Progression

One important thing to consider for a game of this nature is how to handle the progression. We are going to be able to level up, which means our combat abilities will be increasing over time, through a combination of better equipment, increased skills, etc. As such, there needs to be increasingly difficult challenges you can overcome, such as stronger enemies to fight.
The question is, how are these two elements balanced against each other? The simplest method is a flat progression, where your power does not increase (at least not much), and the challenges are constant. This is relatively boring, and not in the intended design of this game.
In a more traditional RPG, the advancement through the plot governs the increase in challenge. This involves reaching new areas for the most part, or at least stronger enemies appearing as the plot goes on. A well-balanced one will naturally have the difficulty of the enemies and your own power increasing in tandem. This often features the ability to go to older areas and face weaker enemies again, thus affirming your power increase, or features larger groups of old enemies for a similar effect.

This type of model can be reproduced in a game like VQ by generating regional difficulty. There is no plot to drive advancement, but different regions can have different innate difficulties. Your starting area may be peaceful, with minor animals and the occasional bandit to worry about, while going to the swamp will feature more poisonous things and larger animals, then progressing to the mountains will have cave trolls and giants, leading you to the caves which are dark, hazardous, and full of terrors, before being led to the volcano where the very environment is a hazard and firey beasts threaten you at every turn. Just as an example progression. The more dangerous areas can contain grander rewards, to encourage you to explore them, and those rewards can be different between areas of the same danger level, to encourage you to explore many regions. Many areas could be of the same general difficulty, giving the player freedom to choose how to explore, while still having a structure to play in and a clear sense of progression.

Another option is enemy scaling, a tactic which the elder scrolls likes to use. The advantage is the player has the greatest freedom to explore anywhere, and you can actively maintain the proper difficulty. The disadvantages are that you feel like you are on a treadmill. You gain power, but so does every 2-bit bandit. The forests once populated by wolves are now full of saber tooth tigers. It can feel absurd and unsatisfying, and the sense of progression is greatly reduced. Additionally, if the challenge you provide the player is incorrect, they have no natural way of compensating. They can't retreat back to easier areas until they are ready, as there are no easy areas. They can't push onwards to fresh challenges, as nothing is even more challenging.

A hybrid approach is region scaling, based on what skill level you are when you find the area. This can be bounded. For instance, say the swamp is a difficulty 1-10, the mountain is 5-20, and a volcano is 15-30. If I walk into a swamp at level 3, it is a level 3 swamp with appropriate challenges (which will probably be a bit higher than me to be difficult at first, but I will be able to level up to handle it and be above it by the time I am done), then hit a volcano at 5 it is still a level 15 volcano and I am not ready yet, so I go to the mountains at level 5 which becomes a level 5 mountain, where I spend my time till I can handle the volcano. Then when I am level 20 I come across another swamp, and its only a difficulty 10 swamp because swamps aren't that hard.
Going back through old sections will generally be easy, which makes backtracking easier helps you feel a sense of growth, but to keep things interesting there could still be greater challenges- maybe a large group of bandits will strike, and even though they individually are easy now the greater number presents a new challenge. Or human opponents, which are mobile, can be present to be a challenge.

You can also do regional power increases as well. I don't know of anything that has used this, and it would requires some careful planning, but here is one way it could work. Each region features a common theme, like fire damage, or poison. All defenses against that are located within the region. For instance, you need to get fire crystals from the volcano to defend against the fire damage volcano enemies deal. When you go into a region, you lack the defenses for it, and it is hard. As you progress through it, you collect those defenses, and your power increases for that region, letting you progress without making you too powerful for other regions. This design would require a more sophisticated approach to work well, but that is the general gist of it.

Another option is complete grab-bag. This is the simplest, most naive way to have a progression. Everything is everywhere with no guidance as to what is a proper challenge. You walk through the starting woods, and there is a dragon next to a wolf. Any aggressive moves you make must be carefully considered so you don't get in over your head. rewards are still tied to the difficulty of the monster, so an expert warrior won't waste their time with wolves but the beginner hunter may find them a perfectly good source of resources. Offered quests will have a reward of proper compensation for the challenges faced. The expert warrior wont' take a 10gp quest to kill the rats in the basement, and a beginner hunter can't kill the dragon with the 1,000,000gp bounty. The main factor as to whether this strategy can work is how capable the players can be at avoiding things they can't handle. If they can go "oh, that is a bear up ahead, I better avoid it", then having a bear wander around before they can handle a bear is ok. If they can go "oh @#$%, a dragon spotted me, run", then actually escape the dragon, then having that encounter can work out. If the dragon sees the level 1 guy and thinks "he has no gold, why should I bother", it can be fine, though this is generally hard to justify. It is when the beginning character is strolling through the woods and just randomly comes across a dragon who eats them that problems arise. Other issues are having high level enemies being sparse enough for low level characters to avoid while being dense enough for high level characters to find interesting.
Humans can be more interesting in this scheme, as you can have an entire city of high level characters and its not a problem as long as the player has enough sense to behave themselves- and if they do get caught doing something and have to deal with an entire city of badasses coming down on them, its their own fault. Low level bandits can realize that you are too badass too attack, and high level ones can realize you are not worth their time.

Any other ideas?

Comments

  • Honestly, I like the "grab-bag" the best. Everything else feels gamey and non-immersive.
  • edited November 2014
    I am just worried that grab bag isn't gamey enough. It does a really horrible job of giving a consistent play experience and it is really hard to make it so you aren't at the whim of random encounters.
    From the design document:
    "Deaths are *never* unfair. Similarly, minimize 'luck of the draw' or extremely unbalanced playthroughs."
    With grab-bag, you are maximizing encounter difficulty being luck of the draw. Even if you give the player tools to identify the challenge of an opponent and avoid them, if there is ever an ambush or other situation where the player is not the one in control of whether combat starts or not, you are dealing with luck of the draw.
    The entire concept behind leveling is very gamey to start with, and it requires some game structures to support it. If it was purely a matter of player skill to defeat opponents or not this would be much simpler.

    edit:
    look at it this way. In a game, when you go through an area with weak enemies, how often do you just kill them because its trivial to do so? Why wouldn't a powerful opponent be different? If you don't pose a real threat to them, all it takes is a tiny benefit to them to kill you, and its the clear choice to do so.
  • Look, I am somewhat of a realism freak when it comes to gaming, so maybe I'm not the best guy to discuss this with. The harder and unforgiving it is, the more I like it. I guess I'm just a masochist. I also like extremely spicy food. :D

    On a side note, I also play Dwarf Fortress since a couple of years.

    Having said that, I'm a fan of optional toggles. Why not set the game up the way you want it to play? This makes it approachable for the more casual gamers and also makes it worthwhile with the hard-as-nail, realism gamers like me.
  • Pain said:

    Having said that, I'm a fan of optional toggles. Why not set the game up the way you want it to play? This makes it approachable for the more casual gamers and also makes it worthwhile with the hard-as-nail, realism gamers like me.

    I like this a lot, and it really opens up a lot of possibilities for people who want to customize VQ -- not just with mods, but also with non-coding options for people who want the same freedom.
    Mystify said:

    With grab-bag, you are maximizing encounter difficulty being luck of the draw. Even if you give the player tools to identify the challenge of an opponent and avoid them, if there is ever an ambush or other situation where the player is not the one in control of whether combat starts or not, you are dealing with luck of the draw.

    Yeah, this could definitely be a pain in the butt. How do you feel about the MMO approach of "higher-level" characters not bothering with lower ones? Obviously, animals will eat anything. But bandits may only care about robbing people with useful loot, not the poor man and his bagel.

    I just read through your post, you definitely already said that :)

    A different possible problem--if animals don't care about level, should they try to eat everyone? For the experienced adventurer, being attacked by every wolf and squirrel that crosses his/her path could get annoying. And fighting ability can't always be determined by looks. If they can choose when to attack, how could an animal know what's going to get them killed?
  • I consider realism worthless in game design beyond being an inspiration. Real life has horrible gameplay. Its not about how hard the game is. A game can be realisitic and simple or unrealistic and unforgiving. However, I strongly think that a game should be fair, regardless of its difficulty, which Gaven seems to support. It may be realistic to get attacked by bandits on the road and killed, but if you never had a chance of winning then that is horrible gameplay.
    Especially when the basic premises of the game diverge from realism, trying to cleave to it later tends to cause even more issues. For instance, power levels in games are rarely realistic, so unless the game itself has a realistic power level trying for realistic mechanics is already doomed. In real life, there isn't that wide of a range of combat ability. You really don't get "I can slay a dragon", you get "I have a weapon and you don't". Even when we account for highly trained specialists like the navy SEALS, "I have 200hp" isn't a thing at all. We don't have demigods wandering around alongside mortals fighting demons that lurk in the woods. The very ideas that people are leveling up, slaying dragons, and casting spells puts us so far beyond realism that having any mechanic based on realism is laughable. The rules of this world are whatever the designer says they are.

    "Risk vs. reward is always heavily emphasized."
    Another tidbit from the design doc, this plays into what I have been saying. Realistically, risk vs, reward is scattershot at best. some rewards are low risk, many risks have no reward. if we just have the grab-bag of enemies, walking from town to town becomes a high-risk proposition for low reward.



    Re: toggles
    Toggles can be good, but you have to use them carefully. Too many and you no longer have a cohesive game.
    "No difficulty levels - there is only one difficulty, which is very challenging but not unfairly so."
    When the difficulty level isn't even a toggle, its hard to justify other toggles in the game. Difficulty is the main toggle I advocate, as that lets a player customize the difficulty to their own preference, whether that is being gruelingly difficult or a casual playthrough. For a feature like this, the basic structure of the game, I don't see how you can have a toggle. You can't reasonably swap between a grab-bag mixed lot of enemies and a ordered regional progression or overall scaling and have a coherent game at the end. Not only are each of those a significant task to implement, they would be integral to how other systems in the game function.



  • Though this is slightly off topic, I found this reddit thread to be pretty interesting. It's a discussion on whether or not characters should age: as they reach a high level, should they follow a natural progression of losing some of their raw strength/power and gaining wisdom/discernment/finesse?

    I think that an aging mechanic could keep VQ fresh even at later levels (assuming your character makes it that far, haha). It would encourage the development of the player's skills -- while the character could previously rely on large stamina/mana pools to keep them alive and fighting, they're now encouraged to use their resources more tactically. Aging wouldn't come without benefits, of course. I think that in addition to increased willpower/wisdom, the player who makes it to the highest level should be granted a special skill that will allow them to keep fighting at a competitive level, just perhaps not on the same grounds as before. For example, a mature swordsman's final skill could be the ability to feint and avoid all attacks for 10 seconds.

    Not all people are a fan of this, obviously. This is a case where I believe that a toggle applies. The toggle should be permanent for that world, so you can't change your mind halfway through the game.
  • That sounds like it would favor mages. D&D had aging modifiers, and it led to characters being young or old depending on what stats they need. It seems odd to me to have a character age if they won't die of old age, and In would be strongly against your successful characters dying of old age.
  • It would encourage the development of the player's skills -- while the character could previously rely on large stamina/mana pools to keep them alive and fighting, they're now encouraged to use their resources more tactically.

    "Ah, the great irony of the 'Youth' spell; only youngsters can drag around enough mana to cast it" -Old grizzled mage before ordering another drink
  • mmnumbp said:

    "Ah, the great irony of the 'Youth' spell; only youngsters can drag around enough mana to cast it" -Old grizzled mage before ordering another drink

    @gavanw‌, let's see this one in-game :P
  • The regional power increase idea sounds really cool to me, but I wouldn't want those defenses to be exclusively useful in the region they were found in. Like, fire defenses found in the volcano would be extremely useful against the variety of fire threats there, but also useful against fire breathing dragons and fire-slinging mages in other areas. Maybe these kinds of defenses could be exclusively item-based (jewelry, gloves, boots, etc.) and one instance of each of these item would be generated in every corresponding region generated by the world builder. The catch would be that the defenses couldn't be necessary to succeed in the areas the items were generated in, because that could leave the player with a catch 22.

    In terms of offense, perhaps the first time a player defeats each type of monster, they'd earn a skill point? That would be very anti-grind, and by placing more dangerous enemies deeper in the regions, it would be safe to assume that players have collected a variety of skills to deal with the more formidable threats. If a player chooses some combination of skills that can't handle their current area, they could move to a different area and collect some more skill points to open up new strategies.
  • Anrita said:

    In terms of offense, perhaps the first time a player defeats each type of monster, they'd earn a skill point? That would be very anti-grind, and by placing more dangerous enemies deeper in the regions, it would be safe to assume that players have collected a variety of skills to deal with the more formidable threats. If a player chooses some combination of skills that can't handle their current area, they could move to a different area and collect some more skill points to open up new strategies.

    That's an idea...I like it!

    As for the concept of regional power increases and corresponding defenses, having only one instance of each item creates an interesting dynamic between the player and NPCs. There's no reason why NPCs shouldn't be able to pursue the same items, so eventually it could become necessary for the player to hunt down the NPCs who currently hold the items he needs. That could create an interesting legacy/history for each item and contribute to the legends and lore of that particular world. Even if they're not regional, artifacts with special abilities that are passed down in this manner contribute towards a more immersive experience. Collecting them also gives the player something to work towards.
  • Anrita said:

    The regional power increase idea sounds really cool to me, but I wouldn't want those defenses to be exclusively useful in the region they were found in. Like, fire defenses found in the volcano would be extremely useful against the variety of fire threats there, but also useful against fire breathing dragons and fire-slinging mages in other areas. Maybe these kinds of defenses could be exclusively item-based (jewelry, gloves, boots, etc.) and one instance of each of these item would be generated in every corresponding region generated by the world builder. The catch would be that the defenses couldn't be necessary to succeed in the areas the items were generated in, because that could leave the player with a catch 22.

    I didn't elaborate on this idea fully at the time because it was one of many concepts, but yes, the defenses would be more broadly applicable. The volcano would not have 100% fire damage enemies, and fire damage would not be exclusive to the volcano. Building up your arsenal of defenses would still help you out in other areas, but the region's theme would be the dominant factor in a given area.
    One common game design is to give people the item that would trivialize the challenge they just overcame. Lets take an item that lets you breath underwater as the example. Say there will be a dungeon to beat that will have water sections where your breath capacity is part of the challenge. You can't put it after the water-breathing item, as the challenge will be removed. So, you want it before, but you also want the water breathing item to be thematically related to how you get it, and hence after the water dungeon becomes a prime place to put it. If you have a more open-ended design, at the end of the water dungeon may be the only place you can put it to guarantee that ordering. Having that be necessary to finish such an area can also be thematically appropriate. It falls flat if you never need to breathe underwater after than point-ongoing quests should still encounter water sections, where the water breathing is a definite asset, but neither necessary nor trivializing.
  • Mystify said:


    I didn't elaborate on this idea fully at the time because it was one of many concepts, but yes, the defenses would be more broadly applicable. The volcano would not have 100% fire damage enemies, and fire damage would not be exclusive to the volcano. Building up your arsenal of defenses would still help you out in other areas, but the region's theme would be the dominant factor in a given area.
    One common game design is to give people the item that would trivialize the challenge they just overcame. Lets take an item that lets you breath underwater as the example. Say there will be a dungeon to beat that will have water sections where your breath capacity is part of the challenge. You can't put it after the water-breathing item, as the challenge will be removed. So, you want it before, but you also want the water breathing item to be thematically related to how you get it, and hence after the water dungeon becomes a prime place to put it. If you have a more open-ended design, at the end of the water dungeon may be the only place you can put it to guarantee that ordering. Having that be necessary to finish such an area can also be thematically appropriate. It falls flat if you never need to breathe underwater after than point-ongoing quests should still encounter water sections, where the water breathing is a definite asset, but neither necessary nor trivializing.

    I like this idea. In Spelunky (another one of those completely unrelated, but still design-inspiring games), finding the jetpack is hard. In general, its great to have it, but in particular the jetpack is useful for the ice levels which contain many spread apart platforms, and at the bottom, a pit of certain doom. Its possible to get through the ice levels without a jetpack, but generally much harder.

    This mechanic has been used well in many metroidvania style games. There are often certain sections that are seemingly impossible to get through without a given magic item. But if you do get through them without the item, the rewards are often great - i.e. it is now trivial to go get that magic item that was hard to get before. Could be interesting to dynamically generate the world structure such finding artifacts for various regions has semi-intelligent placement to inspire mechanics like this. Doesn't necessarily mean that artifacts will always be in the same type of spot, but even with that the dungeons/whatever could be randomly generated to keep it fresh.
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