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  1. #1
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    Role Playing Heresy Or Why Your Fauvorite RPG System Is Broken (And How To Fix It)

    Warning: this thread may seriously offend some RPG purists.

    OK, let's fix/discuss the RPGs. We'll start with basics - leveling systems.

    Quote Originally Posted by gwathdring View Post
    Indeed, one of the worst mechanics in a PnP RPG or video game is a leveling system, scaling or no scaling.
    Think about your fauvorite RPG game - it's Baldur's Gate, isn't it? Let's say it is BG. I love how your character is getting level up after killing some rats in basement. What he (or she) was doing before? Staying in the bed all day and night? Slacking off and avoiding any kind of work, even simple fed-ex quests? It's almost like Monty Python sketch for me.

    Another example of starting low level bullshit - Deus Ex. We're playing as a trained special agent. Why JC Denton ability to handle basic firearms like pistols sucks? Even rookie cops can shoot better than him. Why he isn't already an expert in at least one field?

    These things can be easily fixed in character creator window. Just let the player distribute more stats and skills. If maximum level cap is 30, let's start at 5. It will allow to start with more diverse skillset which will lead to better gameplay.


    Now let's talk about level progression. In almost all RPGs it's totally linear thing. Or even quadratic. Which leads to situations where first level character have 5 strength and 30 HP and where last level character have 55 strength and 600 HP. While it can be suitable in some games, it can ruin the immersion in others.

    Imagine The Witcher 3, a game where we're playing as a guy who have years of experience in fighting and hunting monsters where we're starting as a totally newbie (like in Deus Ex) statistics-wise, he have 50 hp etc. And then at the end of the game he have 20 times more. It's really a ludonarrative dissonance (hehe) for me. I'm really curious what CD Projekt will do with this.

    The logarithmical approach would be much more suitable there. You still have a sense of progress which you can't really completely remove from RPG, but you don't have very big differences between low and high level character and you achive the most of the skills at the beginning (let's say first quarter) of the game. More skills = more posibillities = more fun.


    While things above like linear progression are acceptable (although medicore at best) the one thing that really breaks the RPG is experience.
    It makes you slaughter every innocent animal that you can see, because hey, free exp, hehehe. That stupid quest you don't give a shit about? You will still do it, because, hey, free exp. MUST. LEVEL. UP.

    Every time I'm playing one of the best RPG ever created - that's Stalker - I'm delighted that attacking this pack of blind dogs was just a waste of bullets. Better let them pass. Let them live. If I would get attacked by them I could just kill some of them and run. It's a freedom of not beign forced to do compulsive things like collecting all coins/experience points. You can really start role-playing at this point. And no, stop saying that RPGs aren't about playing a role. It's like saying that first person shooters aren't about shooting things in first person or driving games aren't about driving.

    The good thing is that (at least partially) exp-free system will be in The Witcher 3. Killing smaller animals and monsters will give you some minor items like meat, fur etc. at best.
    I hope it will make a big change in a genre.


    OK, that's all for now, I will come up with more things that are bugging me in RPGs later. Discuss/burn heretics.

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Squiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    Warning: this thread may seriously offend some RPG purists.
    Staaaahp! Openly calling Stalker an RPG will create a fissure in the stats/self-insertion continuum and summon the most angry of angry RPG men to the forums!
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    Warning: this thread may seriously offend some RPG purists.

    OK, let's fix/discuss the RPGs. We'll start with basics - leveling systems.



    Think about your fauvorite RPG game - it's Baldur's Gate, isn't it? Let's say it is BG. I love how your character is getting level up after killing some rats in basement. What he (or she) was doing before? Staying in the bed all day and night? Slacking off and avoiding any kind of work, even simple fed-ex quests? It's almost like Monty Python sketch for me.

    Another example of starting low level bullshit - Deus Ex. We're playing as a trained special agent. Why JC Denton ability to handle basic firearms like pistols sucks? Even rookie cops can shoot better than him. Why he isn't already an expert in at least one field?
    Agreed - the incompetence of JC Denton is emblematic of this kind of issue.

    These things can be easily fixed in character creator window. Just let the player distribute more stats and skills. If maximum level cap is 30, let's start at 5. It will allow to start with more diverse skillset which will lead to better gameplay.


    Now let's talk about level progression. In almost all RPGs it's totally linear thing. Or even quadratic. Which leads to situations where first level character have 5 strength and 30 HP and where last level character have 55 strength and 600 HP. While it can be suitable in some games, it can ruin the immersion in others.
    So, really the problem here is that most Computer RPGs are taking verbatim the design of Pen and Paper RPGs, complete with the assumption that players will start out as Lvl 1 newbies. Most Pen and Paper RPGs are designed to allow the players to roleplay the progression of their characters over their entire career of epic adventuring - it makes sense in the genres most of them occupy and over the timescales that the adventurer characters are levelling, that they can pick up all kinds of skills and improve their various physical and mental statistics by working out and so on.

    This shoehorning breaks most CPRGs immediately, giving rise to the issues you mention. Instead of the player character adventuring over a long series of campaigns with their fellow PCs before getting to be a Lvl 50 badass, we compress the timescales and force them to stupendously advance in mere months (at the longest) of gametime. (You can kinda fix this in some instances - Planescape:Torment, for example, has the player merely *remembering* the skills they already possessed, but had forgotten; Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey has the player's advanced combat suit upgrading via software to better function in the strange, and actively fatal to unsuited humans, environment that they are investigating. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has your increased experience with your upgrades figuratively "unlocking" additional features as the OS interface decides your brain can take it.).

    It seems that most CPRGs would more reasonably adopt either a different justification or a different progression approach entirely. If we insist on saying the PC must be a skilled protagonist at the start, then start them with high skill, and let the progression be almost wholly in terms of getting better, or more, equipment (something which most RPGs also encourage anyway). Essentially, this is closer to the Batman: Arkham * games' "levelling" approach, as lots of the upgrade paths are really making your wonderful toys work better, or the DX:HR "upgrade unlock" approach.

    (Another thing which slightly improves this is the removal of EXP from simply killing things. If you tie it to actual progression in quests, or achieving particularly impressive things, then you also don't necessarily have to provide such a huge amount of levels to "grow" into. You can even split levelling into, for example, stat-specific upgrades - the roguelike Crawl, for example, does give you EXP for kills (amongst other things), but it assigns the actual upgrades to stat-specific updates itself, based on what you're actively practicing doing. Deus Ex: HR essentially only gives you EXP for doing things more impressive than simply killing a guy, and far more for actually doing things to progress plot or find stealthy approaches.)

  4. #4
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    Well levelling systems are an almost proudly "I don't give a shit about how much sense this makes" concept. I wouldn't worry too much about that. Caring about realism in levelling systems is an error from the start, so I don't intend to give it too much thought.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    I think you have to blame gits more than rpg purists with their "real rpg's start with shit", your laser thing will give you low bullet spread at all ranges and they tried to fix that. Then again deus ex has some of the worst tools/skills and "fixes"of gaming history. Think of the ways adam is op in human revolution and what kind of ending you get with running and gunning and no talk, compare it to original gits popular quotes like "overspecialization is slow death" or something along that line because JC needs a merge ending and generally shitty things (doesn't make up for things like the exp stuff aoanla mentions I know).

    I mean, you get shit human adam at the beginning but JC needs to be parentless -fatherless- and they probably given up on that and kept the destiny and skill things no matter how good he really is or thinks so etc.
    Cheap stuff you wouldn't want to see with your characters in other games, yeah. But it probably fits DE.

    Eventually you find out poltergeist-ing is more fun than including action/powerprogression in your multi approach design.
    Last edited by Wenz; 11-01-2015 at 12:48 PM.

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    Well levelling systems are an almost proudly "I don't give a shit about how much sense this makes" concept. I wouldn't worry too much about that. Caring about realism in levelling systems is an error from the start, so I don't intend to give it too much thought.
    I disagree. It is possible to make a leveling system that will have an impression of beign realistic and still maintain some degree of an abstraction.
    Simple solution - instead of just adding numbers to statistics let's unlock some additional moveset, specific skill or trait.
    First Witcher did this - you could unlock longer combos (with damage bonus as well).
    It's slightly more realistic approach and gives you better sense of progress than just making damage pop-up showing greater value than before.
    Specific moves could be better at dealing with certain type of enemies and worse with others etc.



    (You can kinda fix this in some instances - Planescape:Torment, for example, has the player merely *remembering* the skills they already possessed, but had forgotten; Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey has the player's advanced combat suit upgrading via software to better function in the strange, and actively fatal to unsuited humans, environment that they are investigating.
    Yeah, if explaination of character weakness is decent enough I can live with that.
    I especially like the Strange journey one. It would be great to have an RPG where you land on alien planet and when you discover it you can modify your gear so it's more suitable to environment or maybe find new mineral or metal that would make your weapons stronger etc. It could be a good example of realistic level system.

    I will write more later.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    Simple solution - instead of just adding numbers to statistics let's unlock some additional moveset, specific skill or trait.
    If anything, this is less realistic. Randomly graduating from "didn't know how to do x" to "being able to do x on demand" is not something that ever happens.

    If you wanted to try for vague realism you'd have extremely slow increase in abilities linked to their usage, and larger increases and unlocking of new things linked specifically to training from experts coupled with extensive personal training sessions. These are typically bad gameplay mechanics, though, so let's not pursue these.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  8. #8
    Network Hub DeekyFun's Avatar
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    Levelling up is a design choice that doesn't often tie up with narrative - I can't think of many games where the time scale is really long enough to demonstrate the sort of improvement that comes with real life practice or study, but then a game which did try to do something that probably wouldn't be very much fun either. Also, I think if the RPGs I've played didn't have additional skills and traits come up in the pacing the occur then I would probably get a little bored; it's nice to have new things to try and also it means you don't throw too many concepts at the player at the same time. Maybe this is more down to the limitations of the games themselves, though?

    Perhaps a zelda-esque system would be nicer to see more frequently, where skills and the use of them are tied into specific areas or dungeons, so you can choose when you approach them, but there is a choice in when you get them.

    In terms of level-scaling, again it's perhaps an inconsistently realised system, but for the games where the designers expect a player to have some choice with where they want to go, there needs to be some way of dealing with that. I guess in an ideal world, the concept of progression wouldn't be measured by enemies having bigger health bars, or ridiculous numbers of enemies, but this is the reality we're dealing with. I'd be interested to play a full-on rpg that doesn't use levelling systems at all (i.e your health is your health from lvl 1, same with the enemies), and therefore didn't need scaling either. Is the underlying issue is that games are still relying on a conceit from the past, where logic dictates that what you play needs to increase in difficulty as you progress, as the challenge. Since RPGs focus is more narrative, and if a game can be made consistently entertaining, do we think games necessarily need to get arbitrarily 'harder' as they go from start to finish?
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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    There, simple and defined lethal tools for the whole thing. Even with levels, skills, stats etc your average rpg still ends with huge rays of death specializations.

    Story driven rpgs would last even less but for good:p
    Last edited by Wenz; 11-01-2015 at 01:12 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeekyFun View Post
    In terms of level-scaling, again it's perhaps an inconsistently realised system, but for the games where the designers expect a player to have some choice with where they want to go, there needs to be some way of dealing with that. I guess in an ideal world, the concept of progression wouldn't be measured by enemies having bigger health bars, or ridiculous numbers of enemies, but this is the reality we're dealing with. I'd be interested to play a full-on rpg that doesn't use levelling systems at all (i.e your health is your health from lvl 1, same with the enemies), and therefore didn't need scaling either. Is the underlying issue is that games are still relying on a conceit from the past, where logic dictates that what you play needs to increase in difficulty as you progress, as the challenge. Since RPGs focus is more narrative, and if a game can be made consistently entertaining, do we think games necessarily need to get arbitrarily 'harder' as they go from start to finish?
    Well, this ties into a problem that (I think gwathdring) mentioned in the New Game + thread as part of their long comment, which started this spinoff thread for better discussion - the distinction between what I'm going to call InGame and OutGame intrepretations of the game character's skill. "Levelling" represents the increase in ability of the PC as a result of "InGame" changes - the PC can actually do different things due to increases of numbers assigned to the character itself (to use the original Deus Ex as an example - they are a better shot because the game gives you a smaller crosshair and faster convergence on accuracy when standing still). But the player themselves will also potentially improve in skill, also making the PC more effective (in Deus Ex - the actual ability to hit something also depends on the player putting the crosshair in the right place in the first instance).
    You can have a game without levelling which increases in difficulty, just by making the enemies smarter/faster/tougher/have extra abilities, without requiring any changes on behalf of the PC themselves - you can expect the Player to improve. (This is basically all pure FPS games, once you have all the weapons in the game).
    The issue comes with levelling in that increasing the PC's intrinsic capabilities can be seen as "making the game easier for the player", and so designers often think that they need to replicate the above difficulty slider for FPS-style games by making the enemies *even harder* (to compensate for the PC's intrinsic scaling). But if your game allows multifaceted levelling (you can pick your path), this quickly becomes very hard to balance - Deus Ex: Human Revolution's "boss difficulty" issue is a classic example of this failing, as the thirdparty boss devs just assumed that everyone would be levelling their combat as part of their character, ignoring the possibility of pure sneak-and-talk builds.
    (It's also quite possible to go the Saints Row 4 route, and just decide that the player getting more powerful should... feel more powerful, and that challenge doesn't necessarily have to go up. By the end of SR4, you're effortlessly capable of dealing with most situations you'll find yourself in - but it's a fun power-fantasy, so you don't mind.)

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Thinking about transistor is that why combat was limited with combinations (other than too many "functions" for arena-ish kind of levels)? It is easy.
    Last edited by Wenz; 11-01-2015 at 01:47 PM.

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    But starting a game at a higher level changes nothing. It just means that instead of ending up at level 55 and 600 hp, you end up at level 100 and 6000 hp. Where's the difference? It's just a number game, and you always start at effectively zero. Just shifting everything up a few numbers does nothing.

    Now, if we're talking skills you start out with, that's a different matter. But you'd have to be able to assign those skills yourself at the beginning. Otherwise you limit one's choices.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMan View Post
    But starting a game at a higher level changes nothing. It just means that instead of ending up at level 55 and 600 hp, you end up at level 100 and 6000 hp. Where's the difference? It's just a number game, and you always start at effectively zero. Just shifting everything up a few numbers does nothing.

    Now, if we're talking skills you start out with, that's a different matter. But you'd have to be able to assign those skills yourself at the beginning. Otherwise you limit one's choices.
    Well, it's also about "realism". Starting the player at the equivalent of Pen and Paper RPG Level 1 is why devs tend to have you fighting rats and other boring enemies at the start - you're so bad at everything in the setting that only rats are a fair challenge. (And this is what I mean by this being the fault of slavishly echoing PnP RPGs.)
    If Level 1 was "competent member of whatever guild you're in", for example, then a lot of the realism issue would be removed. However, this also truncates the "amount of development" that a character has open to them - there's a reasonable cap on just how Awesome anyone can be in a setting without breaking reality (although, for example, see the Exalted PnP RPG for how to have everyone be stupidly awesome from the get go), and starting people closer to that means that there's less far to go to get there. (This isn't necessarily a problem, but some players and devs seem to think that the more you can level the better your game is...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by aoanla View Post
    Starting the player at the equivalent of Pen and Paper RPG Level 1 is why devs tend to have you fighting rats and other boring enemies at the start
    This isn't really true. Typically the first encounter you have in a video game is with an enemy type that can't kill you easily because it's the tutorial and tutorials typically can't kill you easily, such as rats. In most RPGs, the PCs will be man-for-man stronger than e.g. goblins, kobolds, giant spiders etc from the start. They probably won't be significantly stronger than e.g. orcs because there's no good reason why an inexperienced human warrior ought to be significantly stronger than an average orc.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

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    Sure, but the reason why it's rats in the tutorial and not, say, goblins, is because you're at Level 1. I'm also harking back to the older RPG's I've actually spent significant time in, so it's quite possible that more recent RPGs do this better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aoanla View Post
    Sure, but the reason why it's rats in the tutorial and not, say, goblins, is because you're at Level 1. I'm also harking back to the older RPG's I've actually spent significant time in, so it's quite possible that more recent RPGs do this better.
    Thinking about it, it's quite funny how long this has been being done for. It isn't quite as common now outside of mmorpgs, I think, but that it is a thing at all blows my mind, as there really is no need. It just goes to show how dependant people are on past frameworks or templates.
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    I see that as a narrative problem. You could just say that you're retired and they brought you back because you used to be awesome and now you have to get back into shape first, or something.

    I mean, what would be the alternative, if you started out competent? You start fighting stronger enemies (different enemy models, really). Fine. But then you have to make your ultimate enemy even more of a badass (a human probably won't cut it) to keep the arch going. I don't know. It's all about what kind of game you're trying to make in the end.
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    Well, one suggestion that's come up a lot in this thread has been that you just don't have stat-based-levelling as a mechanic...

    I mean, again, the "you need to up the ante as the game progresses" problem isn't unique to RPGs, it's an aspect of the way in which people think about narratives in games. RPG based levelling just makes that harder, because it means that your Ultimate Enemy has to be that much more ludicrously more awesome than the starting guys in order to compensate for the improved skill of the PC as well as the player behind them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aoanla View Post
    Well, one suggestion that's come up a lot in this thread has been that you just don't have stat-based-levelling as a mechanic...
    An extreme response to what is essentially a minor quibble.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

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    Clearly we differ as to the significance of the problem. It bothers me more than it bothers you (and removing stats-progression apparently bothers you more than it bothers me).

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