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Drethon

cRPG: How to handle the non-combat grind?

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I'm working on a [edit:not TD, yeah, I can type today...] 2D space scroller RPG (some aspects kind of like Eve Online) where everything is made from materials harvested from asteroids. Also I'm not currently working on any skills right now and if I do their impact will be minor so the "levels" is more about the size of the ship and the equipment. In MMOs people are willing to spend hours grinding towards the next level or that next piece of equipment. I suspect this is primarily because this grind can be done with others which makes it more of a social thing, also there is a competitiveness that someone else was willing to work to this point then I should do even better. What about cRPGs? It seems to me that the combat level grind is simple (relatively speaking) to figure out. If the combat is exciting, fast paced yet still requiring strategy, then the level grind will be less noticeable. The player will just find new options and variations to the combat as they progress so long as the combat is not broken as it gets more complicated. Activities like mining and trading seem more difficult to make the grind be less noticeable. Both activities are fairly straight forward and simple, not much action unless you are trying to avoid getting blown out of the sky while doing your job. While blockade running can be interesting, trying to dodge pirates while mining seems like it could get annoying rather than fun rather quickly. As a result I don't see a good way to make the grind interesting other than focusing on the goal of upgrading to bigger and better. As the player gets larger ships I can see mining and trading beginning to form convoys which can include defensive ships and the player can move into a commanding role but I'm still having problems of how to make things interesting when the player has one little ship. Is there a way to make this more interesting and worth the time to grind through rather than just focusing on the next goal or should this point progress fairly quickly before moving onto letting the player begin commanding more ships? Any thoughts no matter how far off base? Thanks! [Edited by - Drethon on June 2, 2009 12:14:21 PM]

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There are a lot of ways to do mining and multiple ways can be used in one game.

1) Exploration, minerals can be hard to find to so a player has to explore around the world to find them.

2) Mining can be about holding territory. If you build a mine at point X then you get Y number of mineral Z every hour. Maybe you can upgrade your mine to get Y + 5 minerals per hour. Other players or even PVE enemies could try and take the mine from you.

3) Similar to #2 but the mine is temporary. So when you find a mining node it is like a king of the hill match while you mine the minerals.

4) Mini game based. Getting minerals out of an asteroid may require some mini game that will determine how much you get.

I am sure there are other ideas for mining but there are a lot of possibilities depending on the game you are making. In a fantasy universe holding a magical tower could be the only way to get some magical essence.

As for caravans, some of the best maps in Team Fortress 2 are the push cart maps. They are far superior to capture the flag maps. Plus there is some potential for them in PVE games or non instanced PVP games.

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I've discovered that when I have an aspect of gameplay that's too simple it's often because I haven't accounted for all the details. Combat could be that way, too, if all the details were abstracted out and you just clicked on an enemy to kill them. Click-kill-click-kill would be very boring.

What if you did mining like this: Since we're talking large pieces of rock here you can't just shoot them ala Asteroids and get minerals. That's too easy. So maybe build gameplay around detection, extraction and maybe even strategic resource management to even get there. If asteroids have their own pseudo-realistic orbital mechanics, they could move about the map, possibly in and out of range of the player's ship (granting a timing/resource management element, especially if the player has to pay for fuel and the cost rises with distance, diminishing the value of what is mined). Detection could be a mix of using free but hazy methods versus expensive means (like a special detector that must be fed specially charged particles that aren't cheap).

You can then add gameplay to extraction. There could be a range of gear almost as diverse as weapons for getting at the ore, with the cheaper/wrong gear causes more damage to what's extracted. But no matter what gear you get, let asteroid mining surprise the players with mines that peter out, deliver the occasional motherlode or even yeild surprise finds that require different equipment.

If you let asteroids move about the map and cripple the player's ability to get at them easily (again, turning it into fuel-based risk/reward gameplay) you could then implement different kinds of ownership. Maybe asteroids can be claimed, with bigger finds owned by stronger NPC players. If you've got any kind of stealth gameplay, you then can offer players the opportunity for claim jumping gameplay. On the flip side, if you have an upgrade system for detectors and communications arrays you can give the player the opportunity to be vigilant against NPC claim jumping!

Asteroids that are in motion also introduce an interesting political possibility-- what happens when your asteroid goes into enemy territory? Is it still yours? Can you load it with traps and defenses? Lots of possibilities here.

(Sorry for the long-winded post, but this is the sort of stuff I'm working on right now so I get psyched easily.[grin])

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Wavinator- Do you think players will really enjoy that kind of thing in an MMO setting? MMORPGs tend to involve a lot of repetition and you are basically talking about a long involved interaction with a rock.

At least in PVE combat you are interacting with a dragon or something. Even if the gameplay is similar I am not sure a fight with a rock is something players will want to do all that often.

The idea sounds interesting though and it may be a lot better than other implementations of mining.

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There are people out there that will go into Eve and just spend all day exploring for hidden area with nice loot with a short time mining or fighting for what they found. I think the trick to that may be to have a balance of very easy to perform mining/harvesting/etc with low rewards and high reward types that require a lot of searching or steps to process with variations in between.

I like the suggestions here so far for a complex game but I'm trying to start simple with the game play I'm working on (like a simple iPhone app) so I can complete a simple game and then build complexity on for the next version. Perhaps the key to a simple game is that I can't try to make it a long playing game (a couple hours from start to end game?) and I just have to stick with short time spans in between upgrades and once I start adding complexity for later versions I can extend the time to upgrade...

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I think the normal way to design is to first design the gameplay. The gameplay is the set of cognitive tasks that the player needs to perform in order to play the game. "Mining" is just a theme. Once your gameplay is defined and it is interesting, a player would play it regardless whether there is any reward other than the play experience itself.

All of the following minigames can be used in the context of "Mining" if you just change the graphics. You could add complexity to it. But note that adding complexity does not necessarily add to gameplay. It could become a routine. Routines could be boring. But not all routines are bad.


MG1: Let's pick cherries
[ Play ]
Gameplay: Trajectory and movement
Modification: Imagine that the cherries are flying gems inside a cave, and wolves are holes on the ground. If the Miner falls through a hole the Mining session ends.

MG2: Flight Crew
[ Play ]
Gameplay: Trajectory and movement, avoidance
Modification: Imagine that the Bird Rider is the Miner and the Bunny is a mining scoop. The scoop is swung to the ground to mine. React properly to falling debris and don't crash into fast moving asteroids.

MG3: Bunny Eats
[ Play ]
Gameplay: Movement, memory, avoidance
Modification: Carrots are mining sites. Foxes are pirates.

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Quote:
Original post by Stangler
Wavinator- Do you think players will really enjoy that kind of thing in an MMO setting? MMORPGs tend to involve a lot of repetition and you are basically talking about a long involved interaction with a rock.


I don't know about MMOs. To be honest I've sort of given up trying to figure them out because so much mediocre gameplay has been justified by the fact that you're with other people (like players in WOW playing bejeweled or whatever in-game while they wait for something interesting, like a raid party, to happen.

I thought by cRPG Drethon meant single player game, which is where I think it would work better provided you were bound and determined to provide challenging gameplay outside of combat.

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Quote:
Original post by Drethon
I like the suggestions here so far for a complex game but I'm trying to start simple with the game play I'm working on (like a simple iPhone app) so I can complete a simple game and then build complexity on for the next version.


Gotcha. In that case, maybe you should let them shoot asteroids and have them break apart into valuable mineral bits that go flying. You could add a timer which causes the bits to expire/be lost, making it a fast paced game of item collection. You could even have some bits become lost more quickly than others based on their value so that the player has the nice 2 second panic attack trying to figure out what to scarf up first.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Quote:
Original post by Drethon
I like the suggestions here so far for a complex game but I'm trying to start simple with the game play I'm working on (like a simple iPhone app) so I can complete a simple game and then build complexity on for the next version.


Gotcha. In that case, maybe you should let them shoot asteroids and have them break apart into valuable mineral bits that go flying. You could add a timer which causes the bits to expire/be lost, making it a fast paced game of item collection. You could even have some bits become lost more quickly than others based on their value so that the player has the nice 2 second panic attack trying to figure out what to scarf up first.


I think that is totally how you are supposed to do it. Instead of having them expire, make the ship have one side that is the collector end. When a small rock comes flying to the collector end, it is collected. Otherwise, the mining robot shoots what it had collected to break apart bigger rocks. The rocks don't expire. They first fly and bounces all around the robot. If it hits the robot the robot dies.

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What if the player could have access to a mineral processor (either they can get to one or they can buy and place it themselves). Then their ship can have a tractor beam that allows them to tow asteroids to the processor to be processed into minerals.

There are several different types of mineral and each processor can only process one type. So the player has access to a scanner that can determine what type of minerals are in each asteroid (there can be several type in any one asteroid so the player has to decide what minerals to try and get from it), and how much of those types. Also, some asteroids might have alien tech (or other bonuses) that the player can get access to (but first have to scan for) if they take it to the correct facilities.

Scanners could also be keyed to certain resources (or alien tech), have certain ranges, beam width (they report all the materials in the beam, not which asteroid specifically), detail (some scanners might report which asteroids the resource are in), and so forth.

You can also have the player pay for access to the processing stations (or for running it if they own it) so giving a gameplay choice of the player (they might really need Plotonium, but the amount they get from the asteroid is not much, but the processing station charges a lot to extract that resource). This way, rare resource can have a high cost associated with them as it is expensive to gather lots of it because of the amount of asteroids need to be processed to get that amount of the resource, but common resources will have higher concentrations and so will be able to extract more for the cost of processing.

As this is a 2D scroller (I am assuming it is not just a vertical scroller, but that the player can fly in any direction they choose), then this type of gameplay can be integrated into the current game system easily enough, you just need to add tractor beams to the player's ship (and so allow an object to follow the player) and processing stations that if the player docks with them while carrying an asteroid they will process it for a fee (or if the player owns it just process it).

You could use a menu system to allow the player to decide what material to extract, or just have separate types of processor (really just a set of variables to change from a standard template and graphics - to allow the player to know what type it is).

So this gameplay would require the player to have the right equipment to scan for the materials they need, have them make a choice as to what materials they need (despite there being different materials available form the asteroid - and they might not know what all the materials in the asteroid are), the (player) skill to bring them back to the processing stations and expend resources (eg: money) pay for the processing (or owning the processing stations).

It also utilises the existing mechanics and only needs to add in a couple more: Tractor beams (which could also be used in other situations in the game not involved in gathering resources), and Processing Stations (which is really a simple mechanics: destroy an object - the asteroid - and give a resource - the one they chose from the asteroid).

You might also have pirates, with more powerful tractor beams, that can pull an asteroid out of a players tractor beam. The player might choose to upgrade their own tractor beam so that the pirates can't just take it (but they could attempt to destroy the player's beam or ship to get at the asteroid), or attempt to fight the pirates off (it also give a logical reason for mobs to exist that the player can grind on - if pirates spawn near asteroid fields, a player has to defeat the pirates to be able to gather the resources).

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What Edtharan said is pretty similar to the way my thoughts have been drifting plus what Wavinator said.

I've been thinking of mining requiring a special mining laser that would be used to cut off chunks of an asteroid, these chunks could then be pulled in with a low power tractor (takes up less space and uses less power) to keep the player engaged in mining.

For an additional step the player could fit a reconfigurable reprocessing module that can be used to process a specific type of ore from the asteroid chunks. Along with this the player could assign the mining laser to cut chunks rich with the chosen ore but if the laser happens to cut off a chunk that doesn't have much of this ore and the player doesn't notice this the reprocessor will destroy the other types of ore in the chunk.

Additionally I've been thinking of making ships with large capacity very expensive but making cheap containers available that can be moved by tractor beams. As a result most mining will off load into these containers to be tractored back to the station (or if the player is confident of his skills the containers can be slingshotted back to the station to be caught by another ship).

A container being tractored can be hijacked by a pirate with a tractor beam if the pirate latches on an tries to accelerate the container hard enough at a right angle to direction the transport ship is moving it. This allows fast combat ships an alternative to blowing up the other ship, just grab the loot and run. Also if ship has a large enough tractor the pirate ship can be tractored back to the station and captured.

Seems like a good place to start from and then see how it plays...

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Easy question, easy answer. The way to handle grinding in a game is not to include any. Why would you purposely design a major feature of the game in a way you feel sucks so much it needs to be "made less noticeable", and at best, players are "willing" to tolerate it in order to get to the good stuff?

If something can't be improved to the point where it can no longer be called a "grind", axe it.

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Quote:
Original post by Drethon
What Edtharan said is pretty similar to the way my thoughts have been drifting plus what Wavinator said.

I've been thinking of mining requiring a special mining laser that would be used to cut off chunks of an asteroid, these chunks could then be pulled in with a low power tractor (takes up less space and uses less power) to keep the player engaged in mining.

I would steer clear of having a special mining laser as it eliminates choices the player has to make. Instead a better solution would be to have the different resource in an asteroid react differently to the power of the laser.

The more powerful the laser, the more of the more volatile (and rarer) resources in an asteroid are lost (even to the point where by they are eliminated). This way a powerful a laser might blast apart an asteroid in no time, but leave you with only the most common resources, but a weaker laser would take slightly longer (not much mind you) to break apart the asteroid but leave you with most of the more valuable resources intact.

As the more powerful laser is better for dealing with pirates, then this would be a good reason to tech up. But a weak laser would be cheap and readily available, but would be almost useless in battle. The player now has a gameplay choice as to the power of their lasers on their ship.

As an extra, you could have certain lasers better designed not to vaporise the more expensive resources, and so be potentially more powerful than what would normally be used for that type of resource, but as this kind of tech would need a lot of research and Development, it can cost more than your standard laser of that power level. Also, as it has to be tuned to a particular resource, if players want to change to another resource, it provides gamplay in switching costs vs rewards for mining the new material(s).

Quote:
Original post by Drethon
Additionally I've been thinking of making ships with large capacity very expensive but making cheap containers available that can be moved by tractor beams. As a result most mining will off load into these containers to be tractored back to the station (or if the player is confident of his skills the containers can be slingshotted back to the station to be caught by another ship).

You could imagine a whole string of such containers, each with a tractor beam on the rear of it to pull the next container along. The power for this might come from the player's (or even computer controlled) ships, so there would be some limit to the number of containers that could be pulled.

This could also form missions, to either transport goods from one place to another, or even to collect the sling shotted containers and deliver them to the base (this would indeed take some fancy flying - and could be quite good gameplay).

Quote:
Original post by Drethon
A container being tractored can be hijacked by a pirate with a tractor beam if the pirate latches on an tries to accelerate the container hard enough at a right angle to direction the transport ship is moving it. This allows fast combat ships an alternative to blowing up the other ship, just grab the loot and run. Also if ship has a large enough tractor the pirate ship can be tractored back to the station and captured.

Having it at right angles is going to be hard to do, why not use the perpendicular (at right angles) force of the pull to determine the breaking chance. However, if the player or pirate is not quite at right angles, you can calculate the force (using vectors) that would exist at right angles to the tractor beam. You could also (if you want) compute forces caused by manoeuvres (turning and such) and add these vectors to the equation and so allow the player to either enhance or weaken the perpendicular force on the container. It could also be applied in flight, so that if the player makes too tight a turn, they could loose their tractor beam lock on the containers without there being an enemy trying to steal them.

It would also tie in with your previous paragraph about containers, with container being sling shot from location to location and the player trying to capture them, they might have to manoeuvre their ship so that they minimise the perpendicular force from the container's motion on the tractor beam.

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Original post by Edtharan
I would steer clear of having a special mining laser as it eliminates choices the player has to make. Instead a better solution would be to have the different resource in an asteroid react differently to the power of the laser.


This one I need to toss around a bit. I don't want standard lasers working as mining equipment but I can see using mining lasers for offensive weapons, if much lower power than a weapon laser (miner swarm!).

Additionally I'm placing this game as being late this century so technology has advanced beyond current technology but not exceptionally further. Lasers exist but are very expensive and power hungry yet are immensely powerful next lower tech equipment.

I'm thinking the very basic mining equipment would just be a mining drill, the player has to actually land (Wavinator's moon lander idea in his other approach tweaks my interest for this though I'm not sure if I want the whole game to be in the same top down view or not...) and mine directly from the asteroid. Containers would have to be hauled in by other ships to be dropped next to the mining ship to fill up but this mining would be exceedingly simple.

Secondly would be explosives. The ship could either, land and drill a hole for the explosives, or drop the explosives from orbit. The first option would require less explosives to be dropped but take longer to set the first explosive. This would blast material off the asteroid but cause extreme damage to the more fragile expensive elements.

Now that the chunks are in space the ship has two options to collect them. First is just fly around and scoop up the chunks. Time consuming and potentially dangerous but no special equipment necessary. Second is tractor the chunks in. Quick and easy but requires an expensive piece of equipment.

Third option for mining would be lasers. Expensive but can be either very precise or very quick at cutting chunks out (as you suggested, I like the extra options).

Lastly and most expensive piece of equipment is a resonator. The resonator can be tuned to specific materials and free chunks that are rich in this material from the surrounding material. Chunks of undifferentiated asteroid would also be blasted out as the desired material may be covered but this would be the best way to mine a specific material.

My thoughts at the moment anyway...


Quote:
Original post by EdtharanYou could imagine a whole string of such containers, each with a tractor beam on the rear of it to pull the next container along...


Almost exactly where my thoughts were going. I don't think I'll have tractor retransmitters on the containers but I'm thinking of higher level tractors can pull longer strings of containers along.

Going along with my thoughts above on the mix of new and old technology I think the initial transport ship would not have a tractor but instead be like a tugboat with grappling options so the ship can bump the container onto a new course or grab onto it and tug it. Would need to make sure not to hit the container too fast or accelerate too fast with it as containers are fragile. Tractors would be able to accelerate as fast as you want (if nothing fragile is in the container) without damaging the container itself.

Quote:
Original post by EdtharanHaving it at right angles is going to be hard to do...


That was what I had in mind, I just said right angles instead of getting into describing the perpendicular force approach.

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This one I need to toss around a bit. I don't want standard lasers working as mining equipment but I can see using mining lasers for offensive weapons, if much lower power than a weapon laser (miner swarm!).

If a laser can tear a ship to chunks, then why not an asteroid? Especially if you are also going to include lasers that are weaker but can tear chunks of asteroids.

I think retaining consistency will go a long way to making your game world more believable. It is the inconsistencies that can break immersion and frustrate players.

The system I was proposing was allowing all lasers for mining, it was just that powerful lasers would be useless at getting the more volatile and expensive resources out (as they would be vaporised by the more powerful lasers). You can blast away with the powerful laser and tear great chunks out of the asteroid (moons or even planets ;D ) but all that you will be left with will be mostly the more common materials which might not even be worth the fuel used to get them back to the processing plant (although powerful lasers could blast away big chucks and so you might make a profit with bulk jobs).

Quote:
Additionally I'm placing this game as being late this century so technology has advanced beyond current technology but not exceptionally further. Lasers exist but are very expensive and power hungry yet are immensely powerful next lower tech equipment.

Remember Moore's Law. It seems to also apply to other forms of technology too. IF we take this to its logical conclusion, then many forms of technology, by the second half of this century will be so far beyond what we can imagine that we are rally unable to speculate on it (as an aside: the really interesting one is medical intervention to life expectancy. By around 2050, if Moore's law holds then for every year that passes, we will be able to extend life by another year. At this point we will be pseudoimmortal - not dying of old age).

If you are looking to extend technology just a little bit further, then what you will most likely see is mining by robot. This is almost doable today. We have robotic cars that are capable (but not licensed for) driving in real world traffic conditions. We have robots that can (and do) operate heavy machinery (far better than people can in some circumstances). We also ahve robots that can operate in hostile space environments (just think of the two rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity" currently on Mars). We have robots that can land (and even take off - all rocket launches are actually done by a computer, which makes these rockets robots) from planets.

So, it is not all that much of a stretch that robots could be sent onto asteroids to mine materials from them and bring back those materials.

But, in mining each type of material (ore) needs its own processing to properly extract it. This tends to also make it difficult (without special consideration in the initial extraction) to get at any other materials left. So you can still keep this kind of gameplay (where extracting the ore from asteroids must be selected for at the loss of any other type of ore) but have remote mining robots that a player sends down to these locations and picks up packages from them at regular intervals of the ore they want. The robots could also be picked up later and moved to a new location.

There are currently projects to make self contained factories in the form of a 3D printer which can print with multiple print heads, but that can also print themselves (Von Newman devices). SO far they ahve been able to get it to replicate around 60% of the parts of its self, and improvements are occuring rapidly. If the robotic mining devices had this kind of functionality built into them, then they could extract common raw materials in quantities need to set up everything they need from a small package (which is the bit that gets picked up and moved from site to site).

So if you are looking to implement a system that would likely to be used if asteroid mining were to occur later this century, then this is the kind of system you might be looking at:

A Semi Von Newman robotic package that would be dropped on a potential mining site and would replicate all the rest of the bits needed for the mine. It would construct the cargo containers and the launch vehicles needed to get the resulting ores into orbit around the asteroid. It would build power plants (solar collectors, or even mine radioactive materials to be used in a nuclear power plant - probably by using the thermo electric effect to generate the power rather than by heating water into steam), mining robots, repair and construction robots, etc. Anything that was needed, including replacement parts for itself.

I just suggested blasting things with lasers because this seemed to be part of the game you were describing (blasting things with lasers like enemy ships) and is a common gameplay and setting element for the type of genera you are making (and is also much simpler to design and code). However, if you want the more complex system because of the realism, it would certainly make the game world more believable (but I am not sure how it would mesh with the other gameplay elements).

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