RPGs - So much room left for innovation

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Matt Barton
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Wow. I was just browsing through one of my old D&D books called "Arms and Equipment Guide" and was struck by how little, really, the AD&D world has been tapped by computer games. Every time I browse my D&D books I find myself weighted down with fresh ideas that could make for some great games! I know that many creative people went to town with the NWN, NWN2, and Morrowind (Oblivion?) construction kits, but I still see so much room left for potential. What I find particularly exciting (and so, so, utterly disappointing at the same time) is the concept of small group D&D games--say, playing through a campaign with 3-4 friends.

Anyway, a few things made me think as I was reading the guide. One is that too many CRPGs tend to move too quickly when it comes to arm and armor. I always hated it when your character or party started off with badass gear and had to get even badder gear shortly into the game. I hate that. I want to start off with padded armor or perhaps even no armor, and slowly, slowly go from pathetic to mediocre. I want it to be an amazing experience when I finally put on a set of chain mail. I also like it when a lot of thought is put into individual items, so it's not just "a sword" but a sword with some history behind it. I though the talking sword in Baldur's Gate II was just such a nice touch, but it doesn't have to be so grand. I want at least 3-4 paragraphs of text on every item in the game, and I want it to matter beyond just "fluff."

I also want more fine tuning when it comes to training. I have studied martial arts for over a year now, and realize that the training system in these games is unrealistic, to say the least. For instance, let's take studying how to use a dagger. That could easily take years to perfect, and a lot depends on the type of dagger and how you intend to use it. For instance, if your goal is to kill, you will stab and twist in vital areas. If your goal is to render someone unconscious or remove their will to fight, you will slash in other areas (i.e., disable their arms or legs or just go for lots of blood-letting). Furthermore, you can do some really cool defensive things with daggers, too, that you don't see in games. In martial arts there are lots of training customized to certain scenarios--say, you have a knife, the other guy has a sword. Or the other guy has two sticks, etc. I could see a game that took all of this into consideration, so that fights looked really great on screen, with all kinds of animation. Getting these fine animations down would make a hell of a difference when it came to exciting visuals, and it would serve a purpose rather than just being mere "eye candy." I want to see a warrior visually getting better with his weapons, not just getting badder ass looking weapons.

I don't really want to have to program characters to do things like go for the head or what-not (i.e., Fall out). Instead, I want the type of training I give the characters to make a real difference, plus I want them to learn from their battles, reading, or whatever else they pick up along the way. You wouldn't even really need magic in a game like this; the "sage" could simply be an old and very wise man or woman who could give the party advice about how to deal with new monsters--maybe tell them about a vital weakness or the like. Or it could be a veteran warrior who is too old to fight but can still offer guidance. These things tend to get overlooked a bit too much, but imagine the room you'd have for character development.

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Matt Barton
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Stu- one easy thing might be

Stu- one easy thing might be to do something with weapons and personality types or alignments. Maybe only a psychopath could use a dagger effectively, but more timid or intelligent characters were limited to ranged weapons and sucked at close combat. You could also do something with psychology- the more ferocious a weapon looks, the more effective it is regardless (at least in terms of breaking the opponent's will to fight). They say that's why firearms were so widely adopted even though they sucked compared to the crossbow or English longbow. They were just so loud that it scared people and made them rout, even though they were far less capable of killing you. The book On Combat is recommended - I just read it, and it would probably really help you think about combat in your game.

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Matt Barton
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Graphics
Bill Loguidice wrote:

It's a massive, interactive world full of audio-visual delights, truly an amazing achievement and a high water mark. With that said, what could have been accomplished if those same resources were directed towards a 2D world a la Ultima V, meaning more could be directed towards the already phenomenal interactive programming and making the game world even more complex?

A bit off topic, but I still see lots of room for improvement in graphics and animation, particularly when it comes to animating the human body in a convincing manner. I just played Empire: Total War, which has some very impressive graphics. However, when you zoom in on your troops, it still seems more like an army of clones or androids than actual humans. The game could have had, oh, three times the amount of unit animation and still had room for more. You could make each soldier in an army unique, disguising all the numerical stuff and just showing it on screen as subtle but visible differences.

Indeed, one of the least impressive (for me) aspects of so many CRPGs is that the battle animations are so simplistic. A lot of them just have the guy slashing his sword always the same way; just totally unconvincing. There is just so much more that needs to be done in terms of physical animations. Just imagine if it actually looked like two men fighting in real life. Every battle would be spectacular because you'd never know exactly what you'd see happen.

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yakumo9275
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Well I have butterfly swords

Well I have butterfly swords in my roguelike and you get a bonus for dual wielding (how they are meant to be wielded)... only because I trained for several years with them, and a long pole, double sticks. I've added a lot of chinese weapons to my game, just to get out of the short sword rut (well I still have that for familiarity's sake).

I want more from a combat system without making it overwhelming, its hard to see where a good line is.

-- Stu --

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Matt Barton
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I agree with both you about

I agree with both you about the diminishing returns. There gets to be a point where you're just asking the player to make too many choices, and it's not fun anymore. What you need to do is offer fewer choices, but make them more significant. Coming back to the dagger thing, you make it a big deal to specialize in a weapon, and then do a branching tree type deal where you have to make big decisions along the way that open up some possibilities while closing others. Dan Bunten was apparently the master at this kind of development, giving you only a handful of variables and wrapping a huge epic game around them.

I also think about how attached people get to their special possessions, and you don't see much of that in RPGs where it's so simple - oh, that's a +2 longsword so of course I'm going to chuck my trusty old broadsword and use that instead. Again, in reality there's a tradeoff there. If you're used a certain .22 rifle all your life and have gotten to be an expert shot with it, knowing its every part inside and out, suddenly replacing it with a much better but unfamiliar rifle with a larger caliber may actually reduce your effectiveness. I know the new rules have done a lot with this, with weapon specialties and such, but I still see it happening mostly at the stats/numerical level rather than any real effect on the gameplay. There's a tendency in CRPGs to be too damn mathematical, but obviously there are problems with going beyond that.

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Bill Loguidice
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I think part of the limiter

I think part of the limiter for RPG complexity/depth is the need for modern day audio-visuals, which are much more resource intensive. Let's take Oblivion as an example. It's a massive, interactive world full of audio-visual delights, truly an amazing achievement and a high water mark. With that said, what could have been accomplished if those same resources were directed towards a 2D world a la Ultima V, meaning more could be directed towards the already phenomenal interactive programming and making the game world even more complex? So, let's say Oblivion - with its massive relative budget - had a hypothetical 50/30/10/10 (engine and coding/graphics/sound/design and story) split. What would happen if you were able to reduce graphics and sound from 40% to 10%? You could then devote more resources to engine and coding in parallel with design and story. What would happen then? How much more depth could really be created? And that's of course assuming that you don't need modern day 3D graphics and sound to achieve the highest level of interactivity. So, is it just a matter of time before the Oblivion model gets expanded even more or is there a point of diminishing returns? I just don't know at this point.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I hear what you're saying,

I hear what you're saying, but I'm just speaking from my martial arts experience (which is very limited; not claiming expertise). You can easily spend a lifetime just training with a dagger, and even after decades will still be learning or refining your techniques.

I can see lots of ways it could be implemented. For one thing, the range is very limited (unless you're talking throwing knives, which is different), so there will be an emphasis on getting in close (ambush, charging in, distractions, surprise attacks). In real life, a guy with a sword fighting a guy with a knife is a completely different fight than two guys with swords. Sure, a lot of the same stuff will apply, but the knife fighter will probably have much more focus on his footwork than the sword fighter. Plus, many games do not take into consideration different kinds of monsters. If you are a level 10 warrior you can fight humans just as easily as wild beasts or what have you. In reality you would need training and experience with each type of beast. Imagine how different fighting a man and a manticore would be in real life. I'm not even going into the psychological dimensions here and how much harder it is to kill a man at close range than it is from a distance (i.e., a bow or even a polearm).

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yakumo9275
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how do you show them the

how do you show them the boundaries of a dagger? the average dagger is given a 1-3hp damage rating, a stab to the thought or between the ribs should be a critical hit, but what %% do you give to a dagger that is presented as the most basic of weapons, for a critical hit rating?

suddenly the dagger really isn't a 'basic' weapon anymore. to afford the player the ability to 'know' a dagger means huge ui changes, you have to expose a lot of different options (stance, hold, choice of target area, etc), which brings you back to overcomplicating things.

this is the point where you let the players pick a weapon at the start of the game and have them go through the whole game with it, become an expert. if you switch to a sword, go back to level 1 and all that implies.

I think its easier for the player to understand a dagger does 1-3 damage, without suddenly over complicating things.

-- Stu --

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Matt Barton
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Complex
yakumo9275 wrote:

People want progression. Sticking them with a dagger and padded armour for a long time gives no progression, it also limits your encounters. ("ooh 1 blue slime.. again..."). how much grind can you deal with before you graduate to two blue slimes?

compare training MA's for 4 hours a week to fighting for your life as a merc every day? thats an exponential increase in learning ability.

ad&d is full of rules that were never really brought across to the PC versions.

mostly, I dont want a combat system thats like phantasie III's wound system, things start getting over complex. it becomes dwarf fortress.

-- Stu --

I agree, Stu. There is definitely a limit to it. What I'm talking about, though, is giving people at least a chance to really come to know the limitations and affordances of a given weapon or level before allowing them to progress. I'm not talking about mindless grinding (which I hate in all RPG games), but really letting them fully explore the possibilities of a weapon and devise more coping strategies before throwing them in the next arena.

I notice the same thing in classes and even martial arts. There seems to be this urge to give people the next belt or whatever without making sure they really know the basics. I'm not talking about just memorizing some moves and what not; I mean, really knowing all of the possibilities behind a front kick before you're taught jumping side kicks.

To wit, there are advantages to chain mail over plate armor, of course, but that rarely gets shown other than restricted movement points or lowered dex. I would like to see more strategic significance to the choice. After all, plate armor isn't just chain mail with different stats. They are very different types of armor.

I often feel that in RPGs that too much is being handed to me and I'm not really earning or learning. It's like, "Oh, now you have to fight an ogre, but it'll be easy because here's a super duper long sword 6x ogres that will kill it instantly." Eh...

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Bill Loguidice
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Did someone say Phantasie?
yakumo9275 wrote:

mostly, I dont want a combat system thats like phantasie III's wound system, things start getting over complex. it becomes dwarf fortress.

-- Stu --

Blasphemy! Phantasie is all perfect! ;-)

I have the MSX English translation of Phantasie I, III and IV; for some reason they didn't translate II (or am I mixing up II and III?). While I have a nice MSX system that I can convert the images to, I think I'll wait until I get my Pandora to play them emulated...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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yakumo9275
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People want progression.

People want progression. Sticking them with a dagger and padded armour for a long time gives no progression, it also limits your encounters. ("ooh 1 blue slime.. again..."). how much grind can you deal with before you graduate to two blue slimes?

compare training MA's for 4 hours a week to fighting for your life as a merc every day? thats an exponential increase in learning ability.

ad&d is full of rules that were never really brought across to the PC versions.

mostly, I dont want a combat system thats like phantasie III's wound system, things start getting over complex. it becomes dwarf fortress.

-- Stu --

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