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[NotSoWeekly Discussion] on RPG Genre's flaws - Week 6 : "Safe Havens"


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#1 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 14 August 2012 - 09:25 AM

Hi,
As a reference:
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1
---
I've always been a big fan of the snes-era jRPGs and thought about creating a series of discussions based around the flaws of the genre and how they could be assessed.
Feel free to discuss either:
- The Problem (helping identify the root cause of why this isn't fun)
- The Solutions (either games you know who have found a workaround, or ideas of your own)

Whatever you feel like discussing here, please make sure that you add sufficient explanation/arguments to your logic as I take this intellectual exercise seriously and believe others will too.
---
This week's topic: Safe Havens.

The jrpg genre generally alternates between dungeons (exploration) and towns (safe haven(s))

Earlier jRPGs have always been struggling with the duality of towns:
- To make them fun, they have to be an abstraction of reality and showcase only that which is important, thus minimizing unecessary movement to reach critical locations
- To make them real and help suspension of disbelief, they need to be populated, and thus, make critical information or services that much harder to find.

Most games have erred on the side of realism in that regard, making it more confusing. The "extra" content ends up being used as filler "Welcome to (insert town name here)" has almost become a convention...

I'd like to list a few ideas that I think could help in that regard:
- Chrono Trigger (the game I seem to quote every week) has had an interesting implementation. The villages are broken down by building on the worldmap thus avoiding to have to design levels for streets and fill them with unecessary npcs. Additionally, only a few buildings are accessible, which amounts to a "best of both worlds" : the village seems big enough to be real, but only lets you go where you must, and provides a very fast way to do so.

- This hasn't been made as far as I can think of, but is remotely related to the Bloodmoon expansion of Morrowind: If the game would take place on a scarcely populated island, it would makes sense to have only 1 actual city, and everything else being "tradespots" or the likes. The player is up against the wild and has but a few allies he can count on, and mercantile ones at that. The further you get from the city, the less you get support from them.

- Another attempt to eliminate the idea of "cities" altogether: a game that takes places on an island or continent with no cities. Instead, you deal with a man that has a boat and offers to take your goods with him to the city and return with what you need later. This could cause frustration as the players are used to instantaneous transactions, but I can see the fun in fetching very rare ingredients in-land, ask for defensive gear, and survive 3 days until the man gets back (could introduce a touch of survival gameplay too).

Have you seen games that attempt to redefine the concept of safe havens and either redefine its functions or implementation?

PS - Apologies for the delay on this one!

Edited by Orymus3, 14 August 2012 - 09:27 AM.


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#2 Densoro   Members   -  Reputation: 196

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 05:25 AM

My biggest problem with safe havens in RPGs is usually just that they exist xD You're being told that an ancient soul-sucking evil has been unleashed on the world to cause chaos wherever it turns up, so why are villages so close to ground zero still hosting carnivals? It really kinda ruins the tension in an effort to make the game 'varied' and 'relatable' instead of focusing the theme.

Parasite Eve did things pretty well, the way I figure it. Like a survival-horror game, most of New York was left desolate, evacuated but for a few scattered survivors and the corpses of the less fortunate trying to kill them. There wasn't anything as handy as a shop owned by some plot-armored shopkeeper. You took what you could find, and when you collapsed one night only to awake near an abandoned gun shop, you went to town looting everything in sight. The police station you were deployed from seemed safe for a while, but that sense of security was shattered when Eve broke in and mutated the police dogs into killing machines.

The best part was that New York's ruin wasn't loud and explosive. It was slow, quiet, lonely, and made you feel like if you died, nobody would ever know. You wouldn't get some heroic death storming the enemy helicopter from the rooftop, only to eat 50 RPG rounds at the last minute and die in a blaze of glory. You would bleed slowly from the innards, shivering as your extremities grew cold, and you would pass. Nowhere was safe. Our world was in danger. And you were the only one equipped to fix that.

This also worked as a balancing factor, as it meant that for the most part, you couldn't just grind mercilessly for a better gun. You'd find the weak guns early on and get progressively better armaments as you went on, not only in terms of damage, but with extra effects like more shots per turn or a shotgun-style spread blast. All in all, it was like a more subtle version of Megaman X's power curve. There was no fanfare, no "You got the Two Actions Per Turn mod!!!" just quietly acclimating to your new abilities. "Oh, so that's how that works. Neat. Been wanting something like that."

#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 07:36 AM

My biggest problem with safe havens in RPGs is usually just that they exist xD You're being told that an ancient soul-sucking evil has been unleashed on the world to cause chaos wherever it turns up, so why are villages so close to ground zero still hosting carnivals? It really kinda ruins the tension in an effort to make the game 'varied' and 'relatable' instead of focusing the theme.


I agree. Although at the same time, a believable world does not have you as the sole man standing on the "good side" and a lot of people are also on the bad side, and sometimes, they get to have a normal life as well. I mean, in books, the towns do exist, they're there, its just that the protagonist don't spend much time there. In a game however, the player is allowed to do as he pleases, and so, if the towns are there... well, they are there.

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Posted Today, 07:25 AM
My biggest problem with safe havens in RPGs is usually just that they exist xD You're being told that an ancient soul-sucking evil has been unleashed on the world to cause chaos wherever it turns up, so why are villages so close to ground zero still hosting carnivals? It really kinda ruins the tension in an effort to make the game 'varied' and 'relatable' instead of focusing the theme.

Parasite Eve did things pretty well, the way I figure it. Like a survival-horror game, most of New York was left desolate, evacuated but for a few scattered survivors and the corpses of the less fortunate trying to kill them. There wasn't anything as handy as a shop owned by some plot-armored shopkeeper. You took what you could find, and when you collapsed one night only to awake near an abandoned gun shop, you went to town looting everything in sight. The police station you were deployed from seemed safe for a while, but that sense of security was shattered when Eve broke in and mutated the police dogs into killing machines.

I think it worked well for Parasite Eve too, because they were going for that sense of "no man's land" and trying to get the player paranoid. I don't see how this could be applied to, say, final fantasy 6 whose flow essentially revolves around political scheme from town to town.

I really liked how Diablo 1 handled it. The game's scope was just right: one city, and you get to live through its biggest trial and see how its very few inhabitants face these dire odds. To me, d2 and d3 overdid it by adding more towns each with their own problems. The scope was just too big.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up Parasite Eve, definitely a refreshing reference that I hadn't given much thought to in the last few years.

#4 Tiblanc   Members   -  Reputation: 552

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 08:42 AM

My biggest problem with safe havens in RPGs is usually just that they exist xD You're being told that an ancient soul-sucking evil has been unleashed on the world to cause chaos wherever it turns up, so why are villages so close to ground zero still hosting carnivals? It really kinda ruins the tension in an effort to make the game 'varied' and 'relatable' instead of focusing the theme.


The average citizen is oblivious to the imminent doom, so they still hold their carnivals. The big bad evil guy usually prepares the world destruction from his secret lair. Citizens will get annihilated when the evil plan is completed, but in the meantime, the big bad evil guy don't want interference so he has no need to wreck havoc on the local towns. Doing so would get an army knocking on his door instantly.
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#5 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 09:58 AM

Plus, what would you do if someone told you the end is in 12 days?
There's nowhere to run, so you'll just do stuff, not hide in a corner waiting for your doom.
Obviously, you won't cheer any stranger coming by though...

btw: Welcome back Tiblanc!

#6 Densoro   Members   -  Reputation: 196

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 03:18 PM

Hm, fair enough xD While part of me agrees with the 'one town' mindset, it has to be done just right. Skyward Sword (though not an RPG exactly) had one town too, and it was a boring, saccharine place floating above the 'designated questing areas.' They established all these staples of aerial civilization...and then made the entirety of that civilization one rock covered in 20 people. Lotta good that bird does the average citizen when the only place they'll fly to is the saloon that could've just as easily been built on the mainland.

Some MMOs lately have just one town too, that just functions as a mission hub. Vindictus and Spiral Knights are great games, but their single token town seems kind of boring. I'd just as soon set up camp in the wilderness and have to take turns standing watch xD So how did Diablo do the 'one town' thing right?

#7 Giauz   Members   -  Reputation: 184

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 05:58 AM

In case I haven't said it enough, I really love the town/level design of FFs 3-6. They were there for more exploration and treasure to decrease grinding for the thorough "treasure hunter" and didn't spend too much time on scale and realism. I still think it would be nice to make the npcs fit more to a doom and gloom but with some crazy survival plans theme versus the cultural experience ignorant of monsters and the coming doom....
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#8 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1807

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 10:25 AM

I found that generally in the snes era safe havens acted as way stations to stop heal and upgrade before going to the next dungeon.

I always like the idea of having a base that you built up over time from which travelled from to go on your adventures. I toyed with the idea years ago in a rpgmarker game I tried working on. You started with just a 1 room shack in the woods and by completing certain quests for nobles you were awarded more land which could use to expand your home, build new buildings, hunt in, grow crops. Eventually you could grow you base to a town or castle or swap to for one other locations like a ruined temple or former pirate island. The base limited the number npc you recruit as they need beds or housing, it also served as quest location and place to control your non part characters.


One my big grips with rpgs is that my non party rpc are always useless. Epically in a game like chrono cross where by the end I must have about 50 characters to choose from to make up a party of 3. I mean come on here I am out trying to save the world recruiting a band of like minded followers and most of them are just sitting around playing cards all day. Get out there and do something.

This is where I always the base mechanic could help when characters aren't in your party they can be out doing things that treasure hunter you hired would occasionally give you some new rare item when you speak to them. Your blacksmith and alchemist could be converting your low level gear into the better quality items or brew a batch of potions for you to use. It also gives you opportunity to interact with the your npcs building relationships and starting quest changes with them. You might even have task mechanic which you can dispatch teams on. The local mayor needs some one to clean out the rats out of his basement so you send some your characters out to deal with it. You might even have a prep mechanic where by you can send a team ahead of you to run recon on a dungeon and prepare things for you. Sending the mechanic into the old mine might give him time to repair some the machines allow you to take short cut via an elevator. The ninja might mark traps and hidden passages for you, the old grizzled adventure marking paths to import locations and leaving a supply cache halfway through.

I seem to have gone a bit off topic here.

When it comes to towns while it would be nice to have them explorable and changing like in terranigma. But they don't need to be bigger then the points of interest. If an npc or building doesn't add something to the experience I'd rather not have them.

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#9 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 11:37 AM

One my big grips with rpgs is that my non party rpc are always useless. Epically in a game like chrono cross where by the end I must have about 50 characters to choose from to make up a party of 3. I mean come on here I am out trying to save the world recruiting a band of like minded followers and most of them are just sitting around playing cards all day. Get out there and do something.

I was going to mention that you hand them quests that have a similar endgame but play on different fields such as finding funding, but you came up with something equally if not more interesting.

This is where I always the base mechanic could help when characters aren't in your party they can be out doing things that treasure hunter you hired would occasionally give you some new rare item when you speak to them. Your blacksmith and alchemist could be converting your low level gear into the better quality items or brew a batch of potions for you to use. It also gives you opportunity to interact with the your npcs building relationships and starting quest changes with them. You might even have task mechanic which you can dispatch teams on. The local mayor needs some one to clean out the rats out of his basement so you send some your characters out to deal with it. You might even have a prep mechanic where by you can send a team ahead of you to run recon on a dungeon and prepare things for you. Sending the mechanic into the old mine might give him time to repair some the machines allow you to take short cut via an elevator. The ninja might mark traps and hidden passages for you, the old grizzled adventure marking paths to import locations and leaving a supply cache halfway through.


I like your idea of a lair and how it relates to "extra characters". I didn't think of bringing that "flaw" of jrpgs (idle rpc) but it seems you have a good answer to it just there.
Yet, and without giving it further thinking as this isn't this week's topic, that wouldn't explain the technical limitation of 3 or 4 folks in your party, just encourage you to put your friends elsewhere, unless you only have 3 or 4 playable characters and all others are retainers or friendly npcs so to speak.

#10 NaturalNines   Members   -  Reputation: 334

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 01:38 PM

Not sure how well this can be applied to the jRPG, but I have always enjoyed when something established as a constant, like villages or towns being safe havens, is altered at a point or two during the game. Essentially presenting a pattern of what constitutes a safe haven, and, at a point when the player is presumed to have picked up on the pattern, presenting a level that exhibits all elements of the safe haven pattern but with it being a combat zone instead.

This was employed very well by the text-based MMORPG Gemstone III. The city was always a safe zone except for extremely rare occurrences when monsters would flood the town, forcing all but the highest level players to hide inside buildings while the top tier players fought outside.

Since you don't have multiplayer in a jRPG (and especially since you don't want a single player game to force its player to hide in a building while the computer fights) you could employ this with a seeming safe haven that becomes besieged, or is the scene of an ambush, and an overpowered enemy has to be delayed or fought off for you to escape. The beginning portion gives the player that sense of being safe, and at the right moment you trigger the trap. Only have to do it once and for the rest of the game the player will remain suspicious of each safe haven.
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#11 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 02:50 PM

Not sure how well this can be applied to the jRPG, but I have always enjoyed when something established as a constant, like villages or towns being safe havens, is altered at a point or two during the game. Essentially presenting a pattern of what constitutes a safe haven, and, at a point when the player is presumed to have picked up on the pattern, presenting a level that exhibits all elements of the safe haven pattern but with it being a combat zone instead.


It is almost the case in ff5 when you revisit a former town in-between two "floors" of the same level. The only difference is that you cannot interact with the villagers (but there are no monsters either).
So yes, it does apply to jrpgs :)

Since you don't have multiplayer in a jRPG (and especially since you don't want a single player game to force its player to hide in a building while the computer fights) you could employ this with a seeming safe haven that becomes besieged, or is the scene of an ambush, and an overpowered enemy has to be delayed or fought off for you to escape. The beginning portion gives the player that sense of being safe, and at the right moment you trigger the trap. Only have to do it once and for the rest of the game the player will remain suspicious of each safe haven.


I can see players wanting to hide. If you make it obvious the threat is high enough and that their gameplay is not just "survival" that could work. For example, it could be a long siege during which the player must fetch food and need to pass through the upper barricades which are in range of the enemy archers. You climb in quick, move swiftly and hope to reach your objective by ducking behind cover.

In ff6, many towns get overrun by the empire, and for the most part, this doesn't change all that much, but one mission focussing on Locke plays altogether differently in a familiar setting. Locke must reach a specific house and finds himself avoiding guards, changing clothes to be disguised, etc. IT really pushes the contrast between the safe haven before and after the empire's assault.
What's even more important is that it captures what a war really feels like from the standpoint of villagers. The player is not fully aware of the war and whatnot, even if its explained through and out. The player only experiences it from the perspective of a resistant and sort of goes through what these inhabitants endure: regime change suddenly reshaping the world they know into something else.
There is actually very few war scenes (Defending Narshe is possibly the most striking example and ony occurs later) and it was refreshing to depict a war from the standpoint of the safe haven.

Thanks for reminding me of that :)

#12 Giauz   Members   -  Reputation: 184

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 05:58 AM

FF2 (at least on the Dawn of Souls version for GBA) has a lot of things change over the course of the game. Towns get wrecked, one town is taken over for a good part of the beginning (before you even have to go there), there are random encounters in some places that seem like they should be safe, further into the story old areas get random encounter upgrades, and eventually some towns are completely wiped of the map. It may be a hard game to like (I beat it 1.5 times and I think that's enough of my lifetime spent on it) but the atmosphere of a war and the possibility of a tragic end is ever present.
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#13 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4352

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 08:15 AM

You should try the playstation "easy" version. Makes it easier to walkthrough.

FF2 always struck me as an odd rpg. First of all, there is a dialogue system where you can learn words and use them in conversation, which I thought was pretty cool, and some form of precursor to dialogue-rpgs like modern Skyrim (and previous installments).
I think it is a good thing that the game was reinventing its safe haven, but it may have been a tad confusing at the time. Regardless, it's a good inspiration, thanks for pointing it out!




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