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Orymus3

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

30 posts in this topic

Hi,

As a reference:
[url="http://www.gamedev.net/topic/627645-weekly-discussion-on-rpg-genres-flaws-week-3-attrition/"]Week 3[/url]
[url="http://www.gamedev.net/topic/627204-weekly-discussion-week-2-rpg-genres-flaws-grinding/"]Week 2[/url]
[url="http://www.gamedev.net/topic/626973-weekly-discussion-on-rpg-genres-flaws-the-fight-command/"]Week 1[/url]

[size=4]---[/size]

[size=4][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][/size]

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]The discussion itself should be based around the topic that has been selected for that week (obviously).[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]Feel free to discuss either:[/font][/size]
[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]- The Problem (helping identify the root cause of why this isn't fun)[/font][/size]
[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]- The Solutions (either games you know who have found a workaround, or ideas of your own)[/font][/size]


[size=4][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][/size]

---

This week's topic: [b]Exploration[/b].

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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[quote name='bimmy' timestamp='1342236123' post='4958990']
Well, by now I know that you are pretty attached to a lot of the jRPG conventions
[/quote]
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.
[quote name='bimmy' timestamp='1342236123' post='4958990']
but I guess I'd have to ask whether the game would be 3d or 2d?
[/quote]
Definitely 2d.
[quote name='bimmy' timestamp='1342236123' post='4958990']
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.
[/quote]
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.
[quote name='bimmy' timestamp='1342236123' post='4958990']
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.
[/quote]
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.

[quote name='n00b0dy' timestamp='1342300633' post='4959131']
What i hate in some rpgs are Towns.
[/quote]
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.
[quote name='n00b0dy' timestamp='1342300633' post='4959131']
Games immune to that feeling: Skyrim. Oblvion.
[/quote]
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.

[quote name='LunarKnite' timestamp='1342308670' post='4959153']
In short, I personally think the only way for exploration to be "fun" is if there is something to explore.
[/quote]

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.

[quote name='LunarKnite' timestamp='1342308670' post='4959153']
Exploration implies risk, I believe, and with risk, you most certaintly should have a reward at the end.
[/quote]

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

[quote name='LunarKnite' timestamp='1342308670' post='4959153']
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.
[/quote]
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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[quote name='spires' timestamp='1342333441' post='4959197']
Exploring to me is walking off the beaten path. Doing things outside of the main quests.
[/quote]
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).

[quote name='spires' timestamp='1342333441' post='4959197']
It can only be done if the level design of the game allows for multiple paths to get to where you need to go
[/quote]

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.

[quote name='spires' timestamp='1342333441' post='4959197']
3) Using mini games
[/quote]
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).

[quote name='spires' timestamp='1342333441' post='4959197']
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.
[/quote]
Does the score have any impact in-game whatsoever?
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1342372671' post='4959304']
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).
[/quote]

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.

[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1342372671' post='4959304']
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).
[/quote]
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.

[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1342372671' post='4959304']
Does the score have any impact in-game whatsoever?
[/quote]

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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[quote name='n00b0dy' timestamp='1342300633' post='4959131']
Game offenders : Morrowind, Kingdom of Amalur, Wow.
Games immune to that feeling: Skyrim. Oblvion.[/quote]
In what ways did Skyrim and Oblivion change from Morrowind to reduce the 'filler dialog' problem you're talking about?
([size=2]I haven't played Skyrim, and I only played Oblivion for a very short time, but I invested loads of time into Morrowind[/size])
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[quote name='spires' timestamp='1342442750' post='4959572']
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.
[/quote]

What would you call the actual navigation portion of the game between leaving area X and reaching objective Y then?

[quote name='RedBaron5' timestamp='1342453049' post='4959620']
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?
[/quote]

Well... Here's a few examples that I'm aware of:

Mystic Quest simplified world map navigation to barebone arrow pointing (so you could just move from area to area ala Mario). It kinda sucked as a result.

Bahamut Lagoon was a tactical rpg, and as such, it couldn't really do with regular worldmap movement or movement at all, but they've actually had this rather lenghty sessions of exploration and mini-games (feed the dragons, etc) so as to avoid being repetitive. To me, it kinda 'saved the game' from being dull and repetitive.

From my experience, I'd say exploration is a vital part of making RPGs less repetitive and more fun. The best compliment you can make about exploration is that you haven't noticed it (there wasn't too much or too little to do in-between fights).

[quote name='Servant of the Lord' timestamp='1342459809' post='4959663']
In what ways did Skyrim and Oblivion change from Morrowind to reduce the 'filler dialog' problem you're talking about?
(I haven't played Skyrim, and I only played Oblivion for a very short time, but I invested loads of time into Morrowind)
[/quote]

I'm curious too. To me these games were all the same from that standpoint. Very wordy games at that!
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I always thought Oblivion and morrowind did the best exploration.
I think what you have to capture is a sence that you are 'safe' in the cities, but outside your in danger. Morrowind did this brilliantly. I cant stand games that feel like your going for a walk in the park, when you really should be worrying about the danger of it all.

Games should also have little side quests and stories put in for any small towns and caves and that sort of thing. Its interesting to go into a bandit camp and find a letter they wrote about their next plan, even though it doesnt actually effect anything.
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[quote]n what ways did Skyrim and Oblivion change from Morrowind to reduce the 'filler dialog' problem you're talking about?[/quote]
1) all npc's in oblivion have voice. in morrowind only few story npcs have.
2) in oblivion each minor npc has 1-4 topics you can ask, that are UNIQUE.
in morrowind each minor npc has 10-30 topics, that you have to ask until they get grayd.
Kingdom of amalur got jealous and copied morrowind dialog flaws.
3) oblivion has some memorable npcs e.g the lady that loved the rats (oh my poor babies).


[quote]when you really should be worrying about the danger of it all.[/quote]
i believe that rpgs cant capture that feeling, only permadeath games can make you worry. Edited by n00b0dy
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[quote name='n00b0dy' timestamp='1342547416' post='4960083']
1) all npc's in oblivion have voice. in morrowind only few story npcs have.
2) in oblivion each minor npc has 1-4 topics you can ask, that are UNIQUE.
in morrowind each minor npc has 10-30 topics, that you have to ask until they get grayd.
Kingdom of amalur got jealous and copied morrowind dialog flaws.
3) oblivion has some memorable npcs e.g the lady that loved the rats (oh my poor babies).


Quote
when you really should be worrying about the danger of it all.
i believe that rpgs cant capture that feeling, only permadeath games can make you worry.
[/quote]

Morrowinds system was better in some ways. It allowed for the player to get much more information and a better background story. I guess it also made it easier to make new quests because actors only had to say a few words, which where used repeatedly.
Although it had its flaws. Its much less unrealistic and not as memerable. You recalled the rat lady from oblivion, but there was a almost identicle person in Morrowind, but you dont really remember her partly because she didnt say much.

I dont think permadeath is needed to make you worry about danger. If you really get into a game you will always be worrying if you die. Of course being able to save before you make the decission, kind of reduces the worry though.
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1342542333' post='4960049']
Well... Here's a few examples that I'm aware of:

Mystic Quest simplified world map navigation to barebone arrow pointing (so you could just move from area to area ala Mario). It kinda sucked as a result.

Bahamut Lagoon was a tactical rpg, and as such, it couldn't really do with regular worldmap movement or movement at all, but they've actually had this rather lenghty sessions of exploration and mini-games (feed the dragons, etc) so as to avoid being repetitive. To me, it kinda 'saved the game' from being dull and repetitive.

From my experience, I'd say exploration is a vital part of making RPGs less repetitive and more fun. The best compliment you can make about exploration is that you haven't noticed it (there wasn't too much or too little to do in-between fights).
[/quote]

It sounds like your big concern is that without exploration the game would get repetitive as a cycle of fight, heal, shop would get old very quick. I hadn't really thought about this and I agree with you. I think varying the fights up will help, but you should still let the player "take a break" from the fighting routine every once in awhile.

Do you think these breaks have to be exploration based? What if in between encounters you did something else other than explore to break the monotony?
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In my mind exploration is fun if the game has cool scenes and nice rare monsters, but to make players want to do exploration instead of doing it just for wasting time would require the map system to be so that only those areas the player has visited would be available and in the hard access secret locations should be a reward chest which only gives reward once so that the system will not be farmed for drops. The most best thing is if the game area is so huge that visiting all of the places will take long time and is not just few day run job to visit every cool place. This way you can actually find new places other players have not visited before and can take your friends there to see the place.
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[quote name='elobire' timestamp='1342544074' post='4960059']
I think what you have to capture is a sence that you are 'safe' in the cities, but outside your in danger. Morrowind did this brilliantly. I cant stand games that feel like your going for a walk in the park, when you really should be worrying about the danger of it all.
[/quote]

The question is, how do you capture this feeling of danger with other stuff than actual combat?
I remember Chris Perkins discussing about the setting of D&D 4e. The basic idea was that there were city-states, which made it logical that everything else was chaos. Capturing that chaos however is rather hard. You have to play with player's expectations, make them expect monsters surging through, but doing something different instead.

[quote name='n00b0dy' timestamp='1342547416' post='4960083']


i believe that rpgs cant capture that feeling, only permadeath games can make you worry.
[/quote]

I beg to differ. Survival horror games generally succeed at getting the players on their toes. They do not fear the loss of progress, but the fear of fear itself, even if they're only 1 savegame away. Ambience and suspension of disbelief help here.

[quote name='RedBaron5' timestamp='1342550067' post='4960102']
Do you think these breaks have to be exploration based? What if in between encounters you did something else other than explore to break the monotony?
[/quote]

I'm all for that. Unfortunately, most games just insert an artificial system here (card game for example...)

[quote name='TMKCodes' timestamp='1342558499' post='4960187']
can take your friends there to see the place.
[/quote]

Feels to me this doesn't apply so well to classic jrpgs and sounds more like an MMO solution.
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I think that making exploration fun depends on the context of the game. A 3D first- or third-person perspective title can make exploration fun for scenic discovery, and for shooter genres, discovery of a position of superiority or cover and concealment. However, since you're focused on a 2D JRPG I think the context is narrative.

Given that a JRPG tends to be linear, or at least strongly pushes the player in a particular direction, so that the story unfolds in a predetermined sequence, the narrative discovered from exploration has to be secondary to the main plot, or at least optional in that the full breadth of the story can be appreciated without discovering a particular area. For example, expanding on personal interactions, such as Tales of Vesperia did with skits, on personal background, such as a character stumbling across an old haunt and providing backstory for themselves, or even on social and cultural background by describing the region, structure, or whatever other element they're interacting with by traveling through the area. How this additional narrative is revealed can be accomplished in a number of ways. The skits idea used by Tales of, walk-along dialogue as the party travels, or even expanding entries in an encyclopedia, such as was done with the codex in Mass Effect. Heck, you could even work the act of exploration into the narrative. Perhaps your character is a cartographer and his whole point in being here is to survey the land.

Since narrative is the main context of a JRPG, I feel like this should be the main purpose of exploration, but it doesn't need to be the only reward for it. Most JRPG I've played would put a treasure chest in some optional branch, giving you an item that you might not find anywhere else. As mentioned in another of these threads, XP can be rewarded for stealth or cunning, so if your explorative branch ends up leading the party around some combat obstacle, you could reward them with XP for it. Passive rewards are also a possibility. Suppose your game has multi-character combos, such as in Chrono Trigger. Revealing backstory about a character could make the party more connected with them and provide a synergistic boost, so any combo using them gets a +5% effect or some such. Though I think you need to be careful with this because making these rewards too powerful can lead to exploration being more of a treasure grind than something you do optionally because it's fun.

Making the exploration 'dangerous' could be achieved through events: the mountain path you chose to take gives way to a landslide and you have to dodge trees. This particular mechanic would get tiresome if everything were a timing event, so you can always mix it up with puzzles that trigger traps if solved incorrectly or mini-game progression (think the bike race in Chrono Trigger). Even a Metal Gear Solid style hallway sneak is possible. You avoid making the exploration itself rely on combat by instead making the failure consequence a difficulty increase on future opponents on the main path, and these being opponents you would have had to fight regardless.
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Thanks for the input tychon!

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342643251' post='4960635']

Given that a JRPG tends to be linear, or at least strongly pushes the player in a particular direction, so that the story unfolds in a predetermined sequence, the narrative discovered from exploration has to be secondary to the main plot, or at least optional in that the full breadth of the story can be appreciated without discovering a particular area. For example, expanding on personal interactions, such as Tales of Vesperia did with skits, on personal background, such as a character stumbling across an old haunt and providing backstory for themselves, or even on social and cultural background by describing the region, structure, or whatever other element they're interacting with by traveling through the area. How this additional narrative is revealed can be accomplished in a number of ways. The skits idea used by Tales of, walk-along dialogue as the party travels, or even expanding entries in an encyclopedia, such as was done with the codex in Mass Effect. Heck, you could even work the act of exploration into the narrative. Perhaps your character is a cartographer and his whole point in being here is to survey the land.
[/quote]

To me that still feels like the endgame, and not the journey itself. I'm really looking for specific elements of gameplay that are not fighting.

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342643251' post='4960635']
Since narrative is the main context of a JRPG, I feel like this should be the main purpose of exploration, but it doesn't need to be the only reward for it. Most JRPG I've played would put a treasure chest in some optional branch, giving you an item that you might not find anywhere else. As mentioned in another of these threads, XP can be rewarded for stealth or cunning, so if your explorative branch ends up leading the party around some combat obstacle, you could reward them with XP for it. Passive rewards are also a possibility. Suppose your game has multi-character combos, such as in Chrono Trigger. Revealing backstory about a character could make the party more connected with them and provide a synergistic boost, so any combo using them gets a +5% effect or some such. Though I think you need to be careful with this because making these rewards too powerful can lead to exploration being more of a treasure grind than something you do optionally because it's fun.
[/quote]

Once again here, it feels we're talking more about the endgame (reason) to exploring rather than the actual act of exploring.


[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342643251' post='4960635']
Making the exploration 'dangerous' could be achieved through events: the mountain path you chose to take gives way to a landslide and you have to dodge trees. This particular mechanic would get tiresome if everything were a timing event, so you can always mix it up with puzzles that trigger traps if solved incorrectly or mini-game progression (think the bike race in Chrono Trigger). Even a Metal Gear Solid style hallway sneak is possible. You avoid making the exploration itself rely on combat by instead making the failure consequence a difficulty increase on future opponents on the main path, and these being opponents you would have had to fight regardless.
[/quote]

I think that's the kind of gameplay elements we're after here. I personally invested some time in developing a 'rafting sequence' mini-game, but as is the case with most mini-games, you ought to use as little as possible. So I was wondering if rather than including mini-games, there could be an actual gameplay system that could be integrated altogether (ala jumping system which is sadly based on action in a genre that doesn't really work with that). Some games use the push-pull ability of the character, or a singular well crafted ability (grappling hook, etc). Anything that makes exploration itself less mundane at the end of the day and doesn't feel tossed in as a mini-game but rather is a strong system that is an integral part of the game.
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I think our views differ a bit. To me exploration is something you do to discover more narrative, to discover more loot, to find more companions, to find more monsters to fight, to tick off a component in a quest, or just to nudge the map completion counter. If you have to add a mechanic to make it not-boring, then I think your issue is that your geographic scope has grown beyond your narrative scope. This largely stems from my view that a JRPG is meant for narrative. If there isn't a narrative reason for a region (which means no companions to be found, no personal or cultural understanding to be gained) and there is no combat in that region (no leveling to be had and little or no loot outside of boxes), and no quest sent me here, save perhaps as a connection between two areas that actually have a point, why did you add that region to the game? As a user, it would just strike me as filler to make your game artificially larger and of course I'd get bored with it, necessitating some extra mechanic. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the intent of the question or the nature of your game; I'm just running off of my experience with JRPG. That being said, let's see if we can't come up with something.

Most of the thoughts that first come to mind are less of a direct mechanic so much as a passive utility. For example, suppose your game worked like Chrono Trigger in that enemies were something you actually saw wandering around. If you borrowed the idea of the surface material type affecting combat bonuses, you could have a swampy region where exploring to find a small patch of dry land as a "safe" region would be beneficial. Players could lead enemies toward this point such that they start combat while standing on land while the enemy is still in the swamp conferring a bonus to them. You could also use traps to cause enemies to enter combat with negative buffs. Say, the player scouts ahead and spots a hefty ogre that might be a bit of a fight, but the game then pans from the ogre to a pitfall trap without showing how to get there. They then have the option of just fighting the ogre outright or trying to find the trap and lead the ogre into it.

You could also have an auto-scrounging system running as the player wanders around. Rather than forcing the player to click on everything in the hopes that they figure out the designer's devilish design and find [i]which[/i] drawer in the room of cupboards actually works, have the player automatically grab nearby low-level items or crafting components. Suppose that healing items in your game are expensive. The player can buy them if they want, but wandering around grasslands means they have a random chance of gathering the herb components necessary to make one. If each tile can only give up so components before becoming barren, the player will necessarily wander farther afield. This in itself isn't a particularly exciting mechanic, but it does incentivize moving around a bit.

Or perhaps your game is set in a sky-island. The evil wizard Foo is draining the world of its magic and so the island is losing its stability. You can turn this into a mechanic by making sections of the ground only able to hold so much "weight". This works to provide a potential danger (the player can fall through, though making the ground shake a bit before this happens would help keep the player from getting annoyed with dying unexpectedly), a potential combat trick (lead enemies onto the ground and watch them plummet), as well as an obstacle (the ground has fallen out; now we have to find another way around). You'd obviously have to either make this only happen in certain areas or guarantee that there is at least one (perhaps initially hidden) route that cannot fall. This also allows for such novel items akin to Link's hookshot, some sort of glider, or a sky-walk skill that can be learned eventually.

If your game is set in space, exploration is a pretty easy one with space ships. Finding routes that get around space pirate regions, discovering unknown planets, and resource management. This is easy to make more annoying than entertaining, though. Especially since we're focusing on 2D JRPG, this approach would be... hm. Doable, but I'd have to think on it.

I'm sure I could spout off other things, but it starts to depend too much on the game's context. And I still don't think it's so detached from the reasoning. If there's no combat and no narrative, and you don't have a strong backstory purpose to the mechanic -- "Oh, didn't you know? Prof. Flazzlebazzle made our feet toxic, so we always have to walk a different path or we'll end up poisoning the earth and that'd be bad." -- I think most mechanics you can come up with will come off as cheap eventually. At least in a more typical JRPG system. Flinging around with the hookshot in Zelda is just fun, but the whole point of those games is item-based adventuring.
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[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
Maybe I'm misunderstanding the intent of the question or the nature of your game; I'm just running off of my experience with JRPG
[/quote]

Well, from experience, including my own, people do get bored from fighting over and over again. Don't misunderstand me here, but no matter how cool the battle system is, once in a while, you want to do something else. If the game is crafted in such a way that you alternate fighting with that something else, it is a better experience overall.
Here's an example:
Action/Adventure games sometimes delve into platforming vs combat. Take the Prince of Persia series for example. There's a lot of both in there, and the pacing between environmental travelling and actual combat makes it even more worthwhile.
I'm looking for a similar mechanic without hybridizing the jRPG too much (i.e. I don't want to turn it into a shooter).

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']

Most of the thoughts that first come to mind are less of a direct mechanic so much as a passive utility. For example, suppose your game worked like Chrono Trigger in that enemies were something you actually saw wandering around. If you borrowed the idea of the surface material type affecting combat bonuses, you could have a swampy region where exploring to find a small patch of dry land as a "safe" region would be beneficial. Players could lead enemies toward this point such that they start combat while standing on land while the enemy is still in the swamp conferring a bonus to them
[/quote]

In fact, I am. I'm also using light against undeads, etc. I've really emphasized the aspect of 'non-random encounters' to the extreme, hoping that this section of the gameplay (which generally precedes fighting) allows the player to seek strategic advantage. Thanks for pointing it out, I feel clever now ;)

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
You could also use traps to cause enemies to enter combat with negative buffs. Say, the player scouts ahead and spots a hefty ogre that might be a bit of a fight, but the game then pans from the ogre to a pitfall trap without showing how to get there. They then have the option of just fighting the ogre outright or trying to find the trap and lead the ogre into it.
[/quote]

Do you mean, actually carrying around traps and setting them up, or using the environment against foes. I.E. there's a tree branch hanging low and the player is prompted to stretch it if pressing the action button nearby, effectively creating some primitive form of trap?

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
You could also have an auto-scrounging system running as the player wanders around. Rather than forcing the player to click on everything in the hopes that they figure out the designer's devilish design and find which drawer in the room of cupboards actually works, have the player automatically grab nearby low-level items or crafting components. Suppose that healing items in your game are expensive. The player can buy them if they want, but wandering around grasslands means they have a random chance of gathering the herb components necessary to make one. If each tile can only give up so components before becoming barren, the player will necessarily wander farther afield. This in itself isn't a particularly exciting mechanic, but it does incentivize moving around a bit.
[/quote]

I think it comes with a severe drawback: treasure chests. If you auto-grab nearby stuff, you lose that ompf moment right before you press the action key.
Besides, its better to hide the path than the actual reward.
When you hide the path, you're basically telling the player 'I bet you can't reach that treasure chest' which challenges them into finding a way. It's inclusive, and the player might feel compelled to prove you wrong, and insodoing, explore the area and get the item.
When you hide the reward, you're basically not saying anything, but thinking to yourself 'I bet you don't know I exist' and unless the player was prompted to find this item by an online walkthrough, this is wasted gameplay (like the hidden objects in the staircases of FF4, which were probably a bug but meh)

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
Or perhaps your game is set in a sky-island. The evil wizard Foo is draining the world of its magic and so the island is losing its stability. You can turn this into a mechanic by making sections of the ground only able to hold so much "weight". This works to provide a potential danger (the player can fall through, though making the ground shake a bit before this happens would help keep the player from getting annoyed with dying unexpectedly), a potential combat trick (lead enemies onto the ground and watch them plummet), as well as an obstacle (the ground has fallen out; now we have to find another way around). You'd obviously have to either make this only happen in certain areas or guarantee that there is at least one (perhaps initially hidden) route that cannot fall.
[/quote]

That's interesting, although, I'd be for a less immediately lethal approach. Having characters falling off to their death for exploring is a bit too punitive. In fact, it's like telling them 'eh, there's only one path to go by the way' which would reduce exploration to a mere 'find the right path' and I like a slightly less linear approach as it encourages exploration.
[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
This also allows for such novel items akin to Link's hookshot, some sort of glider, or a sky-walk skill that can be learned eventually.
[/quote]

Once again, these items are great, but they work only in a time-sensitive environment ala action/adventure (precisely Zelda) where combat is ongoing. In a jRPG, even when mobs walking about, the urgency is far from being the same. A fight may be triggered, but you'll have all of your attention dedicated to either using the hookshot (out of fight) or fighting to the best of your abilities (in the fight). In action/adventure, you are split between the two, and must constantly weight their respective priority to achieving your goal. I think that's the reason why a hookshot or any similar action-based mechanic doesn't fit so well in the jRPG genre.

[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
I think most mechanics you can come up with will come off as cheap eventually. At least in a more typical JRPG system
[/quote]

I beg to differ. I was struck by these thoughts in the past, but after careful analysis and problem-solving, I've come to the conclusion that any gameplay problem can be solved with something cool. It just needs sufficient thinking. More than half of the time, I've realized that the problem is in how the question itself is being laid down. It generally poses a restriction that is not required but prevents from thinking outside of the box. This is the main reason why I'm exposing my thought process to the community: so they can see the weakness in my reasoning and point it out, further enabling me to refine the question, and thus, find a more suitable approach to fix the issue.

Thanks for your reply!
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1342712829' post='4960977']
[quote name='tychon' timestamp='1342666845' post='4960781']
This also allows for such novel items akin to Link's hookshot, some sort of glider, or a sky-walk skill that can be learned eventually.
[/quote]

Once again, these items are great, but they work only in a time-sensitive environment ala action/adventure (precisely Zelda) where combat is ongoing. In a jRPG, even when mobs walking about, the urgency is far from being the same. A fight may be triggered, but you'll have all of your attention dedicated to either using the hookshot (out of fight) or fighting to the best of your abilities (in the fight). In action/adventure, you are split between the two, and must constantly weight their respective priority to achieving your goal. I think that's the reason why a hookshot or any similar action-based mechanic doesn't fit so well in a jrpg.
[/quote]

Why not have "tool" items like the hookshot? There are outside of battle Terrain puzzles of course, but inside battle there could be destructible terrain objects with the monsters that you could use to pull one of your guys across the battlefield for a quick melee attack versus having to wait a turn or so for your guy to have to run up to the enemy for the initial attack. You could also target one of these Terrain objects to pull yourself out of a normally unrunnable fight if conditions are right (ie the opposite of using a tech in Chrono Trigger where all enemies in a line take damage: having a line from a party member to the object will net the party a daring escape).

I haven't really liked movement in menu-based RPGs except the KOTORs and Live A eviL, but the idea of action-based movement intrigues me. Two examples of this are Final Fantasy 13 and Radiant Historian. In FF13 melee attacks make your guys run up to the enemy while using a non-contact spell will cause your guys to jump back a short distance right before the spell is cast (if you get pretty far out using a close range attack or having to save your party from death will take precious time for your party leader to run back). I have only read about RH, but from what I have heard your party doesn't move at all. Instead you use the abilities of your party to move enemies around to gain advantage over them (such as stacking a lot of them on the same tile to damage all of their meaty HP meters with a powerful single-target attack).

Finally, on the subject of battling on a potentially falling section of a sky castle, you could have a short timer visible on screen like FF6 did for escaping the floating continent. If you get into a battle on one of these sections, make most of the enemies easy enough to beat with a little time to spare to step off the falling section. Some battles, though, will take too long, and the party will die every time even when hasted. Let the player figure out that targeting the party and all enemies with a slow spell will actually slow down the timer enough to allow you to win the battle and get to more stable ground.

Hope these points get you thinking. I have enjoyed reading these discussions very much.
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[quote name='Giauz' timestamp='1342730229' post='4961054']
Why not have "tool" items like the hookshot? There are outside of battle Terrain puzzles of course, but inside battle there could be destructible terrain objects with the monsters that you could use to pull one of your guys across the battlefield for a quick melee attack versus having to wait a turn or so for your guy to have to run up to the enemy for the initial attack.
[/quote]

I think this would complexify the battle system which should be rather straightforward to be effective.

[quote name='Giauz' timestamp='1342730229' post='4961054']
I have only read about RH, but from what I have heard your party doesn't move at all. Instead you use the abilities of your party to move enemies around to gain advantage over them (such as stacking a lot of them on the same tile to damage all of their meaty HP meters with a powerful single-target attack).
[/quote]
Yes, it is combo oriented, and you learn to voluntarily skip your turns to stack all of your heroes at once and do more dmg to all. Essentially, you're accepting to receive dmg now to finish the fight earlier.

[quote name='Giauz' timestamp='1342730229' post='4961054']
Finally, on the subject of battling on a potentially falling section of a sky castle, you could have a short timer visible on screen like FF6 did for escaping the floating continent. If you get into a battle on one of these sections, make most of the enemies easy enough to beat with a little time to spare to step off the falling section. Some battles, though, will take too long, and the party will die every time even when hasted. Let the player figure out that targeting the party and all enemies with a slow spell will actually slow down the timer enough to allow you to win the battle and get to more stable ground.
[/quote]

That could work, but this isn't a widespread solution. I think there's a way to come up with one or 2 mechanics that are 'evergreen' (can be used anywhere and not feel redundant). After all, fighting is just one such evergreen mechanic which never feels out of place. There's a strong culture behind it, and it is genre-defining, but its just one mechanic.

[quote name='Giauz' timestamp='1342730229' post='4961054']
Hope these points get you thinking. I have enjoyed reading these discussions very much.
[/quote]

Don't forget to upvote people if that's the case :)
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Well, I upvoted you because you asked and were courteous to me. I usually don't bother with social point mechanics unless I feel strongly about a post in a thread I am participating in (those other threads seem to have gone by the wayside).

I want to apologize for mucking up my post above. I have way too many thoughts based off of my thoughts on the previous weekly discussions just flowing together on that last post. I will try to elaborate:

1.) The first point you made in the last posting about a hookshot complexifying the battle system... erm, well, part of your reaction stems from my fudging in a response to the weekly discussion on the overuse of Attack. The core idea I really would want to convey now is that the attack command could have a variable 'casting time' attached to it. When normally entering into a battle (coming into enemy's visual range versus preemptive strike with a sword or getting meleed by the enemy in an ambush) selecting Attack will usually take longer to execute than a ranged attack or spell. However, after the first melee attack is made Attack becomes the "quickest" option. Cast time for Attack will increase again if the target or PC decides to use a spell or ranged attack. The goal of this system is to make the normally no-cost Attack action have more situational use (the enemy just took a stab at my wizard, so now is the time for my warrior to strike! Versus the enemy has been firing off some arrows. I could have my warrior take him out with his mighty sword, but he would be at the risk of dying before delivering the blow. Should I wait for the enemy to risk a rush at my party?). This was an interesting mechanic in FF13, but there were other mechanics in action in those battles, so this suggestion may not be good after all.

2.) My suggestions on battling on falling platforms can be expanded on, but I can't think of any direct answers right now. What I mean is just because an interesting solution (slow all of time rather than just a few enemies/party members) is used only a few times doesn't make it redundant or any less interesting. A good example of one of these unique solutions is in Y's Book 2:

At some point in the game you become unsure what to do next, but you come to a locked door where muffled speech can be heard. You have a spell that amplifiers your hearing, but you find out that the people talking are monsters and do not speak your language. You have another spell that turns you into a monster normally for avoiding fights. You can then deduce that using the hearing spell while transformed will give you the info you need.

Also, maybe there could be "hints" as to that falling platform puzzle mentioned above, like making the info available that the penalty for walking around poisoned can be reduced if they also leave a battle slowed. Another thing could be that when you omnitarget slow on a falling platform a target pointer is also put on the timer.

Um, now that I'm done going off on a tangent, I would say to study Final Fantasy 3 (Famicom is what I emulated but you could probably just watch some Youtube let's plays) for exploration I really loved just as greatly as that in my Zelda games collection. It has a vast world map that you actually need to use the limited mapping spell to keep you on track, good use of vehicles, and many towns, castles, and caves to explore with hidden treasure rooms and treasure rooms hidden inside those (this really cut down on the compulsion to grind with a few quick advances in equipment and money. I called it feel-good gameplay. FF4, 5, and to somewhat lesser extent 6 and 7 would continue to provide awesome hidden treasure).

'Till next time, cheers!
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