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Item superiority

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Is anyone aware of any role playing games successfully doing away with the cliche game item superiority hierarchy system? For example, no two items or weapons are of the same type where one is obviously better than the other. I'm wanting to employ a balanced system in my own project, where items of the same type are all measured against each other. One of a type may have more power, another more speed, another more stealth, etc, but all would be equally useful, and none would completely outshine another. Does anyone know of other games that have done this successfully? And what do you think about the general idea?

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I'm a huge fan of the idea. I hate, hate, hate the "loot table" philosophy of item attributes, with a line of swords that go along a continuum of increasingly impressive performance, even to the point where they boost the holder to 20x the combat ability without any good explanation.

I've never seen it done any other way, though.

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I think Diablo 2 and Asheron's Call are both known for having pretty good loot tables.

IMO the key is to have a lot of variables to work off of and a good number of scenarios or encounters for your players.

Some things that are commonly balanced against one another.

Damage versus defense

Efficiency versus power

regular versus random

Player skill requirements. For example their ability to recognize a weakness in an enemy.

There are a large number of potential variables that are based off of the very basic act of trying to reduce the enemies HPs while maintaining your own. When I tried to create a loot table and an ability table I tried to list every variable used in such games I could think of.

Here is a good place to start if you can't think of variables.

http://guildwars.gameamp.com/ampgw/viewGwSkills/0.php!class=6

http://www.battle.net/diablo2exp/items/

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You might want to try look at pencil and paper role playing games. For example, GURPS melee weapons and skills are realistically balanced against each other. Some weapons with higher damage can't be used to parry in a turn if you've attacked with them. Weapons like flails are harder to defend against than others, while some types of weapons are easier to defend with.

Even in munchkin friendly environments like third edition D&D, basic weapon types can be considered to be balanced against one another. More effective weapons tend to require more skill to wield in terms of the scale from simple to martial to exotic weapons. Weapons of the same proficiency level tend to do less damage if they have better critical chances. Two handed weapons do more damage, but you can't use a shield. Bludgeoning weapons tend to do less damage but you'll still want one around when you fight skeletons. In the Iron Heroes variant rules, there are additional categorizations like finesse and power that dictate what kinds of feats can be used with the weapons.

Of course, in real life, some weapons are obviously better than one another. While you can make arguments about speed, reach and balance of a rapier versus a flamberge; a letter opener is probably going to fair poorly compared to a KA-BAR. And an AK-47 is better in pretty much every conceivable aspect than a Charleville musket.

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Original post by SiCrane
Of course, in real life, some weapons are obviously better than one another. While you can make arguments about speed, reach and balance of a rapier versus a flamberge; a letter opener is probably going to fair poorly compared to a KA-BAR. And an AK-47 is better in pretty much every conceivable aspect than a Charleville musket.

You're right. After giving it some more thought, there's probably no need to be strict with the concept going down-hill. There could be any number of generic, rusty, joke, or badly built weapons. It would be crazy to let the player pick up a broom stick and wield it as effectively as an iron mace.

I think the concept works as long as the majority of effective and useful weapons are balanced against each other, and there's not one or two best weapons of each type. Here are my own guidelines so far..

1) There needs to be at least 3-6 weapons at the top of each type category (sword, pistol, etc) that are equally effective in different ways, or for different character types.

2) When an item mostly outperforms another normal (non-joke, non-prop) item of its type, there should at least be some type of small negative change, such as overheating, bulkiness, or weight. The player should always need to give a little to gain a lot, so there is at least some trivial consideration.

3) Even though a few items may be better than others in many situations, weapons won't traverse a large hiarchy over the entire course of the game. So a weapon found near the middle of the game could be used to defeat the final boss.

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The Fallout series is the only one that springs to my mind as having a decent balance between weapon types. While there were some weapon types that were strictly better than others (combat knife vs. standard knife, for example), most of the others still had their uses throughout the game. For example:
  • Melee weapons didn't use ammo, which was scarce and expensive. Melee weapons and hand-to-hand also tended to do more criticals than firearms, meaning you could cripple or disarm your opponent. The big downside was you needed to get to point blank range while being shot at, and some guns were extremely lethal at close ranges (like the minigun)
  • Standard firearms were relatively plentiful. Each type though needed its own ammo, which often meant you had to switch guns if your ammo was running low.
  • Fancy guns like energy weapons were rare and required investment in a different skill to use, but they tended to do more damage.
  • Heavy weapons would do a massive amount of damage, but were rare, expensive and, as the name suggests, extremely heavy; taking up valuable carry space. They also needed special training to use effectively
  • There was also different damage modifiers for different ammo types against different types of enemies, as is often done in RPGs

The main problem was that due to the skill system, it was usually best to invest in standard firearms as the most useful choice.

One thing I'd like to see in an RPG is to put the main reason to use weapons like quarterstaves and common knives; conspicuousness. A dagger can be concealed in clothing, while a broadsword cannot. A quarterstaff is just a stick and wouldn't be seen as nearly as much as a thread as a crossbow. I know I'd react differently to a person in normal clothes with no obvious weapons over a guy in heavy armour with enough pointy objects to rival a porcupine.

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I would have to agree with SiCrane. As a avid player of PnP RPG's I would have to say you will not find much more balance then that anywhere. Not only is GURPS good you can also look into D20 Modern, D&D, as well as Spycraft(more futuristic). Also don't forget to look into some D10 games like Legend of the Five Rings. L5R is notorious for item balance. The finest I have ever scene.

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
The Fallout series is the only one that springs to my mind as having a decent balance between weapon types.

That's where most of my inspiration comes from. I just figured some other games would have done the same.

Quote:
The big downside was you needed to get to point blank range while being shot at, and some guns were extremely lethal at close ranges (like the minigun)

Fortunately, because the AI was a little thick and the game was tile based, you could usually lure them into a corner with you, then punch or kick or poke them in the eyes when they get there. I really loved that trick. Doesn't work so well on open space battlefields, though. Just need a lot of agility.

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The main problem was that due to the skill system, it was usually best to invest in standard firearms as the most useful choice.

I think that was mostly due to a balance issue between small guns and everything else through the beginning to middle of the game. If it were possible to find more (at least junky) energy weapons or cannons early on, it would have made a pretty big difference.

The way they lined up the progression of weapons to find or obtain made it seem like starting players shouldn't find heavy or energy weapons early on - as though it was to balance the game. That would have made sense if all ranged weapons used the same skill group. But since they didn't, players who wanted to specialize in the alternate weapon types had to suffer pretty severely near the beginning. I think a few less powerful energy weapons near the beginning would have helped a lot. Heck, they should have given you a laser pistol for a going-away present from Vault 13.

Quote:
One thing I'd like to see in an RPG is to put the main reason to use weapons like quarterstaves and common knives; conspicuousness. A dagger can be concealed in clothing, while a broadsword cannot. A quarterstaff is just a stick and wouldn't be seen as nearly as much as a thread as a crossbow. I know I'd react differently to a person in normal clothes with no obvious weapons over a guy in heavy armour with enough pointy objects to rival a porcupine.

That's one of the things I've worked into my system. Daggers and knives can be put into boots, armor gauntlets, belts, and coat pockets. Small pistols can be concealed in the back lining of some pants. All pistols and small SMGs can be concealed in a trenchcoat. Rifles, cannons, and most other large weapons are always in plain sight.

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without reading all the other replies:

you might consider a point-cap system (for lack of a better term). Say an item has three attributes: X, Y, Z. Each slides from 0-15 points. You have 15 points to "build" an item. It could be balanced with 5-5-5, or totally lopsided with 15-0-0.

That's totally fair. You could either offer it as a do-it-yourself system, or determine or hard-code the combinations available.

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You could have weapons that have different effects on enemies. In the FF series, attacks with certain swords would cause the enemies to be poisoned or blinded, but would deal lesser damage. Some weapons would give the player a boost in stats that are not related to physical attacks, such as magic resistance. There are some staffs that would deal no damage at all, or even heal the target when you use it. (so you could heal your allies, without wasting MP).

If you're thinking of long ranged weapons, I'd take a look at Resident Evil's weapon stats. You have:

1.Firepower
2.Rate of Fire
3.Ammo Capacity
4.Reload Speed

Additionally you can have weapons that 'spread', that is, damage multiple enemies at close range, and others that would shoot 'through' enemies. Some of the weapons in the game seem obscenely powerful, but it appears to be balanced by the lack of ammo you can find.

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you must also realize a lot of video games are based off of PnP. Eve online uses D10 and the epic WoW uses Sword and Sorcery(a derivative of DnD) oh and not to mention Dungeons and Dragons Online and Diablo/Diablo2 as well as the Warcraft series of RTS'. So you really can't say PnP does not relate to a video game.

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Good thing I didn't say that then.

A hack n slash RPG will rely on variables relating to hacking and slashing.

A RPG that is meant to offer the player interesting choices and even the potential to avoid conflict through stealth or diplomacy would have different variables.

A MMO may have different variables then a SP RPG.

Some things that work on PnP may not work in a lot of different video game formats.

Like I said, the gameplay determines the variables.

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Quote:
Original post by Stangler
What kind of RPG are you thinking about?

My project is an action RPG with melee and ranged combat from an overhead view. You can see some WIP snapshots here. Ignore the views angled from close up. Those are just where I paused the game and moved the camera around, which won't be part of the game.

In response to the types of things that can be balanced, here are the traits ranged weapons deal with. The top three are mostly balanced between basic energy types (pulse, laser, etc), but individual weapons of each energy type can scale those three stats up and down.

1. Damage (health drain)
2. Power (physical force applied, measured against char toughness for severity of hurt animations and knockdown)
3. Pain (stun time, intimidation)
4. Accuracy (not character aiming accuracy, just how straight it shoots)
5. Rate of fire
6. Projectile speed
7. Reload speed (mostly depends on the type - pistol / rifle)
8. Dexterity (bulkiness, weight, aiming speed)
9. Stealth capabilities
10. Concealment

I think that's it. There are other indirect factors like splash damage and armor penetration, but those are directly tied to the energy types.

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Stang did you ever play a game made by Bioware. That alone shows how PnP combat concepts can be mixed together with PnP role play decisions. Not to also mention the mighty Elder Scrolls series does the same.

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Original post by blewisjr
you must also realize a lot of video games are based off of PnP. Eve online uses D10 and the epic WoW uses Sword and Sorcery(a derivative of DnD) oh and not to mention Dungeons and Dragons Online and Diablo/Diablo2 as well as the Warcraft series of RTS'. So you really can't say PnP does not relate to a video game.


You have cause and effect mixed up in a few places here. The pencil and paper versions of Diablo and World of Warcraft are based on the computer games, not the other way around. Also, Sword and Sorcery isn't a derivative of D&D, it's the name of the White Wolf imprint that handles d20 products. So while you may see a big Sword and Sorcery logo on the World of Warcraft RPG books it's a corporate logo for the publisher not the name of a system.

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Original post by Kest
In response to the types of things that can be balanced, here are the traits ranged weapons deal with.


Don't forget about non-weapon statistic methods of balance. Ease of finding ammunition can be a big one. AI that takes advantage of weaknesses in weapons like rushing in while you're reloading. Drugged up opponents that don't feel pain. Close quarter battles in rooms full of explosive or otherwise hazardous materials.

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As you said you can balance weapons towards others, but many games made that before.

Even if you design it that there is not one "uber" weapon you have to create differences between weapons. Lets say one weapon has +4 Strengh, the other +4 Dexterity and the third +2Str and +2Dexterity.

In theory these weapons are balanced, but in the game the +4Str can be superior and the +4 Dex be useless because no one wants/needs dexterity.

I think a really important part is, to not create the "one" weapon. Every highend weapon should have something that makes it superior. But be careful with that; lets say you generate a weapon with very high damage and another with very high chance to stun the opponent. Its the design of monsters and the fighting system that makes out of one of these weapons a superior weapon and the other one useless.

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Original post by SiCrane
Don't forget about non-weapon statistic methods of balance. Ease of finding ammunition can be a big one. AI that takes advantage of weaknesses in weapons like rushing in while you're reloading. Drugged up opponents that don't feel pain. Close quarter battles in rooms full of explosive or otherwise hazardous materials.

I think it will add some enjoyment to leave some of these types of situational balance issues unbalanced. For example, the player would do well to learn to choose weapon damage over pain when doing battle with nasty critters or drugged up street thugs. In the temporary situation, the weapon with more damage is clearly superior, but it may be lacking in the next.

Most general weapons can be pretty discardable, but it's up to the player's preference, and whether he wants to hold onto a certain weapon or not. If not, the player could run into a room with a shotgun, shoot twice and drop it, then roll and grab an enemy's pistol from the floor and start firing it instead. You can also disarm enemy sheathed weapons, or strip them from their hands. So you're never forced to heavily commit.

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Original post by vrihai
Quote:
Original post by Kest
9. Stealth capabilities

Does this mean silenced weapons? Or some other ability the player gets?

It just represents how messy they are. How much noise, reverberation, and light they make when they fire and when they impact something. How likely you are to be noticed by nearby enemies when firing it off.

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Well Kest it sounds like you are still trying to decide what basic types of items you will have. I was thinking you already had the base types and wanted to build off of that.

Having items with a set damage per second while changing damage per hit, and attack speed is a pretty standard starting point.

I would look at Mass Effect for some ideas for gun types. Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and sniper rifle are all good standard types to start with.


Most of your variables can be used to establish differences between types. It is then the differences within each type that you want to make interesting.

That is where I think your damage types could come into play.

IF you want more depth than you are likely going to need more variables to work with. Stat bonuses, skill bonuses, and some sort of secondary change to the player or the enemy on attack(buff or debuff).

Leech guns would be cool, and certainly add a lot of potential RP value IMO.

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Bioshock is another game worth looking at IMO. A fair number of weapon types and a fair number of ammo types, plus all of the magic like abilities. All of them playing different parts in the gameplay.

blew, yes I have played bioware games and they are certainly different than PnP games. One major difference with regards to creating a video game as opposed to a PnP game is that in a video game the loot table and the monster table is pretty much set in stone while a PnP game can be made flexible by the GM who can alter both to make the game interesting.

In Baldur's gate 2 for example there are certain items that can really make a class. The Paladin for example gets a +5 sword I think which drastically improves the Paladin.

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Half Life (and many other shooters) do this very well. Throughout the game you get more and more weapons to choose from, but weapons found early in the game are still very useful late in the game. There's no reason you couldn't do this same thing in another genre, the main rule is that each weapon works best in a different scenario, so players become more "powerful" by being able to better deal with a particular scenario instead of just doing more damage.

For example, in Half Life enemies at a distance are hard to hit until you get the Crossbow. Afterwards you can snipe them from afar, which makes the player more "powerful" without actually doing more damage.

I don't see any reason you couldn't do the same with Final Fantasy: the Fire Sword that you find in the second dungeon isn't "Strength: 15", instead it's "Strong Against Ice monsters, allows players to use Level 2 Fire spells". At the end of the game you'll still be using the sword against Ice creatures, and if the spell system is balanced similarly you should also be strategically using Level 2 Fire spells as well.

If there's any one thing that I'm most irritated by with current ARR-PEE-GEEs it's that the majority of items/equipment are totally useless once you've found something "better". So instead of making all this throw-away content why not make a smaller set of weapons and spells, but each one actually does something useful.

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