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Wavinator

Balance and Constant Threat Regeneration (SP RPG)

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Wavinator    2017
Which world is more alive while being playable: One that sits back and waits for you to affect it, one that responds and counters your changes but only fairly, or one that can potentially stomp you into the ground if you mess with the wrong parts of it? I've been posting a lot about an old idea I'm trying to revive concerning dynamic environments. More and more open world games (like Red Faction: Guerilla) seem to be responding to player actions, not just in terms of altering the physical space but in changing how the world's life reacts. This can be as simple as adjusting enemy respawn rates and behavior or more complex, as some RPGs have tried to do. Because I'm thinking of an abstract RPG I'm exploring adding more complexity. My basic setup uses resource levels, relationships among characters and generated events to drive the world. I've been thinking of the game world as composed of regions which either contend or cooperate with each other. Think of a map of a city as an example, with its different neighborhoods as regions. I've been thinking about three possible approaches meant to make an otherwise bland, abstract world come to life: A) Traditional Static World Variation - The world is dynamic but the fluctuations are superficial. Challenges such as enemies are localized to a region and don't move about. No region can become so out of wack that it's troubles spill over to poison other regions, and no two regions can really help each other with a threat posed by the player or NPCs. Defeated threats stay defeated. Merits: World waits for the player and is thus potentially more RPG than strategy game. Flaws: World probably doesn't feel reactive. The player who becomes a menace in one neighborhood, for instance, never has to worry about enemies flooding in from another region across the map because this would be unfair (in the sense that they can't control it) B) Dynamic But Fair World - The world responds to the player's changes but never unfairly. Threats can move about from region to region, but can only ever present fair fights. Defeated threats become new threats over time, but never much higher than the player's level. Merits: World feels alive yet is potentially more balanced. Flaws: Still that sense that the world isn't quite alive. You can go spit in the Godfather's face and he'll only ever send so many goons. May end up feeling like autobalancing / dynamic leveling like in Oblivion. C) Tread Wisely World - The world can respond to player's changes with disproportionate force. Trying to be Al Capone may bring in Eliot Ness; terrorize the citizens of a powerful nation and you may end the game in hiding. Threats of variable quality generate continually and have more to do with the resources of the region and past player actions than any notion of fair challenge. Because the world can change, the player must be ready to adopt different roles if the one they're playing becomes too difficult. Merits: World is possibly wildly alive. May prevent a wide variety of replayable challenges. Flaws: Regions can potentially become unplayable (for instance a crime lord drives all healers out of a region, now combat sucks). Role players may choose a role with the intention of a certain kind of gameplay, which the world may take away (e.g., try to be a pirate but the age of piracy ends so you have to go legit) Thoughts?

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I'm inclined toward the more hardcore end of the spectrum, since that'll lead to the most vibrant and rich world, but the pitfalls are undeniable. I loves me some Dwarf Fortress, and it's a great example of a game where a steep learning curve and a brutal world can leave a beginner lying in the dirt with a punctured lung and a confused look on his face within minutes, or reduce his settlement to a blood-soaked firestorm of civil war and spilled liquor before he's even had a chance to set up a trade depot.

One way you might be able to balance the "dangerous world" phenomenon is to offer "mulligans" for failure. My dwarf fortresses seldom take longer than a few hours to go through their entire doomed life cycle, so starting over doesn't hurt, and I was able to learn by trial and error.

Another solution could be to include a sort of "tutorial" phase, like when the Fable games give you your whole childhood to learn how the karma system and combat system and social system work to shape the world, then time-lapse you to the future, give you a sword and set you loose to burn bridges and murder key characters as you see fit.

If you go with the tutorial, please make it optional. I just tried to start a new game in Fable II and getting through the dialogue and tutorial that comes before the actual game starts took me over an hour. Not fun.

Ideally, players should be legitimately afraid to screw the pooch and ruin their career, so they'll think twice about starting a fight with the Navy, since regaining your good name isn't as simple as hiding behind a fence until they shrug and walk away.

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Psilobe    193
I'd prefer the thread wisely option, as you brought up red faction it was a large open world that was fun to explore, beautiful to look at with some nice features in the game but it wasn't really dynamic. There were certainly reactions to the player but basically it felt like your only choice was to destroy X amount of stuff out of Y amount and then the zone would be liberated. The conflict lacked in the dynamic department where it felt like the enemy mostly were passive just waiting to get the crap kicked out of them and then evacuate the zones.

I think one thing that's needed for a more dynamic rpg experience is NPC with more depth in to them, add an economic system where money changes hands depending on services and products with politics and npcs with goals, be it kill all humans for a mad robot or break the world record in hotdog eating.

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by vaneger
Why not use a difficulty setting to determine how active the world is instead of just using one of those three choices?


Because I think this comes down to some mutually exclusive design choices. For instance, easy on C might mean that the thresholds are much higher or more clearly defined, but that the world still feels alive. Hard on A might just mean that the enemies are tougher in the region you go into, but that you still never have to worry about unbalancing any particular region.

If it was possible to do all three it might be a question of options, but the way I'm seeing it difficulty would be independent within each. You might, for instance, want to have a wildly unbalanced world with lots of chaotic choices-- so long as you're safely on top of it all.


Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I'm inclined toward the more hardcore end of the spectrum, since that'll lead to the most vibrant and rich world, but the pitfalls are undeniable. I loves me some Dwarf Fortress, and it's a great example of a game where a steep learning curve and a brutal world can leave a beginner lying in the dirt with a punctured lung and a confused look on his face within minutes, or reduce his settlement to a blood-soaked firestorm of civil war and spilled liquor before he's even had a chance to set up a trade depot.


I wish I had more of a gut-level feel for DF. I tried to get into it but the UI repelled me. Not sure if the game has it, but vaneger's reply made me wonder: Can you adjust any settings to make your dwarves tougher or more brotherly-love-minded? I can't help but wonder if that would cheapen the experience or make it easier the first few times through.

Quote:

One way you might be able to balance the "dangerous world" phenomenon is to offer "mulligans" for failure. My dwarf fortresses seldom take longer than a few hours to go through their entire doomed life cycle, so starting over doesn't hurt, and I was able to learn by trial and error.


I've gotten addicted to the free release of Strange Adventures in Inifinte Space and it's like this on a shorter scale. You can get hooped in that game the first star you travel to (your jump drive gets sabotaged, or you get stuck needing to leave a star that's going to explode but can't). But it's not so bad because all you've really lost is 20 minutes at max and you have a better idea of what to do next time.

Maybe the persistent world is the trick to making something like this work. If you weren't completely attached to your character (tough sell for RPG but maybe) and expected to play multiple characters then the "tread wisely" world could work. (Heh, maybe you should play the role of a clone that expects to die a bunch of times.)


Quote:

If you go with the tutorial, please make it optional.


Check!

I'm not wildly optimistic about a tutorial just out of developer laziness but it's probably a bad idea not to have one for what I've been trying to do.

Quote:

Ideally, players should be legitimately afraid to screw the pooch and ruin their career, so they'll think twice about starting a fight with the Navy, since regaining your good name isn't as simple as hiding behind a fence until they shrug and walk away.


I've been kicking around the idea of concurrently playing more than one character in the same game universe. Though there's a lot of problems with this it may be one way of getting around the really tough, reactive cosmos. If you're playing a pirate, for instance, that gets cornered by the navy and sent to prison, activate another character and have him bust you out.

Maybe, anyway...

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Wavinator    2017
Quote:
Original post by Psilobe
I'd prefer the thread wisely option, as you brought up red faction it was a large open world that was fun to explore, beautiful to look at with some nice features in the game but it wasn't really dynamic. There were certainly reactions to the player but basically it felt like your only choice was to destroy X amount of stuff out of Y amount and then the zone would be liberated. The conflict lacked in the dynamic department where it felt like the enemy mostly were passive just waiting to get the crap kicked out of them and then evacuate the zones.


A friend said pretty much the same thing.

You know, it makes me think this sort of thing is an artifact of that whole uncanny valley thing, where the closer your computer simulation gets to real life but fails the more people notice the flaws. A world that doesn't respond is so alien to our own experiences that it subtly rings false.

Funny enough, this runs so counter to so many ideas about good game design. A world without a force or chain of events that can absolutely over-awe the player is a world that shouts "not real! Don't suspend disbelief, I'm not a real, living world!"

Maybe open worlds have to have a different set of rules. Maybe it's perfectly fine to get your backside handed to you so long as it's not happening over and over again.

Quote:

I think one thing that's needed for a more dynamic rpg experience is NPC with more depth in to them, add an economic system where money changes hands depending on services and products with politics and npcs with goals, be it kill all humans for a mad robot or break the world record in hotdog eating.


Hahaha, I like the wide range of goals. More depth, yes, but also more capacity to respond to the world. The most basic is probably the hardest, but nothing tells us we're with an automaton more than an entity that doesn't express opinion or desire about anyone. (Insert plug for somewhat languishing Democratic Party post)

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Kekko    504
I think you should split "Tread Wisely" into "Tread Wisely" and "Survive the Simulation". In "Tread Wisely" the game will react to your actions as you described, with enough force to deal with you, i.e. you don't have a chance. Think Somali pirate vs. NATO navies. But the game will only react to your actions in such a disproportional way and the game will not wack out unless you force it to. While "Survive the Simulation" is the completly gloves off kind of world.

Having said that I'd go for the "Tread Wisely" option.

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