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Default Rampant Games - Learning the Scales

November 7th, 2008, 04:26
Jay Barnson writes on scaling in CRPGs, with examples showing the frustrations of getting it wring but the potential advantages with appropriate use:
I was going to make another post on Wizardry 8 today. I took about a week off from playing it, and jumped back in, only to find the "random" encounters were once again consuming a good deal of my time. I've been running around Rapax Rift for a while now, and found an interesting situation - the random encounters seem to be much harder (and longer) than the "fixed" encounters at my level (pushing level 20).

When I open a door, I'm often faced with four to six monsters at or below my character level. The patrols, on the other hand, consist of eight to sixteen creatures around my level, and I'm frequently running out of spell points by the time the battle is over. So - resting and returning, I'm facing the same encounters again immediately. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's a relief to hit some rooms, because I can fight four or five of these semi-fixed encounters in a row.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but it feels like gaining higher levels is actually penalized… things get harder, instead of easier, as you improve.
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November 7th, 2008, 04:26
This is a vital issue, as games embrace a larger and loftier scope. I didn't play Oblivion, but the monster scaling thing was prevalent in Morowind too, adn it didn't take too long for it to prove annoying. I think it's just a balance issue. We don't mind a challenge, but when the fixed plotty kind of encounters are way easier than the random ones outside, it's just a huge letdown.

You know, Master of Magic had that same problem, although not because of scaling. The hardest fights in the world would be from a particularly well-defended magic node. Relative to those 8 dragons or whatnot, the capital cities of the enemy would be complete pushovers.

Scaling sucks on other levels too, so I think we can safely say it's a bad idea. But what's the alternative? Well, what works in MMOs might be a model. WoW has twelve zillion areas, and none of them are of the slightest interst to you once you've leveled past them. It's just not fun or productive to go around killing level 20 zombies six at a time when you're level 40. Of course, WoW's game world is completely ginormous, and also MMOs have different goals than CRPGs. Maybe.

You know, maybe part of the problem is that the power curves we see in all these games are so completely unrealistic that it's very hard to shoehorn a coherent gameworld into a system where the variances in killpower are so ridiculously huge. Kung Fu movies and videogames aside, we know intuitively that a kid with a cheap 9mm can still kill any human dead with one shot. Blam. And perhps, that has kept our world organized a certain way.

A videogame world, where the orcs who were threatening to overwhelm your tribe three days ago are approximately one one-thousandth as strong as the generic caravan guard standing around the new area you just wondered into… the truth is it doesn't make much sense. I mean, that's fine, but it presents game balancers with some hard choices.

Anywho, I don't know the answer, but my vote is for the MMO model, flawed as it may be. Actually, I think that same model applies to JRPGs as well, so as usual the Japanese have it all figured out. We just have to accept that our starting village is populated by tiny, ant-like weaklings, the middle areas are populated by regular people, and the final areas are the domain of gods, monsters, and killer robots. It's a little silly, but there's no realistic alternative.
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November 7th, 2008, 13:32
Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but it feels like gaining higher levels is actually penalized… things get harder, instead of easier, as you improve.
This is the point that matters to me, personally.
A game that doesn't show any hint of progress and - to me more importantly - isn't rewarding, isn't a game I would want to play.

The design I see behind this is like what I'd call a "dungeon crawl", only outside the world where Wizardry 8 takes place.

It's hard, it's *always* a challence, and there's no end.

The "There's no end" feeling was evoked inside of me when I was faciong all of these battles … "when is the end of all this coming, at last ?"

To me, personally, this was quite a bad design decision that successfully kept me from enjoying the game, no matter how much I loved the rest of it (the incredible dedication for details, for example).

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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November 7th, 2008, 14:30
So what is a "good" difficulty curve? Classic arcade games were always like this, they got harder and harder the longer you played them. Obvioulsy that was part of what made them addictive - why should that not work for RPG's too?
Obviously a game that gets progressively easier would meet with criticism as well - just note all the complaints about MW and Oblivion: "After level 10 you are a demi-god) - actually an outpacing of player progress in relation to the level scaling of encounters. It certainly gives a feeling of progress, but it is not fun. Should the actual challenge always stay the same, be it through level scaling or careful design of a sequence of areas with increasing difficulty in line with players progress?
Or should there be an up and down (similar to a level-end boss structure?)
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November 7th, 2008, 14:40
I prefer it the way they handeled it in Gothic:
Weak monsters in the beginning but you are weak too, after a few levels they are easy to kill but watch out if you stray from the path or you might wander in to something that kills you with one attack

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November 7th, 2008, 14:42
How about the Gothic model? Things aren't scaled, but you'll probably want to kill all of <weaker monster A> before you tackle <slightly stronger monster B>. It solves the "you don't visit half the zones" MMO problem at least. Of course, perhaps it wouldn't work quite so well in a larger-than-G2 world (G3?).

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November 7th, 2008, 14:50
@Ghan: I never played the classic arcade games, I came to gaming fairly late (early to mid 90s).

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November 7th, 2008, 15:02
I like the Gothic model too, but one could argue that it merely places the scaling responsibility into the players hand. Ultimately each player has to grind until he feels comfortable traversing into a new region of higher difficulty. However, I think there were also sections in the Gothics where you were forced down a path for a short while, so there was certainly an up and down of difficulty. I kind of like that, if there are short stretches of extraordinary challenge that give a feeling of acomplishment, amid a more scaled experience. The mage school proving grounds in UU2, the crypt in Arx, several levels/dungeons in the Wicher.
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November 7th, 2008, 15:22
I wanted to love Wizardry 8, but hated it for those reasons and never finished.

When you have only a couple of hours to play every night, it is just no fun spending 1 1/2 hours fighting random encounters. I wanted to enjoy the world, not fight the same stupid enemies over and over again.

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November 7th, 2008, 21:28
The problem with the Gothic 1/2 model (3 was different) is that you end up being railroaded around the map by walls of foes you can't handle. They look like open games but really aren't. It tends to break immersion, too; why aren't the X which can totally whip your butt just wandering down the trail a bit? Another problem is that it encourages saving every 2 steps because you never know what's right around the corner. I loved Gothic 2 but I love to poke around everywhere in a game and I swear I practically wore out the save/load buttons.

I gave up on the Wiz games for the same reason as you others. The endless battles with ever increasing hordes of random monsters were tedious and pointless.
Last edited by BillSeurer; November 7th, 2008 at 22:54.
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November 7th, 2008, 23:04
I never really found that. By carefully observing the monster's behaviour (they all show signs before they aggro) - and running when you need to - I went all over the place. I also don't see the immersion problem, because G2 probably had the best placement of mobs I've ever seen, in terms of creating a cohesive world. In many games, I feel like the monsters were placed just for me to fight, rather than "living" in the game world.

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November 8th, 2008, 13:27
I agree with Dhruin. You could get almost every where if you just looked at were they were and runned.
Look at the old camp in G2 with the ramp. You could get there really on a low level, way to low to fight the hordes of orcs.

And G3: the rippers close to montera ,riper beast everywhere Cralers if you went in the wrong cave. it felt like real wilderness

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November 10th, 2008, 17:13
G3 to some extent handles the problem by starting out relatively powerful and having a relatively "short" power curve. Why you certainly are more formidable at level 60 than at lvl 1 the difference is nowhere near as huge as in AD&D (just an example) and high level chars are still quite vulnerable to the beloved boars (and my favourites, the goblin shamen) if you arent careful.

Unfortunately power curves that go through the roof appeal to a lot of gamers. Creating uberbuilds is what a lot of people expect from a RPG, and devs take this into account.

EDIT: G2 had a very tight balanced between player and enemy power that sometimes annoyed me even if it kept combat interesting, one practically had to vacuum the wilderness for wildlife during each chapter to keep up with the bosses, and that broke the immersion to some extent (which is my only complaint against what IMHO is the finest RPG ever)…
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