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nefthy

why not hide the numbers?

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I recently read "Let's Put the Magic Back in Magic" by Ernest W. Adams. To sum the article up, it sugest hiding the numbers from the player. I have since thought a bit about it, but I have not come across a good answer as to why the numbers are still around, especialy in RPG's. I mean, the numbers are heritage from the pen and paper RPG's, where you need them to run the game. But even in p'n'p RPG's the can kill the game experience. Just think of players discussing how to brake a door having an supposedly ingame dialog like this Player A: "Who has the greatest Breake Doors value?" Player B: "I quess you, I only have 15%" But with computer games we can get rid of this. We can hide the numbers behind the sceens. For example, we could adjust sound volume according to how sucessfully a player is at his listen skill. Or increse an objects transparency (or contrast) if its hidden and the player messes up with his spot hidden skill. Even skill advancement kann be done behind the sceens. What comes in mind is a mechanic used by the Call Of Cthulhu p'n'p RPG. If you have sucessfully used a skill you get a chance to raise it at the end of the session. This can be translated directly to a computer RPG system, if you find a hiden object you get skill might increase making it easier to spot hidden objects. As a free bonus the characters skills adapt to the players style. If someone uses magic all the time he will become better with magic over time. Also think of the replay value if the game actualy feels differend if you play it different. But anyhow, here is my question: Are there any good reason for keeping the numbers visible to the player or showing the direct results to the player (thing AD&D CRPG's "hide in shadows failed")?

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In real life there are numbers as well. When I look at a red oak door, I know for sure that I can't put my fist through it. If I see a rusty old bathroom door knob with a lock on it, I know I can pick it with simple tools. In games, these hidden numbers are not always known. In some situations, the player is thrown into an alien world that takes more than common sense to understand. So the numbers help us understand.

I guess players could use trial and error. But I've never had to run my fist through a red oak door to know I can't do it.

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I guess there are two reasons. First it is very easy for the player to see how much his skill has increased and how he is progressing which gives a feeling of accomplishment.

Second, it's just much easier to design the game with the numbers.

Perhaps there is also a third option, it's easier to market. The players expect to see numbers in their RPG's and it allows for some 'impressive features' such as 'twenty levels ranging from stable boy to godhood'.

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Quote:
Original post by Seraphim
Second, it's just much easier to design the game with the numbers.


You can still have the numbers behinde the sceens. You just use them differently.

Quote:
Original post by Jiia
In real life there are numbers as well. When I look at a red oak door, I know for sure that I can't put my fist through it. If I see a rusty old bathroom door knob with a lock on it, I know I can pick it with simple tools. In games, these hidden numbers are not always known. In some situations, the player is thrown into an alien world that takes more than common sense to understand. So the numbers help us understand.

I guess players could use trial and error. But I've never had to run my fist through a red oak door to know I can't do it.


You don't know that your chance of success is 5% in real world. You just have a fuzzy estimate that your chance is minimal. And you probably know this becouse you have trie to brake hard material before.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I am partially with you. I envisioned a game where objects properties have first to be discovered by research(including some trade off between projects) and tested afterwards in real life situations. The test would work like this(though the researcher would know the value of his own discoveries)the antagonist in battle woudl only have to compare his own objects behaviour to the opponent and decide from experience how much worse(or better) his/her opponent's object are in combat.
I think numbers are here to stay (I mean the researcher's side at least), but of course a system that doesn't rely directly on showing them may be configured. The solution would be something like:Comparing how does this project(of an object) behave with others already designed, and do it several times(we must include some randomness in the game mechanics to spice it up).The result would be numerical quantifiable, but since in real world(read simulated) there is no perfect ladder(think rock,paper scissors because of the trade off in properties), then surely a way to describe these would be to assign different classes to same type of objects, according to their properties(think space ship:scout,transport,fuel tanker,battleship,fighter carrier), and quantifiers as well(battleship:small=destroyer,medium=cruiser,large=battleship).
Of course mixes are possible.Interestingly enough the player would have the last word in qualifying as such.(the information will not be server based but player based).

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Quote:
Original post by Seraphim
First it is very easy for the player to see how much his skill has increased and how he is progressing which gives a feeling of accomplishment.

This one is true, am afraid ("afraid" as i really dislike the whole character reduced to numbers thing) Like it or not, large part of RPG playerbase is made of the "munchkins" who play the game to maximize the stats of their characters in the way which makes them the most effective. You can see it a lot in MMO -- template min-maxers, the general attitude that anything with less than the best stats is automatically "worthless" etc. Remove the ability to see the numbers and how they're affected, and you pretty much remove the "challenge" as these players see it, and their reason to play.

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This idea has been brought up time and time again.

The problem becomes your method / graphics for feedback to replace the numbers.

If you are low on hp...how do you get across that feeling?
If a lock is too hard do you frustrate gamers until they give up? Isnt their time worth more than that?

Not to say its without merit, but youd have to work on an alternative method of giving a player information.

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Don't forget that every game has its hackers, even when they aren't trying to exploit bugs in the client/server, they're still poking around the DBs (referring to MOGs, because local-system games are even easier to hack open) trying to extract useful information like, exactly how powerful is this item.

There is a clear trade-off between showing and not showing (disregarding the issue of munchkins, because in theory, a well made game can have no true munchkins), if you show players everything, then they can effectively guage their capabilities, it becomes a game of deterministic strategy, players who know they're weaker will run like the jesus, and players who know they are stronger will fearlessly attack.

If you don't show your players anything concrete, they must experiment more, and explore the tools available to them, it becomes a game of intuitive strategy, theoretically people are more willing to risk because the question of loss or victory is less clear (and in my mind, this is more entertaining).

I think that encouraging players to explore the game mechanics is a good thing. What does it mean that this gun has 'long' range? and that this other one has 'medium' range? What does it matter that this warhammer is 'heavy' and this dagger is 'light'? Will I notice a difference attacking what appears to be a plate-armoured opponent with a bludgeon instead of a blade?

Verbal descriptions leave alot to be discovered, and I think that's a good thing.

On the topic of communicating status to players; Giving a player a health bar, or a percentage, are fair communications imho. You don't know that you have 376 hp, and your opponent has 12,439 hp, all you see is that you're at 88% health, and he's at 23% health, and you're thinking, hey, maybe I can take this guy.

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I think that the type of gamer you are targeting with the game could have a lot to do with it. The people who traditionally gravitate to RPGs are typically into the numbers. An RPG without numbers could be very appealing to a more casual gamer who doesn't give a crap about the "geek" stuff. A lot of casual gamers wouldn't mind the ambiguity of the mechanics as long as the gameplay was fun.

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Sorry about the rambling nature of the post, but I really don't see any problems with numbers. With a textual representation I do see problems, but not with numbers. Thus, a rambling post advocating the use of numbers will follow:

Numbers break the immersion? I wouldn't say so. You need to use your imagination more and see what's beyond the numbers. Usually games are so full of abstractions anyway so I really don't see why the use of numbers for the sake of simplicity is so evil and loathsome. As I am quite fond of saying, "a good game is like a spreadsheet". But that's just probably me... [grin]

More seriously, though, numbers are fast to read and easy to understand. It is easy to see that 8 is bigger than 4, and it takes less than a millisecond to realize that, but I'd never know if "overwhelmingly spectacular" is somehow better or worse than "mindstaggeringly phenomenal" and just reading those words takes so much time that in most games that time difference could be the difference between life and death. Also, numbers make it possible to use an intuitive continuum — once you've been 10 and now you're 20, you'll have at least an approximate idea what 100'll be like, but you'll never even fathom what "overwhelmingly flabbergasting" means even if you knew what "dumbfoundinlgy awesome" or "incomprehensibly staggering" meant. Besides, just renaming a range of numbers to something less numbery doesn't change anything — well, other than to make the players waste time in translating the strings into numbers anyway. Also, words are inherently fuzzy with all sort of nasty connotations, but not in a good way — the semantics you impose on any specific word might not be the same than the semantics some other gamer uses (you don't want the gamers to think they need to choose between being stupid or ugly just because of the connotations of the used words). If you wanted to make the numbers fuzzy, you could still use a numerical representation. Representation is the vital issue here — you don't really need to think a lot when looking at numbers and there usually isn't much room for misunderstanding.

As for hiding the precision and accuracy of the data, you could give the character's best impression on his own skills — you could even have a skill for estimating your own skills. Or, you could just hide the numbers altogether, but remember that you should only hide those things the character can't even try to guess.

Quote:
Original post by nefthy
For example, we could adjust sound volume according to how sucessfully a player is at his listen skill. Or increse an objects transparency (or contrast) if its hidden and the player messes up with his spot hidden skill.


I'd say this is pretty much the worst thing you could do if you wanted to keep the game character-oriented. The player and the player character are fundamentally different entities that reside in fundamentally different worlds. You use the word "player" here with quite an impunity when you actually mean the character — after all, the numbers describe the character, not the player. On the other hand, if you do use sound volume and visual transparency, you turn the character skill into a player skill. It is not the same. You turn the tactical game into a game of dexterity and perception. At the extreme, you turn the optimatization game into a find-the-pixel game.

Personally, I want to see numbers, or if not numbers then at least some easily interpreted graphical alternatives such as somehow normalized progress bars (with normalization I mean that all the progress bars relating to the same stat have the same maximum and minimum values, thus making it easy and fast to compare different entities with regard to this stat).

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