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Alternatives to tiered gear

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I've been trying to solve this design conundrum for a while but have yet to come up with a solid solution. I have craftable weapons/armor in my game. Most games I've played that have craftable weapons generally follow a tier system - a system which I don't like on a personal level, as well as in the context of my game design.  

 

My characters are 2d, with 100s of frames of animation for each set of armor, so while I already have multiple armor sets, they are time consuming to make.  As far as from a design stance - I don't like how tiered systems make items obsolete - either to be used as merchant fodder, or just end up in the trash bin.

 

While I don't really like obvious tiers, it seems they are unavoidable in at least some sense. Players like to acquire more powerful equipment - so whether i hide the tier with upgrade requirements or pull some other chicanery, there will still be a tier somewhere. However, I'd like to at least reduce the feeling of having junk-items.

 

Just some game info if it matters: Sidescroller, sci-fi setting, light survival elements

 

Here are the solutions I've mulled so far:

 

-ability to reduce obsolete equipment to base components  - i.e. you can take your crappy pistol and convert it into metal to be used in something else.

 

possible issue: This method might not be helpful because it will take away the incentive to collect resources. May as well just search for loot and grind it into base components. It will also still require a tier system, just with a softened material cost.

 

-"specialty" equipment with permanent upgrades - for example, the "SMG" may be upgradeable along 3 paths - accuracy, damage, or status focuses (or mixes)  which may give you a reason to keep 2 different SMGs for different purposes. Likewise, there'd be a type of armor that is a tank-style armor which becomes more tankey with upgrades. 

 

possible issue: there seems there'd be a need to visually represent modified equipment. Not as big of a deal with weapons, but since armor has 100's of frames, it means making a slightly altered version - which requires as many frames as a completely new one (unless there's just a generic color swap.. which would feel generic) The second issue is that some players may simply stick with one armor set - especially after upgrading Armor A1 to A10 and all their other armor is still B1, C1, etc. 

 

-quasi-tiered equipment - instead of following a straight tier system (armor C > armor B > armor A), follow a quasi-tier which places 2-3 items on the same level, with different effects.  i.e.: ( armor B1 == armor B2 > armor A1 == armor A2). The ability to craft the different tiers would be unlocked either by progression or an expenditure of a lot of resources.

 

issue: it's still a tier system, which instead of making 1 armor/item obsolete at a time, it makes 2-3 items obsolete at once.

 

-skill based crafting + component reduction - give the players rpg-esque skills and have the skills + randomness determine the quality of the item that is crafted. Outside of this, base items would each have a speciality/purpose. Higher crafting skills just gives you a better version. To avoid the obsolete-item problem, I'd allow old items to be reduced and yield 50%-75% of their cost in materials.

 

possible issue : while it will link the player's time investment more directly to their equipment, this doesn't allow for much in the way of tiered resources. Since the player is just re-crafting an item, it's cost will have to be the same as it was previously. This will prevent me from allowing "ultimate" versions crafted from unique or hard-to-get components - unless i go back to a tier in some capacity.

 

-Mods : all basic equipment would only require basic components and are essentially balanced. After the initial resources are invested, further investment would generally be dumped into interchangeable mods for items. You can plug in a +5% damage mod into any of your weapons, or +5% defense into any armor. Of course some would be better for others, but it would allow some experimentation.

 

possible issue: may take a bit of the thrill away of finding new more powerful items.

 

So if you've read all of this - my thanks. Any opinions or suggestions are very welcome. Personally, I'm learning toward either upgrades or mods.

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Simple solution is to let equipment detoriate over time/use.

Sure, some level 1 newbie might still get the most expensive/best equipment because one of his friends donated it to him, but after 2 weeks it's gone.

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As a potential solution to the first idea, you could break weapons down to basic components, but to craft better stuff, you need more fancy stuff in addition to the basic materials. Also, some of the basic materials could possibly be crafted into ammo for the better weapons? Then medium weapons could be used for more expensive ammo and so on.

That's just what I thought when I read your post. I think i actually like the permanent upgrades idea the best :)

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You could think of it more like a card game, where equipment is meant to be balanced more than simply increasing in power over time. Some equipment could work better when used with another item, or work better in different combat situations.

 

Action games can be like this too, as you swap out weapons, maybe run out of ammo for one and pick up another as you go. In action games, you'll try out new items just because they're new and you want to see how they feel, and you know you can find new copies of the old stuff again soon.

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Have you done anything with color rotations yet?  Or if you happen to have vector graphics, you can do color palette swaps by number.  You could have craftable dye if the colors are only cosmetic, or they can represent different versions of an armor set, saving shape changes to represent different armor sets or a 2nd axis of different versions of the armor.  (Axis like on a graph, giving you an array.  So the two axes would be something like class/build vs. improvement level.)

 

I don't know whether you have a minigame style crafting method, but those are great for allowing the player to spend lots of play time reworking the same piece of armor to gain small stat improvements.  The ingredients or other resources consumed can be the cost of playing the minigame, or can become bonus items available for use during the minigame.  Reworking the same piece of armor rather than making new ones helps reduce the flood of outgrown and possibly resellable gear.

 

Systems which separate appearance from stats are also nice.  In fact you can have a modular system where one module is shape/pattern. one is color, and one is each type of stat.  That lowers the barrier for players to replace any one module, and allows you to drop modules as items as well as improve single modules through minigames and/or using ingredients in a crafting process.

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One thing you could do -- possibly in addition to other things -- is have the equipment fairly balanced w.r.t. power and other stats, but have the higher "tier" equipment allow for flexibility that the lower-tier equipment doesn't.  E.g., there are possibilities for equipment combinations at higher levels that would be impossible at the outset, but improvements in miniaturization, compatibility, encumbrance, EMI profiles, etc. give you new possibilities.  This is plausible in a sci-fi setting, because that's the way we ourselves have seen technology improve.

 

So your initial laser rifle might be a twenty pounder and draws three bars from a type K energy pack, but causes EMI interference that doesn't let you have active neural mods.  Soon afterward, can also buy a shielding helmet, but that's another ten pounds and doesn't have great concussion resistence.  Or you can buy a five pound shielding sheath for the gun, but takes the slot that a scope would fit in.  But then on a further "tier", the laser rifles have just about the same damage, but one is lighter, one can be powered by either a J- or K-type energy pack, and another doesn't cause EMI interference (meaning you don't need to use up a helmet or scope slot to avoid it).

 

So as the game goes on, equipment is not necessarily increasing that much in stats, on a tier-by-tier basis, but is increasingly compatible with other kinds of equipment allowing more complex builds and cross-"class" play.  Various things you might find might not be useful given your current loadout, but there's nothing that's inherently junk just because it's early-level equipment and you're further along.

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istarnion: good suggestion for the breakdown items. 

 

sunandshadow: i'm not using vectors or able to swap colors except on shaders. Theoretically, it's possible with getpixel/setpixel - but not realistic with this many frames.

 

As far as technical issues go - my character's body, head, arm/weapon, backpack, helmet, hair are all separate objects. Head, backpack, helmet, and hair are single frames - so it's possible to easily make multiple versions. The arm/weapon just needs a single frame for each armor type. The armor/body however, contains all of the animation frames (about 160). So any changes to the armor requires all-new frames. GetPixel/SetPixel type of stuff isn't worth the effort for the single frames - as i can just swap the images, and it's not really feasible for the armors.

 

mini games are an interesting idea, and for a long time thought this would be a good idea for a lot of things. However, i think there's some risk in making a mini-game for something that is required to advance properly. If the mini-game is boring or annoying, it may ruin the entire game experience.

 

valrus: really interesting concept. upgrade utility/flexibility instead of damage levels. This is a good idea for maintaining a realistic damage level instead of starting with weak useless weapons and upgrading to super-weapons. I haven't balanced anything yet so I'm not sure if it will work, but it's something I'll keep in mind. It would make sure even low level enemies provide a threat in the late game. Less of a threat, but still a threat.

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i'm not using vectors or able to swap colors except on shaders

When you use shaders, changing the color is quite easy. An old trick in 2d art is to use an else unused color (e.g. pink XX00XX)  to recolor parts of the image.

E.g. you have the bodyarmor part colored in pink-scale, a shader could look like this

const float THRESHOLD = 3.0/256.0;
vec4 texel = ...get texel of sprite
if(texel.g==0 && abs(texel.r-texel.b)<THRESHOLD) {
  // recolor texel
  texel.rgb = armor_color.rgb * texel.r; // r=b holding value
}

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Ashaman: I was aware of that ability, but hadn't thought of using a Threshold. I had tossed the idea aside when I saw a sample using a specific RGB index.

 

You just saved me a ton of work! And maybe caused me a ton more work too because I'm going to have to revise my current armors :-p

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A little TL:DR.

 

But have you considered basing your weapons on what Visceral did in Dead Space 3?

 

Brief(Forgot there naming terminology):

You have a base handle/body - Can support 1/2 weapons being mounted to it.

You craft a weapon out of parts and mount those to the body.

You can select which weapon to fire with left/right mouse.

 

HTH

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i'm not using vectors or able to swap colors except on shaders

When you use shaders, changing the color is quite easy. An old trick in 2d art is to use an else unused color (e.g. pink XX00XX)  to recolor parts of the image.

E.g. you have the bodyarmor part colored in pink-scale, a shader could look like this

const float THRESHOLD = 3.0/256.0;
vec4 texel = ...get texel of sprite
if(texel.g==0 && abs(texel.r-texel.b)<THRESHOLD) {
  // recolor texel
  texel.rgb = armor_color.rgb * texel.r; // r=b holding value
}

Wow interesting - that is completely different from the kind of 2D graphics I've done for games.  I should put this approach to graphics on my list of things to learn about...

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You can even use a color gradient system like in L4D2. It is quite easy and requires only two color channels (mask and value). Take a look at Shading a Bigger, Better Sequel: Techniques in Left 4 Dead 2(2010) for more information. I use this to recolor my character models in my game, all color variations are based on a single texture:

 

 

 

gnoblins_mats_080515.jpg

 

Back to the topic:

There aren't really lot alternatives to a tier system. Even very old games uses tiers (bronze->silver->gold->diamond sword etc.). Characters and equipment progression is one of the major motivations to play a RPG. From my own experiences it is often very alluring to counter technical/visual issues with a change in game mechanism, but it should be the other way around, change the visuals/technique to make the game mechnism you have in mind possible.

A temporary change of the game mechanism seems often like a cheap solution, but in the long run it will not make you happy and you will tweak and change it all the time.

Edited by Ashaman73

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possible issue: there seems there'd be a need to visually represent modified equipment. Not as big of a deal with weapons, but since armor has 100's of frames, it means making a slightly altered version - which requires as many frames as a completely new one (unless there's just a generic color swap.. which would feel generic)

If feasible, this might be ameliorated by representing your modifications via individual sprites, layered over the base object. For example, the player might have a steel breastplate and, as an available modifier, a crystal that provides protection against magic. Instead of creating two versions of the breastplate--both with and without the crystal--you would create the base breastplate and the crystal modifier separately. When the breastplate is worn unmodified, only the base sprite is shown; when modified, the base sprite is shown, and the crystal sprite attached on top of it.

 

More on-topic, I'd like to second the suggestion of loot items increasing the options available to the player rather than simply increasing raw power. One thought might be to have the first levels provide only a few types of item, and to increase the range of items available as the game progresses. This--depending on your implementation, of course--may provide an effective increase in power over the course of the game by allowing the player to tailor their responses to each new challenge. It may also have the advantage of allowing them time in which to learn the use of each new set of options as they become available.

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As far as armor graphics & items go, I've somewhat solved the problem with a workflow/technical fix. So while I've still got a lot of sprites to handle, my adjustments let me partially automate the handling of them. What was previously taking a week now takes maybe 4-5 hours. I also wrote a selective hue-shift shader. Shifts via HSV instead of RBG. It's somewhat limited in it's function, but works well enough for my needs and has no issues with antialiasing or filtering.

 

As far as the design issue:  I'm probably going to head toward the idea of increasing options instead of power. There will probably be some power increase too, but I think the focus will be options. I think this idea will work well on a lot of different levels. Keeps enemies somewhat challenging, give the player time to learn the systems, and allows more flexibility for asset recycling.

 

I think that it will also give me a bit more wiggle room for balancing down the road too. If all "rifles" damage levels range between 6DPS-12DPS, it will be easier to balance things than if they ranged from 2DPS to 200DPS.

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