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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 don''t think this would work very well for a stat-heavy RPG, personally. I don''t know, something about it just doesn''t feel like it would fit in. I guess it just sounds to whimsical, "Mario Party"-ish.

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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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