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Random Encounters: How To Keep Them Fresh.


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#1 Rybo5001   Members   -  Reputation: 490

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 08:16 PM

So I'm looking into creating a turn-based RPG, think Pokemon/Final Fantasy 3 ect, and in those games you often randomly fight enemies, often annoying gangs of weak enemies.

My question is how do we, as designers, make sure these random battles don't get too tedious. How often is too often for these battles? Is a variety of enemies important, intelligent AI?

Discuss.

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#2 StillWorkingOnIt   Members   -  Reputation: 123

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 08:58 PM

Very true. I recently finished playing pokemon red again for old times sake, and to be honest i found myself fighting countless wild pokemon to level up and it just got so damn boring. Because this is an RPG game, i would assume there is leveling up. The leveling up on its own provides incentive for players to fight enemies and you wouldn't necessarily have to make the enemies interesting, you could just create a large number of possible ways to defeat the enemy (attacks). Nevertheless it does get boring so here's my mini list of ideas.

- variety of enemies to fight
- strength of the enemies vary (challenging enemies can be annoying when trying to level up because you need to heal)
- 2 vs 1 battles, 3 vs 1 and so on
- repeatable quests (kill a certain # of enemies to claim a reward)
- Interactive attacks (certain and very few attacks have a coloured bar with green, yellow and red. And the closer you hit to the green the higher damage you can inflict.
- Alternate routes that are longer with very few monsters, and shorter routes with more monsters to provide choice.
- Boss monsters

and that's all i can think off for now

#3 Rybo5001   Members   -  Reputation: 490

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 10:21 PM

Thanks a lot for your suggestions, I particularly like this idea:

Alternate routes that are longer with very few monsters, and shorter routes with more monsters to provide choice.


How would do you think this could be implemented without saying "This was is long but less to fight, this way is shorter with more to fight!" directly to the player?

#4 haegarr   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4146

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 11:26 PM

I never played the games mentioned, so I throw in some ideas without the knowledge whether or not they fit...

...
How would do you think this could be implemented without saying "This was is long but less to fight, this way is shorter with more to fight!" directly to the player?

Informations can be gathered from several impersonal and personal sources like
* maps (especially length of way)
* road signs (length of way, like "15 miles to Somewhere City")
* giving ways talking names (like "canyon of hairy monsters")
* travelogues (length of way as well as risks on the way)
* warnings on bulletin boards in cities (especially the risks)
* assignments of chasing monsters, available from public places in cities (especially the risks; side effect: can be interpreted as side quest)
* rumors, gossip, myths (if NPC interaction includes "speaking")
* explicit interrogation (if NPC interaction includes "speaking"), especially city guards, travelers, ...

Edited by haegarr, 19 June 2012 - 11:31 PM.


#5 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4812

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 12:25 AM

Dofus has a neat system where it randomly generates an "achievement" for each battle - completely optional, but if you do it you get bonus XP or bonus loot or a full heal at the end of the battle, etc. Example achievements are: fight the whole battle using only one character, use no magic, use only magic, win before turn 3, win without taking any damage.

Disgaea also has a cool system for keeping its randomly generated item world levels fresh, though it's a tactical game, not sure gow you'd adapt it to a combat system with no terrain. There is a puzzle involving colored squares on the floor and colored pyramids. The square the pyramid is on determines the status effect of all squares of that color. If you destroy a pyramid it does damage to everything standing on squares of that color, possibly including pyramids of other colors, which can set off chain reactions, or you can hit a lot of enemies at once or accidentally kill yourself. IIRC destroying a pyramid of color A while it is sitting on a square of color B converts all squares that were color A to color B. So if you can chain destroying the pyramid of color A and then the pyramid of color B, everything originally standing on a square of color A gets hit twice. And there's an xp/loot bonus if you destroy all the pyramids or chain all the pyramids.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#6 Legendre   Members   -  Reputation: 966

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 10:21 AM

Dofus has a neat system where it randomly generates an "achievement" for each battle - completely optional, but if you do it you get bonus XP or bonus loot or a full heal at the end of the battle, etc. Example achievements are: fight the whole battle using only one character, use no magic, use only magic, win before turn 3, win without taking any damage.


Oh wow this is a very good idea.

#7 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1987

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 10:28 AM

I've found with a lot of RPGs (particularly the older ones), they're set up so that if you fight every battle you encounter while going from point A to B, you will be of sufficient level and have about the right equipment to travel from B to C. It sorta makes sense when you think about it. The question then would be, how many battles do you want the player to encounter? Keeping the encounters fresh, seems to me, is just about finding a "magic number" that you figure is about right.

Providing two different routes from A to B sounds interesting. But is there a point to it when you're going to need to battle at least x characters to be of sufficient level and resources to survive the trip from B to C? Will it be more fun getting to that level of preparedness while on the road or walking around in circles just outside point B looking for encounters?

#8 Ravyne   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7116

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 11:30 AM

A lot of games are set up such that you'll encounter weaker enemies less-frequently -- essentially, when the enemy is certain of their defeat, they become "afraid" of the player and will avoid them. You could handle this interaction in very detailed ways -- say, certain enemy types are "Berserkers" or "Kamikazees" that simply don't care that they'll die, even if it amounts to just harassing the player, certain enemy types could be more afraid of certain party members (the giant rats are afraid of your saber-toothed tiger), attributes (wild animals are afraid of magic users) or items (vampires are afraid of the dude with a backpack full of oak stakes).

This kind of setup can also make balancing the game easier, as you will generally have a tighter band of attributes that you can anticipate the player having at each stage of the game, because they can't just grind to a high-level early on and coast through the rest of the game. If you're concerned about boxing out less-skilled players who might need the extra boost that grinding can provide, you can include dedicated grinding areas, or provide for other opportunities to gain experience (say, participating in gladiator-style battles, or leaving your mage with their guild to study.)

#9 KylHu   Members   -  Reputation: 152

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:02 PM

Dofus has a neat system where it randomly generates an "achievement" for each battle - completely optional, but if you do it you get bonus XP or bonus loot or a full heal at the end of the battle, etc. Example achievements are: fight the whole battle using only one character, use no magic, use only magic, win before turn 3, win without taking any damage.


I like that idea as well. It reminds me of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and the Judge/Laws system (which designated both restrictions and recommendations for each battle, and there were punishments and bonuses depending on whether or not you followed them), only less restrictive and more in line with modern gaming. I'd like to see that mechanic used in the future.

#10 vespertilio   Members   -  Reputation: 106

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 03:31 PM

Keeping random encounters fresh is a pretty big problem, it's amazing that JRPGs haven't evolved this crucial element at all since the dragon quest days. I think there are a few things you can do to keep them fresh.

1) Have an interesting and dynamic combat system

You have to think of battles as puzzles. Is the puzzle fun to solve? In most final fantasy games it isn't. You press "attack" and maybe cast a spell until you win. The differences between the options are relatively small. By comparison, the Shin Megami Tensei games usually have very involved battle systems where you need to account for elemental strengths/weaknesses and turn order in order to not get killed. Organizing your team and then playing optimally against opponent's strengths and weaknesses is what let's SMT games get away with being so grind heavy. I know that "Make it fun" is a pretty bad suggestion, but I think it's important to stress that pressing "fight" 6 times makes for a pretty boring game.

2) Change the aesthetics of battle over time

This is something I just noticed recently, but almost all RPGs have two battle songs, a normal theme and a boss theme (plus maybe a couple of special boss tracks). On top of that, the differences between the locations random encounters take place in are hardly noteworthy. After playing about 20 hours, random encounters become a stupid mini game you have to play once every minute instead of the crux of gameplay that they should be. While the characters are exploring new towns, caves, dungeons, etc. they're still fighting in a small room with same annoying guitar music.

3) Change the characters over time

Players are kind of funny, they'll be secretly bored of playing the same characters throughout the game but they'll never change them because they've grown familiar with them. Force them to mix up their teams. I think this is actually a major part of what makes Pokemon consistently engaging. You rarely keep Pokemon on your team for more than a couple of gyms, so things are constantly freshening up. As long as you can justify the change with your story, the player will love it.

#11 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7512

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 04:36 PM

3) Change the characters over time

Players are kind of funny, they'll be secretly bored of playing the same characters throughout the game but they'll never change them because they've grown familiar with them. Force them to mix up their teams. I think this is actually a major part of what makes Pokemon consistently engaging. You rarely keep Pokemon on your team for more than a couple of gyms, so things are constantly freshening up. As long as you can justify the change with your story, the player will love it.


So very true. One of the best moment I've got with each RPG that I trully love is when my oh-so-well-built-strategy gets wrecked by the sheer forced party change!
(SPOILER ALERT!)
Chrono dies in Chrono Trigger! You have to make yourself a new party that consists of 'other people' which, so far, were considered secondary party members.
Th
The world dies in FF6! You start off with Celes (not Terra) in a new broken world, recovering party members one by one, in a much different order!

A big part of the fun in RPGs (and in games) is mastering something, and then, the rules no longer apply. Changing the player's party makes an otherwise mundane battle which you would normally go through using the same strategy, an altogether new challenge you need to overcome with new tools. Even better, once your original party becomes available again, given the choice, you might have changed one or two party members because you've liked them.
The best RPGs tend to break down portion of the scenario to certain characters so as to let you experience them in different contexts so that you don't pick your favorite members based on sheer looks.


1) Have an interesting and dynamic combat system

You have to think of battles as puzzles. Is the puzzle fun to solve? In most final fantasy games it isn't. You press "attack" and maybe cast a spell until you win. The differences between the options are relatively small. By comparison, the Shin Megami Tensei games usually have very involved battle systems where you need to account for elemental strengths/weaknesses and turn order in order to not get killed. Organizing your team and then playing optimally against opponent's strengths and weaknesses is what let's SMT games get away with being so grind heavy. I know that "Make it fun" is a pretty bad suggestion, but I think it's important to stress that pressing "fight" 6 times makes for a pretty boring game.


Probably much easier said than done... and very vague too.
Also, often, making this battle system more fun will make battles longer.

Quoting from the original question:

make sure these random battles don't get too tedious. How often is too often for these battles? Is a variety of enemies important, intelligent AI?


Tedious: Too long, slow, dull, monotonous. 2 of the words emphasize the time & tempo and two emphasize the quality.
Making a kickass battle system will improve on the last two while taxing the first two. The question here is whether you can make up for how much longer the CBS gets with the quality you've injected, and more often than not, you'll realize this may be an utopian dream.
I'd rather stick with the classic battle system with just slight twists.

As far as "how often is too often" is concerned, I'd have to go with: give the player a choice. In the end, not all players are exactly alike, and you want to make that fun for as many people as possible. Having mobs visible on-screen with movement AI out of combat really helps the player decide whether this is a battle he wants to take.
The concern here is that there may be an XP issue at some point where the player skillfully dodging all the battles will be weaker, but it shouldn't be.
In Dungeons & Dragons, when you escape from a battle, it considers you have survived the encounter regardless. The fact of being crafty should be rewarded.
I would be as bold as to suggest that, whenever a player levels up, you could check the ratio between battles fought and battles escaped/avoided to determine which stats should increase (strength vs speed for example). That way, the leveling up would emphasize the playstyle of the player.

As far as AI is concerned, I think a pretty nifty AI can really come a long way. The idea is not necessarily to make it random (although that's much better than a weak pattern) but to simulate pattern, aka, define complex situations and conditions that make the critter's behavior more believable.
Most AI I've seen were all about: if over 50% HP, bash, if under 50% HP, heal self or drain attack. That does represent an ok sense of realism, but it should read that way:
if over 50% HP, attrition on player's party, if under 50% HP, unecessarily prolong the battle (because that's what happens when a unit self-heals).

You should really consider the tempo of the battle that you seek to establish, and this should command the tone you give to your AI, much more than attempting to make the enemies adopt realistic behaviors that the player can relate to (as it could resemble their own decision process for example). Tossing a few enemies with more or less realistic properties can be nice, but you need to vary with unexpected strategies (especially with beasts and animals / monsters). Contrast here is the key. If all your monsters are berzerkers, the player will feel bored, but if most have an instinct of survival and tend to go turtle when shit hits the fan, they'll be surprised to see that vicious critter striking you with their best arsenal of skills once its down below 10% health. Call them kamikazes, they do surprise, and that's not mundane.

I wouldn't say that the variety of monsters needs to be overkill. Rather, I'd focus around a few archetypes the player can relate to, so they can instantly remember what they're up against. The real fun comes from putting them into action in different numbers.
Imagine the following archetypes:
Tanker (High HPs)
Glass Canon / Striker (High dmg dealer)
Support (Boosts Def & Atk of all allies)
*Suppose that the Glass Canons will always counter-attack so long as there is a tanker present
*Suppose that a Support will turn into a Uber Glass Canon if last survivor
*Suppose the Tanker's attack scales accordingly to the amount of other Tankers present

And imagine the following scenarios:
1 X Tanker
3 X Glass Canon / Striker

2 X Support
2 X Glass Canon / Striker

3 X Tanker
1 X Support


Who'd be your primary target in these encounters?
I would assume it would shift based on which critters are present and vary based on the overall impression you get from the encounter at first sight.
Critters that are sometimes major threats may appear like the weakest link and vice versa depending who is around them.
It is a puzzle for player to solve than to establish his target whenever one of their character is ready for action.




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