interesting dynamics in video games

edited January 2009 in Story Games
The thread about Achievements got me thinking about this.

Here's the thing: what are some of your favorite play dynamics and reward cycles from video games? Could they be applied to tabletop gaming? How would you do it?

I'll start with one: the combat system of the early Castlevania games.

In case you don't know, you play a member of the Belmont clan, who are sworn to battle Dracula throughout the generations; every few hundred years, some asshole resurrects the old bloodsucker, so off you go to kill him again.

So, it's a 2-D platformer, like Mario, except it's got a gothic horror premise, it moves much slower (not like it's lagging, it's just not a high-speed, reflex-based game), and the controls are more limited (for instance, you can't alter your direction -- or even momentum -- while you're in the air). It's also pretty well known for its difficulty.

You've got a finite set of maneuvers that you can use. You have to master these maneuvers, knowing exactly how far you can jump, how fast you can move, how far your weapons reach, how fast that knife flies when you throw it, how long the holy water continues to burn after being thrown. You have to learn how to position yourself relative to enemies and hazards -- if you get hit, you get knocked back, and after being knocked into deathtraps a few dozen times, you start to catch on.

The enemies also have finite sets of maneuvers. You have to learn these, and you have to learn when they use them. See, once you start paying attention, you notice that certain postures and positions relative to your position signify that they are (probably) about to use Maneuver X, so you counter with Maneuver Y.

The neat thing is, once you put Maneuver Y into motion, you can't stop until it's done. Because of the slower nature of the game, when you commit to a move, you fuckin' commit to it, but if you don't commit to a countermove when you know that an enemy attack is coming, you won't have time to dodge. You have to make your decisions at the same time the enemy is making his decisions, much like rock-paper-scissors, but with more choices, and more complex choices, with asymmetrical rewards, so that it's somewhere between RPS and chess.

Not too long ago, I discovered that Burning Wheel has a similar dynamic with its scripting. But before I read BW, I was already working on my Castlevania game, which seeks to emulate the above dynamic by revealing secretly chosen maneuvers simultaneously (written on cards), using dice rolls to determine what hits first when relevant. I also impose 5-second time limits on selecting maneuvers -- if you don't choose fast enough, you do nothing.

(Now, I didn't start this thread just so I could advertise that feature -- I have other video game things I want to talk about, but that's the only one I've figured out how to apply to tabletop gaming, so I figured I'd start with it as an example.)

Comments

  • Well, I think a lot of video games have features that could be applied well to tabletop gaming. One game that stands out in my mind is the excellent The World Ends With You for the Nintendo DS. That game had a ton of cool features, among them being that you got experience for the time you spent not playing, and that if you lost a fight you could replay it on a different difficulty level. Actually, you could change the difficulty at any time, or even voluntarily lower your own hit points to make a fight harder. The thing was that if you purposely made things harder, you got more rewards. At least one tabletop game I can think of uses this: in Beast Hunters you get to choose how hard you want an adventure to be, with higher challenge resulting in better rewards.

    Another mechanic that game used in order to encourage you to try new techniques was that certain sets of techniques were "fashionable" (the special abilites in that game were all from pins of a particular brand, but that's a story for another day) in an area, and using those gave you a bonus, while others were "unfashionable" and were at half strength. The other thing was that regardless of what you chose, the stuff you used started becoming fashionable over time. That mechanic actually reminds me of a thread (which also pertains to video games if I recall correctly) over at the forge right now about guessing a move from a list, with one choice being the "right" one with a 100% success rate, and the others being "wrong" with an 85% success rate, but if you pick the wrong one and succeed, your chance goes up by 5% each time until the one you pick essentially becomes "right" by hitting 100%.
  • We've been playing a lot of Battlefield 2, which is all guns-guns-helos modern combat, and it handles chain of command really well.

    You've got a commander, who is voted in by all the players on the team. He's a regular dude with access to a screen that lets him call in artillery (crucial), drop vehicles and supplies, and issue commands to quads that highlight an objective on the squad player's maps.

    You can form squads, or join existing squads, and only the squad leader can talk to the commander, and vice-versa. And only the squaddies can talk to each other, no crosstalk between squads. So they use a communications bottleneck to simulate chain of command, and it totally works.

    Squads are composed of specialists, and smart players form squads with complimentary roles - a medic, a support guy, an engineer, an assault guy. These are about ten times as effective as loose random dudes, and then when they can call down arty through the squad leader, fear them. But that's beside the point. Restricting who has access to the next echelon, who can talk when, and what can be communicated works pretty well in a computer-mediated game. The closest thing I've seen is the super old skool "caller" concept. Which works too, I guess, while not being remotely fun.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarThe closest thing I've seen is the super old skool "caller" concept. Which works too, I guess, while not being remotely fun.
    The what, now? Can you elaborate?
  • Makes me think of the pixel bitching days of old.

    GODDAMNIT I know a ring dropped, i heard it but where, mouse scan mouse scan mouse scan.

    or the Console equivalent, the timed jump.

    So I have to make this jump perfectly or I will die? Yes

    50 Attempts later....
  • edited January 2009
    Posted By: Marshall BurnsPosted By: Jason MorningstarThe closest thing I've seen is the super old skool "caller" concept. Which works too, I guess, while not being remotely fun.
    The what, now? Can you elaborate?

    I'd forgotten about the caller until I recently picked up the Rules Cyclopedia for OD&D. I know it was in Red Box. I don't know if it was in any of the AD&D books. Basically the players were allowed to talk freely and strategize amongst themselves all they wanted and one player was elected the "caller." The GM only "counted" moves announced by the caller. It was a way to distinguish between which moves were "official" and what was just table talk.

    Edited Note: I found the exact text from the Rules Cycloopedia.

    "The caller is a player selected by the other players to describe party actions so the DM doesn’t have to listen to several voices at once. He or shee tells the DM what the party is doing this turn. If the DM prefers, each individual player can describe his own actions. The caller is just a convenience in many campaigns; it’s not a game rule that players have to use.”

    Jesse
  • I recommend anyone go over to Kongregate and see what's happening in casual gaming today. There are a lot of games and they're shooting to meet very high expectations. Also a lot of discussion about the games and how they could be better.

    I like how the desktop defense genre of games handles escalating challenges. You've got an increasing number and strength of foes to combat each round. You have to balance increasing your number of weapons vs. upgrading a particular weapon. Several of this genre also have dynamics where in the late game you have to successfully switch your focus to weapon combos and synergies.

    Also, the idea of a ranking system that unlocks new capabilities and challenges.

    Games like meatboy that have an interesting slant on the line between what's pleasant and disturbing in a setting.

    I wish I were the moon and other games that introduce a dreamlike quality of exploration and story that's divorced from what we usually think of as the rules of cause and effect in a game (i.e. shoot it and it explodes).
  • edited January 2009
    edited to add Wikipedia links

    In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth for the X-Box, you see exactly what your character sees. This means a lot of neat things -- you have to count your ammo, because there's no ammo readout (and it's hella scary when a Deep One is charging you and your gun unexpectedly goes "click"); since there's no health readout, you can get an idea of how close you are to death by the fading of your vision -- but where it really comes to life is when stuff starts fucking with your character's head (this being Cthulhu stuff, after all). See, as Jack (the character) starts panicking, his vision gets a little weird and confused, and it can get hard to tell what's going on, which is pretty scary.

    But that's just leading up to what I think is really neat about it. See, in terms of gameplay, the game is, at any given time, mostly A) shooting hybrids and/or Deep Ones, B) solving puzzles, and C) really cool setpieces in which you do things like run like hell from a Shoggoth (don't look back!), shoot Dagon with a Marine ship's deck guns, or play through the hotel escape from "Shadow Over Innsmouth." The thing is, none of this is particularly challenging in and of itself. What makes the game challenging (and fun) is that you have to keep your calm while you do all this. Which gets difficult when Jack starts freaking out (have I mentioned that the controller vibrates in time to his heartbeat? And not in a lame way, either; you can feel the blood moving from ventricle to ventricle)

    Killer7 for the GameCube and PS2 has a similar dynamic, in that its shooting and puzzles aren't hard, but the game demands that you take lots and lots of really really weird shit in stride.

    I don't have a clue how to apply this to tabletop gaming. I know how to make my players nervous, and I know how to gross them out, but I don't know how to scare them/freak them out so bad that it starts messing with their skills.
  • Marshall:

    That sounds great!
    Questions.
    How does this game measure calm? In what manner is calm lost?
  • In Killer7, your characters are utterly calm and chillingly competent -- it's YOU who gets freaked out or sidetracked by the weird shit, unless you learn to take it in stride.

    In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (which was licensed by Chaosium, and uses material from the Escape from Innsmouth module), there's a non-transparent Sanity score that goes down when you see horrible things. Including anything and everything that might be trying to kill you. (Ever try to shoot a Deep One while trying not to look at it for too long?) There's a couple places where you come across something like a woman who has been hanged and left to rot, and if you catch it in the corner of your vision, Jack will pull a double-take, look directly at it and even zoom in a bit, and you take a nice big Sanity hit.

    The lower the Sanity gets, the worse Jack gets. He goes from slightly increased heart rate and heavy breathing, to messy, frantic vision, to talking to himself, to hearing voices, and finally to putting a gun to his head. Unlike tabletop CoC, your Sanity will recover if you can find someplace safe to rest a while.

    What I mean about calm is how calm you, the player are. Because no matter how bad Jack gets, the controls still work the same, and even when Jack can't see all that well (it gets particularly bad when you try to look to one side and then turn back), if you are calm and clear-headed and have been paying attention, you can shoot where you know the hybrids are and do just fine.
  • I like your video game analytics, Marshall. Do more! The Castlevania game is obviously going to rock.

    I've been thinking of doing some blogging on the very topic of analyzing video game mechanics. I was going to start with Super Mario Bros. just because I was going to present it as the master mold of platform gaming, but by tackling the polar opposite in the form of Castlevania you're already saying much about that.

    I'll instead pick another old Nintendo example, Ice Climber. I like how it has completely environment-based challenges built out of a discrete set of elements combined in different ways. Many other video games do this as well (SMB included), but in Ice Climber (played competitively) familiarity with the environment and quick planning of your advance is crucial to success. The game is essentially a quick pattern-recognition test combined with a medium-difficulty platform execution part, all crammed into 5-minute levels. I imagine that the roleplaying equivalent would be fun, it could perhaps be used as a quick subgame to determine the direction of further events. Print 50 different patterns in a book, have the GM pick one for the occasion, show it, play it and continue on to something else.
  • edited January 2009
    Hey Tony,
    That looks like a pretty cool site.

    Could I get you to pick one of your favorite games from there and pinpoint a dynamic that you like about it?
    EDIT: I mean a play dynamic, as opposed to a content dynamic. Like what you've pointed out with the Master of Defense clones, but a more specific case.

    ---

    Here's another thing I like. Baroque, for Sega Saturn, PS2, and Wii, is essentially a stripped-down Roguelike with 3-D graphics and real-time movement. As with all Roguelikes, you die. A lot. And when you die, you have to start over with a new character -- except, in Baroque, your character is always the same guy, and when you die, things have still happened, and new things are now allowed to happen. You have to die many, many times, and beat the dungeon many, many times, in order to complete the game. It's a cycle of play where you're not so much concerned about getting this life right, but setting things up so that your next life will be changed, will enable you get somewhere different. In Roguelikes, death is okay. It's just part of the thing, and it's no big deal, unlike, say, Final Fantasy, where if you die you have to go back and something over again (and many times it's something painful); in Roguelikes, you will never do the same thing twice. But Baroque is the first game that I've seen to actually incorporate death as a central mechanic.

    Ug. That's not a very good job of explaining it, but it's the best I can do. Anybody else played it?
  • edited January 2009
    @Jason:

    You forgot about the teamchat, which is very useful when chaincommand is broken.

    @Marshall:
    Not too long ago, I discovered that Burning Wheel has a similar dynamic with its scripting. But before I read BW, I was already working on my Castlevania game, which seeks to emulate the above dynamic by revealing secretly chosen maneuvers simultaneously (written on cards), using dice rolls to determine what hits first when relevant. I also impose 5-second time limits on selecting maneuvers -- if you don't choose fast enough, you do nothing.
    DoW/Fight! or Firefight from BE have specific qualities, for example that secretly chosen maneuvers about you wrote above. During the one of our campaign we have noticed that we lost all that an "unpredictable" factor. Moreover, when the DoW was happening between our characters, we tried to guess who chose which maneuver and (unfortunatelly) we had much more hits than miss.

    Actually I have pleasant memory of playing Sierra's Quest-series. In adventure games from '80-`90 you had point'n'click system which allowed you to use some actions (or their combinations) on specific object or person. What is more number of actions you could use was quite short so players avoided being stuck, on the other hand that gave you MORE options than interfaces from newest productions (for example Blade Runner from Westwood).

    My point is, I like games with potentially short skills/actions list, but I also like games where I can combine some actions on the target.
  • Posted By: DeckardMy point is, I like games with potentially short skills/actions list, but I also like games where I can combine some actions on the target.
    So, the SKUMM system from the LucasArts games like Day of the Tentacle?

    Hey Eero,
    If you've got anything to add about platformers, whether Castlevania, SMB, or something else entirely, I'd love to hear it. I'm also very interested in MegaMan -- Castlevania and SMB are on opposite ends of a spectrum, certainly, but MegaMan is somewhere between there. Leaning towards Castlevania, I think, but a bit of a different animal.
  • So, the SKUMM system from the LucasArts games like Day of the Tentacle?
    Indeed.

    I read about Loom developed by Lucasarts in 1990. I have never played that, however I'm curious how about using drafts in tabletop games. Look at this (I pasted some stuff from wiki): Drafts can be learned by observing an object that possess the qualities of the relevant draft; for example, examining a blade while it is being sharpened gives the player the "Sharpening" draft. Some drafts can be reversed by playing their notes backwards, so the "Dye" draft played backwards becomes "Bleach", while others, such as "Terror", are palindromes and can not be reversed in this manner. The player's abilities increase over the course of the game, with more and more powerful drafts. At first, only the notes C, D and E are playable, but by the end of the game F, G, A, B and C' (high C) are also available.
  • Oh, Megaman is great. It's like Castlevania in that you're supposed to figure out individual attack wave patterns and their counters to proceed without constantly taking damage. The hitpoints of enemies are also an important factor, and the terrain plays a major role in how your options are limited in approaching enemies. I think that its somewhat greater popularity compared to Castlevania comes from the faster pace - this is evident in the slide move and some other bits from the later parts of the series.

    If I had to pick my favourite mechanic from Mega Man, I'd have to choose the way player knowledge about the usage of different weapons is incrementally increased through repeated play. After you figure out that Cut Man has a couple of blocks for the Gut Man to throw, he'll be relatively trivial to defeat. This is, again, something that many video games do very well - repeated play brings knowledge that makes prior challenges trivial. In roleplaying games it's not the player skill or knowledge that allows him to progress to new levels of play, it's simple numbers on the character sheet.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenIn roleplaying games it's not the player skill or knowledge that allows him to progress to new levels of play, it's simple numbers on the character sheet.
    That's something I think that the state of the roleplaying art could benefit from: exploration of the idea of player skill over character skill. Anybody remember that link for the Primer on Old School Gaming? There's some ideas in that about it, but it's still a field that's almost totally unexplored.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenI think that its somewhat greater popularity compared to Castlevania comes from the faster pace - this is evident in the slide move and some other bits from the later parts of the series.
    Speaking of the slide -- introduced in Megaman 3, right? -- isn't that the first strong defensive maneuver to ever appear in these sorts of games? I mean, you could crouch in Castlevania and SMB (marginally useful in both), and in all of them you could try to use the jump maneuvers to avoid things, but the slide is really the first out-and-out evasive maneuver.

    I think it's interesting that the slide opened up gameplay in Megaman, by allowing you to avoid things in new ways, and by allowing the designers to throw new sorts of challenges at you that could be addressed by the maneuver. And further additions -- like in the Megaman X series, sliding against walls to slow your descent, kicking off walls, sliding in mid-air, and using a slide-jump combo to jump greater distances -- similarly benefitted the gameplay.

    Now consider the "quickstep" maneuver introduced in the Castlevania title Lament of Innocence, and retained for Curse of Darkness, which allows you to move out of the way of any attack. This, combined with a slight increase in overall pace, marks a major shift in gameplay from tactical thinking to sheer reflexes. To my mind, this shift was a bad thing -- not only because my favorite thing about Castlevania was lost, but because it's too damn easy.

    (Now, I'm not saying that reflex-based games are always lousy. There are reflex games out there that are plenty engaging, such as classic 2-D shoot-em-ups like Contra, Metal Slug, and Gunstar Heroes)
  • Increasing maneuverability has been a big general development in the platform genre, I've found. Part of it might be that the controllers have gotten more complex, but the general pace of the games has also gone up - the difference between beat-em-ups and platform games has all but disappeared. Viewtiful Joe is a great modern example that combines many things from the newer parts of all the flagship series. The platform genre hallmarks such as the significance of terrain have all but disappeared, while movement and attack options proliferate. The overall result has perhaps been that the games have become more complex in content but also easier to control, meaning that there is less emphasis on right choices and pure execution and more on quick action.

    As for examples of defensive platform moves, they've been there pretty early. An early favourite of mine is the classic Zelda II: The Adventure of Link that combines a reaction-based defense subgame with tactical choices regarding positioning, gaining and losing ground and other environment issues. That game is seriously transgressive when it comes to platform games and how they feel in play, while still preserving attack wave analysis, jumping on platforms and other mainstays of the genre. In many ways the high point of its game generation and one of the best in the Zelda series. I guess it would not be entirely wrong-headed to consider the whole game so transgressive that it couldn't be rightly compared to earlier platformers.
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns Anybody remember that link for the Primer on Old School Gaming? There's some ideas in that about it, but it's still a field that's almost totally unexplored.
    Here you go.
  • Posted By: Marshall Burns

    Here's another thing I like.Baroque, for Sega Saturn, PS2, and Wii, is essentially a stripped-down Roguelike with 3-D graphics and real-time movement. As with all Roguelikes, you die. A lot. And when you die, you have to start over with a new character -- except, in Baroque, your character is always the same guy, and when you die, things have still happened, and new things are now allowed to happen. You have to die many, many times, and beat the dungeon many, many times, in order to complete the game. It's a cycle of play where you're not so much concerned about getting this life right, but setting things up so that your next life will be changed, will enable you get somewhere different. In Roguelikes, death is okay. It's just part of the thing, and it's no big deal, unlike, say, Final Fantasy, where if you die you have to go back and something over again (and many times it's something painful); in Roguelikes, you willneverdo the same thing twice. ButBaroqueis the first game that I've seen to actuallyincorporatedeath as a central mechanic.
    I can think of another game that revolved around death in a sort. Breath of Fire - Dragon's Quarter. It was a tactical RPG set deep underground. You play a cop who seems to have awakened a power inside him and have to flee with a girl to the long lost surface.

    Problem is, you have a constant corruption meter that slowly ticks down but rises quicker if you use your dragon powers and sooner or later you will die. In fact, you're expected to die several times and restart the game. When you do, you get to see more scenes as you return through. Best analogy is if you read a 80 page book and re-read it again yet it was suddenly 120 pages. You'll earn EXP points you can spend at any time and it carries over. You can also throw items in lockers to save them for future playthrus.

    Later on, this style of play would be adapted in the zombie mall epic "Dead Rising"
  • Eero,
    Huh, funny, I never cared much for Zelda II. To me, the platforming wasn't much fun -- it was either so easy as to be trivial, or it was that old, cheapshot unfairness that designers used to be into so much -- and it seemed disconnected from the premise of the game ("Get thing to resurrect the princess; oh, before I do that, I gotta do this; oh, gotta do this first, before that..." -- which is more fun than it sounds). Or maybe I was just trying to make it be more like the other Legend of Zelda games.

    I think there' s more to Viewtiful Joe -- and particularly Viewtiful Joe 2 -- than actiony action. Yes, there's plenty of that, but there's a really interesting dynamic in there for hardcore types (like me) who aren't content to merely play through the game, but want to kick its ass. And that's that the fights can be approached as puzzles, in which you have to learn how to utilize your powers (which have so many wonderful and clever uses -- those games never failed to astonish me on that account) and maneuvers to get the best scores possible. Everytime I get through a fight sequence and score a C (as in "Cool") or B (as in "Baaaaad"), I'm like, "Ahhh, what the hell, Marshall, you can do better than that," and everytime I get score a V (as in "Viewtiful") I do fist-pumps.
  • One important dynamic emerging in both casual and hardcore video game play today is the breaking down of the frame around the individual game. When you play a casual game on Kongregate or a similar, it's already embedded in a metagame of achievements and points. You earn achievements through games, and those achievements become part of your profile. You earn XP, which levels up your gaming profile. I'm told that Xbox Live has something similar (I'm not a console gamer).

    What's new is having achievements have impact across games. Like if I get the "burn down the village" achievement in "war thing 1", then I can return to the burnt village in "war thing 3". I don't have a concrete example, because this isn't a feature I'm seeing on the sites, but there's some buzz about it being the new direction to take. You can also cross-game challenges, where by earning an achievement in 3 related games, you get some sort of meta-prize.

    I'll also do writeups of a couple of the games I know best when I get a few more minutes.
  • In Desktop Tower Defense, your job is to defend your desktop against streams of cute little minions who enter the screen in waves from the top and left. The minions cross the desktop and exit to the bottom and right. Every minion that gets by eats one of your 20 life. You defeat the minions by building defensive towers that shoot them as they pass. The minions come in several flavors: regular, armored, flying, fast, and so on. Towers also come in different flavors: long and short range, towers with a blast radius, air-to-air, and so on. Minions can't move through towers, so placement is important. You use your towers to build a maze of walls, giving you more time to shoot them as they wend through. Maze design and optimization is a key part of the game, allowing many and varied strategies. Towers can also be upgraded to improve their abilities. Choosing between more towers and buying expensive upgrades is another key in game choice. The resulting game is surprisingly satisfying.

    There are a few subtleties in design that emerge as you play. Minions increase in power wave by wave towards a point where adding more towers is progressively less useful than buying the very expensive upgrades, forcing you to adjust your strategy as you advance. Periodic boss minions provide a different challenge every few waves. There are several different gameplay modes providing different challenges, some of which are extremely difficult to beat, even for a hard core dedicated player.

    There are many variations on the tower defense theme. In Onslaught, fully upgraded towers receive wild powers when they are next to other fully upgraded towers, essentially adding a second switch point where tower combos become more important than tower upgrades. Gemcraft adds a layer of RPG color where you play through a map/storyline. Bloons has minions with some interesting and different properties that change gameplay quite a bit.
  • Mud and Blood 2 is a sandbox war game themed around squad-level combat in the Battle of the Bulge. You begin with a basic squad. The battlefield is represented in a top-down view, including some basic terrain. German troops enter from the top, You have to stop them from getting across your lines and out the bottom. For each round you survive, you get tactical points you can spend on additional soldiers, actions, and upgrades. For example, 1 point buys you a rather weak French resistance soldier. 4 buys you a highly competent engineer. 20 buys you a massive tank. Soldier combos give you access to additional upgrades. The engineer can build bunkers. The signaler can call in air strikes. There are a lot of combinations and options to play with, often with surprising and even amusing results (more than one player has lost his entire team to a flamethrower mishap).

    I call this a sandbox game because of its user of randomness and surprise. Enemy waves sometimes contain unexpected combinations or numbers of foes. While there are winning strategies, they are not foolproof. Your tank can always be taken out by a panzerfaust. Your lone flamethrower may get lucky and wipe out wave after wave of enemies. It's hard to say whether beating waves or playing with tactics is the real point of this game.

    There's also an achievement structure. Over time you gain badges that give you slight upgrades to your troops and ranks that open up new gameplay options. For example, the Combat Ribbon gives your soldiers +3% rifle skill. At Captain rank you can start with a random squad, instead of a standard squad. These take a long time to earn. Going for the higher ranks recreates the experience of a long defensive slog of a battle in the dead of winter.
  • edited January 2009
    Great thread. Here's something a bunch of video games use that I've only seen in a couple of RPGs:

    Training missions.

    The training mission is a controlled scenario that lets a player jump into the action of the game while still learning how things go.

    DitV did this (among other things) with Initiations.
    Sons of Liberty did this (among other things) with the Travel Hand (and also incorporated other video game elements to, I think, great effect).

    In other games, training is conducted "as you go". In Grand Theft Auto III (and on), the first time you get in a car, it tells you how to drive. The first time you get on a bike it tells you about bikes. The first time you pick up a gun it tells you how to shoot. And so on.

    Portal (and most Valve games) have an explicit learning curve throughout the game. At first you're learning how to move around. Then you're moving and interacting with the environment. Then you can pick up one thing and use it, and move around and interact with the environment. Then you can pick up lots of things in the same category and move around and interact with the environment. Then you can pick up things in different categories. And so forth. Each Half-Life game starts with a train ride where you can't even move around that much! Then a segment where you learn to walk, run, jump, crouch, and so on. Ever notice that the first map in every Left 4 Dead "movie" is a lot shorter than the others and doesn't contain any pre-set horde of zombie attractors?

    Right now, for a lot of games, especially problematically some very complicated ones, there's no real attention to teaching people how to play it. I found this to be a big problem across my whole gaming career, particularly when playing with people who didn't have the books themselves. At best, there's a "lite" version, which is fine, but also doesn't give a lot of advice on where to go next. What do you add to (say) Exalted lite to learn next, on your way to learning to play Exalted? No clue. Compare this to board games that are complicated and attract a lot of attention, like chess. When I was teaching chess to youngsters (that's something I should start doing again, god it was fun), I had a choice of several different "teach chess!" books and methods that I could use, including exercises and brainstorming, and ways to help the kids creatively. ("Let's cut out an 'L' shaped piece of paper so we can see how a knight moves!")

    So video games have rocketed past us in this field, which is sort of lame because in tabletop games there's a very very powerful teaching resource that video games don't have - a live person to interact with.

    PS - Loom was a beautiful game in every sense of the word. If Apple II graphics could take your breath away, Loom would. Weaving was great - and here's a little thing about it. Chaos, the enemy throughout Loom, used half-steps and flats and sharps in their music, casting "evil" weavings....and your hero, Bobbin, can't use those notes.
  • So here's a thing. I recently acquired an Xbox 360, which is the first time I've had a video game system in my house in like, 4 years, since my last one was stolen. So I'm behind the curve in games, big time.

    Anyway, I'm playing Half-Life 2, and I noticed something. In my recollection of the first half-life, they start you out fighting all the icky beasties-smashing headcrabs with a crowbar, plugging crab host zombie people with a handgun, etc. And it takes some getting used to, but then it's old hat, and you're like, "Headcrabs. Pshh." But THEN the government sends in dudes to cover everything up, and alluvasudden you're fighting Special Forces, with submachine guns and tactics, and fairly smart aggression compared to the lumbering zombie-folks you've been merrily pulping. So then you're like, HOLY SHIT all over again, and have to adjust to fight this new menace, ad it's a whole new game again.

    But then I'm playing Half-life 2, and it strikes me that in this game, they start you out fighting the ruthless-dudes-with-guns, agents of the fascist dystopia (man, I can't WAIT to see exactly how everyone managed to fuck everything up after I went and SAVE THE GODDAMNED WORLD for them. Stupid humanity.), and it takes some getting used to, but then it's old hat. But THEN alluvasudden you're fighting icky beasties, and dodging all these swarms of headcrabs and getting cornered by crab host zombies that just will not go down and you're like HOLY SHIT all over again, and have to adjust fight the new menace as the game reinvents itself.

    Now sure, some of this is staging and such, where a new menace is presented in just the best conditions to menace you better than the last menace, in the grand tradition of steadily-increasing-difficulty game design. And they got some new, better, faster beasties in the second one, yeah. But the other thing that jumped out to me is:

    Whatever is new is the greater challenge because it's new.

    I mean, it's a whole different skill set (overlapping, sure) to fight headcrabs, vs. soldiers. I can whip out a crowbar and dance around a lumbering huddle of host zombies like Muhammed Ali, whacking them in the noggin then bobbing just out of reach. Coul;dn't get away with that with the stormtroopers though, no way. And similarly I can count on the troops to stand and return fire, to take defensive positions, lob grenades around corners, etc. But the damn zombies sneak up on me 'cause they're erratic and everywhere. I have to adjust my playing style to cope. I don't just, y'know, shoot better or whatnot.

    RPGs could stand to work with that explicitly more often. I mean, there are some cool monsters in various D&D incarnations that upset the whole battlefield by virtue of their special powers, rather than just piling on more damage and hitpoints. But a robust and flexible system (about Solar System or FATE-ish in complexity would be my speed) that lets you play on purpose with the whole "ooh, can't use your bum rush tactic on these guys, gonna hafta hit and run" dynamic would be awesome. Red Box Hack does a bit of this with its Combat Arenas; there's an arena that favors every weapon type, and the interaction of neighboring arenas can set up some nice dynamics it would seem. But it would be great to see more. Strikes me that a play environment that fostered experimentation without game-killing consequences (getting pounded then working out how to cope is a big part of the half-life learning curve, indeed the whole video game learning curve) would be key, I think. Like that "dying and playing through again is actually a proactive part of playing the game" stuff people are talking about. That sounds hot.

    peace,
    -Joel
  • Jason, and Joel:
    Hell yes. We really need this stuff in RPGs.
    Hell, you've just given me a bunch of ideas that I'm gonna have to work into that Castlevania game.
  • Boxhead's score multiplier mechanic. Each kill bumps up your multiplier. The multiplier ticks down every X seconds. The higher the multiplier, the faster it ticks down. So if your multiplier is at x5, it stays at x5 for a few seconds before dropping to x4. If your multiplier is at x100, it stays there for a fraction of a second before dropping down to x99.

    The multiplier unlocks weapons and upgrades. The higher you push your multiplier, the more crazy shit you get to use. The problem is, in order to get the really high multipliers you have to be killing tons of zombies EVERY SINGLE SECOND. It's not enough to shoot them or bla
  • edited January 2009
    Tower defense. Tower defense is awesome. I know, it's already been mentioned, but the key thing I want to highlight is the pace of the gameplay in versions like Bloon Tower Defense. You think long and hard, you make your strategic decision and then you send in the next wave and watch them deal with your towers. The key here is that the actual gameplay is not so much when the bloons are coming. The game is played inbetween rounds. D&D sort of does this, but with a lot of strategic decisions in the actual combat as well (at least 4E, which is the only version I've tried). I'd like a game where you have a myriad of options each time you level up, and you level up before EVERY encounter. And the encounters is mostly watching to see if your well laid out plan works.

    And here's another one: Incredibots. The great thing about Incredibots is that the components you use to build your bot aren't for anything. They do stuff, but they don't have a purpose in themselves. That means that you can get really creative, and you get the feeling that you do something nobody has thought of before. and that feeling kicks ass. You put the componens together and infuse them with purpose. I guess the closest thing to this is the magic system in Ars Magica, but I haven't read or played that, so I don't know.
  • edited January 2009
    Posted By: Melinglor
    RPGs could stand to work with that explicitly more often. I mean, there are some cool monsters in various D&D incarnations that upset the whole battlefield by virtue of their special powers, rather than just piling on more damage and hitpoints. But a robust and flexible system (about Solar System or FATE-ish in complexity would be my speed) that lets you playon purposewith the whole "ooh, can't use your bum rush tactic ontheseguys, gonna hafta hit and run" dynamic would be awesome.
    I thought DnD was all about this. If DnD is not about battlefield strategy, than what is it about? And which RPG is about battlefield strategy if not DnD?

    Oh, and I can't wait Episode 3.
  • The following article tickled my fancy. The mechanic in question can be looked on as quite rpg-ish, allowing in-character behaviour to completely change the goal of the game. Anyway, I found it very interesting indeed..

    http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=21641
  • Actually the latest version of D&D has a huge variety of "battlefield control/condition" powers and abilities that are both a lot more codified and many many times more prevalent than previous editions. It's pretty neat.
  • Posted By: algiI thought DnD was all about this. If DnD is not about battlefield strategy, than what is it about? And which RPG is about battlefield strategy if not DnD?
    Well, yeah, I mentioned D&D, in that text you quoted. I think it (3.5) gets in the ballpark of what I would like, but not quiteit's not "robust and flexible" by my standards, being too detail-minded, bookkeeping-heavy, and rather constraining (like, I can't just say "I pull this crazy stunt to knock all the starboard pirates overboard with the ship's rigging!" I've gotta pick moves from this list, and they all work exactly so, and I need the right Feats to make them work well, and it doesn't hurt to have just the right weapon effect. . .). So sure, D&D does it, but not the way I like it.
    Posted By: JDCorleyActually the latest version of D&D has a huge variety of "battlefield control/condition" powers and abilities that are both a lot more codified and many many times more prevalent than previous editions. It's pretty neat.
    You know, you're right. From everything I hear, 4E is doing some remarkable things in this area. I'd love to try it sometime. While it's still a collection of "do these specific moves with these specific effect" kinda rules, it seems like they've managed to assemble an array of options that give you, well, an array of options that keep combat dynamic and reward tactical acumen. While being light on their feet and easily learnable. Quite a feat, no pun intended.

    The only reservation I have, is that cool as that sounds, I'd like apply the principle more broadly, so it's not just battlefield control-style combat that gets the robust system, but other kinds of combat as well, or even (gasp!) things that aren't combat at all.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: MelinglorI've gotta pick moves fromthis list, and they all workexactly so, and I need the right Feats to make them work well, and it doesn't hurt to have just the right weapon effect. . .). So sure, D&D does it, but not the way I like it.
    That's interesting, because this is exactly how video games work. Although in video games the bookkeeping is all done by the computer. It reminds me of Julian Gollop (Laser Squad, X-Com, Magic and Mayhem) who (if I remember right) started to make PC games because the computer handled the complex rules better than RPG-ers.
  • Posted By: algiAlthough in video games the bookkeeping is all done by the computer.
    Exactly.
  • edited January 2009
    Posted By: algiPosted By: MelinglorI've gotta pick moves fromthis list, and they all workexactly so, and I need the right Feats to make them work well, and it doesn't hurt to have just the right weapon effect. . .). So sure, D&D does it, but not the way I like it.
    That's interesting, because this is exactly how video games work. Although in video games the bookkeeping is all done by the computer. It reminds me of Julian Gollop (Laser Squad, X-Com, Magic and Mayhem) who (if I remember right) started to make PC games because the computer handled the complex rules better than RPG-ers.

    I'm compelled to link another Julian Gollop project that I've played the heck out of for the last few years: Laser Squad Nemesis.

    Edit: link fixed
  • edited January 2009
    I've been playing Mirror's Edge. The game has been garnering some unfair criticism because people play it assuming it's a shooter, and when they play it like a shooter, it's miserably unfun. No, the game is a racing game. I feel it would've been massively improved if DICE were confident enough with the spectacular part of the game to drop the tacked on "fighting" element, but as it is, the game is designed to teach you to never fight your enemies and to always find an alternate route. That is an interesting dynamic. This is a game that encourages pacifism in playstyle. You will not obliterate your enemies, you will reach your goal alive. The enemies are really there to discourage you from taking the obvious route. In some ways, this is like the opposite of railroading. If you play the game assuming that the obvious route is the best route, you're playing poorly. This is one of those games where I can confidently say if you are not having fun, you are to blame, because the gameplay is very focused to do one thing exceptionally well, and you are ignoring all the evidence to the contrary because you have genre expectations.

    The closest analog to this would be if you played Thief without sneaking and misdirection.
  • Posted By: TulpaThe closest analog to this would be if you played Thief without sneaking and misdirection.
    But it's a first person game, doesn't that mean it's a shooter!?

    On a serious note, Marshall: I really liked hearing about the CoC game. I wish games like that didn't freak me out so bad, because it sounds cool as hell.
    Another game I like that does fun Sanity stuff is the GameCube game Eternal Darkness (which had a very "I can't believe it's not Call of Cthulhu!" style to it). That game had an obvious sanity meter, and as it dropped, weird effects would start occurring. Sometimes your character's head would explode. Sometimes the walls would bleed, or statues would turn their heads to watch you pass. Sometimes a phone would ring and if you answered it you'd hear the voice the main character's dead uncle. My favorites, though, were the ones that messed with the player directly, such as having a message pop up on the screen saying that the controller was disconnected, or a fake "blue screen of death." Unfortunately, most of these effects lost their effectiveness once you'd seen them, and would eventually just become annoying.

    There is one thing that the game did really well however. The game was made up of episodes, events happening in various parts of the world and history, to various characters. These were tied together by the main character exploring her late uncles house and finding pages to this evil book. At the very beginning of the game, she has a nightmare in which she's attacked by zombies. One of the first things you find in the game is a weapon. One of the "episodes" takes place in the past, in the same mansion, which is filled with evil creatures. That, along with the creepy sanity effects, and the genre of the game, lead you to expect to be attack any any moment, any time you open a door. The paranoia just ramps higher and higher with each episode, but the expected attacks completely fail to happen until quite close to the end of the game. Fantastic.
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