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Orymus3

[Weekly Discussion: Week 2] RPG Genre's flaws - "Grinding"

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I promise to be brief this time.

As a reference, last week's discussion.

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[font=times new roman,times,serif]I've always been a big fan of the snes-era RPGs and thought about creating a series of discussions based around the flaws of the genre and how they could be assessed. [/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]The discussion itself should be based around the topic that has been selected for that week (obviously).[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]Feel free to discuss either:[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]- The Problem (helping identify the root cause of why this isn't fun)[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]- The Solutions (either games you know who have found a workaround, or ideas of your own)[/font]


[font=times new roman,times,serif]Whatever you feel like discussing here, please make sure that you add sufficient explanation/arguments to your logic as I take this intellectual exercise seriously and believe others will too.[/font]

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This week's topic: Grinding.

By grinding, here is what I mean: The player's ability and/or requirement to repeatedly fight in areas that have otherwise no relevance at that point. In other words, the fact that a player is stuck fighting numerous battles in a setting he's seen everything about (has looted everything, went through every tidbit of story the area could offer).

The reasons for Grinding are many:

Match the difficulty curve

Some games are made in such a way that advancing to the new area is such a steep difficulty curve that you need to grind the previous area until you are confident going further. Big offenders here are older RPGs for the most part (Dragon Warrior 1+2, Final Fantasy 1+2 for example).

The player here is forced into these battles for the sake of survival alone.

*Reduce the efficiency of battle rewards: Some games employ a method where the higher the party's level, the lower the rewards from a battle. While this does decrease the efficiency of grinding, it does not reduce the necessity of grinding. The end result is that people spend twice as much time grinding for the same net result.

*Equipment economy: Earlier games used a system where risking your life to get to the new town allowed you to access new gear which essentially simulated the player gaining a few levels at once to avoid grinding and stabilize with the new threat level. The downside here was the price of these items was so high that it required gold grinding (rather than XP grinding).


Simplify challenges ahead

This touches slightly on last week's problem. Here, rather than a necessity, grinding is made available to the player which sees it as an opportunity to power-level his party and insure smooth sailing through the coming trials (often resorting to mash pressing the fight command just because he actually can). This is a player-induced problem most of the time, but is born from the game's lack of inherent limitations.

*Reduce the efficiency of battle rewards: This method works better here as it really reduces the positive feedback the player gets for abusing this posibility. Since the grinding is not necessary, it may become discouraging the player from this strategy.

*Level cap: Chrono Cross has used a system where you could only gain so many levels at any given point in the story. While this allowed to limit the grinding, it also turned players away from the very rewarding mechanic of enduring trials to become stronger. The end result is that the rpg mechanic of leveling up becomes secondary to the game, for better or for worse.


Acquire rare X

Low random drop rates (as can be seen in recent games such as Diablo 3, but go as far as the early days of console RPGs) that give special items. The knowledge of that forces the player to repeatedly fight monsters until they drop that said item. Sometimes encouraged by secondary currency model.

*Give it away: In Chrono Trigger (Prehistoric) there is a crafting sub-system that relies on components. Rather than make them random drops, they are 100% drops. Most items don't cost more than 6 of these, so grinding isn't really happening (6 battles is hardly grinding).


I'm probably forgetting a lot of issues and workarounds, so please feel free to jump in.

What's your position about grinding? When is it fun/not fun, how can we minimize the amount of bad grinding and maximize good grinding without impacting the game mechanics too much?

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1) Grinding is good if it is a player's ability, don't force him, let him play at his own pace, level as match as he wants. No level / stats caps. He is totally free to play as he wants, without any pressure. Without having to worry about breaking the system because he become too powerfull.
Solution: make sure that enemies remain at same difficulty regardless player level.
Example games : monster's den: book of dread, disgaia, ff8 (badly balanced at lv100 because of 9999 hp / dmg caps),
skyrim ( ok balanced at lv 60 )

2)

stuck fighting numerous battles in a setting he's seen everything about (has looted everything, went through every tidbit of story the area could offer).[/quote]
a) deus ex allowed stealth, to skip battles, it even gave you 80% monster xp for stealthing past them.
b) Final fantasy allowed run away, to completely skip battles.

3)

The player here is forced into these battles for the sake of survival alone.[/quote]
That is bad design.
if areas were created randomly it will reduce the "grindess".
In disgaia, you kill the same enemy, but he is at a different stage, with different allies, different items, stats, so it doesn't get boring.
Also loot gets better thus player is always rewarded.

4)

Reduce the efficiency of battle rewards[/quote]
Also a bad practise, 2000 enemies to advance in next level in wow. No thank you, bye.

5)

Equipment economy[/quote]
a) Becoming stronger from equipment is cool.
b) Equipment in those games is capped (after gaining the final item, there were no other items to become more powerful), thus money loses value and becomes inflated.
c)
Solution: if equipment was randomly generated, scaled with player level and could be enchanted unlimited times by blacksmith to
have no limit in max stats then it would be perfect.

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I'd like to propose an alternate definition of grinding, if I may. Grinding isn't only about combat. Grinding is whenever the player doesn't need to rethink or react to anything surprising on the game's behalf, but instead just needs to carry out the same action like a robot for more than X amount of time. Some people are more patient than others, some actions are more fun than others, so X varies. It even varies culturally, as can be seen in the history of Japanese RPGs having pacing adjustments in their English translations. For playtesting purposes grinding is whenever a player feels bored while performing a repetitive action (instead of bored due to lack of comprehension or bored due to lack of responsiveness of the game, etc.)

Grinding is a direct result of the economics of game development - everyone wants to have the most content to sell for the least amount of development budget/time. For an online game, grindy play is better than no play because if the player stops playing they stop paying and also stop providing the incentive of their presence to new players (as pvp opponents, people to socialize with who make the game feel alive, and trading partners). Every game will always include some grinding because players actually have a better experience doing each action a few times rather than just once, and there's plenty of grindy activities in real life so a game with none might not feel realistic. Adventure games are a genre with minimal grind because typically each puzzle is solved only once, yet this does not make them everyone's favorite genre; in fact AAA adventure games have always been a risky economic proposition, though they seem to be currently doing well in the casual market. So, I propose that the goal WRT games is not to design things that are grind-free, but instead to design with the goal that the player's experience should be changed up every X minutes. Though it's also good to identify known major sources of grind.

As far as combat-related grind, the #1 source is overly-consistent monster AI. WoW is particularly bad at this, their selection of monsters have a wide variety of looks but feel bland to fight against because there is so little variation in their AI. This is partly a byproduct of the standard RPG practice of having an array of classes, and wanting to make every monster equally difficult for all classes. Personally I favor the solution of not having an array of classes, but others may prefer other solutions. Both variety and tempo are important - give the player surprising things to fight every so often, but also give the player reason to alternate fighting with other in-game activities like talking to NPCs, shopping, sim gameplay (e.g. farming and crafting), minigames (e.g. fishing, in-game arcades and races, and minigames that stand in for skill-based crafting activities), etc.

A secondary combat-related cause of grind is formulaic quests. Quests can be awesome, I love games where the NPCs have interesting things to say and they provide direction and motivation to the player. But if every quest is "Kill X of monster Y", this is boring, and it's worse if the X gets bigger for higher-level players. "Go to place A and kill everything that attacks you between you and there (and on the way back)" is the second most common quest structure. "Kill as many of monster Y as you can in Z minutes" is probably the third most common. "Kill stuff to temporarily clear the area so you can perform a vulnerable activity." is a less common one that only works for some types of game mechanics. Quests that don't involve killing stuff can be interesting, but players will resent them if they reward less XP and loot for the amount of time required than the equivalent time spent fighting would.

For non-combat-related grind, the #1 culprit is waiting. Waiting is not gameplay. Flying slowly across the game world, waiting for a timer to fill when you gather a resource (especially when that timer gets longer for higher level resources) quickly become irritating unless the game gives the player something else to do while they wait. Perhaps the player needs to play a game of solitaire to mine tin, and the more cards placed the more ore they get. Perhaps your airship can contain a PvP hub and a slot machine. Anything, just so long as you avoid the situation where the player is staring at the screen and can't do anything while they wait, especially if they also can't get up and take a bathroom break or something due to their character being killable or needing to exit an airship in a brief window before it moves on.

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A possible solution is to gain "power" based on how skillfully you defeated an enemy. So player's who defeat an enemy skillfully will gain more stats than somebody who "grinds".

Personally, in my game, you don't get "stronger" by beating enemy's over and over again. You gain strength through other, varied methods. Growth comes from within rather than from without. In this way, fighting will be done when it really means something, and you don't really have to go out into a field and fight infinitely spawning things unless you felt like doing that for fun.{Although the "power" gain is minimal, it isn't because you defeated the enemy, but rather because your character is doing something.}

For example, based on an action your character might have taken, it will randomly gain a large amount of stats, making it stronger than others around it. It won't be apparent at first how this power gaining is done, and it will appear random, so a few players might have a stat advantage over others. I thought this would be interesting, because it would show who uses their superior stats to help others in co-op, or if they would use it to grief players.

If the latter, theres another feature built into the system where if you are threatened by a griefer who is x2 - x10 more powerful than you, and they're about to land a killing blow, if you yourself are a player with good karma, then you will gain stat values which would put you around 95%-125% of the total stat value of the griefer, giving you a chance to fight back against them or to run away safely. This will discourage griefers from attacking weaker players who will just become as strong as them and possibly defeat them should they dare to find entertainment in picking off the weak. The weaker player only gains these stats temporarily, until the danger isn't present.

I was also thinking that perhaps make it so that some players actually do have faster stat growth rate than other players, but have a poorer ability to learn techniques, while players with slower growth rates have a high capacity for learning techniques.

I thought it's an interesting feature and it's present in some form in the game design I'm making. Edited by Fulgrate

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I see the need to grind as a design flaw. If the only way the player is challenged is by throwing bigger numbers at him and the difficulty comes from the time required to increase your numbers to match, that's bad. The Dragon Quest series has been bad in that regard. You usually come at a point where you have the best gear available at that point, but can't beat the boss and the only way is to gain a few levels. That's due to a simple combat system where it's all about damage and healing. You need to either kill the boss before he kills you or outheal his damage and you have no way to influence the fight to do either other than gaining a few levels.

Games where grinding is fine are those where boss fights are more like puzzles and using the right combination of abilities will win. Gaining more stats can help and will allow you to win with a less than perfect strategy, but you're not forced to do it. You can figure it out and beat the battle instead of grinding.

I would eliminate grinding by removing levels entirely. Power growth would come from equipment and challenges. You could see challenges like levels. Beat that difficult encounter and get some stat boost, but it's only available once. That way, player skill is directly related to character growth and time is removed from the equation. You can still grind the random encounters for money to upgrade equipment, but that will only get you so far.

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First a quick recap on this:


@[color="#0f72da"]Orymus3

Let me rephrase:

Player's goal: max xp/min. reward/min..
how ? finish battle/dungeon as soons possible
What is the only way to achieve this currently: Max dps.


Quote

Drain attack that returns HP in the equation
Yes it usefull in harder fights that are impossible to kill with max dps macro.
However against easy enemies, it is uneeded, i would rather wait my hp to be renewed to full after fight.

Total time to finish dungeon = F( Max dps )

This would be usefull if hp was a non-renewable resource, or a slowly renewable resouce outside combat.
If i used max dps i would have to wait to recover to full. Thus the total time to finish dungeon would increase.

Total time to finish dungeon = F( Max dps, Health )


Quote

Damage over time effect
Yeah those are the spells that have the max dps so they are inside the max dps rotation.


Quote

Stun effect, as it reduces the amount of threat the opponent can produce by further delaying their ability (having a slow effect is similar)
Ok i dispel the slow, or interrupt the stun, and continue my max dps sequence.
At least now it requires user intervention to maximize the dps, and i cant use a macro for the dispel/interrupt.

Total time to finish dungeon = F( Max dps, Health, User_Brain_To_Counter_enemy )

Total Player Reward = F ( Total time to finish dungeon )

Can we add more variables to the equation, so that we punish the macro spammers?

Yes what i proposed.

Total Player Reward = F ( Total time to finish dungeon, User unique ability usage, user finds secrets, user stealths, ... )


I agree with your reasoning.
One of my attempts was to make Health a resource that may impede your progress more than temporarily.
The idea is that damage is temporary (eating food that you can pack along will restore to your current max).
The decision here is that your temporary max HP would be reduced so as to emulate injury. This requires you to go back to town to be healed. This increases your "total time to finish dungeon" variable in such a way that the player must be careful about running on DPS fuel alone with no regard to his HP being decremented from their true max.
This idea came from the Dragon Warrior (1 and 2) game where healing was not as easy as in mainstream rpgs (you could pack no more than about 5 herbs on each character). I think having fewer healing resources at your disposal (either through carrying capacity or potion's sheer prices) helps rebalance this.
The downside to this, I believe, is the necessity to go back and forth between the town and dungeon which many action based rpgs have turned into the famous 'portal' spell (D3 even made it something free altogether to use).



1) Grinding is good if it is a player's ability, don't force him, let him play at his own pace, level as match as he wants. No level / stats caps. He is totally free to play as he wants, without any pressure. Without having to worry about breaking the system because he become too powerfull.
Solution: make sure that enemies remain at same difficulty regardless player level.
Example games : monster's den: book of dread, disgaia, ff8 (badly balanced at lv100 because of 9999 hp / dmg caps),
skyrim ( ok balanced at lv 60 )


I'm always a bit iffy about this. The whole idea of progression to me means that you must feel stronger. If the monsters are always evenly matched, I feel like I've leveled for nothing. I wasn't aware monster Den was doing so because I felt clearly under-leveled by level 8. I like the idea of a challenge that awaits to be passed in some way. For example, when one plays Diablo 3, at some point they can't really progress through an act at the higher levels until they get their hands on an awesome piece of loot or they level up (so long they are under the level cap and max hard difficulty). I agree they're a bit hardcore on this, and I'd really tone it down, but I like a challenge, and beating a boss under the suggest level is more rewarding (and so it should be).


a) deus ex allowed stealth, to skip battles, it even gave you 80% monster xp for stealthing past them.
b) Final fantasy allowed run away, to completely skip battles.


A) It was actually even more than this. Deus Ex: The Conspiracy awarded your XP by objectives based on your overall strategy. For example, if you went straight on the front door on staten island, you had this crappy XP bonus, but managed to get many 'early free kills' whereas, if you went from behind and escalated through the debris, you were getting a nice bonus for your craftiness and exploration, but you could still rid every man from his life later on. I find this is a 'good' way of grinding because the best way to get xp is to actually find a non-violent approach, but you can still unleash hell if you so desire, or capitalize on your stealth instead.

B) Doing so does not return XP however, and in some occurences, even takes away some Gold.



That is bad design.
if areas were created randomly it will reduce the "grindess".
In disgaia, you kill the same enemy, but he is at a different stage, with different allies, different items, stats, so it doesn't get boring.
Also loot gets better thus player is always rewarded.


I disagree that this is bad design. It may be hardcore, but it does touch challenge, and players like that. It is just that in this particular implementation, the way to overcome the callenge is not fun. It may be more of a balancing issue to get the player closer to getting the loot he gets to survive the new area. Perhaps provide optional areas with tougher monster but loot that levels the difficulty curve on the short term.



Also a bad practise, 2000 enemies to advance in next level in wow. No thank you, bye.


I like to think of it as the opposite. Say you were under-leveled, and a bossfight was just too tough, but you managed to pull through. Now imagine that, because of your level, that boss gives you twice as much xp, probably getting you one or two levels, and making things as 'easy/hard' as they should've been. Imagine the opposite: you are just laughing at the mobs on your way to a villain's lair. The game assumes you'd get 2 levelups during your ascension in his laid so that the boss is 2 levels higher than what you should be. If these mobs return half the xp, you probably won't get a levelup, and by the time you reach the boss, you'll be much closer to what the game assumed your xp would be. In a way, this system really feels like your idea of having monsters match the player's level with two caveats: it's the player's progression that is altered to match that flow and the player can still avoid this adequation if he really wants to, but it will cost him a lot more time and dedication.
I agree this is a grinding hoser that may look like its going to bring more grinding, but the min/max player will probably quickly realize that, after a few fights, the real way to improve your character is through other means: loot. This can be broken down into exploration sub-quests to get better loot, or employ a crafting system for example.
If the option is there, players that seek to empower themselves above the power curve will surely find these alternatives suitable. I may be overlooking something here though, so please help me refine this solution as I'm really trying to implement a safeguard to this.


a) Becoming stronger from equipment is cool.
b) Equipment in those games is capped (after gaining the final item, there were no other items to become more powerful), thus money loses value and becomes inflated.
c)
Solution: if equipment was randomly generated, scaled with player level and could be enchanted unlimited times by blacksmith to
have no limit in max stats then it would be perfect.


I agree with your position here. I'm a bit off the randomly generated side, especially for my current project, but I'm all for the blacksmith-oriented upgrades. I'm still trying to find a way to implement this in a nice way that would keep players interested in finding new components, disassembling stuff, mix and matching, and like the result. Basically, I think this belongs in a system you can experiment with a lot rather than a single:
pay 5000 gold and I'm going to add yet another bonus to that sword of fire that deals fire damage, stuns on hit, drains hp, poisons your opponent, casts sleep, etc.


I'd like to propose an alternate definition of grinding, if I may. Grinding isn't only about combat. Grinding is whenever the player doesn't need to rethink or react to anything surprising on the game's behalf, but instead just needs to carry out the same action like a robot for more than X amount of time. Some people are more patient than others, some actions are more fun than others, so X varies. It even varies culturally, as can be seen in the history of Japanese RPGs having pacing adjustments in their English translations. For playtesting purposes grinding is whenever a player feels bored while performing a repetitive action (instead of bored due to lack of comprehension or bored due to lack of responsiveness of the game, etc.)


I agree. One example comes to mind: clicking the action button to get rid of neverending dialogues for example. Skipping cutscene was the best feature ever added, but real design would 'show' more than 'tell' (and showing should be done with the player's participation). That said, grinding as described this way is a flaw inherent to all game design, not specific to the jRPG genre per se. While it needs to be assessed, this may be too broad a meaning to tackle all at once. My experience with larger topics is that it rings so many different bells that is hard to focus on the problem and solve it.

So, I propose that the goal WRT games is not to design things that are grind-free, but instead to design with the goal that the player's experience should be changed up every X minutes. Though it's also good to identify known major sources of grind.


I fully agree once again. I think there is a strong distinction between grinding, and the player's self awareness of grinding. Like the tic-tac-toe, the game falls apart when the player trully sees what's going on (and every game ends in a draw). Once the player understands the formula, he loses interest because he sees where this is going. An interesting study on Casual games with micro-transactions was especially revealing: if the monetization options of the game make it obvious that your are paying to cheat your way up the ladder, no one pays, but if you give this illusion (indirect action on score) then everyone feel its ok to give themselves an edge. Botom line here, people want suspension of disbelief even in game mechanics, and obvious grinding either through an action that is clearly a repeat, or too many occurences, is boring. If you introduce new elements every now and then, change the rules as you go, then grinding goes more smoothly.


As far as combat-related grind, the #1 source is overly-consistent monster AI. WoW is particularly bad at this, their selection of monsters have a wide variety of looks but feel bland to fight against because there is so little variation in their AI. This is partly a byproduct of the standard RPG practice of having an array of classes, and wanting to make every monster equally difficult for all classes. Personally I favor the solution of not having an array of classes, but others may prefer other solutions. Both variety and tempo are important - give the player surprising things to fight every so often, but also give the player reason to alternate fighting with other in-game activities like talking to NPCs, shopping, sim gameplay (e.g. farming and crafting), minigames (e.g. fishing, in-game arcades and races, and minigames that stand in for skill-based crafting activities), etc.


Lot of good stuff in there. First, I was going to mention the AI. I think it goes even further than monster-ai. There should be some type of group AI, or interactions on how monsters can work together to bring you down. As I mentionned last week, having 3 glass canons vs having 1 glass canon, a support and a tanker should lead to very different dynamics. The three glass canon should probably focus fire. Also, I think they should have inter-dependant abilities as I also previously mentionned: it was a revelation to me in Chrono Trigger's monsters had these counterattacks only when a specific enemy type was present with them in the encounter. It was like figuring out how to dismantle the bomb (red wire, blue wire, green wire!)
As far as player classes are concerned, in a jRPG, I prefer to think of roles. Every character is rather standard, but they should have powers that make them especially useful in certain situations. I'm ok with broad terms such as Tanker, Glass Canon, etc. But you should be able to get in as 3 glass canons or 3 tankers regardless if you play your cards right. Then again, I'd like the player to get an ass-whooping if they brought three tankers to a three Glass Canon fight. I think it is fair that the player's strategy fails if it is within their control to fix or foresee. A balanced party shouldn't be made of 3 of a same role as versatility has a value. If you only bring the big meaty guys, don't expect to kick ass and chew bubble gum on the next fight. Your party will try to slow the pace of the battle while your opponents may capitalize on this.
I like that you bring up the topic of gearing the player to the other gameplay aspects of the game. I feel this ia very challenging in an RPG to bring the player to a point where he no longer wants to fight because he absolutely needs to go talk to an NPC. I think the generally most successful approach is to let them fight until they are bored and merely remind them there are other options to kill time/improve your character. I'm opened to suggestions in that regard.



A secondary combat-related cause of grind is formulaic quests. Quests can be awesome, I love games where the NPCs have interesting things to say and they provide direction and motivation to the player. But if every quest is "Kill X of monster Y", this is boring, and it's worse if the X gets bigger for higher-level players. "Go to place A and kill everything that attacks you between you and there (and on the way back)" is the second most common quest structure. "Kill as many of monster Y as you can in Z minutes" is probably the third most common. "Kill stuff to temporarily clear the area so you can perform a vulnerable activity." is a less common one that only works for some types of game mechanics. Quests that don't involve killing stuff can be interesting, but players will resent them if they reward less XP and loot for the amount of time required than the equivalent time spent fighting would.


I think there is a problem with trying to make quests that do not require fighting. I agree they are awesome, but I can understand why the developers feel compelled to put monsters along the way, even if this isn't the quest's objective per se.
Quests should be challenging, and jRPGs are really built around a single real challenge: combat. It is very hard to implement other challenging game mechanics without taking too much design space. I'd love to hear suggestions of games that have implemented a sturdy system. I've seen card games (essentially a secondary battle system) working decently, but they diverted too much from the core game. Pet games also worked ok (I liked Chrono Trigger DS edition's pet combats).


A possible solution is to gain "power" based on how skillfully you defeated an enemy. So player's who defeat an enemy skillfully will gain more stats than somebody who "grinds".


I agree to disagree. On the surface, this is a nice system which I've even considered, but this is really just a hard counter to hit on the player's fingers saying 'don't do this'. You don't really give him a good reason to try and improve, you're just telling him 'shiny XP if you do something that doesn't make sense so long as its not repeatedly using the same command'. Truth be told, sometimes, the best strategy is dirty and may look like grinding. It is very hard to implement such a subjective system in the game and make it work. I've seen games try this, and most of the times I really didn't understand how their algorithm made any sense.


Personally, in my game, you don't get "stronger" by beating enemy's over and over again. You gain strength through other, varied methods. Growth comes from within rather than from without. In this way, fighting will be done when it really means something, and you don't really have to go out into a field and fight infinitely spawning things unless you felt like doing that for fun.{Although the "power" gain is minimal, it isn't because you defeated the enemy, but rather because your character is doing something.}


Zelda: A Link to the Past worked similarly. Monsters were really obstacles without much gain (although they did sometimes drop money you could grind). Then again, this isn't an RPG, and I think it is missing an integral component of the RPG formula. It's still, to this day, one of my favorite games, but its just not an RPG. Thinking back, would it have been more fun if grinding monsters returned more hearts? Probably not, but then again, we'll never really know.


For example, based on an action your character might have taken, it will randomly gain a large amount of stats, making it stronger than others around it. It won't be apparent at first how this power gaining is done, and it will appear random, so a few players might have a stat advantage over others. I thought this would be interesting, because it would show who uses their superior stats to help others in co-op, or if they would use it to grief players.


I'm not sure I understand that part.


If the latter, theres another feature built into the system where if you are threatened by a griefer who is x2 - x10 more powerful than you, and they're about to land a killing blow, if you yourself are a player with good karma, then you will gain stat values which would put you around 95%-125% of the total stat value of the griefer, giving you a chance to fight back against them or to run away safely. This will discourage griefers from attacking weaker players who will just become as strong as them and possibly defeat them should they dare to find entertainment in picking off the weak. The weaker player only gains these stats temporarily, until the danger isn't present.

I was also thinking that perhaps make it so that some players actually do have faster stat growth rate than other players, but have a poorer ability to learn techniques, while players with slower growth rates have a high capacity for learning techniques.

I thought it's an interesting feature and it's present in some form in the game design I'm making.


I can't help but think this is related to more modern RPGs that aren't snes-era jrpgs, correct?



I see the need to grind as a design flaw. If the only way the player is challenged is by throwing bigger numbers at him and the difficulty comes from the time required to increase your numbers to match, that's bad. The Dragon Quest series has been bad in that regard. You usually come at a point where you have the best gear available at that point, but can't beat the boss and the only way is to gain a few levels. That's due to a simple combat system where it's all about damage and healing. You need to either kill the boss before he kills you or outheal his damage and you have no way to influence the fight to do either other than gaining a few levels.


What would you suggest a good alternative to increase challenge as the game goes?
I like playing on the AI, but I felt that having more and more complex AI combinations could result in a puzzle so complex players would also lose interest. The elegance of the snes-era jRPG battle system is that it was still simple at the end, just numbers scaling. The game got 'harder' but you always had a simple solution to bring it down to your comfort zone. I'm all ears for a new system to increase challenge from battle to battle without making them necessarily more complex.


Games where grinding is fine are those where boss fights are more like puzzles and using the right combination of abilities will win. Gaining more stats can help and will allow you to win with a less than perfect strategy, but you're not forced to do it. You can figure it out and beat the battle instead of grinding.


I agree, but this works only for so long. Chrono Trigger was a very puzzle-like game when it came to boss fights, but before long, to really be threats, they had to scale the power of the monsters a notch and go easy on the AI specifics. In most RPGS, the puzzle-bosses are the curiosity, often optional. Most players keep talking about them because they were different and they really liked that challenge, but fill the game up with all puzzlers like that, and it wouldn't be as great. It would feel mundane because the players would just know 'ok so there is a self-destruct button somewhere that I just need to figure out'. If the players know with certainty there's a 'quick way' then they'll look more for it and be less surprised/rewarded for finding it. FF5 was great because it showed you two bosses "out of difficulty curve" (Omega and Shinryuu) which basically said, maybe you're missing something, who knows. They were optional, so you could pass them, and a few hours later go like "oh shit, I think I got it, I need to turn back now". That's a wow moment, and applying this strategy results in pure fun/pride for the player which is well crafted. So what if you didn't get the puzzle? you just went by just fine.


I would eliminate grinding by removing levels entirely. Power growth would come from equipment and challenges. You could see challenges like levels. Beat that difficult encounter and get some stat boost, but it's only available once. That way, player skill is directly related to character growth and time is removed from the equation. You can still grind the random encounters for money to upgrade equipment, but that will only get you so far.


That would be straining away from the RPG definition itself. One of the very arguments why A Link to the Past is classed as an action game is because of that. It is an item-powerup-based system which differs only from an RPG on how these powerups are acquired: as items rather than as experience levels. You are describing a very fun system (for which there are only too few games) but it is sadly not a way to fix the jRPG itself. Just a reason to stay away from making one.
So without removing the experience system, I would say, put more emphasis on the quicker growth through these operations. The idea is that the player still improves over time, but you give good incentive for the player to go about the actual challenges which issue quicker growth when they are available than grinding.
I found out that any game that presented me decent sidequests hooked me. If the rewards are good, I'm in!
At the end of Chrono Trigger, when you're setting up to meet Lavos, you get all of these sidequests you can hop on into.
Truth be told, I'd do them in a heartbeat for the story because I'm never ready for the story to end.
Then again, I probably need the fighting involved to grind up a few levels, and they offer me a not-so-boring avenue to do that instead of repeately cleaning the Black Omen for extra XP.
But really, they offer me rewards which I desperately need (The Rainbow sword from no less than two interconnected sidequests, the powered masamune for another quick sidequest (note: if you're clever, you can even power-up decent armors into kickass armors in doing so), etc).
These are extremely well crafted sidequests that take away any thought you'd give to grinding at that stage, and I think this is a clever implementation of what you are suggesting. It makes you forget this game is about getting more levels by fighting monsters and gets you there without you even ever noticing!

Keep it coming folks!

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I would suggest that the player earns less exp from weak monsters, but earns more exp if he challenges himself by fighting difficult monsters. Also, each battle needs to be somewhat different. I would recommend having various immeasurables* for both the player and the opponent. The immeasurables need to be interesting enough such that each battle may require different tactics (even the boss fights), and in different situations, the optimal combination of immeasurables changes. Also, no immeasurable should be useless. Also, if the player is innovative enough, he may discover a gamebreaker combination to defeat the boss. If so, then the player should be allowed to reward himself for innovation. However, as the player levels up, he will go into different areas, where the enemies may have the proper immeasurables to counter the player, thus forcing the player to innovate further.


*http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/power-creep

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These are my thoughts, and are mainly aimed towards MMOs.


Synopsis
In most games there are generally two things that you can accumulate - character power and wealth. Character power is usually in the form of xp that is then traded for better stats and/or abilities, whilst wealth is transferable for equipment and services. Grind, in my opinion, is a design flaw because the player has perceived this as the most effective way to advance their power in the game, and if the developer has created a system where this is true then they have created a system that is not fun. I think the only exception to being able to term this a design flaw is where an MMO deliberately forces grind upon a player as a necessity to reaching higher levels and eventually the end game in order to deliberately slow down this process thereby increasing subscription length and therefore income.


Character power
RPGs are, at their heart, adventure stories. For them to feel fulfilling then the protagonist must be in a different (better) place at the end than the beginning. They need to go through an arc where they progress. In many games this progression is dealt with by an increase in the prowess of the players as they gain skills, stats, and abilities. The most common mechanic for this is levelling. I believe this to be a fundamentally flawed design, that only exists because people replicate the D&D system that was invented nearly 40 years ago.

As a game progresses there will usually be some sort of difficulty curve,as you encounter more powerful enemies. In general there are 2 ways that this enemy power can be set - either hard locked or scaling with the player. If the enemy difficulty is hard locked then the player is required to reach a certain level of power in order to beat them. However the difficulty of the game now depends entirely on the relationship between the player level and the enemy level. If the player is 'ahead' of the curve then they will find the game easy, and as players like to have a powerful character then they will grind to get ahead. If however the game has scalable enemies then character advancement of levels makes no difference at all, with the exception of possibly having a more customised character.

In sandbox MMOs where this sort of difficulty progression does not occur then different mechanics are usually employed to levelling, but often with the same results. These still can require players to grind in order to advance their character, and if open world PvP is in the game then it becomes a grinding arms race. I still lament my time with Darkfall where I decided to play rather than grind and had a lot of fun for the first 6 months before the people who had spent the entire time up until then grinding out their super character started to play and could easily beat anyone. Eve prevents this by making advancement time based, and so does not reward people who spend their time grinding instead of playing, but they also have issues where new players are always going to be behind established players and that they will take some month to be as viable as they would like.

This leads me to a question - why have levelling at all? If all levelling does is give customisation then why cannot something like this be done in a non-levelling way? For example at character customisation you might allow someone to focus on a particular weapon (granting a bonus) but to the detriment of all other weapons. As long as you have good balance you can get customisation through other means. If levelling is supposed to give some advancement, then why not advance the player rather than the character? For example in FPS games you still have 'noobs' and it takes newer players some time to catch up in getting accustomed to that game, the levels and mechanics and what to do right. This same sort of advancement is also present in many MMOs and one with a better fighting mechanic than tag & cycle weapons (although that still has some skill to it) will reward people that focus on learning that aspect of the game.

The only other part of levelling that I find is viable is as a reward. However I also think that this can be done outside of a levelling system, and can also be balanced. For example you might reward players (say in a similar way to how games give trophies) for accomplishing certain things. It is important that these things are not grind based, so you might get one for killing 5 opponents in a row without dying, but you wouldn't get it for just killing 100 people. But once again it is important that these trophies give a balanced advantage. So if you do kill 5 opponents then you might have a bonus to the weapon you did it with, but if you select to take the ability then you lose other important things. Of course rewards could also be cosmetic.



Wealth
The other factor that can be ground up is wealth. There are generally 2 things that determine whether something is worth grinding - it either gives a unique item on a low percentage drop, or it has a risk/time vs reward ratio that heavily favours easy and quick wealth gain. I believe that both of these scourges can be removed through the use of non-static mob placements - although that firmly roots it into the sandbox MMO territory.

When a game wants to put items into the world then it has to create some sort of node that will give up that item. This does not differentiate between a resource node or a monster node, both act in entirely the same way with regards to this. A game may wish to give up something very important, and in order to prevent this item flooding the world (in order to raise its value by constricting supply whilst presenting a demand) it will drop the resource at a reduced rate. The common way to do this is through randomisation of what appears. So an end boss might give a powerful item 10% of the time, or a rock might give gold 0.1% of the time, or a usually normal spawn point might give an upgraded spawn 1% of the time. The only way to access these items is through repetition. As soon as players know what something is and where it is they will repeat it over and over until they get it. If your system uses percentage spawns/drops in static locations then you have introduced grind as a fundamental mechanism of the game.

Now there are ways to minimise the grind. Making enemies less numerous but tougher with the synergistic uplift in drop rate helps to prevent boredom by making enemies more challenging. Increases in AI can also make things more challenging, and thus fun. But this only minimises the fundamental design flaw, it does not remove it. Eventually repeating the same action will become boring if the sole purpose is the end result and not the doing, no matter how much fun the doing is, because you end up feeling like a slave to the system.


The way to overcome this is to remove the result as the point of the action and to place it back into the action itself. People trawl dungeons in D&D because the game is fun to play, for example, and the treasure at the end is not the point of the quest but the icing on the cake. If you do not tell people what they are likely to get before they go there then they won't feel like they hve lost out, and they won't undertake the quest focused on the reward. This psychological framing is extremely important.

So let's assume that we have a sandbox MMO and we're coming to place monsters in the world. I'll focus on dungeons specifically. If we have set dungeons with set mobs and set rewards then chances are that people will go there specifically for the rewards. They are therefore reward focused and the fight to get to the reward is not only incidental to their thought process but it actually becomes a barrier to their objective. This means that the "fun" becomes an annoyance. Let's rework this to say that dungeon portals randomly appear on the map, and that they are randomly designed with an automated floor planner working it up and placing mobs as soon as people enter. Rewards are also randomly decided, but the player has no expectation of the reward before they get there. Now you are adventuring. You don't know what is around the next corner. What you are doing no longer becomes an obstacle to the end reward because you not only have no idea what the end reward might be but also no idea if there even will be any. Drop rates can always be set so that they average out to a certain over-arching reward level vs harvesting, so you don't need to prevent these people from becoming rich, but the whole focus has changed. Nobody is disappointed by a crappy drop because you never knew what was possible.


A similar thing can be said for harvesting. Here you cannot get away from drop rates because nodes are discovered in advance of their exploitation (whereas mob killing rewards are discovered afterwards) so the focus has to shift. As you cannot get away from revealing the potential rewards prior to exploitation (a tree cannot give out iron, just as a vein of copper cannot give out wool) you have to create a dynamism around gathering. Here I think 2 things are important - depletion of nodes and automation of gathering.

Depletion of nodes means that you put the dynamism explained of dungeon placement into nodes. Good rocks are not in the same place every time. Once you have exploited all the minerals of a rock then the node should end, giving little else that is useful. This means that getherers cannot just go and bash their favourite rock. This leads to a new specialisation - the surveyor. This player would be responsible for exploring the world looking for new previously undiscovered sources. Of course what would have to happen is that as nodes are depleted then new ones spawn in other random locations. The good news is that as populated areas will discover nodes quickly and then the depletion of the node will cause it to spawn elsewhere this system will naturally push the best sources into underpopulated and underexplored areas naturally with no additional forcing mechanic required. Also if nodes were made to be very large and deep then you could have entire groups moving to that node and setting up small towns (I'm assuming dynamic player housing) specifically to exploit those nodes. Then after some time the node would empty and the group would move on, cannibalising their infrastructure in the process. This would be like how mining towns set up when the Americas were first being colonised.


The second important thing is automation of resource gathering. This focuses players on setting up the infrastructure and design of resource gathering rather than the gathering itself. This reduces grind because it is a one off process that then allows for passive collection. After that you just need to refine the design, keep it maintained (minimal effort) and then focus on having fun whilst it does its thing. This removes the repition and allows players to feel like they own the system and not the system owning them.

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Grinding happens when you've mastered the skills the game requires of you at that time. So you end up using and reusing skills you've already mastered until the game decides to allow you more skills or has no more skills to offer you.

You'll use X and Y ability in an RPG until you level up allowing you to use ability Z.

In that example grinding occurs when you completely understand (or think you completely understand) ability X and Y and the game ceases to test those skills giving you the same challenge until you have satisfied the requirement of leveling up. This seems to be generally put in games to increase their play times. We still seem to sell games based on how much time your going to spend playing it, "Over 100 hours of gameplay!" Edited by Mario D.

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Eat, Sleep, Excrete! These are the three "Grand Issue" of life. These three grind are the things that humans must always do, yet why are there few people complaining about these three elements of life? If anyone complain about the game being grindy, just tell them to forget one of these three elements for 100 days, and see if they are still living. You see, grind = life. Without grind, there is no life. That's what makes a game a game. Grinding is the life of a game, and without life, the game is just a dead game. Dead games have no meaning of enjoyment.

When GOD could make humans without the three needs, then I would say that a game without grind would be a GAME. I consider REAL LIFE as an RPG played by our SOULs.

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