UO Blog - Some Thoughts About Adventure - May 13th, 2010

Blog Index:

Leaving Britannia Again
(May 11th, 2011)
High Seas in Retrospect
(Feb 4th, 2011)
The Lack of New Players
(Jun 26th, 2010)
Thoughts About Adventure
(May 13th, 2010)
Revolutionizing Ultima Online
(Feb 17th, 2010)
Player-Run Towns
(Oct 3rd, 2009)
Leaving a Trace in the World
(Sep 1st, 2009)
What Ultima Online Could Be
(Jul 4th, 2009)
Felucca - A Niche Facet
(Jun 9th, 2009)
The Trammel/Felucca Dilemma
(Mar 10th, 2009)
Pirate Expansion, A Concept
(Feb 20th, 2009)
Artificial Life Engine
(Jan 27th, 2009)
Flashback 2008
(Jan 16th, 2009)
UO Too Much Based on Items?
(Dec 9th, 2008)
Britannian Towns Deserted
(Nov 15th, 2008)
Improving the World
(Oct 21nd, 2008)
Requesting a Pirate Expansion
(Sep 30th, 2008)
New Craftables Discovered?
(Aug 14th, 2008)


Why Treasure Hunting Palled

It was an announcement in the Producer's Letter in May 2010 that once again got me pondering about adventure in Ultima Online: "[…] we are targeting a major update to treasure maps for the middle of this summer."

Treasure hunting! When treasure hunting was introduced in February 1999, people were excited about the new type of adventure. However, after a few years treasure hunting palled. The loss of appeal happened mostly for the following reasons:

  • With the availability of powerful craftable equipment and artifacts, treasure hunt loot became unattractive.
  • With the massive devaluation of gold, the amount of gold found in the treasure chests was considered irrelevant.
  • Extensive rune libraries with runes to each treasure location killed the fun of searchig and exploring.
  • Treasure hunts always follow the same scheme (decrypt map, use rune, dig, get rid of monsters, loot).

Turning A Treasure Hunt Into An Adventure

The topic "Treasure Hunting" inspired me, because it is a perfect synonym for the whole adventure content of UO. Players simply don't explore anymore, although adventuring is one of the things many players like the most. What do we expect from an adventure in an MMORPG like Ultima Online?

  • The key of an adventure is that it sends us to places unknown. It should require some effort to get to the destination.
  • During the adventure, there should be some more or less dangerous challenges of different levels of difficulty. Those challenges should be surprising or unexpected.
  • It certainly would help the community spirit if teamwork would be required or at least be a relevant advantage.
  • The reward should somehow reflect the effort players put into the adventure. The reward should be random and not an expected artifact.

One of the biggest issues that kills the whole adventure is that people get to their destination effortless, using traveling spells. Of course you could say, if you want more adventure, you don't have to use those rune libraries, grab the sextant instead and just walk. But: People have always been lazy and will use the easiest way to achieve their goal, even if it kills the fun. This leads us automatically to the following conclusions:

  • Change the players' goal from "treasure chest reward" to "adventure on the journey".
  • Make the journey at least as random and entertaining as digging out the secret in the end.
  • Make the journey obligatory for reaching the destination.

This way, it would not only be impossible to use runes to find the treasure. The search for the treasure would also be the most challenging and fun part of the treasure hunt. The whole adventuring business should always follow the old Chinese philosophy:

The journey is the reward. (Confucius)

Concrete Suggestions For Treasure Hunting

How can we make the journey more interesting for the adventurer? Since the environment in UO does not really offer anything interesting, players consider traveling on foot/mount an avoidable nuisance. Today, everybody utilizes traveling spells instead of wandering through the wilderness. As mentioned in a previous column, we can think of many ways to add adventure to the beautiful world of Sororia, and to make traveling and exploring more rewarding and interesting. These ideas can be of use here.

Instead of directing the treasure hunter to certain coordinates, why not send him on a little scavenger hunt along a specific route with an unknown destination? The treasure map would only yield the starting point, and only the person holding the map is able to discover the next station. This could work similar like Ricardo's Ancient Lantern in the Shadow of Virtues event. Somewhere at a random spot along the route, the next hint will become visible ("You notice something strange about the tree"). If you examine this location, it will give you new directions. And so on. Along that route special monsters could appear, or deadly traps could be hidden on the ground, if the holder of the map passes by. The monsters could hold random rare crafting ingredients - or in exception even new recipes - as a loot. The treasure hunt could also contain routes that require a boat and hints hidden in the water. Only if all stations are passed, the hunter is entitled to lift the treasure.

The challenge for the game developer of setting up such routes would not even be that it might be a lot of work, but rather a mathematical challenge. Here a description of the steps required to randomly calculate the route to the treasure with any number of stations:

  • 1. Player decrypts the treasure map and opens it.
  • 2. Define the coordinates of the starting point (preferably coordinates in a town).
  • 3. Randomly determine the next coordinates within a certain radius (e.g. 5-10° in a random direction). Optional: Calculate the rough direction (e.g. "northwest") to help the player navigating.
  • 4. If the next coordinates are in an inaccessible area (e.g. mountains or in town), recalculate.
  • 5. Communicate directions to the holder of the treasure map.
  • 6. While player moves towards those coordinates, randomly load a challenge (e.g. monster, trap, etc.).
  • 7. If player stands within a certain amount of tiles of the coordinates (depending on his cartography skill), trigger a challenge or a riddle.
  • 8. If challenge or riddle is solved, randomly give a minor reward and calculate new coordinates (continue with 3.)
  • 9. If all stations have been passed, let the player dig out the treasure. Guarding monsters appear.
  • 10. The treasure hunter picks the lock and removes the trap.
  • 11. If all guarding monsters are slain, give acess to the chest.

This way both the route and the location of the treasure would be completely random, and rune libraries would be obsolete. The search for the treasure itself would be a challenging quest that offers both fun and reward.

Here are a few examples of riddles along the route. The difficulty should depend on the level of the map (i.e. it makes no sense to have riddles requiring very high skills in low-level treasure maps).
For more versatility one could even take the ground into consideration before triggering the riddle. This means, riddles on water could be different from riddles on the mainland, in the desert or on ice. The system could check what type of ground the coordinates have (grass, sand, ice, water, stone, cave, etc.) and select a random riddle from the appropriate list.

  • WATER: "You see a glinting object under the surface of the water." (-> Take a fishing pole and give it a few tries before you can fish up a bottle containing the next hint.)
  • WATER: "You notice a pecuilar swarm of fish." (-> Use your fishing pole. A number of Kraken will surface and attack you. The lower your fishing skill, the more Kraken will appear. One of them will hold a message when it is killed.)
  • ICE: "You discover a strange object gleaming through the ice." (-> Light a couple of campfires to melt the ice and reveal the next hint. Only works in snow-covered areas and in winter, of course.)
  • CAVE: "You notice a small hole in the ground. Only a mouse could fit in." (-> Tame a rat and lead it towards the hole. It will vanish in the hole and after a while return with a note and a horde of monsters on its tail.)
  • CAVE: "You notice a strange footprint in the dust." (-> Use forensic evaluation to examine the footprint. When you succeed, a trapdoor will appear on the ground. The lower your skill, the more often you will fail. If you fail, a dangerous monster may spawn. The trapdoor is locked and has to be picked. Inside you will find the next hint.)
  • GRASS: "Awaken the Daemon by spilling his blood!" (-> Bury daemon blood into the ground. A dangerous Daemon Berserker will appear, who will ask a random question about UO lore. If you answer correctly, he will reveal the next hint and vanish. If your answer is wrong, he will attack and has to be killed, and the hint looted from his body.)
  • SAND: "You notice a cone-like pit in the sand." (-> Use a shovel. A number of Sand Vortexes accompanied with Scorpions will appear. One of them will carry the next hint.)
  • ROCK: "You notice something strange about the rock." (-> Use a dagger or knife to clear the lines on the rock and find the next hint.)

Possible Rewards

Since the treasure chest rewards can be bulky, it is advised to bring a pack animal along.

Possible random rewards along the route (monster loot):

  • 1 or 2 random imbuing ingredients.
  • A new decoration item.
  • 1 or 2 random crafting ingredients (e.g. those you get from lumberjacking or mining).
  • A pile of 100 pieces of a random reagent.
  • A plant fertilizer (doubles the growth rate of a plant).

Possible random rewards from the treasure (quality depending on the level of the treasure map):

  • 1 Relic Fragment
  • 1 Jar of Powder of Fortifying
  • 5 random imbuing ingredients.
  • 5 random rare mining gems.
  • 1 random lowest level runic crafting tool. (e.g. dull copper hammer)
  • 1 random normal crafting tool with 300 uses.
  • Jewelry, weapon or armor with only one (but high) attribute (e.g. a weapon with 40% SSI or a ring with 50% EP).
  • Pile of resources like wood, ore, leather, stone (e.g. 250 iron ore or 25 valorite ore, number depends on quality).
  • Pile of 300 reagents.
  • Pile of 200 bandages.
  • Pile of 300 bottles.
  • Pile of 100 Magical Residue.
  • Pile of 100 Enchanted Essence.
  • A random 105-110 Power Scroll.
  • A +5 or +10 Stat Scroll.
  • A check of 10,000 - 75,000 gold pieces.
  • Very rare (rare enough to discourage farming): A new random artifact.

The idea behind those rewards is, to discourage the pure artifact farming and encourage the crafting business. This also gives people access to low-level crafting without necessarily having to do repetitive tasks. Perfect for a newcomer to get some ingredients and make himself decent equipment, or experiment with crafting skills.

Gaming the System?

To avoid that players abuse the system (and if it is possible, they will!) to grief or to get rewards with little or no effort, a couple of things have to be considered:

  • Only the holder of the treasure map or the people in his team will get looting rights on the monsters or the treasure chest, no matter who damaged or killed the creature.
  • While holding the treasure map, the treasure hunter cannot use any traveling spells. If he needs additional equipment, he can either put down his map and recall, or run back to town to acquire the items he needs. If you're in a team this will be easier, as you can send someone to get the missing items. Some of the riddles will be easier to solve if you have a certain skill. This also encourages team work.
  • Once the treasure map is decrypted, the treasure has to be lifted within 3 hours, or the treasure map will expire and crumble.

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