Philosophiae Zulu

Welcome to Zulu Hotel. This server was designed and is built to conform to the developers' personal philosophies about what makes a game fun in the general sense, and what made Ultima Online great more specifically. This page serves as a collection of thoughts and writings to try to summarize the overarching philosophy that guides all design and development descisions regarding Zulu Hotel. The intended audience is not just future developers but also players both current and prospective.

The opinions presented here span the realms of software design, game theory, human psychology, and common sense. If you find yourself agreeing with the principles outlined here, then this server is for you. If you find yourself disagreeing then we highly encourage you to give Zulu Hotel a try anyways, but we acknowledge that not everyone has the same idea of fun as us, and we hope you find something that you enjoy elsewhere. The following principles are presented roughly in order of precedence, and relevant examples are included where possible.

Risk versus Reward

Games in general, and UO in particular, are predicated on balancing risks and rewards. A player risks death and the loss of everything they were carrying to slay monsters and claim treasure, for example. Zulu Hotel is designed so that risks taken have associated rewards of commensurate magnitude. Similarly, rewards are not to be freely given without risk. An example of what players should not expect to see on this server are "personal yards" that were popular on other Zulu Hotel servers for a time. In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, allow me to explain:

On some servers you can pay (either in real money to receive "donator coins", secondary currencies like "platinum", or simply in UO gold pieces) to have a staff member come and place a wall of statues or tables around the entrace to your home. The purpose of this is to provide the player with a safe area to Recall into and out-of so that they can open their house's front door without fear of invisible or hidden players sneaking in as well. This violates the principle of Risk versus Reward: Unless the player is foolish enough to Gate into or out of their "yard", they are effectively immune from the risk of burglary. It's been argued to Yours Truly that the yard is the reward for unspecified risks already taken, but I don't buy that argument. The reward is the gold, or items, or whatever that the player is spending to buy the yard, and UO unfortunately has lots of ways to farm gold AFK with little to no risk (something we're working on at Zulu Hotel). It's well known among most UO veterans that the fast way to riches is not to grind for loot in dungeons anyways, so theoretically the people who can afford to pay for this gold sink tend to be the ones who either got lucky and found ultra-rare loot or run successful crafters.

Other examples of things that are common on some servers that we don't like include "Vendor Malls" that are "no-PK" by server decree, or really any other zone with no-damage mechanics. This has been tried by OSI/EA in the past, and they called it Trammel. Many herald Trammel as the beginning of the end of what made UO special.

Encourage player interaction

MMOs, of which of course UO was the first, were the first games that harnessed the social aspect. The thrill of knowing there's a human on the other end of that Corp Por is part of what makes UO so exciting. Our philosophy is that, generally, anything that increases or encourages player interaction is A Good Thing™. The more players interact with each other, the more a sense of community develops, the more friendships blossom, the more rivalries are forged, the more murders happen, the more corpses get dry-looted, the more lols are had, etc. This principle is one of the most far-reaching, actually. As an example, consider the humble Magic Fish that you can catch.

I think this is a symptom of a greater problem which is the idea that every class needs to be self-sufficient, and needs to be able to draw on its own skills to fight, which is why Bards have the Song Book on some servers. Magic fish, for those of you who don't know, are basically just alchemy potions that you catch from the sea with the fishing skill. Whereas on "OSI-like" servers any dexer worth a damn carries a full backpack of potions and trapped pouches, instead someone somewhere decided that no, we'd rather not push people to participate in the player economy thanks very much; we'll just give Rangers their own slightly shittier version of Alchemy potions. Instead of realizing that Bards are a already a fantastic support character and easily the best PVE choice, someone decided that the humble Bard needed to be able to PVP (what's next? Crafters PVPing?) so someone created the Song Book.

As a second example consider the auction system I'm writing.

Somewhere out there on the internet is an article that someone wrote as a Masters' thesis about the economics of Ultima Online. In the days before EVE Online which employs its own in-house economist, I have no doubt that this was a revolutionary paper. But suffice it to say, for those of you who haven't read it, that there are generally two ways that goods circulate, enter and leave the economy of a modern UO shard:

  1. NPC shopkeepers "buy" goods from you by printing gold out of thin air, and then essentially deleting the item. In reverse, when you buy items from an NPC shopkeeper the computer just deletes the gold you give it and prints you an item. Monsters (in the process of dropping loot when they die) function much the same as an NPC shopkeeper by "printing" gold and items and leaving them on their corpses for players to acquire.

  2. Goods circulate between players in exchange for other goods or gold or services. These items essentially never leave the economy except when they decay on the ground/in a house/on a corpse. Players trade these items out of game (forum/IRC/etc.), in-game directly, or via the services of an in-game system such as Player Vendors or an auction system.

Player vendors by their very nature are distributed, and deal exclusively in that 2nd type of economic circulation. Because many players will not search exhaustively for out-of-the-way vendors, the Player Vendor system privileges those players who get the best housing spots, which usually means the richest players, creating a rich-get-richer dynamic that's not in the best interests of server health and longevity. Lots of servers try to democratize this by creating vendor malls, but those come with their own problems (see Risk vs Reward).

To level the playing field we'll be introducing an auction system, which itself can be done a number of different ways. Auctions again are the 2nd circulation of the economy, but they solve some of the problems with Player Vendors by centralizing. ZH3 had a .auc command which was buggy but worked reasonably well, so the idea isn't new, but to get back on topic: Our auction system will take into account the idea of maximizing player interaction by literally having an auction house where you have to physically go in-game to call up the menu interface, and where you have to return to place bids and receive your items. This increases foot traffic and creates a hotspot for social interaction (and potential pvp, if people are willing to risk getting guard-whacked; see again Risk vs Reward).

This is just one (lengthy) example of how we approach design, but hopefully it illustrates our approach.

Keep players in-game

Or, restated: Don't drive players out of the game. The default onboarding experience for most UO shards is pants-on-head retarded. Imagine trying to tell a person who's never played UO before that the best way to get into non-EA shards is to set up an AFK macro to train your character up. You're literally encouraging players to not play the game. We have a system already in place, the details of which I'm choosing not to go into here, that discourages AFK macroing (and AFK resource gathering in particular because of the economic damage it causes) while encouraging people to actually play their characters from zero to grand master.

Balance

The term Balance has many connotations and can be interpreted many different ways. What I mean here is mechanical balance but also a balanced approach to everything else.

Mechanical balance is important. If you have one particular spec that stomps all the others in PVP it kills the scene. Back in the day it used to be rangers that were kings of the hill. You'd have this guy shooting arrows at you while mounted on an ostard, so you can't catch him, and he's got Animal Taming as an on-spec skill so he's got pet dragons protecting him. Good luck killing that guy unless you were also a ranger with dragons, or unless you had a numerical advantage.

Recently there's been a trend of making elemental resistance items common, and upping the maximum amount. So you have guys walking around with Free Action jewellery and so much immunity to elemental damage that most attacks actually heal them. Couple that with a Vampiric weapon and the healing bonus, and the Warrior becomes easily the best spec in literally any situation.

This is why we feel that Zulu Hotel needs to take a step backwards before going forward again. We plan to focus on the core fundamentals, and recognize that not every spec needs to be able to PVP (Crafters, anyone?) which means we'll focus on getting the mechanical balance between Warriors, Mages, Rangers, and Powerplayers correct, and then continue making small and deliberate tweaks (to the other classes too if necessary. Maybe Discordance needs to be more effective against players?) as we go forward.

But balance isn't just about the mechanics of combat. We also need to deliver our approach when it comes to delivering content, because PVE and non-combat activities play just as important roles in the health and longevity of a server. I remember having lots of fun doing Reds vs Blues at the Britain grave yard but I also had lots of fun decorating my house and organizing my bank box. UO is supposed to be about more than just ganking people and taking their reagents.

Keep it old-school

I've touched on this in previous blog posts but for the sake of completeness I'll reproduce it here. When we exit Beta and go live, players should not expect a bunch of the fancy bells and whistles they're maybe used to from some other servers. Spec levels don't go up to 8 here. Skills and stats don't go up to 200. There's no Song Book or magic fish. It's quite possible we won't introduce Stygian weapons (maybe). At some point this community got it into our collective heads that bigger numbers were better. Every wannabe server admin had to add their own GM Weapon that was better than the rest, which meant damage numbers kept getting higher. They upped the stat and skill cap, and the modifier per spec level, and we started seeing rangers with 350 dex before buffs. Combat became too twitch-based and too dependent on ping, since whomever got the first hit in usually won the fight. That artificially penalizes our friends from different continents and lowers the skill ceiling.

Instead we're paring everything down to the fundamentals. Our "go-live" version will initially be closer to the original ZH2 or ZH3 than to anything that came after. Once we get a solid base that's fun to play, mostly balanced, and free of game-breaking bugs, we'll reach out and re-imagine what Zulu Hotel (and UO T2A) could have been. Some of the things we plan to release post-launch include:

Maturity and independence

Most UO players are well into adulthood these days. Daleron and myself are both working professionals with steady income and personal lives/family. Which means, among other things, that we don't need to depend on donations to keep the server alive. We're doing this because we love UO and we think there's a lack of quality servers out there, not because we want this to be our profitable side hustle. That means we can pay for professional hosting in a datacenter, and the server is financially independent. While we'll gratefully accept donations from people who want to pitch in to help us pay for the server costs, you will never see a "Donation Shop" or similar facility as long as I'm running this server.

We may choose to give out little cosmetic freebies like a coloured robe or a hat for people who help us fix big bugs, or whatever, but everything worth attaining in Zulu Hotel will be attainable without spending any real-life money. If you see a guy decked out with loot, he earned that loot with his in-game actions one way or another.

We similarly will expect our players and our staff to be mature and adult about things. Rather than an exhaustive list of rules with exclamation points, our players and our staff (who are players) will each agree to (separate) codes of conduct, and rule #1 will be Don't be toxic. Be excellent to each other, even if that means you kill each other on sight in-game. We'll expect our players not to be assholes to each other and to staff members who are volunteering their free time, but at the same time I can separate in-game from out-of-game. If you kill me 6 times and then loot my house, that's not being toxic. That's me needing to get good at PVP and/or securing my in-game valuables. And if you figure out who my mortal is, and see me raging about getting pwned, then feel free to cite this page.