Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gaming Thread: What's Old and Boring?

I'm still plugging for people who might be interested in reading my Game Development Limbo blog. I can send invites, and it tends to work out easier with Gmail addresses. (Oh, and Dark Jaguar, I sent an email that bounced. Also made a post on an inspiration I got from an old comment of yours there.)

But I digress. Thought I'd leave a public thread for discussing generic videogame stuff. More precisely, what tired old conventions are you getting annoyed with? We've all dealt with reruns of block puzzles, unoriginal soup cans, "lives," and other such things. Here, you can rant about them and propose alternatives. Here's some from me:

The basic "drop a block on a switch" type: You really have to know what you're doing with these. Far too many make it a very simple journey. The alternatives that come to mind: Limited number of blocks for all the switches. Have to get roundabout methods of moving the blocks.

Inexplicable Treasure Chests: I love Zelda, but it feels off to have a treasure chest with a key poof in after solving a puzzle.

Interchangeable Antimatter Keys: Think I'd like to have something more substantial about unlocking doors, like unique keys.

Spikes and Lava: Let's try brainstorming some more original (or at least less overdone) hazards to fall on.

52 comments:

Joshua said...

Not so much a gaming thing so much as a gaming trailer thing. (And also a movie trailer thing, I guess...)

But I was watching E3 coverage of the game Dead Space (which was completely uninspiring and disappointing, especially in light of its promise of "strategic dismemberment" combat), and at the end of the gameplay demo they showed a trailer. Only, in the coverage, they didn't show the trailer, just people's reactions. (They were about as nonplussed as I was.)

That's just the set up. Here's what annoyed me.

The trailer did the stupid "creepy lullaby" thing. They had some female voice -- I don't know if it's an in-game character, but probably not -- singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", and the visuals were random cuts to scenes of graphic violence from the game. I mean, I didn't see the actual visuals, but I know what they were, because the creepy lullaby over graphic violence thing is such a frickin' cliche.

I yawned audibly, I think. Blah to that.

As for gameplay mechanics? I can't stand one-hit wonders. Especially when you're going to throw me into a bullet hell game, I think I deserve a little bit of an error margin before I crash and burn and die horribly.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I'm understandably nervous about being a 1HP wonder. I play rRootage, a Bullet Hell for practice against some of the lighter shmups.

I also like some of the more recent platformers when you can take some hits. As long as you average well, you don't have to play the same level over and over.

Akusai said...

Save points. Oh God, save points. They must go. They're a holdover from hardware limitations on consoles past and they add nothing but tedium and frustration. There is no excuse anymore for save points when all major consoles have hard drives. Either use an extensive autosave feature, i.e. Half-Life 2 or Assassin's Creed, or allow save anywhere, i.e. Half-Life 2 or Mass Effect (one of the few things that game got 100% spot-on). "Old school" folks tend to complain about this attitude, claiming that the save points "add challenge," but can't really articulate how.

I propose that there is nothing challenging about playing through the same half-of-a-dungeon over and over again only to watch the same unskippable cinematic over and over again just to try the boss again. It is annoying, not challenging.

Bronze Dog said...

I'm sometimes entrenched in a lot of old school traditions, but I definitely see the appeal in autosaves. One of the things that helped click it into place was watching my bro play GTA and playing through Portal. That's something from the new school I can embrace.

Dark Jaguar said...

Sorry, my old e-mail's no longer valid (bluebottle decided to start charging).

Here's my new one: darkjaguar64@gmail.com

Save points... I can see the argument for difficulty. It's harder to have to do a sequence of things back to back perfectly than having to only do one thing at a time correctly. Namely, it's the difference between being able to balance on ONE pole Karate Kid style and being able to hop across ALL of them in sequence without error.

I can't imagine a game like Battletoads being as hard as it was if you could autosave after every succesful attack or dodge and load after every time you get damaged or make any mistake. The issue is that you could create a seemingly "perfect run" of ANY game if you could time travel back and undo every mistake you made through an entire run, and you wouldn't even need any real skill to make it happen. As such, no I'm not for "save anywhere" in a Mario game. Perhaps more check points after each particular "marathon" in levels.

That said, there are some games where being able to save anywhere is nothing but an improvement.

I will say that the era of extra lives should probably come to an end. Namely, I'm thinking of things like Megaman. If I die during a boss battle one too many times, I don't like the idea that I have to retry that entire level even after getting to the various check points.

King of Ferrets said...

But Save Points let you do all sorts of things, like go back every two seconds to save in a really hard game! (which I did recently in Resident Evil 4 in a run without ever using the merchant; never bothered to finish. Can you imagine not having the goddamn rifle, or even a better shotgun?)

Akusai said...

But Save Points let you do all sorts of things, like go back every two seconds to save in a really hard game!

If you can save anywhere, you can do that anyway, but without the running back part.

King of Ferrets said...

It doesn't come off in written form, but that was meant to be dripping sarcasm. Save anywhere/autosave FTW!

Bronze Dog said...

Since everyone's talking, you may want to check your mail. I've got 3 invites en route.

King of Ferrets said...

One thing that needs to be gotten rid of: Indestructible scenery. At least make a gaping hole in the wall if I blow it up with my Death Ray/Giant Splosion Launcher; even better, let me blast a hole in the wall above my enemies and crush them with Falling Rocks of Death!

Also, I submit that Super Mario galaxy had a more original take on the spikes/lava; it violated the laws of physics, but they had black holes that sucked you in if you fell off the stage.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, destructible environments can be nice for our inner vandals. Has some risks, though.

Dark Jaguar said...

Oh, about those treasure chests. I myself always wondered why so very many chests, except the "big chests" aren't even locked. This isn't just a Zelda issue, it happens in a lot of games, even the so called "western RPGs", though admittedly they lock them more often than most.

Having a chest "magic in" could easily be replaced by having the chest "unlock" in front of you when the puzzle is solved.

As for keys that unlock every door except maybe the "big doors", well for me that's a matter of adding a degree of freedom, which I must say is somewhat missing from recent Zelda games.

Namely, I can't seem to "sequence break" like I was able to do in past Zelda games. That was really the thing I loved about keys working in every door from a gameplay perspective. I'd get ONE key but be in a room with 5 locked doors and have to pick a path through the dungeon. However, while Twilight Princess once again adds diffuculty to the series that Wind Waker sadly removed, it hasn't done too well in providing a degree of freedom in how I explore dungeons, and certainly not the order I take the dungeons on in. I miss that... Sequence breaking is one of those joys that adds a lot of replayability into games, and good ones even acknowledge a sequence break in their own way. I think part of it comes from a new found need in developers to really control how the player plays the game, to do things the "right way". I can respect trying to make sure the puzzle is an obstacle, but I prefer it when someone could be just as clever in finding a way to avoid those obstacles completely rather than always deal with them. For example, finding out that the fairy spell in Zelda 2 allowed me to fly through the keyholes in doors rather than use up a key on them.

Being more original with floor hazards is always good. Quick sand is a surprisingly underused video game obstacle. A floor of flesh eating bugs would be another one, or maybe hands reaching up, or dense gas hanging low to the ground (or the reverse, "undense" gas floating near the ceiling, um... what's the antinym of dense?).

Soup can puzzles? That's a cute name. I remember Seventh Guest and that had to be one of the hardest adventure games I've played (Eleventh Hour is even harder). In what sense do you refer? Puzzles that, by all rights, you could just avoid and it's not clear why you are taking on the puzzle? Well in Seventh Guest's defense, the goal of your "character" isn't even really all that clear. It seems as likely as not that your goal in coming there WAS to solve puzzles (the mansion was made by a game designer after all), so it's not too far fetched to say that whatever the nature of the spirit you play as is (and not even the builder of the house is really sure what you are except that he didn't invite you), you're there mainly to explore. That said, for the sake of player freedom, there should be a good reason why you can't just walk by a puzzle. Yeah, the puzzle your character won't go beyond even if you as a player see a clear way to explore beyond it, that's annoying and ties into the whole sequence breaking thing I mentioned before.

What I really can't stand are puzzles that can hardly be called puzzles. I don't mean they are too easy (though I've ranted about those before too), but rather that they are totally illogical.

The biggest offender I've played is King's Quest 2. The other games, especially the later ones in the series, manage to overcome this annoyance but KQ2 revels in it.

The biggest example is a place where you flew to the top of a mountain to find a snake in your path. The direct solution is to kill it with a sword, and that's fairly obvious. The "correct" solution is to throw a frickin' horse's bridle onto the snake. It turns out the snake is actually a pegasus that was cursed into the form of a snake and your bridle is magic and cures the curse. It's retroactively logical, but there are no hints anywhere in the game up until that point that would ever make you think to toss a bridle onto the snake. This is the sort of puzzle that isn't a puzzle at all because there's no thinking process that could lead you to an answer. You're basically forced to randomly do things at other things, and since this was when KQ games uses the "parser" or text interface, it meant you really had to try a lot of random stuff, ending with "throw bridle at snake" apparently.

King of Ferrets said...

Overcoming said risks can be fixed by clever level design; for example, make walls thick so that it basically your weapon just craters it and can possibly kill enemies with it or something, but it still doesn't let you go through. Sci-fi gives even better ways; for example, the Big Bad finds out that you're there, so he starts electric shielding the walls. As long as they at least provide an explanation, thats better than just not being able to blow the enviornment up.

Bronze Dog said...

Good points, DJ.

Sequence-breaking the dungeons: One concept I thought of was having a handful of inter-linked dungeons, rather than individual ones built around a particular item. Get the cape of invisibility in one dungeon, which will let you sneak past the eye golems in another to get the sword of flaminess to melt the ice blocks in the third dungeon. Or something like that with multiple possible paths.

Akusai said...

KQ2 criticisms seconded. If you're going to have a totally illogical puzzle, you need to foreshadow it somehow so it becomes less illogical.

Of course, the better solution is to just not have illogical puzzles in the first place. See KQ6 and Gabriel Knight 1. Some of the puzzles in GK1 were difficult and not 100% intuitive, but I can't think of any that were out-and-out random and illogical.

Dark Jaguar said...

Yeah, destructable environments really need to be carefully done. For example, the standard way to do it, in your Metal Gears and your Zeldas, is to make it clear that your explosives will only work on weaker walls, which you generally find either by noticing cracks or by the hollow sound the wall makes when you knock on it. What was that noise? Just a box...

At the same time, they could at least try to explain why the legendary sword of evil's bane that can strike down a great demon being weilded by twin gauntlets that make me strong enough toss boulders and giant pillars of iron isn't enough to bust in a weak wooden door. The same could be said when Snake is running around with C4 and stinger missiles and still needs to gather key cards to get through doors. The trees are made of titanium in these worlds.

They do pay homage to destructability. I mean in Zelda 1, I can burn down bushes to find hidden passageways. In Metroid all sorts of rocks can be broken. However they could work to extend this at least a bit.

Zelda 1's dungeons appeared to be made out of some bizarre incredibly thick stone and the iron shutter doors were exactly as massive as the walls they sat in. It was easy to accept, in the dungeons themselves, that I couldn't really do much except against weak parts of the walls. Not so much on the outside... Only being able to bomb certain parts of mountains was fine, but not so much only being able to burn certain bushes. Still, it had to be that way because of all the hedge mazes in that game.

I suppose they could technically allow Link to raze a village to the ground while bathing in the blood of the villagers, but they'd have to put some sort of consequence in there. I mean this is a series that won't let you get away with attacking chickens without punishing you.

Dark Jaguar said...

One point I should get across is that when it comes to sequence breaking, it's very hard for a developer to see every possible alteration of the setup. It may be a good idea to sort of "let go" of total control during testing, which would allow some unpredictable sequence breaking like in Metroid 3. Basically, if in testing you find that someone can avoid something to do other things, so long as you make sure it isn't completely game breaking, it may be a good idea to allow it.

Dark Jaguar said...

Oh, and KQ6 is my personal favorite King's Quest game. KQ7 is pretty good too, and it was the first game where the series finally got past the "impossibly stuck" issue with older games where if you screwed something up the wrong way, you're just plain done with the game, load an older save file and try again, but it just wasn't as fun (or difficult) as the 6th. My second favorite is the 4th one.

King of Ferrets said...

Dammit, BD, your newer posts on GDL don't make sense to me; now I'll have to read all the older ones!

Bronze Dog said...

Well, what do you expect, KoF? ;) Place has been up for a while, and I've been laying out lots of ideas for one game.

King of Ferrets said...

Yeah, but most blogs don't have something resembling a continous storyline. =P If you want, I could look and see if my brother still has the rules for an old futurisic game he created; its a DnD style game rather than a video game, but you might be able to steal some ideas from it.

Bronze Dog said...

Might as well.

Akusai said...

KQ7 I thought was okay, but was too cutesy (especially after the Jane Jensenified 6) and had a number of really non-intuitive puzzles.

4 is also my second favorite after 6. I spent many, many hours of my youth on those two games.

But not near as much as I spent on Quest for Glory 1.

These games are relevant to my issue with save points, too: save points are not an "old school" idea; they're an old school console idea. PC games, like every Sierra game ever, allowed you to save anywhere because they were not limited by their hardware in the same way as console games. Save points have become accepted and expected parts of games for no reason other than they have existed for so long because consoles only recently began adding hard drives.

King of Ferrets said...

Okay, I'll see if I can dig that up sometime tomorrow. Are you actually planning to turn the game you're talking about on GDL into a video game at some point? Because if you do, it must have interactive cutscenes. Because they're awesome.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I'm hoping to make it happen in an indie game, at some point. So far, I've put more effort into it than my other ideas.

King of Ferrets said...

"Indie" game? Only thing that brings to my mind is Indiana Jones, so what exactly is indie?

Bronze Dog said...

Indie: Independent. Generally refers to games made by individuals or small groups.

Here's a good spot for samples. One of my love affairs came from a big list they have: Cave Story. Love it to death.

King of Ferrets said...

Do you actually have the knowledge to make one?

Bronze Dog said...

Not by myself. Spent some time talking with JackalMage about the mechanical aspects a while back. I'm the idea guy in this case, though I can probably use tools the programmery types make for me to build levels and such. Hoping to find appropriate talent among the friends I attract.

King of Ferrets said...

Ah. Sounds like a plan.

King of Ferrets said...

We've lost everything relating to that old game over the years, so no idea stealing from that source.

Dark Jaguar said...

I see what you mean about save points and their history, but I would venture to say that in some games, if you can save anywhere, the challenge really is removed.

Even some old DOS games, the old side scrollers like Commander Keen, limited when you could save to force you to be able to go through levels, or at least parts of levels, in a single go.

Adventure games should never use a save "point", that I agree with. However, as my earlier post indicated, it's not some nebulous undefined aspect that makes it harder in some games, but something very concrete indeed. If you are able to save at every single point along the way in, say, Mario, then the challenge of it is almost entirely removed. Instead of getting to some part where you need to carefully dodge a bunch of bullets while bouncing perfectly, all you need to do is save on every successful bounce and load when you screw up, and it gives the illusion that you actually had the skill to do it all at once when actually you failed the run repeatedly but only kept the "hits" while tossing out the "misses". You basically "evolve" your victory.

Akusai said...

I see what you mean, and I can certainly see a use for save points in level-based games as part of the challenge. I am very vehemently opposed to it in role-playing games (Japanese and Western). Final Fantasy III DS's save system was a crime against humanity. World map saves only? What moron thought it would be fun to have to start at the very beginning of a dungeon if you die anywhere within?

At the same time, though, with a save-anywhere system, you don't have to use it if you don't want to. The player can police his own level of difficulty and save only between levels if he so desires. A save-anywhere system can be treated like a save point system because it offers more options.

If some people decide to use the system to "cheat" the difficulty, that's their business. I don't particularly care what method someone uses to get through a game so long as they enjoy it.

Dark Jaguar said...

I agree with you about the RPG scenario. The time for save points in those games has passed. Heck even Pokemon has allowed "save anywhere" (except in the middle of battles, where again the "reload" thing could be used to cheat the system) so it's pretty much been shown that it doesn't really decrease the difficulty in those games. One thing to be careful of is someone getting "stuck" in a dungeon with no possible way to do anything without your party at 1HP with zero items dying. Of course that's where an autosaving system comes in, to autosave at specific check points.

I can respect the idea of letting people decide how hard they want something, but then it's hard to tell how hard the developers want it, if I pass according to their standards, and their opinion of me is just SO IMPORTANT... I'm not sure where I was going with that, but a save anywhere system in a platformer still seems a bit much, in the same way as giving people the freedom to just turn on invincibility may be easy enough to code in, but developers have no issue taking that away from players too.

Akusai said...

I do see your point.

I think the bigger issue here is when X (be it a save point or anything else in a game) is a legitimate part of the game's challenge structure vs. when it is a kludge but marketed as a legitimate part of the game's challenge structure.

It's like "Nintendo Hard," when the only way programmers could think of making a game more challenging was by spamming the player with more and more and more enemies. That's either lazy design or a function of hardware limitation, but instead of acknowledging that, they'd pretend it made the game better, and the continued doing it long into the future.

There are times when a game is structured so as to challenge you in a specific way. If the challenge is "Get through this segment without dying" and the game is generally structured in short, challenging segments, then it doesn't make sense to allow you to save anywhere. If the challenge is "Move steadily through this narrative-driven world," and the game is structured more homogenously, it just becomes annoying to relegate you to saving only in specific instances.

Dark Jaguar said...

I'd say I agree with all of that, though admittedly I'm hard pressed to think of any games Nintendo made that replaced extra challenge with swarms of oncoming baddies... Well, there were plenty of NES games that did it though. Heck even God of War has attempted the "endless swarm" tactic. Zelda games do allow you to save anywhere, with the one weakness that in the original (for example) when you saved, you'd not have your location saved. Zelda 2 would either have you start from the first palace, or if you made it there, the start of the Great Palace. LTTP had 3 "points" you could start from, or the pyramid of the Dark World, and finally Link's Awakening let you play from the start of whatever door you last entered (and added some shortcut warps in dungeons on top of that). From there they don't seem to have added any more save "fidelity", though really I think they should. If not letting you truly save anywhere, it should at least start letting you save from the entryway to every single room in the game. (At least with the GBA release of LTTP, they updated it's save system to the level of modern Zelda games.)

I've mentioned this before but among my big complaints when it comes to fake difficulty is the random difficulty. It's still one of my biggest annoyances, no matter what the game, when I'm basically told "we shall test your luck" and I have to kill some dinasour there's only 3 of in Magicant like 200 times (while reloading the game each time) until it drops some really powerful weapon. No matter what the situation, I have always been able to think of a much more fun, and even more challenging alternative to this grind fest. Oh, and the biggest offenders are RPGs where, like you, I think the era of the save point has passed. It's not even an issue of space if old Gameboy games (pokemon) are capable of having "save anywhere".

Akusai said...

Farming random-drop items from random monsters = evil, lazy, and stupid.

I did so much of that in Final Fantasy VIII it made me sick. I did a bunch in FFX. I can't imagine how people play MMOs that are almost entirely geared around that "mechanic."

I think that "challenge" is what we should look for, as differentiated from "hardness." Challenge is a good, meaty chew. Hardness is year-old dried jerky masquerading as filet.

Dark Jaguar said...

So basically you don't want games you have to floss to get through?

I get what you are saying, and when it comes to MMOs, I'm shocked that they get away with it. WOW in particular unites "guilds" together entirely under the idea that the players are going to run through the end game dungeons (or "raids") over and over again, every single week, on the hopes that each player will get that rare item they need to go to the next dungeon "level". I wish I was kidding... In it's defense, the dungeons are hard, but once someone proves they are able to beat them, the armor or whatever is needed to survive in the next dungeon in line should basically be provided right there.

If I was more cynical I'd say the rare drops of necessary armor were a way to add artificial longevity to keep people paying the monthly fee...

Oh, and if you wonder, I've never had any fun playing casino games.

As for "challenge" vs "hardness" I think a lot of this can be compared to that whole "logical puzzle" versus "illogical guessing game" stuff. If a boss is hard because it uses a bunch of perfect accuracy attacks you can't avoid and it's just a battle to do more damage to it than it can do to you, it's what I would call fake difficulty. If the boss is challenging because of it's movement patterns being tough to avoid, but they CAN be predicted, then I say it is true challenge. Nightmare, a tough boss in Metroid Fusion, is an example of good challenge I'd say. It's movement pattern is decided entirely by how your character moves, and by careful checking of the boss movement patterns, you can force the boss to move in these circles that let you avoid being hit even once. It's hard, but not fake hard.

Another example of fake hard is the "bet you didn't think there was an instant death trap there" thing that I think every game has done. God of War and the medusa enemies have the stone form thing. One hit, which depends entirely on if the enemies happen to be using a physical attack while you are stone, will shatter you and kill you. It's close to that fuzzy border between real challenge and fake difficulty, but I'd say it crosses the line.

Akusai said...

Not much to say other than that I totally agree with your assessment of fake vs. real difficulty.

Oh, and when I said "Nintendo Hard," I was referring to the NES in general and not Nintendo as a company. They're usually really, really good about providing challenge vs. hardness (real difficulty vs. fake difficulty). Mario 3 is still, to this day, one of my favorite games of all time. It is damn near perfect.

Oh, and another bit of fake difficulty that is annoying the hell out of me currently on my second playthrough of Dragon Quest VIII is monsters who have a crit-on-command ability. That's just wrong.

Dark Jaguar said...

There is one thing I should add. In WOW, check the forums whenever anyone suggests that the fake difficulty of the "rare drop" should be eliminated in favor of just a longer chain of challening events to gain that drop. The standard response appears to be to accuse the person of wanting "easy epics" (epic being the highest quality items in the game), in spite of the fact that they do suggest upping the difficulty by adding some extra bosses or spreading the "parts" of certain items around. In MMOs I'd also complain about how you take 40 people into an encounter and 5 actually get the item they wanted. I figure if everyone took part, everyone should get that item. Somehow those who argue otherwise are made out to be people wanting the games to be made "easier". Far from it, I love challenge and some games are too easy for my tastes, but I don't like this method. Well I've gone on about that long enough.

Achievements! I thought I'd mention one thing about the 360's little contribution to added challenge. It's fun to see what other people have done, and I guess there's people who like to brag about it, but I've never been that obsessed with them. I'll note that some people have actually paid others to "boost" their achievement scores. I seriously can't figure the reasoning behind such a move, save some sort of crazed need for acceptance.

What I don't like are that, while some achievements are done well, almost every game adds in a large chunk of "fake difficulty" achievements. As an example, there's Valve's Portal achievement where you need to "fall 30000 feet". The way this is done, as near as I can tell, is to create a portal above and below you and just... fall 30000 feet. There's a small level of cleverness in setting it up, but you need to literally just wait like 10 minutes before your character actually falls that entire distance. It crosses the line straight to "totally boring waste of time". Doing nothing is not fun at all, just to achieve that.

As another example, there are really over the top "grind" achievements like "kill 4000000 of a specific type of bad guy". How is that a real sort of challenge? It's just a grind. An example of arbitrary numbers that would actually be good is "get 1000000 points" as a challenge in, say, Tetris. High scores are the whole point of such a game, and that's a real accomplishment. Another one would be "open every chest in the game" in something like an RPG. That's a challenge in finding each chest, and not just pointless repeating the same task. Another good one: beating the game on a certain difficulty level, and a bad one again, beat the game 30 times.

I think it's fine if a game company wants to add in these new achievements, but they really need to tie in these things more directly accomplishments actually recognized in-game.

Akusai said...

I do believe that achievements are a good idea that sometimes go way wrong and fake difficulty is inserted. I like creative achievements, and I got a giggle out of Half-Life 2: Episode 2's achievement of "Launch the garden gnome into outer space."

You'd have to carry the game's single garden gnome all the way through to the resistance base with the gravity gun, while still killing everything in your way, and put it into the rocket. A funny idea, I thought, for people who might want to do it. I didn't.

I think grinding in general is the bane of so many different games, and perhaps the laziest damn thing in game design, and yet some people still, against all reason, seem to think that grinding = difficulty. I have a friend who gets angry when a game doesn't require him to grind very much. Are you kidding me? Grind-based achievements are bringing some of the worst of the old-school into one of the more interesting ideas of the current gen.

I've heard of 360 nuts renting kiddie games with easy-as-pie achievements just to breeze through and get the points to up their score to look better to the other faceless XBox Live assholes. And these are the people they call "Hardcore gamers?"

Dark Jaguar said...

I'd say I agree with all of that, and one day I might take the time to do the "garden gnome challenge". That's a pretty good one there.

I know some people say today's games are too easy (some are, but I've found games that are as challenging as Battletoads, such as Devil May Cry 3), but I agree that pulling up design mistakes (as I see them) and holding them up as some sort of challenge virtue really do seem to be some sort of crazy rose tinted glasses. I've never understood why "grind" is considered a level of difficulty. I'm forced to wonder if during the process of the grind they actually had trouble. Isn't it more likely their brain went into autopilot as they used one hand to repeat the same motion repeatedly until they got the XP or rare item they wanted? The only thing it tries is my patience. Modern RPGs do mitigate this by simply setting up the rate of XP gain to roughly match the content that someone is experiencing, but this only covers up the problem rather than truly addressing it.

I suppose in the case of experience gain, the argument could be made that without grind, it's far too easy to over level and that removes the challenge from the game. That's true, but it only says all the clearer why outright replacing the XP system is a desirable goal. Ideally, XP gain would be replaced by a system where, say, each new boss you encounter raises your stats by a specific amount, so that stat gain is directly fixed to progression. One could even allow "overleveling" without letting it get abused by providing side-bosses to be found throughout the game, in the same way as someone who takes the time can be more prepared in a Zelda game by searching out extra heart containers and items before continuing to the next dungeon.

Akusai said...

I agree, and I think it dovetails with something BS has said in the past (either here or at GDL): getting tangible power-up rewards that change slightly your gameplay options (i.e. Metroid-style gameplay design) is almost always preferable to getting higher numbers.

Where number-based systems are concerned, my favorite has always been that originated (far as I can tell) by Quest for Glory, and currently used by the Elder Scrolls series: the more you do something, the better you get at it. It works how things work in real life. You climb more, you get better at climbing.

Of course, it's still somewhat open to grinding, but not necessarily so. One of the times I played through the QFG series, my goal was to take a fully maxed-out character all the way through every game in the series, and do it the honest way (the first 2 games had cheats). This required me to sit down and throw daggers at a targer for hours. Of course, it was hardly necessary to beating the game, it was just something I wanted to do, so I chose to grind.

What I'd like to see is some kind of blend of the two, where doing X makes you better at X over time, but not because your number went from 35 to 36, in some more tangible way. It would almost certainly require floating background numbers, however, so...

And anyway, the leveling up paradigm, while still widespread and pretty successful, certainly is a huge break from anything resembling reality. It's absurd in DnD, it's absurd in Final Fantasy, and it's absurd in Fallout. It just doesn't make sense that one day you wake up and you're better at some things, or suddenly know something new. I don't care what frame you put it in (DnD's "Your new stats and abilities represent unspoken, offtime training" comes to mind), it doesn't make a lick of sense.

Akusai said...

Oops...That shold say "BD" and not "BS" at the beginning.

Sorry, BD! I promise it was a typo and not a Freudian slip.

Dark Jaguar said...

Well it kinda is an analogue to "practice makes perfect", and in general something being unrealistic is never a strike against it as a gameplay mechanic for me, but it is silly.

Don't get me wrong, I've never taken too much issue until I start noticing a need to grind.

A blend of the two is an interesting idea, but perhaps it could be adjusted? I've never played Quest for Glory (I've heard good things though, and yes I do want to be a hero), but I have played Elderscrolls so I know the system you mention. I still think it's got the grinding issue even if it's more realistic.

Hmm... Here's an idea. Certain acrobatic skill upgrades can be directly tied to "mini-games". I'd say they can't be repetitive because that might get boring even quicker. What I'd say is that there could be all sorts of specific skill upgrading challenges hidden throughout the world to find. If you want to be a better acrobat, find those kinds of things, which will tend to be located in places like up trees.

Actually in thinking of this I realized I have played a game that does a method very much like what I was thinking of, and I loved it. Ever played Crackdown? I never enjoyed any of the Grand Theft Auto games but this game I couldn't get enough of. In it, you have various skill sets for your main character has a number of skills (as a genetic super cop) he upgrades. There's accuracy (lets you shoot guns more accurately with lock-on), grenade potency (I'm not entirely sure what sort of muscles you need to use to make your explosives stronger, but whatever, that's what it does and full level grenades are like mini-nukes), driving skills (cars go faster and handle curves better), physical strength (kicks hit harder and you can pick up heavier stuff and toss it farther), and acrobatics (run faster, jump higher, swim quicker). As in Oblivion, just using each of those abilities gives you points (specifically, killing someone with an explosive causes explosives XP to drop from the enemy that goes straight to you, and doing stunts in cars causes driving XP to spark off the road and go to you). The hard one to get is acrobatics XP, as you need to kill people from high up to get that sort of XP (and REALLY high up at that). That's the normal method anyway.

However it also uses the method I talked about. Hidden all over all the high places in the game, there's big chunks of acrobatics XP to find. All you need to do is climb up there and grab it, which makes sense in that you are literally getting better from needing to use your skills. More than that, there's glowing points which activate "challenge games" involving racing across rooftops along a designated (in your HUD) track back to start, at which point you get a lot of acrobatics XP. Along those same lines, the roads are filled with special gates that can activate special "race" challenges, which provide car handling XP. There's also "combat challenges" which spawn in gang members that you have to kill in a certain amount of time, and explosive challenges where you need to blow up stuff. They even added in co-op versions of these challenges for when you play together with someone else.

I think this would be the ultimate way to replace the standard XP system. It gives skill-ups in a way that isn't grinding, but rather fun and unique challenges and hidden "items" throughout the game, and this game shows the method works very well for the game that specifies different skill levels for each sort of thing your character can do. It would work in other ways too, like if you want to boost some charisma the game would simply provide a lot of conversations where doing well boosts that score. (Incidentally, I'm no fan of charisma and prefer to have to actually have the conversation in question rather than have some sort of sparkly-teeth quotient determine if the guy likes my arguments.)

Akusai said...

I dislike charisma, too, when it's used in that way (like Oblivion's dumbass talk-wheel thing, or every DnD conversation ever). What I prefer is Fallout's model, wherein Charisma (and Intelligence, and other relevant skills) add to the pool from which you can choose your responses, or change which responses you can choose.

Someone with low charisma, for example, can only say socially inept/rude things, whereas someone with high charisma can choose from rude and charismatic options. Someone with low intel won't have the option to ask certain questions or say certain things simply because he doesn't know enough to think of it, whereas someone with high intel does and so has those added dialogue options.

It creates more of a challenge for the developers than just instituting a passive roll system (Neverwinter Nights comes to mind), but it's far more fun and makes more sense, I think.

Bronze Dog said...

Looks like I've invoked some nice rants with this post. Think I may make a post over on GDL on grind and how I hate it. Since my UP doesn't feature a lot of typical RPG problems like level-ups, about the only grind applicable would be money- and item-related.

Dark Jaguar said...

I need to play a Fallout game at some point. Unfortunatly old PC games never seem to find their way into used game stores around here. That sounds like a great way of implementing charisma.

Money is one grind even Zelda doesn't seem to escape from. Metroid just didn't use money at all, so it's not an issue in that game. I recall way back in Zelda 1 where I'd go to the graveyard to summon every last ghost and kill the only one that wasn't moving diagonally to rake in a lot of cash, and rince and repeat until I had 255 rupees. I have some naustalgia for that grind but really I know that in the end it was just grind.

Of course it's hard to replace the cash system because when items like arrows and bombs are infinitely available in stores and you may need to replace shields thanks to metal dissolving goo monsters, there needs to be an infinite supply of cash to compensate. I'm a little hard pressed to say what a clean method of replacing the cash system would look like. I'll note that Zelda 2 didn't have any cash or shops either, though it did have an XP system which I think was the one big mistake of the game.

Akusai said...

I think there are a couple of ways to deal with that grind, but lots of folks would just say "THEY MAKE THE GAME TOO EASY!"

The first idea and the simplest is to just make cash drops more prevalent so the grind takes less time.

The second is to remove item management for simplicity's sake and streamlining; Don't make monsters that destroy shields. Give infinite arrows/bombs (practically speaking, is it really that big a deal?).

And you really should find a copy of Fallout and Fallout 2. I'm sure you can find them on BitTorrent, if you're down with that. Those games really are two of the best put-together RPGs ever made. Their major issue, in my mind is that they're pretty unforgiving of jacks-of-all-trades. You have to focus, focus, focus, or you'll find yourself getting your ass kicked later in the game.

But, yeah, their dialogue system was pretty sweet. Skills like Science added new dialogue options when talking to scientists, in addition to Charisma and Intelligence modifying your dialogue choice pool.

I imagine the reason that sort of thing happens so rarely (and we instead end up with "revolutionary" systems like Mass Effect's totally lame-ass "Wheel of Three" (did anyone really buy that those dialogues were anything but stale and railroaded?)) because it's just easier to utterly limit your options than to come up with a million and one of them and assign them to different levels of different stats.

Wikinite said...

I think the way to deal with grind is to do what fallout/fallout2 did. Just make more game. I never felt like I was grinding in Fallout 2. There was simply enough content to get leveled by the end of the game. Grinding simply allows for game designers to add play time without adding any extra storyline or content.

Akusai said...

I think the problem with that as a solution is that grind is usually used by game designers as a time-filler/-waster precisely because they don't want to add more game. Grind is more game to them.

Bronze Dog said...

I may sometimes be tempted to cut corners in making things, but I vow not to resort to lazy grind.