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Numbers, for a game all about numbers

Discussion in 'Game Design, Development And Publishing' started by Yal, Oct 21, 2019.

  1. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    I'm torn between two radically different schools of RPG number design:
    • the Disgaea school where you might as well forget about the stat cap, being on a endless quest to get the highest numbers while there's always higher numbers to get... but at the same time, you can always get better and will never be at a point where everything caps out and your EXP is wasted, However, late in these games, number differences between you and your enemies tend to be so extreme strategy more or less stops mattering, and either side completely rolls over the other.
    • the Paper Mario / XCOM school where hitpoints are in the single digits and a damage of 1 point never stops being significant, and you can do all the damage calculations in your head when deciding what action to do. However, it's hard to provide meaningful steady progression in these games, since 1 point means so much... they need to be handed out very sparingly.
    And then there's games somewhere in between, like Fire Emblem Awakening that uses a simple ATK - DEF formula and numbers capped at 80 or below, which I feel can suffer from the drawbacks of both methods sometimes.


    So... is there a way to combine these two radically different approaches to RPG stats and get the good parts of both while avoiding also getting the drawbacks of both? Or a good way to combat the reliance on numbers in the Disgaea school, or a good way to dole out stready progression in the Paper Mario school? Curious to see what ideas you guys have on this.


    Some of the stuff I've brainstormed so far:
    • Disgaea school: have action commands that, if successful, guarantees a certain level of success no matter stat difference, allowing you to survive even against enemies that would oneshot you (or allowing you to mess up fighting trivial enemies if you slack off too hard). You can ignore stats if you're good enough on the action command minigames, but the stakes get higher the more you are behind.
    • Paper Mario school: introduce decimals to stats, so you can have more gradual growth.
    • Paper Mario school: have a skillpoint system that lets you do miscellaneous growth stuff (new skills, new stat points), and the skillpoints may enter much higher number ranges than the primary stats to allow for that granularity.
     
  2. Desert Dog

    Desert Dog Member

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    I don't know if this is the type of answer you're looking for: As I've simply not looked at RPG attack/defense formula's:

    But I probably have a few concepts you could try use to give a different balance:

    If you become so strong that enemies become meaningless, then you could have another (negative) STAT ( EVIL, or CURSED): After all, no one likes a bully. So if you're farming low level enemies, someone or something curses you. Or curses your weapon.

    So fighting: So same enemies, but a different approach needs to be taken to combat. Because a cursed weapon could hurt you, too. Or hurt your team. Maybe you can just punch your enemies: At least it'll increase your base STRENGTH. Or use some more passive magics.

    (Of course, you could always embrace your evil... and that could lead to a different character development. Perhaps someone who embraces evil starts to lose members of their party until eventually they're alone. Or perhaps there is a black market for cursed weapons: So farming the weak to 'create' new cursed weapons could be an interesting side-hustle)
     
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  3. Catan

    Catan Member

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    I'm not really familiar with the paper mario school, in the Disgaea school though I've seen quite a few attempts to mitigate the problems you described with a varying degree of success. It generally involves some kind of automatic level scaling, meaning that the enemies get stronger the stronger you get, effectively making every battle more fair.
    The problem is that a naive application of this concept totally removes the sense of progression from the player, which is BAD!

    To address this you enemies can be scaled differently, de facto creating enemies that have a "lower threat level" (as in, lower stats growth) making them easier to deal with in the long run as you level up but not total pushovers either, since they still scale to your level. In addition to this you can add a minimum (or maximum) level if you want some of those to be really tough at lower levels, or add more types of attacks at specific levels.
     
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  4. NightFrost

    NightFrost Member

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    Well, in Disgaeas I recall you could easily roll through the main game content (the story) with a character of LVL 100 or less (D3 I think I finished with the MC at LVL 70 or so). The rest, which is running through the random dungeon generator to max level of 9999, is just for funsies. However one problem in Disgaeas you notice even early on is how multiclassing becomes almost a must. Classes with poor hit point progress fare even worse as time passes, to the point where they start getting one-shotted by pretty much any attack. The only cure is to run them through several dozen levels of another class that has better HP progression.
     
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  5. Calvert

    Calvert Member

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    I personally would go similar to how I remember the Mario & Luigi [GBA] approach, (similar to how you described Paper Mario, although I've never played PM) where every Hitpoint matters significantly, and you slowly level your adventurer's stats throughout gameplay. Having a multitude of stats and occasionally giving the player an opportunity to upgrade one of them draws out the process, which in my mind doesn't seem like a negative issue. I believe it gives more weight to the upgrade process, which is positive.

    You mention that the Paper Mario approach makes it hard to provide meaningful steady progression, and after reflecting on the subject, I agree. I think instead of keeping the HP in the single digits, it would be best topped out in the 30's - 50's, although that number would be somewhat subject to the length of the game.

    What makes you feel the Fire Emblem approach can suffer from drawbacks of both methods at times?

    Generally speaking, and maybe this is just speculation and off topic; I don't believe obstacles should get easier as you progress through a game just because your character leveled up. I believe that you should obtain more freedom the more your character grows. A stronger character should not defeat enemies easier, but perhaps it should instead allow the player to take multiple hits so that they have more room to deploy their own strategies. Freedom of choice is the fun part about games anyway, right?

    EDIT:

    No matter the approach of leveling up your stats, it may solve some issues noted above and make for interesting gameplay if you design it so that it's more; Stats = Freedom instead of Stats = Power. This way, you should not have the problem of, "Oh no, I totally obliterated this enemy with ease. That was too easy." Instead it would be, "I have upgraded my character so much that I have more freedom to play the game the way I want."

    I'm just throwing ideas out there at this point.

    Perhaps you can deploy the Paper Mario method and modify it so that different stats are connected together with "strings." Picture a spiderweb with your stats in the webs. (The web does not have to be visible in game) Attack Strength and Hit Points are connected, so that when your Hit Points are low, Attack Strength suffers and becomes weaker. When it comes to leveling up your character, you can choose to boost absolute stats, or you can choose to upgrade a string that is between two stats. If the string between Attack Strength and Hit Points is upgraded, the two stats become more independent, so that neither suffers as much when the other is low. This would be a deeper system to the Paper Mario style method that could keep a good sense of progression.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
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  6. curato

    curato Member

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    Power creep is always an issue. Just how powerful do you want a character to be? My personal opinion is the keep stat progression low. Let the power different mainly come from new skills. No matter what the formula for damage and defense, include some minimum ability for the enemy to do damage then later in the game you can have the same guys from before attack you in mass where they didn't before and still offer some sort of challenge.
     
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  7. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    It's not really the answer I'm looking for, sadly... I have to agree with that. I feel like having a "punish the player for playing the game" system would just be counterproductive (the player would not just ruin their fun by making combat trivial, but also get berated for it). I've seen a few games that lets you juggle a dead enemy's corpse until it touches the ground, getting more drops for each "overkill" hit, but it doesn't translate all that well into a turn-based game. And I want the game to be set in a world where abusing the weak isn't just okay, it's done EVERYWHERE.

    Yeah, removing the sense of progress is a bad thing and I'm not a huge fan of level scaling because it's almost always just plain bad. You might as well just not have scaling and increased stats at all... but of course, then you can't have "RPG elements" as a selling point. I'm thinking the action commands system would work mostly in place of level scaling (if you're good at the minigames you can deal damage to lv. 9999 enemies right after the tutorial, but if you mess up even once you're oneshot - and otherwise trivial foes can sneak in some serious hits if you don't focus enough when fighting them) but it's ultimately not going to feel REWARDING to fight enemies that are too low-level even if it's fun... so a bit of both probably is necessary.

    I'm having some ideas for how to make level scaling work out better than Oblivion... thoughts?
    • Certain enemy types would not scale at all, or have a max scaling level that they can't go past (e.g. rats, slime, other entry-level enemies).
    • Story-based stuff maybe shouldn't scale at all, because it removes the "you can just grind to get more stats" fallback solution when a player really struggles with a boss.
    • Recurring bosses would grow stronger each time you meet them, so maybe they would keep up with you better? If they're your self-appointed rival they might take keeping up with you more personally.
    • Side quest stuff could scale with the area's crime rate and demonic invasion rate more than they scale with the player's level, so areas designated as being dangerous will FEEL dangerous.
    • Maybe level scaling is based on your overall progression rather than your level, so you can get ahead with grinding if you want but you still will face stronger and stronger enemies the further you are into the game.
    Another idea I just got... what if the player can turn level scaling on/off? Like, you get a checkbox that says "adjusted level?" which affects whether the mission uses the "recommended" level or scales enemies to your level? Disgaea 5 has a similar feature with the Cheat Shop that just lets you turn up enemy levels if you feel things get too trivial, but it's very hard to tell how many stars is enough but not TOO much... having things either be scaled to your level or "the intended way" lets you always get appropriately-levelled enemies if you want, but get that sense of progression if you just wanna tear through the game like a knife through butter.

    It's even worse in Disgaea 5, I can assure you... to get a chance at some of the postgame content, you need to max out EVERY class to get the most base stats (class mastery bonuses is like 95% of your total stats, making the classic "grind to 9999 to save up levels" thing useless), and it means that not only don't you need a full team anymore in the postgame (just one or two really strong members), anyone will have access to every skill anyway AND the same base stats. Together with how the system basically gives you a single stat named The Stat, it removes basically all the strategy...

    Fire Emblem Awakening's endgame has this weird quirk where HP is capped at 80 while total attack power easily goes far beyond that (with crits and Brave weapons) that essentially makes every attack a oneshot. It changes the dynamic between meatshields, armor-tanky and glass cannon classes around in really weird ways (which probably is in no small part due to the ATK-DEF damage dynamic, where the possible difference range between the stats can get really massive).

    I like the idea of "stats = freedom"! That's a way I've not really thought of them before, but I've seen it in some places.... like how Dark Souls has stat requirements for most equipment, and large penalties if you equip something without appropriate stats, so higher stats --> can use more equipment variety. Trying to make every number that influences the game into a stat that unlocks more options for you could be an interesting system... higher raw strength could let you use heavier gear, but you still need higher refined strength to get more powerful attacks. Invincibility time after attacks, attack animation speed and stamina regeneration speed could all be stat-based to allow for different builds. Maybe even universal constants like the number of equip slots might actually be stat-based? You could have an "equipment tank" class which gets a lot of benefits from items' passive effects, but is much more vulnerable to armor-breaking and seduction (that forces them to remove all equipped items) than someone using their innate strength alone.

    Yeah, having a flat progression and having stat boosts be purely from a skill tree feels like the best option in some ways... it's easy to figure out the cap for how strong you can be (and in turn, the game balance), and it gives me an excuse to have tons of filler nodes in the skill tree for all those stat points, making it appear bigger and more impressive.





    Tons of good ideas to consider. I'm still really torn on what I like most, since I'm fond of both of these schools for different reasons... I guess I should take the time to do some practical research as well.
     
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  8. NightFrost

    NightFrost Member

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    Oh, I forgot to mention, you could also look at how Darkest Dungeon does its progression. It has a generic character level, which acts as a maximum cap for weapon, armour and skill levels. The top level you can reach is five. Additionally there are equippable trinkets that can modify stats or skill effects, and some that can heavily modify class playstyle.
     
  9. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    Darkest Dungeon is extra interesting since it has character progression and main base progression be separate, making it easier to progress a character to a higher level the later into the game you are... but that probably has more to do with its characters' perma-death nature than any ideas about what the ideal progression speed is. But perhaps it's just because it has different roots it's worth thinking about the things it does? Maybe having two separate things that progresses in different ways could be the answer to my "how do I combine these two radically different schools of game progression?" question... * thoughtful chin-rubbing intensifies*
     
  10. NightFrost

    NightFrost Member

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    Permadeath means one should be able to bring a character to max level reasonably fast. Which Darkest Dungeon does, though all the upgrades are going to cost you a good amount of money. (There's also a town event that lets you resurrect one dead hero, but one shouldn't count on that to happen.) But a permadeath aspect can be mitigated with cautious gameplay... my best run in DD so far (not quite finished yet) is three deaths thanks to huge risk-aversion tactic.

    (Plus one from a misunderstanding, I thought deaths on Farmstead are ok because the characters don't really die but get "sharded" instead... which actually is only true after you have opened the Endless mode. Plus a bunch of low-levels I've killed intentionally, for achievements and for when the bandit raid event was still bypassable by throwing in a few recruits to die in it.)
     
  11. HeWhoShallNotBeNamed

    HeWhoShallNotBeNamed Member

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    I agree with most of this, especially the optional scaling. I was actually going to suggest that myself. And I really like the idea of individual areas having a sliding difficulty based on crime rates, etc. That seems more natural than having certain areas gated off behind artificial level caps and might provide a natural ebb and flow to difficulty based on player actions. Here are some other ideas that may or may not be helpful:
    • Have enemies learn new abilities as the player gets stronger. They'd be the same basic foes, but perhaps with ways to debilitate the player or protect themselves from being one-shotted.
    • Introduce new, stronger enemies to old areas as the player progresses. They can go through demolishing almost everything and then go, "What in the hell is that thing?" For the most part, XCOM did a good job with this.
    • You could also do the XCOM thing of giving even basic foes ways to pick you apart. In XCOM 2, it didn't matter if Sectoids were the first enemy you encountered. They could still mind control your best soldier.
    • Once players reach a maximum level, let them exchange any experience points they earn for skill points/gold/etc. Or when they level up, give them the option of taking a skill point or stat increase.
    • I think most of your so-called "entry-level" foes should only scale to a certain percentage of the player's level, if at all. One of my favorite parts of the old Dragon Warrior/Quest games was when you got so powerful that enemies actually run from you.
    • I would suggest keeping boss enemies at the same level as the player, or at least close to it. Overpowering random flunkies is one thing, but players should have to use strategy (and yes, new abilities learned through leveling) to take out major foes.
    • Maybe you could save level scaling for mission replays or New Game+.
    • When your characters level up, you could give players a choice of which stats to raise. Rather than making an all-powerful character, you can have a speedy character with low HP or a high HP tank that can barely make a dent in enemies. Keeps the player character from being overpowered, adds customization and replay value.

    I'm interested in hearing what you come up with on this one. Hope I was of some help.
     
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  12. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    Several of these ideas would actually work prefectly with what I have in mind so far! My idea for the game so far is that there's a giant skill tree where all the classes are connected: spending enough skill points to buy abilities in one class will unlock advanced classes that are promotions from it, but advanced classes and their abilities get much more expensive. The tree would have a lot of "filler" nodes that are just "stat x + 1" or "stat y +1%" in-between all the fun abilities, and that would be your main way to increase your stats (and the stats would match the classes, so mages would get more INT and MP while physical classes would get more STR and HP). So this would work well with both the "be able to spend points even on max level" idea and the "enemies get more abilities as you progress" idea - enemies would use the skill tree as well, and on random battles / repeat missions they could get a skill point allottance to randomly spend on the skill tree instead of being stuck with whatever they had during the story version of the battle.

    I also think a lot of the monster flavor should come from unique abilities... water spirits that can move an infinite distance as long as it's across water cells, undead creatures automatically reviving after a certain amount of turns unless you kill them in special ways, wolves being guaranteed to join in allies' attacks to land extra hits... that sort of thing. Entry-level foes would be things like rats and part-time criminals, who would lack these kinds of abilities, and later on you would face greater threats with abilities that change how they play much more. (Especially bosses)

    I'm a bit worried having normal enemies not level scale and bosses level scale could lull players into a fake sense of security and then get completely stuck on boss battles, but that's probably not as much of a concern if progression overall is more flat... and I guess I could always have an option to turn off level scaling for bosses unlock if you game over on them 5 times in a row or something.

    One thing I've seen recently that I might stea... er, TAKE INSPIRATION FROM is the latest Fire Emblem game having bosses have multiple healthbars... the idea is that no matter how powerful you are, you can't kill them in one turn, you can at most kill one healthbar at a time and then any excess damage is lost. It's probably more of a thing to specifically solve the FEA oneshot situation than a general solution, but it's an interesting way to deal with having bosses actually last a while to be threatening enough, no matter how powerful you are.

    Actually, I got an idea for how to do that right now... Mario Maker-style enemy towers. I've already made some platform game spin-offs for this IP, so it wouldn't be too weird... and since I basically wanna borrow all mechanics from Disgaea I might as well take tower attacks as well. So the idea is that you can encounter stacks of enemies that act as a single one, and you can only attack the bottommost one, so it will take at least as many turns to kill them as there are units in the tower... but they also can only attack once per turn, so they aren't much more threatening than a single enemy. Later in the game the stacks could be mixed, so you need to think more carefully about when to kill the bottommost unit in a tower depending on what abilities the next one has.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
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  13. HeWhoShallNotBeNamed

    HeWhoShallNotBeNamed Member

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    I thought about that too, but it might make bosses seem like more of a legitimate threat if the player has to think through the fight after going through a bunch of cannon fodder just casually hitting the Attack key.

    This would also work if you have bosses with multiple forms or body parts/sections to destroy. Maybe you could, for example, have a boss with arms you can target. Destroying the arms could do more damage to the body than direct attacks would or, and I just thought of this as I was writing and might use myself, the boss could choose to sacrifice some health to restore defeated segments. Maybe there are certain abilities the enemy can't use without the destroyed segment, so while it wouldn't be necessary to attack these segments, it would make your job easier in the long run.

    From a legal standpoint, I don't think you're supposed to ADMIT to stealing game mechanics. You might end up in court with a lawyer telling you to please read the highlighted segment. Not saying don't DO it, just, you know, deny, deny, deny.
     
  14. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    All right, all right... fixed :p

    I was more thinking having it be like in an arcade shmup game (e.g. Crimzon Clover, Jamestown, Deathsmiles), where the boss switches attack patterns each time you empty one of its healthbars, with the healthbars not really representing anything. A lot of the story bosses would be humans, and the concept of temporarily blasting away limbs wouldn't make sense... and later boss phases being easier kinda feels like bad game design... except if you occasionally do it for story reasons, like making the player feel sad and doubt their actions when they're forced to keep killing a boss that's just given up and doesn't even try to attack them anymore, but I feel it wouldn't really work for EVERY boss.

    I'm thinking of stea- er, taking inspiration from Etrian Odyssey's Head/arm/leg binds, which are ailments that temporarily disable that body part, making skills that are performed with that body part (spells, most physical skills, dodging/dashes, respectively) unusable and greatly cutting the associated stat... so the dynamic would still be there, but it would be more "okay now you got a few turns without the boss being able to use their most devastating attack" dynamic than "okay now you unlocked the next phase of the boss... where it's easier".

    The idea with multiple body parts would definitely have uses, though! A whole bunch of giant demons I wanna include as bosses are about as big as a house, and having their individual body parts be separatedly targetable but sharing the same health pool could be an interesting balance factor... the boss would go from just having a huge hitbox that's impossible to miss to still require prioritization. And if it could attack once per alive body part, this could make the boss go from a big damage sponge that hits like a truck to a more literal one-man army: it's a bunch of separate units that take separate actions, they just share HP and move together. (And even that could be waived for things like hydras). I'm starting to like it more and more for every sentence I type *-*
     
  15. Khao

    Khao Member

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    Personally, I've always felt like the simpler, the better. When the numbers are so large that a difference of a hundred points is insignificant, it becomes almost pointless to even show those numbers. When they're small, every adjustment makes a substantial difference. With large numbers, it usually just becomes a min-maxing type of gameplay, where you just try your best to get the biggest numbers. With smaller numbers, like in Paper Mario, I feel like it allows for more varied strategies. Especially if you have action command style gameplay, because then numbers are not even the deciding factor.

    A lot of it comes down to personal preference though. A lot of people like min-maxing everything in games, and for such people, having large numbers, with different ways to increase them through multiple layers of upgrades and improvements and stat boosts and ****, is the ideal scenario. But the way I see it, when you're treating stats like that, numbers are irrelevant other than to compare and see if they're larger or smaller than what you already have. And the problem becomes obvious when most number-heavy RPGs these days have tons of QoL features to take your attention of the numbers themselves and just say "yes, this will overall make you 5% stronger," with an optional tab to see the specific details that ultimately don't matter. If you have to simplify the min-maxing aspect that much to make it fun, what even is the point?

    Maybe I'm just weird, but when I'm playing games, I don't like thinking about the numbers. I don't like seeing the numbers. I don't like spending my time making my numbers bigger. I prefer to think about the strategy, the mechanics, the gameplay itself and the setting. If the numbers are vital to the experience, like in most tactical RPGs, make them easy to follow from their very core.
     
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  16. HeWhoShallNotBeNamed

    HeWhoShallNotBeNamed Member

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    For me, this depends on the game. I loved old-school RPGs as a kid, so hitting something and seeing numbers pop up has been a part of my gaming life since the start, to the point where I almost don't notice they're there. Even in something like the Borderlands games I don't mind it, as they're light, arcade-y fun. I don't necessarily like sitting in a menu comparing damage versus reload speed of two guns every minute and a half (and I like the urge to toss a gun I like in favor of some random Legendary just BECAUSE its a Legendary even more, but that's another topic), but I'm willing to put up with it. That's something that almost feels like its built into the game world and lore. On the other hand, I intensely dislike the RPG-ification of the Assassin's Creed series. Those games have always been based on a somewhat loose form of historical realism, and the level-gating, stat-tracking, and HP bar-whittling takes me right out of the experience, even if I do like some of the changes in other areas.
     
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