dice rolls (outside of combat)

TheGentlemanLoser

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This thread is not about whether attacks should have a chance of missing or how big it is acceptable for that chance to be or if skills should have a chance of not working or what chance of inflicting a status effect needs to be to be worth doing etcetera this is about outside of combat stuff.

(If you'd like even more text...)
Back around 2005 I made a game where you could do things like hack cameras and repair broken stuff by essentially rolling d100 and getting equal to or under your skill which you could then level up. This game while generally well received was savaged by a few reviewers that had terrible luck with their dice rolls and felt like they were failing everything all the time through no point of their own. What I internalized from this is that dice rolls = bad and that it would be better to have a simple minigame instead.

Around 2011-2012ish I made a game (demo) where you could gather resources like harvesting crops or catching fish or mining ore and each time you did that you'd get a little 'stop the needle in the middle' minigame where you'd get extra resources if you hit button at the exact center, normal resources if you hit it in the 'green zone', and no resources if you failed. This was me putting what I thought was painfully, hard-learned wisdom into use, because I thought everybody hated die rolls they had no control over being used in place of a minigame. But this game was in turn utterly savaged by a reviewer who didn't like the 'press z to do whatever' minigame and found having to repeat it 8-billion times tedious and the game was actually abandoned in the aftermath/fallout.

For a long time I have been very butthurt about this, like really sour grapes, like "MAN there's just no pleasing people whatever I do someone is going to hate it..."

Since then I have played dozens of games at every tier from AAA to big budget indie to no budget indie to RM tier and everywhere in between that have or have-not used die rolls in various ways and recognized there are like so many things when it comes to game design plenty of ways to do this right and plenty of ways to do this wrong! My current/perennial roguelike obsession, Sword of the Stars: The Pit requires a d100 roll for virtually every action in the game outside of combat (where there is also RNG it's just more complicated) and I am totally fixated w/ playing it so clearly as a player I have no problem with "to do thing, roll dice" as a core game mechanic.

This year, working on RetroShock I kind-of-painstakingly recreated (using event code only) the hacking/repair/weapon modification (but mainly hacking) system from System Shock 2 which is basically a version of tic-tac-toe where you make a hacking roll (again, a d100 based on your hacking skill, cyber attribute, and software vs. the difficulty) on each grid square to try and light it up. You need to light up three squares in a row to complete the hack (hence tic-tac-toe), if you fail too many squares you can try again by paying a small cost in nanites but certain squares--more the harder the hack is--are outline din red and if you fail to flip/light up one of those high-risk squares, consequences happen. Y'know, setting off the alarm you were trying to deactivate, breaking the thing you were trying to repair in a way that it's now even more broken (uh, what?), exploding that secure crate you're trying to pick the lock on right in your face...

And while SS2 is deservingly recognized as one of the greatest computer games of all time, rightly so, this minigame itself is pretty crap! There's really not much skill or thought to playing it and the entire game would be streamlined by having it just be a simple behind-the-scenes dice roll. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Which is probably why it was replaced with something completely different for Bioshock and then replaced with a 'stop the needle in the middle' minigame exactly like the one I described above for Bioshock 2 (I can't remember what they did for Infinite but it was something else yet again). And I had painstakingly strained my brain using event code to recreate a minigame that just wasn't very good in the first place.

Now hacking in Spirit of '76 my other game uses a QTE esque 'press the correct sequence of buttons in the correct order inside the time limit' minigame and that's really great but I am apparently constitutionally incapable of implementing the same mechanic the same way in two projects so that won't do for Retroshock/Quarantined. I am wondering if I should try to implement a different minigame now that Retroshock has been renamed to Quarantined and is not primarily a fan-game anymore or if just having dice rolls will do. I don't think there's necessarily an objectively right answer* to that question but I am interested in your subjective ones about the topic in general, not just my game.

How do you feel about dice rolls in digital games as players and developers?

/tgl\

p.s. For a brief, glowing period in time I made tabletop roleplaying games as more or less my day job, so from that experience plus tons of hobbyist TTRPG experience on top of it I know all kinds of tricks you can do with dice (like for instance 3d6 produces a nice bell curve as opposed to the linear distribution of 1d20 or for that matter 1dAnything, "advantage"/"disadvantage" (roll 2d20, take highest for advantage or take lowest for disadvantage) in the current edition of D&D is roughly equivalent to a static +4.5/-4.5 modifier to the die roll, not sure if that's the exact right number off the top of my head but you know what I mean) to get a result that is more deterministic and less random, i.e. character skill (not player skill) matters more than luck, like the dice pools used in Vampire the Masquerade and Shadowrun.

* I mean there are places you can apply RNG where it is objectively wrong, like The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind is one of my favorite games OF ALL TIME but I loathe the fact that in that game which is a first-person perspective real time game you can whack something with a spear or katana and shoot a crossbow at something and totally absolutely hit it but the game might decide your attack didn't hit if your skills is too low even though you OBVIOUSLY JUST HIT with your attack...
 

Sword_of_Dusk

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Before I go into my response, let me say this: fudge what some people thought of your games. The simple fact is that you can't please every single player that will play your game, and it is not wise to even try.

Anyway, I do not mind dice rolls in gaming. Or, more broadly, RNG in general. Hell, you're looking at a big fan of Fire Emblem here, and that game thrives on RNG (and I have some stories of BS moments, yes I do). I find that a lot of times, RNG makes things more interesting than it might be without it, though there are situations where it becomes an annoying thing to deal with.

Of course, a lot of people don't realize how probability works most of the time, because they start thinking they're owed a lucky roll after a string of messed up rolls, even though that's not how it works.
 

RachelTheSeeker

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Ultimately, depends on the game. I do like CRPGs that roll dice, percentiles, etc. With that said, it depends on how close to a JRPG or CRPG this is. If more JRPG, I had a couple ideas to throw around. Some of these could apply to a dice roll format too, maybe?
  • Failing forward. Even if your dice roll fails, you get something out of it? One of the un-fun things of binary dice rolls a la D&D is that a failure gives you nothing to go off. But games like Apocalypse World and so-forth offer something for an imperfect roll. Hell, it's the most likely result due to a 2d6 bell curve. Success with consequences and such.
  • Auto-success over some thresholds. Something like "Passive Perception" in D&D 5e, but applied to all skills. Basically, if your skill rating is way higher than the needed result (like a +10 to a skill vs a DC 5), there's no chance to screw it up. Professional workers IRL don't critically fail at their jobs. Besides, this is a house rule I considered for TTRPGs in general. :v
  • Can try again for most things. Similar to both, and something that Wasteland 2 did. For some skills, unless you critically failed at a lower skill rank, you can keep retrying. A critical success immediately works (as skill use takes a few seconds), and the environment outside the skill check could also force a race against time (unlocking a door before an enemy arrives or the room fills with gas, etc).
But ultimately agreed with Sword_Of_Dusk. Worrying about what other people want or won't want doesn't matter. If you build it, they will come. What matters most is sharing with the right crowds, and being up-front with your mechanics.

I know I enjoy Wizardry-like blobbers (the mechanics at least), KotOR, and other games that throw dice. Holding your breath when the enemy makes an attack roll, without knowing when you'll take a hit and drop, or making it past a save-versus-suck spell. Stuff like that. And with the way WL2 did it as mentioned, even skill rolls can bring that tension, and a smirk of relief when the skill roll suddenly works at a crit-success.

But I do agree that games like Morrowind doing that in real-time wasn't as great. Heck, I dislike games that force you to do real-time combat only. I like tactical RPGs myself. Having RNG-heavy mechanics are fine, but having innovations to soften up some of its innate issues can help. Make it run smoothly without it losing its original touch.
 
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Sword_of_Dusk

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There's a cool video that goes into a related subject.
 

Milennin

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How do you feel about dice rolls in digital games as players and developers?
I never got the appeal, and I like to keep the RNG aspect in my games pretty low. Not all that many things trigger based on RNG, or if they do, they're more for side effects or things with different outcomes that aren't just between a hit or a miss.
But in the end, you should be making the game you want to make. If you think you can make dice rolls in the game fun, then you should go for it. Not any game will appeal to everyone anyway.
 

Wavelength

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I absolutely love dice rolls in a pen-and-paper/tabletop RPG, because they are like a gamified form of creativity. You have a result right in front of you (that might directly or indirectly reflect a success or failure), but based on that result, the Game Master can come up with all kind of different scenarios or story hooks that happen as a consequence, and the player can try to "negotiate" that result a little by reacting and role-playing as well.
What's even greater about this tabletop RPG experience is that even failures can lead to interesting, improvised stories - maybe you fail to stop an assassination on the King, several of his ministers start vying for power, and now you have to find a way to make peace between them or lead one of them to the crown.

This kind of improvisation and negotiation is really hard to replicate in video games, where the possibility space of "what can happen" is (almost always) limited to what the devs constructed in advance, and by far the easiest way to make a narrative feel coherent in video games is, upon failing on objective, to tell the player to go back and try again. When the player fails and it doesn't lead to a game over or a "do it again", usually it leads to locking out some kind of reward or content (that players will feel disappointed they'll never get to see), so only games with very wide branching paths (expensive and difficult to make), games with roguelike elements (where the player expects to play through the game from the start multiple times, so they'll likely succeed this check at some point), and maybe a few other exceptional games can turn dice rolls into a fully satisfying experience that doesn't encourage the player to just save scum until they get it right (or force them to by making them do it until they succeed in order to progress).

Sryth (a text-based browser game) is the one video game I've played that manages to capture the feel of pen-and-paper RPG storytelling using dice rolls, and it's worth noting that while the content was quite deep (lots of different ways that adventures could go based on your decisions and dice rolls, and memory of your past decisions), it took a very long time for the devs to build it into something wide (lots of different adventures to do within the world). Disco Elysium looks like a fantastic modern videogame take on P&P RPG's with dice-rolling mechanics, and I really should try it out soon. Shadow of Mordor doesn't use dice rolls at all, but it makes RNG rolls behind the scenes in combination with the player's successes or failures to capture the kind of Improvisation storytelling element that I think makes RPG's so great.

If I could distill this into a single sentence, it would be - if dice rolls are used for anything major, they should serve to create a wide-open space of ways that things can proceed; they should not be an obstacle where the player must pass a dice roll in order to progress in the game.

Edit
: Just watched the Game Maker's Toolkit video linked by @Sword_of_Dusk above, and I think it's great!! Mark offers several different approaches for how to make failing objectives okay in games, and I think that most of these can apply to dice rolls to some extent - though I still believe that "make failure interesting" is the ideal for video games with dice rolls. Why? Because even (for example) allowing a long string of rolls on a failure spectrum can still feel bad for the player if the RNG isn't being nice (this is a lot different from activities like Stealth in Metal Gear Solid, where the player is in control of success or failure), and implementing a roguelike save system (automatically overwritten when things of consequence happen) in a non-roguelike game (linear, narrative-driven, and mostly the same with each play) would be a disaster.
 
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