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Khaiy

City Size in RPGs

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So, I'm still in the design phases of my dream project, an SNES-esque RPG. One of the things that always bugged me a little bit about RPGs is the size of the towns. They generally had a few buildings, but not enough housing for even 100 people, let alone a great city.

This was understandable for both technological limitations at the time (there are only so many things that could fit into memory on a Super Nintendo cartridge) and design practicality (buildings are only significant if you can interact with them in some way, which requires more time/effort/money/memory to create).

But as a hobbyist in 2010, these limitations are less severe. So I wanted some feedback from people here. In an RPG, would you care much if the towns and cities were of the traditional, small size, or would a larger one be more interesting or immersive for you?

My current leaning is towards a larger town, with the following features:

1. A fast-travel option will exist (like in Persona 4), so that you don't have to walk all through the town if you don't want to once you've been to the particular location you want.

2. Sufficiently large cities will be divided into districts with specific functions, like wealthy residential, slums, markets, farm land, docks, etc. The populations of these areas have effects on the state of the city itself, and the player will be able to incite revolts and other behaviors provided that the appropriate people are courted/areas affected by player actions.

3. There will be opportunities to interact with crowds, such as following a random NPC 'home' (determined dynamically), causing confusion and distractions to escape pursuers, and other features.

4. I'd like for major NPC's that the player can recruit to be enmeshed in their city more than just by arbitrarily stating their position. For example, an aristocrat's decision to join, help, or hinder the player could be influenced by a player helping a charismatic dissident from the slums affect social change.

This is a rough list of things I'd really like to include, that I think will really only work well in a large city. I'm not married to any of them, but they all tie in with other features I have really been hoping I can make work. If you'd like more details, just ask, but for the start I wanted to focus more on people's intial opinions about city size in games.

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Quote:
Original post by Khaiy
So, I'm still in the design phases of my dream project, an SNES-esque RPG. One of the things that always bugged me a little bit about RPGs is the size of the towns. They generally had a few buildings, but not enough housing for even 100 people, let alone a great city.
It has nothing to do with technology limitations. They are games. And games are best when they are focused on something, and not filled with unneeded bloat.

Back when I made a giant persistent MMO type server for another game, we eventually took our giant cities, and optimized them down to the main 'commercial strip', and other mission critical areas. Otherwise, they took focus off the game. They still were designed to look like smaller parts of something much bigger however. You just need to block off paths that appear to lead to highly populated areas.

We even took out all the different types of shops, and had the vendors all right next to each other. Some vendor types were even combined to save time. What's the point of crossing 3 zones to talk one vendor, and then heading to a different neighborhood to buy another kind of item. What if you needed to make 2 visits to each? That wastes 5-10 minutes right there.

The game was about going out, exploring, raiding dungeons, and completing randomized quests. Not walking around 63 blocks of houses and debating who has the best lawn ornaments.

A town in a most RPGs is like a pit stop in a racing game. You go in, you exchange items, maybe talk to a few key people, and maybe turn in some fetch items, and then get back out to doing what a character in a RPG game should be doing in the first place. They should be designed to get you in and out.

But some people shut-ins want an RPG to be a replacement for their non-existent social life, and want everything in there, down to the tiniest detail, so they can live a their second lives in there.

Quote:
Everything else
It sounds like you are more interested in a fantasy world city simulation then a traditional type of RPG. Not a bad idea. Things are different if the whole game world is a big city.

I see a lot of GTA: San Andreas / Saint's Row in your numbered points. :)

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I also see the city size problem in games where it tends to be of what you are asking. Meaning some cities, towns or villages tend to be small or medium small to accommodate the need to have many people walking around being involved with NPC'S or other PC characters if the world was live if the game was on a personal computer or home console. Or having the npc stay in one spot to save the time for animators to move these sprites all over the city map.

I would like to venture into more of the stores, homes, businesses, companies or the like there of in video games. When I play action adventure games or role playing games or horror games, I see all these doors that are closed and the game keeps you moving onward in a linear path to the end and more than likely make the player walk back and forth from field play to the city just to heal up or buy weapons, armor, items, accessories or other help from the tavern or arena for field exploration.

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Holy crap, a fantasy city sim sounds awesome. Try to attract heroes to trade there to boost your economy, invasions by monster, guild politics, magic. I would buy this.

Ontopic: I agree about focusing it, in real life that happens any way (CBDs). Maybe have the other areas to but keep all the shops and main quests in one place.

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Re: Khaiy

I think in terms of this design, this decision be one that you don't need to make up front. Just start with the smallest functional city (functional with respect to the purpose of the game), and decide after the city is functional. At that point, you could ask your testers/players whether they prefer a larger city.

Suppose we tell you that we want a large city, you make it, and it turns out to be a bad idea, then you just waste a lot of time. If we tell you that we want a small city but a large city would work better, you expand it and you lose nothing.

The question could go in the other direction:

Suppose you are dead set that you want a large city, how would you design the RPG so that the size of the city is the main asset of the game?

Note that if you don't have real data this question is equivalent to: Suppose I want to make a huge one-shot bet, where should I place my bet?

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Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

I think that I might not have been clear enough about my intentions in my first post. I'm not interested in making large cities for the sake of having large cities. I would ideally be coding features that would make a larger city relevant. My point about technological limitations referred to the 16 bit days of RPG's only, where I'm sure that features were designed such that a large city would be pointless and a waste of memory and effort. My hope is to design a system that will allow for a city that is larger without being irrelevantly so.

My concept is probably better described as Daaark put it, that I'm looking at a fantasy city sim sort of system. But rather than have players design and administer the cities directly, I want the cities' statuses to affect other aspects of the game. The cities and their administration will operate off screen, but game events will change based on what happens within them.

If I needed to, most of this functionality could be relegated to the background and not need a city that is geographically large as far as the player is concerned. But each city is (ideally) going to be a large area containing things that the player can do, and characters that they interact with, etc., but there is a world outside of cities including smaller towns, dungeons, a world map, and so on.

Wai, thank you very much for your response, I think that your suggestion is the best way for me to proceed at this point.

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I think even the cities currently in WoW are too big. If I'm still hopelessly lost in it after I've walked through it 3 times, it's too big. I thought the city in Summoner was too big. The ones in Fable and the various Final Fantasies were a pretty good size. I'd have to actually look at them and count, but towns that have about 8 screens worth of content seems to be about the max before I start getting confused.

You can compensate for a big city somewhat by making a good mini-map of each city, and also making each area within the city look visually distinct, and one road different from the next. But overall I agree with the point that it's important to avoid bloat, make sure each thing within the city actually contributes something to the game and don't worry about realism for its own sake.

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A lot probably depends on the kind of view the player is seeing. If they are having to walk around in a 3-D virtual reality kind of view a large city could be nasty, but if they can view it in a map-like way and run around across the map without even having to go around buildings it need not be so bad. Though even there it would probably help to have some kind of visual indication to tip them off as to which buildings they can actually enter or somehow interact with and which are just graphics without any real function to them.

The degree and common-ness of persistence is probably also a factor. If each of many thousands of buildings can each be entered and any one of them could contain an area where things players place there persist, then the larger the number of such buildings the more ability players have to stash stuff in a needle in a haystack manner, relying upon the unlikeness of anyone actually doing a house to house search as some slight degree of "safety" for stashes of stuff...

So far I have been finding that having a whole lot of buldings simply drawn on the map without being enter-able does not seem good, whereas a huge "suburb" of buildings players can buy and own, or even buy entire subdivisions of to sell house by house to other players, is looking okay...

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well, it would depend on the game. if the focus of the game's story was about a sprawling city, then yeah it would make sense to have a huge city to explore. but if the focus of the game was killing some d-bag wizard who kidnapped my girl, then no i don't want to tromp through a massive city for 15 minutes just because it's more realistic that way.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
I think even the cities currently in WoW are too big.
I remember years ago back in the beta, there was this one town near the start of the game that was in a castle, and it was just road after winding road of nothingness. It took ages to get to the 3 or 4 hot spots. Just browsing the various shops there could eat up a half hour.

Just make it look like your town zone is a part of a much bigger space, do other things with NPC dialogue to create the atmosphere of a larger city.

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