Achilles: This game is starting to click. We’re over the first hump.
The Grognard: “Hump”?
Achilles: Most RPGs have a hump somewhere around the ten to twenty hour mark. It varies from game to game exactly when. But it’s the point where you get to your first real town, and side quests start buzzing around like mosquitoes. You get overwhelmed, and you feel like you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. But then you knock out a couple quests, and then a couple more, and you get over the hump to the real game. Everything before the first hump is basically the tutorial, whether they call it that or not.
The Grognard: Where was this hump? In the game world, I mean.
Achilles: The southern end of the map. Beregost, Nashkel, that area. Once you get back to Beregost after killing whatshisname down in the mines.
The Grognard: That plot point always seemed strange to me. One guy, hiding in the bottom of mine, can “poison” the entire output of said mine. It seems like there would be a host of practical problems with that plan, doesn’t it?
Achilles: It was a little strange, but overall the story is good. It doesn’t get in the way – it’s like a detective story you gradually unravel while doing other things. Not like some RPGs where they’re constantly pestering you and pointing you towards the next thing you’re supposed to do.
The Grognard: Listen to you, defending the game while I criticize it.
Achilles: Oh, I’ve got plenty of complaints, don’t worry. But I do like how the game lets me do things at my own pace, in my own order. Like, now I’m supposed to find a bunch of bandits called the “Chill,” but all I have is a few leads that say they’re somewhere on the north side of the map. So the until I find them, I can putter around doing side quests, which is what I want to do right now anyway. I’m waiting on my second set of Ankheg armor, and maybe one more level for everyone.
The Grognard: I would say that this is a game that respects the player’s agency. That’s not always true in RPGs, or games in general.
Achilles: Plus, it’s full of cool little things. I turned a guy from a chicken back into a human. A guy dropped a “find familiar” scroll, and now I have a talking cat that can sneak around and pickpocket people. The “charm” spell is comedy gold, like I hoped. It comes with unique dialogue, and you can use it to move witnesses out of the way before you get your burgle on. I’ve put some points into Imoen’s lockpicking, and I’m systematically robbing all of the Sword Coast blind. I figure when things go missing they must just blame it on the bandits anyway.
The Grognard: That particular brand of just-for-fun reactivity is something of a lost art these days. It’s also a side benefit of using a pre-established setting and ruleset – plenty of material to draw on. Are you familiar with the Forgotten Realms?
Achilles: I know the general gist of it. There’s lots of magic, every third character is a dragon, and people say “mayhaps” instead of maybe. Oh, and at some point Drizzt or Elminster will show up.
The Grognard: As if on cue. So you like the setting?
Achilles: It’s a bit standard, but I’ve seen worse. Some of the maps are good. Some are a bit… empty? Like, I’ll spend twenty minutes trudging around yet another forest, and there’ll only be one or two actual things to do in it.
The Grognard: That much is true. If you don’t like slowly zigzagging through sparsely-populated wilderness, this game can get a bit slow. My gut says it was a pipeline issue – they probably finished the maps before they could populate them adequately, and didn’t have enough content to fill them all out before they shipped.
Achilles: Speaking of not having enough time to do things, there are timed quests! Consistently one of my least favorite things. Xzar and Montaron ditched me because I didn’t get to Nashkel fast enough. Okay, fine, no great loss, but Jaheira was complaining too. And to keep Minsc in the party I had to high-tail it to the gnoll stronghold way down in the southwest corner of the map.
The Grognard: There aren’t that many timed quests in the series, but there are some.
Achilles: There should be none. I don’t like being rushed. Top Hat Guy doesn’t do well with adventuring on a schedule. He’s more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-top-hat sort of guy.
The Grognard: So you want a detailed, reactive, and immersive setting – but you want the important events of that setting to sit there, twiddling their thumbs, until you’re ready to address them.
Achilles: Pretty much, yeah. They couldn’t write their way around this problem somehow? These games are supposed to be fun. Stressing me out with fidgety details isn’t that.
The Grognard: The stress can create a sense of urgency that adds to the experience. Take the original Fallout – you had 150 days to find a replacement for the vault’s water purification chip, then 500 days before the Master attacks Vault 13. The whole plot was built around it, and it helped create the dark, desperate vibe of the series.
Achilles: That’s fine for Fallout. But this is a different series, with a different vibe. Plus, if you’re going to have timers, you should commit to the idea, not just throw them in randomly here and there. The ones here mess with the flow of things.
The Grognard: That much I agree with. Timed quests are rarely done well – Fallout is an exception that proves the rule. But I wish some developer or another would explore the mechanic again. I mean, without them, what’s the incentive not to just rest after every fight?
Achilles: There isn’t one. Well, there are random attacks, but you just reload a save if you get one of those.
The Grognard: So why have resting at all, if there’s no penalty for spamming it? Why not just have health regenerate when you’re out of combat?
Achilles: Preaching to the choir over here, my friend.
The Grognard: Later on, Bioware went that route, and I can see why. But it feels like they were halfway to an interesting resource management mechanic and then just gave up.
Achilles: Thank god for that. The phrase “interesting resource management mechanic” gives me the heebie jeebies. I’ve seen enough of this game’s inventory system to know that “interesting resource management mechanics” aren’t exactly their strong suit. Not after I just spent ten minutes individually selling about a hundred silver rings at Feldepost’s Inn, or got in the habit of picking party members partly by their carry weight. Pick up one ankheg shell too many, and you have to rearrange six backpacks to make room.
The Grognard: The inventory juggling could’ve been toned down, no arguments there. But do you see the pattern that’s developing? Whenever a tabletop-inspired mechanic doesn’t quite work, your instinct is to throw it overboard, rather than to come up with an adjustment or workaround. Bioware had the same instinct, and I believe the seeds of their future problems can already be seen here.
Achilles: What’s the alternative, though? Preferably one that doesn’t involve piling more busywork on top of the player?
The Grognard: Oh, there’s a whole other tradition that exists right here in the Infinity Engine. It’s the Black Isle tradition. But there’ll be more to say about that later in the game.
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143 thoughts on “Achilles and the Grognard: Over the Hump”
The Grognard: That much I agree with. Timed quests are rarely done well – Fallout is an exception that proves the rule. But I wish some developer or another would explore the mechanic again. I mean, without them, what’s the incentive not to just rest after every fight?
Pathfinder: Kingmaker, my dude.
So how’s it done in that game?
Basically, at different times new problems will appear and you have a variable amount of time to deal with them. Some are “must do now”, crisis specifically a recurring monster spawning event, and others are parts of the main quest opening up. If you take too long to deal with a crisis or dally about instead of dealing with the threats of the main quest, you will get progressively worse results and negative consequences. Generally speaking, these timers are pretty generous and I was able to spend almost three months between main quest missions just building my realm and exploring at one point because I was diligent in wrapping up the main quest for that chapter.
It is not too intrusive, nor is it too punishing, but it is there and it works well to make the player feel the pressure of actually trying to defend their realm.
Somewhat ineptly at launch, much better now. Basically, at the start of the game you have a three month time limit (which you’re warned of in advance) to kill the first boss of the game, the Stag Lord. This time is spent hiring your first party, removing the Stag Lord’s protections and defeating one of your rivals for the title, and can usually be accomplished in a month and change if you’re efficient. If you fail, you get a game over. At game launch this limit was shorter and you weren’t told of how long you had.
Once you have your kingdom, you will occasionally attract major story threats that start a new chapter. You have a time limit on those you’re not told about, and if you take too long you progressively get penalties to your kingdom’s stats (which you don’t get back). If any of your stats hit 0, you get a game over.
You also get so-called kingdom dilemmas, where a minor problem arises. These aren’t solved in person; instead you have one of your advisors spend 14-30 days on solving it using a skill check (so it’s a random pass/fail, but currently you can game the odds with tokens you get from defeating bosses, which you couldn’t at launch). You usually have until the first of the second next month to assign an advisor or it auto-fails (so if you get the problem in September, you have to the 1st of November to assign an advisor). Not dealing with minor problems usually causes a minor hit to one of your stats, while succeeding gains you stats. Sometimes, having an advisor fail is worse than just not dealing with the problem, so if you have a low chance of success you can just suck up the stat loss.
Finally, there’s the Bald Hilltop quest, which is a cursed mountain that occasionally spews forth alien invaders (fae) into your kingdom. The Bald Hilltop erupts once every six months, and you know when the next attack will be to the day. Once an attack starts, you have to both assign an advisor to calm your kingdom and personally close the portal on the Bald Hilltop with a fight; if you don’t do this you suffer a major penalty every day you don’t deal with it.
So, basically, unless the Bald Hilltop is about to erupt while all your advisors are busy and you’re halfway off the edge of the map trying to solve the current chapter quest, it’s very seldom serious. A lot of the time penalties have been adjusted since release and it’s a bit of a stress factor, but fairly manageable.
These all sound really good! :)
In addition to what others have said, there are some hard game over results, but to reach those you have to either be godlike at managing the kingdom or edit your save game so that your kingdom doesn’t fall from the accumulated gradual penalties.
Most quests are played entirely straight; I think you can ignore a couple of seemingly urgent situations for years before resolving them with no penalty.
Encumbrance is simply not fun. It’s like handling the need for characters to go the toilets regularly, it’s “realistic” but it’s not something I’m interested in handling. There is no pleasure to be found in overcoming that hurdle, except not being bothered by it anymore.
I like how Pillars of Eternity handles it. In combat you’re limited to your inventory, but out of combat you have access to the unlimited stash, which is an abstraction for going back and forth to wherever your stuff is piled or sending couriers or whatever.
You might not like encumbrance mechanics, but I actually dislike the situation you allude to, where the player has a tonne of things on their person or stash. If a game allows you to have a large inventory, it also needs to give you adequate tools to manage that inventory. Many games don’t even have an auto-sort button, so you’re left rummaging through piles of crap, to find the one thing you need right now. I feel like that’s just as bad, as having a limited inventory. A game with a limited inventory, can give the player good choices, about what to take and what to leave behind. Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light did fairly well in this regard; You have to choose, if you want to keep your current gun that’s upgraded, or swap it for something not upgraded, but which starts out better. The only time those games felt like a drag, was the one level where there was a shop right by a bunch of enemies. That allowed you to hike back and forth, laboriously selling each gun two at a time, then going back to pick up two more guns (you were limited to two big guns and one pistol, if I recall correctly).
It looks like you replied to the wrong person; Infinitron is talking about timed quests.
Unlimited inventories are also prone to balance problems where either the game becomes a total cakewalk or you then have to spend the entire game deciding whether or not you should go farm some items. Encumbrance can be its own type of hassle, but so can the need to go farm potions or whatever.
Also plenty of games really don’t allocate memory properly for large inventories. Anyone who has modded Skyrim or Fallout to increase carrying capacity knows, those games chug when handling large inventories.
BTW for Skyrim the vanilla game allows for infinite inventory through abusing the enchanting system, too, not just modding, so it is absolutely relevant that they get large inventory sizes right.
The thing is that the memory allocation problem is for having inventories with lots of different items, while the carry capacity is for having lots of weight.
If there are lots of tiny things, you can have the engine chug while also annoying the player.
Also, unless a game allows itself to peek into your inventory and dynamically adjust your encounters, they usually get designed with the assumption that the player is an idiot who never thinks to pick up any items or visit shops anyway. Scouring dungeons and villages for chests like an experienced player tends to make RPGs brutally easy; fortunately this is balanced somewhat by those same players compulsively hoarding the consumables they find instead of using them.
Encumbrance very rarely solves any balance ussues, in my experience. The way most encumbrance systems are set up, you can usually still pick lug around enough stuff to totally break both immersion and the game economy. So it adds nothing but an extra layer of frustration and backtracking.
A better way is, I think, to just limit what your character can actually pick up. Yeah, it can be another frustration, but RPGs usually emulate other works of fiction when it comes to tone and setting. Can you imagine Aragorn stripping every orc he kills from all their armor, clothes and weapons, and riding around with a sack of still warm boots that he’d try to sell to everyone he meets? I mean, that would actually be a movie I’d watch, but, well, you get the point. Fantasy heroes don’t nick clothes off corpses. They might go through someone’s pockets and pick up a unique weapon, though.
Picking stuff up is a core reward mechanic though, realistic or not. Exploring the world would feel flatter if you know none of those crates with have something in them.
But picking up buckets of vendor trash isn’t that rewarding either.
Eh, debatable. Picking up dozens of same-ish “rusty swords” is neither. You can have loot in the form of crafting resources, jewelry, magic trinkets, whatever. I was referring specifically to stripping lots of stuff from corpses.
If you were playing a chapter of the game, where it reveals that Aragorn was once a scrappy orphan, scraping by to survive, he would absolutely be stripping every orc he murdered. The problem, is that most (all?) games fail to have different items be marked as worthless in later stages of the game, so that even if you ignore all the tiny items and only pick up precious gems to upgrade you Uber Werewolf-Killer Sword 6000, the game’s interface itself is cluttered up, with all the things you’re ignoring.
A good design for a system that correctly identifies which items are worthless would be difficult. I could see it being done using player-controlled input, but a core system should be adequate without manual fiddling by most players.
This is exactly the inventory system I want in every RPG. No, I don’t want to have to make on the spot price/weight calculations to work out what to steal. Just lemme grab everything.
Who cares if I have a metric tonne of raw iron in my pack-it’s not going to effect game balance, because combat inventory is different.
Plus, you can actually be strict with your inventory then, because your “game balancing weight mechanic” is not getting mixed up with your “realistic” mechanics.
Thankfully, mods usually exist for that. (Which is why I was SO leery when I first heard that BG3 would be “Stadia-compliant”, because that would also mean that BG3 would never, ever be moddable. However, word on the grapevine is that you can still buy and play BG3 in an offline setting.) I totally get your complaint though; the first thing I usually do in RPGs is a) give myself enough gold to buy myself a kingdom, and b) either give myself an endless Bag of Holding or equivalent thereof, or download a mod that eliminates encumbrance so I can carry every single last item of loot I come across. But I appreciate that there ARE players who like the fiddly minutiae of dealing with space and weight, so I’m content with letting the game include it, and just have mods that work around the issue. Best of both worlds!
Pathfinder: Kingmaker managed to deal with that pretty well, too.
Each character follows PFRPG rules on encumbrance with regard to all of their equipped items (Armor, accessories, and up to four weapon sets that they can swap to during combat). In addition, they contribute to the party’s shared encumbrance regarding how stuff they can carry that isn’t assigned to any one character.
And whenever you leave a map, you can review any unlooted corpses or containers that you’ve opened, and pick up or drop anything to control the party load.
The entire thing breaks rather well when a druid with an emotional support mastadon is in the party, but that’s because mastodon (and some other types of) companions have an absurdly high carry capacity.
It breaks the other way with a bunch of small sized weak characters, because they have an absurdly low carry capacity- but you have to go significantly out of your way to assemble a party entirely of small weak characters; only three of the default NPC are small sized IIRC.
As far as inventories, I also liked what they did in Tyranny, with the inventories of each character visible at all times. But of course, that was possible because there were only four characters in the party.
Encumbrance can work well, but the items in the game need to be designed to fit. If there’s a large variety of roughly equal value loot to collect, encumbrance just means you stop getting rewarded at a certain point in a dungeon. That sucks. But if there is a variety of weights and values, then you can make meaningful decisions when you find an item. Magical rings are great, suits of armor are trash, but that magical axe might be worthwhile. You can make immersive decisions, like putting away all your alchemy ingredients before heading off to a dungeon. (Why am I carrying around 173 mountain flowers anyway?)
BG1 (and 2) had a specific point to its encumbrance. Stuff in your inventory usually wasn’t an issue (unless you never sold any extras) but the equipment was important and could be an issue for low-strength characters. Viconia, for instance, was not going to manage Full Plate, so you needed to find an option she could use with her low ability score, like Ankheg Plate. The real limit on your inventory was the number of slots, but this was basically part of the tabletop experience in itself. (I personally have a problem with using potions in this game. They’re meant to be used pretty freely, but I always find myself saving them for the next fight, when I might need them “more”. Then I have the same issue later.)
Additionally, 2nd edition magic items tended to set a character’s attribute to a specific value rather than be a flat bonus or penalty. This meant that you could choose to improve a low-Strength character’s score by a lot more than the Fighter who was already strong. Of course, the Fighter would probably get more total use from even a small increase, and your decision could depend on your exact party composition and playstyle. I love these kinds of choices in BG1 because they feel meaningful and do have an impact on play.
Several games ago, Spiderweb Software changed encumbrance so that it affected only your held/worn equipment. The new system means you make tactical choices (partly) around weight, instead of just stressing about how to carry everything.
It’s hard to go back to previous games.
Das schwarze Auge: Schicksalsklinge (or, by its English title, Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny) made the main quest timed, and I love it for that. During playing you find out there will be an invasion of orcs, which you can repel by a duel against the chieftain (or, if you so choose, a huge pile-on against a large number of) orcs. You have to prepare your party by finding a significant (eponymous) sword, finding out where and when the invasion will begin. At some point, you will get to their muster and, if you have the sword, can challenge the chieftain to said duel.
The quest is timed so that, if you fail to be prepared and at the right place at the right time, the invasion starts, as far as I remember it.
To the day, it’s how I imagine a well made cRPG main quest should work: give the player some urgency and some important tasks with few hints, let them explore and see if they can do good enough detective work to get to the point where they can beat the quest.
I also like writing my P&P material in a similar fashion, aka “if the players need more than X days to do Y, villain Z will have made some progress towards his goal.” Or maybe I make it depend on some die rolls for the villain after specific milestones have not been met. Maybe the players don’t realize it, but this way the world looks more active and alive to myself, making it more fun, as it creates a possibility of failure without needing to kill players.
A random example, never really used:
“Sorry, you failed to prevent the villain from destroying the town and turning everyone into vampires, but be sure you could have managed if you had taken the threat seriously instead of messing around making wisecracks and trying to seduce barmaidens. On the other hand: not everything is lost and you can still redeem yourself.
For now, you have a new problem: A town has been razed of the map and there’s its population’s worth of vampires in the world. I guess it’s up to you to stop it, as you are the only people in the know.”
Both of your examples (the video game, and tabletop) sound great! :)
To make sure you got this right: In “Schicksalsklinge”, failing to prevent the invasion is, as far as I know, a game over condition, no second chance to prevent it at a later point. Either you’re at the orc camp on the right day with the required items or you fail.
For my tabletop approach: thanks for liking it. I always liked to grant my players both the feel of a sandbox game and the knowledge that there is an overarching or hidden plot, and if they did nothing, it would advance on its own. It’s a bit easier if the plot actively returns to them at times, like a villain who not only has high ambitions but is also petty enough to make a detour to mess with these people who interfered with his plans once or whom he just doesn’t like for some reason.
The problem I always had with this was when players were too bored by their own characters because of rampant ADHD like behaviour. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for short term games or games with wildly varying cast. It’s obviously best if you can keep the same group of PCs active and alive for a lengthy period of time, reducing its applicability significantly.
I feel sometimes like I’m in the minority in that I *didn’t* rest after every fight, trying instead to ration my resources and rest as little as possible. I don’t know why. It just never occurred to me to burn all my best spells every fight and rest each time.
When Pillars of Eternity was in development the Obsidian devs requested feedback on Infinity Engine features and I started a thread about the degenerate rest mechanic that became a pretty big thread on their forums.
I actually like the way DDO handles resting–you rest at shrines that are found at specific locations, and you can only use the shrines so often depending on what difficulty level you’re doing the quest on. If you’re doing Elite level or higher, you can only ever use a given shrine once.
You could even translate that BACK into pen-and-paper games with resting mechanics, in that these shrines are commonish magical items that are bound to specific gods or philosophies, and if your party is friendly to that god/philosophy, you can use the shrine to get the benefit of a long rest in only 10 minutes or whatever. But, when you use a shrine you need to consume an extra day’s worth of food and water. So it’d make resource management overall a lot more interesting.
DDO even adds a further level of strategic interest via shrines because if you have your party members shrine first (or they don’t need to use the shrine), you can blow all of your remaining spells as long-duration buffs for them, use the shrine, and immediately get all of your spells back.
It’d make the presence of religion a lot more consistent and important in the game (which it should be, since there are almost always gods coming out of the woodwork in fantasy rpgs) and eliminate some of the stupidity of giant dungeons where people sleep all night just a couple of doors from a bunch of monsters who stay politely in their room and for some reason don’t do anything security-oriented like patrolling and have no curiosity about the neighbors who just went missing.
Games could even mix up what resource(s) gets used up by different shrines. Maybe the gnomish thief in your party that worships the god of wealth needs to spend gems or gold at the shrine to get restored, and the orc brute that worships the god of war needs to burn the head of his slain enemy. The shrines could act as resource sinks, as is the case for the thief, or as tools to encourage role-play behaviour – the brute needs to carry a severed head around, which might cause the town guard to bar his entry, or which might attract wild animals if out in the wilderness!
I also try to set myself the goal of getting through as many fights as possible before I have to rest. There’s fatigue status in the games and I always felt like I was roleplaying optimally if my party reached it naturally. But things like travel between zones and especially the haste spell mess with this idea of ‘natural’ resting.
It’s a weird halfway house mechanic but I wouldn’t actually want it taking out of the games – The Grognard calls for magical regeneration between combat encounters, which certainly gets out of the design hole but is one of those things where any in-universe explanation would just seem too convenient not to call attention to its artificiality – much like the Babel fish of the Hitch-hiker’s Guide.
I did the same. However, I actually like the limits placed on players through these sorts of systems.
I don’t think that regenerating health systems and unlimited carry weight are interesting systems or lead to interesting gameplay decisions… which is one of the reasons we play games, no? Otherwise, we may as well read a book or watch a movie.
I think I might write an article on the subject.
If we’re talking about an entire plot set in stone with no input from the player, sure, but that’s a separate problem.
If we’re talking about plots with any interactivity…even Telltale’s The Walking Dead worked for a lot of people in a way noninteractive media wouldn’t.
I kinda feel like Shamus now. let me clarify for you:
*Speaking about games with health and carry weight systems.
*Speaking in the context of this post.
*Speaking in comparison with media where decisions are not part of the experience.
Easier for you?
Even VVVVVVVV doesn’t have a health system or carry weight system….. what’s your point here?
My point is (and was) that a fully regenerating health system and unlimited carry weight remove any interesting decisions for players.
I’m writing an article on this and will post a reply here when done since there are a lot of things to consider and it’s going to be a long “discussion” on my part.
Just a heads-up – this post was written by Bob Case, not by Shamus.
Erm… again, this was a reference to what Shamus does in every post he makes – he tries to anticipate what objections people will come up with to his arguments… That’s kind of his thing, it was even referenced in the last podcast…
I really feel like this need to correct other people has reached endemic proportions… unless your post is a meta joke… in which case, well played!
I don’t think these people were being contrary or dull-witted, to my eyes they were just engaging in mild debate or conversation.
Hey come on, this is needlessly insulting, you sound pretty annoyed!
Anyway, I remember being pretty disappointed by regenerating health, like you say it removes a large element of the game. But that was my opinion quite some time ago, I wonder if I care now. I certainly didn’t mind auto-healing in KotOR style games and such, after a fight, but perhaps they would be improved with a bit more resource management. Not sure I’m a fan of inventory juggling, though it was fine in Deus Ex I suppose. And ME3 had that weight penalty on power recharge speed. I’m not sure I see the effects clearly enough for it to really be worth it though. Carrying 40 kg and having a 5% penalty vs carrying 50 kg with a 12% penalty sort of things are things to think about when I’m messing with loadouts, but not really tangible enough for me to notice in gameplay I think. I’m playing ReCore at the moment which has surprisingly detailed customisation of your companion bots, but I’m not sure the effect is quite proportional to the complexity/ time fiddling.
Edit: what sort of games have you enjoyed this sort of thing in / have found it to have been done well?
Hey, I wasn’t trying to be insulting – but yeah, it was pretty clear we were talking about games where these systems are being utilised. “I said easier for you?” because you’re so not understanding what I’m saying….
I specifically inferred that “interesting gameplay decisions are why we play games”. Not the other way around about plot-driven titles. Look:
Apologies, I wrote a long reply to the second part of your comment and it was marked as spam…. I don’t remember everything but it was basically just saying that I think the system has to match the rest of the gameplay systems within a game. I don’t have a problem with BG’s way of doing it or KotoRs but they fit in a different way. (e.g. KotoR dropped only important items for the inventory).
Players want to make interesting decisions but designers are scared to because they might let them fail. Like in ME3/ReCore and any other number of titles that have increments to power of +1% etc. they don’t potentially unbalance the game and thus simplify the difficutly in balancing encounters.
I’ll have a think about games where I found these mechanics to be done well.
Aw shame! Thinking about it, ReCore does actually allow you to pick up significantly more powerful sets of parts for your bots, and also allows you to boost their stats via another collectible resource – rewarding exploration and combat. And the various types of parts required to install the upgrades are a scattered but plentiful resource. The only problem is that the really nice or even just quite nice stuff is all locked behind levels requirements, requiring grinding or just continuing through the game to get to it. Which either means that the bonus of finding these things requires further exploration to get the upgrades you don’t have in a set (say, for the set-bonus) AND for the parts needed to install it AND far more then to level up to the point of being able to use the cool stuff. Like you say it must be to not allow you to become overpowered too easily? But it also means that the rate of upgrade is slow and nowhere near as fun because of how protracted it can be to use what you want.
Ah I see yes – in KotOR you don’t collect 100 brooms or 50 blaster rifles or a load of expendable weapon resources.
You made the broad statement that removing certain specific fiddly mechanics defeats the purpose of having it be a video game. I took that statement at face value and responded accordingly.
If you actually meant removing fiddly mechanics defeats the purpose of having a game with fiddly mechanics, then that’s not really wrong, but it’s less framing the discussion and more begging the question.
I made the broad statement that we play video games to engage in interesting decisions. Nothing to do with fiddly mechanics. What are you saying…? I’m not saying these things.
Chad, do you think health systems are fiddly? Inventory limitations are fiddly? I think when done well, they are interesting. Of course, it has to fit the rest of the game. I liked, for example, how Halo had the two gun limit instead of the arsenal that we accepted back in the ’90s. I like how RPGs don’t drop a tonne of useless crap instead only giving the player useful items.
I’m being very clear here. I don’t know why it’s hard to understand.
True, they mostly exist to eliminate systems or mechanics that people don’t find enjoyable. Like managing your health across multiple fights, or juggeling your inventory.
There’s another benefit to auto regening health in an RPG. Deliberate balancing. If you know, absolutely, that players will be at full resources every fight you can balance intended difficulty/tension around that baseline. This is as opposed to playing a guessing game with how efficient your audience is.
You can also find use for big inventories by giving you more to do with stuff. Complete this catalog of found items and get stuff.
Have a gift giving system for members of the party where you pay attention to what their likes are for gameplay benefiting relationship points.
Have the option to REALLY barter instead of only having gold management.
Complex crafting system with unique rules as primary facet of gameplay instead of just a few simple recipes.
Multiple pieces of equipment with actual trade-offs, such that the player might want multiple sets with the option to switch.
Except that, for example, in an RPG, the player party may have a VERY different makeup depending on who they’ve met/liked/had killed during previous encounters. It’s not so simple to balance those fights, tbh, and ensuring that everyone is at full health doesn’t ensure they can take on the enemies presented.
Personally, I find this a better fit for FPSes than for RPGs. One of the central cores of an RPG is party and resource management and removing this makes these games tactics titles – which is a different genre (see Fire Emblem or something like that). Those are great games, but they’re not why I’m playing an RPG.
Okay, let me qualify that with – there are a broad range of RPGs (some of which are tactics titles) and obviously there’s not a one-size-fits all solution.
Having players at full health all the time actually makes balancing for the developer easier but removes all variation in challenge from the player. You lose the challenge of getting through fights efficiently, you lose the excitement of routing an un-prepared enemy or lower level group, you lose the fear of reaching a fight you weren’t quite prepared for and just blundered into.
Further to that, the designer now has the power inflation problem of some anime/manga. It’sthe Dragonball Z issue of each subsequent encounter must be the “hardest evar entity in the history of the series!” because you can’t just throw out some lower level people.
Now, of course, I think that sticking a player in a situation whereby they are outmatched and/or outnumbered without fair warning is not fair (and that does happen a few times in BG, IIRC) which “Achilles” mentioned in the previous posts but that’s the fault of poor design decisions, not of the health management system.
For instance, having the fight outside of the Friendly Arm Inn is unfair as the player is still learning the game (usually) at that point. If they had moved it until after you’d enlisted Jaheira and Khalid then I doubt people would think of it so poorly. At present, you may only have two party members or party members that are mostly non-physical combatants.
Actually, this could be an argument for encounters that have some element of adaptive difficulty, whereby party health and active spell/ability slots are taken into account for the spawning of enemies and their abilites.
One of my favourite childhood memories was limping back to base in Wing Commander Privateer after taking on more than I could chew by accepting one too many missions and being a bit cocky. That kind of experience doesn’t ever happen in a regenerating health system.
Pillars of Eternity split the difference by having two resources instead of one; if your Endurance was depleted you fell down and got a(nother) debuff until you rested, and if your entire party fell down you lost. Your Health pool between somewhat and much larger, and when you ran out of health you died outright.
Everything that depleted Endurance also depleted health, but endurance regenerated quickly outside of combat and lots of effects regenerated Endurance during combat. Only a few things other than resting ever regenerate Health, and all of them have daily limits.
From a design standpoint, that makes it correct to think that most of the time the characters will be at full endurance, but also make the player want to mitigate total damage.
PoE also took the bold and daring move of limiting the number of days of camping supplies that you could have at any one time, but that rarely becomes relevant because there’s almost always time to go back to town.
I actually didn’t really like Pillar’s system. I put up with it because, overall, I enjoyed the game but never really felt comfortable with the twin system. It was a bit confusing for me conceptually.
Okay first, enemy level relative to player has absolutely nothing to do with whether health regens or not. The variable changed by that is what you’re expecting from an enemy at or slightly above your level.
Second a game taking this approach is NOT GOING to have permanently killable party members in all likelihood. Fire Emblem and its ilk are a very niche style of game that recently got a popularity boost. Still far from common.
Third, no, I hate adaptive difficulty with a passion. Let the player determine what level of enemy they fight. I just think that an encounter of equal or slightly higher level should be a real fight, not a humdrum resources puzzle. Similarly taking on something well above your level should be legitimately frightening/only for expert players.
That’s, in any reasonable system’s own terms, the player saying life is too easy. Oblige them by sprinkling scary higher level things throughout the map. Weaker stuff below the expected curve for casual/beginner players too. As an added benefit you make the world feel more alive.
Well, I disagree with your first premise. In my opinion, if you are designing an encounter around the assumption that the player’s party with have full health then you need to be presenting a challenge appropriate to that in every encounter, otherwise the game wouldn’t be challenging – it’d be boring.
Think of it this way, if your PC has 1000 hit points then the enemy needs to be a danger to that amount. Since you know the PC will have 1000 hp every encounter then to really challenge the player you need to be aiming at enemies that can potentially do close to 1000 points of damage through armour or other defensive attributes. If the enemy can never do more than 50 points in a given encounter, there may be an overwhelming number of them or fewer with also huge hp bars but that’s not going to be interesting for players in every fight for an entire game.
On the other hand, if you don’t have regen you can balance areas so that there are a couple of difficult encounters and some easy. The player will not necessarily find the easy fights easy, depending in whether they encountered the difficult fights first or if they hadn’t taken care to rest before entering the area.
This means two things in terms of design: A) low level enemies can always be a hazard and can be reused later in the campaign with no I’ll effect. B) It also means that even “easy” encounters can be mechanically interesting without having to apply enemy scaling.
For your second point, I don’t know if I’d dismiss tactics games as a recent popular trend, fire emblem has been around a long time. I guess the most recent I’m familiar with are the Banner Saga games. At any rate, character death is entirely up to the design of the game. I don’t think it impacts too much on how regenerating health affects gameplay or not. I’ve played games with both styles and not had a problem with them.
Your third point – most games use some form of adaptive difficulty (at least on the “below your level” side of things. I’m not familiar with any game bringing higher level enemies down to your level…
I’m in total agreement with your final point. I really like a variation in challenge per area and even within given areas.
Not every enemy is meant to be a legitimate hazard. Assuming you want a world that feels real, some things will natively be a speedbump, if that, to characters of your level, some will be a fair fight, and some will require you to run, die, or be an expert.
The game will be exactly as challenging as the player desires, assuming they have the attention span to actually look for what they want.
And no I’m not talking about any kind of adaptive difficulty. No enemy changes stats based on your party, and you’re entrusted to seek out challenges appropriate to skill level. The player is a thinking being with initiative, not a pet to be leashed.
That thing twenty or more levels above you that exists to fill the role of an apex predator in this environment? It will make chunky salsa of you unless you run, avoid encountering it at all, or have mastered the game’s mechanics enough to make up the difference. Alternatively you can come back to this area when it IS a fair fight for catharsis, or maybe sidequests.
Those things five more levels below you that look like prey items are MEANT to die when farted on. They exist half for verisimilitude, and half for players completely disinterested in expending effort while playing/the underleveled.
Further I was talking obscurity/market share, not whether the genre has existed for a long period of time or not. The tactics genre of video games has existed for ages, and spent most of that time as an obscure niche.
Okay, your ideal is nice but the reality is that most games do not enable running away from encounters. Even in games such as The Elder Scrolls series it’s not so easy to run away from uneven encounters (when level scaling is not implemented ;) ). Certainly, I can’t think of a western-style D&D clone type of game where you are able to escape from combat – not even the non-D&D clones from Bioware such as Jade Empire. Usually, when you commit to a fight, it’s win or load.
(I’m not including MMOs in the above thought process because they are a really special genre in their conventions… quite direly appropriated by some RPGs – looking at YOU DA:Inquisition)
What you’re effectively advocating is an “explore and reload” style of gameplay. I guess that’s fine and it’s been done to death in many Japanese RPGs but it’s not mechanically interesting (at least from my perspective).
Fair enough, I misunderstood your comment on that. Though there’s a reason for that lack of marketshare and the, quite frankly, huge marketshare of games with regenerating health and adaptive difficulty – the vast majority of players don’t want that hurdle in their entertainment…
I blame my tabletop-playing upbringing, where a DM will start throwing the book at you if you try to pull that crap. As a result, I really enjoyed how, say, Pathfinder Kingmaker needs you to resupply every time you rest, meaning you need to drag 200 lbs. worth of food into a dungeon if you want to rest every room. It made me feel validated about my Chateau Irenicus endurance runs in BG2, where I’d always try getting out of the dungeon without resting once because it made no sense for my characters to do so.
You don’t even have to be mean to your players. If the characters decide to rest, they should be weighing a decision. Now, the dungeons full of golems and undead who have sat waiting for a thousand years probably won’t be making many spontaneous decisions, but most dungeons have some intelligent enemies, and they may react to incursions. If the player characters don’t retreat, well, they may get ambushed by every enemy who can fit in the room bumrushing them. Of course, magic can help on both sides there.
If they do retreat, then the opposition may call in reinforcements or summon allies, send their magic items and treasure to safety elsewhere, set up impromptu traps or barricades, or even try to hunt the PC’s down if they can find with Divinations or tracking. The enemy might realize the PC’s like Fireballs and Flaming weapons and pull out some scrolls to protect themselves, or find a weakness they can use against the PC’s. Alternatively, they might try to bargain with the PC’s, offering information, treasure, or magic items in exchange for protection.
Reactivity like this is one big reason why you might want to play a tabletop game, so make the most of it!
This is drawn up from memory, but didn’t someone who worked on Fallout 1 say they regretted putting timers in?
I don’t know that anyone said anything about regretting the Water Chip timer, but the endgame Super Mutant timer was patched out very early on. You get a worse ending if you take too long, but you can’t lose the game to the Super Mutant invasion unless you intentionally surrender the Vault.
WHAT!?!?! That’s BS! They just removed one of the valid endings to the story!
Unless it included extra content I don’t know about, the ending is still there. You just have to surrender to the Master or the Lieutenant to get it.
(actually I looked it up and apparently it wasn’t removed completely, just dialed up to an unrealistically high number. High enough that you’d probably never time out unless you were actively trying)
That’s a bit better, but the countdown timer made the invading mutant army seem like a credible threat. Now they’re just twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the player to either kill them, or surrender for no good reason. Yes, the master/lietenant (I can’t remember which) makes some decent arguments for why you should surrender peacefully, but those arguments are weaker if the invading army isn’t really dangerous (to the player). :S
Eh, it’s debatable. Even now you can find forum threads and the like about people complaining that the invasion timer wasn’t foreshadowed well enough like the Water Chip timer and they lost the game by surprise (limited number of saves also meant that it was often too late to recover their playthrough)
I think but am not positive, that the Super Mutants can still invade individual towns which raises the “omg we’re in trouble” factor without threatening an unrecoverable game over.
The real problem with the Super Mutant invasion is that:
a) You’re only told the number of days until they attack Vault 13 – all the other towns are on a silent countdown. While 150 days is more than enough time to find a water chip, 90 days (the time it takes for the Mutants to attack the Followers of the Apocalypse, assuming you use the unofficial patch) is barely enough to beat the game.
b) With the exception of Necropolis, none of the towns are attacked during the game. You don’t get told anywhere else is destroyed until the ending slides, even if you were in said town on the day of it’s supposed destruction.
Combine the two and you’re basically getting the bad endings for no discernible reason.
Ah, yes, now I remember. And I agree with your conclusion. The player feeling dread at the invasion happening is more important than the invasion actually happening, so springing it as a surprise bad ending is exactly backwards.
Of course it is possible to go too far the other way, feigning urgency where none exists to the point of straining credulity (e.g. Fallout 4’s kidnapping plot). Maybe in a perfect world there’d be some expendable town with a small sidequest whose primary purpose is to clue the player in that towns are going to start getting sacked if you don’t finish up the game. Or maybe the Boneyard could get taken over but there’s a sidequest to take it back (and somehow seed the implication that the Gun Runners can hold the Boneyard for the time being but the Super Mutants will likely move on to easier targets and come back after taking over Vault 13)
You must be thinking of an unofficial patch.
In all the official versions, there is no timer displayed at all.
The only effect that timer ever had was to suddenly end the game. Every indication that the army is marching on the vault and about to find it and dip your entire family is still there, and still projects just as much urgency.
I know I gave up on Fallout partly because of it – for example, I was invited to join a caravan on a certain date, and the thought of having to plan my movement around the map to be there on time (or wait around and possibly waste enough time to miss out on one of the other timers) stressed me out.
Those are just normal trading caravans, though. They repeat on a weekly (or every two weeks?) schedule, so you can join the next one without penalty (except for the lost payment) if you miss the departure date.
I’d argue the Divinity: Original Sin games do all of this as well. They have the open-ended main quest you can ignore while you explore and do sidequests. They have the colorful encounters sprinkled all over the map. They have dynamic quest design, wherein characters will ask you something and you’ll have to figure out how and if you want to do it by yourself. They have a whole bunch of interesting spells with in- and out-of-combat uses, and you can mess with pretty much any NPC in a variety of ways.
I’ve even seen some people argue that both D:OS titles are a good approximation of a certain kind of tabletop experience, the sort that encourages creativity, wild situations, and messing around over number crunching. Pathfinder: Kingmaker seems to appeal more to those who prefer the latter. I’ve noticed that those who love P:K tend to be unimpressed with D:OS and vice versa, which somewhat reflects the tabletop split between Pathfinder and D&D 5E.
Therefore, and to prematurely address a question posed earlier in this series, I do believe Larian are the best developer they could have chosen to adapt modern D&D. This does not necessarily make them the best choice to make a sequel to Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate, but I don’t think that’s entirely relevant. Baldur’s Gate was, first and foremost, a digital adaptation of AD&D. As long as BG3 is a good adaptation of 5E, it won’t matter that it doesn’t actually resemble the first two games that much. It is bound to be at least as different from them as 5E is from AD&D.
And to be honest, what I like about Larian over the likes of Obsidian and inXile is that while those two seem obsessed with retreading past glories, Larian seem genuinely interested in trying new things and moving the genre forward (also true of Owlcat, by the way). All the better that they have no past glories to relive.
I liked both D:OS and Kingmaker, with the exception being that both games are kind of broken (D:OS has some really goofy quest scripting issues, and Kingmaker wound up putting me in an unwinnable situation because it didn’t tell me that I was on a timed quest that would end the game if the clock ran out. Also, way too much time spent in loading screens). The only thing that either game *really* needed was some more polish.
The real disappointments for me were Tyranny and Torment: Numenera.
I really liked Tyranny, mainly because it tried to do something new with faction and relationship systems. That’s something that Obsidian excels at: while Bioware never really succesfully moved beyond their binary choice systems, Obsidian was constantly trying to develop new reputation systems and integrate them into gameplay. Personally. I think Tyranny’s greatest failure was the weird aggro system. The story, setting, role-playing mechanics and magic system seemed spot on for me.
Tyranny, like Alpha Protocol was a game I could play through repeatedly just to watch what different options would lead to.
I wish the game was a bit more complete and a lot less buggy. It felt like a return to form after Pillars of Eternity (actually the bugs were a return to form too)
And of course PoE2 was best game ever.
Kingmaker had some really good fixes to lots of their errors, including many of their timers. The difficulty spikes are still there, but those were always an intended feature.
I’ve been a fan of Larian ever since the original Divine Divinity, but I was always annoyed by their writing. They were constantly striving for a weaksauce emulation of Pratchett without the subtlety or, indeed, the grasp on the English language that makes Sir Terry’s work so cool. In D:OS in particular all the attempts at humor lead to the whole story feeling like a joke, diminishing the stakes and my ability to care about any of the characters.
D:OS 2 fixed this somewhat. Maybe it was the influence of His Eminence Chris Avellone, but that game actually managed to mix humor with some darkness and actual emotion.
Same here, I’ve dropped first D: OS in 3rd act, and the boring silly writing was one of the reasons. Now i’m playing D: OS 2, completed first 3 acts and still fully invested in the game. Story and writing much better this time.
One of the things that I like about a limited inventory is that it helps reinforce the sense that you’re actually out there, somewhere, away from home. With “conveniences” like fast travel and an unlimited inventory you completely lose the sense of the gameworld as vast, whole space and it becomes just a series of disconnected dungeons that you access through the menu.
Lately I’ve gone back to playing an old text-based MUD (MajorMUD). In MajorMUD you have an unlimited inventory, there’s no fast travel, and if you die everything you’re carrying drops onto the ground and you have to go back and pick it up. It’s a game that makes Classic WoW look like Modern WoW. And you know what? I’ve been enjoying that about it. While some people are talking about how people just want Classic WoW because of nostalgia, I’ve been finding out that, no, there really is something about a game that hasn’t had all of its interesting bits filed off, and which isn’t afraid to demand that the player respect it.
Grognard’s point about where Bioware went is spot-on- at some point, their games stopped feeling like RPGs and starting feeling like an action game with a dialog wheel tacked onto it.
And I don’t agree that having an unlimited inventory is any less busywork, since the game then has to be balanced around the player having the entire world carried around with him, which means that now the player has manage a gigantic mountain of garbage. I’d much rather, for example, have 2-3 pieces of really valuable loot out of a dungeon than 2,000 junk weapons that I have to dismantle/sell.
Also, I thought it was supposed to be the kobolds that were doing the actual poisoning. That’s why they were there- I think you even found bottles of poison on some of them.
I’m one of the few GMs I know, that actually tries to simulate food rationing, and speed of travel, in the games I run. Normal DnD games usually hand-wave rations, or the GM lets everyone buy a ring of sustenance, and travel is just “some days later”. That loses you the scenes where the players need to raid a goblin warehouse for food, or drop some of their loot to travel lighter and faster with their limited horse fodder! :)
 I’ve been running different scifi games for one-evening sessions, but the same rationing and speed-of-travel problems remain. Advanced science gizmos are basically just magic anyways. :P
As a GM, I have basically the opposite tack -I don’t want to do that kind of paperwork, and then have the paperwork dictate my adventure for the week. My players are actually far more likely to be keeping track of rations and the like than I am. It leads to some interesting planning issues.
I try not to be a rail-roady GM, but I have a story which I break up into parts. At the end of each part I ask the players what they want to do next, and occasionally I get back “we should do something to get more supplies…” And then I have to figure out how to either work getting supplies into the story that’s already written, or write a new adventure.
With my current group, I’m just asking them “OK, 5 game sessions from now is the boss fight. After that, what do you want to do?” So that I can plan their next adventure.
I’m right there too- I run DnD 3.5, it has rules for these things. If I didn’t want to use those rules, I’d play something else. And most of that hand-waving really is hand-waving: if you use the standard point buy then casters really can’t carry much more than a basic pack without cutting something else. The game does not actually guarantee easy availability of extradimensional storage and/or magic items to generate food (any magic item “vendor” is still the equivalent of the DM saying “yes”), and the spells and magic items to do so are quite significant for the majority of the available level progression. On the player-ish side I’ve delved for all the best speed/cost-efficiency ratios of overland travel, and as such I can make or adjust the timeline of an adventure to match particular levels of proficiency in that. I think it’s fair to say the best adventures I’ve read involve an overland time limit of some sort at some point at least once, even if their original calculations were too loose or too harsh.
I’m not surprised that the popular opinion usually seems to be ignoring all those mechanics, even for otherwise supposedly mechanics focused users, but I disagree.
I’ll split the difference; I’ll do the accounting once, and know what everyone’s walking-around load category is and how many days of supplies they have, but any time they can replenish those rations they do, and I don’t do bookkeeping about how they get stuff to the pawn shop.
Just to clarify I’m not saying you’re wrong for enjoying something one way or another but generally I think certain allowances should be made if not for any other reason than to compensate for players not being able to, actually, be creative mechanically. There is any number of things players could do to help with limited encumbrance: carts, donkeys, pack horses, hiring people to carry stuff, taking a set of curtains from the vampire’s castle to make a sack, putting a bunch of stuff in it and dragging it down the road… and that’s just keeping things mundane.
I mean, at the end of the day the inventory management is going to be some kind of abstraction one way or another, for example in BG items vary by weight but a ring and a breastplate still take the same space, in Diablo it’s the other way around. Now obviously this could be a matter of game balance, or inventory management could even be a core mechanic, or there could be some other reason to include it, but very often it’s just there under the pretext of “realism” and in reality is just busywork.
Oh I should add that yes, I agree that in most cases the loot could easily be limited to fewer more precious items.
Packhorses don’t solve the problem- they just increase the amount that a player can “realistically” carry (since inventory limits, even in BG, are already unrealistically high).
The more fundamental thing, as I noted, is that a limited inventory should tell the player “You don’t need to pick up literally every item in the world”. And, in BG, it largely holds true- your inventory is large enough to carry everything that you really need to carry with you, and with gem bags/scroll cases you can pretty easily carry the valuable loot. What you can’t do is carry every mundane weapon and suit of armor that you find. But that’s fine- you don’t need to. The real busywork was in ME when you’d come back from a mission and find out that there were 1,000 guns in your inventory that you had to deal with.
MajorMUD is even more restrictive- gold is an item that you have to carry, meaning that your inventory can fill up with currency alone. And that means that inventory management is almost non-existent, because you only ever carry what you really need. There’s never more than a handful of items in your inventory to manage.
The absolute worst, of course, is when a game decides to put in a (usually pointless) crafting system, and so now you have 10x as much junk that you have to haul around because some of it might be useful if you find a recipe that uses it.
I like inventory managment, and I loathe it at the same time.
I like having everything I need (and as one of those people who can imagine a wide variety of hypotheticals I need the rope, the anti-venin, the food, the firewood, the waterskin, the blanket, the shovel, the 10-foot pole, the lockpicks, the etc, etc, etc…) and still having just enough space for loot to make the trip profitable.
This drives me batty when the balance is that you can’t take everything you might need, and still have enough room to grab some gold. Especially in a game like Darkest Dungeon, where you’ll fill your inventory up with supplies you need to simply explore the dungeon, but the moment you decide to not take an item to save on space for loot and trinkets, it’ll be the one you need over and over again.
Yet, I hate the idea of giving in, and modding more inventory space, or a higher stack limit because I feel like the game has “beaten” me at that point, if that makes sense.
Proper inventory management is almost like beating a Dark Souls boss by the skin of my teeth to me, I used up everything, got space for loot, and came out a winner, even if it was a clutch victory. I prepared properly and provided my pre-ambling party with plentiful provisions for plundering precarious potholes.
The problem with inventory, limited or not, is that it basically touches all the reasons a standard RPG experience is unrealistic. You’re not a person, you are a walking stack of weapons and bags to carry valuable objects to buy better weapons with.
Like, seriously, think about how unrealistic the average dungeon crawler is. You’re spend your time killing more people every day than the average soldier even sees in his entire life. Your funding comes, not from a government or a terrorist organization, but from random objects you loot from the people you kill and sell to random merchants. Using that money, you buy weapons more powerful than most millitaries in your universe can afford, usually from civilian blacksmith shops and the like; (alternatively, you loot these weapons directly from your enemies; either way, they never seem to use them against you).
There is no inventory system that can make the amount of wealth and random objects that passes through your hands plausible. There is no system that makes the fact that the Empress of Dunwall has to finance her one-woman insurrection by robbing random houses, or that you’re apparently the only person in Skyrim who makes a living looting the hundreds of easily-findable ruins full of enchanted gems and priceless artifacts (like, come on, there are armies of heavily-armed bandits everywhere, why don’t *they* ever loot those ruins?).
Realistically, any RPG super-soldier hero type should have an a small army of support personnel with them, looting corpses for them, doing recon, keeping them supplied with health potions and such. In fact, that was a very big part of what medieval nobility was about: you did the fighting, and other people did the buying and the selling for you.
That doesn’t sound very limited to me.
I haven’t actually read the 1e or 2e books, but I’ve given to understand that this *was* supposed to be a significant component of the older DnD editions (which makes total sense as an evolution from wargaming). That you’d have hirelings to carry your stuff around, guard the camp, and so on, with Fighters eventually just getting an army. This diminished in 3.5 when the hireling costs combined with standardized loot progression meant hirelings were either disregarded or completely broken if pursued to the limit, and with how the “lead an army” ability was changed to a feat that anyone could take which also gave you a second character- and hence was also either disregarded or completely broken. And now by 5e the game is designed so that all characters can be self-sufficient, and anything money or NPC related is “ask the DM.”
Well that does depend quite a big on the average dungeoncrawler. As I always point out, DnD 3.5 does actually have rules and DM direction regarding these things, even if most people ignore them and the turn towards epic campaigns encourages longer strings of consecutive combats. A “normal” adventurer shouldn’t actually need to adventure more than once or twice a year to pay their upkeeps, and the number of “people” you fight should start out small and reduce further as you gain levels simply because there are few high level people and you’re supposed to be fighting monsters. The power of those expensive weapons is very little compared to an actual military (they’re quite overpriced really), but the funding and composition of those militaries is super-DM-subjective. And the only time you should be guaranteed of buying something is by finding someone who can make it, and that means that person is not a normal civillian.
However, all of those things go out the window when those originating pen and paper roleplaying mechanics are *adapted* to a videogame, and are launched into the depths of space when it goes full “dungeoncrawler.” Indeed, the average dungeoncrawler is completely unrealistic, but they’re really not supposed to be. They’re a clearly idealized/extreme version of the “RPG” experience, where almost all worldbuilding or verisimilitude has been dumped or bent to support the desire for the player to kill huge numbers of enemies which all drop Loot to sell to acquire better loot.
So I guess the claim I’m taking issue with is that the “standard RPG experience” is “the average dungeoncrawler.” The kill/loot/repeat dungeoncrawler experience is a specific thing, not the standard RPG. A “standard” RPG to my mind is specifically trying to be “realistic” in some ways, and inventory management is critical to that, because in real life there are limits and tradeoffs regarding how much stuff you can take with you.
The only real problem I’ve seen with any inventory system is the usual +0.01 lbs overweight= over-encumbered problem everyone knows. The solution is to use a progressive scale that starts you out with no penalty and then adds more and more until you’ve passed the virtual limit, so that there’s a full range from zero to barely moving and the last feather is hardly noticeable because you were already so weighed down. The problem is that people want to have the same function at their desired carry weight as at zero weight, and the games want to give you some amount of weight, which all adds up to there being a virtual cap far below the actual cap.
Dark Souls having the closest version, but even if you’re not a fast-roll snob, you still never want to push your encumbrance into fat-roll. But the problem is that even in DS2, where they made the i-frames separate from weight and added more breakpoints changing roll distance, they’re still using breakpoints instead of a smooth scale, and there’s still a hard breakpoint where you switch to fat-roll. Any amount of hard breakpoints is what creates the “unrealistic” encumbrance system where players stop 0.01 before the break, but any game that uses larger numbers and non-grid movement that can work with percentages (unlike DnD and similarly based games) could easily have a smooth weight penalty where everyone just decides based on expectation/experience where they want to settle- all you have to do is not use hard breakpoints, keeping the encumbrance effects limited to values that can have smooth changes, like speed/distance/stats that can use fractions. Which may or may not then be combined with a space/slot/shape/etc limitation- which tend to get fewer complaints and can make mechanical sense, like you have a bandoleer with 10 potion slots, you have however many buttons to assign to items, you can carry this many big items and the rest go to the wagon, etc.
Of course, doing that means that you lose the benefit of hard breakpoints, in that the player can be sure that when within X breakpoint they can always perform Y against enemy Z. Which means that either the breaks are still there in the enemies’ programming but not communicated to the player, or you’ve got chaos. But again, with the DS2 solution of completely decoupling half of the dodge mechanic from encumbrance (the i-frames), the reliability is still there.
What this all boils down to is something I said in another comment a few years ago: the problem of predetermined (or, worse, random*) finite resources in RPGs (or games in general), which creates pressure on the player to loot, collect, hoard and sell as much stuff as possible, because you never know how much of that stuff – or just money – you might eventually need. The game designer may or may not have balanced this in your favour, and you usually won’t know until it’s too late.
If instead you have a theoretically infinite supply in the form of respawning enemies, resources, loot etc, then the player can spend as much or little time as they want grinding that stuff. Some players then might want to hoard a lot in advance, others might only go out of their way if they are a few gold coins short of purchasing that Awesome Sword Of Awesomeness they’d really like to use, everyone wins.
Leave the, to quote the Grognard, “interesting resource management mechanics” to the survival games, so I can conveniently ignore the entire genre. :)
* I uninstalled Bioshock Infinite the moment I realized early that the loot in containers is randomized. I mean, randomized loot is fine, if I can go and get more of it from a renewable source. If there are only N containers in the game and their content is random, that means the amount of gear, food, ammo etc I have effectively available for a play-through is not only finite (worse enough on its own) but also random. So either this stuff is balanced such that you have copious amounts of everything anyway – then why bother with annoyingly finite resources at all – or you are always at risk of being short on something you’d rather not be, always in the knowledge that RNG merely screwed you over.
And Bioshock Infinite is decidedly in the camp of “completely not balanced at all.” The randomized equipment can give you a completely game-breaking ability from your first find, or give you crap the entire game. Add to this the fact that your weapon and abilities upgrades are tied to the same finite currency as your health and energy recovery, and it quickly becomes obvious that buying even a single health restore will permenently set you back for the entire game. Plus there’s a hidden mechanic (at least I never saw the game tell me) where you use a specific power on a vending machine to get free money and discounts- so now you’ve got to use that constantly. It’s just a mess.
This would be an example of “you are LAUGHABLY overthinking it.” You upgrade two resources in Bioshock Infinite: your combat powers and your guns. You can only carry two guns at a time and there’s no convenient way to swap at will, only if you happen to pass by a different kind of gun. So the obvious incentive is to pick two guns you like the most and max upgrade them as quickly as possible, while ignoring every other gun. Once that’s done, you can spend every dollar you’d like to on power upgrades. And if you’re concerned about min-maxing, you can focus on maxing out the possession power (which the game VERY explicitly tells you can be used to get money out of vending machines, you were not paying any attention at all) to be more efficient, which means you make a small trade of power meter for cash at every vending machine you pass by.
You’re especially overthinking it because there’s ZERO reason to min-max in this particular game. What powers you decide to lug around is really based on “what do you find the most fun to use”. The same for guns. Obviously if you don’t pick a long range AND a short range option, you can make certain battles much more challenging on yourself, but if you consider that in how you pick powers, you could easily have two sniping weapons only, or two close combat choices instead. Elizabeth feeds you ammo and power restores liberally so that you won’t get hammered if you waste all your resources and still have a long battle yet to go. There is a “resources are more limited” difficulty choice… but if it’s stressing you out and making you want to quit, just don’t play that mode!
You say all that, but I found that choice of guns was most often limited to what the enemies were dropping, because that determines the available ammo. Then there’s the part of the game where suddenly all the previous guns are replaced with slightly different versions that require separate upgrades, meaning suddenly all your previous upgrades don’t matter and you have to switch because there isn’t ammo for the guns you do have upgraded anymore, until you go back to the original versions again at the end of the game. And by the end of the game, on normal, with my preferred guns (the only ones I found could get the job done) and powers at max upgrade (because I did manage to scrape it together), I was just barely able to kill things fast enough to survive.
And none of that addresses the original problem, that the actual loot system with random drops is completely bonkers. Sure, like with any game once you know how it works and know what to expect, you can mitigate the problems. But you can’t mitigate the randomness of the “gear.” Which is especially egregious when some of those abilities are the fun stuff that you might want to base a playthrough around, or which made you enjoy the game on your first run. But it’s random, because eff the player I guess. Oh, unless you get the dlc, pretty sure that had free guaranteed god equipment as was the trend at the time.
Well, technically you can, through extensive save-scumming, which highlights just how ludicrous that system is.
The thing about the random drops is that they really weren’t WILDLY swingy, because there were THOUSANDS of containers to search and also hidden areas with guaranteed quality equipment (generally behind lockpick doors). Sure you could get screwed on a container by container basis, but your meta level growth was always advancing at a controlled rate by the system. As you noted, even as a hater of the system, you got to power up the tonics you found the most useful to maximum and the battles stayed challenging until the end of the game. That was clearly their design goal! They didn’t want the player to become so powerful as to trivialize combat (although you can do this if you master the system. I did not, but I’ve seen it done in much better ways than I did unguided). The only way to make things really hard on yourself would be to change weapons constantly and upgrade things just a little bit, instead of picking favorites and making those favorites really good. And even if you do that, the default equipment is easily good enough to beat the game, Elizabeth makes sure of it.
Regarding the DLC, it was a really focused design. The first story DLC is based around half puzzle solving exploration, half a nostalgic celebration of the gamestyle of Bioshock 1. Then the second story DLC is a more unique stealth combat style, with tailor picked weapons and abilities to support that style. Neither was about “free god equipment”, it seems to me you don’t at all know what you’re talking about on this part and are making strange, uncharitable assumptions.
The problem I have is it’s the worst of both worlds. To make an inventory that isn’t just ridiculously frustrating, it has to be excessive. Even the gear that one guy is wearing should be a pretty huge load to be carrying, yet that always works out.
So most games are either “Oh, you can’t pick anything up, inv full, hope you like running back and forth!” or “You have now picked up .1 kgs too many and now your inventory actually weighs something. 150 kgs? easy carry. 150.1? You fucking wot m8?
I think there are better ways of managing the inventory to prevent abuse, that allow equip load to actually be a worthwhile mechanic. I particularly like the way Dark Souls deals with it. You are only ever rewarded for picking up loot, it never is an invitation to some inventory management busywork, it’s not a mess around. The older I get, the less time I have for games which are heavy on inventory management for no reason. It’s frustrating enough in games where that is a useful mechanic, like one of my faves, Kenshi. Dark Souls makes it simple. Your roll speed and your damage (If you have the right ring) are determined by your equip load. Changing items is enough of a fuss that it generally happens outside of combat, though, theoretically, if you can grab it in your inventory by scrolling through a list with a controller quick enough you have access to all of it, in practice, this is too hard for most players. The weight limit is really strict and harsh-you want the best roll early on in the game, you’re gonna be wearing next to no armour. It was only after I was overpowered in levels for the first run of the game, while doing the second, that I could put on some armour that actually did something.
It makes you make decisions and that’s interesting. It forces you to respect that the game will be played a certain way-if you want heavy armor so you can tank a hit, you will pay for that. If you want to be evasive, there is a cost. It’s not say, Skyrim or KCD, where it’s like “Oh, you can fast travel if you’re not overencumbered, and you can’t sprint if you are overencumbered” which is just not really interesting. It just means that every so often, you have to drop a spoon, or forgo fast travel to ride your horse there instead.
The .1kg too much is crazy. In the real world you get a few boons or banes. Maybe you’ll pull a muscle. Maybe you’ll fatigue faster. Sometimes however you just adapt.
My current job I had to upgrade my drill from a light but capable lil’ Ryobi to a heavy monster Makita hammer-driver combo. The first day that Makita was really heavy and hard to handle. Next day not as bad but still heavy hanging off my belt. A week later it doesn’t feel much different than my lil’ Ryobi and I’m using it right or left hand easily.
This of course implies that, like most games, there’s no penalty for running back and forth, doing useless crap. Time-limited quests would help discourage this, and games could also have un-looted loot just disappear mechanically. Story-ically, the loot was taken by wandering raiders, or recycled when the dungeon was refilled with new orcs.
It’s not as if players enjoy running back and forth to collect and sell all that useless crap. No need to punish what is already punishment in and of itself. If the game designer doesn’t want use to collect and sell metric tons of crap than they should design the game properly, from the ground up.
* For example, regenerating health and respawning sources of loot and XP (e.g. respawning monsters) remove the pressure to loot everything all the time, because you can always go and get more if you are short on something.
* What if that useless crap would be treated by the game as exactly that – if a rusty sword dropped by a goblin didn’t fetch a price at all (and it would be clear when you encounter it, e.g. by having an “unsellable” tag as part of its stats or description), then you know you can safely discard it on the spot.
* A problem in many RPGs is that the value of loot, XP rewards etc is way out of whack. For example, a rusty spoon may fetch you 1 coin of gold, and a brand new steel sword may fetch you 10, but then if you want to buy such a weapon, it costs 1000. Of course the player is going to lug that one steel sword and 990 rusty spoons to the vendor. Particularly bad are RPGs at items that are meant to be hugely valuable. You might have a long quest line about stealing some precious gemstone from a rich NPC’s mansion, and when you finally hold it in your hands, it turns out the thing isn’t worth much more than the two dirty socks and a broken tooth you got from slaying a random goblin. In other words: valuable items have to vastly outshine the mundane, and regular items must be affordable if you don’t want players to haul around everything not nailed down in order to scrap together some money, and sell prices shouldn’t be two orders of magnitude lower than buy prices.
That last one is actually pretty realistic though: resellers don’t pay very much for the stuff they resell. Not 1/100 ’cause most people would never cash out that low (not sure I’ve seen a videogame that low, maybe MMOs?), but 1/10 seems pretty common. Unless you’ve got a hot item they’re willing to pay more to secure, or something with a minimum intrinsic value- card shops will offer a decent amount on the top mythic rares for MtG (though a lot of this is probably also because they know you could hawk it online or to the guy standing next to you in the shop), and gold is gold, so you should be able to sell it for at least its actual value by weight.
The unrealistic thing is that in fantasyland you often expect to sell those dozens of weak magic swords for 1/2 their original value, when there are clearly so many on the market that there’s no way a reseller would need to pay you that much. Even 1/3 or 1/4 might be pushing it, especially if the setting claims that the average person can’t afford these items even while spewing them at you. Meanwhile, despite expecting to sell for 1/2 original value, you apparently never get to *buy* for 1/2 original value. And there is usually no difference between a brand new bespoke item that perfectly suits your needs, and simply presuming there’s a vendor somewhere selling what you want. That guy should be a reseller who pays 1/4 or 1/10 the original price and sells for whatever they can get (say usually 1/2), with an inventory of randomized common finds that people would sell off, and the game should make a choice of having items that are of no greater *power* or *original price* but have been perfectly selected to match your needs, vs having a greater number of more common items bought from resellers. But since games want to have One True Power level, this is generally impossible- the best you’d end up with is the MMO form where random stuff is fine until endgame raids where everything has to be perfect.
For a DM, reducing the sale value of vendor trash means you can use more vendor trash on lootable foes without messing up the loot expectations (assuming everything else works mechanically, ha). And then if the players choose not to loot something, you can compensate later. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a videogame actually running due diligence on your loot values and compensating though. Sometimes they just drop a ton of money on you for endgame, or you get super gear that makes your previous loot moot, but yeah.
It would also help if you separated the consumable from the permanent items- DnD 3.5 has a suggested consumable budget alongside the overall wealth from treasure (treasure-consumed= expected wealth), but a single currency means the concept of compensating for low loot later in the game is inherently “unfair,” because they could be short either due to “reasonable” lack of looting, or “unreasonable” abuse of consumables. Which I’d expect is why games don’t try.
So split the currencies and you can have an expected gear progression, which can have some wiggle room between perfectly chosen, resold, or random gear with resellers using realistic proportions, and an exepcted amount of consumables per mission, which you could then supplement by grinding before the mission.
This is only true for things that have significantly less value on the secondary market. When you trade in a 2 year old game to Gamestop, there’s a high chance that the game will either go unsold or take a long time to sell. And will have to be sold at a lower price. People won’t pay nearly as much for a used iPhone 9 as they will a new iPhone 10.
Generally, we see this with modern consumer goods, since modern consumer goods are often semi-disposable, highly available, and relatively cheap to begin with. Complex electronic and mechanical goods can also have non-obvious problems with them, so the uncertain quality of a used laptop further drives down the price. By contrast, a house will probably be worth more when you sell it ten years from when you buy it. Cars lose a bit of value as soon as they become used, but not that much, and from there it depends on how high in demand the specific model is (light trucks hold their value very well). Industrial equipment basically loses no value at all simply for being used- only the actual physical degradation of the equipment is taken into account. A one-year old vibratory hammer (a $100,000 piece of equipment which is expected to last for decades) will sell for almost the same price as a new one.
Think of it this way: it might not be worth your time to put up a video game on Ebay if it’s only going to sell for $20 max, might not sell at all, and then you have to ship it, pay fees, etc. Gamestop might only be offering you $5 for the game, but the extra $5-10 you might get if you sell it on Ebay might not be worth the time and hassle. But if you added a three zeros onto the end of those prices, then things change. The exchange costs (shipping and fees) become less significant, and even $5000 is well worth the time to sell it yourself, and for the close to extra $15,000 you’d be getting if it went for full price also means that you’ll be willing to wait for a month or two if that’s how long it takes to sell.
For magical swords, which are simple and durable, the only way you’d be only getting 1/4 of the sword’s selling value is if there’s such a glut of them on the market that the merchant has a dozen of them already sitting around waiting to be sold. But if that was the case, the merchants wouldn’t be selling them for 1,000 gold each when a single gold buys you a good hotel room for a night (ie, a $100,000+ equivalent). They’d be dirt cheap to begin with.
Something I find interesting about the time limits in BG (the Nashkel mine and Minsc’s quest) is that they are directly tied to your companion’s agendas (yes, the mine ties into the PC’s story but you technically don’t know that t the time). If we’re talking about things Bioware lost, or at least didn’t explore, I’d say the idea that your companions Have Shit To Do and sometimes their stuff takes priority over yours does not show up often in games. I’m not saying I enjoy the time limits and yes, we have cases were companions leave you, or even turn against you, based on your actions, but that is generally a reactive rather than proactive behaviour.
If I recall, that’s similar in BG2 – Your personal quest (which feels timed) will wait, while some of your companions (Nalia in specific, I believe, and possibly Jaheira at times) won’t.
I like the idea of time-limits on some quests in theory… but as somebody that mainly plays a caster in RPGs, they are such a pain in the neck to actually deal with. Doubly so at low levels where a single Magic Missile might be the only good and renewable attack you have for quite some time.
I mean… darts and slings are fine for what they are—at least until you start running low on ammo, but not really why I hit ‘Wizard’ at character creation, you know?
So I think they’re a fine idea, just not in combo with the Vancian Magic style system of D&D.
…Guess 5th edition and its cantrips kinda, sorta fixed that, huh? Took ’em long enough, but good on ’em.
I’ve always wondered – why do games have the characters leave the party if you don’t do their quest on time? It’s always seemed like a very harsh punishment. Maybe you could have them grow agitated in their dialogue with you, maybe even their skills could take a hit, and if you don’t do their quest on time, they could leave, but instead of disappearing from the game, you could later find them in the place where they wanted you to go. And when you finally get there, you could have the option of them joining your party again in order to do the quest they originally wanted you to do. Maybe, after doing their quest, you could have several tiers of rewards – the very best for doing their quest on time, and worse rewards for doing it in the way I described above…
That’s one NWN2 Did well. Once you became aware of a character quest, their dialogues change to keep questioning if your going to do it. Slowly you lose influence with them until it’s so low they leave unless you do other things to counter balance it. Those other thing were usually choosing responses they like in dialogues or taking actions they agree with/suggest.
If you really drag your heels, or only later stumble across your former-companion’s quest location by accident, you could find them wounded after you kill the monsters in the dungeon. Then maybe they die, or when they rejoin your party, they have a crippling injury.
I always appreciate Morrowind’s handling of this: the villain is simply operating on a different time scale. He’s winning, but he’s winning over the course of centuries, and he is patient enough that this does not bother him. Official strategy documents given to you, the Hero, about how to deal with him specifically recommend waiting until you feel you are prepared.
My favorite villains in media are the ones that are so fortified they don’t even consider the hero as a threat. They’ll just sit around making sure the world stays the way they want it and the hero is the one to press the conflict forward.
Oh, and despite all the prophecy going around, you aren’t THE hero until you win. Your first jobs for Caius Cosades are to carefully tip you off about the prophecy and let him pretend that he didn’t already know all about them before you were selected to be released from prison.
There were several failed Neravines before you, and frankly it’s perfectly legitimate to just decline the call to adventure entirely.
Somewhat less justifiable is the complete lack of time limits on most side quests. Just how long is it before that mushroom paper is due?
Space Control 2 is the best example of using time limits effectively. And if you don’t count that as an RPG, I WILL fight you.
Star Control 2? I loved that game, and I loved what it was doing with timers – up to the point some 30 hours in where I found myself in a no-win scenario because I hadn’t optimised my star-hopping itinerary. There’s all these cool things you can do, worlds to visit, races to help – but actually engage with that content, stop to smell the roses, and bam, you get punished for it. Soured me on the concept of timers just a tad.
Do you mean Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters?
I did mean Star Control 2, yes. :/
And it’s practically impossible to enter a no-win scenario. As the timers advance, certain races are attacked by the bad guys and annihilated. But just because a certain race is destroyed doesn’t mean you can no longer complete the associated necessary endgame quests – in fact, said quest might be easier now. You only lose once the bad guys get to earth, and that takes forever in game time.
If you miss the two or three hints about finding the Arilou or just never investigate the crashed dreadnought you can run out the clock just with travel.
On the other hand, I didn’t know there was an actual time limit until I decided to survey the entire game map hunting for Rainbow Worlds, and another early game quest leads you into the same region of space as the Arilou.
I might be contrarian, but I’d argue that Bioware’s current problems have nothing to do with their adaptation to the medium they work in. Bioware’s problem was never that it let go off its PnP roots (Jade Empire is definitely not PnP inspired, but remains one of BW’s best games, NWN is very PnP inspired but also Bioware’s absolute weakest game without the community’s modules and MP servers), but rather that their writing has been continually in decline since the glory days of the late 00’s and they’ve been shifting away from their strengths in later games. DA:O is mechanically a much stronger game then any of the BGs or NWN, just as ME2 eclipses KotOR. The problems that we see in DA2, DA:I and ME3 are largely that the writing is, to be polite, pretty shit. ME2 has bad writing too, but it is hidden under a compelling plot structure (assemble and prepare the team).
The problem is not only that the quality of the writing goes into decline, the quantity of it also feels like it drops significantly with side quests largely become fetch quests or the terrible “read/look at/overhear X then do Y and click on Z to get reward”, often times without any additional background or context. This in stark contrast to The Witcher 3 which has similar quest structures but hides it behind the fact that you can have an in-depth discussion about the farmers missing pigs or a (largely inconsequential) morale dilemma at some point. What you decided to with the starving, good-natured monster that ate the pigs might not matter to the game at large, but it created player engagement, especially if the farmer had lamented about how his family will starve without them.
This lack of compelling writing, especially in side activities, is compounded by the massive increase in side activities. DA:I is infamous for having a 20 hour main story in a game that takes players 100+ hours to finish. Most of those 100 hours will be spent running around MMO-like instances, doing poorly written or explained busywork to get the resources to finish the main story. The problem is not the lack of PnP roots, it is that Bioware is padding their games with busywork that detracts from their real strength of writing interesting stories and the decline of their writing ability. For all its other faults, Anthem is the pinnacle of this: With attempts at engaging NPCs in the main hub like all BW games, but an open world that’s utterly disconnected from those NPCs and their story lines.
Well said, and I really agree that the way content is approached is the issue. TW3 didn’t do anything new, it just did things well. Every quest was treated with a certain amount of importance, that gave it the filigree of plot, even if it was, as you said, irrelevant.
I do however, think that the simplification of mechanics didn’t help either. There are a lot of interesting things you can bring up with some mechanics that are maybe a bit awkward, and are worth exploring, and you do lose something when you aggressively simplify. You can create really interesting mechanics that complement a game’s story and themes, but that may require a degree of un-comfort. At the end of the day, I prefer a game not waste my time, but there are some great mechanics that have been lost to time. Fallout, having characters give you directions, and literally lie. Morrowind, having you follow directions and working out your own way through the space, until it becomes a second home to you and you grow to understand the place-yes, it’s awkward getting stranded in the wilderness, but the game can literally ask you to go into the wilderness to find the ashlanders and you’re like “shit I’ll be stranded in the wilderness without any resupply for potions, easy travel back to base, etc”, which is something that cannot happen in Skyrim or Oblivion, you will never feel like you have pushed too far and exhausted your cure common disease for all the shitty cliff racers and rats and guars you need to pass, because in those games, you just fast travel.
I don’t mind Bioware realising their big strength is dialogue and plot divergence, but that’s not a very complex mechanic, and their games are far too polished to ever let you really deviate. TBH, Alpha Protocol is my favourite Bioware game, and they didn’t even make it. It’s got plenty of jank and stupid stuff, it’s broken in weird ways, but the way the conversation system works, the way your decisions in missions can slightly effect the plot, they’re awesome.
By stripping away difficult mechanics, they stripped away potential drama to mine, and reasons for their inclusion, that could have been useful for writing. By voice acting and mo capping everything, they reduced heavily the options.
For instance, some problems I have with TW3 is that too many problems are really simple mechanically. You’re fighting vampires? Put that oil on. You’re fighting whatever? Just put the oil on. It regens, and you are just fighting at a disadvantage if you don’t. Invisible enemies have similar counters. It’s really too simple-the game does not give you enough leeway to make mistakes, nor the option of doing something in a way the designer may not have expected, using consistent mechanics.
The game is good, and I love it, but it’s never deep. In combat, you mostly play by the rules and there is really little creativity, and all of the game’s challenge problems are combat. The most interesting thing mechanically that happened to me in the whole game was when I sold my silver sword, but the blacksmith couldn’t make it, and when I found one who could make me the silver sword I wanted, it was too expensive. So I literally had to go herb picking and fighting monsters with just Igni to get the money to replace it. It was a real roleplaying experience: I am the stupid Witcher who sold a sword he needed and now has become a part time herbalist/drug dealer to afford a replacement. It was a time wasting detour and a mild frustration, but it was interesting.
I get where you are coming from, but disagree. To put the oils on the sword requires 1.) Learning what kind of creature you are dealing with, 2.) learning what kind of oil hurts it 3.) knowing the recipe for the oil, 4.) collecting the ingredients, 5.) making the oil, and 6.) during the fight, managing to keep the oil applied while also keeping yourself healthy and potioned up, while using your various skills on the monster.
Early in the game, one or more of those steps is likely not yet possible, so in the early game, I frequently had to forgo the oils and fight on wits and igni and grenades and the crossbow. Later in the game, when I had learned about the monsters more, and had the needed oils, the fights were much easier, but I felt like I’d earned the easier fight by becoming a better witcher.
Except the Detlock fight at the end of Blood and Wine. That was blech.
>“shit I’ll be stranded in the wilderness without any resupply for potions, easy travel back to base, etc”
Unless you have access to any of the fast travel methods, including: knowing either or both intervention spell, having scrolls of either or both, or having an item of either or one of each, or mark and recall. And once you were back in a place with a silt strider, a boat, and/or a mages’ guild you were pocket change away from all such locations.
To a lesser degree you have the propylon keys.
Getting back out of the wilderness is easy by the time you have any business going into it- but the systems for getting out of it made it seem like your character was solving the problem, rather than the game mechanics not making it a problem to begin with.
And importantly, the player didn’t have to wander in the ashlands for hours without being able to get back to a town unless they ignored the guidance given to them.
I agree with your analysis. I’d also suggest that they got a little too fond of design-by-formula.
You could see it in their macro structure: visit X worlds collecting Y macguffins then plot twist then two more worlds then finale. And in their micro structure: companions would all parcel out their backstory after X minutes in the party – X being the same for every character – and would have precisely Y story quests each, at the end of which the PC would completely Solve Their Backstory Problem and (if so desired) whisk them away for an awkwardly shot, clothes-on sex scene.
Similarly, dialogue options in late Bioware games got increasingly formulaic: good option, evil option, prolong conversation, etc.
It’s a problem with big businesses in general I would say. In a small business people make things up, and if it is fated to be a good small business then those people are probably talented so interesting things happen as a result. As the business grows it gets too big, new staff don’t know how things are done, so people start documenting everything. Eventually after many years you reach the point where staff are spending most of their time just following the way things are documented because that is the “one true way”. In Bioware’s case that probably translates into various internal wiki pages which dictate the formula for NPCs, conversations, encounters, etc.
The new staff are potentially just as talented as the old staff (although it is also likely that a portion of them are not as it becomes hard to keep a large company full of only talented people) but they don’t have the freedom to express their talent.
It’s tricky though, because if everyone acted the way staff were able to back when the company was small and young then that would produce absolute chaos in a large company, with no one knowing what is going on.
I don’t think KotOR and ME 2 can be compared mechanically, since their gameplay are very different, with ME2 being a popamole cover shooter primarily, whereas KotOR is a turn-based RPG (that run in real-time, but every character act turn by turn in combat). In KotOR, you win if your party is correctly built (stats and skills) and has the necessary equipment, then the combat will just be using the right skills/force powers and equipment (stims, grenades, shields, medkits) at the right moment; it’s a test of your understanding of the game system and of your preparation. There’s some preparation in ME2, but it’s very limited, winning in combat in ME2 is based on your dexterity/reflex, the TPS part is more important.
An excellent point! And the reason why I disagree with the sentiment that “DA:O is mechanically a much stronger game then any of the BGs”.
BG2 had more of what I would call “strategic” gameplay. How you built and equipped your party had a huge effect on what tactics you could use in combat and how effective they would be.
I think the first main quest in Tyranny is timed. At least, they keep telling you “you have until X day to accomplish your goal, or else every single person in the country (including you) will die.” Not sure what actually happens if you manage to run out the clock, since it’s pretty hard to waste that much time. Presumably if you’re resting after every single fight, you’ll get a game over.
You get an instant game over if you let Kyros’ Day of Swords arrive without taking the Hall of Ascension, yes. There’s even its own unique ending slide for it.
There’s also a fun little easter egg if you
let Kyros’ Day of Swords pass before you read the Edict of Execution to the Archons. Since an Edict needs to be read to take effect, you’ll have until the next Day of Swords (i.e. a year) to finish the first chapter, which is more time than you’d need to finish the entire game usually. This is actually a clue as to how Edicts work in-universe.
I don’t mind limited inventories or encumbrance rules. Neverwinter Nights cured me of that. I used to pick up every sellable object I could find in the course of my quest then slowly stagger back to the nearest vendor to dispose of it. It was awful. (In the original campaign, you couldn’t even offload any of the junk on to your henchman. Thank goodness they changed that in the expansions.) So I stopped, and to my surprise I found that it didn’t affect my progress through the game in any way. I didn’t need the money I wasn’t getting by not collecting every random piece of armor, weaponry, or junk that I stumbled across. It was more than sufficient to just grab the obviously valuable stuff and carry on questing.
Now, I haven’t played a Bioware game since KotOR, but I have seen Bioware attempt at least two different solutions to the problem of inventory and encumbrance. In Hordes of the Underdark, the NWN expansion, they give you a portable store that you can carry with you. You can hoover up all the junk you want and always dispose of it for cash no matter where you may be. This is particularly important in the third act, which is structured in such a way that you often can’t access any other vendor.
In KotOR, they did away with both encumbrance rules and limited space. They compensated by cutting way, way back on the amount of loot and equipment you find on the corpses of dead enemies and in the strangely omni-present footlockers and chests. There’s no need to loot everything because most of what you’ll find is junk: medpacks, stims, maybe some grenades if you’re lucky. When you do find armor or weaponry it’s kind of a big deal and it’s almost never random. I vastly prefer this system to KotOR 2, which drops randomized loot–often quite good–like it’s Diablo and, if you’re me, you have to grab all of it because you need it for obsessive crafting purposes.
KOTOR remains my favorite inventory system in an RPG of this nature (Deus Ex was OK, but is really a different type of game). Every time I play it, I head into the final area with all the equipment I want, and basically no credits left.
I wanted to respond to something Bob posted in this article:
Achilles: It’s a bit standard, but I’ve seen worse. Some of the maps are good. Some are a bit… empty? Like, I’ll spend twenty minutes trudging around yet another forest, and there’ll only be one or two actual things to do in it.
The Grognard: That much is true. If you don’t like slowly zigzagging through sparsely-populated wilderness, this game can get a bit slow. My gut says it was a pipeline issue – they probably finished the maps before they could populate them adequately, and didn’t have enough content to fill them all out before they shipped.
This was something I actually DID like. It gave me the sense that the world was large, real, and it wasn’t just some space that had been artificially designed and filled with things for me to do and loot. Every map looked unique, but it would be the same across every single playthrough, so you didn’t get the “ho-hum, yet another procedurally created dungeon…” feeling of boredom that you get in games like Diablo. Later in the article, Bob mentions about how more modern RPGs tend to like to railroad you and point you towards the things you’re supposed to do. Part of the way they accomplish this is by making only maps or areas that are crucial to the game’s plot, and then stuffing them with side-quests or making you return to them for said side-quests. (This got particularly egregious in Dragon Age 2, where it felt like every single side-area map had been recycled!)
In contrast, BG1 had a lot of varied maps and perhaps only 3-4 things of interest in them, whether it be a NPC with lore to dispense, a side quest, a unique encounter, or even just a random bit of valuable loot that was hidden in a cave. It all added up to the feeling that there was more to the world than just you and your special Hero’s Quest, that there were people and monsters with agendas that you just happened to blunder into. You were part of a bigger world, and that made it feel all the more special.
That disappeared in the sequel. Another thing that disappeared in the sequel was the concept of the linked companions, where two characters would be an in-universe team and had to be brought on or let go at the same time (easy use of the death loophole aside). On the one hand, it was a bit annoying, but on the other hand, it’s a concept that I like in theory and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
Really, though, you have quite as bit of time to get on with it. I don’t think I ever hit a hard limit like that in something like 10 games.
Okay, but it’s wasteful. Literally everything in the world WAS created for you to be there. You’re suggesting “make stuff and then… don’t use that stuff. For reasons!” I think it’s a terrible idea and the first one on the chopping block for how to use resources more effectively. “Let’s make maps larger than we intend to use, to waste the players’ time as they try to figure out where the game part of the game is located!” is the kind of suggestion that rightfully SHOULD get someone fired.
Minor note/nitpick: Find Familiar with not introduced until BG2. it’s been back-ported into BG1:EE by virtue of switching over to use the BG2 engine. I’m not even certain if BG1 could handle the scripting necessary to run Find Familiar because it works in an unusual way. You can select it from the character creation screen now, and I believe it has been added to a couple of the vendor’s inventories along with a few other rare spells that were just annoyingly hard to locate.
This is one game where I might actually know more than anyone else on this site… because I’m so damn old and nerdy. I shudder to think how many hours I’ve spent playing Infinity Engine games.
Absolutely right there. I think you might find multiple people old enough to remember this, but w/e.
I thought the same when reading the post, then forgot about it afterwards.
I remember because I played both as a wizard and when transferring him to BG2, it was the first time ever I had the option to pick the spell. Instantly took it and did never regret it.
Yeah, you could only get Find Familiar if you installed the Baldur’s Gate TuTu mod, (as in, Baldur’s Gate 2, Too) which utilized the engine improvements made between BG and BG2, and then chose Find Familiar in character creation–since the scroll didn’t exist in BG, it didn’t ever drop.
The spell was actually kind of broken in BG since the caster got to add half of the familiar’s HP to their total, but the familiars didn’t scale below 7th level (since BG2 started at that level). Basically, you could end up with a 1st level mage with 20+ HP. Pretty game-breaking with a Fighter/Mage.
There was a similar issue with the druid kit that let you summon a spirit animal. The animals started at 7th level, so they could be your tank for basically the entire game.
Adding a mechanic, making it extremely useful, and then punishing the player for using it more often than you think they should is poor design. It’s like giving a child a bucket of ice cream, telling them to go wild, and then spanking them if they eat more than three bites in an hour.
Moreover, every time an example of pen-and-paper design not working in a video game is brought up, someone chimes in to say that it wouldn’t be a problem normally because the GM could change the rules to make it work. To me, that’s a clear indication that it’s not designed to work in video games, and arguably not well-designed to begin with.
There’s a common theme when translating a tabletop mechanic that trades a nebulous strategic resource for a definite tactical one.
Spending time to heal? Healing is a tactical resource of major value, so time needs to be a strategic resource of similar value for that to be a fair trade.
Spending favor with a noble in order to get a squad of knights to accompany you to the goblin den? That’s TWO resources that are very hard to value in a CRPG without some very immersion-breaking explicit mechanics.
I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to have an inventory limit that isn’t trivially bypassed you need to make every item an interesting and relevant question. For example Desktop Dungeons will let you have six fully sized items, thirty six small items, or somewhere in between.
There is also no way to drop items you’ve picked up. There IS a button to convert an item for essence that has benefits as you get more of it based on what race you picked, and possibly what deity you worship.
In exchange for making the player expend that much mental energy and planning, fucking hell deliberately leaving stuff on the floor to pick up under conditions I plan to meet later, every single item in the entire game was created specifically to be useful a MINIMUM of two different ways. Often things powerful/versatile enough to build that dungeon run around.
The more general lesson I’m attempting to get at, is that if you’re going to do something fiddly GO IN ON IT.
Good old BG,
I am not sure if Bob ever tried Kingmaker but they do a lot of the good stuff that made bg and bg2 so good and some more.
But I will be honest my tinted glasses of nostalgy say that bg2 was the best of the bunch :D
I think the Shadowrun games from Harebrained finally figured this out. Each character’s health bar remembers the last source of damage they took, so if a 60 health character gets hit for 10 and then 8 damage, they’re at 42/60 with an 8 point “bruise”. At the end of combat, your bruises are healed automatically, but everything other than your last hit is locked in for the entire mission (no leaving the dungeon halfway through to rest), so the above example character would heal to 50/60 when the fighting stops. It’s a really good way to have that classic dungeon-crawling gameplay where damage still matters enough for attrition to be a concept, but without having to give the players so many hitpoints that a single fight could never kill them.
It also makes for the only interesting take I’ve ever seen on healing spells. Magic users can heal, but their spells only heal bruised HP, so instead of the cleric spamming Cure Light Wounds outside of combat to top everyone up, you get situations where a party member takes a 20 point shotgun blast to the face, and you have to run your mage over to heal them before they get hit by a stray pistol shot and those 20 points of damage are locked in.
Not mentioned: You can carry a limited number of medical or repair kits, which restore lost HP to biological or mechanical party members, but cost money to replace.
So it’s red health from fighting games but… stupider? Because in a fighting game, the red health is restored by getting out of the fight and having someone tag in. And that makes some logical sense. Maybe that last hit really winded you, but if you get a second with your corner to drink a Gatorade and have them ice your cuts, maybe you’ll feel much better in a minute or two to go back in swinging. Versus the system you just described where bullet wounds can be shrugged off unless you get rudely shoved before they’re looked at. In the latter case, bullet wounds are now fatal and permanent.
It is true that it’s pretty transparently game-y and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but it does play really well. Note that this is a franchise where “teammate died” means “teammate will show up at the hideout after the mission once DocWagon resuscitates them offscreen”; healing items like medkits actually ignore this system entirely so you can patch up the shotgun wounds with a medkit even if the shotgun victim was bitten by a dog or something.
In my internal narration the Grognard has the voice of Yahtzee and Achilles has the voice of Gabe. Not quite right, they could be more abusive.
Agreed 100% on the issue Achilles has with timed quests. It’s not bad in Fallout 1 because the initial time limit for the main quest is quite generous and you get reminded of it. And once you’ve fixed the water chip you really have to be actively trying to hit the other time limit, like there is nowhere near enough to do in the game that you couldn’t easily complete everything there is to do in the game with hundreds of days to spare. Getting multiple sidequests like in BG1 that you might not even realize initially are actually timed until suddenly NPCs just leave forever kinda stinks.
Also RE: resting, I think Obsidian nailed it with PoE2 of everyone just having mostly per-combat abilties, since it finally allowed them to make encounters that are pretty balanced across the board for all classes. Meanwhile in Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights etc. from like lvl 10 and onward almost all encounters can be completely trivialized by a fully rested wizard who can release their full power in a single point, and it only ever gets more ridiculous from there.
Is there a new entry in this series? I was really enjoying it but the next button goes to Borderlands 3…
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