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Author Topic: The art of spellcasting  (Read 77536 times)

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« Reply #105 on: September 05, 2010, 10:22:01 am »

Speaking of magic systems...

"...the skill system which is frankly best described as a souped up version of Final Fantasy VII's materia system. The equipment that players acquire can have slots in them -- up to six slots in particularly good gear. The slots are color-coded, and the colors serve to limit which gems can be inserted into them. When linked with more passive gems, the active skill gems can be altered and improved.

I was shown an example of this in a video that will likely surface in a few weeks, in which a fireball gem was slotted. The character launched a single fireball that sailed through the air and hit a wall. He then linked a gem that would increase the number of projectiles. The character launched two fireballs that forked away from each other. That was swapped out for a gem that increased projectile speeds. A single fireball raced across the screen. Finally, the projectile speed gem was traded for a gem that would allow for multiple attacks. The character launched two fireballs, one after the other. These could, in the right armor, be linked in various combinations to allow for fast, forking fireballs.

Rather than improving their skills as they level up, with this gem system, the gems themselves gain experience and level up independently of the character. Higher-level abilities are naturally more effective. Fireballs will be stronger, a leveled-up projectile-modifying gem will shoot three, then four, then fire more fireballs etc... "
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« Reply #106 on: October 01, 2010, 11:08:47 pm »

On acquiring magic spells, I refer the honourable gentleman to the Book of Coming Forth In the Day (or the Book of the Dead, to non-ancient Egyptians). Frequently the utterances/spells have a closing rubric, either explaining what the spell will do (which isn’t always obvious from its text), or more interestingly, citing an origin for the spell. Spell 137a in particular, claims that it was found “'in Hermopolis, under the feet of the Majesty of this god. It was written on a block of Upper Egyptian mineral in the writing of the god himself and was discovered in the time of the Majesty of the vindicated King of Upper and Lower Egypt Menkaure. It was the king's son Hordedef who found it while he was going around making an inspection of the temples.”

In other words, the spell is of divine origin, found by royalty, in a place far from the prying eyes of the common folk. It is rarefied, ancient and secret knowledge (yours for only a pot of honey!). Other spells claim equally obscure origins – in secret rooms in temples, usually. I’m not sure that mage-players should be entirely defenceless until they wade through their first dungeon, only to pick up “Missile of Patience”, but I do think magic should have some mystique about it. One simple way to alter the D&D system in this way would be simply to make new spells rarer.

Getting ‘fireball’ as a mage for the first time is pretty satisfying, but it’d be much more satisfying to discover the Eighth Mystery of the Lord of the Bushel (which, you would discover, is a spell for boiling the blood of your enemies), or something like that, anyway, in a chest, hidden deep in a ruined temple, overrun by wild animals, I think. For added zest, the text of the spell itself should be gibberish, with a little comment in brackets being the character’s interpretation of it. It’d lend authenticity, anyway.

Actually, fireball isn’t too bad in terms of generic-ness. The spell I really hate is Magic Missile. It’s unbelievably generic – so generic, it doesn’t even have anything magical about it. It’s a ball of energy-type stuff, which hurts bad people. Wow. I’m awed by the magicalness.

I think you wrote in a previous article on this point – that magic should be a matter of affecting the world around you, not just solving
problems at the snap of your fingers (as Magic Missile does). I believe you cited the example of having statues come alive. Again – suppose you’re fighting on a country path. It’s logical for the player there to be able to use a spell like D&D’s  “Entangle”. But why should you be able to do that on the stone floor of Lord Clunt’s mansion?

On systems of magic (mana v memorisation), I suppose my problem is the idea that magic is a discrete entity. Magic, to me, and I suspect to most people before the  20th Century, was a method of altering the world, not a thing in itself. You could contrast it with science, in that both are methodologies, rather than independent things. The idea of having a ‘science pool’, or somesuch, seems like nonsense to us.

I suppose what I’m aiming toward is a system akin to the D&D system of having distinct spells (though spells which are less like ‘magic missile’, and more like the Hand of Glory...), which you discover/learn, rather than a mix-n-match system.
Obviously, ‘forgetting’ spells once you’ve cast them is just plain silly; I don’t really have an alternative, though. I’m not much of a fan of mana systems either, though I suppose you could say my objections are aesthetic rather than logical.

I was toying with the idea of scrapping the mage class in RPGs altogether, and simply giving fighters a choice of apotrophaic and execratory texts, and magically imbued items, like the Hand of Glory, for example, for use in-game, but I’m not sure I like the idea of having to be in the thick of the fray.

Anyway, there’s some fairly unsorted thoughts for you. Hopefully there’s something of interest in there.

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The flame-serpent is not to be found in the house of he who possesses Ombos.
It is a serpent which will bite, which has slipped into the house of him whom it will bite, that it may remain in it."

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« Reply #107 on: October 02, 2010, 09:51:18 am »

Great post. I agree with pretty much everything. The bit about "the spell of divine origin, found by royalty, in a place far from the prying eyes of the common folk; rarefied, ancient and secret knowledge" was very interesting. That's pretty much how it should be done, I think.

Even reading the relatively simple style of the description, which sounds like a snippet from a royal bureaucrat report, adds so much in terms of lore, mystique, and credibility.

"It was found in Hermopolis, under the feet of the Majesty of this god. It was written on a block of Upper Egyptian mineral in the writing of the god himself and was discovered in the time of the Majesty of the vindicated King of Upper and Lower Egypt Menkaure. It was the king's son Hordedef who found it while he was going around making an inspection of the temples."


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« Reply #108 on: January 16, 2011, 02:07:43 pm »

I have to say, making magic in a computer game "cool" is very very hard.
One can dress up the spell effects with cool language, or little mini puzzle games, but when it comes down to it - what do magic spells DO in the game.

a) hurt enemies
b) help (heal, buff) friends
c) (rarely) enhance some non-combat skill (open locked door, etc.)
d) (rarely) create some trivial in-game object (i.e, food)
e) enhance movement

I believe this has to do with a sort of fundamental incompatibility between our understanding that magic "breaks the laws of physics", that is to say -- lets you do ANYTHING - and a virtual world where ALL POSSIBLE INTERACTION or BEHAVIOR must be hard coded in the engine.

Say I want to summon an earth elemental to dig through a wall - ANY wall.  This breaks the game at a fundamental level, for almost every type of "virtual wall" in almost any games.   

No matter what cool and interesting magical *system* you think up, you are fundamentally limited by what the cRPG game engine lets you do.   And even in terms of "create you own spells" - which is not a bad idea, you are obviouly limited by the graphics and animations available in the game.   

The Hero PnP system actually uses a purely functional system for spells (and actually superpowers, which are essentially the same thing).   You use your character points to buy some "power" or spell - but there is fundamentally no difference between a lighting bolt and a fire ball (unless you add stuff like area effect), they are both "Energy blast".   The Player then describes all his spell/powers using any language they want.  I made a Jewish Mother with the mental powers of "Nag" == Mind Control and "Guilt" = "Ego Attack".     This kind of "view" specialization and flexibility is next to impossible in a computer game.

I think the exception would be a game which was simply BUILT around the mage/magic.  So it would not be a typical RPG at all, although it could have RPG elements.    Because of the combinatorial explosion, it would probably end up being something like a mix between an Adventure Game and an actionRPG, and would have to have a pretty stringent "Railed" story.

This doesn't mean that one cannot make a classical a/b/c/d/e magic system "cool and interesting" - but you cannot (in a typical cRPG engine) come near to approaching the breadth and depth of a more creative system.

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« Reply #109 on: March 23, 2019, 07:51:58 pm »

But the Vancian system isn't a good fit for this faster pace, wizards get only a handful of spells per day to work with. While a warrior can keep pushing through combat encounters until they take too much damage, a wizard needs to be frugal with his cache of memorized spells. The lower levels of play are especially tedious for mage players. Either you have to rely on a party to support your fragile character until he reaches respectable levels of power or you have to sleep between each and every encounter. Which either results in further tedium in the form of trips back to town, or adding the ability to sleep whenever and wherever the player wants to the game, completely breaking the balance.

Personally the Vancian system has remained the most enjoyable system to me personally even in digital format and with those cons you listed, and I think you nailed the head with one word: frugality. In trying to analyze what elements my favorite games over the years had in common including AoD, meaningful choices is a recurring factor -- meaningful as in I have to make them carefully, they have real consequences, costs, pros and cons. I can't just mindlessly click stuff and not think twice about it, or else I'll soon regret it.

Frugality is at the heart of meaningful choice in the obvious sense that if I was a billionare with an infinite source of wealth, I could just buy everything without thinking twice about it. Meanwhile if I'm living paycheck-to-paycheck, even my choice of daily groceries is something that requires careful thought because whatever choice I make comes at heavy costs to me in exchange for the benefits. I prefer playing games this way, forced to be frugal with my choices (maybe not as much in real life -- somehow I wanna be a millionaire superhero in real life who is amazing at everything and a poor person who is good at certain things and horrible at others in video games).

My second favorite is games like Shining Force where they draw from a mana pool, but it's extremely finite. Even a high-level wizard might have like 15 mana points and some strong offense spell costs 4 points, giving him very "limited ammo" -- he can't spam, so to speak, so I'm forced to make careful decisions about what spell to use in a given turn (if I use one at all). There's still a frugality element there, though the "universal" nature of the ammo ("mana") makes it so I don't have to be quite as frugal as the Vancian spell memorization system.

The Ultima rune system shines again, demonstrating the superior flexibility of the language systems. VAS (great) rune handles the demand for more power in an easy and intuitive way.

I must admit that rune systems are the least entertaining systems I've encountered (maybe it's due to my limited imagination and limited ability to immerse myself in such a system). The problem to me is that while it's interesting that there's a language like AN NOX to cure poison which makes sense, quickly it becomes apparent to me that I have no freedom and creative control (not to mention that all the possible spell combinations are listed in the game manual).

It's like a text-based vs. point-n-click adventure game. The first time I ever played a text-based adventure game, I thought I had unlimited freedom. So I typed all sorts of things and I got responses like:

>> I don't understand what you are trying to do.
>> We don't know what you're trying to do. Try typing something else.
>> You can't do that at this time.
>> Huh?
>> That doesn't make any sense to me. Try something else.

And it quickly becomes apparent that we have no more freedom than the point-n-click version, except the latter streamlines the experience in ways that leave you with mostly meaningful choices, eliminating the ones that have no effect whatsoever, while the text-based version leaves me with brute-force trial and error in some cases trying to figure out what on earth the game wants me to type into the window. If a rune spellcasting system offered true freedom, I'd expect it to do things no other players have seen before, that designers never anticipated. Such a system would be glorious for someone like me in endlessly exploring it and seeing what sort of combos I can come up with that no one has seen before, but that's very different from a finite set of pre-programmed combinations that I can find in the manual or from other players who discovered them already.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2019, 08:14:08 pm by old_school_gamer » Logged
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