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Article - Don't Draw Focus!

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Got a killer idea for a scenario? One of those ones that sets the imagination churning? One that makes people unable to wait to play it? Great! Now, don't mess it up.


The most obvious way to get it wrong is to fail to deliver what's promised. A Small Rebellion is a very good scenario - we get promised a dilemma, and that's exactly what we get. There is no clear "right choice". Every character we meet makes us lean one way or the other, and so does every event we take part in. Right up to the point where we are forced to choose, we may not have decided where our loyalties lie. That's a dilemma, and that makes for a great scenario.


Compare this to The Za-Khazi Run. It's a great concept - Rush to deliver aid to a besieged fort before it's too late. However, that isn't what we get when we play the scenario. We expect to hurry (after all, the word Run is in the title) - and the scenario forces us to wander and explore. We expect a scenario about saving a beseiged fort - and we get a scenario about wheeling and dealing with sliths, liches and dragons. The only times we think about our actual mission and the cargo we carry are at the very start of the scenario and at the very end. The rest of the scenario could be lifted out and placed in the middle of Avernum 1 and no one would know the difference. This is somewhat related to my article on Filler, by the way. Because as it stands, Za-Khazi Run is mostly made of filler.


What would I do if I was making Za-Khazi Run? I would stop drawing focus and go back to that exciting concept. Forget all the distracting subplots with giants and unicorns, I'd make our core story - the run to Fort Cavalier - the star of the scenario. I would force the player to think at every turn "How do I save Fort Cavalier?" instead of making him think "How do I cut a deal with Morog?".


First off, the scenario should be shorter. It's just too big to maintain the kind of intensity that it needs to work properly. Secondly, I'd give the party a few companions. These guys can constantly remind you of your mission and give an opportunity for division within the group. Finally, I'd make that time limit much tighter - if you're gonna make me run, make me RUN!


The conflicts should remind us of the main story, not distract us from it. Say there's a big bunch of giants blocking our way. We can't beat them in open combat. Our companions speak up. We could try to find a way around them... but that will waste time. Or we could use some of the wands to smash through them... but they need these wands at Cavalier. You have to decide, which is the best way to save the Fort?


Further on, there are some people in trouble. You're in a hurry. Do you leave them to die and save the Fort, or rescue them and risk letting many more die?


Then, maybe one of your companions thinks you're not going fast enough, and that one person alone could get there much faster. You refuse, and he steals the wands and runs ahead. But then he gets killed and the wands are taken. You have to find them again before it's too late!


That is a scenario that I would want to play - a scenario with an exciting premise and that doesn't draw focus from that premise.

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I agree, that ZKR is kind of complicated, when you play it the first time. But, you got 14 days for the run, and once you learned to decide between important quests and surplus fights - e.g. you do need the poppy-charm from Moron - you have enough time, to save Fort Cavalier. There are always time-reminder dialogue boxes and warnings, when you enter a dead end.

The scenario would lose a lot, when it would be shorter. I appreciate the so called fillers, they allow you, to play it several times and to discover different ways to fulfil the main question.

The only thing, I dislike: you can't go back to follow the side quests after passing Koth's place ...

So ZKR makes you run - more than once.

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Originally written by spy.there:
I agree, that ZKR is kind of complicated, when you play it the first time.
What's complicated about it? There's a start point and an end point and a bunch of arbitary hurdles in between.

But, you got 14 days for the run, and once you learned to decide between important quests and surplus fights - e.g. you do need the poppy-charm from Moron - you have enough time, to save Fort Cavalier.

Of course you have enough time (though I thought it was 21 days - did he change it for BoA?). Too much time, if you ask me.

There are always time-reminder dialogue boxes and warnings, when you enter a dead end.

So it's hurdles with a fairly intangible time limit. You're still thinking about the hurdles, not the finish line.

The scenario would lose a lot, when it would be shorter.

It would gain a heck of a lot more. Drive. Purpose. Excitement. Originality. That's gotta outweigh a bunch of so-so dungeons.

I appreciate the so called fillers, they allow you, to play it several times and to discover different ways to fulfil the main question. The only thing, I dislike: you can't go back to follow the side quests after passing Koth's place ...

So you like exploration scenarios. But why dress up an exploration scenario as a race against time? If the wheeling and dealing is what appeals to you, wouldn't it be better to play a scenario that was meant to be about that?

So ZKR makes you run - more than once.
It didn't for me. I certainly wasn't interested in playing it again.
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The Za-Khazi time limit is pretty much an illusion. It takes about half the time available (possibly less) to do absolutely everything. I would be more willing to forgive the irrelevant quests if there wasn't enough time to do them all, and you had to make actual decisions about what to do.


As Za-Khazi stands, I think it should have a time limit of 9-10 days.

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I don't know if 15 days is too much or not. I'm sure that after to have played it once even without to have explore all and understand all options, that 9 days is too much.


If you really explore all corners it's because you started with in mind the time limit allows you that. Otherwise you can't guess it so you don't lost time exploring.


Also if you really explore all corners then you'll lost plenty time through small events that make you lost 8 hours sometimes more. I'm not sure the result but I'd be curious to know. If you just explore all "right" corners, well smile .


If you start with the point of view that you must take care to not do quests and explorations for nothing then you'll have to make some backward run, you'll not do the best choices (as keep dragon scroll but not mushroom protection) and you'll lost time searching some stuff. And then I'm not sure that 15 days is such a large limit particularely if a party without path finder skill is allowed and if you get few bad luck events that make you lost some 8 hours, plus that you'll did few wrong choice.


I see various problems :

* A player that really explore all good stuff (eventually for a replay) should not be able succeed the quest in time. That's not the case in fact you'll even win time.

* There are many little things that have too much time effect that the player can't predict and evaluate.

* There are too many choices for which the player has mostly no hint about the effect on time spend.

* It also not a good choice that a skill (path finder) could make a so big difference in time. What this coud mean that a party with mostly no path finder skill can't do the scenario or a party with this skill has too much time?

* As pointed by the article, a problem that in a way or another the author should have attract attention on time limit more often. It's done through panels that popup to remember how time there is. But in general that's not enough.


I think the subject of this scenario is very very hard to implement. And how I played it I got the luck that it worked really well. It's still not my prefered of the bundled scenario but it is in third place. Because of other reason that a run that doesn't work, and also because the run feeling worked for me and gave me less fun to not be able enjoy get my time and explore deeply.

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Vent - Double posting is generally frowned on. I'll let you off since both posts were quite substantial, but please don't do it again.


Also, I have difficulty understanding many of your points because of your poor grammar. I'm assuming that English isn't your native language, but it still makes it hard to discuss things. Especially abstract principles of scenario design philosophy.


My point is simply that ZKR, as it stands, kills all feeling of urgency by forcing you to follow an exploration style of gameplay. The premise centers on the urgency of the situation and I proposed what I would do to make the scenario much more urgent and involving. That said, cutting deals with Morog is far from the worst thing about the scenario. On the other hand, going through the unicorn subplot is a real pace killer.


For the record, I haven't even played ZKR in BoA yet, since I'm on windows.

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Ok, I deleted the second post to avoid double posting. And I try to do a more direct answer with a better grammar.


I have a problem with this article when it quotes The Za-Khazi Run. You want to demonstrate that this scenario "Draw the focus" by giving to the player missions and area to explore that "Draw the focus". I think it's wrong, they don't "Draw the focus". Most often they fit the scenario original design choice.


A first point is that you change the scenario subject. This scenario is about:

- Travel through a wild area.

- Need to find a way through a wild area.

- Time limit to reach a fort in order to bring them powerful tools that will allow them to protect it.


The scenario you suggest instead is about:

- Run

- Time limit to reach a fort in order to save it.

- You seem suggest to save the fort.


So the original scenario needs to put the focus on, travel through a wild area, need to find a way through a wild area, take care of time running. The scenario you suggest needs to put focus on time running.


That's not only an improvement but also a strong change. I don't see well how you implement the run and do without

- The fun of travel (no exploration?).

- The need to find a way (linear and no exploration?).


Two examples you suggest to implement are already in the scenario :

- You suggest giants, in the scenario it's a little army of sliths or another path that take more time. But instead of a dialog choice that you suggest, you have to find the path yourself and for me it's a better solution.

- You suggest save time or rescue a life, in the scenario it's save time or rescue a dead. Read better the unicorns part. It's not only a horn object to get from the giants, it's really a rescue.


All of your other suggestions of change doens't show how parts of this scenario "Draw the attention" and then should be replaced or changed in order to avoid that. They just show how to polish better the scenario in order to increase the focus of the player on the main purpose. Not which part "Draw the attention". That makes quite a difference for me.


The NPC addition you suggest is very interesting and could have improved the scenario as it is. Also making shorter the time could have been done too.


Quote that the current version take some care about about these two points:

* In comparison with BoE version, the time has been reduced to 14 days (from 30 I think). I agree it could be even shorter but I think more that it should be organized differently. For example if you do all greedy/curiosity quests you shouldn't be able to succeed the run, even after 20 replays.

* About the time limit reminders, the scenario isn't that bad :

- The beginning of the mission is really clear about that. And for any very average role player, it's hard to forget that the time is the core of the mission. So each time you have a choice to run or do something else (explore, make a rescue, satisfy your greed or your curiosity, accept a quest, search through an area) you ask yourself the dilema : Don't lost time or do it?

- There are time reminders, ok, not as many than you suggest and not through a tool as good than a NPC in the party as you suggest.

- At end of 7 days, a popup remind that the time is running and there are few other pannels like that until the end of the time limit.

- There are some dialogs and events where the time limit dilema is mentionned through a dialog.

- As the scenario doesn't focus only on time limit but also how to find a way through the wild area. That's even much more dialogs that focus the player attention on its main plot.


I don't mean that this scenario can't be improved or even that it doesn't need to be improved but I don't think that it's will be done by removing parts you suggest to remove.


That said, that would be great to see your run scenario.

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Thanks for your post, Vent. You made your point nice and clearly. I understand your position much better now.


It's my position that "Save a beseiged fort before it's too late" is a much more interesting concept than "Find your way through a wild area" and therefore should take precedence over it.


If you're going to make a scenario about finding your way through a wild area, I think you should focus on that properly. For example, you get stuck behind enemy lines, and have to find a way back! The "time limit" concept and the "Find your way" concept cancel out each other's effectiveness.


ONE concept should be chosen as the No. 1 focus of the scenario. Others can be included, and usually they SHOULD be included, but the pecking order should be clear. Two concepts fighting for the No. 1 spot means that the strength of both is diminished.


In a real "run" scenario, the fun of exploration is completely unnecessary. It is replaced by the urgency of the situation. The way forward should always be clear, or the urgency will wither and die. The question and conflict is not "What do I do?" or "Where do I go?", it's "How do I do it?"


When giants (or Nephilim or whatever, I don't care) block your way, the question is "Do I burn wands that will be needed later, or do I save them and maybe not get there in time?". In this situation, I would allow a temporary lack of direction if the player decides to save the wands, but only because he chose it. The knowledge that he chose to waste time would keep the urgency up.

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Ok we disagree, point.


About BoA Za-Khazi Run, at my first play the time stress worked well for me. So I think it's useless to continue to debate directly about this scenario.


About how to make a run only scenario, we also disagree and it's certainly useless to continue about that. I won't try to develop but I'd like to draw your attention on two points :

- Running doesn't need to be straigth forward. Let forget sport, instead just a stupid example, I throw you in a labyrinth and starts the counter.

- This game isn't only dialogs even if it's its core. If you do something with dialog, it's ok. If you do the same thing with something else and dialogs, it's much better.


I'll let you meditate about that. wink


To finish, a point of detail. About a run scenario, in fact you suggest a run AND save the fort.


Quote that save the fort, from a whole enemy army is a complex subject if you want make it a bit realistic. You'll hardly manage that as a subject number 2 once arrived in the fort. I mean it's not 4 more adventurers arrived in the fort that could solve that problem. Anyway, they can't stay forever in the fort.


So in fact you'll get 2 successive scenario with this point of view. So I don't think that run AND save the fort is a right choice. Ok it's a detail.


Thanks for all your articles.

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laugh , sorry, well I'll see another day if I could write my previous post better. laugh


I fully agree that this scenario can be improved about it's time limit pressure on the player. But in fact I think it also needs some other improvements.


I also agree that your suggestions (most but not all) will improve this time pressure :

* To use a NPC as a reminder about the time. But add a bit more popup that remind the time running would be cheaper and efficient anyway.

* To tune better the real time limit. But I think that it's even more important to also tune up better the time spend in each part of the scenario.

* To remember in more dialogs that a choice involves lost of time. But not in mostly all dialogs in order to keep it realistic.

* That adding a subpart that involves to get back the wands stoled by the NPC, would be a great addition. But the scenario can be ok without it too.


I disagree that it hasn't alrady some of these features :

* It asks choices to the player where time is a part of the problem.

* It has some reminders about the time that is running.

* The time limit length isn't that bad if you play logicaly without cheating and knowing it.


I also disagree that this scenario really fit the article subject "Don't draw the focus" because it's not about removing stuff that draw the focus but mainly about polish it in order to put better the focus on time limit, that's quite a difference for me.


Finally I disagree that a pure run only scenario would be more fun in comparison with a "Za-Khazi Run" just improved, better tuned and polished. Those improvements should be also done on other points that don't relate directly to the run/time feature.


That mentionned again, I don't think we have more to debate. I need to see your run only scenario to understand fully what you mean and perhaps change my point of view.


And all of that said, that doesn't change that your article is cool anyway. smile

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Ok, my first try of BoE demo fully disgusted me because of many problems in interface design. So there was no chance I play any BoE scenario.


But recently, I succeed to play further the demo, nothing decided but there's now some chance.


I hate support a so out dated game particularely because this means to weaken BoA support.


But I must also admit that some game design features are better than in BoA or at least have adventdages that doesn't have BoA. Don't be wrong, BoA has many game design features that are better to BoE, not to mention the BoA interface which is a lot better.


Anyway, ok BoE scenario and if I ever buy BoE I'll play them, but any that are run scenario?

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Originally written by Vent:
Ok, my first try of BoE demo fully disgusted me because of many problems in interface design. So there was no chance I play any BoE scenario.
Like what? I hated the Avernum interface/engine with a fiery passion the first time I tried it, but now I think it's okay. I still like Exile better, but I'm curious to hear exactly what problems you thought there were.
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Well firstly, quote that I made a clear and strong distinction between game design (so engine) and interface design.


Also ok, perhaps I write an opinion before to have used enough BoE. That is important for an interface design point of view by a "hardcore" player (you need to be a bit hardcore to play user made scenario). When I'll have finish the demo, I'll come back in this thread or will create another one for more details about that.

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