoughts on the Virtues from Calandryll)

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More Thoughts on the Virtues from Calandryll Oct 17 2001 12:32AM The Virtues: Part Two

In my last comments from the team, I discussed what I felt the virtues should not be. This time, I'd like to start talking about what I think they should be and why. I've broken down the virtue system into three main goals and would like to expand upon each of these in this update. Note that not every virtue will achieve all three goals by itself...but the system as a whole should.

  • Promote a more "Ultima" feeling in Ultima Online.
  • Give veteran players new goals to achieve that have an impact and are fun.
  • Reward positive behavior in the game.

Promote a more "Ultima" feeling in Ultima Online. When Ultima Online first shipped back in September of 1997, the first thing that struck me was the fact that the virtues were conspicuously missing from the game. Sure, we had the shrines and later the "virtue guards", but in all, the virtues had very little, if any, meaning for the players. To me, this always felt like releasing a Star Trek game without any real concept of the Prime Directive. The virtues, more than anything else, formed the cornerstone of what made Ultima games so special. However, it is important to remember that Ultima Online is not a sequel or a continuation of the single player games. The virtues may not be represented exactly as they were in those games mostly due to the fact that they were single player games and we must design with the multi-player aspects of UO in mind. But, we will do our best to keep the spirit of the virtues intact when designing how each of them will work.

The virtues are meant to give a player a sense of purpose in the world of Britannia. They are not a way of judging right or wrong, or a system or morality. They are a personal choice that each player will be able to make. If designed correctly, the system will ensure that it is very difficult to follow the path of each virtue at the same time. However, players will be able to find the virtues that most fit their character and/or their play style, and use the system to further their game experience.

Give veteran players new goals. The virtue system will be designed with veteran players in mind. Some of the virtues will involve existing systems, giving veterans a different incentive to participate in them, while other virtues will have brand new systems created. Each virtue will have its own path with different tasks, goals, and rewards. Veterans will also be able to display their virtue "status" through the use of a new interface that will show how far they have progressed through each virtue using the symbols and colors of the virtues. An example of a prototype of the gump can be found here.

Reward positive behavior in the game. This is the one that, as a designer, I am actually the most excited about. A lot of MMORPGs (including UO) have tons of policies designed to punish grief-players for poor behavior...and rightfully so. Grief-play, harassment, exploiting, and other such disruptive behavior have no place in these games and do quite a bit of harm to the community. But, the idea of actually giving significant rewards to players for doing something good has been missing. The more a community works together, the more successful it will be. Designing systems that encourage players to work together (without forcing it) is one of the things the virtue system will hope to achieve.

Some other points. Following my initial posts and discussions about a virtue system, I have read a great deal of written and thought provoking responses from players. I'd like to address some of them here as well.

What about an anti-virtue system? There are no plans to create a system that rewards people for unvirtuous behavior. There are two major reasons for this. One, such a system would have to be able to track the intent of the evil act. Was the player killing the other player because he was role-playing an evil character or was he simply killing for the sake of the loot with no concept of role-playing? The same would hold true for looting and stealing. Determining the intent behind an evil action is far more important than the intent behind a good action. If someone is helpful to another player simply to gain the virtue points, that causes no harm to the game. In fact, it can help the game a great deal if the helped player benefits as well (which he should if the system is designed correctly), especially if the helper would not have otherwise done the beneficial act. But with an evil act, with the notable exception of role-playing evil in a plotline, the only person who really benefits is the evildoer. Why give incentives to them that are any greater than they already are? I'm not set-in-stone against an anti-virtue system; I just haven't heard any compelling reasons for why it should exist.

Isn't rewarding people for being virtuous wrong? Not really. The notion that doing a virtuous act is a reward in and of itself and that rewarding the player further is a bad idea is very much a hardcore role-playing mentality. Allow me to sum up the virtue system with the following statement to demonstrate why I believe there has to be rewards for virtuous behavior..."The virtue system is a role-playing system that is not just for role-players".

I'll explain what I mean by that. The virtues, as they exist as an ideal, are mostly considered a role-playing aid. Many role-players use the virtues as a guideline for their role-playing. In fact, I am one of those players. But, when designing a system as broad and important as the virtue system, it is imperative that as many play-styles as possible are able to use the system. That's where the rewards come in. If someone helps another player solely because they know they will get a reward is that really a bad thing? Sure, we may question their motivation, but in the end, that player helped someone where before they may not have. The more players we have helping and working together with each other through the system, the better off our community will be.

I called the virtue system a "role-playing system that is not just for role-players" in my statement for a very important reason. A system that only caters to one group will never expand that group. I want to expand role-playing in UO. The best example I can use to illustrate what I mean is a debate. If you gather a group of friends who all feel the same way about an issue and go to a rally to speak to people who already feel the same way you do, you will not actually gain any new supporters. But, if you all go to a place where people have gathered who either do not agree with you or are not sure, you have a chance of turning more people to your side. That is what the virtue system is about. If we design it only for those players who would do the tasks because of their propensity to role-playing, we won't increase the number of people role-playing. But, if we design a system that has role-playing elements in it without requiring one to be a role-player to enjoy it, we create a broader use of the system and increase the chance of more people trying out role-play.

The first official designs for the virtues will be on the site soon. We plan on releasing the virtues about one or two at a time to make sure the system starts having an impact. This will still allow us to achieve efficient and adequate testing while releasing a meaningful and robust system. I look forward to hearing what you think of the systems for Humility and Sacrifice once they are on the site.

Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna Designer, Ongoing Content

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