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Default Avadon - Three Rules for Difficulty

February 12th, 2011, 11:51
Jeff Vogel has posted a new blog entry on designing the difficulty for RPGs. The entry isn't specifically about Avadon but, as Jeff notes himself, he is balancing Avadon at the moment. As usual, some of his comments will be contrversial:
Observation One: There are two sorts of fights in an RPG: Fights that are supposed to be easy and fights that are supposed to provide a challenge.

In other words, first, there are fights that will almost never ever kill a player, also known as trash, or trash mobs. If your trash mobs are frequently killing the character, your balance is messed up. (Early versions of Avernum 6 had a big problem with this.) Most of the time, the vast majority of the fights in a game will be this sort.

Then there are fights that the player can possibly lose (mini bosses, bosses). And, of course, for fights that can kill the player, there is a spectrum of how likely that end result is. Some bosses will only kill you if you really aren't paying attention. Others require actual skill and strategy, and maybe a few tries to get your tactics down.
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February 12th, 2011, 11:51
Heh, as much as I like Jeff's games, I think I'm better off not reading his blog. I seem to disagree with his opinions more often than not.

This whole "trash mob" idea is appalling to me. Why do we have to have trash mobs? For example, take DA:O (which, incidentally, Jeff likes a lot) and its endless trash mobs, e.g. in Deep Roads *shudder*. It was Not Fun mowing through yet another wave of trash mobs and it sure did not make me feel badass or Conan-like. All it did was make me wish it would end soon. Couple this trash mob idea with a shallow combat system and you've got a recipe for boredom.

Then take another game with a lot of combat, Knights of the Chalice. This is not a game with trash mobs, as you really need to pay attention to every combat you do or you'll get your butt handed to you. Even if you fight "the same old" orcs/gnolls/whatever again, every battle is interesting and meaningful as your characters are threatened in every battle. You won't feel bored as you cannot just "autopilot" your way through the battle. This is the key to CRPG battles! To be threatened in battle and with solid tactics and skill prevail. To feel the "rush of battle" and have a challenge to overcome - a challenge which you're *not* *guaranteed* to overcome. This makes me sit up and pay attention, not mowing through trash mobs and then maybe pay some attention in an occasional boss fight. Instead of thinking about the correct ratio of trash mobs vs boss fights, how about dropping that whole idea, please. How about making all battles interesting by having an interesting combat system and challenging foes to fight.

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February 12th, 2011, 15:49
I guess the real question is:
Do you want to make an rpg that a few hardcore gamers will love? Or do you want to make an rpg that will actually pay for itself?
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February 12th, 2011, 18:37
Originally Posted by Lurking Grue View Post
Heh, as much as I like Jeff's games, I think I'm better off not reading his blog. I seem to disagree with his opinions more often than not….
I almost never fully agree but he often highlight interesting points and know take a point of view with a little shift from the common stream.

The introduction is quite true and funny:
As I put the final touches on Avadon: The Black Fortress, I am finally wrapping up the most touchy, painful, contentious part of the game: play balance. Should it be harder or easier? Is this particular fight fair? How many players will wash out halfway through the game and be forever angry at me for my suckitude?
LOL.

Well go back read it.
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February 12th, 2011, 19:00
Originally Posted by Lurking Grue View Post
This whole "trash mob" idea is appalling to me. Why do we have to have trash mobs? For example, take DA:O (which, incidentally, Jeff likes a lot) and its endless trash mobs, e.g. in Deep Roads *shudder*. It was Not Fun mowing through yet another wave of trash mobs and it sure did not make me feel badass or Conan-like. All it did was make me wish it would end soon. Couple this trash mob idea with a shallow combat system and you've got a recipe for boredom.

Then take another game with a lot of combat, Knights of the Chalice. This is not a game with trash mobs, as you really need to pay attention to every combat you do or you'll get your butt handed to you. Even if you fight "the same old" orcs/gnolls/whatever again, every battle is interesting and meaningful as your characters are threatened in every battle. You won't feel bored as you cannot just "autopilot" your way through the battle. This is the key to CRPG battles! To be threatened in battle and with solid tactics and skill prevail. To feel the "rush of battle" and have a challenge to overcome - a challenge which you're *not* *guaranteed* to overcome.
Couldn`t ever put it better sir!

Strategic combat in mainstream RPGs is a no-no these days…DA:O was truly disgusting on this angle, especially given the pre-launch hope. I`m not saying it should be as hardcore (and beautiful as KotC, but what they served was weak…and more annoyingly so because it could`ve been great. At the beginning there were few fights that totally got me into the GoldBox-rush state
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February 12th, 2011, 19:31
Originally Posted by Lurking Grue View Post
Then take another game with a lot of combat, Knights of the Chalice. This is not a game with trash mobs, ….
Instead of thinking about the correct ratio of trash mobs vs boss fights, how about dropping that whole idea, please. How about making all battles interesting by having an interesting combat system and challenging foes to fight.
I haven't played Knights of the Chalice so I can't say but I don't remember a single RPG with zero trash mobs. I also don't remember a single action game without trash mobs.

Take three significant examples, Icewindale 1 (fights are the body and the heart of this game), G2+NOT (it is quite more difficult with NOTR) and King's Bounty The Legend (strategy game). All have fights you have no chance to loose if you don't try loose the fight, ie all have trash fights.

One problem of difficulty management is to manage the learning curve, a point that forgot Jeff in his article. The learning curve can't be too step, if it is it will generate a game most players will throw the game in trash. That means that a margin should be taken. And some player will learn faster manage fights of type A and some later fights of type A will become for them a trash fight. But some other players will learn faster to manage fights of type B and for them later fights of type B will become for them a trash fight.

The learning curve involves another very difficult challenge, particularely for RPG that are bringing new mechanisms. DAO is a good example of this I don't remember a RPG that trigger as many comments of both "the fights are too difficult" AND "the fights are too easy".

Some players will find the various tricks very fast, some other will read in forums posts about fighting tactics and then will learn very fast too, some other will replay the game first parts multiple times before to really start a full play and will get from this repeated experience a much more advanced learning knowledge.

At the opposite, some players will just rush into the game and won't read any advices. Some will never attempt replay and try build a better tuned character. Some will feel humiliated if they don't manage all the fights by themselves and will refuse check any forum or even restart the game for a better character.

All of that plus that not all people will learn at the same curve and that build a real challenge to game designers, to build a game with a learning curve, which is in my opinion what can trigger the best games.

I think that one trick to manage a bit better that sort of problem is to repeat similar fights, the repetition gives more chance to find the right trick and make the player learn one point useful for future fights. But this repetition will also generate trash fights.

But the key point about trash fights is probably the pace of the game. A RPG isn't purely a series of fights but need manage exploration, story progression, interactions with NPC and puzzles or tricks solving. A slower pace for those phases certainly help and also avoid fights grab too much the focus hence some trash fights.

Also one more point is that constant tension is never as much impressive than variation of tensions with heights and lows. That's one more argument for trash fights that seems solid.

But I do agree that modern games tend abuse of trash fights and that in general I would wish there was less of them. But this is highly linked to the learning curve, if it's just to get tough fights that require 1 hour to beat, or tough fights that require hyper optimization of the character, or tough fights with a high possibility that random make lost the fights, nope none of them are for me.
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February 12th, 2011, 20:39
Well, Dasale, please just try at least the demo of Knights of the Chalice. I'd say I haven't encountered a single trash mob fight there.
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February 12th, 2011, 21:21
Originally Posted by CrazyIrish View Post
I guess the real question is:
Do you want to make an rpg that a few hardcore gamers will love? Or do you want to make an rpg that will actually pay for itself?
My answer is : Balance between both.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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February 12th, 2011, 23:10
I've put a bit of thought into this and I know you'll all disagree, but I think Vogel has it roughly right. Time will tell when Avadon actually gets released.

KotC is an excellent game - I enjoyed it a lot - but for all you guys are (deservedly) praising it, it doesn't have anywhere near the scope or script complexity of Avernum 6 or Geneforge 5. In a large game, you need to have highs and lows - (in music they might say "light and shade" or similar) to get the pacing right. The big boss battle needs to be "epic" compared to the fights before. You also want to move the plot forward and so on - considerations that just didn't exist in KotC. Battling for your life constantly can get tiring in a very big game.

That isn't to say there might not be more "modern" design concepts that avoid trash mobs but Vogel is a traditional CRPG designer. DA:O took trash mobs too far but there's a place for some balance.

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February 13th, 2011, 01:02
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
My answer is : Balance between both.
I'll make you a deal. If you start a game company and make one, I promise I'll buy a copy.
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February 13th, 2011, 01:22
It will be - if ever - an text adventure first.

That's what I plan since several years now.

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February 13th, 2011, 07:42
Originally Posted by Lurking Grue View Post
Then take another game with a lot of combat, Knights of the Chalice. This is not a game with trash mobs, as you really need to pay attention to every combat you do or you'll get your butt handed to you. Even if you fight "the same old" orcs/gnolls/whatever again, every battle is interesting and meaningful as your characters are threatened in every battle. You won't feel bored as you cannot just "autopilot" your way through the battle. This is the key to CRPG battles! To be threatened in battle and with solid tactics and skill prevail. To feel the "rush of battle" and have a challenge to overcome - a challenge which you're *not* *guaranteed* to overcome. This makes me sit up and pay attention, not mowing through trash mobs and then maybe pay some attention in an occasional boss fight. Instead of thinking about the correct ratio of trash mobs vs boss fights, how about dropping that whole idea, please. How about making all battles interesting by having an interesting combat system and challenging foes to fight.
BS. knights of the chalice had trash mobs, these were random encounters.
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February 14th, 2011, 19:37
Originally Posted by rune_74 View Post
BS. knights of the chalice had trash mobs, these were random encounters.
Nope. Those random encounters were all optional. You always had the option of avoiding the fight (by choosing the 'run away' option). Kind of defeats their purpose as trash mobs to fight through, when you don't have to fight through them, eh?

Besides, I remember (hazy as the memory is, it's been more than a year since I last played KotC) many random encounters which were far from being "trashy" (i.e. easy and without a threat). Although I usually just skipped the random encounters whenever they occurred.

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