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Default Putting the Mystery Back @ The Guardian

November 29th, 2007, 18:54
A piece at The Guardian discusses using randomisation and increasing the spontaneity in games, although their example of Bioshock seems odd to me:
Even the often more freeform RPG genre appears to be aligning itself with Newell's philosophy. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the most successful RPG in recent memory, pivots on a scaling system, whereby everything a player sees, fights, buys from and converses with in the virtual world is scaled to his or her level. The player can push through the game's main storyline fairly quickly as a result, but they won't fight a Minotaur, say, until they reach the right level.
Systems like the one used in Oblivion exist to make vast, technologically complex virtual worlds streamlined and manageable. Forego any kind of balancing system, and you may end up with a bug-ridden, inconsistent game - one of the quickest ways to earn seriously bad press. There are several studios, though, that are trying to prove that surprises and functionality aren't mutually exclusive. 2K Boston (formerly Irrational Games) is probably the most prominent: BioShock was released in August to unanimous praise and commercial success. And it's a completely open-plan experience.
More information.

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November 29th, 2007, 18:54
I hate to be overly critical, but this article is utter bull. The level scaling in Oblivion was uniformly thrashed, and yet the article holds it up as a wonder of innovation. Bioshock was a great game; I actually played and completed Bioshock. There's no freeform or mystery to Bioshock. The player mows a map and is then presented with another map to mow. There's no choice which map to work on, nor is there a way to skip to a map of your choosing.

If the article was going to trumpet a move to random content, HG:L should have been mentioned. Unfortunately, the reality of random content in that game hasn't quite lived up to the dream.

With the article feeling the need to define XP, someone in the picture (either the author or the target audience) doesn't know squat about games.

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November 29th, 2007, 20:35
Level scaling like Oblivion violates the first rule of rpgs:

Rule #1: "Get better to do something that you cannot do at your current level."

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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November 29th, 2007, 21:03
This is a great article and a valuable one. If offers no breakthroughs, but its assessment is correct. The author's focus is on target and speaks directly to a source of disgruntlement. It's a fan conversation worth having, and this article provides a good place to start.

RPG has mind-bending potential, and high-technology is a place where you're always in over your head. CRPG blends both, so I'm not at all surprised by Gambotto-Burke's struggle to express or provide accurate examples for the concepts he's considering. It's what a lot of us have been considering and having trouble expressing.

The perfect RPG would certainly make use of randomization, but it would be cleverly implemented, noted, resolved, maneuvered around or built upon. It would involve lots and lots of writing. It would offer alternatives every step of the way in accordance with the player's role and the way he plays it.

Valve Software's Gabe Newell is wrong. The allure of hidden content is fascinating. It draws the player in and encourages him to find out more. It's the depth you need, the beauty you desire, the brilliance you want to respect. It’s the confirmation that you've picked the right place to lead an imaginary life, one you can actually love. I learned that from the greatest fan I've ever known.

Richard Garriott has the right idea about the worlds he creates. But right now he’s experimenting with it only in an MMO, and that's too bad.

The archetype of creating and modifying a single program has to change, somehow. Instead of creating a game at a time, RPG makers should be in the business of building and modifying game worlds instead. Right now the only way anyone can imagine doing anything like that is via an MMO (hence, Richard Garriott). Someone needs to figure out a whole new way.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
Last edited by Squeek; November 29th, 2007 at 21:14.
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November 30th, 2007, 00:13
I guess the real problem I have is that his examples are diametrically opposed to his theory. Not even "in the neighborhood". You seem to chalk that up to being a difficult concept, but I guess it pretty well screams "idiot" to me. If you want to talk about random content, how do you not so much as mention Daggerfall, Diablo, or HG:L? I thought of those in all of 15 seconds, and I'm not writing any articles. Again, omissions that grave scream "idiot" to me.

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November 30th, 2007, 02:21
While I'm not necessarily defending Oblivion's scaling of all challenges and rewards to your current character level, I will point out that this is far closer to how most DMs run tabletop RPG games than having weak monsters over here, tough monsters over there, and requiring the PCs to go away and come back when they're tougher. Published adventures are virtually always written with the vast majority of challenges being scaled to the intended PC levels.

Because it's totally believable that the powerful monsters or villains will just hang around and wait wherever they happened to be lurking until you've leveled up enough to be able to face them.

I've never played in a tabletop RPG game where the DM didn't design the challenges and rewards to be appropriate for the levels of the PCs involved.

This doesn't mean that a high-level character should never ever encounter a wimpy monster or find a bunch of junk as treasure, but such encounters should be pretty rare and mainly serve to maintain a sense of realism, as it's essentially a waste of the player's time.
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November 30th, 2007, 02:39
This is one of many areas where PnP and CRPGs diverge. It's a matter of practicality that DMs would mostly prepare an appropriate adventure for today's session. A game like Gothic or Oblivion would typically span many modules worth of material and, in general, when your players arrive at Keep on the Borderlands (perhaps with some nice preamble about how / why you got there), they don't generally turn around and head in the opposite direction.

So, of course you structure material for the current adventuring around an appropriate challenge. Large, open CRPGs are different - everything is already prepared and automated and the pace is faster. Even longish games like Gothic II+NotR move much faster than many PnP campaigns, which span months or even years. All this makes scaling more obvious and less necessary as a practicality.

I also don't understand your "just hang around and wait" comment. It makes perfect sense to me that most monsters would stay with their lair, habitat or whatever. It honestly makes sense to you that all the bandits have an infinite supply of equipment and when they see you coming, rush to change into their glass armour to match your level?

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November 30th, 2007, 13:28
The reason a tabletop RPG session is scaled to character level is simple - because the DM has to take the time and put in the (a by no means small amount) work to prepare the adventure for the players. And the players don't want to have their characters killed, and everyone wants to come back and play next session.
A cRPG is quite different, as they are made up of many, many modules, often amounting to at the very least a massively sprawling tabletop campaign. And it's all pre-packaged and present, the work of the DM is all done and it's all up to the players. If a tabletop DM had an entire campaign's worth of modules ready to go from day one, then sure, it could be structured more like a cRPG game, the players could end up facing horrifically dangerous enemies well before they are ready.
A cRPG also allows saves and reloads, something that a DM may not be so willing to provide. Game saving and reloading is the great balancer.

The whole notion of level scaling in a cRPG is probably the most ludicrous contrivance I've come across in computer gaming. It completely shatters immersion, holds the player's hand, and removes any sense of challenge and accomplishment.

Even the often-derided MMO genre avoids level scaling. You go to an area too high for your level and you'll have a tough time. But, depending on the level gap, you may have a challenge that clever thinking and hard work will allow you to overcome, and with that a massive sense of satisfaction (or you'll die in very short order and have to go somewhere else). With level scaling, you'll never have that, because you know it was all designed to be an even match.

You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
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