53: Kill Your Darlings

The Escapist Staff

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"In the topsy-turvy world of videogame logic, if a half-dead baby kitten weakly slapped Mike Tyson on the knees two dozen times, he'd eventually fall down. This was acceptable once upon a time." Gearoid Ready explains why sometimes you have to let go of the past to move forward into the future in Kill Your Darlings.
Kill Your Darlings
 

Landslide

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I'd love to see an RPG without the ability to save. Or only save on exit. It'd handle death by not dying (You know, like Mad Max, or any Bruce Willis movie). You get ganked by a bunch of cyber trolls in the woods, and when you try to defend yourself with an unloaded weapon, they beat the crap out of you and the screen goes dark. You 'wake up' later in a ditch somewhere with no equipment and a rash. Continue playing. I think that'd be a neat way to mix it up.
 

krans

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Most MUDs are just like that, as I'm sure you're well aware. Achaea is a prime example: everything that you do or say has a permanent consequence. In fact, Achaea is probably the most realistic virtual environment I've ever inhabited, and I think that a lot of developers dismiss the valuable lessons that can be learnt from MUDs simply because of their non-graphical nature.
 
Jul 11, 2006
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Mount & Blade has that exact system, Jon. When you get beat in an encounter, you lose some of your money, some of your equipment, and all of your retinue (since they die defending you). It's quite a setback, but you get to keep the skills you've learned at least.

Saves anywhere, and saving is only used for restoring upon returning to the game - like Nethack, come to think of it.

I was playing Tribes: Vengeance two nights ago ... lovely game, but no autosaves whatsoever. It took me somewhat aback as I realized, upon dying in the middle of a longish mission that I'd have to start at the beginning... I guess it's IronMan mode by default ;)
 

Wickedshot

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Completely agree with this system, thats what makes Grand Theft Auto so fun.

And as for arguing realism of such a system, anyone who is playing a game should be aware : They've never game-overed in life (died) and had to reload, since they are obviously still alive if they're capable of playing games. A commonality of all people alive is that they have lived through everything life has thrown at them so far, so you'd think games would reflect this already (I'm guessing the reason they haven't is due to limited imagination).
 
Jul 11, 2006
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To be fair, Wickedshot, it's not like we're the ones tasked with defending the world from the Ultimate Evil. I'd imagine that Savior of the Universe carries with it a significantly higher mortality rate than, say, Barista at Starbucks.
 

Wickedshot

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I'd say it makes more sense that the one tasked with defending the world from the ultimate evil is more likely to survive (given its likely mandated by heaven and all we've got in real life is our will to press on).

But my point is more that gamers are living beings, and living beings have not experienced the end of life, so a game that goes on and on regardless of a players action is going to seem more right.
 

The Escapist Staff

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PC games'd be the answer then. Where the magazines are saying how save anywhere and quicksaves are bad!!!

The grass is greener on the other side eh?

I agree with the PC games save anywhere approach. It's my game, I'll stop when I like. I also don't like challenge games and bosses etc. where the game controls you. Easier games are more popular anyway, e.g. Hl2. An easy game, even on hard everyone could complete it eventually, and no-one complained about difficulty. Far Cry, a different story.

And I disagree about overhead maps. Fallout did well with them. It'd be dull to walk through endless screens of wasteland.
If you are doing a rural/wasteland game you need them.

However maybe it'd be better if games were set more in realistically sprawling urban areas. It's rubbish to go to the capital in an RPG with 3 streets. Proper cities with interesting stuff about'd be better.
 

roc ingersol

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Die/Reload is a wearisome mechanic -- slightly less annoying and unnecessary than the obsession with keeping numbers in front of the player.

On the tabletop, abstraction saves time because humans tend to be slow with complex math. We show and teach players to manipulate the numbers game so we can run combat resolution in parallel as much as possible. All this is designed solely to speed up the process of getting everyone back to the good stuff; making the interesting decisions.

So why -- with a computer running the show -- are we still asking the players to muddle through lame math? When we aren't merely exposing the min/max adventure on a character screen, we're innundating the player with minutia whenever the player hits 'level up' or finds a sword in a pile of treasure.

Why not make a system that functions intuitively and consistently, with true depth and breadth of play, and keep the math under the hood?

It seems pretty clear that heavy armor offers more protection at the expense of mobility. Do we really need to show the player how many armor points and energy points are at stake? For that matter, is some abstract 'armor' value, really the best way to resolve combat at this point?

Why is it such a treat, to find a game that simulates the advantages of higher ground, cover, reach weapons, particular weapons vs armor styles or locational damage? Why does no game simulate the problems inherent in a human with an axe, fighting in a dwarf-sized tunnel? Why is combat still predominantly stand-and-deliver, my number versus your number; as opposed to a simulation of the ranging, circling, exciting ebb-and-flow of dramatic combat?

I'd like to concentrate a little more on the good stuff: less time spent deciding if a damage 3, speed 4 sword is better than a damage 4, speed 3 sword; more time spent deciding whether to press my opponent into the corner, or to slowly back up the stair case.

I'd like decisions to be tactical, visceral and emotional; not purely mathematical.
I'm done fighting with my thAC0.
 
Jul 12, 2006
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roc ingersol said:
Die/Reload is a wearisome mechanic -- slightly less annoying and unnecessary than the obsession with keeping numbers in front of the player.

On the tabletop, abstraction saves time because humans tend to be slow with complex math. We show and teach players to manipulate the numbers game so we can run combat resolution in parallel as much as possible. All this is designed solely to speed up the process of getting everyone back to the good stuff; making the interesting decisions.

So why -- with a computer running the show -- are we still asking the players to muddle through lame math? When we aren't merely exposing the min/max adventure on a character screen, we're innundating the player with minutia whenever the player hits 'level up' or finds a sword in a pile of treasure.

Why not make a system that functions intuitively and consistently, with true depth and breadth of play, and keep the math under the hood?

It seems pretty clear that heavy armor offers more protection at the expense of mobility. Do we really need to show the player how many armor points and energy points are at stake? For that matter, is some abstract 'armor' value, really the best way to resolve combat at this point?

Why is it such a treat, to find a game that simulates the advantages of higher ground, cover, reach weapons, particular weapons vs armor styles or locational damage? Why does no game simulate the problems inherent in a human with an axe, fighting in a dwarf-sized tunnel? Why is combat still predominantly stand-and-deliver, my number versus your number; as opposed to a simulation of the ranging, circling, exciting ebb-and-flow of dramatic combat?

I'd like to concentrate a little more on the good stuff: less time spent deciding if a damage 3, speed 4 sword is better than a damage 4, speed 3 sword; more time spent deciding whether to press my opponent into the corner, or to slowly back up the stair case.

I'd like decisions to be tactical, visceral and emotional; not purely mathematical.
I'm done fighting with my thAC0.

For about ten years, I ran a table top game that had no math. I took care of all the stat's as the DM, I had all their XP, HP, etc on my side of the screen.

I had them come up with a character, without any dice, without any rolling. They based their character off of their history, their experiences. I then rolled the attributes without the players there.

I had four players, two fighters, one thief and a wizard. I gave them all their basic info, how tall they were, body type, weight, right or left handed (Ambidexterous in the rogues case) and their general abilities. "Fairly Strong, having never been sick a day in his life (blank) was the head of his Dojo, however he was never very book smart, but makes up for it with an unusual sense of morality."

These four players played these characters PASSIONATELY. Where some would say "I have a 16 Con, I can make that poison save", these players wagered their characters *lives* on every decision, and thus they moved more realistically. They avoided fights that seemed to slanted against them, they used tactics, strategy and in the end when one of them came close to dying another character pushed that one out of the way and took the blow for them. This is something you don't normally see in Table Top games and something you most DEFINATELY don't see in RPGs on the console or Computer.
 

Bongo Bill

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There's merit to letting the player see the math, however, as well. It allows for some very refined strategy - something that lots of people really like.

Don't get rid of turn-based control systems, either. I play games to relax, and I don't find it very relaxing if I have a lot of strategic options and I have to choose one now or else the troll is going to kill you OH MY GOD and you'll lose all that gold, you're saving up for the Magic Sword you need to kill the one guy and it'll take you hours to earn it all back. Let me take my time with it. Please. Not everything is made more entertaining by making it realistic.

As for saving: freedom versus consequences is the big issue facing a lot of games. It all depends on what a player is meant to be. Is it about immersion? Then save less frequently. Is it about fun? Then save more often. A suspend mode, however, is very important.

As for static worlds, the big problem there is that the players have been given too much power to logically prevent them from doing anything. The best games, I find, are ones where the player has distinct limits. If you've got the Atomic Ubergun, then you don't have any limits any more. Killing things with it might be fun, but the best uses of that gun are the ones where it doesn't conflict with whether the world is internally consistent. Until it's acceptable to have a budget large enough to make everything destroyable, the best you can do is never give the player so much power that they think it's odd they can't break the glass, or never give them so much mobility that they can even get to the invisible walls. Or, rather, the only time they should have that much power or mobility is when they already know they've broken the game and, accordingly, don't care.

Of course you can do that in one of two ways, whether making the player weaker, or by making the world more detailed. One of them is just much cheaper to do.

Collection frenzies in adventure games are terrible but don't mistake them for honest limits to the game rules. I don't feel cheated because I have to eat every dot to move to the next screen in Pac-Man, because that's what the game is about. I do feel cheated when I need ten stars to fight Bowser, because I can see his door, it's right there. I don't feel cheated when I have to beat a level to move on to the next, because this level is in between the next one. I do feel cheated when I have to beat Story Mode to unlock racers X, Y, and Z, because the game is about racing. I don't feel cheated when I need 100 coins to get a 1up, because a 1up is a rare treat that isn't strictly necessary, and I don't have to go out of my way to get them (there's plenty of coins, after all).

Some games would be improved by fewer limitations. But you can't overlook the fact that in some cases, the fun comes from these limitations themselves. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.
 

Wickedshot

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I think artificial limitations are fun - in puzzle type games.

But when it comes to reality (not always ours, sometimes fantasy realities) simulations I think saves, loads, and death need to be given more thought.

In most MMORPG's you can't 'save' and you can't 'load' but your character and state of the world are always maintained. That's a nice mechanic that would do well in a lot of single player games as well.

Death in MMORPG's is usually laughable. Trade some XP for your life, trade some gold for your life, then be transported to random places. Death (or what should really be called near-death given the lack of any finality in MMO's) should have negative effects, but also be an experience in and of itself (not, you've died, so now you've lost XP progress, and to regain that progress you'll need to kill X more monsters to get it back).
When saves and loads exist, and you die, it means reloading (no option to continue) and redoing what you've already done, but hopefully better this time. I'd much rather play a game where you get beaten to near-death and survive somehow, but worse for wear (maybe you've been mugged, maybe you're woozy, maybe you've been dumped in a river).
 
Jul 14, 2006
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An RPG without stats and skill points and visible numbers and so forth will inevitably be considered part of another genre, because genre in games is a very strange thing. What genre a game belongs in is determined by how the player interacts with the game world, and "RPG" has become a catch-all term that means "has a lot of visible numbers and a greater than usual amount of dialogue". When a designer adds stat-based character customization to his or her FPS, people will call it an FPS with RPG elements, even if there's no real characters or story to speak of in the game.

Thief:The Dark Project is the RPG you're looking for. It was intended to bring role-playing to the next level by removing all those numbers and so forth. People don't refer to it as an RPG, though, because the game uses very few of the game mechanics people associate with that genre.
 

Wickedshot

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Immersive Story Game (ISG :D) wouldn't cut it for me. An rpg without stats is pretty much a quest game, and when it came down to Kings Quest type games and Ultima (both of which I'd consider as having immersive stories), I was all over Ultima for hours and hours and days and weeks...

Thinking about the main differences in those two games in general: character building. From the ability to choose your gender and name, up to develop your overall characteristics like strength and intelligence, I had a lot more fun being a character who I could adventure with and have effected by those adventures.

The key definately wouldn't be to remove the stats existence, it would be to hide the quantified versions of them in exchange for qualified versions. Like in Grand Theft Auto, there may be a "fat" number, but its qualified as the character getting wider (there's also a bar quantifier, which would be better off gone for immersiveness).

Role Playing Games imply you play a role (by definition) so maybe a game where you decide the characters role and develop it to interact with the enviroment in a manner of your choosing should be called something different (it is more then simply playing a role, you are developping a character in an interactive immersive world [ideally]). Maybe CDG (Character Development Game) would better suit?


I was thinking about how a game with hidden stats would work (so that there are definately a complex set of statistics in the game, just not visible). You'd still want an involved character creation that is going to make your character excel in the areas you like (perhaps you want someone strong, or maybe intelligent, or maybe quick).
For anything physically reflected these could be decided by physical character creation, several sliders for muscle tone around the body (strong leg muscles for faster running, strong arm muscles for stronger weapon attacks or punches), and for fat stores (giving potential energy, allowing characters to easily build muscle from with work, or energy to expend on thought), bone sizes and proportions (perhaps longer arms for better reach, or longer legs for long strides), and then cosmetic changes which allow you to change your character to look more exactly how you want. Starting with a basic average being and having all those changes expend a bar that once fully expended allows no more changes (so on character creation you get to make some speed changes to your character to get it going in the direction you'd like and to personalize it), except through possibly adding to the bar by accepting some negative features (crippling effects, or maybe losing an eye "aarrgggh im a pirate" lol which allows you to make an even stronger character since you gave up a bit of charisma and depth perception).
Then would come the more abstract choices like intelligence. A series of questions like old style Ultimas or Elder Scrolls:Daggerfall.
And then you could start the game and just enjoy yourself and the world.

Once in the world the skills you use a lot would develop and those you don't use would dwindle (and your physical appearance would respond accordingly), so that you could just play your style and become better in that style, and get to interacting with the world and the story.
 

The Escapist Staff

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Sounds good. Oblivion is the closest thing to that only with visible stats and has too much manual levelling where you watch what you train in to not be left behind by scaled monsters.

Your system would probably work better.
 

Wickedshot

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Ya, a serious pain in Morrowind and Oblivion is the training watching to get better attribute gains. There's a mod for Morrowind that corrects it by removing levels and making attributes reflective of the skills related to it.

If that system had degrades in and hid the stats it'd be near ideal.. except that there'd be no way of representing your stats (which would definately be needed to be ideal).

Levels and Leveling are really bothering me lately. "Scaled encounters" are bothering me too, it seems like a good idea, but it just means hollow advancement (you advance, enemies advance) with the added drudgery of trivializing what previously would have constituted a challenge (old enemies not worth killing).
In GTA free-roam there's situations that get worse and more difficult, and remains a challenge all throughout the game (admittedly getting a good position and a source of health can give you the ability to survive anything - but theres always risk). The key being no levels and situational difficulty not monster difficulty. Imagine defeating a single goblin, then trying to defeat a band, then having to infiltrate a goblin base, then being ambushed by them occasionally while you're engaging another type of enemy.

In games like Lineage 2, or even table top D&D, strange things end up happening that make no sense due to the leveling system. Somehow a naked level 40 elf of any class can't be hurt by skelletons that would kill a level 1 elf in one hit.

In Ultima 7 I can go anywhere and survive (though most battles against tougher groups of enemies involves losing half my party lol). When I played years ago I remember my only real concern with (and acknowledgement of) leveling being increased strength so I could carry more, never was it a prerequisite to exploring certain areas.
 

dosboot

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I'm a dissatisfied gamer. Games are getting stagnant. Surprisingly though I couldn't disagree with this article more.

To use an example Will Wright uses when talking about game design, the overt metaphor of 'Sim City' is a city planning simulator but the underlying game is more akin to gardening. The game plays by choosing where to plant your buildings, watching your city grow, and weeding out slums or anything else you don't like. This discrepancy isn't a flaw of 'Sim City', the point being made is that there is a difference between the premise of a game (the overt metaphor) and the gameplay itself (the underlying part of the game). To put it very simply if you remove everything that doesn't affect the mechanical decision making process you are left with the gameplay.

For example it doesn't make much of a difference if Link's sprite is a boy in a green tunic or if the Stafols sprite is a skeleton. You could replace these sprites with grey boxes representing their hit detection and still keep the gameplay intact. Okay I admit that isn't *entirely* accurate for a couple of reasons: simple grey rectangles with name labels are hard to tell apart quickly, plus an object's graphics can be suggestive to gameplay mechanics (like fiery looking enemies being weak to ice). Nevertheless behind the presentation of any game (like the graphics, sound, story, plot and characters) is the functional gameplay. If you prefer, a game's gameplay is the feedback loop of visual/audio output and controller/keyboard/mouse input.

The thing that bothers me reading this article is you can't have a great game without both an overt game and an underlying game. No one would play 'The Legend of Zelda' if there were no characters, no story about some conflict, and grey rectangles for enemies. You also can't have a game which attempts to remove all abstractions. This is what I hear when someone vehemently rejects numbers and healthbars. The healthbar is supposed to be game-y. It helps the player understand the impact of game actions and it helps the player know how successful new strategies are. Figuring out the game and improving your gameplay exercises the same part of your brain you used as an infant when you tried to figure out how your toys worked. Taking the health bar away is murdering the underlying gameplay in order to get a superficial improvement by making the game look more realistic. The value of immersion is misunderstood anyways. While I do get a sense of fun when I pretend I'm actually the main character that illusion is almost entirely due to my imagination - not more realistic appearances - and moreover that sense of fun is *not* a game.
 

Wickedshot

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My problem with health bars is the conflict it generates with the images. It says my character is at 1% but she looks the same as when she was 100%.

Stripping away all the character and story from a game would make it into more of a puzzle game I think. The value of good roleplaying games to me has always been a puzzle-like game underlying it, as you've said, which manages to make itself scarce (outside my considerations) so that I may enjoy myself with the characters and stories.
Once the puzzle-game underlying a roleplaying game becomes too evident (through bugs, plotholes, conflicts, and things not being as would make sense) is about the time I begin losing interest.
 

dosboot

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Games are always going to have that conflict if you intrepet things literally. If a gameplay mechanic uses no iconography then it will frustrate the player if game advancement ever boils down to trying to actually understand the game instead of trying to successfully solve a puzzle or exectue a maneuver. It's like the difference between one player knowing what to do but dying 10 times trying to do it and another player dying 10 times because he doesn't understand how an object works or what a move does. The former can be fun (as long as the difficulty is appropriate), but latter is just aggravating.

I see you are coming from the RPG genre perspective, and that makes me less surprised you want to remove the healthbar. There is rarely any point to thinking about the underlying gameplay in RPG's anymore. Even when the game offers enough depth in the command system the game is still too easy to bother thinking about it (like I said, I'm a pretty dissatisfied gamer). I guess I'd agree that the legacy of healthbars, xp points, damage stats, etc. is overly game-y for accomplishing what is always a simpler idea. I prefer to think of it in reverse though: These games could be more challenging to justify thinking at that level of abstraction.