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April 1999

UO Assist, The Judgement Call That OSI Threw Back In Our Lap
Over a year ago, the growing popularity of UO Assist was causing concern within the UO community. It wasn't so much the UO Assist program that was causing the concern as it was the free "UO Extreme" package that also existed. You see, Tugsoft is a legitimate company that was charging a decent price for their own intellectual property. This, of course, limited the programs use to anyone who was willing to behave legitimately and actually PAY for the use of UO Assist. The large portion of children playing Ultima Online, the ones without a credit card, or ability to pay for UO Assist, gladly downloaded the similar program known as UO Extreme. UO Extreme is free, and worse than that, it always has features that are just plain cheating.

So, for the sake of argument, lets present a stereotypical situation. The situation is a year ago, and UO Assist is really becoming popular. With the popularity of it, the features of it are becoming a necessity for anyone involved in PvP combat(namely last target and equip/disequip). The adults playing UO, or the parents playing UO, begin purchasing UO Assist to help themselves combat lag, and a few clumsy interface moves during combat. The children who are playing an account off of their parents credit card downloaded UO Extreme. Why? Because it's dramatically simpler for them to download a program that works without purchasing a license, than to ask their mother/father to give out their credit card number over the internet again.

Then, OSI takes action. With much fanfare and promises to the public, they announce that they will be creating a 3rd-party approval program. The announced intent of this program is to approve the programs that the UO public has created for use with the UO client. And what was the "spotlighted" program for this approval process? UO Assist. Xena may get on my case about how instrumental her programs were in encouraging the approval process as well. And she's right, what she's done has also given OSI reason to create a 3rd-party approval program. But it's impossible for anyone to deny the controversy now surrounding the use of UO Assist, controversy that's only been fueled by OSI's shallow promises of approval. Eventually, in a move that perhaps saved the game of UO, OSI bans all 3rd party program use. The wording of the ban is of course, extremely vague. Inviting such wild interpretations as someone complaining of the use of Netscape Navigator while playing UO. What it did in effect was label every user of UO Assist a "cheater". A title they neither deserved, nor wanted.

Now, it's a year later, and surprise surprise, UO Assist is still not approved by OSI. Tugsoft can give you the entire story themselves, I wouldn't attempt to recant it. For some 6 months, OSI gave Tugsoft an almost professional look at the "run around". I work in State Government, I know what it's like. You're promised a response within a timeframe, the person waits until the very last day of that time, and then returns your work to you, unapproved, incomplete, and marked with necessary corrections. It's a classic stall tactic. What it tells me, is that OSI created something they really weren't prepared for. They banned the use of UO Assist. That made everyone who used it a "cheater". But WORSE THAN THAT, it was a cop-out. OSI has, time and again, failed to define what is considered "cheating" in their own game. The feature "Last Target" was considered legal by the support crowd for months. Then suddenly it's not, and then the GM's explain that they're banning people for using it while macroing. The simple fact of the matter is that if you asked even the most seasoned veteran on the streets of Britain this question: "What is considered cheating, what will get me removed from the game", they couldn't tell you plainly. If you asked the highest GM in the support crowd, "What is considered cheating", they couldn't really tell you plainly at all. If you asked DD himself, "What is considered cheating", he really couldn't tell you. However, If you give a player, or a GM, or DD a story, or a situation, THEN they could say "this is cheating, and that's not."

In basketball we call that a "judgement call", and it's the most difficult call to make. Still, judgement call or no, in the eyes of this OWO customer, it's extremely hypocritical for OSI to create a 3rd-party approval program and then reject the most primary candidate for approval on petty coding technicalities. My hope would be that Tugsoft would continue trying to obtain approval, but that's just not a realistic scenario. In my own best guess, my own opinion, OSI has stalled on approving UO Assist because they're either intent on putting some of the features of UO Assist into the UO Client(and thus ending the "cheating or no" debate), or they simply do not have the guts to decide clearly what "cheating" is. I would hope they could figure that out soon enough. It's hard enough for the players to understand without some kind of clear, longstanding explanation. That's an explanation that I personally, and many others, were hoping to get with the 3rd-party approval program. The approval program was more than just a "legal statement", it was the process that thousands of UO Assist users were turning to in hopes that they wouldn't be labled as cheaters, the worst label you can receive in an online game.

Now it seems I have a decision to make, a decision that OSI has thrown back into the player's laps. With Tugsoft's threatened "pull out" from the approval program I may be forced to dump my $15 and never use UOA again. That of course, will drastically affect my playstyle. No longer will I be able to easily re-target my flamestrike spell on a monster or player that is bearing down on me. (I'd pay money to watch a melee fighter deal with manually targeting his opponent for each strike of their weapon) No longer will I be able to accurately see how much mandrake I have left. Being a "pure mage", it means more death for me in-game. It means the game is less fun, and more frustration because instead of worrying about strategy in combat situations, I'm forced to learn to juggle a clumsy interface. It also means that a program has long been considered harmless by the majority of the community is now considered a "cheat/exploit", and it will be thrown into the world of UO Taboo. Again, that's a place it neither deserves, nor wants. This isn't so much a goodbye to UOA as it is complete dissapointment that OSI was unwilling to take a stand on the issue, one way or the other.

Posted on Friday, April 23, 1999, 10:58 AM EDT by Rainman (Editorials)

My name is Zamboni Driver. I'm a macroholic.
There, I'm finally out of the closet.  Past denial, past anger, well into acceptance. I love to macro.  In some ways, I feel compelled to macro.  Now, like any good addict, let me try to justify my activities.

Briefly, my history in UO

Like most people who play UO, I started out as a complete newbie.  My first character, Grog, was never macroed.  I ran around with little idea how to play UO and had a ton of fun doing it.  Grog never posed a serious threat to anyone except maybe a stray orc or two and, consequently, was an easy target for PKs.  Grog was healing himself in battle back in the days of bloody bandages and was thrilled when he managed to heal 5-10 hps in one shot.  Grog didn't use magery except to cast RA on himself (wow, was that ever the most broken spell in UO history).  If it wasn't for RA, Grog probably wouldn't even have been a threat to those orcs.  I think I played for about 2 months before Grog started casting recall.  By the end of the 4th month that I played Grog, he had tried just about every skill available. 

Then it happened - someone told me about this program called EZ Macros.  Zamboni Driver was born.  At first, I didn't macro very much at all.  Zamboni spent a couple of hours at a practice dummy with his mace - that was just endless repetition, so I set up my first macro:  attacking the dummy and some hiding for good measure.  It all seemed so innocent at the time.  Zam's quick "superiority" to Grog was mainly the result of my experience, though,not because of macroing.

Zam was never power macroed, except maybe for some magery at high levels (he still isn't a GM).  I also macroed item ID to get him from 99.4 to GM Merchant - the rest was, believe it or not, honestly gained from ID'g well over 20000 magic items.

I really started power macroing when Yamato was born.  By then I knew exactly what I was doing and how to do it.  Bride of Zamboni was a GM Scribe within 2 days of my setting my mind to the task.  BoZ's stats were carefully tailored with item ID and arms lore.  BoZ was a GM Meditator in about 24 hours after that skill was introduced.

The final straw came in January, when I got an ADSL line.  Before ASDL, I was running overthe phone on a 28.8 kbps modem.  ADSL meant a 24 hour a day connection at incredibly high speeds (and one that piggybacks on top of the phone line, so doesn't interfere with its use).  After a while, I actually felt bad if I wasn't macroing something when I wasn't actively online - I mean, it seemed like I was wasting the connection if I wasn't using it.

Various justifications for macroing

Well, now you know a bit about how it all started.  Here are some reasons why I do it.

1)  It allows me to concentrate my conscious online time on social activities instead of menial tasks.

Here's the one use for macroing that even the most ardent anti-macroers don't have a problem with.  There are various tasks in UO that are pure drudgery.  Some examples are cutting fish, cutting bandages and cooking mass quantities of food.  Setting up 5-15 minutes macros tohandle these tasks saves on eyestrain and finger muscles.  If I cook my 1000 fish steaks while I eat dinner in RL, I get more reward from my "conscious" online time (which I define as time that I spend at the keyboard while online, as opposed to time that I'm online but away from the keyboard, which is unconscious online time).  This form of macroing has little, if any, effect on the game play of others.  Macroing these tasks wouldn't be necessary with a few minor modifications to the game engine (allow entire stacks of fish and bandages to be cut and stacked; allow entire stacks of food to be cooked at once).

2)  It allows me to play in an advanced campaign without going through the basic stages.

For non-RPGs, advanced campaigns are those where the characters start at a higher level.  My old AD&D roots show here.  There are advantages and disadvantages to participating in an advanced campaign.  The main advantage is that you tend to be able to do a wider variety ofand more interesting things.  The main disadvantage is that there's far less room for further advancement of your characters - the higher you start, the less room there is to grow (not in personality, but in strength and diversity).

3)  UO isn't a controlled environment.  To compete, one must keep up with the Jonses.

A lot of people don't buy this justification.  Why should what anyone else does affect the way that I play UO?  As long as those people don't go out of their way to kill me, I pretty much agree with that sentiment.  However, that's just not the case in UO.

In AD&D, the DM (dungeon master) had 100% control over the game.  Yes, there were random dice rolls, but I don't think I ever played a campaign where the DM didn't do a little tinkering when required.  In a basic campaign, you met low level creatures, except perhaps at the very end of the trail.

In UO, there is no way to control the level of your adversaries.  Even by staying in low-spawn areas and "newbie dungeons" you're not safe.  I guess the best way to express my feelings on this is by saying that in AD&D my low level parties were never ambushed by a pantheon of dewdish demi-gods, while in UO that's a fairly common experience, even today afterall the changes that the reputation system has undergone.

Further, in UO there's no low level  PvP (except for the occasional organized newbie war).  If you want to participate in the PvP side of UO, you had better have a character that can compete at the highest levels.

4)  Skill advancement rates are just too slow without macroing.

This problem is one at the deepest roots of the macroing syndrome.  Some skills just don't consistently rise through normal game play and have to be macroed if you want any significant gains (most skills rise fairly quickly to around 50 or so then the rate of gain steeply declines). Some examples are the bard skills (music, peacemake and provoke), hiding (which is almost impossible to raise at high levels even with macroing) and the treasure hunting skills (lockpicking, detect hidden, cartography).

Treasure hunting is an example of a set of skills which beg to be macroed.  You can't complete high level hunts without very high skills.  I challenge anyone to raise their skills high enough to do a level 4 or 5 hunt without macroing.  Call me in a month when you're done.  A month after that, when your carpal tunnel syndrome is in remission, we'll go out looking for treasure.

If the game engine could be redesigned with new advancement rates, then you'd see a sharp drop in macroing for skill gain.

5)  I get a sense of satisfaction from a successful macro.

Non-macroers might find this one hard to believe, but it's true.  When I come back to the computer after running a macro, there's always a bit of a rush as I turn on the monitor to see how I've done.  Engineering macros is a science and it's very satisfying to create an efficient one.

What would get me to stop macroing?

Well, there's the million gp question.  If macroing is inherently evil, how can we eliminate it from the game.  OSI's policy on unattended macroing will have no impact whatsoever, unless there are public bannings.  I really hope that the already insignificant GM resources won't be wasted on this task - especially while huge numbers of people are still using3rd party program exploits that have a more direct effect on other players' gaming experiences.  Here are some suggestions (some of which I've stolen from Monteroy and others):

1)  Allow players to choose their own stats.

How many characters have macroed up skills that they never used, just to engineer their stats?  Grog was really impressed when he got killed by a GM chef, until someone told me that PKs all macro taste ID for strength and intelligence.  If you allow players to select and lock down their stats, you'll remove a huge percentage of the macroing in UO.  If you want to make it more interesting, allow master + alchemists to create stat-altering potions, which give +1/-1 to 2 specific stats.

2)  Revamp the skill advancement rates.

I'm not suggesting that there's an easy way to accomplish this task, but if you want to end macroing, then it has to be possible for players to advance skills during normal game play.

3)  Reduce the effectiveness of macroing.

Here's a solution from a different angle.  If OSI truly believes that macroing is bad for UO, then the best way to combat it is to take away the benefits.  Put a cap on skill and stat advancement in a specific time period.  Here are some numbers suggested by Monteroy:

  Below 50 - no limit
  50-60    - 5 points per hour
  60-70    - 2 points per hour
  70-80    - 1 point per hour
  80-90    - .5 points per hour
  90-95    - .2 points per hour
  95+      - .1 point per hour
Final thoughts

Although I try to stay away from RL analogies as much as possible, this one is just too tempting.  If you're an anti-macroer, ask yourself this question:  If you could set up a RL macro that cleaned your house, washed the dishes, did the laundry, made you smarter, toned your body and taught you how to speak another language while you slept, allowing you more time to spend with family and friends during the day, would you do so?

Posted on Friday, April 23, 1999, 2:49 AM EDT by Zamboni Driver (Editorials)