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New Blog Post On Avernum


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I just put up a blog post about design decisions I made for Avernum: Escape From the Pit and reasons behind them. It all concerns how training works. I hope you find it interesting.

 

http://jeff-vogel.blogspot.com/2011/08/dont-ask-questions-until-player-can.html

 

- Jeff Vogel

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I pretty much approve of this. Being faced with a Byzantine character creation system as the absolute first thing you do when playing the game can be kind of a turn-off, not just for the complexity but for the fear of doing things wrong. I remember Exile 1 being quite an intimidating experience to eight-year-old me.

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Originally Posted By: VCH
I'm a bit apprehensive about the "very long" list of possible traits as that implies some tough decisions at high character levels.


they sound like they work like perks in Fallout or feats in D&D, which is to say there'll probably be a couple of must-have ones for any particular build and a bunch of situational ones that give marginal benefits
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I grew up on the old old school games where you rolled random stats and those decided you characters. Right from the start you decided what you were going to play and work towards for the game based upon the manual. It was harder because you would have to start over if you decided wrong, but the next time you would go faster since you had a good idea about what to do and where to go.

 

I miss the customization at the start. It isn't until mid game that your party becomes distinctive.

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Originally Posted By: Lilith
I pretty much approve of this. Being faced with a Byzantine character creation system as the absolute first thing you do when playing the game can be kind of a turn-off, not just for the complexity but for the fear of doing things wrong. I remember Exile 1 being quite an intimidating experience to eight-year-old me.

The funny thing is that I lost patience for this stuff the older I got. As a kid, I was just fascinated by what every stat could do.
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I had a long post that was eaten by a broken internet connection, but I think that this is good. In particular, having meaningful use of skill points at the end is much better, and not being able to wreck a character from the outset is good.

 

Although Jeff doesn't say it, the Avadon retraining system is also great. Not being able to ruin your character with bad decisions is awesome, and I'd prefer that it show up early in the game so you can fix early mistakes. Granted, that gets weirder in a classless system like Avernum's where your glass cannon mage would be able to turn into a beefy fighter overnight, but it's a nice thing to have. At the very least as a cheat.

 

—Alorael, who thinks this is an even bigger problem in tabletop games. In a cRPG, even a modicum of good design will mean all the stats have uses. Maybe not equal uses, and maybe not in any proportions, but in many tabletop the use or lack thereof of pretty much any stat is determined by the caprices of the guy running the game.

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I didn't mind the system before, but I guess I just figured out early on how to make a party that works. I've played enough of Avadon, now though, that I think I will also appreciate this new system. I can see how it is more accessible to new players. Overall, it should be an improvement.

 

So long as I can still spam my lightning. =)

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I also have no strong interest in what each stat does. When I played NWN1 and 2 I just clicked the recommended button at each level.

 

I play RPGs to experience a cool story, in a cool world, or in the case of tabletop RPGs, to make my fellow PCs as angry at me as possible by just generally messing around like a true rogue or bandit should.

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Hrm...on the one hand, I'm not exactly fond of change...but on the other, more and more as I would play games, particularly, as stated, as I got older...having to make all the decisions at the start paralyzed me. It had me constantly on edge to try to figure out if I made the right decision, if I'm doing the right thing with my characters...

 

So I think that in the long run, I will really appreciate this design change. It will bother me at first, but I think I can get past that.

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I definitely can see where Jeff's coming from on this and agree with a lot of the points he makes. Towards the end, levels not only become increasingly difficult to gain, but decreasingly meaningful as stats become thong-eatingly expensive, particularly if they're something you're heavily invested in. If you know what you're doing, that's pretty inevitable.

 

I can also easily see how anyone unfamiliar with the antediluvian stat system could easily foul up a party beyond progression in an oldskool setting like Avernum. Even an old timer like me can end up making hideous mistakes. In my latest playthrough of A6, I just figured Bladesmaster followed the same system as the past two games to unlock, and buggered up my fighters with cross type disciplines that irrevocably wasted an embarrassing number of stat points. Oops.

 

And, yes, the trait system was kind of a static drag, though I'll ultimately miss being able to use it to balance out the racially derived XP penalties when they come into play in later games…

 

That said, one of my biggest complaints about Avadon was it had a downright disgraceful lack of character customization. While I understand where Jeff is coming from in most respects, there are definitely better ways to put less "hardcore" players at ease without trashing the capacity for the more veteran among us to really sit down and build our particular characters if we so choose. That's a huge part of any game for me, and taking that away isn't a question of "change", it's a question of loss.

 

I'd rather see Jeff offer a more robust help and explanation system for crafting a party, or even taking the NwN route VCH mentioned with an Auto-level option if necessary, than completely trash the capacity to build a more personalized party from the get-go. If more direction and handholding is needed so inexperienced players can make the choices involved with designing a party, I would much rather see that than erasing the concept of designing a party altogether.

 

It's difficult, to satisfy both schools of thought, but just because one extreme didn't work doesn't mean the other is necessarily better.

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Diablo 3... oy, every time I check on that game's development, I cringe. I love Diablo more than any other mainstream series, but...

 

In the interests of not derailing this thread, I won't go into it.

 

I do agree it's interesting to draw comparisons between Jeff's work and what the "big boys" are doing. There are a LOT of overt parallels one can draw between Avadon and Dragon Age, for example. Really, I think he should have called the Codex there something else> >>;

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Erm, you start out with 8 skill points, unless you choose custom class (perhaps because Jeff's prefab party is kind of crappy), in which case you get 65 (in Avernum 3, I don't remember if it was the same in Avernum). In contrast, you can gain hundreds of skill points later on, both from leveling up and from knowledge brews. Then there are mind crystals, trainers, special skills that are unlocked etc. A character editor is available for those who need respec, and unless you try a tank with "completely inept" and "brittle bones" on torment, the traits you pick shouldn't really make things much harder.

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Yes.

 

This is a key design principle, not just for computer games, but for card games and board games as well. By limiting the number of available options (the branching factor) in the early stages of a game, you make it easier to learn, as well as lead to faster gameplay in card and board games. A given Carcassonne tile will likely have one legal location in the early game, but perhaps a dozen in the end game. Magic: The Gathering only lets you play cards if you have enough lands (resources) on the table, which can only be put down once a turn. And so on.

 

There is one drawback. In the early levels, all melee fighters will be the same, all magic users the same, etc. This is not a big drawback in games like Avernum or Avadon; it's fine growing your characters from a generalist low-level character to a highly specialized high-level character. But one type of game I would not like to see this type of levelling system in is modular games like Blades of Avernum. You end up creating a lot of low-level parties in BoA, so you'd like to have some variety between them even at level 1. Of course, it's unlikely that Jeff will release another modular game, so this is a moot point.

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Does the removal of choices during character creation make Avernum gameplay faster or more fun, though?

 

I suppose a simplified Avadon-style system won't make it unplayable, but what was wrong with the old system was poor documentation and buggy implementation, as in traits, attributes and skills that don't do what they are claimed to do. It isn't really a very complicated system, either.

 

It's amusing that Jeff mentions - in this context - that players seeking excitement should try a higher difficulty setting. 4000hp enemies do not give you greater variety in party design, it gives you even fewer options, and also more grinding and longer-lasting battles with longer recuperation between them. Click...click...click-click-click. I suppose a World of Warcraft player such as Jeff might find killing 4000hp boars more exciting than killing 100hp boars, though.

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Jeff came up with that idea during Avernum 6, but didn't implement it until Avadon. Hopefully he will continue it since longer fights isn't fun.

 

The new system means less customization at the start. Everyone is the same for each character type until you have enough levels to specialize using traits and picking a branch of the ability tree.

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Originally Posted By: Necris Omega
That said, one of my biggest complaints about Avadon was it had a downright disgraceful lack of character customization. While I understand where Jeff is coming from in most respects, there are definitely better ways to put less "hardcore" players at ease without trashing the capacity for the more veteran among us to really sit down and build our particular characters if we so choose. That's a huge part of any game for me, and taking that away isn't a question of "change", it's a question of loss.


On one hand, it's true that each class in Avadon only has two or three really viable endgame builds, give or take a tweak here and there. On the other hand, I feel like a lot of the character customisation in earlier games was illusory: if you wanted to make a particular character type (fighter, mage, whatever), there were usually one or two clearly superior ways to do it. So all that was lost was the ability to build badly suboptimal characters, which is not really much of a loss at all.
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What Lilith said. PC "customization" in previous SW games has tended to involve either switching one swatch of abilities for another, or putting points all over the place in abilities that don't complement each other and then posting here to complain about being stuck.

 

However, I would go even further and say that this dilemma, of limited viable builds, applies to almost every CRPG in existence. In a classless system, characters tend to converge on the most effective combinations of abilities. I think that makes this effect significantly worse in classless systems, than in systems with classes.

 

The only exceptions I can think of are games that have

(1) classes,

(2) feats or acquired skills or whatever, and

(3) a wide variety of useful abilities

 

OAngband is a great example: it's an Angband variant with additional classes and a huge variety of feats accompanied by a huge variety of new game mechanics that provide numerous paths to success. And Final Fantasy Tactics is a cult favourite for exactly this reason; although it could be better balanced, there are a huge variety of useful character builds. Gladius is another game in the same vein.

 

I can't think of any that are traditional, Ultima-style RPGs, though, which is a real pity.

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I think it's worth noting that a handful of viable builds can quickly become many meaningful choices when you're building a party. In Geneforge, for example, you might have a choice between shaper with many creations, agent with mental magic, or guardian with combat abilities and a couple of creations for backup. (Or the superior parrying guardian! Accidentally vastly dominant classes are a major problem.)

 

Put together a party in Avernum, though, and you get more choices. Yes, there's not much wiggle room in how to build good fighters, or archers, or mages, or priests. But do you want two fighters, a mage, and a priest, both with archery and battle disciplines? Do you want one fighter and two mages instead? What if those casters give up battle disciplines for access to the other spell type? Or how about an all caster party? The number of viable parties can be very large.

 

—Alorael, who thinks what Jeff's games may be most lacking is an auto-level option so that players paralyzed by choices can choose their default skill point allocation and then have that decision keep allocating, if they want, at further levels. Designing viable builds through the game that aren't hugely optimized but aren't awful either would be something best left to the crunchy types among beta testers and probably will never be implemented given the tight release schedule and lack of time for testing those builds, but it would maybe cut back on some build angst.

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Or you can be antisocial and just run one character.

 

Jeff wants to make it that you really have to work at a nonviable party. Although the sharp difficulty level in the last part of Avernum 5 and 6 makes that still likely. A lot of players run low level parties that don't want to do side quests.

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Originally Posted By: Randomizer
A lot of players run low level parties that don't want to do side quests.

Something that's always confused me: Jeff usually cites the above fact as the reason that open-ended story progression (as in most of X1-3) doesn't work. Some players will do everything everywhere, become very powerful, and defeat enemies that are supposed to be challenging with ease. Others will do nothing optional and struggle with the same enemies.

The problem is that having a linear progression doesn't actually help this unless you remove all optional quests from the game. The players who do nothing extra, don't look for hidden items, etc., will still end up with weakier parties than players who try to do everything. If anything, I would think the open-endedness would reduce complaints from such players because instead of feeling hopelessly stuck and ragequitting, they can just go do something else and come back later.

Am I missing something here?
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Originally Posted By: Dintiradan
Yes.

This is a key design principle, not just for computer games, but for card games and board games as well. By limiting the number of available options (the branching factor) in the early stages of a game, you make it easier to learn, as well as lead to faster gameplay in card and board games. A given Carcassonne tile will likely have one legal location in the early game, but perhaps a dozen in the end game. Magic: The Gathering only lets you play cards if you have enough lands (resources) on the table, which can only be put down once a turn. And so on.

I'd like to point out that it's not necessary to have a bunch of branching options for character development for a game to be good, or even have character development be an integral part of the game at all. Hell, speaking from my chess soapbox, it's not even necessary to have any sort of level-induced character progression at all! Fun, meaningful tactical decisions don't come from agonizing over whether or not to put points into this stat or that stat- that' accounting, and it's not fun- rather, interesting battles and tactic come from confrontations with interchangeable, carefully selected allies custom-tailored to play to the strengths and weaknesses of the current enemy you're fighting.

This is why the Geneforge series will always be, in terms of combat mechanics (and most other things, but let's restrict this to combat for now), my favorite SW game. No matter how well you've optimized, min/maxed, and leveled them, your party of Glaakhs is going to get its s*** wrecked if you take them up against a Gazer, which can Kill them for 100+ damage every turn and is practically immune to magic. You'd have to create a totally different party of Corrupted Thahds and switch up all your tactics if you wanted to win, and the series offered you the ability to do just that. Now contrast this sort of meaningful tactical and strategic decisions with later Avernum or Avadon games, which had as strategy "wander from one fight to the next to level up" with the incredible subtlety of Geneforge's system- you had to decide which creations to have, for how long, when to keep them, when to absorb them to get new ones, how to level them, etc. It was interesting and absorbing on a level that other recent Jeff games simply weren't.
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Originally Posted By: Dantius
I'd like to point out that it's not necessary to have a bunch of branching options for character development for a game to be good, or even have character development be an integral part of the game at all. Hell, speaking from my chess soapbox, it's not even necessary to have any sort of level-induced character progression at all! Fun, meaningful tactical decisions don't come from agonizing over whether or not to put points into this stat or that stat- that' accounting, and it's not fun- rather, interesting battles and tactic come from confrontations with interchangeable, carefully selected allies custom-tailored to play to the strengths and weaknesses of the current enemy you're fighting.

This is why the Geneforge series will always be, in terms of combat mechanics (and most other things, but let's restrict this to combat for now), my favorite SW game.

I see what you mean, but "a bunch of branching options for character development" probably is necessary for a role-playing game. It's interesting to me that you like Geneforge best because of the tactical options. I like the second Avernum trilogy the best because it allows me to customize based on my conception of each character and still win the game.

I don't like math and I don't have much of a mind for tactics. I'm terrible at chess, partially because I have no patience. I've played G4 and 5 and there is always some point where I am just buffing my guy and then trying to run past some group of enemies because I tried fighting them fifteen times and made no progress. In Avernum 4-6, there is much more flexibility. Sliths and Nephil are better min-max choices, but you can still win with four humans. Archery isn't that great, but you can still win with a dedicated archer in your party. What I want out of these games is the ability to complete the story with whatever set of characters I feel like inventing.
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Or Titan Quest. That game has been out for years and still gets tons of mods made for it even though it's technically a big Diablo clone set in mythical history land. Plenty of suboptimal yet super fun builds there too--the system is set up to encourage it, practically, and even more so when you start looking at Mastery mods.

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Mostly II. III is still in the "we'll see" category, but Diablo the original was so direct and so simple there really wasn't even a lot of room for variation. Warrior, Rogue (archer), Sorcerer - Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry.

 

Diablo II? It's not just playing to one of multiple "planned" lines, it's taking the lines and rewiring them. You can take a Necromancer or Sorceress and bend them towards using Melee. You can play a paladin more like a pure caster. You can take a Barbarian, dump everything into Warcries and make a "Bard" - a build that kills things by yelling at them.

 

Yeah, they're often NOT going to be able to vault past the ultimate challenges at the highest tier of difficulty, but you'll still have a lot of fun in the meantime.

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Quote:
Fun, meaningful tactical decisions don't come from agonizing over whether or not to put points into this stat or that stat- that' accounting, and it's not fun- rather, interesting battles and tactic come from confrontations with interchangeable, carefully selected allies custom-tailored to play to the strengths and weaknesses of the current enemy you're fighting.


This sounds like a debate I had at length with someone on this very forum not that long ago. The only reason I would minutely quantify each action would be if I were dissecting the game with the intention of reverse engineering it, say to build an alternative to the Blades of Exile Scenario Editor. As a programmer, there is a certain satisfaction to such an endeavor. But when I want to !play! the game, I like to get away from the mathematics and use my intuition to analyze it from a more abstract perspective, much in the manner I used to play chess. Each opponent is different, using a different mind set in their strategy and tactics, and each having a certain 'feeling' about their own game. Find their 'feeling', exploit it if possible, nullify if not.

That is what I liked about the Exile/Avernum series; the ability to develop a party in a variety of ways, some more successful than others, but infinitely entertaining.
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Diablo 2 wasn't like that until late in its life, when Blizzard took action against hackers and patched the game to turn it into something completely different.

 

To be perfectly honest, that sort of thing is nice, but Avadon taught me that I don't really care as much about it as I thought I did.

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Originally Posted By: madrigan
Originally Posted By: Enraged Slith
To be perfectly honest, that sort of thing is nice, but Avadon taught me that I don't really care as much about it as I thought I did.

I enjoyed Avadon, but I wanted more options. I played through Avadon twice. I played through A4-6 at least four times each.


Ive played diablo 2 from 2002-2010 with four 1 year breaks in between every once in a while. I finally managed to get the courage and with a friend of mine, defeated the ubers. I can say one thing about all that-it was a complete waste of time. Sure it was maybe a little fun, but all it really was was work. Work at trading and getting the items. I stopped playing most action/rpgs because of the nothing gained nothing earned mindset that it requires. If i am going to play a game, i want to remember why i enjoyed it and what made it fun. Not just because my character is uber strong. What makes a game fun is what is happening in the game, not what level it takes to get the best skill in the game.

Maybe why i like geneforge so much is because the story and setting can never get old with me. Jeff could be in his 80s (with me in my 60s) making geneforge 10 and ill buy it no matter what he did with it. Certain games just click.

One of the things that i liked about avernum 1 was the setting. However, though i am not a nit-pick, the graphics werent the real turnoff for me, it was more the free roaming of your characters. I like a set world with no random encounters. However, with avernum 4-6 you get the set world, but with less cool story. The reason that the story of the later avernum's turned me off, is because your right off the bat working for the empire. In avernum 1 you are essentially in it to escape and survive with no dedication to a crazy authority. Sounds much more interesting than the former.
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Diablo 2 was, for the most part, a gigantic waste of time, but I view the experience as a valuable life lesson about the evil wiles of gambling and addiction. If it hadn't been for Diablo 2, I might have become hooked on a much more potent design, like Blizzard's later masterpiece, World of Warcraft.

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I view games like Diablo as scratching a similar itch to MMORPGs. You have the slow character growth, gear acquisition and improvement, quests that are pretty minor, and grind. There's plot, but it's not a whole lot of plot, really.

 

The advantage of most MMORPGs is persistence. The advantage of Diablo (and now an increasing number of MMORPGs) is not having to pay and, if you want, not having to deal with other people at all.

 

—Alorael, who is somewhat surprised by the lack of interest in meaningful player vs. player or player with player interactions. Factions as designated enemies have become de rigueur since WoW, but players with the ability to build meaningful structures, form governments, command armies, destroy meaningful structures? Shadowbane tried it and went mostly unremarked. For the most part, that sort of non-grind gameplay shows up in MUDs alone of multiplayer, character-based games.

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There are some games that have done that sort of RTS hybrid. Savage 2 is a good action/RPG/RTS mix. Allegiance is a fairly complex combination of a space sim and RTS. Shattered Galaxy was an flawed but fun attempt at an MMORTS, though it focuses more on tactical command of units than economics and infrastructure.

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Originally Posted By: Jawaj
There are some games that have done that sort of RTS hybrid. Savage 2 is a good action/RPG/RTS mix. Allegiance is a fairly complex combination of a space sim and RTS. Shattered Galaxy was an flawed but fun attempt at an MMORTS, though it focuses more on tactical command of units than economics and infrastructure.


If you want to play a single-player strategy mmorpg (makes no sense but true) then play depths of peril from soldak. In reality you are in a city where you are competing with other character class heroes that not only do stuff, but will outclass you if you dont defeat enough monsters. Aside from that, its the only rpg where your lack of doing something has an affect.In my opinion, its a better version than all the weird people you meet on wow or diablo 2. Much less stress.
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