I actually beg to differ here. The Fighting command alone still has a lot of untapped potential. You still have to target an enemy, and you could refine strategic decisions based on this (an enemy that has an uber powerful attack when its xp is full but is a tanker accompanied by small nuisances with big attacks for example). Although I agree with you that most rpgs have been a bit careless with how to handle regular encounters, I think you're generalizing the problem here.
Sure, I didn't say that having a generic attack command could not be improved. But the way its typically used is not conducive to any sort of interesting gameplay. Someone on our forums suggested a system where carefully timing your attacks would be key, and I'd like to see such a system in action. But its too much for our current design so I have no intent of pursuing it.
I personally found that the problem with modern rps is the amount of time they spend on transitions and animations... seriously, attacks have gone from a 3 frames sword animation to a 1 minute long dragon summoning and explosion. If you take a look at a game like Chrono Trigger, transition is minimal, actions are rather quick (aside from a few late-game spells) and its all for the best. Keeps the player focussed on the battle system.
I agree with you there. Especially in the Final Fantasy series when you summon a beast, it can take a ridiculous amount of time to perform the action. That's one reason why I enjoy the older console RPGs, because I don't spend 15 seconds or more watching whenever I want to cast a spell.
I personally don't like this solution. While it does attempt to fix your problems, it also feels out of the genre and would make the game appear more like a shift-clicked RTS than an RPG. You have to be careful and having the player experience gameplay from the perspective of his characters. This approach neglects this.
I've been surprised by how often I've heard this criticism. I don't know if its some sort of establishment mentality or whatever, but I feel that there are no "rules" when it comes to designing a game, nor should there be. I do see your point though, that if we're to attract people who are familiar with RPG mechanics throwing something completely new at them may turn them off.
The good news is that in the working implementation of these features that I have now, its completely optional whether you want to utilize this or not. We allow the player to select from "wait" and "active" modes of battle similar to how other RPGs do it, and if you select the "wait" option then the battle will behave in the traditional model. You can choose to pre-select actions for your characters if you want, but you aren't required to. In the active mode, however, you are required to use the feature to enter commands for your characters.
One of the things I always disliked about having the difference between wait and active options in RPG battles was that wait always offered a clear advantage to the player, because any time spent selecting an action is 100% time that is lost, effectively slowing down your characters. With this system though, you can reduce the amount of time lost significantly, even to 0% loss if you can stay on top of your characters.
The first part of this idea is more of an upgrade to accessibility than anything. It doesn't really fix your problem.
The second half I've tried implementing myself and it felt like I was just taking away from the player's game experience. Ultimately, I reverted back to a system where the player has access to all of his or her spells. The reason for this is that customization and strategy should always be positive, not negative. Removing access to earned spells is a negative experience. Ultimately, gameplay revolves around whatever skill you did "not" bring which could've been the perfect counter for a battle instead of which you brought.
I completely concur with everything you said. And you're right, this hot-key idea doesn't solve the problem. It just (hopefully) improves the interface somewhat for accessing the last few actions quickly.
If an RPG is to be strategic, a player has to understand everything that is happening. By having actions occur at once, you are blurring the player's understanding of the situation (and possibly of the system altogether). It seems like your solution would bring more ill than good if it were to be implemented as is (and god knows some games have done just that! what horror).
Yeah, I'm not too convinced that it will bring more good than bad either. I'm not planning on implementing this anytime soon, and if I ever do it will be simply as a trial to see how it feels. Final Fantasy X-2 did this sort of system I believe, and I don't recall it being criticized heavily. But then again, that's an entirely different game than ours, so you can't say that just because it worked for them that it will work for us as well.
Lastly, I'd like to point out I've been aware of the existence of your project for a fair amount of time. I was on the fence to get up close and personnal with it, and maybe lend a hand to development, but I've been iffy with a lot of the design decisions you've made in the past. I see you are trying to assess them now, which I feel is fortunate, and I'd have to play the latest demo to see how things have moved forward, but I'm still iffy about the general direction. I feel like this project could've been completed by now if the initial vision had received sufficient thinking. I mean, this whole thread is something you should've designed before production even started...
Can you give any specific examples of past design decisions that you were iffy about? Just curious to know.
Coincidentally, last night I made a post on our website discussing some of the reasons why the project has been taking such a long time. This excerpt is somewhat relevant.
The scope of this project is also a big factor. In the beginning, the vision I had for Allacrost when we were starting out was much more simple. I saw basically a game with the same mechanics as Final Fantasy VI, but with a much improved battle system and other significant differences. But over time, we've let new features creep their way into our plans and the scope of this game has gotten pretty massive as a result. Some examples include using OpenGL for our graphics back-end, switching from a tile-movement system to a free-movement one, eliminating random encounters off of maps and replacing it with enemy sprites that roam around, etc. Our artwork requirements were initially outrageous as well, and I had to have some sense kicked into me by others before I accepted it. Even today our artwork needs are painfully high. Sometimes I almost wish our artwork was lower quality than it is, because all of the new artwork we make has to match this high standard and it takes a lot more time and a lot of skill to produce art like that. I've been playing some older console RPGs lately and realizing that many of them are incredibly limited and basic compared to Allacrost in terms of both features and content quality.
In the first week or two of this project in 2004, we actually did have a big design discussion meeting where we laid down the foundation of the game design. There's a very old thread on our forums (in a private area) with the result of all these discussions that was, essentially, our early design document. Could we have given it more thought initially? Maybe. But I don't think that would have gotten us any further along than we are now. There are two reasons for this: inexperience and practical application.
Our initial team was composed entirely of amateur game designers/developers, including myself. No one had any experience, nor truly understood how difficult some of these features would be. All we had were our own ideas from playing games throughout our lives. Some of the ideas that I and others initially proposed were horrible or impractical, and were either rejected by others immediately or eventually discarded. Also only two people from that initial team are still around and we have had many others come along suggesting their own ideas. We've embraced some of them, but rejected the rest.
I think its folly to believe that you can design a game entirely "on paper" and then implement it and have it play exactly as you envisioned it working. You need to apply your ideas into practice, analyze them, and then adjust them to best improve the gaming experience. We didn't have a fully functional battle system in the past, so we were unable to test our ideas then. The reason I created this topic was because as I was playing our game in its current state, I was going through the battles and saying to myself "wow, this is dull". I realized that even with the current set of features that we had, there was a lot of "downtime" where the player wasn't doing anything, and that made the battles boring in my eyes. Thus I thought up of some ideas to ameliorate the situation and shared them here to get feedback. I don't think if I had just "thought things through" 7 years ago then this wouldn't have become a problem. You can't predict everything.
Thanks for sharing all of your opinions Orymus. Like I mentioned, I actually do have ideas #1-3 implemented and working in our code now. Those that have checked it out from our SVN repository have made a generally positive response to this new feature set, though its not perfect and there are some areas of concern. We're hoping to get a new development release out within a couple weeks so when that happens, I'll post a link here so that others can download it and try it out first hand.