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July 15th, 2009, 12:31
A short piece from Tales of the Rampant Coyote on encounters as "soft boundaries":
His philosophy - which I adhere to - is that it is far better for the players to choose to follow the prepared course of the game than to be forced to do so.

More powerful enemies in CRPGs are one example of a (sometimes frustrating) "soft boundary." The player isn't prevented from making a run into the deep end of the pool while still in the early stages of the game, but the difficulty of the encounters may convince her that it's more profitable to go back to an earlier area to pick up some quest threads. But the possibility of heading into more dangerous territory remains open … maybe to make a mad dash to another town that sells more powerful equipment. Why not? In the past, these kinds of self-initiated quests have proven to be among the highlights of several games I've played.
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July 15th, 2009, 12:31
these guys should get an award for keeping stating the obvious so intensely, with such an amouint of passion

A novice player will probably find himself frustrated if the game allows him to get in over his head, while a more veteran RPG player will probably recognize what is happening and adapt.
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July 15th, 2009, 15:51
I think it's not that clear-cut. It's much harder for the developer to control things when you allow that degree of freedom. It all comes down to the difference between 'sandbox' vs. 'story-defined' games. The story is much harder to control, even player's enjoyment could be compromised if you overlook something that might trivialize encounters (like finding a full plate armor +5 would trivialize content for a good part of the game if you find it at level 1 just by exploring).
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July 15th, 2009, 18:00
Not nessarily. Fallout 1 and 2 are great examples of this "soft boundry" type of game. Sure you could get to NCR and get great weapons, but here is the catch: You have to actually get there

On my first play through I had a great time just searching around the map. If I traveled too far I would be squished pretty fast, so I searched around my surroundings first. That made exploring a little more fun and dangerous.

On my second play, I ran as fast as I could to NCR to pickpocket the guards there (can't remember the name of the weapon, but it turned most enemies into swiss cheese). Still even with this BFG it wasn't a game breaker. There was still ammo, skill and endurance to take into consideration. I only used it when I absolutely had to and lets face it taking on some of those random encounters at a low levels was suicide. Get a pack of raiders/gangsters and they turned me into swiss cheese. With that gun I could take them on a little earlier than usual, but still have to worry about ammo and being able to survive their counter attack.

That was an extremely long example, but the same goes with Gothic and other "soft boundry" games. Even when you know the boundries and where the goodies are it doesn't nessarily break the game or trivialize content that you find along the normal rout of the game.
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