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Various Musings on Game Design


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I don't want this to be my thread. I just kind of want to hear different thoughts on game design, be it in Jeff's games or stories, or wherever else. It's an interesting topic, and it kind of fits right in context of a game forum.

 

...But because I instigated this, I also have to start.

 

1. I think "twitch" aspects to gameplay are important. They let the skill of the player overcome factors which they otherwise could not overcome themselves by stats alone. This can and has been incorporated into RPG-type systems, and I think games like Mount & Blade did this very well, with stats effecting performance, but it was up to you the player to make that performance mean something. Or not mean something.

 

2. Maybe it's better that stuff doesn't last forever. In fact, maybe you can combat some bad "game tropes" by picking and choosing realism for the better. Consider items and tools breaking down with use. If your kit is not in fact indestructible, even with maintenance, then item drops have more meaning than simply having to pick up and sell stuff from your vanquished foes. Some of those fancier swords you find, but not as good as the nice sword you found or bought at some other point of the game, suddenly are potentially more than just things to sell where you can. They might actually be necessary for your survival! Even more interesting to think about: it's potentially quite hard to have a massive stash of cash in Avernum, and all the while the available goods are crappy while the kit of your enemies is crappy as well. Those fragile stone weapons might break a lot, and you might spend your time looting and using the kit of your enemies because you simply have to. And you might spend more time in town in the shops actually buying bad weapons and having your better equipment fixed because it becomes a necessity. This certainly won't help you make money in the traditional sense, but it will make people and places seem like they have weight to them. My less-that-diversified game portfolio only notes Diablo as having weapons which would wear out due to use.

 

Those are just some musings. I am no real dev of any sort, but it's still fun to think about. Again, I'd love to hear your thoughts, too.

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1.  I, in general, do not play twitch games (Skyrim being the closest to a twitch game that I play).  I am at the point in lift when I no longer have the reflexes of a 20 year old, and a game in which I have to have those reflexes is not fun to me.  Player skill can be expressed in different ways, such as strategy, tactics, training, equipping, etc.  I completely stay away from the on-line first person shooter type games, because battling against a bunch of players whose skill with an X-Box or PS IV controller exceeds mine, despite my skill with a rifle exceeding theirs has no appeal to me.  I am not saying that others could not/should not find twitch games enjoyable, I am just saying why I do not.

 

2.  Adding realistic game mechanics can be fun, but they can also overwhelm the amount of fun in a game.  In a survival game, like Minecraft, having your weapons and tools deteriorate with use is a key part of the game.  If Jeff added a similar mechanic to Avernum I would not be too likely to be a fan, unless some other game mechanic that I find annoying was dropped in the process.  I play games for escapism, not realism.  With that said, I do think that something should be done to make the stores in Avernum more worthwhile.  I never see any reason to purchase weapons or armor from a store.

 

3.  A larger spell list with more diverse effects can add interest to game play.  Using just the same half dozen spells in a game is repetitive and would lead to skilled players using different combinations for different fights or making decisions to use spells to locate traps or treasure, knowing that the spell points will not be available for the next fight.

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Basilisk Games' Eschalon had the equipment wears down and repair it mechanism. You had to decide whether you wanted to learn the repair skill to do it yourself or just spend money to fix it. The major point to repairing equipment was it improved value for selling it. So camping near a merchant and going to see if they randomly stocked a worn item that you could repair and then sell back was an easy way to raise money.

 

Otherwise the mechanism wasn't worth it.

 

HackMaster, a table top role playing game from Kenzer and Company had the equipment wears out in combat and you need to repair it too. The major thing was armor provided less protection as it got damaged so it would protect you less because it could no longer absorb damage.

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Probably the biggest thing to remember here is that the developer is after one thing ... sales.

 

Realism is awesome ... but.  You have to pick & choose just how realistic/streamlined you want the game to be.  Do you make it hyper realistic where things wear out/break down really quickly as they would in real world fights.  Where even your biggest meat shield can only carry +/- 150# worth of loot in addition to the stuff he's already hauling around?  There is a subset of players that would absolutely love to be able to play a game that mirrored the real world as much as possible.

 

However, is that subset of players large enough to drive enough sales for the company to survive given that there will be reviewers complaining about the very things that the subset of players love.  You don't want to nerf things so much that even the casual player finds it too easy, but you also don't want the game to be electronic drudgery for the much larger subset of casual players.

 

It's a balancing act to say the least

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4 hours ago, Edgwyn said:

1.  I, in general, do not play twitch games (Skyrim being the closest to a twitch game that I play).  I am at the point in lift when I no longer have the reflexes of a 20 year old, and a game in which I have to have those reflexes is not fun to me.  Player skill can be expressed in different ways, such as strategy, tactics, training, equipping, etc.  I completely stay away from the on-line first person shooter type games, because battling against a bunch of players whose skill with an X-Box or PS IV controller exceeds mine, despite my skill with a rifle exceeding theirs has no appeal to me.  I am not saying that others could not/should not find twitch games enjoyable, I am just saying why I do not.

 

I completely agree with that! However (and this is not the first time), I think there is a slightly different set of terms by which I am defining "twitch." I'm certainly wrong for using the incorrect terminology if that's the case, however.

 

Rather, what I had in mind was a skill-based input by which the player has more involvement than simply letting a probability routine determine what happens next based on a set of stats in a table. Depending on the game, control over your position may offer certain tactical advantages - in fact, most games are probably designed with this in mind. Beyond that, however, I think most games offer the option of simply doing an action, and not necessarily any input on how that action is performed. The latter might make a real difference!

 

...I bring this up as I'm a fan of so-called European Martial Arts / HEMA / whatever (sword fighting, or what have you), and the nuances of combat are really fascinating, and they make a huge difference in the outcome of a given fight. So, having some input over that in regard to the overall situation strikes me as very interesting and therefore relevant. In this instance, "twitch" to me does not have to mean a reflexive input, but rather a modicum of extra control which involves the played directly in terms of gameplay. So, yes, I have to be using the wrong terminology, but given what I badly communicated the first time around, I'm still not sure what else would work to describe it.

 

As an example of this idea, one thing that has crossed my mind in passing would be some sort of RPG - it could be on the computer or on the table - where you might have your standard stats, but you might very well execute combat with, say, a deck of cards. You can therefore apply skill beyond position in the environment, and not be totally reliant on stats and probability.

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12 hours ago, Thaeris said:

1. I think "twitch" aspects to gameplay are important.

What are "twitch" aspects to gameplay?

 

12 hours ago, Thaeris said:

Consider items and tools breaking down with use.

Yeah, this is old stuff that was fashionable twenty years ago; it has been abandoned by probably every game developers by now. What is fashionable today is crafting; who makes a game without crafting nowadays, hey? Even in Queen's Wish! :lol:

 

It doesn't mean that it cannot come back of course.

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8 hours ago, Thaeris said:

Rather, what I had in mind was a skill-based input by which the player has more involvement than simply letting a probability routine determine what happens next based on a set of stats in a table... Depending on the game, control over your position may offer certain tactical advantages - in fact, most games are probably designed with this in mind. Beyond that, however, I think most games offer the option of simply doing an action, and not necessarily any input on how that action is performed. The latter might make a real difference!

 

As an example of this idea, one thing that has crossed my mind in passing would be some sort of RPG - it could be on the computer or on the table - where you might have your standard stats, but you might very well execute combat with, say, a deck of cards. You can therefore apply skill beyond position in the environment, and not be totally reliant on stats and probability.

 

If I'm hearing you right, having a rich enough set of possible actions would also accomplish this -- in particular, this presumably means not just having a generic attack command, but having a variety of situationally relevant attack commands, that interact not just with enemy stats but with enemy actions, affecting how well different options will work (and vice versa, with enemy actions affecting your own).

 

This immediately makes me think of Richard Bartle's abstract, simultaneous-submission game, Waving Hands -- it's not an RPG at all, but has this same sort of dynamic that we see in complex martial arts.  Here's an example of play from one incarnation, and a thing I wrote about its dynamics long ago.

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18 hours ago, Thaeris said:

...I bring this up as I'm a fan of so-called European Martial Arts / HEMA / whatever (sword fighting, or what have you), and the nuances of combat are really fascinating, and they make a huge difference in the outcome of a given fight. So, having some input over that in regard to the overall situation strikes me as very interesting and therefore relevant. In this instance, "twitch" to me does not have to mean a reflexive input, but rather a modicum of extra control which involves the played directly in terms of gameplay. So, yes, I have to be using the wrong terminology, but given what I badly communicated the first time around, I'm still not sure what else would work to describe it.

 

As an example of this idea, one thing that has crossed my mind in passing would be some sort of RPG - it could be on the computer or on the table - where you might have your standard stats, but you might very well execute combat with, say, a deck of cards. You can therefore apply skill beyond position in the environment, and not be totally reliant on stats and probability.

I was worried for a minute that I was going to have to learn the difference between Quarte and Sixte.  It's been a while since I played A:EFTP, A:CS or A:RW, but couldn't the battle disciplines (assuming that I have the terms correctly) be seen as a step towards what you are saying in the second paragraph that I quoted?  They allow a player to choose additional skills/effects beyond the standard sword attack.  You can choose which ones better fit your tactical situation based on if you want more damage, knock back, area of effect, or hasting and how long of a cool down you are willing to tolerate.

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27 minutes ago, Edgwyn said:

I was worried for a minute that I was going to have to learn the difference between Quarte and Sixte.  It's been a while since I played A:EFTP, A:CS or A:RW, but couldn't the battle disciplines (assuming that I have the terms correctly) be seen as a step towards what you are saying in the second paragraph that I quoted?  They allow a player to choose additional skills/effects beyond the standard sword attack.  You can choose which ones better fit your tactical situation based on if you want more damage, knock back, area of effect, or hasting and how long of a cool down you are willing to tolerate.

 

Very possible! I live in the past, so I've not played the re-remakes. It's good to know that there are now new features that improve the viability of combat in that regard.

 

10 hours ago, "Nothing Left" said:

 

If I'm hearing you right, having a rich enough set of possible actions would also accomplish this -- in particular, this presumably means not just having a generic attack command, but having a variety of situationally relevant attack commands, that interact not just with enemy stats but with enemy actions, affecting how well different options will work (and vice versa, with enemy actions affecting your own).

 

This immediately makes me think of Richard Bartle's abstract, simultaneous-submission game, Waving Hands -- it's not an RPG at all, but has this same sort of dynamic that we see in complex martial arts.  Here's an example of play from one incarnation, and a thing I wrote about its dynamics long ago.

 

I suppose that's a possible interpretation. I think what I would most enjoy seeing is a system that stills use stats, etc, but simultaneously allows the player to interface with the action directly. Again, this is what I found so impressive about M&B in my limited scope of games that I've set down to actually play. As per Warlock, that is interesting, but it is indeed fully skill, or perhaps "twitch" based, if you will. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems like a different animal. Very cool, though.

 

...The challenge with using both "direct input" and probability-based interfacing in a game is likely streamlining everything such that it's not a chore to play. That would go equally well for both a tabletop game as well as a computer game. Going back to Warlock (Waving Hands), that seems really involved. Once you get used to it, perhaps it's not so bad, but it does not hit me personally as something which is enticing. "Streamlining" when it comes to conflict actually might benefit from more realism, actually, as fights are often pretty quick. If you can balance a game for quick, dirty, and realistic fights, then the chore of having to commit to the fight, choose how to fight, and then use your stats during the fight should become less.

 

There were a few questions about weapons degradation / breakage as well. This again would need to be an area where careful balance is in play. If the feature ends up being a miserable chore, it's not good for gameplay. But, it does again have that potential of making things you'd otherwise just trash turn into potentially useful items.

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Perhaps I am lacking on the definition of "twitch" myself. Sorry about that. To my mind, you might have a system which is principally based on statistics, probability, etc., while another is based principally in a skill-based input, and may have very little to do with those statistics, etc. I think "twitch" systems fall into the latter. Waving hands is, from what I can tell, purely skill-based input, despite being turn based.

 

I might be digging myself a hole here. I am certainly not trying to confuse anyone in the process, however.

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Ah, gotcha.  I guess I'm a little confused as to what you are classifying as skill-based versus not skill-based.  You include both "twitch" (real-time action?) games and turn-based games in skill-based... but exclude games from that category if they involve statistics and probability?

 

I don't understand why having stats or including random elements excludes a game from being skill-based.  Lots of games without those things involve minimal skill, and lots of games with those things can be remarkably complex.

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Just for giggles, I looked up the definition of twitch based games on Wikipedia.  I realize that I only looked at one source, but I am not trying to advocate for this particular definition, only to provide a definition.

 

"Twitch gameplay is a type of video gameplay scenario that tests a player's response time. Action games such as shooters, sports, multiplayer online battle arena, and fighting games often contain elements of twitch gameplay. For example, first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike as well as Call of Duty shooters require quick reaction times for the players to shoot enemies, and fighting games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat require quick reaction times to attack or counter an opponent. Other video game genres may also involve twitch gameplay. For example, the puzzle video game Tetris gradually speeds up as the player makes progress.

Twitch gameplay keeps players actively engaged with quick feedback to their actions, as opposed to turn-based gaming that involves waiting for the outcome of a chosen course of action. Twitch can be used to expand tactical options and play by testing the skill of the player in various areas (usually reflexive responses) and generally add difficulty (relating to the intensity of "twitching" required)."  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitch_gameplay retrieved on 9/23/20.  

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4 hours ago, Edgwyn said:

Just for giggles, I looked up the definition of twitch based games on Wikipedia.  I realize that I only looked at one source, but I am not trying to advocate for this particular definition, only to provide a definition.

 

"Twitch gameplay is a type of video gameplay scenario that tests a player's response time. Action games such as shooters, sports, multiplayer online battle arena, and fighting games often contain elements of twitch gameplay. For example, first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike as well as Call of Duty shooters require quick reaction times for the players to shoot enemies, and fighting games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat require quick reaction times to attack or counter an opponent. Other video game genres may also involve twitch gameplay. For example, the puzzle video game Tetris gradually speeds up as the player makes progress.

Twitch gameplay keeps players actively engaged with quick feedback to their actions, as opposed to turn-based gaming that involves waiting for the outcome of a chosen course of action. Twitch can be used to expand tactical options and play by testing the skill of the player in various areas (usually reflexive responses) and generally add difficulty (relating to the intensity of "twitching" required)."  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitch_gameplay retrieved on 9/23/20.  

 

That's fine, and it's probably the right definition! However, it was the only term which came to mind which seemed to convey what I was trying to get across. I assume I've done the latter, maybe?

 

22 hours ago, "Nothing Left" said:

Ah, gotcha.  I guess I'm a little confused as to what you are classifying as skill-based versus not skill-based.  You include both "twitch" (real-time action?) games and turn-based games in skill-based... but exclude games from that category if they involve statistics and probability?

 

I don't understand why having stats or including random elements excludes a game from being skill-based.  Lots of games without those things involve minimal skill, and lots of games with those things can be remarkably complex.

 

Again, hole digging on my end. I suppose I'd call something "skill-based" when you have direct involvement in the "simulation," if you will (we can call all games some form of abstract simulation, can't we?). Alternately, I'd call something "stat-based" when you have table values or routines determine the outcome of a given instance. I... am not sure I excluded games that involved statistics. Instead, I was merely trying to convey that I like the premise of using both aspects in a game, and that use of a skill-based system is a means of bypassing some of the restrictions of a purely (or very heavily) stat-based system. Unfortunately, it seems that I made the mistake of using the term "twitch" to describe this. In my defense, my item of reference was Mount & Blade; in which, "twitch" is an applicable term.

 

...And yes, execution is key! A game should either be fun or otherwise draw your interest to keep you playing - even if it's not necessarily "fun." If you fail to do either, you end up with a chore on your hands. And indeed, something like the old Avernum games were in fact very simple, and that made them very approachable. If you cannot make some extra degree of finesse in something like that fun, you're not going to get much of a following.

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10 hours ago, Thaeris said:

I suppose I'd call something "skill-based" when you have direct involvement in the "simulation," if you will (we can call all games some form of abstract simulation, can't we?). Alternately, I'd call something "stat-based" when you have table values or routines determine the outcome of a given instance. I... am not sure I excluded games that involved statistics.

Because I'm sure there's going to be a further discussion of semantics here, I think what you mean is specifically physical skill, as opposed to strategic skill or something like that. That is, the kind of skill involved in Mario, not the kind of skill involved in Civilization.

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1 hour ago, "Nothing Left" said:

I suppose this is like how a Ring of Skill, back in Exile, improved your accuracy in combat, and not anything else.

Ring of One Very Specific Skill. Not as catchy, but more accurate.

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"The plot is basically melancholy but in a weirdly understated way for videogames. The frog's only ways of acting are by jumping and shooting so it's unable to help its friends until their emotional problems get bad enough for this hyperspecific skillset to become relevant again."

-Stephen Gillmurphy, writing on the game Kero Blaster

Edited by googoogjoob
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