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Wavinator

Constantly Losing Allies

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If you have alllies in a game that you can never keep, but that you're better off with than without, does it create frustration or a continuously renewing form of gameplay? Obviously the details of the game matter but I'm trying to look at this in general. Let's say you've got allies (in my game they're captains of ships escorting you) but can operate alone. You can get through the game without them, but it's tough. Each ally you acquire serves with you for a limited time, but that time can be extended by doing things they like and avoiding activities they hate (for my example, avoiding smuggling and taking protect missions might make a certain personality type stick with you). Eventually, though, your allies will retire. They may persist, they may offer you great rates on the new shop they opened, and they may even come out of retirement for a time, but ultimately they'll retire, forcing you to level up new ones. Since this is a form of loss, what would make it acceptable and even challenging? Should you know the average time? Should you always retain something from their passing?

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If players know they will lose the ally eventually, the loss will be more acceptable when it occurs. As players will be taking the future loss of the ally as part of the game.

Just make sure the ally is not so important that losing them will cost a player the game or too much change in difficulty (for example, 1 hour instead of 20 minutes to complete a quest without the ally) which will cause extreme frustration for the player.

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Although the only examples I can think of is some of the older Final Fantasy games, I never really liked leveling up allies that left. It seemed like a waste of my effort to get them stronger and spend money on better equipment. In some cases when I knew they were going to leave the party in a cut scene, I would strip them of whatever equipment they had (which sucked a few times when I forgot about the boss fight right before that cut scene).

I'd say if there are allies that always leave at some point, the player shouldn't have to deal so much with their leveling. Maybe a small amount of persuasion would be OK, but micromanaging points or equipment for them would seem tedious to me. A good example of what I mean is in Mount & Blade; the "hero" party members cannot die so I enjoy customizing them to the hilt, but the regular guys that you often times lose in battle just have a level and the rest is handles with AI or statistics.

But that's just my 2 cents.

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Original post by Wavinator
If you have alllies in a game that you can never keep, but that you're better off with than without, does it create frustration or a continuously renewing form of gameplay?


I think that just depends on the game in the sense that:

If you have a 3rd/1st shooter that the goal is to do some task, and your "allys" make it more easy by providing support, but if they die the mission is over, then it is frustrating. I.e. you play through a long hard mission just to have your ally die right at the end as you are about to win. If you lose your ally and the level is harder, but you are not penalized directly for them dying, it makes for a more challenging game play to take part in the mission and protect your allies along the way.

"Useless allies" are frustrating too. In Spore, you can make allies and get ships to be with you, but depending on how hard you have worked to upgrade your spaceship, they die relatively faster and don't do much. My ship was o advanced I could rip through any opposing ship in a few seconds, where as my allies would die pretty fast due to heavy fire. I could stand, well hover, above cities and take the brute of their defensive attacks and not be harmed too much.

The same frustration can happen in Diablo 2 as well. Your merc that you hire can aggro too many monsters and just dies really fast. Some of them are ranged attackers and live longer and provide better benefits for being alive, such as the ones that cast an Arua, so it makes it worth keeping those alive; abet the frustrations at times.

The biggest problem I've seen in games, and I've touched on this already with the Spore example, is that you are usually significantly more powerful than your allies are. As a result, they are mere expendable objects that you don't really care about.

If it were the case that they were more evenly matched with yourself, and you got bonuses and what not for keeping them alive to a certain point in time with the discounts in shops and stuff, if they had to "move on", then the loss is *acceptable* granted that you still get the bonuses of that town from saving that NPC and you would then continue on to get a new more powerful ally. As long as the allies get stronger as you progress, the loss is only natural and part of the challenge.

You should not have to retain anything per se just because the progress up to the point you are at, was the benefit. That ally is not forever in debt to you since it was a mutually beneficial relationship; you saved them, they help you along the way back home. When the ally is in their "hometown" and staying, the contract is up, you get your bonuses from that town for having saved that person, and you move on.

That's my take on it. One last note, the forced loss of an ally, such as Aries in FF7 should never be done again by any game [lol] Stuff like that just sucks and hurts to a certain degree. The emotional reaction people had to that event just shows the profound attachment that people develop to allies, and people like happy endings. Not to say that it was bad or wrong in the sense of decisions made, it was very successful and gave players a purpose of avenging her death, so it was quite effective.

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If you can revisit those allies or re-ally them in the future, then leveling them won't seem to be such a waste. If those allies are gone forever, then it seems that the leveling mechanic would indeed be a waste, unless they are with you for quite some time before they leave - but even then it would be frustrating once they leave, as if somehow the game is forcing you to continuously level-up newbies or putting a level cap on your party/crew/flotilla.

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One last note, the forced loss of an ally, such as Aries in FF7 should never be done again by any game [lol] Stuff like that just sucks and hurts to a certain degree. The emotional reaction people had to that event just shows the profound attachment that people develop to allies, and people like happy endings. Not to say that it was bad or wrong in the sense of decisions made, it was very successful and gave players a purpose of avenging her death, so it was quite effective.


Aerith's death is a good example of what you MUSTN'T do if you have temporary characters in an RPG. From a story perspective, I'd argue that it was a brilliant move from Squaresoft, but from a gameplay perspective, it was an absurd decision to kill that particular character, because she had very unique skills. If Aerith had a more generic skillset, like that of Yuffie of Red XIII, I would have been perfectly fine with her dying. What makes this even more absurd is that, unless you go completely out of your way to grind kills, these unique skills would have been available towards the end of the game even though you can't have her by then. She started with the boring ones.

For this topic, I'd say there are two lessons to learn from Aerith's case:
1: If a character is going to leave mid-game, please make sure that, from a purely gameplay point of view, this character doesn't have exclusive elements. By this, I don't mean to not give him a unique attack that deals heavy damage, I mean that, if the character is the only one you can buff HP, give temporary invincibility, etc. don't make him leave. Give him unique art and animations maybe even unique weapons if you want, so the character is memorable and cool, just don't give him anything that has unique mechanics that cannot be mimiced by another character.

2: Make sure that, by the time the character leaves/dies/turns evil/etc., the player has access to the totality of the loser's skillset. I don't care that the character has a super-overpowered attack if I need to grind 10 hours to get it. I know this one seems obvious, but, strangely, FF7's team didn't get it. (Seems to hint that Aerith's death wasn't planned from the beginning, if anything...)


Other than that, I'd like to say that it's disappointing when a character you have invested time and gold in, and have planned a good build for, get permanently lost. Even when the loss is temporary, it can be annoying (if the game don't allow you to customize a character to replace the old one.) Sometimes, it's for the good of the scenario, but I think it's always a bad decision to sacrifice fun for storytelling. The only exception I can think of is when you want to make a character feel more "epic" by making him awesome-looking and purposely overpowered, but only available for a short amount of time... but again, if losing characters becomes a routine, it won't have the same effect.


PS: I hope nobody got FF7 spoiled... though Aerith's death is to gaming spoilers what Luke's relationship with Vader is to movies, so I'm not worried.

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For this topic, I'd say there are two lessons to learn from Aerith's case:
1: If a character is going to leave mid-game, please make sure that, from a purely gameplay point of view, this character doesn't have exclusive elements. By this, I don't mean to not give him a unique attack that deals heavy damage, I mean that, if the character is the only one you can buff HP, give temporary invincibility, etc. don't make him leave. Give him unique art and animations maybe even unique weapons if you want, so the character is memorable and cool, just don't give him anything that has unique mechanics that cannot be mimiced by another character.

2: Make sure that, by the time the character leaves/dies/turns evil/etc., the player has access to the totality of the loser's skillset. I don't care that the character has a super-overpowered attack if I need to grind 10 hours to get it. I know this one seems obvious, but, strangely, FF7's team didn't get it. (Seems to hint that Aerith's death wasn't planned from the beginning, if anything...)


I disagree completely :) Aerith's death is rembered, because she had unique skills that player really wanted. Not because she was cool or beautiful or had nice personality. Did the players really need Aerith's skills? No, since many still managed to beat the game. The battles are FF's main gameplay element, if you want to make players feel that they really lost something, you have to extend the loss to gameplay. Completely separate "story" and "gameplay" is never a good idea.

Quote:

PS: I hope nobody got FF7 spoiled... though Aerith's death is to gaming spoilers what Luke's relationship with Vader is to movies, so I'm not worried.


Luke - Vader scene is one of the most memorable film scenes. Aerith's death is one of the most memorable video game scenes. It seems to me that FF7 handled character death pretty well :)

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I find it frustrating myself.

Fire Emblem.. If i know a char is going to leave I wont use them
Ill let the other chars that will gain some exp fighting, Even if it makes the battles harder.

In your example, if part of how you treated the npc's controlled what they did in the end, I wouldn't find as bad, since it makes up for needing to hold their hands when the ai doesn't do a good enough job.

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Don't make me invest time into something and then take it away from me.

And don't make pleasing the allies to time consuming, ie. i don't want to spend more time doing stuff for the allies than i get back with their help.

An example of this is AOE2. the bots will ally with you for a small free every several minutes. however the bots didn't really help when you allied them, they just stopped attacking you.

In the end you would have better spent your time destroying them and taking their resources and stuff.

Just as you would gain more long term by leveling you avatar rather than please an ally who MAY ditch you just before you need them.

Another point related to the one above is too warn us when they are near leaving or retirement. so that we can either try too please them so they stay or at least use them to fight the next boss/ pirates whatever.

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The game that immediately sprung to mind when I read your post was Medieval: Total War 2, in which you have family members that are incredibly useful and that are all pretty individual, but which will eventually die of old age or in battle or through assassination or other various tragedies. They're not allies as such, but are still key characters that are on your side.

The game allowed you to cope with your loss partially through their descendants living on, who generally have similar characteristics to their ancestors. You may be losing an important character but you'll eventually gain another.

This serves both as a gameplay aid (you don't lose anything too valuable) and as a story aid (the emotional attachment is still there).

You could do something similar in your space game example by allowing the ship captain's family or close acquaintances to offer their services in their place, which could be quite interesting if the links between characters were made evident.

To answer your first question then: It depends on how you implement it!

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The bottom line is, players won't get attached to allies they expect to leave. Depending on the bonuses you give for every retired ally, they may prefer to use them as bait or shield. You will have to add a reputation system to prevent that.

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In my shooter I place to give the player allies from time to time. As the major theme is death/no-one-lives-forever ally death is key. However I plan to have enough allies so that if a ally dies a new one will be replaced. Starfleet could send you a new ship if the last one got destroyed. As a captain goes into retirement he could recommend a new captain.
If you provide a replacement for the ally that you lost it could work however it could easily break down to just another anonymous portrait.

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Players want and need a reliable posse. They want a gang family. If you continue to take away these allies, I believe many players will begin trying to avoid them. Doing things on their own.

My advice is to not give the player direct control over allies that will depart on their own. Make them a different kind of asset. One that the player can interact with only in an immediate sense. Like two starships meeting in space and encountering a problem during the very brief hello. The player automatically assumes the ship will leave once the problem is solved.

If allies show up, integrate themselves into your fleet, then break off and leave after a timer countdown, I would find it annoying. I would avoid the integration entirely, and rely on assets that I have real control over.

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Quote:
Original post by hymerman
...allowing the ship captain's family or close acquaintances to offer their services in their place, which could be quite interesting if the links between characters were made evident.


Quote:
Original post by Kest
Make them a different kind of asset


I could see myself really enjoying this kind of system; allowing players to form long-term allies, with more temporary crew drawn from their ever changing social circle. I'd suggest a certain level of micromanagement for your hirelings, but not as in-depth or costly as that of your more permanent crew.

The (semi)permanent crew would allow tie-ins to any overarching plot lines.

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