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# A RPG without numbers?

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I’m trying to find how far is too far concerning immersion in games. Specifically, concerning the numbers end of things. When you show a player the tangible end of things (his stats, damage output, level, resistances etc) he is prone to focus solely on min/maxing and leveling. In trying to theorize the other end of the spectrum, I’m wondering if a system that was on the other end of the spectrum would inspire players to focus on the story rather then the numbers. In other words, if you removed ALL the numbers from a game, and replaced them with immersion promoting aspects (your character animation changing when he has taken damage etc) would it somehow take away from the essence of the game? After all, a big part of RPGs is character progression, and what better way to gauge that then tangible numbers? Then put another spin on it. Let’s say the game had a great story/quest system that was awesome, totally dynamic, and seemingly endless. How do you think abstracting the player from the numbers end of things would impact the game? Do you think the players would be less inclined to focus on the leveling, and more inclined to focus on the actual adventure and story? [edited by - Noods on December 16, 2003 4:33:32 AM]

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Well, it''s a very interesting idea, to be sure. The game you would end up with, I think, would be more of a classic adventure game than an RPG, just based on the lack of direct stats. However, if you managed to work in health/strength/etc without numbers, then you''d basically have a ultra-realistic RPG. Depending on how this was implemented, the players could be attracted more to the story/characters or more to levelbusting (without the levels, of course). If the gameplay was set up so that the only reward from fighting was money/items/what have you, and the characters did not advance in their stats (non-stats, really), then yes, the players would be drawn more into the story and development of the characters. On the other hand, if the character''s skills did increase with more fighting, then the urge to levelbust would probably be just as strong, perhaps stronger, as the absence of stats would keep you guessing as to exactly how poerful your characters were.
Of course, if what you want is to get the player more immersed in the story, then the simplest (and yet most complex) solution is just to write a REALLY good story.

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Agreed, a good story would get any player more involved. However, in addition to the main story, lets theorize a MMORPG environment where much of the content (quests, mini-stories) were dyncamically generated by NPCs, both traditional townsfolk and hostile entiites. Also, lets replace the traditional "orcs hideout" (or other predetermined area where monsters always are) with an old fashion DnD random encounter, where nobody really knows what is going to happen when they start on their journey (not even the admins).

My intent here is for the character to still progress, but instead of priparily focusing on that, we want him to be pumped about the actual adventure, because holefully each encounter would be unique, challenging, and would pose the player with interesting decisions. I hope to do this through abstraction of numbers (to avoid any focus on numbers, and increase immersion) and quality content generation, excellent AI.

Feasible?

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Interesting idea, however, if you were to do this with an RPG, how would you know if/when your character was near death and needed to be healed?

Those aren''t bugs, they''re added features

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quote:
how would you know if/when your character was near death and needed to be healed?

Easy enough - animations and sounds for the character''s health, along with reduced speed. An injured character who physically LOOKS beat up, is trailing blood, clutching one arm to his chest and limping badly while occasionally stopping and grunting in pain pretty much shouts out "Hey, heal me please" to the player. You don''t need a health bar for that. If the character is near death, claxons and flashing lights are a big indicator.

Poison? Have a hazy green gas cloud drifting around the character. Or just change the character''s color to green.

It''s a great idea, and with a little imagination can be worked out well.

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that's not really "without numbers"... you're just changing the numeric characters on-screen into nifty animations and special effects.

not that i think it is a bad idea...

[edited by - krez on December 16, 2003 11:33:38 AM]

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I think the point trying to be made is leaning twards the lack of any "readable" numbers. Being able to say things like "If I have this <insert item here> then my atk goes up 5 points." By removing statistical information you have to relay on other methods of communication between the player and the game. You dont have to have a little picture showing your health state. the char your playing can show that quite well by limping/bleeding/etc.

The only problem I can see is char progression. Although that may be overcome by having a hidden "practice" counter. where your skills (as opposed to a level) raise with usage of that skill. If you have a spell book in the game you can show a "note" stating something along the lines of "I may need to work on this", "I''m on par with this ability", or "This is one of my stronger abilities" to signafy how good it is based on the other skills or your level etc. again, no numbers to show but still having an idea on how it stacks up on your char. This can be used for different weapons too (dagger/sword/bow).

Gaining new spells and abilities could be done by aquiring thinks like scrolls or finding a trainer npc to improve the avalible skills you have.

Thats my \$0.02

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there''s been several threads about similar systems in this forum before, you should search them out and have a gander.

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I just don''t like the idea.

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there was big long thread about this not to long ago. I suggest you check it out I think it was called "perception in rpgs" or something like that.

You don't need numbers to make a game, it could all be done just as well if not better with qualitative descriptions. Such as if all stats are from 1 to 5 and your character has Strength 5, and intellegince 1. You could replace all that with a short discription such as "A dim witted young man with the strength of an Ox."

-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I'm a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

[edited by - TechnoGoth on December 16, 2003 1:09:07 PM]

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I really like the idea of not using numbers. The game I''m working on was aimed to be just like that (no "general" levels, but skill increasing, and no numbers. However my programmer insists we should have an option to turn number displaying on somewhere semi-hidden in a menu.

- ZeroX
Elium Game Project

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A microcosm of this idea can be found in Grand Theft Auto 3. Your character''s "sprint" ability lets you run faster for short periods of time. When you get tired, you can''t sprint anymore, and if you stop while in this condition, your guy will suck wind, taking big, heaving breaths and leaning down to put his hands on his knees. However, throughout the course of the game, as you sprint, your cardiovascular endurance gradually improves. You never really notice, and the sprint-to-sprint improvement is so slight that you can never say, "Wow! I just gained a level in sprint!" but it does improve. And it''s enough of a difference that when you start a new game and go back to "default" sprint ability, you think "This guy can''t run for beans!"

Now, if you build a whole RPG like that, it''ll play more like an action game. you won''t really be able to say, "I''ve got more HP than before, so maybe I can get that dragon now." As a result, you''ll have to guess. It''s tough to gauge how hard you''re hitting, since the best you can do is count how many whacks it takes to kill an imp. Same thing with defense. So it''ll basically require an overhaul of the entire RPG system, which is fraught with throwbacks to P&P days.

Trying to play a conventional RPG without constant statistical updates regarding your condition and capabilities would be infuriating. Also, you''d never be able to "max out" your stats, since you wouldn''t know what they were. Tricky.

And don''t forget that the HP system has evolved to represent more than just how many injuries your character has sustained. In a normal RPG, it also governs elements of luck, dodging skill, physical endurance, and agility.

A guy with three thousand HP isn''t just really guy who can take five axe blows in the face and come out swinging, he''s a guy that can dodge, or block, or deflect the axe, for a while. Maybe he''s tricky enough that the bad guy will miss, or he''s quick enough that he can take it on the armor instead of the flesh, but sooner or later his luck and skill and endurance will run out, and he''ll get killed. The graphical displays just show the guy getting chopped and standing there afterward. That''s a corruption of the idea. So just having your guy bleed more and more as invisible HP is lost is not a great system. Better (in an action-style game) to give him relatively little health and just simulate injuries as they hit him, since the antiquated "HP" is a constellation of character stats, player skills and equipment properties, which your more sophisticated system will take care of more faithfully.

I think it could make for a very deep, appreciable action/adventure game, but to call it a straight-up RPG would be misleading at least. Personally, I''d love to see it done. I''m sure there are all kinds of hidden possibilities and pitfalls that we can''t discover just by talking about it.

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Noods makes a good point about player confidence in abilities. Something like GTA3, you could really take on any mission given the right amount of body armor and guns, but running wasn''t a drastically important thing. In an RPG, those abilities always are important, because just about every quest involved some warlike fight to the death that will leave you a few points shy of it anyways. That said, just trusting that I''m strong enough won''t help me take on those enemies.

It is very possible to show numbers to a player and not have them stat tweak like crazy. Lets suppose for a second that we want to have a stat''s [u]effect[/u] range for 256 tiers. There no law that says we have to display that number exactly. I wouldn''t want to see numbers that were blatantly off (as in an overconfidence attribute), but if when displaying the number you divide by 16 first so that our number is ranged between 1 and 16, then something like overconfidence can be represented as the different between a rounding down and a rounding up. Ans since it takes 16 points of effect to change the number, we can''t very well stat tweak, just know the relative values and denote major changes in effect.

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What if you made the stats an optional thing? Players (or at least, I myself) gain satisfaction from seeing their characters level up. And if players began to count how many hits it takes to kill an enemy, wouldn''t it save the player a lot of time to just be able to look at a screen? I know that this is completely contrary to your idea of removing the numbers, but I think that the reason it still exists is because it has worked so far.

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you''re going to have numbers no matter what. It''s a computer. The sprint ability in GTA was no doubt represented by some variable within the system. the distinction is that it isn''t shown to the player. Showing some mitigated form of the stats to the player, like Inmate''s idea, or even giving each of those sixteen "levels" a name, like "excellent" or "fair" or "poor" is a compromise. To really take out the numbers, you''d have to have other ways of gauging your character''s abilities. Instead of a "speed" attribute, see how long it takes to run a quarter-mile. Instead of "dexterity", check your darts score.

Some kind of analog of stats would be necessary, since it makes no sense to roleplay as a character without knowing his strengths and weaknesses, but how many people on these boards can recite their own stats? IQ? Bench Press? Standing long jump? High jump? 100 meter dash? Abstract reasoning? I don''t know all those things about myself. Maybe it''s better not to know those things about your character, either.

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Think of this type of scale:
X''s Range  X/32  Display   0- 31    0     F  32- 63    1     D  64- 95    2     E  96-127    3     C 128-159    4     B 160-192    5     A 192-223    6     A+ 224-255    7     S

Theres a nice way to show people how good they are at something.

Strength: C
Intelligence: B

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Quite apart from the idea only having any chance of working in a third person perspective, it would also require a lot of extra animation sequences (whereas you can reuse numbers and bar graphics, and the code that produces them).

I''m not really convinced it would be practical even if you did add all the extra graphics and code, because it''s difficult to see your character in any great detail at the best of times, let alone when they''re obscured by enemies or inanimate objects (such as chests and walls).

It would also be difficult to show all stats graphically. I''ve seen several suggestions for making a character appear more muscular as their strength grows, but how could you see that if they''re wearing armour?

As for not knowing a character''s stats because you wouldn''t in real life, well that''s not entirely accurate. In real life you can feel these effects. Until computer games are hardwired into our brains, we''re going to have to rely on visual or audio clues.

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It''s would make the game harder also. With numbers you know exactly how much damage you can take from a monster, and exactly when you should drink that HP healing potion.

I know that you don''t want any way to show the character''s condition, but you want the player to know how the player is doing by how the player reacts, but I don''t like it that way because I think it takes to long for the player to get used to look at the player to know how he is going. Maybe it''s nice for experienced player but if you want a smaller learning curve it''s better to have another way of showing the status.

I like the way fighting games do, I mean with bars that change color, and if it is an rpg you could add a numeric representation as somekind of special item. But that is after he gets used to the other way that you made.

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If you can make a graphic for every ailment, give them perhaps different colors for severity, and if those graphics are easily seen, recognized, and able to be reacted to in a quick way, perhaps it could be done.

But if the graphics are obscured, if you cant react to them quickly enough, then they would be useless.

I mean you could have a graphic with a set color for "right before death" so someone would know when to back off/hide. Perhaps though a lot of play you could figure out how many hits a certain type of armor could take (eliminating armor class if that fits in your game).

I think it could be done, but whether it would yield interesting gameplay is questionable.

Alfred Norris, VoodooFusion Studios
[url]www.conflictomega.com[\url]

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An RPG without numbers has the stink of LARP about it. And you know the type of geeks and losers that do LARP...

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Personally I think using stats is a cop-out for other means of representation. Number systems are inherently necessary to handle characteristics, but I believe it has become a reliancy (particularly because of RPGs); when it''s too simple to put "80% health" or "75/100 hp" onscreen instead of being more imaginitive by using color, animation, facial expression, charater comments, or what-have-you.

I don''t think using numerical representation is the problem, more like a by product of (or crutch for) lack of creativity.

matrix³
[ email | web | apple gl | linux gl | opengl | freeglut | glui | lua ]

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The problem with non numerical system is how do you convey information to the player in a meaningful way. Since it costly in both time, money and resources to create highly detailed animation. as well as the fact that it can be difficult to diserne the meaning. After all does your character slouching mean he''s half dead, tired, winded, weakened, or slightly injuried. Then he gets hit again and is now grapping his bleeding arm. So the player has figure out what theat means.

The game needs to inform the player what is going on in some fashion. Detailed images arn''t the answer since the over head nessary to do this makes it unfeisable.

Also since most RPGs these days are nothing more then hacking and slahing games where the player spends 99% of the game killing monsters. Without detailed information it impossible to do this, the player would never be able to tell if there in over there head until it was to late. Like wise they would be unable to tell wether or not the equipment they have is any good. Players need numbers to make informed decisions. Should I buy "the golden toad smaker" or keep my "Balloon''s bane poking stick"? Thats then kind of deciesion they make over and over and over and over again.

-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

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I don''t think that incrementing the presence of an effect is a exact way of showing things. If you know when you are hurt because you bleed, and the more you bleed the more you are hurt, when you see the player bleeding a little, and just a little more, it''s hard to diferenciate.

But you could make special representations for things that are important, like it was sayd, but still the player would have a hard time at knowing exactly the currents stats between those special representations. I''m just about to die, but can I take one weak hit, or can''t I?

I think that a a way around this is making the posible HP values small. Like the player starts with 3 HP and the max it''s 20. That way it would be easier for the player, and it''s posible to make a different animation for each amount of health you have.

Asuming you have 20 HP:
1-5 HP, the character is bleeding in all the body
6-10, the character is bleeding slightly
11-15, the character has purple marks
16-19, the character has red marks

That divides them in 4 groups, and they all have 5 members except when you have max HP.
So to diferentiate those members:
5th member of the group, the sign of begin hurt is small
4th, the sign has a mobile animation and is small
3th, the sign is big
2th, the sign is big and mobile
1th(not present in the 16-19 group), the sign is big, mobile and brighter than the other four. The other four shouldn''t change colors.

So when you have 1 HP we are taking about the 1st member of the 1st group for example.

Of course that when max HP is equal to something different from 20 you should deal with this in another way. You would have to come up with some formula so you can determinate some signs of being hurt that would be left out. Of course this is just adds a new problem, but if you solve it you might have the damage representation you want.

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Well, I''d hate to say this, but... as far as an RPG goes, the more numbers you take away from the player, the more numbers YOU have to take care of. I mean, come on-- you''re still testing for stuff like Glancing Blow, Escape Trap, Detect Incoming Projectile, and the like. You''re just not showing it to the player. If anything, I believe that the RPG group enjoys MORE character systems that they can tinker with. Look at the level of customization there is in AD&D. Even though there is a "level of involvement" as far as the players are concerned, are there really AD&D players who just hand off their character sheets to the DM and say, "I really don''t want to hear about the numbers. Just do all the math yourself and I''ll tell you what actions I want to take."? Isn''t that pretty much just like a text adventure? Or reading a book?

That right there you pretty much have a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, or worse yet: an ACTION GAME.

But if you''re thinking in terms of probabilities and visual dice-rolling cluttering up your action, then you might want to consider looking at a game for PS2 called "The Getaway". The game is completely devoid of a HUD; rather, it shows your progress though visual and audio cues(like the "limping, bleeding body" you''re speaking of, and knowing when to turn by watching the turn signals on the car).

B. Bradley: The number 2 mind

www.numbermind.com(coming soon)

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