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Member Since 01 Jul 2012
Offline Last Active Jul 09 2012 04:56 PM

#4956507 [Weekly Discussion: Week 2] RPG Genre's flaws - "Grinding"

Posted by on 06 July 2012 - 04:46 PM

Are you sure you are quoting the right place there? This portion of the discussion specifically discusses how games are no longer like D&D in that regard.
In earlier days of D&D, enemies didn't scale up with you. You could end up facing ogres that you were underleveled to beat up, or weaklings you could squash like flies. That gave sense to player improvement as your decisions (thus the amount of XP you'd get) mattered. If you carefully delved in each room of a dungeon, creatively solving everything, you would end up facing enemies that would be much less of a threat, but this was a reward in and of itself. If you went stright for the objective, then, you might be facing challenges.
As new games emerge, the idea of monsters scaling along with you (Oblivion, to name one) seem to defeat this curve, and I'm left to wonder what this logic really adds.

Individual monsters in D&D did not improve, but the challenge as a whole did. But you shouldn't focus on the individual agents, because ultimately they are mostly just skins. There is little difference between a goblin, an orc and an ogre relative to a level 1 goblin a level 2 goblin and a level 3 goblin other than cosmetics. Whether familiar skins level or the agents is just switched out for something effectively identical in all but total difficulty is differentially spurious. The game either has static agents (and thus a preset difficulty curve), or dynamic agents in which case there is no difficulty curve. The former has your position relative to the curve whilst the latter has nothing.

It may be temporarily satisfying to squish an agent that previously caused you difficulty but this will be fleeting and thus unsustainable as an entertainment medium.

And what does the training action consist it. Selecting training and logging off? Pressing trainaing and waiting in front of the character? Performing actions that are unrelated?

All of the above ;)

Once training is selected it just runs in the background. Some things do have an effect, such as installing implants to raise your stats and reduce training (or other enhancements) for the cost of wealth. If you die then your implants are lost, so effectively it is just a wealth->xp transfer. But you rarely die (which involves losing your ship and then losing your escape pod) except in deep lawless space. Most mission running players do so exclusively in high security space, for example, so will never lose their pods, in which case there is little in the way of wealth risk.

So you can see there is a benefit vs systems like Darkfall where a player doesn;t have to decide between a grinding xp and a having fun path, but it suffers from the simultaneous failings of being a very bland system and also separating new characters from experienced characters.

Are you referring to Deus Ex Human Revolution here? I can distinctly remember doing that in one of the rooms that was filled with computers, along with every office area with any comp I could see. It was indeed a bit of a grind.

Yes Human Revolution - apologies for not specifying.

So, actual exploration then? For example, long interconnected landscape with no actual fighting? I think you'd need some form of action to pace this, like a jumping ability or something. Mystic Quest had some of those, but they weren't the best...

I was thinking of having fighting along the way, because otherwise there is no sense of accomplishment. Anyone can just walk somewhere. It wouldn't even necessarily need to be dangerous as long as it has the impression of being so. I think large open world exploration would only really work in an MMO environment. For something like I think you are designing I think I would personally find it more fun to be doing something regularly. So if I really needed to get somewhere (like Deus Ex HR, I would see fighting in the way as a distraction and nuisance, slowing down my progress. If I didn't need to get somewhere specific but was wandering around (like Fallout 1 or 2) then regular encounters would make things more interesting than an empty world.

Redguard: The Elder Sea Scrolls I think had a really nice balance of this.

I agree that putting 'treasure rooms' dissociates the reward from the actual combat. The drawback to this is that it makes combat less rewarding, more of an obstacle, and players may be tempted to run away more, leading to under-leveled characters. That means before long, players will be having a hard time fighting monsters, and their easiest solution will be to grind up a few levels. Would there be a way to avoid this loophole?

Yes that's definitely a possibility. It's a hard one to dissociate I think. On the one hand these treasure points are a nice way to give a passive wealth value to the intervening monsters, but on the other hand it might make players focus on the treasure as the objective which would make the monsters an annoyance. If you didn't mind it being a bit arcadey you could openly express that the amount of treasure in the room depends upon how many things you have killed on the way. Not very realistic, but could work in some settings.

Other than that I'm not sure. I'd personally avoid the mixed stealth/combat flavour many modern titles aim for. Thief and Commandos behind enemy lines have a lot to answer for in that regard - both worked because of their complete consistency, but were so effective that many other games tried to borrow from their ideas. Not sure - what ideas do you have?

I like this idea as its not exactly scaling monster level based on player level. There could be some form of range. For example, monsters here are level 5 +/- 3 depending how well/bad you're doing, and it scales back up as you seem to be getting the hang of it. Slowly shifting up and down would require to define powerful metrics though. Player level alone wouldn't be enough as you point out. I can see how one player character dying means the player is in trouble, but how do you determine the player is blasting through 'too easily'?
Also, how do you determine that 'score'? a measure of the level of monsters you fight compared to the max level they could be?

Exactly! You'd want to have some range because otherwise everything could be forced to be easy just by being rubbish at the start. I think it is the unknowingness that creates the interest. And even if you could calibrate a dungeon to the skill of the player you could still set the monsters to be "difficulty + 2" or something to keep things at the upper edge.

I think one way to define the challenge that a mob could cause is the length of time it takes to kill all monsters in that mob. One difficulty is in correctly assigning the difficulty rating of the monsters - especially when used in combination. For ease of example I'll use one type of enemy - an orc grunt. We'll give this mob an arbitrary score of 10. We also know that difficulty tends to grow exponentially rather than linearly, but again for ease let's assume it is linear. We can work out the complicated stuff later.

So we enter an area and there are 5 Orcs, so 50 points of difficulty. The player starts fighting and after 30 seconds all the enemy are dead. It took 30 seconds to kill 50 points, so the score is 50/30 = 1.67 pps. This dungeon may be set to 60 seconds per zone, so we'd take 60s * score of 1.67 = 100pts which would be placed in the next zone. If the player managed to do it in 60 seconds then the difficulty is judged to be correct. If they did it in 67 seconds then we'd have 100/67 = 1.5, a slightly lower score and thus the next room would be a bit easier. You could base the reward on the total score, but the next room difficulty on the score run rate (so say average of last 5 rooms) so if the player started to sharpen up or tire then the game would adjust.

#4955413 [Weekly Discussion: Week 2] RPG Genre's flaws - "Grinding"

Posted by on 03 July 2012 - 01:20 PM

I still lament my time with Darkfall where I decided to play rather than grind and had a lot of fun for the first 6 months before the people who had spent the entire time up until then grinding out their super character started to play and could easily beat anyone. Eve prevents this by making advancement time based, and so does not reward people who spend their time grinding instead of playing, but they also have issues where new players are always going to be behind established players and that they will take some month to be as viable as they would like.

Actually EVE Online is still incredibly grindy. Instead of grinding for EXP to level up skills and stats, you grind for ISK (money) to buy equipment (and ships).

The skills are useless without the corresponding equipment. So even though they level up automatically over time, you still need to grind for the money/equipment to actually use them.

Oh, and there is "reputation" grinding. In order to unlock better missions, you need to repeat missions over and over again to get something like "reputation points". If I recall correctly, there are restrictions on the equipment/ships you can bring to a mission. So even if you have top notch skills and ships/equipment, you need to reputation grind to actually use them in PvE.

Hi Legendre - thanks for the reply :)

I split my post into 2 sections for xp and wealth and was speaking specifically about just those components within each section. My comment that Eve is not grindy in the way Darkfall was grindy is specifically referring to xp accumulation (or skill points in Eve's case), because it is a passive process. Even the expense of the skill books is relatively cheap compared to, say, a well fitted ship.

However the other part of the game, the wealth accumulation, is incredibly grindy as you rightly say. There are some specific exception (node trading, moon mining) but on the whole any type of wealth accumulation is all about repeatability. Ratting, missioning, incursions, mining, worm hole missions are all rinse and repeat of a very limited set of actions. And as you rightly point out missioning is probably the worst as you not only have to grind the high level missions to make a lot of money but you need to grind a lot of low level missions to even reach the high level ones.

So yes I agree with you that Eve is incredibly grindy overall, but with regard to skill accumulation all you really have to do is wait.

#4954999 [Weekly Discussion: Week 2] RPG Genre's flaws - "Grinding"

Posted by on 02 July 2012 - 01:02 PM

These are my thoughts, and are mainly aimed towards MMOs.

In most games there are generally two things that you can accumulate - character power and wealth. Character power is usually in the form of xp that is then traded for better stats and/or abilities, whilst wealth is transferable for equipment and services. Grind, in my opinion, is a design flaw because the player has perceived this as the most effective way to advance their power in the game, and if the developer has created a system where this is true then they have created a system that is not fun. I think the only exception to being able to term this a design flaw is where an MMO deliberately forces grind upon a player as a necessity to reaching higher levels and eventually the end game in order to deliberately slow down this process thereby increasing subscription length and therefore income.

Character power
RPGs are, at their heart, adventure stories. For them to feel fulfilling then the protagonist must be in a different (better) place at the end than the beginning. They need to go through an arc where they progress. In many games this progression is dealt with by an increase in the prowess of the players as they gain skills, stats, and abilities. The most common mechanic for this is levelling. I believe this to be a fundamentally flawed design, that only exists because people replicate the D&D system that was invented nearly 40 years ago.

As a game progresses there will usually be some sort of difficulty curve,as you encounter more powerful enemies. In general there are 2 ways that this enemy power can be set - either hard locked or scaling with the player. If the enemy difficulty is hard locked then the player is required to reach a certain level of power in order to beat them. However the difficulty of the game now depends entirely on the relationship between the player level and the enemy level. If the player is 'ahead' of the curve then they will find the game easy, and as players like to have a powerful character then they will grind to get ahead. If however the game has scalable enemies then character advancement of levels makes no difference at all, with the exception of possibly having a more customised character.

In sandbox MMOs where this sort of difficulty progression does not occur then different mechanics are usually employed to levelling, but often with the same results. These still can require players to grind in order to advance their character, and if open world PvP is in the game then it becomes a grinding arms race. I still lament my time with Darkfall where I decided to play rather than grind and had a lot of fun for the first 6 months before the people who had spent the entire time up until then grinding out their super character started to play and could easily beat anyone. Eve prevents this by making advancement time based, and so does not reward people who spend their time grinding instead of playing, but they also have issues where new players are always going to be behind established players and that they will take some month to be as viable as they would like.

This leads me to a question - why have levelling at all? If all levelling does is give customisation then why cannot something like this be done in a non-levelling way? For example at character customisation you might allow someone to focus on a particular weapon (granting a bonus) but to the detriment of all other weapons. As long as you have good balance you can get customisation through other means. If levelling is supposed to give some advancement, then why not advance the player rather than the character? For example in FPS games you still have 'noobs' and it takes newer players some time to catch up in getting accustomed to that game, the levels and mechanics and what to do right. This same sort of advancement is also present in many MMOs and one with a better fighting mechanic than tag & cycle weapons (although that still has some skill to it) will reward people that focus on learning that aspect of the game.

The only other part of levelling that I find is viable is as a reward. However I also think that this can be done outside of a levelling system, and can also be balanced. For example you might reward players (say in a similar way to how games give trophies) for accomplishing certain things. It is important that these things are not grind based, so you might get one for killing 5 opponents in a row without dying, but you wouldn't get it for just killing 100 people. But once again it is important that these trophies give a balanced advantage. So if you do kill 5 opponents then you might have a bonus to the weapon you did it with, but if you select to take the ability then you lose other important things. Of course rewards could also be cosmetic.

The other factor that can be ground up is wealth. There are generally 2 things that determine whether something is worth grinding - it either gives a unique item on a low percentage drop, or it has a risk/time vs reward ratio that heavily favours easy and quick wealth gain. I believe that both of these scourges can be removed through the use of non-static mob placements - although that firmly roots it into the sandbox MMO territory.

When a game wants to put items into the world then it has to create some sort of node that will give up that item. This does not differentiate between a resource node or a monster node, both act in entirely the same way with regards to this. A game may wish to give up something very important, and in order to prevent this item flooding the world (in order to raise its value by constricting supply whilst presenting a demand) it will drop the resource at a reduced rate. The common way to do this is through randomisation of what appears. So an end boss might give a powerful item 10% of the time, or a rock might give gold 0.1% of the time, or a usually normal spawn point might give an upgraded spawn 1% of the time. The only way to access these items is through repetition. As soon as players know what something is and where it is they will repeat it over and over until they get it. If your system uses percentage spawns/drops in static locations then you have introduced grind as a fundamental mechanism of the game.

Now there are ways to minimise the grind. Making enemies less numerous but tougher with the synergistic uplift in drop rate helps to prevent boredom by making enemies more challenging. Increases in AI can also make things more challenging, and thus fun. But this only minimises the fundamental design flaw, it does not remove it. Eventually repeating the same action will become boring if the sole purpose is the end result and not the doing, no matter how much fun the doing is, because you end up feeling like a slave to the system.

The way to overcome this is to remove the result as the point of the action and to place it back into the action itself. People trawl dungeons in D&D because the game is fun to play, for example, and the treasure at the end is not the point of the quest but the icing on the cake. If you do not tell people what they are likely to get before they go there then they won't feel like they hve lost out, and they won't undertake the quest focused on the reward. This psychological framing is extremely important.

So let's assume that we have a sandbox MMO and we're coming to place monsters in the world. I'll focus on dungeons specifically. If we have set dungeons with set mobs and set rewards then chances are that people will go there specifically for the rewards. They are therefore reward focused and the fight to get to the reward is not only incidental to their thought process but it actually becomes a barrier to their objective. This means that the "fun" becomes an annoyance. Let's rework this to say that dungeon portals randomly appear on the map, and that they are randomly designed with an automated floor planner working it up and placing mobs as soon as people enter. Rewards are also randomly decided, but the player has no expectation of the reward before they get there. Now you are adventuring. You don't know what is around the next corner. What you are doing no longer becomes an obstacle to the end reward because you not only have no idea what the end reward might be but also no idea if there even will be any. Drop rates can always be set so that they average out to a certain over-arching reward level vs harvesting, so you don't need to prevent these people from becoming rich, but the whole focus has changed. Nobody is disappointed by a crappy drop because you never knew what was possible.

A similar thing can be said for harvesting. Here you cannot get away from drop rates because nodes are discovered in advance of their exploitation (whereas mob killing rewards are discovered afterwards) so the focus has to shift. As you cannot get away from revealing the potential rewards prior to exploitation (a tree cannot give out iron, just as a vein of copper cannot give out wool) you have to create a dynamism around gathering. Here I think 2 things are important - depletion of nodes and automation of gathering.

Depletion of nodes means that you put the dynamism explained of dungeon placement into nodes. Good rocks are not in the same place every time. Once you have exploited all the minerals of a rock then the node should end, giving little else that is useful. This means that getherers cannot just go and bash their favourite rock. This leads to a new specialisation - the surveyor. This player would be responsible for exploring the world looking for new previously undiscovered sources. Of course what would have to happen is that as nodes are depleted then new ones spawn in other random locations. The good news is that as populated areas will discover nodes quickly and then the depletion of the node will cause it to spawn elsewhere this system will naturally push the best sources into underpopulated and underexplored areas naturally with no additional forcing mechanic required. Also if nodes were made to be very large and deep then you could have entire groups moving to that node and setting up small towns (I'm assuming dynamic player housing) specifically to exploit those nodes. Then after some time the node would empty and the group would move on, cannibalising their infrastructure in the process. This would be like how mining towns set up when the Americas were first being colonised.

The second important thing is automation of resource gathering. This focuses players on setting up the infrastructure and design of resource gathering rather than the gathering itself. This reduces grind because it is a one off process that then allows for passive collection. After that you just need to refine the design, keep it maintained (minimal effort) and then focus on having fun whilst it does its thing. This removes the repition and allows players to feel like they own the system and not the system owning them.

#4954649 Crafting System [ What is ideal ]

Posted by on 01 July 2012 - 03:03 PM

These are some opinions of mine based upon experiences I have from playing games and my own ideas. These opinions are specifically for an MMO environment, and as such are heavily independent on other ideas.

One of the big questions I have thought about with regards to MMOs is how do you make crafting both fun and profitable? In order to make crafting worthwhile then it needs to be highly repeatable, in general. This is because the majority of high level items are so inaccessible to the majority of the player base that they become a specialism. Whether it is a suit of armour or a spaceship the only way it can be worthwhile is if you can make a lot of them. However repetition is not fun... in fact it is almost the opposite of fun. This makes most mini-games quite frustrating no matter how enjoyable they may initially be.

The way I would solve this is to separate the two functions of design and manufacture. Most games for crafting have almost no design function at all. For example Eve is lauded as having one of the most open and expansive manufacturing systems, but all the designs are hard locked by blueprints. In order to break this you would have to be able to design your own blueprints. This could use a mini game because the point here is not to be repetitive but to design something better. It would have to have a level of complication that had game world effects, and therefore I would use a modular system very similar to that described by ShawnCowles.

This adds something very special to crafters - customisation. This leads to a knowledge asset. A player might therefore focus his time designing armour that is especially lightweight in order to appeal to the more travelling adventure type. Not everyone would want to invest in this direction, and through a combination of skill (both in reverse engineering the design system and skill at the mini-game) very good blueprints can be created. People would seek out these crafters because they have a unique offering.

The profit side would come from how the blueprints are being used, and for this I would use a passive system. Use of NPCs or automated factories (or in my personal view upgrades to your house/hall) could easily be designed to handle this. That would allow you to mass produce these items in the background, allowing you to profit from your designs whilst freeing you up to spend your free time designing new and improved versions (R&D) or doing something else (such as marketing your product).

The real difficulty of designing this system I think is balancing. Rather than having a set number of end points that can be reached (and thus weighted against each other) you would be designing an open ended system with less predictable results (through combinatorial explosion of the design and ingredients used). Even more complex would be that I think to be a truly great crafting system for an MMO you would need multiple levels of manufacture for the more advanced items. For example if you were building a ship you'd want something a bit more interesting than creating "ship modules" that add up to a ship. Instead you'd have raw materials (spider webs) that could be processed into another material (silk) that could then be used to construct a module (sail) that then would be added to the ship. This creates specialisms that allows for more people to be engaged in the manufacturing process because doing everything yourself would be too time consuming. With profit being taken at each step that adds to a richer economy.

One of the most important things I think with this system, that is rarely covered in games, is downsides to gear. I think this is because most games fit the lazy D&D concept of gear+x, where everything is just given a higher rank of pre-existing qualities. Some might go so far as to give a couple of attributes (different styles of armour protection for example, where you can pick protection vs this or vs that), but these are a trade off of benefits. For example in my previous description of armour I stated that weight could be a factor. This would be important because if the game gave you proper penalties for wearing heavier armour (such as making your character slower or easier to knock over) then there would be a choice as to your style. Customisation and differentiation of gear for certain tasks creates a much stronger economy, as mmo players are a very diverse bunch and would have a desire for very different types of gear. Therefore you can have the gear stats being important but not defining of that character. The best heavy armour would be no good if you could be kited by unarmoured faster players in open terrain that you could never reach, but in a castle siege or toe to toe in a cramped dungeon it would be very important. Here only being able to run at half speed wouldn't matter.

I also think that gear drop from enemies should be generally raw material based. So an enemy dropping some armour would be useless if that enemy was an 8ft tall ogre. So you'd have to process the materials down. This means that even mob drops would often add to the economy because you'd need others to refine and process into useful things.