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SpittingTrashcan

Skills as Movements, or Use the Processor

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My dissatisfaction with many computer RPGs arises from the paradigm they have inherited without question from tabletop roleplaying. Using pencil and paper, difficult statistical questions and issues of exact location, position, and velocity are abstracted and simplified to streamline gameplay. CRPGs accept without question the fudge factors introduced to accomodate puny human brains, not considering that the computer is capable of much more mathematical detail and precision. As a result, much more of the game engine is needlessly transparent to the player in a CRPG as opposed to say an FPS. Quake doesn''t tell me how it''s calculating the trajectory of my rocket... why does Neverwinter Nights have to tell me about the results of every virtual roll? Additionally, clumsy mechanics that could be eliminated or improved on persist due to inertia or just blindness to alternate approaches. To me the most blatant violation in this regard is the abstract skill system. This system, inherited from the radically different tabletop play environment, relies on a human arbitrator to listen to a desired action and determine what category it falls into. Then the effectiveness of the action is calculated using a numerical value applying to that entire category of actions - the "skill level". Unfortunately, the computer cannot categorize arbitrary actions as a human GM can, and so the range of actions must be limited to a finite (and usually quite small) set. Thus, in order to keep an abstraction designed for tabletop, the computer version discards features the tabletop system had without gaining anything. What if, instead, the computer more closely modeled the way skills are learned in real life, particularly in the case of physical skills which use the body? In real life, we observe another person carrying out a movement. We then attempt to copy the movement we observed. As we practice we get closer to the ideal movement and our effectiveness naturally grows in proportion. We can also invent and refine new movements for our own bodies which others can then learn, and so on. Translate this into game terms. A new movement is constructed as a skeletal animation. The physics model determines how the character''s moving body interacts with the world and displays the results. If the result is what was intended, the movement can be further refined by the player creating the movement, or by evolutionary algorithms which create multiple variations on the movement and test each for improvement on specific criteria. Eventually the results approach optimal, and a new "skill" is created. Other players whose characters watch the character using the skill receive the skeletal animation data, until they can attempt the movement themselves. The initial movement will be a degraded copy, but as the characters use the movement they will also adjust with evolutionary algorithms until they too approach optimal results. I have seen experiments conducted in which simple motile models whose shape and motion were controlled by variables were refined through evolutionary criteria based on ability to move forward... the results after 100 or so generations were artificial creatures capable of swimming quite nicely, and this was starting with totally random base creatures. So I know I''m not totally beyond the pale of technological or algorithmic possibility here, given that the characters are given a "head start" by receiving much of the movement information through observation. I have but two questions: Can it be done? And, should it? I believe it would truly add a whole new dimension to gameplay if it could be made. Imagine being able to construct your own custom moves, or learn any move you see. It boggles the mind. --------------------------------------------------- -SpittingTrashcan You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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loftyideals    122
My only concern is that it might not be that fun.

I can think of a few games where skills were "learned" by the player. The sierra Quest for Glory games worked that way. The more you threw things, the better at throwing you got. The more you fought, the better at fighting you got.

I''m sure there are more examples, but actually learning something is a tedious task that I would rather simply give to the computer to do. I don''t mind the "tiered" skill system, or developing skills by points, at least for now.

devinmaxwell

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Cahaan    122
Stats are actually something that players like.
Games are not supposed to be realistic at all. They are just meant to be fun to play. And it''s fun for most CRPG players to deal with stats, that''s all that counts.

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Kylotan    10011
Your post seems to diverge a little so it''s hard for me to work out what you''re really saying. Are you saying that character-stats are a poor paradigm compared to the player himself or herself learning how to play? Or are you saying that there should be a system that better resembles the real ''learning'' progression of a skill better than a statistical one? Personally I don''t agree with either point...

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions | Organising code files | My stuff ]

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Ah, some feedback.

loftyideals: The fun factor is something of a concern for me too. I agree that practice has the potential to become tedious. The advantage of a point-based, abstract skill system are in getting rewards through gameplay: the more you play, the higher your experience and the more points you get to spend on skills, which you can then use immediately to full effect.

My original post was lacking in specific examples in order to convey the overall concepts in an abstract way rather than tying the discussion down to a specific instance. That was a mistake, as it makes the mechanic seem drier and more academic than it is, and doesn''t illustrate the advantages it holds. Therefore, consider the following example: the roundhouse kick.

A player wishes to design a new move - a roundhouse kick, where the character steps forward, twists his body around his forward leg, and brings the rear leg around to kick in a horizontal snap. Using a skeletal animation utility that comes with the game, he creates such a series of movements. The game physics engine then determines, based on variables such as the character''s body shape, weight, center of gravity, and muscular power, what the result of that series of movements will be. Let''s say the first version is unsuccessful: the character is unbalanced and will fall down. The player can further manually refine the movement sequence, or he can have the computer generate random variations in the movement and determine, automatically or by player choice, which is the most successful. Eventually, the movement is ready to go. The player now has a move completely unique to his character: the roundhouse kick. When he uses it on an object, damage is determined by the velocity and relative hardness of his foot and the target. Rather than have the character practice this move, which would be boring, the computer can run the refining process on its own as the player does other things in game; then when the character has gained enough "experience" the game unlocks the move for in-game use.

Other players see the roundhouse and want to learn it too. To do so, they watch the creator using the roundhouse. Once they have seen it enough, they can put it on their "to learn" queue. As their characters gain experience through play, new moves are refined and unlocked from the "to learn" queue.

Now take a moment to reflect on the sheer, staggering number of different moves that could be created and used this way. Every single fighter in the game could have their own personal style and repertoire of favored moves.

Moves could also be chained together in an intuitive and natural fashion. Each movement has a start and end state. When a single movement is executed, the move starts with the character moving from neutral stance into the start state, then executing the movement, then moving from the end state back to neutral stance. However, if multiple moves are enqueued or assembled into a single macromove, and if their start and end states match or are close, a significant increase in speed could be effected as the moves naturally flow from one into the other.

Of course I''m not suggesting that every single movement in the game must be learned this way; that would be ridiculous. Basic movements such as walking, running, jumping, picking up and grabbing, etcetera should be part of every character''s repertoire automatically. However, more flashy stuff like backflips, baton twirling, and fencing parries should have to be learned.

cahaan: I disagree heartily. I''m a player, of both pencil and paper RPGs and computer RPGs. On the computer, I hate stats, I hate having to see stats, I hate having to manipulate stats, and I hate the fact that CRPGs are to far too great an extent about manipulating stats rather than having fun. But your mileage may vary. Lord knows I''m hardly the average.

Kylotan: Sorry for the mixing of what probably should have been two separate posts. I am actually saying neither of those things. My two points are as follows.

1. CRPGs are held back by their adherence to a paper-and-pencil paradigm which doesn''t translate well to computers.
2. Example: skill systems, which as they are limit the number of actions and simplify their use; while using the system I propose you could have an unlimited number of actions, each modelled accurately in terms of results.

Does this clarify things any? I really think I''m onto something here with point 1, of which point 2 is just one of many examples.

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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Cahaan    122
If most players were like you, there wouldn't be visible stats anymore in RPG. But as you can see, it's NOT the case.
That's not because you don't like it that other players will not like it.
Everything is relative and you can disagree. But you will not be right neither will anyone. It depends of your preferences, but it seems from a market point of view that most players enjoy stats like I do.
BTW, I think it's not a good idea to be realistic in game design. Let the realistic stuff for the technical/3D side. How would you implement your "movements" stuff in a playable game ?

That's the implementation of a good idea that counts. And I think the exemple of "learning movement" concept you mentionned would better suit to a Creatures-like sim game rather than CRPGs. But if you come with a good implementation of that idea and a good final game, I will be the first one to try it

That's my 2c.



[edited by - Cahaan on October 1, 2002 8:10:50 PM]

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Neosmyle    144
Don''t forget...one of the most prohibitive things to a system like you say are the input devices for computers. We can only input information through the keyboard and mouse, so how to you plan on creating these "skeletons" or "user-defined moves", etc. It seems like it would just be a 3d modelling app where it would take weeks for someone to create their own move.

And how do you represent your "mastery" of these moves? Obviously you cannot just start out with the ultimate fighting techniques simply by watching your friend for five minutes. So how do you represent it? A percent? That brings us back to what we had before - the stats showing openly.

Another thing. How do you plan on keeping track of all these skills you have learned, and how would you use them in combat? A list showing everything you have learned throughout your character''s career? That would be absurd, because even though you progress, you would still use the basic skills. Think of all the boxing moves there are. Straight jab, hook, cross, uppercut, body shot...and all the defensive counters, duck, roll, block high, block low, etc. How would you use all these in a combat situation?

Another thing- non-combat skills. How would you represent things like magic and thievery? Or even harder - passive skills like meditation or how about something like Musicianship? It would be very hard to represent those as skeletal animations.

Generally, I don''t really think your idea would work - it would still boil down to numbers. A player wouldn''t spend time examining the skeletal animation for his quick stab and try to improve his mechanics... no, he would just look at the damage done, and if it wasn''t satisfactory, go watch his friend bash on a monster and practice it to get more power.

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NeoSmyle,

I''ll try and address your points.

Yes, you would need something like a 3D modelling app to create these skeletal animations. Yes, they would take considerable effort to build. Experience with other games indicates to me that there exist a large subset of players who are willing to go to great lengths to create custom mods which change the game''s appearance and behavior - sometimes rivaling the original game developers in creativity and effort. Creating new moves won''t be for everybody, but I suspect many people would be willing to take the time to create their own special tricks, just for the cool factor.

Yes, these techniques could not be mastered instantly. They would have to be taken a piece at a time. A long, flashy macromove would consist of several component moves, each to be learned over time. They would be placed on a "learning queue" and learned in succession. Your progress toward mastery of these components would most likely be represented numerically inside the game engine , but there''s no need to give the player such detailed information. You could use a graphical indicator such as a filling bar, or just inform him when he has gained a new move.

Skills could be tracked via a list - perhaps a little animation demonstrates how each works. They could then be grouped by the player into sets, where each set maps a move to a keyboard button. The sets themselves could then be pulled up with other hotkeys. Say Q, W, E, and R are the four "use move" buttons, and 1-8 pull up different move sets. That''s 32 skills accessible with two keypresses each, and with the custom grouping of related skills you wouldn''t need to switch between sets all that often. Another option would be to have a fighting-game style system where key combos as well as single taps are mapped to different moves. Think "Oni" - how many moves were in that game? Now imagine multiplying that by 8 button map sets. Sound intriguing?

My idea isn''t meant to handle more abstract skills - I''m still working on that problem. It''s just for physical movements, for now.

With a good physics engine, raw damage isn''t the only factor in moves. Ever play or see Bushido Blade? In that game, damage was largely irrelevant as almost all attacks were lethal. Instead, the dynamics of movement and counterswing became critical. A player chose character and weapon, and different characters handled different weapons in different ways: the small, lightly built character was lethal with the light rapier, but clumsy with the hammer. There were no all-stopping blocks, only parries which would knock aside attacks. Shifting stances gave access to different move sets. Now consider what would happen if every character in the game could pick, choose, and create their own move set. To consider only numerical damage would be to ignore the wide range of other factors in combat, and is another flaw in the simplified paradigm of P&P RPGs (where combat is abstracted into chance to hit and numerical damage).

Perhaps it would clarify things if I called this new type of game I am attempting to describe by a new name. I am not trying to make another RPG such as you are used to. I am trying to make an RES: Reality Enhanced Simulator. Reality, for the basis in realism; Enhanced, for the fudge factor introduced to make things more fun than reality; Simulator, for the physics-based model rather than a more abstract rules-based "game".

So, who wants to play an RES?

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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Neosmyle    144
I see some of your points. I was actually thinking of some of your answers would be as I wrote my first post, but I was just playing devil''s advocate and wanted to make sure you saw both sides of it.

Now, are we talking about an MMORPG here? It makes more sense than a single player RPG. The concept also seems to have a steep learning curve; it just has a lot of components, and it might be hard to grasp as a beginner. I''d say to lessen it, I wouldn''t put so much emphasis on the new move creation. It would definitely be an advanced topic, so I''d keep it away from the beginners. OASN (on a side note), I think that players should be able to name moves they create, so when other players learn the custom moves, it will still be known by its creator, giving them some fame and extra incentive.

I think it would be a good change though, as long as it was kept mainly towards the fighting aspect of the game, and less from the overall gameplay.

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Neosmyle,

- By default I am talking about MMORPGs... I favor them over single-player RPGs because I like interacting with others.

- Making custom moves won''t be for newbies, and won''t be necessary to have fun playing the game. It''ll be more like modding or creating custom skins; few will be able to do it but all will benefit from their efforts. Certainly creators should be given credit for the moves they make. People who make new moves in real life martial arts, sports, or gymnastics are legendary...

- The applications to combat are immediate and obvious... but have you considered the apps in other athletics? This system could also be used to make new slam dunks, better passes, cool skateboard stunts, gymnastic vaults and tumbles... once you start thinking about it, the applications are wide in scope.

By the way, excessive focus on combat is just one more of the many problems which arise from not thinking critically about the P&P paradigm. Not every RPG need be all about cutting a bloody swath through the minions of evil... if it''s all right with you, I''d rather take the role of a rock star, painter, or b-ball player. If nothing like these options are open, it''s not an RPG; it''s a combat game by any other name.

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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Neosmyle    144
Well, it would definitely seem like a very combat-based RPG, as you said that this system wouldn''t be applied to any more abstract skills, and this is definitely would be a major feature/strong point of a game.
quote:

My idea isn''t meant to handle more abstract skills - I''m still working on that problem. It''s just for physical movements, for now.

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MSW    151
Try to find a copy of Die by the Sword...it used a simular system to what you described.

But there are a few questions...possable problems with such a system.

1) you said that by combineing two keypresses (a "Q" with a numpad "3" for example) would allow the player to initiate the move...this would seem great...on the surface...but how is the player to remember which "group" a certain move is catagorized in? Can players place moves into thier own groupings...or would the computer do that when the move is learned? What if players want to learn a new move but all of thier "groupings" are filled...are they forced to "drop" a established move, so they have space for the new one? During combat...how will this information be presented to the player?

2) Once a action is initiated...will it carry out until completed? If I direct my character to do a roundhouse...but in the process get hit with a punch...would my character complete the roundhouse and any moves I "chained" to it? Be careful with this...if the move continues without interuption you''ll end up with situations where players can''t do anything until their character "finnishes the animation"...if the action becomes interupted..you have just created a situation where players with very quick attacks (and defense moves)are going to have a leg up over players armed with slower (but maybe more powerful) moves.

3) how are characters of different sizes able to use this system?...purhapse the player has a 5 foot tall character whom is fighting a 6 foot tall character...if the player initiates a "jab to the head" how will it be expected to connect...and what would happen if the taller character used the same move on the smaller player?...

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MSW,

Never heard of Die By the Sword... what system, what year, and who made it?

1) I don''t want to be tied down to a control scheme too much just yet, but my idea was for the player to personally make 8 groupings within which he would assign one skill or skill macro to each of q, w, e, r, and (why not add stuff) L-click and R-click. Pressing 1 through 8 would pull up one of these groups, after which the player would not need to press a number again unless he wanted to switch to a different set. Players can learn as many moves as they like, but will have a maximum of 8*6=48 accessible through hotkeys, and would have to drop a skill off the hotkey list to add another to it. Since players build their own movesets, they should be able to remember what each is... to help them remember, they can name their groupings. The names and numbers can be displayed on a HUD, as can the current mapping of keys to skills. If you''ve played Diablo II, it''ll be something like how skills from your skill tree are mapped to F-keys and then to your L and R click buttons.

2) Individual moves are usually run to completion, but they should be fairly short. Multi-move macros can be cancelled, say by hitting the macro key again; the current move is finished, then the character returns to neutral stance. Getting hit in the middle of a move may cancel the move into a "blow received" animation, depending on the strength of the received hit versus your character''s endurance. Those who use slow moves should toughen themselves up so that nor hell nor high water will stop them from finishing their axe swing - light, fast fighters will be able to interrupt each other due to their focus on speed over power, but should concentrate on avoiding, rather than interrupting, heavy characers. Damage modeling should take into account the relative momentum and durability of attacking and defending character/weapon... a rapier is quick to block, but doesn''t have a chance in hell of surviving let alone stopping a two-handed sword swing; and similarly, you may be able to catch an incoming fist if you''re quick, but if that fist is coming in hard enough you won''t be able to stop it.

3) Moves should be designed to include a variable angle component, read from mouse position at runtime. Thus it would be possible to aim a punch up or down with the mouse. Since a jab originates from the shoulder, the mouse angle indicates the starting position of the shoulder in the jab. Note that this means the same jab could be a high or low punch! It could even be an option that on activating a move, the character automatically rotates and reangles so that his opponent is within the target zone.

All this discussion of theory is fine, but I haven''t heard a word yet on implementation. Does the technology exist to actually pull this kind of stuff off?

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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MSW    151
Die by the Sword...a 3D action/RPG PC game released in 1998 from Interplay.

It had two seperate control schemes.

1) a sort of Virtual mode where players pressed numpad keys inorder to swing thier sword for an attack...pressing "6","5","4" quickly made the character swing the sword from his right to left, etc..

2) a "arcade control mode" players had the ability to "pre-program" certain sword attacks by useing a special editer...then assigning these moves to specific "hot keys/ key combos" for use in game..

found this site where you can buy a copy of the game:
http://www.chipsbits.com/cgi-bin/order.cbi_home?source=84693&newpage=infopages/DIEBS.IR.html



The game used some sort of propietary physics engine that guided how the characters moved, animations, etc... and it got fairly good reviews at the time...I suggest you try it out, if for no other reason then to see how a simular system to your design has been implimated.



One problem that I can see (given your answers to my questions above) is that such a system focuses on how well the player can control your combat system...rather then focusing the players attention on combat tactics...It seems that the player will not only have to memorize where he/she placed each of thier 48 attacks...but they must also use the mouse to better effect the attacks as they are being performed....this places more emphesis on player combat skill then his/her character combat skill.

quote:

if it''s all right with you, I''d rather take the role of a rock star, painter, or b-ball player. If nothing like these options are open, it''s not an RPG; it''s a combat game by any other name.



This is just a suggestion...but maybe you should spend more design time on innovative ways to make these other roles interesting and fun to play...ways to make such roles, and the time spent on playing them, as much or more important then combat...because the way it sounds...the emphesis is all on combat, meening being a rock star or some such has very little meening...just my $.02

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MSW,

Thanks for the heads-up on Die By the Sword... I''ll check it out.

As I described it initially, this system does require quite a bit from the player. There are some additional features that could be added to place the burden of combat more on the character''s skills, while allowing the player a more strategic view. One is auto-targeting: merely point the character in the general direction of his intended opponent, and select the skill to use; the character then does the grunt work of precise targeting. The degree of leeway the auto-targeter gives could depend on the character''s degree of proficiency with the skill. Thus, as the character uses the skill more the player needs not be as precise in giving directions.

Descriptive nomenclature and a HUD would help the player remember his skill mappings. Instead of having to remember that 1-Q is a fencing thrust, he looks at the HUD where he has labeled group 1 "Fencing moves". When he hits 1 the HUD shows which skills he has mapped to each button.

Besides, remembering 48 mappings isn''t as hard as it sounds. It''s the equivalent of learning the moves of 8 characters in Street Fighter II, and plenty of people have done that. Plus, most skill sets probably won''t be dedicated to combat, so wouldn''t need to be accessed on an urgent basis.

In fact, this system''s focus on combat really isn''t as great as you seem to think. Because all the examples I''ve given are combat maneuvers, and because you''ve asked me to elaborate more on combat than on any other aspect, it may seem that combat is its sole role. Therefore, I''ll show how the basketball player, rock star, and painter can also take advantage of this system.

The b-ball player is easiest. He could have two skill sets dedicated to basketball moves: one for offense( shoot, dunk, pass, catch, fake-out etc.) and one for defense( block high, block wide, steal, intercept etc.). It wouldn''t be too much more scripting for him to auto-select a skill set depending on whether he has the ball. He may dedicate more sets to things such as custom acrobatic dunks or other stunts.

The rock star''s main skill is in music, which is more in fine motor control and thus not particularly applicable to this system. However, his on-stage antics are another story. I can think of a number of moves I''d like to have on hand while jamming out: wave to the crowd; rock back and forth to the beat; dive into audience, etc etc. This would put some player participation into what might otherwise be a somewhat boring character concept (for those who can''t play their own music).

The painter is also concerned with fine motor skills, and doesn''t really have much of an audience. But what about a graffiti artist? Large movements of the hand and arm are used to create mural tags; I can imagine wanting moves for creating certain oft-used shapes. Then each individual move would be like selecting a custom brush. With enough patience you could chain several moves into a single macromove to create a full design. Imagine: one button pressed, and watch as you beautify a drab piece of architecture with your nom de plume.

Do you understand now how grand a scope this system is potentially capable of? Application to skateboarder, footballer, and dancer are left as exercises for the reader.

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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MSW    151
Okay...I''m startng to understand now...

But I think you will find yourself back at square one...In your original post you mentioned how CRPGs offer limited skill sets, as a computer isn''t capable of subtle rule bending (creative use of skills, etc..) unlike a human P&P GM...but all your example skills are just interpolated from motor skills.

What about skills that do not need physical movement? skills at solveing problems, skills that may even require intelligence that the player doesn''t have, skills of communication and "networking" with other players?

What if the player wanted thier character to be a Banker, or a Librarian, or a music/art critic?...your system doesn''t seem to provide a way to develop such characters (skill of counting money?, skill of putting books on a shielf?, skill of writeing?)...and even if it did...then how can the system define the differences between a art critic and a sports reporter?...they both require writeing, but each is in a different venue, which requires skills that do not involve physical actions.

How is the rock star to create new songs? How is the painter to paint in different artistic styles? Are the players to develop this as a set of different "skills"?

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MSW,

You''re entirely right. I haven''t given a solution to the general question of skills, nor did I intend to at this stage. I want to rebuild the skill system entirely, but I''m starting with motor skills.

Skills relying on social grace or mental power are a much tougher nut to crack, by the way. It''s fairly easy to create a character which can do what the player can''t physically -indeed, that''s one of the big draws of games in general isn''t it? On the other hand, it''s quite difficult to concretely represent a character who is smarter or wittier or more patient than the player, as the computer can''t pick up the slack in any of these categories. It''s also difficult to concretely represent a character who knows how to do things the player doesn''t. Hence the abstraction of such things in P&P RPGs.

I guess one solution would be to create a character that plays to the player''s strong suits, and is weak in the same things as the player - but part of the fun of RPGs is to play someone who is good at what you''re not. Another idea would be to have the game actively cripple you in areas your character is bad at - you personally may have the gift of gab, but your character has terrible diction, so the game scrambles your text when you try to speak. Of course, if your character is "good" at something that would just mean he''s as good at it as you are, and not worse.

So, it is a tough problem. And I don''t have the solution. If you do, please do tell!

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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MSW    151
How would I do this?

First I would design the game world...not every little detail...but enough so that there is a clear focus on what is possable, and where the game balance lines are drawn.

I don''t buy into the idea that a game can be everything to everybody...I also don''t buy into the idea that games should be "realistic" (in real world terms)....I''m a firm believer in the KISS principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

If the design challange is to "design a game system that allows for more social interaction and skills in a RPG"...I would first eliminate everything that has little to do with the challange.

So no fighting...it''s dropped...end of story.

And for this design challange I chose to set the game world in some future city...where players are trying to become the next president of some big corporation...this would allow for a variety of "character classes" basied on, say, college degrees...this would allow technical, buisness, and creative types of "specialized" characters....there would be two basic stats...something like "level" represents the current standing in the company...and "renoun" represents the standing in social groups.

Actual communication between the player and NPCs (This would work as a single player game) is going to be pretty abstract...it''s not important to detail these interactions, but it should be top priority to show how the player''s choices effect the situation.

That said...there would be a simple list of "conversation actions"...complement, critisize, complain, question, etc...and each NPC could have a seperate list of attributes (such as "wife", "kids", "job", etc..)...so a basic conversation might be "complement wife"...and depending on the characters "complement" skill level...it could succeed (forming a bond with the NPC, increaseing your renoun, etc..)...it could fail (reduceing your renoun and/or complement skill level, etc..this can be read as the NPC doesn''t believe you/ thinks your sucking up to them,etc..)

Basicly every time the player uses a "conversation action"...he/she can build up the skill values in that area...but skills that havent been used in a while will be reduced....if you never complement anyone...you won''t be good at it...for example.

You can think of this as if it''s a battle engine in a typical RPG...the character''s "attributes" would be like "equiped items"...while "conversation actions" are like different types of attacks/defenses.

Players can also recieve "special items" that may allow them to "network with others better"...these items can take on different forms...purhapse the player recieves "employee of the month" or some such...or they trade thier "girlfriend" for a "trophy wife"...some items will help...others may hurt.

Hows that for a start?...pretty basic, and needs work...but I only spent 10 minutes thinking it up

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MSW,

The KISS approach is a smart and successful one. In fact, it's currently the prevalent philosophy in game design. It's also the philosophy behind P&P systems. And it is therefore the philosophy I am swimming upstream against.

My philosophy is something like:
small set of mechanics
+ large degree of freedom
+ fudge factor
= ability to simulate almost arbitrary phenomena
+ fun gameplay

Keep in mind that the world itself can be viewed as a very small set of rules constantly acting on a very, very large data set. I wouldn't dare to suggest that the average PC can run the algorithm [laws of physics] on the data set [entire universe]... but why not see how close you can get?

My hope is to create a game where the player becomes less focused on the fact that he is playing a game, with a mathematical deterministic system of rules he must manipulate to win, and more on the idea that he is putting himself into a whole other person's shoes. P&P captures this "immersion factor" using a KISS ruleset by tapping into the player's imagination. But by laying it all out for the player CRPGs become paradoxically less immersive as the player comes to see himself more as a manipulator than an actor.

Through creating a system that works more and more like the real world I am trying to give the player back the perception that the character he is playing as is some aspect of himself, and that through this avatar he is experiencing another world as real as his own. Every time something that "ought to work" actually DOES, the player's suspension of disbelief is increased that much.

To counterbalance the fact that a perfect simulator of reality would be as boring as real life, I introduce the "fudge factor": lenience in the rules designed to let the player get away with things that are unrealistic but also fun. So not only can the player do everything that "ought to work" but he can also do many things that really just DON'T.

In order to accomplish the above I really do need a Jack-of-all-trades system, one grounded in the way things really work (because everything that should work in the real world does work in the real world, duh), but also including some slack in the system which makes things easier than in real life. The move-based gross motor skills system was just one example of the kind of thinking I'm doing with this paradigm as my guide. I'm currently hard at work cogitating on the next step, which would be handling knowledge skills, crafts, and subtle manipulations.

Now I'm not knocking your ideas MSW. They look to be the core to a perfectly good game. Hell, I'd play it - it's a lot more clever than a lot of what's out there. Certainly it's a lot more makeable than my far flung ideas. But I'm sort of chasing a star at the moment - you can come with if you like, and see where it takes us, or you can wait patiently for me to fall to earth.

God, I hate how much I use the word "paradigm" these days.

[edit:] Looking back at your idea, I was shocked to see how much it resembled another game genre you may not be aware of. Ever heard of the "dating sim" genre? It's almost unheard of here in the US but very popular in Japan. The core concept is that through conversation and decision trees the player attempts to win the affections of one of a number of potential girlfriends. It sounds pretty odd to me, but you can't argue with success... and I think you can see some of the parallels to your idea.

So if you can make the first "business sim", it may be enough of a change in the genre for Americans to accept it.

Just a random thought.

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can't have "civilization" without "civil".

[edited by - SpittingTrashcan on October 3, 2002 2:06:27 AM]

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DuranStrife    100
Unless you can create an accurate simulation of reality as it actually is (human beings usually have an intuitive understanding of the real world), the player should be capable of understanding the systems in your game. Otherwise, they will grow dissatisfied with the lack of strategic comprehensibility inherent in your core design and will not desire to play the game.

If there's no hope of my mastering, as a player, the techniques of gaming possible in a game, I generally get bored with the game, as it tends to look rather random and unbalanced to me from a player's perspective.

All I'm trying to say is that if you CAN do this, you have to do it perfectly. No room for mistakes on this one!

[edited by - DuranStrife on October 3, 2002 11:38:30 AM]

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Doolwind    213
SpittingTrashcan-

Firstly, I think your idea has great merit. I do agree with someo of the things said in repsonse, but I also believe that they can be overcome with slight changes in your way of thinking, while still leaving the core of what you want in the game.

MSW-
I think you are worrying to much about little details. Does it really matter exactly how the multitued of actions will be chosen.

And what about different heighted people?? It would probably be easiest if the computer did this automatically. You could create any shaped creature, but as long as it has a head the computer will know where to aim the "head shot" at.

Anyways, I think the idea sounds great, although it would take a lot of effort to get some of the features working. And MSW I am not saying you are completely wrong, just some of your thoughts seem to be picking at very fine details .

Doolwind

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DuranStrife,

You''re absolutely right. When a game gives near-unlimited realism, any lapses become just that much more annoying, as they remind you that it''s just a game after all. When a game is severely restrained and rules-based from the get-go you don''t mind how unrealistic it is... so long as it follows its own internal rules!

The hope I have is, through increased realism, to make the interface "transparent": that is as intuitive as possible, so that not only can the player guess from his real world experience what can be done, he can also largely guess how to do it. The net benefit, besides less need for a manual, is the ability to do away with distractingly artificial elements like status bars, huds, and numbers popping up over this that and the other thing.

My model in this aspect is Grim Fandango, which attempted an icon-free interface. Grim was an adventure game in which your character was steered with arrow keys. If he got near something interesting, he would turn his head to look at it; you could then hit keys to make him comment on what he was looking at, manipulate it, or pick it up... you could also make him reach into his jacket and cycle through his inventory; he''d pull each item out in turn. It was very easy to pick up and play, but some of the puzzles were fiendishly difficult. I thought it was absolutely the neatest thing...

Doolwind,

MSW has his points. It''s just a matter of design philosophy. He doesn''t mind if games are games, which is perfectly workable and a good design philosophy; I''d prefer them to be more on the order of simulators, which is significantly more risky and difficult to pull off.

MSW - this might address some of your use concerns. To make the "moves" system more easily usable, it might be a good idea to make some of the moves context-sensitive. One example is the basketball player who would want to switch between offense and defense depending on his possession of the ball. Another is the graffitist, who''d prefer only to spray when there''s a wall in front of him. A wielder of multiple weapons would of course like to have a separate skill set bound to each. The Zelda games on the N64, with their context-sensitive B moves, are a good implementation of this.

Just throwing some more stuff out there.

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irbrian    130
Biggest problem I see with your idea: Its a simulator. Simulators are fun for people who want to learn how to do something; they''re not so much fun for people who just want to play a game. Its come up before, but I don''t think you quite realize how much of an issue it is. You''re talking about a very complex control scheme (regardless of the specifics).

1) It would seem to me that at the heart of your argument, what you''re really interested in is a combat system that FEELS more realistic.. not necessarily one that IS more realistic.

2) I agree that P&P RPGs are simplified, numerical abstractions of reality due to the inability of humans to handle much more complex systems on their own, and that computers can handle more complexity. But even computers are going to require some level of numerical abstraction of reality, since thats what they deal with -- numbers. The statistics can be hidden, but they''re still there, and some players like seeing that.

Also with regard to P&P RPGs, Neverwinter Nights (which you criticized in your first post) is a computerized interpretation of an existing P&P RPG (which is extremely popular, I should add) -- the mechanics are SUPPOSED to mimic the P&P version.

3) Yes, there are people who will build mods and skins and so forth, and there are people who will build moves for your hypothetical game -- but regardless of how sophisticated the physics engine is, the real issue is that its a lot of work for very little return.

4) Most skills have to be defined for the computer beforehand, because it needs an understanding of specifically how that skill affects the game environment.

I''m sure my comments above don''t address everything you''ve said, but some things to consider perhaps. I was once trying to build a really complex, innovative, flexible combat and skill system; then I realized, that in order for the game to be fun, it needs to be ACCESSIBLE -- not just to those that have practiced for hours upon hours, but also for those who have spent five minutes getting a feel for the game. As one individual mentioned, let the player''s own skill be reflected in combat tactics, not in the act of combat itself. If anything, the combat should be handled MORE by the computer and less by the gamer.

Good ideas, ST, but ultimately probably not a best-seller.. if I wanted to learn how to fight with a sword or perform a roundhouse kick or paint like a pro, I''d go buy myself a sword and join a combat re-enactment club, or get into Karate, or take an art class. But I don''t. Let people play a game, not practice skills they don''t need in a simulator.


Brian Lacy
Smoking Monkey Studios

Comments? Questions? Curious?
brian@smoking-monkey.org

"I create. Therefore I am."

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Mr. Lacy,

Good points all. Once again I seem to have misled people with terminology. When I said "simulator" I wanted to conjure up images of such physics engines as the algorithms used by car designers to make safer cars: "crash simulators". I was not attempting to remind you of such games as "flight simulators" in which all the joyless complexity of flying a jumbo jet is flawlessly emulated. Complex physics, simple interface is what I'm going for here.

In response to specific arguments:

1) You damn right. I don't like the abstract turn based combat systems of Japanese CRPGs very much. When I'm in a fight, I want to choose my strategy, line up my shot, and let 'em have it myself. I want to be able to use whatever vicious tricks I can come up with. I want to do it and I want to do it with style. If there was a fighting game that let me customize my weapons and moves, I'd be first in line to buy it. I'm looking to get that Die by the Sword ASAP.

2) Yup, computers are number crunchers not thinking machines. But they can crunch a lot more numbers. The average D&D stat ranges from 1 to 18 (for humans). Are all 15 STR people equally strong? Realistically, no. The average C++ unsigned int is at least 0-64000. Let's use all of that numerical range, is what I'm saying. That number crunching power means more granularity in statistics than human players could possibly handle, with the net result that the jags are evened out almost to a smooth curve. Don't bother telling people that their strength is 35675 - just show them where they are on the bell curve.

Now don't get me wrong about NWN. I love it to death, and I know it was an attempt to port a P&P game accurately to PC, with all its associated stats and rolls. I'm just saying there are plenty of games which take the same approach as NWN. NWN is the apex of one mountain; I'm just trying to climb another one.

3) I say thee nay, my friend. Check this out: One crazy modder. Now tell me that people aren't willing to mod the hell out of games. New moves won't just look cool (as skins do), they'll offer in-game prestige (Nobody can stop the Spinning Cobra Clutch!), economical opportunities (Sure I'll teach you the Seven Strikes of the Monkey. For $5000. Each.), and tactical advantage (What the- *WHUMP*).

4) Which is why the physics engine must be so sophisticated: it must extrapolate the effect of a move from some simple rules, the move itself, and a whole lotta math.

I appreciate the advice on complexity vs. fun. My hope is that by including a large set of pre-built moves, a simple use interface, and a thorough move builder, I'll be able to create a scaling complexity: for the average non-athlete character, just press some buttons and get things done; for the consummate strategist, the widest possible range of options. And recall that I do include a major role for the computer: the player has only to "point at target, press button" in most cases. The player doesn't have to learn how to fence, box, or paint if he doesn't want to; all he has to do is tell his character to learn it, or at worst build it himself or ask someone else to. I hope I've made things more clear.

[edited by - SpittingTrashcan on October 7, 2002 3:46:28 AM]

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