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Avoiding grinding in darkest dungeon-like game

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Im making a dungeon game where you control a group of heroes. In "Darkest dungeon" the campaign works like this:

 

You have a village where you restock, upgrade, recruit new heroes after each dungeon.

Dungeons pop up after each dungeon and you can replay them indefinitely (grind dungeons for xp and loot).

Harder boss dungeons show up after a while, when you have grinding enough xp and loot you are strong enough to beat them.

Beat all the (4?) bosses = win the campaign.

 

Problem:
Feels to grindly. You are rewarded for your patience to replay easy dungeons until you are strong enough to beat the hard (boss) dungeons. Easy dungeons are not so exciting but you need to grind them since the game is hard.

 

I would like to skip the grinding by either:

1. Have a endless string of procedurally dungeons (and towns for refills/upgrades) that get increasingly harder. You measure your sucess ("highscore") by trying to get as far as possibly before you eventually wipe your party of heroes (similar to survive as many days as possibly in "dont starve" or similar game).

 

2. Have harder and harder dungeons but have a target (with start conditions such as "short campaign: beat the 5th dungeon", or "long campaign: beat the 10th dungeon"). The last dungeon would have a hard boss.

 

In both versions I would have unlockable bonuses that carry over to the next try (next "campaign").

In version 2 this means you could "get behind", ie your heroes would not increase quickly enough to keep up with the increase in difficulty of the dungeons. This would (like in version 1) mean you need to give up (fail) and start a new campaign with your new knowledge of the game mechanics (and some unlocked start bonuses). But this would maybe be ok if campaigns are not investments of many hours.

 

What do you think?

Would removing the ability/option to grind missions make it better? Or more frustrating? (the thing is I want to make it feel "ok" to fail)

 

Thanks

Erik

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Personally as a player, I really really dislike it when I find out that decisions that I made at the beginning of the game or at level up have made it impossible for me to progress or otherwise complete the game. I expect a game to provide me with everything that I need in sufficient quantity to complete the game, even if it takes me a few times to figure out how to do that.

If I had a character that was at full health and I walked into an area that i realize is a new area and with the first encounter I find my life points cut down to 15% it'd be obvious to me that this is an area that I'm probably not meant to be in just yet. At the same time. when I think I'm prepared for the risk I might feel drawn towards that new area and take a shot at those difficult creatures once in awhile for that extra experience pay off or possibly a more powerful item drop that I wouldn't get in the safer area.

Of course at some point with nothing new thrown my way I'd still get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. So you have to figure out how you want to present that sense of progression to the player in a way that fits with your game.

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It's only grinding if it's the same content over and over again. Don't want grinding ? Shorten your game or increase the amount of content, and it won't feel grindy because you won't be doing the same content multiple times. There is no reason behind making the player redo the same content over and over apart from artificially increasing the length of your game. And if you do that, the length of your game doesn't matter.

It's only good to have a long game if players want to play more of your game. If you end up diluting the experience to increase the length, you are only making your game worse. What you want is density, then length. Density without length is ok, the opposite is not.

The inherent balancing problem with player progression in rpgs is easily solved : either you have optional content and you need dynamic difficulty, or you don't. If you don't, which is your case here and precisely what you want to change over Darkest Dungeon, then balancing is straight forward, you just need to balance the dungeon's difficulty with the player's progression and the set difficulty. Design your progression system so that it's impossible to get stuck regardless of your skill. Design it so that skill is more important, so that the increase in difficulty is relevant to the skill of the player and not the stats of the characters.

Basically you want player progression to match dungeon difficulty progression (both characters and enemies gain 1 level for example) and on top of that you want to increase the difficulty related to skill slightly, so that it feels harder. You want the player to fail because he/she wasn't good enough, not because he/she encountered an impossible level.

If your heroes can "get behind", then it means your game is impossible to win on the first try/tries and that you need to grind multiple playthroughs to finally have a chance at winning the game (if it has an end), which is in my opinion terrible roguelike design and it would essentially reintroduce grinding in your solution to get rid of grinding. I think it's much better to not have anything carry from one playthrough to the other, let skill and not grinding be the decisive element in your success. Whether you want infinite or finite levels is up to you, both have their pros and cons, but both are better without grinding.

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Good points.

But many players like having something unlock that helps the next playthough. (Although I agree to some degree this can effectively work as a substitute for grinding DURING a playthough by becoming playthough grinding).

Have you played darkest dungeon? Do you agree the need to "grind missions" is a problem or is it ok?

Edited by suliman

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I've played Darkest Dungeon quite a bit (somewhere around 40 hours currently and intend to go back for more eventually). I do agree that the grind gets boring - but here's the thing. Not all grind is boring. Just the right amount of grind makes you feel like you had to work hard to achieve something, which increases the emotional payoff. It would be repetitive and boring if I always did exactly one or two non-boss dungeons and then another boss dungeon. Too predictable.

One way I feel Darkest Dungeon could have been made to feel less grindy without even changing much is to allow for "partial" victories over the various bosses. Currently, the grind is made all the worse because you know if you go after a boss with an insufficiently leveled group and don't win, you have to do the whole thing over again. Not just the boss battle but the grind, because you probably lost at least a couple of your highest level characters in the fight. THAT is when the grind actually starts feeling grindy. 

Consider the change if, when fighting a boss, you could partially kill it or give it some kind of injury that makes it easier to defeat the next time - or makes the battle more predictable, gives you a known advantage you can exploit. Should this be the case, you might feel comfortable immediately dispatching your runner-up team to take it on without necessarily needing to send them through three or four dungeons just to level up.

Game designers need to be careful with player setbacks. Setbacks which force the player to change their tactics and continue are okay. Setbacks which require the player the do the same stuff again, but better/longer are rarely a good idea (except in certain kinds of games where they are kind of the point).

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I think a game feels grindy when the challenges becomes trivial, but you are still rewarded for it. There are several options to avoid it:

1)You can make costs and rewards exponential, then grinding stuff out won't be a reasonable option (ie: leveling from lvl4 to 5 would cost 3 times as much as leveling from 3 to 4, but lvl 4 monsters would also bring 3 times as much XP).

 

2)You can also go the XCOM2 way(more or less): There is a global timer, and doing trivial missions  eats as much of the timer as difficult one.

But then, it becomes very hard to balance things out (and not put the player in a corner where he cannot win the game, but does not know it before quite some time).

If things carry over from one playthrough to the other, avoiding grinding becomes much harder. But you could still go with option 1 and allow the player to jump directly to the difficult part of the dungeon (ie unlock a portal to start directly with monsters level 4 or something like that).

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Another idea:

The group of heroes always travels on. Its endless and permadeath. You gain "fame points" for clearing dungeons, killing dragons etc. When you die the score gives the group a "title" in the memory of the lands, similar to end scoring in civilization or pirates:

http://platoscavern.com/uploads/46872/pirates2004j.jpg

How travel would work:
You start weak and In a not too hard world. As you travel you get options / crossroads giving 1-3 options each time. Like

<> travel though forest (maybe some fights, but also some resources based on hunting skill etc)

<> explore cave/crypt/abandoned village (this will be a dungeon of the indicated type)

<> confront travelling merchant

Every couple of "travel turns" you also get the option to visit a town. Each time you do, the world gets harder (but also more lucrative). There is no going back to easier times. You need to visit town eventually to replace fallen heroes, restock, upgrade etc. You repeat and try to get as high fame as possible before running into an obstacle that wipes your group.

Thoughts?

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The easiest solution to grinding is to have a shallower difficulty progression. If a player doesn't have to grind, most won't.

If you want to actively discourage grinding (e.g. you want them to fail a lot at greater depths, or the system and setting are causing players to grind even though they don't have to) timers and exponential cost/reward both work. Another option is consumables: Every day in the dungeons sees your party growing stronger and getting better equipment, but losing their health potions/spell reagents/whatever. By doling out more potions the deeper they get, they're being lightly pulled along (but have some pacing decisions of their own)

Another variant is the constant risk of catastrophe. The deeper you go the bigger the danger, but even at a shallow depth an angry RNG will kill you. You might die 50% of the time if you're too deep, 15% at the "right" depth and 2% during grinding. Now grinding is a tradeoff, because you're making later content easier but it's eventually riskier to keep facing this lowgrade danger rather than just racing to the end.

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I would make it so there is a limit to number of total dungeon explorations per game. Like, you can explore 30 dungeons (you can use various mechanics, like X days max and each dungeon uses up Y days) and the game ends. You either achieve your goal by then or not.

Example mechanic: you can explore dungeons as you like, but at day 30 the last dungeon spawns and you have to explore it (other dungoens and unavailable) with a boss, if you kill the boss you win the game if not then game over.

 

I know, it's controversial, but I feel the only solid solution vs grind is a time limit of some sort.

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