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RPG Battle: controlling only one character in the party

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Hi guys,

 

What are your thoughts on only allowing the player to control the main character during battle and let the AI control the party members? In particular, I want to know your thoughts on the Final Fantasy 13 battle system. The player basically takes control of only one character, and the allies are AI controlled. The player can change the ally behavior during combat using the paradigm system, where allies are given a particular role to play during battle, the combination of those roles being a paradigm, and the player can switch between a couple of preset paradigms during battle to change how the who party behaves. This is coupled with a modified Active Time Battle System where actions consume a certain amount of the ATB bar, which slowly refills itself.

 

The reasoning I heard for this kind of battle system is that it makes the gameplay more fast paced and tactical. I'm thinking of designing something similar, where I want to make the battles more fast paced while not become real time combat. I would like to hear your thoughts on whether it is a good idea to give the player less control of allied units, and any suggestions on how to make an RPG battle system more fast paced while remaining tactical. Hope to hear from you soon :)

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I would LOVE to talk about this topic.  smile.png

 

This is my personal opinion, but I HATE not having the option to control my characters directly.  To be clear though, I'm also a fan of AI controlled party members that behave moderately intelligently.  So how can both those things be true?  Well, I want to have the OPTION to be able to take direct control when I want to, but not be forced to (by idiotic AI) all the time. 

 

At the same time, I'm all about speeding up battles in the traditional turn based RPG setting.  Here are a few things I love seeing in games:

 

  • A kind of Macro command system.  The Player can define a set of actions that they want there characters to take ahead of time and hit one button to execute that whole set of actions.  IE Macro1 commands char1 to attack, char2 to defend, char3 to cast magic missile, and char 4 to heal. (Phantasy Star series)
  • Giving players the option to turn off elaborate battle animations if they wish.  (Disgaea series)
  • FAST MENUS!  This includes keeping text to a minimum, and requiring as few key presses (or button pushes) to advance as is possible.
  • A plain old "Speed up" option.  This may not be as practical with AAA games that are maxing out a graphics processor, but there was an old genesis game called Master of Monsters which had this option.  When enabled it literally just played animations twice as fast.  I think for most hobby projects, this is probably doable if desired.  smile.png
  • EDIT:  Almost forgot one of the biggest ones... can we please get rid of the 10 second long splash screen when a battle starts?  Sure they look nice and all, but when, over the course of a game, I'm going to be getting into hundreds if not thousands of battles I don't need to keep seeing it over and over again.

Well, food for thought at least.  I know in the RPG I'm currently making I've been meticulously planning to make sure my battles move as fast as is possible...

Edited by Plethora

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I would LOVE to talk about this topic.  smile.png

 

This is my personal opinion, but I HATE not having the option to control my characters directly.  To be clear though, I'm also a fan of AI controlled party members that behave moderately intelligently.  So how can both those things be true?  Well, I want to have the OPTION to be able to take direct control when I want to, but not be forced to (by idiotic AI) all the time. 

 

At the same time, I'm all about speeding up battles in the traditional turn based RPG setting.  Here are a few things I love seeing in games:

 

  • A kind of Macro command system.  The Player can define a set of actions that they want there characters to take ahead of time and hit one button to execute that whole set of actions.  IE Macro1 commands char1 to attack, char2 to defend, char3 to cast magic missile, and char 4 to heal. (Phantasy Star series)
  • Giving players the option to turn off elaborate battle animations if they wish.  (Disgaea series)
  • FAST MENUS!  This includes keeping text to a minimum, and requiring as few key presses (or button pushes) to advance as is possible.
  • A plain old "Speed up" option.  This may not be as practical with AAA games that are maxing out a graphics processor, but there was an old genesis game called Master of Monsters which had this option.  When enabled it literally just played animations twice as fast.  I think for most hobby projects, this is probably doable if desired.  smile.png
  • EDIT:  Almost forgot one of the biggest ones... can we please get rid of the 10 second long splash screen when a battle starts?  Sure they look nice and all, but when, over the course of a game, I'm going to be getting into hundreds if not thousands of battles I don't need to keep seeing it over and over again.

Well, food for thought at least.  I know in the RPG I'm currently making I've been meticulously planning to make sure my battles move as fast as is possible...

 

Haha, I definitely agree with removing the 10 second splash screen at the beginning lol. For the game I'm designing, I was thinking of something in between the ff13 paradigm system and the phantasy star mechanic you described. Where the player can create a sort of party command, composed of specific commands for each party member, but the player has the choice on how specific the commands are, for example, heal the most damage, or heal this specific character. the player can define a fixed number of these party commands outside of battle, and swap between them during battle. But apart from this, the player only has control of the main character. Thoughts?

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I haven't played FF13, but I've played MMOs like MixMaster and Eudemons Online where you control a human unit which attacks directly and is followed around by up to three automated pet units which also attack directly, though some are physical and some magical.  IIRC Eudemons allowed players to set the pets' AI among two or three choices.  Both games have realtime combat.  Personally I find them the total opposite of tactical; the only thing less tactical would be complete auto-combat.  And to me non-tactical combat is almost always boring because it's too simple, you don't have enough elements to work with and make decisions about.

 

On the other hand, I enjoyed playing Dofus as an Osamodas, which is a summoner class; a human unit which can summon a varying number of automated pet units as well as attack directly.  Dofus is a turn-based tactical game, so there are an adequate number of tactical elements to work with: spending spell points to customize your character's arsenal of abilities, choice of equipment to customize your character's stats, the terrain of each individual battle, the choice of what abilities to spend your AP on each turn, and the choice of which square within a range to summon your pet onto, which would influence what its AI chose to do.  Not the most complicated combat ever; I particularly didn't like how abilities available for purchase were so strictly limited for each class.  But definitely more complex and interesting than the other classes in the same game which did not have follower units.

 

Another relevant comparison might be Azure Dreams vs. Eternal Eyes.  These were arguably the two best tactical pet games for PS1.  Azure Dreams had a human unit accompanied by up to two automated pets (usually only 1) which had about 5 AI settings, and if the player really wanted to they could directly command a pet to make a specific move.  Eternal Eyes on the other hand had the player usually controlling 4 or 5 units, at least one of them human and the rest pets.  The pets were not automated; the player controlled each pet's movement and actions on every turn, like regular human tactical units (in the Disgaea series for my favorite example).  Both of these games were fun.  AD was simpler but faster, and EE was slower but more mentally stimulating.

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On a theoretical level it can create an additional layer of gameplay because you don't only have to anticipate what your opponents will do, but have to anticipate what your allies will do. If the AI characters can act in a reasonable way then it's clear that this could make the game more interesting. But if they act in an unreasonable way then the player's reduced ability to influence the outcome of a battle is likely to be frustrating.

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My take on this:

It does make the game more Tactical, in the sense that you manage units that are self-sufficient and give them broad orders.

It does however remove the very fun puzzle element of several games.

The most interesting battles in RPGs I've seen are not the one where you gear yourself with as much dps as possible and a healer and jump into the fray.

They are the ones with a puzzle, something to solve.

It was one of the things that made Chrono very interesting (bosses weren't particularly tough most of the times, but you had to figure out what you needed to achieve).

For example (and its not a fun one per se, but it does get the point across) fighting the Guardian required you to focus on the bits first and THEN strike the core.

It was a simple pattern.

FF5 and FF6 went a step further (particularly in FF5's entire last long level) by giving you bosses you needed to think about. Shinryuu and Omega, for example, are very memorable bossfights.

 

By taking away the ability to micro-manage specific abilities, you remove a puzzle and replace it with a numbers game. Its not that it isn't fun, but its a different gameplay altogether. It WILL make the "numbers game" more fun and streamlined (and that's a serious plus) by making the game a lot more like an abstracted FF Tactics so to speak, but it will also significantly decrease your ability to make these puzzle battles.

 

Its a design choice you need to make, knowing there is no absolute good choice (you just need to be comfortable with that choice, and support it with as much fun as you can).

Personally, I prefer the puzzle aspect to the numbers game, but for a grinding userbase, this will probably be a lot more appealing than the original system.

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if i'm not playing real time, i have time to control my "side". my ally's AI is not going to be as smart as me. at best it will be adequate and won't make me want to break stuff and nuke souls.     it should be optional.   unless thats the whole intent of the game.   if you do it, the AI must be as good as the player doing it themselves.  nothing makes me quit a game faster than having to run around with worthless squaddies who blow your cover, waste your resources, get in your line of fire, and worst of all you can't just shoot them and get the F on with playing.

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