Evolving Items Vs Loot Drops

Tech

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One of the complaints about the genre is that the player is always chasing higher numbers. Another is that they end up carrying around a sack of loot that's useless to them so they can sell it. The obvious solution to this is to make equiment that evolves as you play with it somehow. However, without epic loot, there's little to reward the player with outside of money and experience. Is there some way to reach a medium between these two?
 

mobiusclimber

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Instead of evolving, you have to find junk to attach to your weapons or armor to give different stats and abilities. That way, you can still drop weapons and armor and they have a use, while also dropping stuff that you can outfit your weapons and armor with. Heck you could even have a level up system for weapons and armor - the more you use it, the more it levels up and gets stronger, while also using attachments to increase stats and give new abilities. Then have your different weapons and armor do different things, so it comes down to player strategy as to what they want to use. For instance, a large sword is slow and hits only one enemy, but is very strong whereas a whip is low damage but hits all enemies in a straight line. Different armor can protect against status effects or have buffs or be strong to an element...
 

NinjaKittyProductions

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In reply to carrying sacks full of items, I have made my items in one of projects have a certain amount of uses. However, to refill those charges on the item, they have to talk to a related smith. This includes items like potions, wands that use a spell when used in battle, and so on. You can also talk to the related smith and bring him required materials to upgrade your potions/other items. Example your base potion heals 20%HP, however, when it is upgraded it heals for 50%HP. This can be done with weapons and armor as well. So even though the player is still collecting items to make himself better, it is presented in a way that doesn't make it feel like they just need to buy Mithiral Armor because it is better than Iron armor.
 

Eschaton

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I've been working out a system in which items and equipment have a percentage-based effect. This makes items and equipment have the same relative effect throughout the game that still grows along with the character.

The basic "potion" heals 30% of the user's HP, every time. The first "hero's sword" has a ATK +5% effect, potentially making it viable option throughout the game if the player were so inclined. Perhaps each piece of equipment has a unique passive effect to differentiate each from one another. This could potentially create a situation in which the "ultimate sword of ATK +20% and fast MP regen" might not be as useful as the "not-as-ultimate sword of ATK +15% but with a higher crit rate."

A percentage effect would remain passive but ensure growth with the character with a minimum of work for the developer.
 

woootbm

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I've been working out a system in which items and equipment have a percentage-based effect. This makes items and equipment have the same relative effect throughout the game that still grows along with the character.

I'm doing a heck of a lot of this in my next game. I'm trying to give the player a lot of meaningful variety in a small amount of items (since the game isn't going to be a 70 hour epic). Doing so, of course, means you'll have to put more thought and design into each item, ideally.

It depends on what you're doing. If you want a giant game that feels like you constantly get upgrades the whole way, you may need to go that old school route and give the player a flood of tiny upgrades. If you're making a more reasonably sized game, having a crap-ton of items means you're going to be forcing the player to spend an inordinate amount of time combing through piles of garbage. Like, if your game is 10 hours long the player shouldn't be spending 2 of those hours managing their hoard.

On the point of evolving, you could look at something like an XP system for your items. Like you constantly gather items that allow you to level up the unchanging items on your character. For "epic" loot, you could then give the player a giant XP item that grants multiple levels. Or a gem system where the weaker gems are like +1 to whatever, but the epic ones give you some cool proc or ability. Or a ridiculous stat bonus like +20% crit.

I think the best advice would be to shop around looking at item systems in various games, and maybe consider taking (and modifying) the idea you like the most. I think items are one of the easier things to screw around with in this engine. Go nuts!
 

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I disagree that "the player chases higher numbers" is a problem unless the differences are so drastic that they eclipse subtle strategic considerations (or unless it's a competitive multiplayer game where these numbers create a pay-to-win/grind-to-win environment).

So I think with that in mind, the solutions become a lot wider for how to manage junk loot/"vendor trash", but if you insist on going the route of having equipment constantly evolve as you play, I think that a simpler version of the "Disenchanting" mechanic found in many MMOs is a good way to design that. When you find weapons/armor, you can either equip them (to replace what you're currently wearing), sell them (for gold), or disenchant them, which creates a special upgrade item, used to upgrade your current weapon/armor (from the same slot as what you disenchanted). That special item would upgrade the target equip's stats, and maybe would also transfer a single passive ability from the disenchanted item (or allow you to replace the passive from your current equip with the passive from the disenchanted equip).

Perhaps each equip can only receive a certain number of these upgrades before it's "full", which would not only solve the issue of potentially infinite scaling, but would also encourage players to occasionally (as in, every 10 hours of gameplay or so) switch the equip they're using. If you disenchant a "full" equip, it could create a special upgrade item that's better than the usual upgrade item - perhaps the stats it gives are equal to 20% of the equip it was created from, rather than a flat +1 or +3. This would be very interesting in that it creates Diminishing Returns - you might need to disenchant 5 weapons to create one "full" one, and disenchanting 5 full ones (requiring a total of 30 weapons disenchanted) would result in a somewhat more powerful weapon than a standard full one... disenchanting 5 of those (requiring a massive 155 weapons disenchanted) would result in a somewhat more powerful weapon than that, and so on. A fantastic "dangling carrot" to reach for in a postgame where players would already enjoy grinding.
 

Tech

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I'm liking some of these ideas.
So I can grab an equipment levelling script, a socketed equipment/Materia script, add a "jewler" NPC who can install new sockets on items, etc.
 

kirbwarrior

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Perhaps each equip can only receive a certain number of these upgrades before it's "full"
I like all the idea, but this specific part I want to focus on. Dark Cloud (and 2?) focuses primarily on evolving weapons. Loot ends up all over in ways it can increase your weapon, and weapons gain exp instead of you. The most important part to the discussion is Gems, which are large bonuses across the board. Because of the way things are set up, gems are basically as awesome in the first stage as the last, only in the post game starting to become less useful (just due to how huge the best evolutions can go).

But you can still get extra weapons. And like Wavelength pointed out, being able to turn those into special upgrades is effectively similar to (and in practice much better than) gems. The game even "teaches" you this in one stage; You can buy or get a sword for the main character that is much better than what you likely have. Use it! It's great! Oh, it can't ever evolve. Well, break it down and put it back on that weapon you were using before. Now you're that much closer to the next evolution (or maybe even the next after that!).

I disagree that "the player chases higher numbers" is a problem unless the differences are so drastic that they eclipse subtle strategic considerations (or unless it's a competitive multiplayer game where these numbers create a pay-to-win/grind-to-win environment).
I like how some games make it so you want to chase higher numbers early on (squeezing out advantage where you can) and slowly you start getting weapons where the STR bonus is no longer the main focus. For instance, even a small bonus to magic can let you play an entirely different strategy with a character for the rest of the game.

A friend of mine had a nice idea for weapons and armor, making it so they all are effectively even in balance (it's impossible to actually be perfect about it). That combined with "balanced" classes, you could beat the game entirely with starting gear. To make getting equipment exciting, the exciting gear is hidden away or must be bought. For instance, the "strongest" weapon in the game has enormous atk+% (the percent is obviously important), slowly increases crit rate in battle, and even drains 25% damage. That's awesome! Oh, it has 70% accuracy (far lower than anything else) and lowers defense (a paltry amount). Due to that low accuracy, it's not a regular weapon but a fun option and the upsides definitely make up for the downsides so it can seem better without actually being better (and, hey, combos are cool, you can't miss sleeping units, and there happens to be a boss that starts the battle asleep...).

socketed equipment/Materia script
Materia specifically were a nice balance of things. There was better and better armor and weapons, but they were actually kind of rare (at least weapons), and Materia Growth tended to matter more. Not only that, but Materia does a small amount modify stats, allowing you to lean on different strategies.
 

Wavelength

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I like all the idea, but this specific part I want to focus on. Dark Cloud (and 2?) focuses primarily on evolving weapons. Loot ends up all over in ways it can increase your weapon, and weapons gain exp instead of you. The most important part to the discussion is Gems, which are large bonuses across the board. Because of the way things are set up, gems are basically as awesome in the first stage as the last, only in the post game starting to become less useful (just due to how huge the best evolutions can go).

But you can still get extra weapons. And like Wavelength pointed out, being able to turn those into special upgrades is effectively similar to (and in practice much better than) gems. The game even "teaches" you this in one stage; You can buy or get a sword for the main character that is much better than what you likely have. Use it! It's great! Oh, it can't ever evolve. Well, break it down and put it back on that weapon you were using before. Now you're that much closer to the next evolution (or maybe even the next after that!).

I loved Dark Cloud 2! I'd hold it up as probably the best game I've ever played (even if I have a couple subjectively ahead of it that are personal faves). And I believe it was the first game that introduced this concept to me, of "spectrumizing" (disenchanting) fully upgraded weapons into something that could be attached to other weapons, making something stronger than either one could have ever gotten on its own.

That, combined with limited total power growth on a single weapon, made for a great balance between "stick with one weapon for a while" and "change weapons every once in a while".

For a game with fairly open-ended gameplay, it also did a fantastic job of teaching the player new stuff.

A friend of mine had a nice idea for weapons and armor, making it so they all are effectively even in balance (it's impossible to actually be perfect about it). That combined with "balanced" classes, you could beat the game entirely with starting gear. To make getting equipment exciting, the exciting gear is hidden away or must be bought. For instance, the "strongest" weapon in the game has enormous atk+% (the percent is obviously important), slowly increases crit rate in battle, and even drains 25% damage. That's awesome! Oh, it has 70% accuracy (far lower than anything else) and lowers defense (a paltry amount). Due to that low accuracy, it's not a regular weapon but a fun option and the upsides definitely make up for the downsides so it can seem better without actually being better (and, hey, combos are cool, you can't miss sleeping units, and there happens to be a boss that starts the battle asleep...).

I've toyed around with this idea before. The conclusion I came to was that it only works in a game that's less than about 5 hours long. Past that, what I think you'll often end up with is the player finding an equip they really like, and sticking with it for the entire game, no matter how much new stuff comes their way, since there's no burning need to switch. Any other gear they find (once they find something they like for each character) becomes vendor trash. Or maybe they try it once or twice just to see what it does, but most likely they'll revert to what they're used to, since it has informed their style of play so heavily.

Having enemies/areas that give huge (dis)advantages to certain types of gear can be one way to get the player to switch, but this verges into "twisting the player's arm" territory and it's never great to force your player to spend a lot of time using setups that they don't want to use. Again, in a <5 hour game, these habits won't set in so much, so this kind of design can be fine. The longer the game, the worse the mechanic becomes from either a variety standpoint or an enjoyment standpoint.

Materia specifically were a nice balance of things. There was better and better armor and weapons, but they were actually kind of rare (at least weapons), and Materia Growth tended to matter more. Not only that, but Materia does a small amount modify stats, allowing you to lean on different strategies.

Materia was pretty cool not only for its ability to modify both stats and skills (sometimes in interesting ways), but also for the way that the gear could have not only different stats, but different numbers of Materia slots and different ways of linking those slots. It made for reasonably simple but very intriguing differences in kind between different pieces of gear.

I'm very interested to see how the FF7 remake handles Materia. It was a very cool system in concept and it had an overall positive impact of gameplay. But it was woefully imbalanced, and it feels like they left a lot of potential on the table where certain effects/interactions were too difficult to implement. With 20 extra years of game design wisdom and practically unlimited time and resources to work with, I think it could be done a lot better, and I'm hoping they really take the chisel to it for the rework!!
 

kirbwarrior

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The longer the game, the worse the mechanic becomes from either a variety standpoint or an enjoyment standpoint.
Hmm, that is a good point. The other upside to a short game is the amount of equipment for game length. A 60 hour epic likely wants a ton of variety. But, it made me think, what if starting gear was somewhat random? If all gear is "balanced", then there's not actually a need to give the player access to always the same starting gear. Sure, that's still better for short games, but I also like games where replay is part of the game. For instance, I remember this game from long ago (just realized how long ago the PS2 came out...) that was about 1-2 hours in length but had five large overarching choices and tons of smaller ones that seeing every path and ending was how the game was set up.

it's never great to force your player to spend a lot of time using setups that they don't want to use
I agree. I'd rather make equipment that makes players want to change and try things out. That weapon I described before? Definitely too random for many people. Of course, doing that is much harder than saying it...

On the note of "constantly chasing higher numbers", I've liked the approach that getting stronger comes from leveling, while getting "better" comes from gear. FFX-2 has only accessory slots, and even though some are strictly better than others, it was incredibly important to gather as many across the board as possible so as to be able to change preparations. Mind, that game's big loot was new classes, which was always awesome even when it's not something you'll end up using.

On that note, rewards outside of better loot;
Money (which is better loot in a sense)
Other types of currency, from casino coins to Happiness crystals
Exp (which is better stats)
Other types of exp (for instance, if classes have JP or skills require their own exp)
Classes
Accessories (side changes can mean a lot)
Characters
Skills/Skill books
Direct stat increases (such as one use items that boost a stat or a story moment that increases them like Robo getting a massive Magic Defense boost in Chrono Trigger)
Consumables IF the game makes you want to use them (basically one use skills)
Trophies, ranging from achievements to alternate costumes to different speech options to New Game+
Relationship boosts

And that's just generic stuff, many games have unique things that then allow for new types of rewards.
 

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