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Orymus3

[Weekly Discussion] on RPG Genre's flaws - Week 4 : "Exploration]"

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Hi,

As a reference:
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1

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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]

---

This week's topic: Exploration.

I really wanted to get away from the strategical aspect of the game this week. We've delved a lot into combat mechanics but I wanted to have a look at pacing from a different perspective.

An often forgotten, but large aspect of RPGs is exploration.
Most of the time, this is done by sequencing fighting and movement segments, but let's take away the fighting from the equation this week if possible.

The basic question here is how do you make the exploration facet of the game fun?

In real-time RPGs or adventure games, jumping, swimming, grapling, etc add to the game, because as everything is real time, these actions are performed while threatened by other elements (Zelda: A Link to the past and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are good examples of this). These generally translate poorly into exploration mechanics (Mystic Quests kind of prooved that point with lame jumping and bombing).

So once again, how can we make exploration a fun aspect of a jRPG? Edited by Orymus3

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Well, by now I know that you are pretty attached to a lot of the jRPG conventions, but I guess I'd have to ask whether the game would be 3d or 2d?
Personally, I really, really enjoy wandering in open wilderness. The caveat is that I've really never found 2d graphics compelling enough to drive this, because they are just too far from reality. I think with decent graphics though, even empty wilderness can be fun to explore just for the sake of seeing things.
In a more strictly traditional jRPG though, the only thing I can remember really driving me to poke into every nook and cranny was treasure hunting. I really don't care anymore whether I find every single hidden room, I'm much more interested in experiencing the story contiguously, but when I was young I remember spending hours and hours searching every single square of grass, and every wall in every dungeon.
Action mechanics can be fun, but in a genre where everything is statistically driven, it's pretty out of place.

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What i hate in some rpgs are Towns.

You arrive at a new town after finishing a dungeon. There are 40-60 npcs in the town, each having 10 topics that are "white"
and you have to click them so that they get "grayed", every topic causes 3-6 bubble switches. Total 1000-2000 bubbles per town.

You try to comprehend what they say the first 5-10 bubbles, then you realise they are all useless mumble. blablabla it never ends.
From then on you spam skip all conversations, all quest text, all lore, Mute!!!

Really they tried to make those game "verbose" and in the end it ended "Muted" cause of their spam abuse.

Game offenders : Morrowind, Kingdom of Amalur, Wow.
Games immune to that feeling: Skyrim. Oblvion.

Morrowind/Kingdom of amalur: All npc in the town have the exact same bubble that you have to ask them, YES THE EXACT SAME TITLE.
You spam ask the same 30 topics about places / races until they get grayed at every npc.

Wow: Too many mini quests, instead of big quests with meaning.
All quests end as "kill 40 rats", "gather 30 herbs".

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Personally I'm more a fan of 2D jRPGs over 3D ones so I'll say more about that side, but most times the world gets boring to look at and explore after a while since tiles are reused. What really makes me want to explore is a reward for doing so. Random items, chests, optional (special) monster encounters are all things that would make me want to explore the world in both a 2D and 3D game.

I don't quite remember the game's economy in terms of item costs, but Eternal Eden was a great 2D jRPG in that each map screen did have a hidden item that you could get from exploring the whole screen. Instead of something like Dragon Quest's multitude of drawers, barrels, vases, etc that you would check for items, Eternal Eden simply shows an exclamation mark above the player's head to denote an unseen item tucked in a corner. Sometimes the item is a generic potion or herb, but for the harder to reach places, it could be a great weapon for the area you are in.

In short, I personally think the only way for exploration to be "fun" is if there is something to explore. Something to find and discover. Exploration implies risk, I believe, and with risk, you most certaintly should have a reward at the end. Otherwise it's more of a walk through the scenic route which may get the player to the same place longer than the normal way, something that won't resonate with most people.

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Well, by now I know that you are pretty attached to a lot of the jRPG conventions

I wouldn't say attached as much as, I don't want to reinvent the wheel unless I need to. The purpose of these discussions is to improve on the genre that exists and not to make something entirely new out of it. I'm not opposed to that idea, but it's just not what I'm currently in the process of achieving basically.

but I guess I'd have to ask whether the game would be 3d or 2d?

Definitely 2d.

Personally, I really, really enjoy wandering in open wilderness. The caveat is that I've really never found 2d graphics compelling enough to drive this, because they are just too far from reality. I think with decent graphics though, even empty wilderness can be fun to explore just for the sake of seeing things.

I have experienced such awe in Chrono Cross on at least 1 level. The fact that the game underdelivered afterwards didn't remove that moment from my memory, which is part of the reason why I'm after improving the exploration aspect of the jRPG genre.

In a more strictly traditional jRPG though, the only thing I can remember really driving me to poke into every nook and cranny was treasure hunting. I really don't care anymore whether I find every single hidden room, I'm much more interested in experiencing the story contiguously, but when I was young I remember spending hours and hours searching every single square of grass, and every wall in every dungeon.

You list an interesting startup point: hidden rooms. Not every rpg has that, and its a good thing to work with, using clues that the trained eye can see. I remember it was pretty cool in ff6 when locked backtracked to that one city and found a staircase behind a bookshelf. Iconic moment I'd say (good way to characterize this relatively weak party member as an important part of the team even).
I'd recommend working from known examples of games that have introduced some twists.


What i hate in some rpgs are Towns.

They are generally a waste of time. I was very happy with Chrono Trigger's resolve to minimize towns to buildings on the overworld map instead of actual streets and whatnot. There were still pointless npcs, but it reduces the unecessary walking. That said, this didn't really improve on the exploration aspect of the game.

Games immune to that feeling: Skyrim. Oblvion.

I have to disagree here, both games are big offenders in that field too. They may not be as bad, but they're certainly filled with useless npcs.


In short, I personally think the only way for exploration to be "fun" is if there is something to explore.


I read you. Knowing there's something nearby, perhaps even being shown the item, but having to understand how to acquire it could be a good motivation factor for a player to explore. FF5 had that in the mirage village where each shop had 2 shopkeepers and one of them was hidden, so you knew that you had to look around and find them.


Exploration implies risk, I believe, and with risk, you most certaintly should have a reward at the end.


That's what I'm actually interested in. What other risks than fighting can you imagine for exploration?


Otherwise it's more of a walk through the scenic route which may get the player to the same place longer than the normal way, something that won't resonate with most people.

To me, it also sounds like a waste of time, and I'd much rather cut the chase unless the game has something in mind for me (optional content such as cutscenes, items, etc).


But I think we're a bit missing the points here. I really think there could be actual mechanics that could be put into place to game the exploration itself more fun. Hidden passages is one. Any other?

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Exploring to me is walking off the beaten path. Doing things outside of the main quests.

It can only be done if the level design of the game allows for multiple paths to get to where you need to go. Some ways a game can reward players for exploring can be:

1) Visual / story experience
Like rushing to the aid of an enemy besieging the town. You can rush straight to the town , or go up the mountain to see the full scope of devastation. So upon travelling up the mountain, you are rewarded a cutscreen of the devastation.

Or visiting a temple in a far flung location will tell you about the story of what happened in this world in the past. Or events leading to the story of the game.

2) Using mechanics to find hidden
Pokeman using flying to access places otherwise unreachable.
Using martial arts/ skills in chinese rpg to do the same.
Or having certain npc in your party to unlock certain places.
And giving items(sword of infinite truth), summons(Ifirit), .... for doing so.

3) Using mini games
Demon doors in fable which requires players to guess a riddle to open the door. Card game(final fantasy series) which completed at the highest level gives the user something in return. Or grand theft auto doing 50 photoshots to gain a cache of weapons at your base.

4) Side quests
Having optional side quests only available by paying attention to dialog of npcs. Best example Planescape Torment. Having certain stats or items will trigger side quests upon talking with your npc companions.

5) Achievements points
Grand theft auto uses exploration mechanics to score how well a player does. +2% for completing taxi mission. +3% for finding all 50 hidden photo shots.


Note that all of the above is not required to complete the game yet they reward players for not trying the most efficient path to complete the game. To explore places and mechanics. Edited by spires

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Exploring to me is walking off the beaten path. Doing things outside of the main quests.

So basically, there is no exploration on the main path? That sounds restrictive. I think the player explores the game whenever they're not fighting (in fact once could argue they even explore the battle system everytime they're shown new enemies).


It can only be done if the level design of the game allows for multiple paths to get to where you need to go


While I wouldn't say this is the only viable way to do it, it most certainly is an option I've been considering. There's a lot you can do with multiple paths to a single end and Chris Perkins is a master of designing two paths dungeons which I think really rock.


3) Using mini games

I like mini-games, but I can't help but feel they are a solution applied to a problem by lack of a more organic one. You see this happening when there are too many of them, or when they are too clearly minigames (Brainlord, raise your hand please).


5) Achievements points
Grand theft auto uses exploration mechanics to score how well a player does. +2% for completing taxi mission. +3% for finding all 50 hidden photo shots.

Does the score have any impact in-game whatsoever?

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View Postspires, on 15 July 2012 - 02:24 PM, said:
Exploring to me is walking off the beaten path. Doing things outside of the main quests.
So basically, there is no exploration on the main path? That sounds restrictive. I think the player explores the game whenever they're not fighting (in fact once could argue they even explore the battle system everytime they're shown new enemies).


Restrictive? Hardly. Just defining what is the spirit of exploring in RPG to me. Take for example, you have a quest to set an npc free from prision. The main or default path will be fighting your way through. Say the game allows you to bribe the guard or set a fire as distraction. That to me is exploring; allowomg player to try different ways to solve a problem. The more unrelated to the main quest, to the core mechanics of combat the more i regard as exploring. Skyrim is a good example of it. There is a lot of things to do outside of the main quests.


I like mini-games, but I can't help but feel they are a solution applied to a problem by lack of a more organic one. You see this happening when there are too many of them, or when they are too clearly minigames (Brainlord, raise your hand please).

Agreed. When mini-games are poorly implemented, they do feel lacking.
There are some key points to note:
1) Mini game should be challenging.
2) There should be an appropriate reward with respect to the challenge.

A good example is grand theft auto taxi mission. There are 10 levels of it. At each higher level, you need to pick up more passengers in a row and get them to their destination on time and safely. Drive too fierce and your taxi is fried. Drive too cautious and you do not make it in time. And completing 10 levels, unlocks Infinite Nitro on your taxi.

A bad example will be kingdom of amalur card game. Just a variation of guessing big/small.


Does the score have any impact in-game whatsoever?


I would say the score is a reward in itself. A bragging right or just an indicator of how well you do. I heard in mass effect score is used to decide the ending. You can also use the npcs you used or decision you made or whatever else affect the ending.

To sum up, I would say provide good positive feedback will encourage players to explore alternative and have fun doing so.

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Exactly how important is exploration to a RPG?

I'm considering having very little (or no) exploration in my game. The quest system is setup more similar to RTS campaigns. The game takes place during a war and most of the "quests" are battles where you travel to a single large, drawn out encounter. There might be a little bit of exploring an area before the battle and preparation but not much. Between battles you walk around base camp to heal, talk to NPCs, shop, etc.

How do you guys feel about this? Is exploration a vital part of RPGs that will be sorely missed?

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I feel that exploration is needed in an open world RPG, the kind of game where your decisions tell the story rather than the RPG being about discovering the one story. The quickly thought out examples for me are Fallout III and FF7.

In Fallout III the exploration really brought out the bigger world beyond the basic storyline of the game. I also liked the approach to exploration in Fallout III where you were pointed to the key spots around the game if you were close, rather than flailing around blindly. Also in town it was pretty easy to determine important NPCs as they would start and actual conversation. You could still query the rest just to see what amusing response they would give.

FF7 on the other hand didn't have a lot of value to exploration (IMO) beyond gaining levels and equipment prior to the next battle in the storyline. In that game I think after the first playthrough and the neatness of the map, I wouldn't have really noticed if exploration was suddenly removed.

Just my bent $0.02

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