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States-Based RPG Battle system

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I was wondering about the viability of a battle system that didn't function based on the player putting in every little command, but instead having the player switch between a series of defined states for each of their party members/units; states which would determine how they would function and work together. The player would be able to customize these states prior to combat; thus allowing for a wide range of possible behaviors. Combo attacks would be active based on the overlap of these states, the states that enemy units are currently in, etc. Regular commands would be available, but the idea behind this is a real-time system anyway.

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You mean, instead of having to plan your own, and counter your opponent's individual attacks, you flip a switch which puts your character into "attack mode"?
Of course, I realize you want something more detailed than that, but essentially, won't it be the same? Won't battles become boring when you as a player are completely detached from individual attacks/moves?

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Have you ever checked out Nero?
Although it's more about AI, it does allow you to train your soldiers by putting them in a certain state appropriate for the situation.

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There would be lots of different states. It wouldn't be just simply switching stuff on and watching it go.

Knowing when to change these states, and what state to use for each situation would be crucial.

I almost think of your party's states as the notes of a musical chord, becoming a cadence when the battle reaches a crux, changing in dynamic level as the situation and position of your forces changes.

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Original post by Beige
There would be lots of different states. It wouldn't be just simply switching stuff on and watching it go.

Knowing when to change these states, and what state to use for each situation would be crucial.

So how is it an improvement over the "normal" system?
You get that normally too. Having to perform the right moves at the right time is crucial even without your state system.

My point is that you add a layer of abstraction between the player and the actual battle. You don't see your character perform x attack on an enemy. You see your character going into mode X, while the opponent is in mode Y, and so your opponent loses a bit of health.
And that might just make you a lot more detached from the battles, and lose interest in them.

Quote:

I almost think of your party's states as the notes of a musical chord, becoming a cadence when the battle reaches a crux, changing in dynamic level as the situation and position of your forces changes.

Very poetic, but would it be fun to play? ;)

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The idea is that manipulating states via UI would be easier than tabbing through of various actions, which there would be a lot of.

Assigning usable actions to different states would be a key part of the game, since the states themselves would be fewer. This way, it would be possible to take advantage of everything your characters do, in real time.

While the player wouldn't always have feedback for every shot fired, every bullet dodged, key actions such as using a combo, or interceding manually when a given action supercedes what a state would imply, would allow the player a fine degree of control over the battle without forcing pauses.

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Quote:
Original post by Beige
I was wondering about the viability of a battle system that didn't function based on the player putting in every little command, but instead having the player switch between a series of defined states for each of their party members/units; states which would determine how they would function and work together.

The player would be able to customize these states prior to combat; thus allowing for a wide range of possible behaviors. Combo attacks would be active based on the overlap of these states, the states that enemy units are currently in, etc.

Regular commands would be available, but the idea behind this is a real-time system anyway.


It isn't clear to me if you want the AI to handle the actual combat, with 'standing orders' for the units, or if you want a macro like feature which runs a series of attack/defense actions.

The latter would be cool, the former has some serious problems.

1) Loss of connection with the character(s).
2) A number of players like to micro manage their character(s).
3) States would require more memorization than regular moves since they behave differently than what most players are used to.

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A combination of both, actually.

States would be macros, but also have some behaviors attached to them.

A character in a generic offensive state would attack the selected target whenever they have a chance, and move to finish off enemies with low HP.

Characters in their normal state would automatically move in the most convenient direction to avoid thrown grenades, while characters with an altered state, say, "stunned," wouldn't.

New states would allow refinement of these behaviors, as well as allow for greater versatility with regards to the actions available.

In this way, actions that affect the states of the enemy become even more important.

Some games already have such actions. Many MMORPG's have a "taunt" command assigned to the meatshield that focuses an opponent to focus on that character.

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I'd like to see another level, an overarching state for the whole team/party. In Ogre Battle, simple coaching meorders like "target leader" or "focus on weakest enemy" made a profound difference in the results of a battle.

I like your idea very much.

If your Paladin is in a mode that focusses on keeing your team out of harm's way and dealing damage when the opportunity arises, your ninja is set to go balls-out until he's pretty beat up, then report to the Paladin for healing, and your mage is set to keep out of harm's way and fire a lightning bolt when he gets enough charge, you could just let them go or most fights. That will streamline a lot of random battles and "grind" efforts. Set your team up so the thief gets maximum game time if you want to buff him, or balance them out for optimal anti-dragon performance. Shifting gears as the enemy changes or as your system fails would be very engaging. I think you should explore this possibility further.

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Quote:
Original post by Beige
A combination of both, actually.

States would be macros, but also have some behaviors attached to them.

A character in a generic offensive state would attack the selected target whenever they have a chance, and move to finish off enemies with low HP.

Characters in their normal state would automatically move in the most convenient direction to avoid thrown grenades, while characters with an altered state, say, "stunned," wouldn't.

New states would allow refinement of these behaviors, as well as allow for greater versatility with regards to the actions available.

In this way, actions that affect the states of the enemy become even more important.

Some games already have such actions. Many MMORPG's have a "taunt" command assigned to the meatshield that focuses an opponent to focus on that character.


Personally, I think the above is going to suffer from those flaws I mentioned earlier in a true RPG. But good luck with your idea.

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Hmm.

Quote:
1) Loss of connection with the character(s).


This is the most serious problem, but I think that it can be replaced in some part with other forms of connection outside of this system; see number 2.

Quote:
2) A number of players like to micro manage their character(s).


Yeah, that's true. Micromanagement would be available to them if they really wanted it; states are intended to save time, but if a player is good at flipping through commands, then more power to them.

But in my experience, micromanagement seldom amounts to the execution of a complicated tactic; it's usually the simple ones that demand the attention becomes of interface problems. The states system is intended to deal with the simple ones, and make the complicated ones easier to do by getting rid of the obvious actions.

While the act of directly ordering a particular character to engage in an action does create a link between that character and the player, I doubt that the player will be able to maintain a strong bond with someone they have to lead around by the leash all the time.

Quote:
3) States would require more memorization than regular moves since they behave differently than what most players are used to.


This can be solved with a good introduction to the system, a well-presented tutorial, intuitive UI, etc. Fundamentally, this should require less memorization than typical systems, with additional options for powergamers who wish to refine their tactics; though your point about the usual RPG player's familiarity with typical systems is well taken.

Quote:

If your Paladin is in a mode that focusses on keeing your team out of harm's way and dealing damage when the opportunity arises, your ninja is set to go balls-out until he's pretty beat up, then report to the Paladin for healing, and your mage is set to keep out of harm's way and fire a lightning bolt when he gets enough charge, you could just let them go or most fights. That will streamline a lot of random battles and "grind" efforts. Set your team up so the thief gets maximum game time if you want to buff him, or balance them out for optimal anti-dragon performance. Shifting gears as the enemy changes or as your system fails would be very engaging. I think you should explore this possibility further.


Yeah! This is the sort of thing I had in mind.

With the additional thought that these states would be manipulatable by both sides; perhaps with something like a morale system.

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Actualy what noone sudgested so far is something really cool that i am just NOW thinking of utilizing. Everyone wonders about how to make the leveling system more realistic, removing alot of the statistical variance. Well heres a very good way! Instead of levelings in the normal (armor and weapon determine defense and strength without the need for leveling) you learn and master more and different states, which you can use in combat. you may start with simple hacking and slashing, some shielding, since you shield alot you learn to use your shiled to push back opponents, etc. This would seriously show progression in combat skill, rather then simple number crunching. It would add to an interesting REALTIME turnbased combat, similar to FF's ATB system, though without the need to constantly assigning charactors tasks, and instead have them default. I thinik this is seriously a playable concept.

sorry for spelling and grammatical errors, its 6:00EST, havent been to bed, and dont have my contacts in.

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It's an interesting thought. I can't say whether it will be good or bad in the end, but it's definitely interesting.

Here is a spontaneous analysis of how I percieve it. Correct me if I'm wrong; I might be way up the walls.

As you remove some of the management and decision-making from the "intended average player's" chores of usual combat, you move the scope of the player's control somewhat higher. Where other combat focuses the player's control on single character's actions, you focus it on the group of characters present in combat, like when you say that the player define different roles for the combatants. Am I right when I say you want to focus on group dynamics (physical, not social) and the group as a fighting entity?

If so then you could consider making the group assembly process an important game element, with lots of character classes that affect the group in their own way.

Am I far off?

Good luck.

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Quote:
Original post by PaulCesar
Instead of levelings in the normal (armor and weapon determine defense and strength without the need for leveling) you learn and master more and different states, which you can use in combat. you may start with simple hacking and slashing, some shielding, since you shield alot you learn to use your shiled to push back opponents, etc. This would seriously show progression in combat skill, rather then simple number crunching. It would add to an interesting REALTIME turnbased combat, similar to FF's ATB system, though without the need to constantly assigning charactors tasks, and instead have them default. I thinik this is seriously a playable concept.


That's a really cool idea. It involves adding a whole lot more importance to states, and makes balancing states much more precarious, though; but still. With some development.. hmmm.

Quote:
As you remove some of the management and decision-making from the "intended average player's" chores of usual combat, you move the scope of the player's control somewhat higher. Where other combat focuses the player's control on single character's actions, you focus it on the group of characters present in combat, like when you say that the player define different roles for the combatants. Am I right when I say you want to focus on group dynamics (physical, not social) and the group as a fighting entity?

If so then you could consider making the group assembly process an important game element, with lots of character classes that affect the group in their own way.


Yeah, that's one of the intended effects; though I don't intend to do away with the ability to micro.

I've noticed that MMORPG combat systems often have a level of depth and strategy that regular RPG's tend to lack, probably due to lack of multiplayer; this is something of an attempt to emulate that level in a single-player environment.

For instance, one of your characters might be designated as a "buffer," and their state would include a list of preferred statistic-enhancing abilities in order; as the battle went on, more and more of these would become enabled. Of course, the enemy wouldn't be blind to this, and would attempt to either eliminate your buffer with damage, or by changing their state; making them afraid through concentrated fire, for instance.

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A MUD that I used to play had a basic form of this. No matter what, if you were attacked you would automaticly defend yourself and counter attack.

You basicly had several "mood" stats you could be in:
wimpy: More defensive and you would flee if you were below about half your HP
Normal: Neither defensive or offensive and auto flee when you hit quarter HP
Brave: More offensive and flee if you get really low in HP
Berserk: Most offensive and you never flee, even if you wanted to.

Special moves would still require imput from the player but they were more timing issues. I.e. the bash would knock someone on their butt, but if you timed it right they would be on the ground for two rounds instead of just one.

This system worked very well in this game (www.wotmud.org if its still around)

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This actually reminds me a bit of the classic RPGs where you had like 4 or 5 total commands to chose from. This subject seems to be more about how to scale the complexity of the system better so that we're still in a management system thats easy and robust.

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This isnt a bad idea and would appeal to many. The problem comes when specific gamers, who love to brag about how "skillful" they are, won't have the brag rights to say so with this system :).

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Consider Starcraft (alias starcrack) where you could highlight a group of soldiers, and direct them all to a target and start attacking it. Before they got there, you could focus attention elsewhere. That gameplay was about managing all of the AI states, and doing it in a staggered formation so that you never got stuck with people not doing anything. Thats about the extent of my RTS experience.

"States" based for an RPG would have to take into account that I'm bad at doing that "staggering" and do it for me. I.E. it'd have to keep moving through everyone, on some form of auto which I could probably prearrange the list before the fights, so that I can keep up with changing states and not waste time looking around for units.

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I was considering having a "training" area where players could use the usual action-based systems to develop their own states, arrange formations as inmate suggested, etc.

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Quote:
Original post by PaulCesar
Instead of levelings in the normal (armor and weapon determine defense and strength without the need for leveling) you learn and master more and different states, which you can use in combat. you may start with simple hacking and slashing, some shielding, since you shield alot you learn to use your shiled to push back opponents, etc. This would seriously show progression in combat skill, rather then simple number crunching. It would add to an interesting REALTIME turnbased combat, similar to FF's ATB system, though without the need to constantly assigning charactors tasks, and instead have them default. I thinik this is seriously a playable concept.


This is actually what I thought he meant by the state system. If you've even moderately explored the SNES Final Fantasy games' code, this is how the monster AI is programmed. Some monsters just pick randomly between a couple attacks, other monsters have a specific state flow (such as Bahamut charging his Megaflare), and others have specialized states such as counterattacking.

Suppose the game starts out with the first couple battles only having one state (fight), a short while later, magic is introduced and the players can cast spells as a state too (only one spell per state)... later, as the game progresses, characters earn more states, and more actions to include in states. Certain equipment might unlock special states, etc. Having your state-based AI go up against the opponent's state-based AI would be pretty interesting.

The biggest drawbacks are:

1) Lack of control. Even if you can tell your character "heal", how does it know which person it should heal? If it's randomized, the battles might largely be based on chance.

2) Since this is based on the same state system the monster AI is based off of, it makes sense that it looks an awful lot like programming. Players unfamiliar with programming might not enjoy this at all...


I wouls enjoy this, but as a member of this board, I enjoy programming a lot. There's a bit of a niche audience.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Go back and Play Star Ocean. It had the concept similar to what you had. The only problem was that the AI was very dumb.

If you are going to allow your AI to control the game, then you had better make the AI good enough to actually play well. There's nothing worse than losing a game because the AI decides to cure a completely healthy character...

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I recently played through Lunar: Eternal Blue. I've also played Wild Arms (1, 2, and 3), Legend of Legaia (1 and Duel Saga) ... you know what I've played a lot of console RPGs.

I never use the AI options. I'll test them maybe once, and then never again. The problem is that they're constantly making bad decisions. Blowing all of my MP in one battle, rather than trying to save some of it. Wasting my supply of items. Attacking enemies in the wrong order. Plus, I always feel like I'm watching the game, rather than playing it. States probably amounts to just that, an AI system. It'd have to be one massively intelligent system for me to use it.

As for "well, how come the enemies are so smart?" The enemies have all the time in the world, as much MP as they want, and come in wave after wave. They have just so much more in the way of resources than I do, the fact that I can beat them all with limited resources is a testament to how difficult the games can be.

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Well, since making super-dynamite AI is a profound challenge, why not modify gameplay rules so that AI looks smarter?

If AI blows all your MP, do MP the way Tactics Ogre did: Everybody starts at 0 MP, and it increases gradually (perhaps based on a stat) during the course of a fight. It's no more annoying than "cast times", and would keep AI economical. A state like "Save up for a fireball and then let those bastards have it" would be handy in such a system. Remember that in Secret of Mana you could command your sidekicks to charge attacks to a given level before unleashing their wrath. Same principle.

If AI heals your guy who's at 99% HP, and then doesn't have the juice to save you when you're at 7%, then make healing scale the MP cost. Have a heal ratio, so that a level 1 heal heals 1% HP with 3% MP, level 2 is a 1:2 ratio, then 2:3, 1:1, 3:2, etc. Then levelling still matters, but you won't break your MP casting "Uberheal 5" on a papercut.

Keep stats on battle against enemies, so your AI will "do the math" the way we do and realize that two lucky hits from that enemy could polish us off. That's the time to forego the fireball and heal up.

Actually, that could be a good time to require input from the player. You should notice that yourself, and say "Mage! belay that summon and patch up the archer!"

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by Beige
I was wondering about the viability of a battle system that didn't function based on the player putting in every little command, but instead having the player switch between a series of defined states for each of their party members/units; states which would determine how they would function and work together.

The player would be able to customize these states prior to combat; thus allowing for a wide range of possible behaviors. Combo attacks would be active based on the overlap of these states, the states that enemy units are currently in, etc.

Regular commands would be available, but the idea behind this is a real-time system anyway.


These are my thoughts...

If a series of commands are to be available to manipulate your character(s) in combat, why not open them up entirely to a scripting language. The World of Warcraft has done this via their GUI system. Imagine if they did this along with combat as well.

Commands such as:
"target closest enemy"
"target lowest health enemy"
"attach "
"cast on "
etc,
etc,

It may be too complicated at this point. I am bias since I am a programmer myself and I know most gamers wouldn't want to have a complicated script they have to use in order to fight well.

Just my $0.02.

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