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Scott
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« Reply #45 on: March 03, 2008, 08:20:26 am »

NOT having minigames is a must in any "true" RPG, at least in any RPG that's good enough NOT to take player skill into consideration. Just as you'll want turn based point and click combat so your own skill doesn't affect your character's, you'll want skill checks (maybe not dice rolls, but skill checks, yes) in non-combat activities, no matter if it is lock picking or persuasion.
Huh?  Who said mini-games had to be skill based?

I think having a few fun, logic-based mini-games sprinkled throughout could add a lot to an RPG provided that (a) they are in no way mandatory to gameplay; (b) the rewards for playing are tangential to quest rewards (ie. not xp and not gold).

Now seems as good a time as any to get my dialogue skill check beef out in the open:  I hate the typical D&D game skill check flowchart (exemplified in ToEE) that goes:

high enough intimidation skill  > initimidate dialogue option > success!
not high enough skill             > no dialogue option           > failiure!   > come back later with higher skill...

I can understand reduced options based on a very low Int, but choosing the right options in dialogue should be a matter of player observation and intelligence.  Otherwise, it just become a boring-ass binary routine.

Imagine if your party encountered 200 kobolds in a cave, and the fight was decided by the party's total strength score.  If it's over 40, you win!  If it's 40 or less, you can't win!  Go take a Potion of Strength and try again!  It reduces role-playing to stacking up beads in an abacus.  If you have enough beads, you da man!
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Vince
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« Reply #46 on: March 03, 2008, 10:30:39 am »

Alternative opinion:
http://roguelikedeveloper.blogspot.com/2008/03/being-diplomatic.html

"Dialog trees are one-dimensional. You don't have the ability to back-track, unless the speaking option is included by the dialog designer (And how many times have we experienced repetitive dialog) - instead, it's just a choice of a few options, usually cut down because of constraints of screen space and sentence complexity. You don't know what the ultimate goal of the conversation is to start with, whereas in combat it's clear - kill the opponents. So you don't know which approach to the conversation is best.

Compare this to the multiple options made available in combat, and the complexities of range and terrain that complicate it. Dialog trees just don't have the same level of sophistication.

So how can we improve the diplomacy mechanic? I suspect turning dialog into a mini-game of some kind is the right way. But every mini-game mechanic I've come up with so far makes me cringe even worse than dialog trees."
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Mouse
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« Reply #47 on: March 03, 2008, 10:32:49 am »

I've been thinking about this some more.

It seems to me that a lot of games can be characterised as a framework hosting sub-games. (I'm going to use this term over mini-games for now). Most frequently this sub-game is combat-based, but it doesn't have to be.

Now, narrative gives an incentive to progress independent of the sub-games. However, if the narrative unfolds too easily, the player may feel unchallenged, and if the sub-games are tedious, the player may grow frustrated. (Branching narrative does help a lot with keeping player interest when challenge is low, but it's time-expensive to implement lengthy branches.)

The main issue with any sub-game is player fatigue. By its very nature, the sub-game is liable to become repetitive. So, as the main game progresses the sub-game broadens - the player gains options, is faced with different challenges. Combat's well understood: the player begins by facing weak-looking foes while equipped with puny weaponry and having only a few options, and progresses to stronger foes, better weaponry, more options. The changes in foes and weapons are largely cosmetic, and can only do so much to halt player fatigue; it's the new abilities, new ways to play the sub-game that are more exciting. It's less well understood how to make lock-picking or climbing or hacking into an interesting sub-game that will be resistant to player fatigue. So non-combat solutions to problems are lost because developers don't know how to make using them fun, or at least don't know how to make them as fun as the combat solution.

To look at an example of this: imagine a building with two entrances. One is guarded by a guard, one has a locked door.

If opening the locked door costs me nothing, I will open the door if I am tired of the combat sub-game (which, these days, having played a variety of RPG combat sub-games, I likely am by default) or if for some reason I think that actually role-playing a character in the game is likely to be more rewarding than frustrating. The first time I do this, there is a sense of novelty. The fourteenth time I do this, it is as if the door weren't locked in the first place. I am going to be aware I'm making a choice only if the game brings some consequences on me for picking the lock.

If it costs me something from a scarce resource (wear and tear on my lockpick, say), I am forced to choose, am made aware I'm making a decision, and gain the notion that I am being challenged, that I have to exert control over the game. The consequences are immediately apparent, and so my perception of the difficulty is raised.

If it involves another sub-game, as long as it's not actively tedious, it will be worth playing sometimes for variety; if it's fun, I am likely to choose the options that let me play it a lot.

If it involves a sub-game and trade-offs, and the sub-game is fun, we have the best of all worlds. If midway through a lock-opening sub-game I realise that opening this particular lock's rusty tumblers will be noisy and possibly alert the people inside, I may elect to look for an alternate route - but the sub-game is anything but wasted, for as a player I feel I've been forced to be clever and make choices, and I have faith that the game will reward me for being clever. Moreover, I identify more with my sneaky character as the game nudges me towards thinking in a sneaky manner.
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galsiah
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« Reply #48 on: March 03, 2008, 11:06:16 am »

A couple of quick points:
...Turing-test...
A key difference between RPG dialogue and the Turing-test can be a narrowing of conversation domain. Even if a game designer aims for a Turing-test-type solution, he certainly needn't have it cover the entire range of possible conversations - only those that use worthwhile statements in the "language" of the game world. In some RPG contexts, that might still be a huge range, but in others it could be highly restricted. Getting NPCs to respond convincingly only to reasonable, contextual statements greatly simplifies the situation - though it's still not simple, of course.
In this sense an RPG conversation system might be more analogous to an expert system than a Turing-test candidate: it'd understand the situation in the narrow game world very well, but be all at sea outside this area of expertise.

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Agreed that evolution on this score is necessary. Not sure I understand the "consistent across exclusive dialogues" thing.
I think he means that consistency over dialogues that are mutually exclusive in a single playthrough of a game isn't necessary. I.e. that the character/history/values... of a specific NPC can reasonably be mutable over different playthroughs, even though it should be consistent(ish) within each individual playthrough.
Of course this means that each playthrough is an exploration of a new world, not another journey through the same world - but I'd say that this is desirable, in some cases at least.

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Good point. What shall we call it? Tactical simulation?
Since the point is to emphasize the way such a feature ties in to the rest of the game, giving it a better label in isolation isn't likely to help get away from the issues of mini-game-itis. As to the specific "Tactical simulation" idea, I'm not keen - it's too narrow and prescriptive. I'd go with something generic like "gameplay system" if anything at all.
Either way, the emphasis on connectivity with other systems is more important than the label.
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galsiah
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« Reply #49 on: March 03, 2008, 11:24:24 am »

By its very nature, the sub-game is liable to become repetitive. So, as the main game progresses the sub-game broadens - the player gains options, is faced with different challenges. Combat's well understood: the player begins by facing weak-looking foes while equipped with puny weaponry and having only a few options, and progresses to stronger foes, better weaponry, more options. The changes in foes and weapons are largely cosmetic, and can only do so much to halt player fatigue; it's the new abilities, new ways to play the sub-game that are more exciting.
I don't agree that this is the main point. It's not the options within a subgame that are most important - it's the variety and significance of the long-term implications of those options.

X-Com combat relies on the extra weapons, abilities etc. a little to mix things up, but that's certainly not its major strength. Its major strength lies in the wide range of significant outcomes possible from each combat - and the meaning this lends to each action within the combat. Ten X-Com combats in a row can use the same abilities, and very similar immediate context, yet retain edge-of-your-seat tension throughout. That's not through an emphasis on making the actions intrinsically fun - it's through an emphasis on making them meaningful.

This is the reason it's so important to view such a "sub-game" (which I think is also a bad term with entirely the wrong emphasis) as tied in to the rest of the game. Think of it in isolation, and you'll be forever coming up with player-fatigue "solutions" that miss the central point: that player action must be meaningful. Think of it as a part of the whole, and you're much more likely to do things properly.

Note here that I also disagree that RPG combat does things too well - it doesn't, which is why I use X-Com combat as an example. RPG combat most often uses the methods you describe extensively, and gets passable results. X-Com combat uses the above methods (and relatively little intrinsic variety) to achieve far better results.

Of course I concede that it's simpler to give combat sub-actions meaningful medium/long-term consequences than to do the same with other gameplay systems (which makes it even more vexing that it's so rarely bothered with). However, it's a worthwhile aim for all such systems. I'd say that it's usually not done due to an emphasis on decomposition in design - too great a focus on each section, and hardly any on the way they all tie together (beyond functional necessity).

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So non-combat solutions to problems are lost because developers don't know how to make using them fun, or at least don't know how to make them as fun as the combat solution.
Again - I'd say that the central problem is their thinking that to "make them [intrinsically] fun" is the goal. It isn't - it's to make them contextually entertaining. Until someone beats this into them, there's little hope.


EDIT: oh and this
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It seems to me that a lot of games can be characterised as a framework hosting sub-games.
...is just horrible. Perhaps a lot of games can be characterised that way, but to the extent that's fitting, they're badly designed. Improving things within such a context is a waste of effort, since it's a context that needs to be banished from the universe.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2008, 11:31:44 am by galsiah » Logged
GhanBuriGhan
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« Reply #50 on: March 03, 2008, 12:00:54 pm »

I think it is certainly worthwile to think about how dialogue could be made to incorporate more gameplay in its mechanics. Dialogue trees are a great narrative element, and can be a great tool to force difficult decisions on the player (which may be considered a gameplay element, at least that is how I understood VD's take on the subject. But still, clicking through a branching dialogue structure determined (at best) by your skill set and a number of game flags isn't much in the sense of engaging gameplay. The only instances I remember where dialogue and gameplay were directly connected was the legendary pirate duels in Monkey Island, and the voigt-kampf test in Bladerunner...

So I'll throw out some random ideas for adding gameplay elements to dialogue and you get to tear them apart:

- have (skill dependent) indicators of NPC intentions (e.g. lying-honest, benevolent-malvolent) or emotional states (e.g. angry, scared, friendly) to assist in decision making
- Make persuasion into a Magic the Gathering style card game
- Make certain key choices timed - not to the level of reflex testing, but to add some drama.
- Make dialogue lines multipart, so that you can choose (skill-dependent) different options with subtle differences in meaning (and effect). This could to an extent be done in analogy to current alchemy systems, only instead of combining ingredients to achieve a certain effect, you combine phrases. OR:
- Provide the character with a (skill dependent) list of openings, interrupts, and good-byes that he can choose according to the NPC he interacts with and the situation. Have an AI system for NPC's that simulates emotional states, and allow these states to be influenced by the chosen options.


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Mouse
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« Reply #51 on: March 03, 2008, 12:35:51 pm »

X-Com combat relies on the extra weapons, abilities etc. a little to mix things up, but that's certainly not its major strength. Its major strength lies in the wide range of significant outcomes possible from each combat - and the meaning this lends to each action within the combat. Ten X-Com combats in a row can use the same abilities, and very similar immediate context, yet retain edge-of-your-seat tension throughout. That's not through an emphasis on making the actions intrinsically fun - it's through an emphasis on making them meaningful.
No.

XCOM is strong largely because it gives you enough options from the very start to make the sub-game tactical and interesting. The reaction point mechanic, the broad space and relatively large squad, the explosives (which affect how you should deploy your squad) vs projectile weapons tradeoff - all of this makes it a vastly richer battlefield than RPG combat generally is. I will agree the tension is heightened by the possibility of permanently losing squad members, and the alien-capture goals, but if the battlefield sub-game were no better than standard RPG combat, XCOM wouldn't even have been a particularly memorable game.

And even then, even with all those advantages from the start, XCOM dribbles in new enemies, new ship types, new terrains, new weapons to research, new abilities. And, at times, that's just as well, because the combat can still get repetitive - I currently have an XCOM game going that I've been avoiding for a couple of weeks because it's got about three combats lined up and my hunger for its tactical combat has been largely sated lately.

This is the reason it's so important to view such a "sub-game" (which I think is also a bad term with entirely the wrong emphasis) as tied in to the rest of the game. Think of it in isolation, and you'll be forever coming up with player-fatigue "solutions" that miss the central point: that player action must be meaningful. Think of it as a part of the whole, and you're much more likely to do things properly.

A sub-game with no connection to the rest of the game is, of course, a useless bit of ornamentation. Most sub-games have at least a slight connection, though.

However, the tools XCOM uses to make its conflicts more meaningful are less accessible to the RPG designer - the goals of capturing alien navigators/leaders etc are hard to achieve and most conflicts will end without them being met, while taking advantage of the player habit of caring about the more advanced members of their squad is possible precisely because the squad is numerous and interchangeable; you can't allow RPG NPCs to be slaughtered so casually and retain them in the narrative. We come back to permanent consequences and the resulting combinatorial explosion of content.

Again - I'd say that the central problem is their thinking that to "make them [intrinsically] fun" is the goal. It isn't - it's to make them contextually entertaining. Until someone beats this into them, there's little hope.
You're going to have to explain contextually entertaining to me. I'm getting the impression you're railing against a straw man here. If there's nothing more than an extra click needed, it doesn't matter how contextually relevant and important it is that I climb a wall, or pick a lock, once I've picked a dozen locks or climbed a dozen walls - by the time it becomes routine, it's something I don't need to think about, something that could as easily have been omitted by having an open door there instead. But a game of passing through open door after open door has little by the way of actual gameplay.

Conversely, even if it's really important that I climb the wall, but they've stuck me with some interface to doing so that annoys me (let's say the old jumping puzzle painfully done in too many games), I'm quite likely at some point to decide I'm not bloody-minded enough to complete it. It's nice that solving the sub-game saves me from certain death, or gives me the Amulet of Ultimate Power, or has whatever consequences you feel are important, but if it's actively tedious, I'm not going to enjoy slogging through it.

EDIT: oh and this
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It seems to me that a lot of games can be characterised as a framework hosting sub-games.
...is just horrible. Perhaps a lot of games can be characterised that way, but to the extent that's fitting, they're badly designed. Improving things within such a context is a waste of effort, since it's a context that needs to be banished from the universe.
But I suspect most of your favourite games would fit comfortably into this category. XCOM is very much a main game framework with a couple of combat sub-games attached. Fallout, Planescape, and many others go into sub-game mode when combat's encountered. It's not a symptom of bad design in the slightest, but the very opposite: when a situation is encountered that the main interface is weak at representing, then a new interface is provided. It's folly to think that one interface should be able to handle all situations.
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Priapist
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« Reply #52 on: March 03, 2008, 01:05:00 pm »

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Agreed that evolution on this score is necessary. Not sure I understand the "consistent across exclusive dialogues" thing.

Just a quick clarify on this before I head off to bed. Basically, if you have mutually exclusive branches/threads in your dialogue, they don't necessarily need to correlate. In theory, you could have a character who admits truthfully to being a murderer in one path, and the same character admitting truthfully to not being a murderer in an exclusive path, thus characterising them in a completely different way. Of course, that does have a ripple effect if other characters are required to account for whether or not he's a murderer.

It's a strange point to make, but that simple difference in characterisation could potentially drive player behaviours ("I'm not going to let a confessed murder adventure alongside me!") and unrelated facets of that character could drive ripples down the track. Maybe he's a talented loremaster, and one of very few people who can understand <insert long dead language here>. To that end, Player 1 might happily let the innocent version tag along, and months later while translating an ancient text, he unwittingly unleashes some demonic force. Player 2 might refuse to allow the confessed murderer to come along, and be unable to gain access to a temple that requires an understanding of the language, without first catering to the whims of someone else who can read the same ancient text, which in this tangent, has no associated curse.

My point? I'm sure I had one. Ah yes, that a designer can get a certain amount of mileage through a bit of trickery. Events and characters only need to preserve continuity for each single playthrough - so rather than the situation where the player must pick the "right" dialogue choice, you have dialogue choices that culminate in entirely different events, and it's best if there's no scripted connection between these events.

And to extend it somewhat - let's say there's a one off dialogue branch where an NPC reveals the location of a hidden temple. If the player opts for an exclusive branch, that hidden temple basically doesn't exist in this tangent of the gameworld. But that doesn't mean the assets associated with the temple need to go into a locked file of unused content. There's no reason why (if the gameworld isn't continuous) that temple couldn't appear in a completely different location, for a completely different purpose with a completely different means of discovery.

I'm rambling here, but I don't feel I've nailed this point concisely. Basically what I'm saying is that in a game where you're intending to exclude any significant amount of content based on character choices - there's no reason why you can't smartly use that content within a completely different context. Each instance of the game should be considered it's own little tangent universe, and so long as it's consistent in and of itself, there's no problem.

Make some sort of sense?
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galsiah
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« Reply #53 on: March 03, 2008, 06:04:24 pm »

X-Com...
No.
XCOM is strong largely because it gives you enough options from the very start to make the sub-game tactical and interesting...
Of course there are many reasons, and of course even X-Com could do the variety of consequences bit better.
However one rates the relative importance of its strengths the central point is that X-Com would become tiresome much earlier without the tie-in of many combat actions to medium/long-term consequences. Not just in terms of combat losses, but also the implications of injuries, tactical withdrawals, live-alien capture, valuable equipment capture (vs. a cautious explosive-round-every-corner-first approach).

The "make it intrinsically fun" part is an obvious design aim - which was carried out well in X-Com, as well as in many other games - some RPGs included. The "make individual combat actions matter over the long-term" seems to be less obvious (or at least much less frequently addressed), and is something that hardly any RPG does well with combat. In nearly every RPG, winning the combat is everything, and any losses simply constitute a minor setback that a little grind will offset.

X-Com combat is mechanically richer than RPG combat, but both are aiming at qualitatively similar goals in this respect. The meaningful-long-term-implications aspect isn't simplified/reduced in most RPGs - it's non-existent (the lack of time pressure negates most small setbacks that do exist).

Also, I wouldn't say that X-Com combat necessarily is more complex than quite a bit of RPG combat - e.g. the combat in something like NWN2 is quite mechanically complex. Now why doesn't it come over as complex? Because the complexities are not backed up by meaningful medium/long-term results. It doesn't really matter who dies, who gets injured, what resources are used, and items recovered are fixed... - so it doesn't matter who gets seen/attacked first, which enemies are targeted first, what strategies are used.... It's just down to win-and-spend-time-recovering or lose-and-reload.
X-Com combat would be almost as dull as NWN2 combat if there were no significant consequences beyond victory and defeat. If you wanted you could employ some fairly complex tactics in a NWN2 engagement - only it'd be pointless, since the game doesn't give a damn whether you win with 60% or 90% efficiency. The details of a NWN2 combat aren't inherently irrelevant - they're made that way by the lack of meaningful consequence. (this is slightly less true in MotB thanks to the time-pressure of spirit hunger).


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And, at times, that's just as well, because the combat can still get repetitive - I currently have an XCOM game going that I've been avoiding for a couple of weeks because it's got about three combats lined up and my hunger for its tactical combat has been largely sated lately.
Certainly - X-Com is far from perfect. I think it does something that most games don't bother with pretty well - not perfectly.

However, I'd ask what would make you more inclined to take on those three combats:
(1) A new gun and a new ship design.
(2) Having the results of the combats be in doubt, and highly influencial in the long-term.

In my experience, X-Com combats become tiresome not when the dribble of new ship designs, weapons, aliens... dries up, but rather once the individual mission results start to become predictable and insignificant. The weapons, ship designs... are a nice extra; the significance and unpredictability of mission results is vital.

I'd bet that you have little doubt on the overall outcome of those three combats you have lined up, and little impression that the details are likely to matter - that they're essentially a time-consuming irrelevance in terms of your long-term planning. It's precisely because any combat system will eventually become samey that maintaining long-term significance of low-level actions isn't a luxury.

If you look at X-Com from a designer's perspective, it's hard to see how you'd keep combat inherently gripping for longer - that's done pretty well. It's comparatively easy to see how you'd keep it meaningful for longer, since there's a clear, objective downward trend in the significance of individual combat actions through the game. In the early game the fate of the squad, and perhaps the organization, can hang on the outcome of single action/turn. In the late game individual consequences are hugely less influential. This is an objective problem based on nothing so ethereal/unavoidable as player fatigue with the inherent mechanics.

Of course it's necessary to find ways to make gameplay inherently entertaining - but I assume this goal is understood by all designers (even if the means to achieve it aren't). I think it's more important to emphasize the way things tie together, since this element's impact is too frequently forgotten - or at least seems to be looking at results.


A sub-game with no connection to the rest of the game is, of course, a useless bit of ornamentation. Most sub-games have at least a slight connection, though.
Sure - but I still think "sub-game" is an unhelpful way to categorize it. It gives the impression that this is a complete game in itself - albeit part of a greater whole. That's unnecessary - it's totally fine for the system to get all its entertainment value through context. Calling it a "sub-game" says to me that an aim is to make it a worthwhile stand-alone experience - and that tying it thoroughly into the main game is only a possibility.
I'd want the emphasis the other way around: tying it in properly is an absolutely requirement; having it be entertaining in isolation is a nice extra (so long as it adds entertainment to the whole).

Naturally this isn't precisely implied by whatever label you stick on such systems, but I think that "sub-game" carries the same baggage as "mini-game".

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However, the tools XCOM uses to make its conflicts more meaningful are less accessible to the RPG designer - the goals of capturing alien navigators/leaders etc are hard to achieve and most conflicts will end without them being met, while taking advantage of the player habit of caring about the more advanced members of their squad is possible precisely because the squad is numerous and interchangeable; you can't allow RPG NPCs to be slaughtered so casually and retain them in the narrative. We come back to permanent consequences and the resulting combinatorial explosion of content.
Whether this is true, and in which respects, depends largely on the context. If you've got a tightly defined narrative which relies upon the survival of specific NPCs, clearly you can't have them be casually slaughtered. However, there's no particular need for a tightly defined narrative, or one that revolves around party-members.

Even where it's deemed necessary to give NPC death important consequences, these needn't necessarily involve their own content - and certainly needn't involve multiple sets of new content contingent on other NPC deaths. Naturally it's possible to consider narratives where each possible combinations of NPC deaths require significant rewrites to every section - but it's just as possible to consider ones who don't. Certainly allowing NPC death would restrict the narrative freedom of a designer, but it wouldn't rule out good narrative.
Combinatorial explosion is only an issue where the consequences must be both scripted and contingent on one-another. This is far from a universal situation.

Moreover, the issue isn't particularly about death, but about meaningful consequences. Clearly each RPG would need to use different consequences, and most would have a harder time using death than X-Com (at least quite so frequently). More meaningful injuries are a clear alternative for combat though, as are more meaningful resource gains/losses - all of which are helped greatly by some time pressure.

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You're going to have to explain contextually entertaining to me. I'm getting the impression you're railing against a straw man here.
In a sense I am - I'm not saying that you're wrong in your points (apart from the highly-subjective naming issue); I'm saying that I think the most important emphasis should be elsewhere. Of course it'd help to make other gameplay systems entertaining in the ways you outline. I'm simply saying that other factors are more easily missed.

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If there's nothing more than an extra click needed, it doesn't matter how contextually relevant and important it is that I climb a wall, or pick a lock, once I've picked a dozen locks or climbed a dozen walls - by the time it becomes routine, it's something I don't need to think about, something that could as easily have been omitted by having an open door there instead.
This misses the point: the low-level action decisions need to have significance. If the lowest-level decisions are simply to climb/pick, then they need significance - just as the decision to walk through a door, if your aim is to make that a gameplay feature (which it absolutely can be). Naturally the climb/pick/open-door implications ought to be different in order to justify the inclusion of each.

When you aim to put more gameplay into these systems by including lower and lower level actions, the point remains the same: the low-level actions need significance. X-Com maintains this early on, since something as trivial as time spent reloading a weapon can potentially get someone shot - with long-term consequences. Later on X-Com loses this to an extent, since armour is good and squads have redundancy. By that time the exact position/time-units of squad-members rarely has a great impact - and gameplay suffers to an extent as low level actions lose all meaning, and higher level ones start to become less meaningful.

My point isn't about extending gameplay - it's about making the gameplay that you provide meaningful. A non-feature which provides no gameplay is largely irrelevant. A feature that's time consuming but provides badly supported gameplay is worse.

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It's nice that solving the sub-game saves me from certain death, or gives me the Amulet of Ultimate Power, or has whatever consequences you feel are important, but if it's actively tedious, I'm not going to enjoy slogging through it.
Yes - naturally I don't disagree.
My point remains about emphasis. I think that all designers would aim to make a time-consuming feature entertaining - hopefully this aspect is obvious to anyone. I'd say that this is usually failed through incompetence, rather than from lack of understanding of the goal (maybe I'm wrong). I think the failure-to-include-significant-consequence is more about setting the goal in the first place.

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But I suspect most of your favourite games would fit comfortably into this category....
In this case I think you're just not seeing the same (subjective) implications/associations as I am. I agree that most games can be thought of as a framework hosting subgames. I simply don't think that this is a helpful way to see them. [perhaps this means that my vision is blurred, rather than that yours is lacking - I just presume I'm not the only one with similarly blurry vision]
To me, describing things in such a way encourages a reader to think of independent gameplay sections, and does nothing to encourage thoughts about connectivity/interrelationships. It might well be true that X-Com / Fallout can be thought of in that way, but I highly doubt that their designers did think about them that way.

Quite possibly I'm over-reacting to a harmless description, but I don't think I'm the only one that'd get this impression. "Mini-game" gets bad reactions for the same subjective reasons - not because it's inaccurate, but through negative associations and the perception of undesirable emphasis.

Anyway, again - I agree with most of what you've said. If non-combat gameplay is to be expanded, player fatigue needs to be addresses. I'm simply saying that having low-level actions be meaningful over the medium/long-term is one great, often-overlooked way to avoid player fatigue.
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« Reply #54 on: March 04, 2008, 03:40:56 am »

I think it is certainly worthwile to think about how dialogue could be made to incorporate more gameplay in its mechanics.
There are many things about dialogs that were never tried in games. It would be interesting to be able to speak with an NPC while following him somewhere. The timing aspect of dialogs is also totally unexplored. I don't recall any games where you could fight with someone for a while, but then say "oaky, I give up" or something of that sort. Or where you could have an option of making a quick comment about an event that happens at the time.

Dialogs that involve more than one person are not well-explored either: shouting across the street, overhearing other people's conversations, etcetera.

There is also an almost untapped realm of cellphones, letters, notes (that are written by _you_), emails, and other indirect ways to communicate. Imagine a game where your party doesn't follow you all the time, but rather is called up in the time of need.

In short, anything that challenges the old formula where there are two characters standing still, short distance away, and exchanging phrases would be a huge step forward for all story-based games.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 03:42:42 am by Gambler » Logged
GhanBuriGhan
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« Reply #55 on: March 04, 2008, 04:31:34 am »

Thanks Gambler, I was starting to feel ingored among these essays on X-Com Smile And good ideas, too.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 04:52:27 am by GhanBuriGhan » Logged

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« Reply #56 on: March 04, 2008, 06:32:21 am »

"Minigame" doesn't necessarily imply anything to with action or reflexes.
Really? And how's that? If those minigames ain't about twitch skill, then it's fine by me. When I talk about minigames, I'm talking exclusively about twitch minigames, because I can't remember any other type.

In short, character skill > player skill.
It's not that simple. As priapist said, the whole game involves player skill. The thing most game "designers" fail to understand, though, is that there are multiple types of player skill. In this case, there is twitch and tactical skill. I know when you say "player skill" you are talking about "player twitch skill", and by "tactical skill" you understand choices and consequences. Me too.

Huh?  Who said mini-games had to be skill based?

I think having a few fun, logic-based mini-games sprinkled throughout could add a lot to an RPG provided that (a) they are in no way mandatory to gameplay; (b) the rewards for playing are tangential to quest rewards (ie. not xp and not gold).
If your intelligence is all that matters in those minigames, why include an inteligence stat in the first place? Same goes for wisdom, of course.

Now seems as good a time as any to get my dialogue skill check beef out in the open:  I hate the typical D&D game skill check flowchart (exemplified in ToEE) that goes (...)
So what do you propose? Having a character with low intimidation skill be able to intimidate? No, I don't think that's right. What I prupose, and what's been discussed in this thread, is that there are enough consequences so that most actions are understood as choices, and not as failures. I wrote something about that a while ago: [link]
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 06:38:14 am by Morbus » Logged

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« Reply #57 on: March 04, 2008, 12:15:12 pm »

The "make it intrinsically fun" part is an obvious design aim - which was carried out well in X-Com, as well as in many other games - some RPGs included. The "make individual combat actions matter over the long-term" seems to be less obvious (or at least much less frequently addressed), and is something that hardly any RPG does well with combat. In nearly every RPG, winning the combat is everything, and any losses simply constitute a minor setback that a little grind will offset.
Absolutely agreed. However, given we were talking originally about non-combat actions, my initial point was that so far a pitifully weak level of effort has been put forth to make these entertaining to deploy in their own right. They often lack even the shallow level of choice of the crude XCOM ship-vs-ship combat sub-game. The message the developers give by this is that combat matters more than other skills - it's important enough to attempt to simulate, the other skills are not.

And yes, both combat and use of other skills could badly use better modelling of consequences. Many non-skill actions need consequences, come to that - I've played more than a couple of RPGs that let you wander into people's houses, empty the chests in their bedroom and livingroom in their presence, and wander back out again without them issuing any form of protest, or the game pointing out that this is at odds with your character's allegedly lily-white morality.

Certainly - X-Com is far from perfect. I think it does something that most games don't bother with pretty well - not perfectly.

However, I'd ask what would make you more inclined to take on those three combats:
(1) A new gun and a new ship design.
(2) Having the results of the combats be in doubt, and highly influencial in the long-term.
I'd have to say having a useful new option (marginal gun upgrades don't count). I was kept playing through the last few combats by having developed useful psi, which changed the dynamic considerably.

The results are in doubt - I'm still a little uncertain as to whether I can take on Ethereals safely, though my squad is psi-stronger than it was, and it's a good bet that at least one of the combats will be against Ethereals. If I take more heavy squad losses to strong psi it may be fairly influencial in the longer term, but there's more to lose than gain from the fights.

In a way, the two tie together: were it possible to obtain blueprints for a new ship or weapon from the combats, were the gains more than just seeing my Elerium stat creep up, I'd probably be more interested in taking them on. In no small part my neglect has come from having played the novelty out of it.

I'd want the emphasis the other way around: tying it in properly is an absolutely requirement; having it be entertaining in isolation is a nice extra (so long as it adds entertainment to the whole).
I think it's a case of both, to be honest. A game with an entertaining combat engine that inflicts it on me at every opportunity, with little long-term consequence for each combat, will attract me for a while but this attraction eventually may pall. A game which inflicts combat on me only in story-appropriate places but has a combat engine which is as painful to use as poking myself in the eye with a stick won't get played past the first or second combat. A game that doesn't even bother having a combat engine is going to have to give me some other compelling reason to keep playing - some other sub-game I find enjoyable, or a strong and well-written narrative. Good writing is rare, and quite difficult to do, however... I found myself unable to play through Baldur's Gate 2 after having finished Planescape: Torment, primarily because its writing was so cliched and amateurish in comparison that even the sub-games couldn't hold my interest.

Whether this is true, and in which respects, depends largely on the context. If you've got a tightly defined narrative which relies upon the survival of specific NPCs, clearly you can't have them be casually slaughtered. However, there's no particular need for a tightly defined narrative, or one that revolves around party-members.
I had objections, but on further thought I'm going to withdraw them; after all, most RPGs allow you never to take a character along in the first place, and therefore must already be designed around the possible absence of the character. I do think your connection to follower NPCs is significantly weakened when they're effectively disposable and rarely do anything that has any significant impact on you, but it's clearly a matter of taste. I was wrong about a combinatorial explosion being necessary.

Moreover, the issue isn't particularly about death, but about meaningful consequences. Clearly each RPG would need to use different consequences, and most would have a harder time using death than X-Com (at least quite so frequently). More meaningful injuries are a clear alternative for combat though, as are more meaningful resource gains/losses - all of which are helped greatly by some time pressure.
Good point. Injuries having more meaning would make combat more worthwhile. Again, though, the quality of the sub-system matters a lot - if the player feels that there's little he or she could have done better, or that the outcome is largely random, they're liable to be frustrated or annoyed by the game.

This misses the point: the low-level action decisions need to have significance. If the lowest-level decisions are simply to climb/pick, then they need significance - just as the decision to walk through a door, if your aim is to make that a gameplay feature (which it absolutely can be). Naturally the climb/pick/open-door implications ought to be different in order to justify the inclusion of each.
Again, agreed. However, you're lumping together the action and the result. The reaction to someone in the building meeting you after you've climbed the wall or picked a lock to gain an entrance is not a reaction to what you did, but to the fact you're somewhere they feel you shouldn't be. Now, this reaction is absolutely necessary for suspension of disbelief, and I agree that such reactions get too little attention in games, but it's the same reaction obtainable by walking through a door with a sign saying "Keep Out". If you're going to justify your inclusion of climbing and picking locks, they should offer something beyond just having the door and sign. At the simplest level, they could be restricted by your character's background and life choices. A level up from that would be restrictions tied to resources. Finally, you have the same importance and level of simulation attached to them as you do with combat.

My point isn't about extending gameplay - it's about making the gameplay that you provide meaningful. A non-feature which provides no gameplay is largely irrelevant. A feature that's time consuming but provides badly supported gameplay is worse.
I would agree with that.

In this case I think you're just not seeing the same (subjective) implications/associations as I am. I agree that most games can be thought of as a framework hosting subgames. I simply don't think that this is a helpful way to see them. [perhaps this means that my vision is blurred, rather than that yours is lacking - I just presume I'm not the only one with similarly blurry vision]
To me, describing things in such a way encourages a reader to think of independent gameplay sections, and does nothing to encourage thoughts about connectivity/interrelationships. It might well be true that X-Com / Fallout can be thought of in that way, but I highly doubt that their designers did think about them that way.
Actually, I'll bet most developers think of them that way to some degree because that's the way the code will be structured. When you change the interface to better handle some new aspect the old interface is ill-equipped to simulate, you're entering a new module in the code. Perhaps it's better to think of them as lower level interfaces to the game rather than sub-games?

Anyway, again - I agree with most of what you've said. If non-combat gameplay is to be expanded, player fatigue needs to be addresses. I'm simply saying that having low-level actions be meaningful over the medium/long-term is one great, often-overlooked way to avoid player fatigue.
And on that, we can both agree.
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Mouse
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« Reply #58 on: March 04, 2008, 12:27:53 pm »

Oh, and the dialogue discussion is sounding exciting. Breaking away from the two people face-to-face exchanging phrases would produce a deeply unconventional and potentially very interesting new mechanic.

To try and rephrase the mini-game/sub-game thing, we could do with coming up with a word or phrase that encapsulates its meaning in a less controversial manner. Action engine? Sub-interface? In any case, what I'm referring to is the simulation of player actions in a more detailed fashion than the main game interface permits. We usually only notice the change to a new game mechanic when it jars us, hence the often perjorative use of the word mini-game, but this change of interface takes place in a very large number of games, particularly RPGs.
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« Reply #59 on: March 04, 2008, 01:00:14 pm »

So what do you propose? Having a character with low intimidation skill be able to intimidate? No, I don't think that's right.
What I propose is that a dialogue's resolution, whatever it may be, is based upon the actual human player's intelligence and observation, augmented by what his PC has discovered in game, and not strictly on stats.

Here is what I would like to see:

You want to intimidate a guard, for whatever reason.  You try out an intimidating line, which is always available.  He's a tough dude, he laughs, you blew it.

However, if you had first went to the tavern where the guards like to hang out and got to know this barmaid he's always pawing, you'd find out he's manically superstitious and has a fear of snakes.  You buy a medallion from a tinker with a snake emblem on it.  You wear it and when you try your intimidation it works.

Admittedly, this is probably a prohibitive amount of writing for the developer, but dialogue reduced to a series of stat checks is so boring, I'd hardly even call it a game. What satisfaction is there in choosing the green highlighted "intimidation" line of dialogue, then chuckling as the guard steps aside?  Wow, that was tense!  I think I'll reload just to click that line again!  If there is a more "game-like" way to do it, requiring thought and considering on the player's part, I'm all for it.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 01:02:46 pm by screeg » Logged

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