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Wavinator

A quick mini-game example representing balance

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You start walking across a beam above a deep vertical drop. But instead of just moving forward, as you start walking, a small, translucent dialog box pops up in the lower right corner of the screen. The box has a thick gray line that fades at either end. There''s a ball in the middle, and as you move forward the ball seems to randomly slide toward one end or another. If you tap your sidestep keys, however, you can keep the ball centered. But if you don''t keep the ball centered, your character performs a windmilling animation and falls into the drop. This is an example of a very simple arcade game representing the skill "Balance" in a 3rd person action/cRPG game. In the game, the better your balance skill, the easier it would be to keep the ball centered. Conversely, the more difficult the challenge (say, high wind or running) the harder it would be. What do you think of having this kind of gameplay inserted into a stat-heavy computer role-playing game? In an example like this, I''m assuming the player doesn''t want to fall off the beam, and that they also should have to do something more than aiming a character who''s animation can''t always perfectly match the specific task they''re performing (and is often spotty anyways). In most games, if you want to walk across a narrow surface, you aim and move. I''m trying to figure out if it''s a good idea to instead make challenges more context sensitive and place more emphasis on "character skill" Also, what do you think about this representation of balance? Can it be improved while still remaining simple? -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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Depends on how heavily the character balancing skill factors into the real-world balance versus real-world dexterity. Also, you''d obviously have to hold the forward button while balancing, which could be tedious (I know I used to stop holding the "wrong" button of a combo all the time, making me stop crouching instead of stopping motion, etc.) In addidtion, the player will tend to watch the box instead of the environment, which is plain terrible for immersion. One way to remedy that would be to have the balance bar be built more crosshair-centric (i.e., have a translucent line across the middle of the screen and a moving dot/cursor), so the player looks "through" the balance control instead of focusing on it.

Later,
ZE.

//email me.//zealouselixir software.//msdn.//n00biez.//
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Not to be rude, but what''s the point in balance? I''d be much more interested in becoming more skilled with my sniper rifle so that my aim is better rather than practice my balance. I realize it''s an example so I won''t beat it too much. I like skills. In Dues Ex (I''m in the middle of it right now), there''s a skill system, but none of the skills are mudane tasks like balance, there''s things like lock picking and explosives. I think having skills and upgrading them with practice, or points or whatever is good, but only the important skills should be there. I think it is effective but it allows you more control over how you play and how you accomplish task. Now if you were making a circus game...

The problem with this is that it requires a world that will allow me to win with different strategies. In the example, say I spent all my skill points on tiddly winks, but the only place I can go is over the bottomless pit on a thin rope. Suddenly, I wasted my skills points, and unless I''m really good with the arrow keys, I''m also stuck in a dead end. The world would have to allow multiple ways to win depending on which skills you choose.

tj963

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Wavinator it''s an interesting idea but I see some real problems with it, particularly in a stats-heavy game. How are you going to implement mini-games for many different skills and keep it interesting? If using every skill boils down to pressing keys periodically to compensate for varying levels of random noise, where''s the fun? And besides the issue of fun, I think this skill control scheme just doesn''t fit a stats-heavy game because it takes power away from the stats and puts it in the player''s hands. Someone with the real-life skill of pushing buttons at the right time can artificially boost their in-game skill of balance/whatever.

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quote:
Original post by ZealousElixir
One way to remedy that would be to have the balance bar be built more crosshair-centric (i.e., have a translucent line across the middle of the screen and a moving dot/cursor), so the player looks "through" the balance control instead of focusing on it.


Thanks, ZE, this is a much more elegant idea.

quote:
Original post by tj963
Not to be rude, but what's the point in balance? I'd be much more interested in becoming more skilled with my sniper rifle so that my aim is better rather than practice my balance.


Understood. But what if you're a thief doing a lot of tight-rope walking in order to infiltrate and escape from perilous environments? I'm viewing this to be the same as the "nervous aim cursor" that games like Deus Ex and Rainbow Six have. The only reason I'm even considering it is that it's a way of tying player skill to character skill, and also of making mundane actions more interesting.

Here's another quick example: Most cRPG players seem to hate jumping puzzles. But rather than eliminating such a juicy peril, what if your character's jumps were based partly on player skill, but mostly on character skill? What I see happening is that as you jump, your character (based on skill) autocorrects either positively or negatively, depending on how much weight I give to player skill.

quote:

Suddenly, I wasted my skills points, and unless I'm really good with the arrow keys, I'm also stuck in a dead end. The world would have to allow multiple ways to win depending on which skills you choose.



You'd be right if you were talking about a linear game which forces challenges on you. I'm envisioning a game where players can get (variably unclear) information about the challenges ahead, weigh the risk and reward, and decide whether or not to proceed.



quote:
Original post by Dobbs
How are you going to implement mini-games for many different skills and keep it interesting?



This I'm still working on, but I don't think this will be that big of a deal for what I'm imagining. The rough idea is that there are simplified arcade / strategy games to represent skills such as computer hacking or item creation. The difficulty of these games goes up or down based on character skill level, along with environmental and item based modifiers.

quote:

If using every skill boils down to pressing keys periodically to compensate for varying levels of random noise, where's the fun?



This might be a tricky one: You may have to experience this form of gameplay before you can first determine if you like it. I'm liberally stealing from a game called Project Eden idea-wise. One example they have of hacking is a series of virtual dials that spin at varying rates. The player has to select the appropriate dial and click it at the right time. This can become challenging when either a time limit is added, there are several dials, or external pressures are at hand (like people shooting at you). Success gives access to whatever system that's being hacked; failure costs the player a measure of energy they could be using elsewhere.

Now in comparison there's System Shock 2's utterly boring form of hacking: You click on nodes, and if you have a high enough skill the click is favorable.

The major problem I have with click-resolved skills is that the player doesn't really do anything. It's their character having all the fun. I think adding mini-games is the only way to balance out hack and slash. If you ever have wondered why most cRPGs are combat heavy, just look at what combat is: a mini-game involving positioning, varying levels of risk, and strategic resource use. Abstractly represented, you're just "pressing keys periodically to compensate for varying levels of random noise" in the form of enemies, attacks, and terrain.


quote:

And besides the issue of fun, I think this skill control scheme just doesn't fit a stats-heavy game because it takes power away from the stats and puts it in the player's hands. Someone with the real-life skill of pushing buttons at the right time can artificially boost their in-game skill of balance/whatever.


I'm actually wondering if this is a bad thing. For your typical spreadsheet cRPG, I'd think yes. Players who play this type of game expect all the game's emphasis to be put on their stats.

But what about a game that has a lot of stats, but still has an action component?


(btw guys, great objections and food for thought! Please continue!)

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...


[edited by - Wavinator on August 13, 2002 1:00:14 AM]

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I think I''d have to agree with Dobbs here; you''re not looking for how well the player balances, but how well the player''s character balances. I want to be able to play an RPG and be able to pick some locks, even though my real life lock-picking skills are rather lacking. If there''s some strange representation of lock-picking on screen, perhaps the lock and different picks and wrenches that could be used, then it''s testing my own skill. I don''t want to have to learn the same skills as my character in a game just to do well in the game; if I was that good in real life I wouldn''t be playing the game. Instead, I''d like to have the game as separated as possible from my skill with a mouse/keyboard/input device. If my character''s got great dexterity and grew up in a circus, I shouldn''t have to exert any great effort just to get him to walk across a half foot wide board to get across the bottomless pit.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
The idea of stats to make the balancing easier doesent sound bad at all. Games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Dave mira freestyle BMX use a balance meter when ur grinding and manualing and its exactly like the system ur talking about. And you can put stats points into balance to make it eisier and it works perfictly fine because its still mostly player skill.

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I like that idea a lot. It is easily applied to all balance tests, and it suggests mechanisms for other possible tests as well. The 'nervous aim' mechanism is one that has been mentioned, and I'm trying to think of a few more for often-used skills...

Lock picking: A similar idea, with a transparant view of a lock and a lockpick, moving around slightly randomly. The lock-pick has a slight green sheen when you're poking around in the right area, and goes redder when it moves the wrong way. Go too far the wrong way and the pick breaks. Add in a timer, and a mechanism whereby it calculates success speed by how close you stay on average to the "optimal point" (i.e. integrating time and the inverse distance from the optimal point, and success is set at some number that has to be reached before the time runs out) , and you can also have failure without breaking picks.

Trap Disarming: Almost the same as lock picking, just different graphics (your hands poking around in the trap, or maybe some tools).

Any "long term" skill should usually not be handled this way though. "Running", "swimming" and the like would become like the old C64 olympic games, joystick killers where you just endlessly try to move the stick back and forth as fast as possible.

One exception could be "move silently", where you would combine avoiding obstacles, and some sort of "speedometer" that indicates how fast you are walking (faster=louder). The higher your skill, the easier you control your speed, and the sooner (and more obviously) potentially noise-making obstacles are highlighted along your path. [note: these obstacles needn't be actually placed during level editing, they could be randomly placed along the character's path when he's trying (or should be trying) to move silently. I'm thinking objects like twigs/leaves in a forest environment, small stones and puddles in dungeon/cave environments, papers, toys and the like in more urban environment]

Another thing I thought of: if your character's skill is high enough for the task to be trivial, then perhaps you could skip the mini-game altogether. Before you say "but you're removing the mini-games again!", think of the logical path how you got there: if you've been boosting a skill, chances are that they are pretty indicative of the kind of path you've chosen through the game. So, if you've got lots of lockpicking and balance skill, you're likely to be a thief, and likely to be doing LOTS of lockpicking and balancing. Now, if the game stripped out the really easy balance and lockpicking tests, then you wouldn't be spending quite as much time doing them, increasing the flow of the game along your preferred route, only stopping you at the greater challenges. Which is also an incentive to "play your role", because if you suddenly decide to take the fighting option all the time, even supposedly easy fights, you're going to have to do, because your skill is too low to skip them.


For those that have been saying "you're shifting to player skill, not character skill", I can only say: look at the extreme of that view. You start the game, create a character, and if your character is good enough, you win, otherwise you lose. It is accepted that in order to have any kind of game at all, player skill has to come into it. Currently, it only does so for combat, but why not extend that to the other types of contests? It might cease to be called a "role-playing game" at first, but I think it would be accepted quite quickly as being a good game.


[edited by - MadKeithV on August 13, 2002 3:25:59 AM]

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quote:
And besides the issue of fun, I think this skill control scheme just doesn''t fit a stats-heavy game because it takes power away from the stats and puts it in the player''s hands. Someone with the real-life skill of pushing buttons at the right time can artificially boost their in-game skill of balance/whatever.


I have to somewhat disagree, provided there is some modification to the system. I''d had a similar problem in discussing the issue of twitch-skill v. stat-based skills in creating a sniper scope; the basic concept with your balancing act applies.

What we finally agreed on as a best-of-both-worlds solution is a twitch (i.e. player-reflex controlled) crosshair that is adversely affected by the character''s stats - or more accurately, by the lack of a character''s stats. The lower the character''s skill in the relevant ability the more pronounced the movement of the scope would be, making it incredibly hard for a player to manually keep the scope centered on a target.

The more the character''s skill in that stat increased, the steadier the scope would stay on the screen. Conceptually (since we haven''t implemented anything yet) it seems to work for both the stat-lords and the twitch-kings - you need some manual dexterity, but your character''s stats heavily affect the ability.

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I''m picturing a party watching a fellow thief trying to make his way across a thin beam so he can lower a drawbridge for the party. Halfway across, the player stops paying attention and the ball slips to the left. The party watches in horror as the 3D figure is bending backward frantically waving his arms, one leg in the air. Then the player finishes sipping his Jolt, looks at the screen, drops a brick and starts tapping the right arrow. The party breathes a sigh of relief as the thief seemingly regains his balance and continues on his way.

Interesting.

So I''m assuming then that a high balance skill will keep the ball more stable. I''m thinking that tapping the arrow keys should not be implemented, since those faster on the arrows with their fingers would do better. Simply holding the arrow would apply the balance skill to the ball, releasing at the right time of course, and if the challenge is too great (high wind, earthquake, etc.) and the balance skill isn''t high enough, the character falls. It also keeps those boring ol'' feet on the ground types from getting across to the rewarding spots that those with balance can reach.

I don''t think applying balance should be all that hard. It shouldn''t take too much reflex, just attention. It does add that extra dimension, though, and adds a tactileness to the need for balance skill. Those with enough balance could even let the ball slide a little as they fire a bow at a passing enemy and continue on their way. A low balance score wouldn''t have the time to knock the arrow and fire before the ball sways too much. Besides, after the arrow fires, that ball is going to shoot one way or another. (Imagine a player firing arrows to keep his balance, making his way across a rope - funny picture)

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Another vote for the idea.

I also like the ideas for allowing the player to bypass a mini-game if the skill is high enough. Maybe combine it Waverider''s idea of stopping in the middle of the balance game to fire an arrow. So, if you were really good, you might be able to just cross the narrow beam/rope, or you could do something else while crossing, but might have to worry about keeping your balance at that point. A high lockpicking skill could just be a "jiggle-jiggle click" - sort of like thief, maybe even including multiple lockpicks, while a low lockpicking skill could involve a more difficult mini-game (guiding the correct pick to the correct pin).

As far as the "hacking" in SS2, I don''t think it was that bad, but it could have really used a boost in the player-side difficulty to make it more puzzle-like. If it was made so that there was only one or two safe ways to make it through, and a lot more danger squares, it could have worked. A highly skilled hacker probably could just hit nodes randomly with impunity, but a less skilled hacker would have had to spot the safe path

Anyone remember the lockpicking in Hillsfar? Perhaps some of the ideas could be utilized there (but broken picks *should* be replacable at a cost).

As for balance being a worthwhile skill, I think it is. Sort of a thief-acrobat kind of feeling. Combine it with something similiar to the rope arrows in Thief (but make it so that they can lead the rope horizontally and vertically - based on the angle that the arrow is fired), and it could be a really cool and useful skill.

A stealth skill could be something along the lines of the light meter in theif (and/or an improved version of the sound meter in Soldier of Fortune 2) - perhaps split into hide and move silently. No skill in these areas would provide no meters at all, and once the player takes some skill points, they get the meters - the more skilled they are - the more accurate the meters would be. Someone unskilled could try to find the appropriate places on their own, but might not catch everything about the lighting, floor material, etc - and would probably have to be more deliberate in their actions, rather than just having a meter turn dark when they were hidden.

Overall, I see this not so much determining success or failure in a skill, but more of being a distraction if other things are going on. That is, the challenges should be easy enough if someone can focus their attention on them, but when you''ve got guards firing on you, it takes someone with skill to pull it off. As the character becomes more skilled, the tasks take less time, and require less input from the player.

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I like it

I would vote for mini games whose emphasis is related to the nature of the skill being represented.
So in the case of physical skills, use a skill based mini game like in your example.
To simulate an intellectual skill, use a more intellectual mini game, a Tic-Tac-toe ? a memory game ? IQ test type of problem ? Mastermind ?
Of course, it ould be quite challenging to represent some skills. I am thinking of strength for instance, it''s the old problem of making an athletics game without using the "type till your keyboard explodes" methods, how do you solve that one ?

The other point is the link between mini-game difficutly and character skills, but I guess that one isnt too hard to solve, simply make the difficulty of the games inversely proportional to the character''s skill (low skill, high difficulty), and to the action''s difficulty itself.
In this fashion you give the player who has a crap character a little chance of still making it.

I wonder how you could use that for combat itself (since combat is usually the meaty part of an engine, I consider it apart from the rest of the skills)...
I remember a cool game called Cobra Mission where the figthing was basically "click on the picture". The trick was simply to find the hot spot. A bit lame I agree, but it worked damn well for me... go figure.
Maybe a more complex but similar idea could work ?

--------------------------------
"millions to one chances usually occur one times out of ten"

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I really like this balancing idea.

I just played a demo of some inline-skating game for the PS2 and I think it had some form of balancing (not sure what the maneuvre is called, but when you ride on just one foot, you have to press up/down to remain balanced).

So far, pressing arrow key left/right (or up/down) seems to be the accepted way of controlling balance, but I think you can make it much more interesting by using either a mouse or a joystick controller to do the balancing act (leaving arrow keys for movement), because that way, you have a vertical and horizontal balance control at once.

My preference though, would be a dual-joystick controller, where one joystick controls movement, while the other controls balance.

The joystick/mouse can control balance much more delicately. Move joystick/mouse a little bit to the left -> character''s center of gravity (because that''s what balancing is all about) moves to the left a little, perhaps by stretching the left arm out. Move joystick/mouse all the way to the left -> character''s center of gravity moves to the left as far as possible, perhaps by stretching arm out as far as possible, throwing left leg up in the air and curling the entire body to the left.

Ah well, I''m just a big fan of the dual-joystick

PS I vote for the idea of combining player and character skill in determining success and difficulty of balancing.

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