Automatic vs. Manual stat increase on level ups

jonthefox

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In most games, characters/classes have a curve for all their stats, and as they gain levels, their stats automatically increase based on this curve. In other games, characters may have different starting base stats, but when leveling up, the character gets a certain number of points to allocate, and so the player can decide which (and how much of) stats they want to increase for that particular character.

I actually think there is also a third possibility - giving a unique stat curve for each character/class, but ALSO giving the player some points to allocate, allowing for choice and specialization.

When considering these different mechanics for stat growth, how do you think game designers should choose what is most appropriate for their particular game? What are the most important factors to consider? Are there scenarios in which one is a clearly superior option for the type of game, or is it mostly a preference thing? Curious to hear people's thoughts on this.
 

TheoAllen

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My cents are, if you're making a single player game with single actor, go with manual stat growth. A customization of a single party member compensates the loss of combination from many party member.

If you're using multiple party members, and if the party members are custom. Go with manual stat growth as well.

If you're presenting a story with fixed party member, fixed character personality, and also a fixed story line (linear). Go with auto stat growth. That could present well their characteristic.
 

Andar

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manual stat growth gives the player more options and better imersion at the price of the possibility of breaking the game.
There is a reason why most games that allow for manual stat growth also give the reset option - because with manual stat growth it is possible that the player chooses the wrong options and becomes unable to pass certain points in the game.

To prevent that, much more playtests with different builds are needed - so the question is mainly about the developers capacities.
Can you do five times as much playtest to test the different builds?
If yes, then a manual build might bring you a better game.
If not -keep at automatic growth because then you'll know which options and skills are available to the player at any given point in the project and balancing is much easier.
 

Eschaton

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I highly suggest automated stat allocation. Easier to balance around. Less plugins required. Through eventing, you can give the player options for their class at the beginning of the game or throughout the game, and other in-engine features can allow the player to manipulate their stats as they see fit with the options available from the developer.

In my experience, 9/10, certain classes depend on stats such that you might as well not even have the option because everyone will pick the same options. 9/10, some builds are more equal than others.

Too many build options can be overwhelming for some players, while others want plenty of crunch to work with.
 

Milennin

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The main thing I dislike about it is that it sends the player into a menu, which, in my opinion should be kept to a minimum as much as possible. I've noticed it with my own game that handed out some stat-up items as loot that players could use on any character, most of them wouldn't even bother using them at all (I guess they either forgot, or didn't care enough).

Personally, I don't really like manually setting stats too much, because it's often hard to know which stats are actually important to invest in. So, usually, you either specialise into one stat because why not, or you distribute points evenly. Tinkering with numbers, as player myself, isn't really what interests me all that much. I'd much rather be out and playing the game instead. Classes exist for a reason, so I expect the game to sort out the numbers for me.
 

Aoi Ninami

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Consider automatic stat increases together with having accessories (or an additional equipment slot) that increases a certain stat on level-up. Then the player doesn't have to do very much, but they have control over how their characters grow.
 

XIIIthHarbinger

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I would say that what is "best", will depend greatly upon what you intend for your respective game.

For example having set parameter growth & skill acquisitions is very helpful, when you are creating game with numerous party members, & your party makeup is akin to a loadout for each mission. A good example of this would probably be the old Shining Force games, where you picked up about forty plus characters in each game, each with their own set classes, which provided their skills & parameter growth. & different battles were better suited to different warband compositions.

However, more direct control is perhaps better suited to single character or very small party games, as this provides potential replay value, & allows the player to be more invested in their character or characters. As well as allowing the player to play "their character, their way" at least within the confines of the game's mechanics.

Personally I take a hybrid approach in my own games. The player doesn't have direct control over their characters parameter growth, but the character's parameter growth curves aren't set either. Instead, how the player chooses to use each character, determines how each character evolves. Each of the characters starts out effectively green as a sour apple, because they are just a collection of barely adults from a random fishing village no one cares about.

So if one player decides to give a character a warhammer & heavy armor & to use berserker & war cry skills to lay on the damage, at first they'll just be an average joe in heavy armor with a warhammer, but as they level they will eventually spec out as an off tank juggernaut, surpassing their lighter armored & armed companions in things like DEF, ATK, MAX HP. But they will also be well behind in things like MAX MP, MAT, MDF compared to those characters who focused on wearing magic robes, a mage's staff, & throwing fireballs. While a light armored archer with some healing & support magic, will speck out as more balanced than either of them, while also surpassing both in the AGI & LUK department.
 

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I'm really not a fan of stat allocation for the following reasons:
  • It heavily incentivizes dumping everything into just one main stat, so you get warriors with 5 intelligence, 5 agility, 5 luck...and 755 strength. That's just stupid.
  • No way to reset stat allocation (in most games that use it, anyway) means it's possible to "ruin" your character if you didn't know which stats were the "right choice" vs the "wrong choice."
  • There seems to be an unwritten rule where every developer who chooses to use stat allocation in their games also seems to use a bunch of custom stats while failing miserably to explain what each stat does to the player.
  • In line with the above, there's often terrible stat weighting and balance, leaving you with, for example, 3 or so different stats that influence damage output in some way or another, yet one stat offers better boosts and/or has better secondary benefits compared to the others.
Now it's not my place to tell people not to use stat allocation, as cringy as it is, but if you do, let me just leave you with this: If you're going to use stat allocation in your games, please for the love of [insert deity here], explain your stats properly to your players. I mean, I guess it doesn't matter because when I see stat allocation as a "feature," I'm probably going to just swipe left and look for something else to play.

However, there is a better way to offer that sort of customization, and it's actually what I'm doing in my game: Have the "stat customization" happen through equipment and accessories. My character gets several different equipment slots: Weapon, Shield, Head, Body, Gloves, Feet, and Accessory x4 (!), and since the main character in particular can equip anything, the player can choose to build her as a tank, a melee attacker, an offensive spellcaster, a healer, or even a less-specialized hybrid of those things. This is done based on what type of equipment and accessories are equipped rather than what stat points have been dumped in where. Give her mostly heavy armor and she'll be a great tank, but average attacker and spellcaster. Give her a rod, then put on her robe and wizard hat to make her an effective mage. With a sword and lighter armor, she'll be a strong melee attacker. And soforth.
 

trouble time

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@XIIIthHarbinger has a really great idea going, it sounds like something I've wanted for a long time, an improved version of FFII's stat growth where characters grow based on their actions. Personally I think this is a great idea and it allows you to build custom characters without the micromanaging that comes from choosing each stat.
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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I like auto+manual as a player because it makes my life a bit easier since the stats go up upon level anyway, and normally I would just either follow that same growth curve for the manual points or try to put the points in the areas where the auto growth is small to make a rounded char.

Right now Im playing summon night 6 which actually implements this auto+manual stat growth

I also like the idea of stats growing depending on the actions, as long as it doesnt get too tedious working up some stats.
 

illyana

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I dislike manual stat growths. It is simply annoying to keep going into the menu every time you level up. After a while, I tend to ignore stat allocations till I have trouble with the enemies around me. Even then I'm always wondering if I did it right and if I just screwed myself over for late game.
 

Tai_MT

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My problem with "picking stats" is that they are always too few. Most games will hand you 3-5 stats to distribute yourself. At which point, they become meaningless. If this sword over here gives me 10 Attack, but I can only dump 3 points into attack per level... It makes me feel like Equipment is more important in your game than any levels I gain. At which point, each time you're opening that menu for me, you're wasting my time.

For me, personally, you should only be letting me pick my stats at level up... if they're going to be comparable to getting a new piece of equipment.

Besides, if you go with a "players pick their stat distribution", you also have to design a robust equipment system to allow for lots of different builds that take advantage of the way players might distribute those stats. After all, at that point, it's going to be your Skills and Equipment which will determine where a player will put their points anyway. A Warrior Class that uses nothing but two handed weaponry won't put any points into MP unless he's got high cost MP Skills to go with it. But, he's definitely not going to put any points into Magic unless he's got Skills that revolve around Magic. You're also not likely to put any points into his Agility unless you want him to be less strong or less defensive and want him to hit more often (and there's equipment to make up for those shortcomings).

Basically, you only ever implement a "choose your stats" type level up system if you're wanting the player to experiment with different builds and you've created a combat and equipment system that revolves around that. So, what you're actually doing is describing two different types of RPG's and asking which is better.

Do you want to create a Combat System, an Equipment System, and a Skill System that revolve entirely around what possibilities a player could put into their character in terms of points? If yes, then you go with the "distribute your own stats" system. You will be using it to enforce builds for players though, and tailoring equipment to making those builds viable. You'll also be tailoring combat towards those builds. You'll be tailoring a Skill System to make some stats better than others for each character so that you can direct players down the proper path for each Class.

If you don't want to do all that work and just want to say... tell a story... You just give your players the stats they need to complete the game.

It's kind of an "Apples Vs Oranges" type argument.
 

Eurgh

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In my game I use a bit of both.

Each class has natural scaling every time they level up, then stat distribution to supplement any stats the player may feel like they lack.

That being said, you're not locked into ONLY putting points into Magic Attack if you're a mage. Since weapons of each 'sub section' have their own scalings.

Such as the 'warrior' types, which in my game is Warrior, Protector and Berserker all scale harder from having Attack damage, obviously.

But my 'thief' types, Archer, Rogue and Tinkerer scale their attack mainly from agility but their attacks also scale with attack damage.

The same goes with my casters, so it's entirely possible for a mage to dump all his points into attack damage and still be viable by using things like protection magics and mana shields to defend themselves while clobbering enemies with a staff. But there's a spellsword in that catagory which is obviously a better choice if thats what the player wants to do.

That's just my 2 cents, I feel like for stat distribution to work effectively, it's down to the developer to balance the game in a way that it's useful and won't back the player into a corner.
 
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Personally I'd say its more down to your 'class' design than anything else.

The 'point' of manual systems is to allow the creation of your own personal playstyle. Usually this is accompanied by some form of flexible skill learning system and less on enforcing linear 'classes'.

But when using classes with highly specialised skill trees, things start to reach the point of 'only one viable stat build per class'. In this case the choice itself becomes redundant with no purpose; other than to punish the uninformed.

  • It is important to remember that complexity should only be added if it provides a significant purpose in enriching the experience.
  • Remember this, complexity should only be added if it serves a purpose.
Two lines which say the same thing, which is easier to read?
 

Dankovsky

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Only use manual distribution if:
- You're sure that's what your players would enjoy, because many won't;
- You're sure that it won't be overwhelming to the players;
- You're balancing the game across all possible stat combinations the player can get (like dumping it all in one stat, or spreading all the points evenly, or any other combination);
- You're adding easy reset function in case the players screw up, or make it literally impossible to screw up your character too bad.

Generally most of those points should be a required checklist for adding almost any new feature into the game.
 

Autofire

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I'm surprised no one has brought up the Mario and Luigi RPGs. I know that those are quite different from RM RPGs, but still, they have a pretty good stat distribution scheme.

Whenever one of the bros levels up, the player gets to choose a stat. Then they spin a roulette to determine how much the stat goes up. The possible boosts get worse if that particular stat has been upgraded recently. (For example, a stat that's been upgraded many times in a row can only be raised by 1 or 2, while a stat that hasn't been upgraded for a long time can gain as many as... 6 points?)

By only allowing the player to upgrade one stat per level up, they aren't bogged down by choice. At the same time, by implementing diminishing returns, the player is encouraged to boost a few different stats over several level ups. The developers have effectively sidestepped most of the problems I've seen pointed out here.

Is this the best solution? Nope! Again, depends on the game. M&L's system just works pretty well in their action-oriented gameplay. If you'd prefer to let the player make many choices, you might want to go with something like Dark Souls' system, where each stat point costs an increasingly higher amount. Players can funnel all of their upgrades into one stat, but it will cost them a lot in other areas. EDIT: Dark Souls doesn't do this, Aeterno Blade does.

It all comes down to how much work you want to put into your system. Using a pre-baked system is much simpler, as others have said.
 
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primeless

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I'm really not a fan of stat allocation for the following reasons:
  • It heavily incentivizes dumping everything into just one main stat, so you get warriors with 5 intelligence, 5 agility, 5 luck...and 755 strength. That's just stupid.
  • No way to reset stat allocation (in most games that use it, anyway) means it's possible to "ruin" your character if you didn't know which stats were the "right choice" vs the "wrong choice."
  • There seems to be an unwritten rule where every developer who chooses to use stat allocation in their games also seems to use a bunch of custom stats while failing miserably to explain what each stat does to the player.
  • In line with the above, there's often terrible stat weighting and balance, leaving you with, for example, 3 or so different stats that influence damage output in some way or another, yet one stat offers better boosts and/or has better secondary benefits compared to the others.
Now it's not my place to tell people not to use stat allocation, as cringy as it is, but if you do, let me just leave you with this: If you're going to use stat allocation in your games, please for the love of [insert deity here], explain your stats properly to your players. I mean, I guess it doesn't matter because when I see stat allocation as a "feature," I'm probably going to just swipe left and look for something else to play.

However, there is a better way to offer that sort of customization, and it's actually what I'm doing in my game: Have the "stat customization" happen through equipment and accessories. My character gets several different equipment slots: Weapon, Shield, Head, Body, Gloves, Feet, and Accessory x4 (!), and since the main character in particular can equip anything, the player can choose to build her as a tank, a melee attacker, an offensive spellcaster, a healer, or even a less-specialized hybrid of those things. This is done based on what type of equipment and accessories are equipped rather than what stat points have been dumped in where. Give her mostly heavy armor and she'll be a great tank, but average attacker and spellcaster. Give her a rod, then put on her robe and wizard hat to make her an effective mage. With a sword and lighter armor, she'll be a strong melee attacker. And soforth.

I like this aproach so much. Its not easy, but you still have control of the numbers while giving the player his share.
 

S.Court

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I'm working in a project uses manual stats increasing and I can certainly give some thoughts about this system.

Personally, I like a lot manual increasing system because it can add strategy depth to your project. It lets you test different strategies with a character and in general, it adds versatility to gameplay, but this system requires some things to make it work properly, and I'll start with what Aesica said:

If you're going to use stat allocation in your games, please for the love of [insert deity here], explain your stats properly to your players.

It's completely important to inform the player about the stats choice he/she wants to make, if you don't clarify exactly what does this stat makes, you're creating the scenary to let the player takes an uninformed and potentially meaningless decision.

This is key, the system must be designed with the fact is using resources to increase the stats, so each choice you offer to the player has an impact in gameplay.

In my opinion, when you let the player sets manually the stats, you end with two scenaries: The character will end being a specialist, when it'll focus in certain stats, or a more balanced distribution, which... Well, you end adding a bit of your resources to every stat. Each intended approach has its pros and cons, but independiently of this, something I suggest to reward the player if he/she is using the approach you intend (for example, in my project I think the player will be focusing in certain stats configuration, the character will receive a "title" will add a passive stat will help to take advantage of the intended role) without creating punishment for using the unintended route.

If you want to incentive the exploration of the character's possibilities, I think it's important to add a reset system, it doesn't matter how easy or hard is to get it, that opens a space for the player to try a new stats configuration, and by extension, letting him/her to explore more about the character's possibilities.

Something bugs me about this system is the fact some designers decide to let the character can increase a stat it won't be exploited properly. Why do the mage of the party can increase its Attack if the weapons and skills it has can't take advantage of it? So I think it's important to be sure each increasing choice has a meaningful impact even if that implies avoding certain characters can't increase a specific stat.

In fact, I think those small changes between different characters can have a huge impact in making a character still feels unique despite the fact those systems usually end with characters developing in similar ways. For example, one of my characters has some proficiency with increasign its HP and Attack, but another is unable to increase those stats, but it can take a huge advantage increasing MP and Magic. Despite being the same system, each character still retains the feeling that is unique.

And something is not that important: I tend to use smaller stats numbers with this system, it helps to mitigate the feeling of absurdity the player might have when it sees a character min and max stats: It's not the same feeling when you see your character min stat is 10 and the maximum one is 400 than when the minimum stat is 30 and the maximum stat is 100. It's not exactly that relevant, it's just an optic perspective.
 

SOC

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I always much prefer automatic stat growth because I hate feeling like I'm doing something sub-optimal, especially when I don't know "what's good" yet from playing a new game and being forced to make these decisions early on. If I choose to save my points until I know, then that is also playing sub-optimally because I will be experiencing the game without being at full power and that bothers me, too.

A good thing to consider is automatic stat growth but allowing the player to choose what gear to wear, and having many gear options so that their choices aren't finite and can be changed throughout the game.
 

Autofire

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Yet another option is Dokapon Kingdom's system. You automatically gain stats when you level up (and the stats you gain depends on your job as well as previous jobs you've mastered), but have two points to allocate as well. This gives some guidance and makes sure you don't have anything too insanely min-maxed.
 

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