How Long Is Too Long For Non-Combat "Exploration"?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by mobiusclimber, Jan 12, 2019.

  1. mobiusclimber

    mobiusclimber Veteran Veteran

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    I usually like to throw the player right into the action, or at the least, quickly be confronted with a conflict of some kind, so that the battle system gets shown off fairly early. But lately, I have been working on two different games where there's a lot more story and exploration and getting to the battles takes awhile. For me, I think it gives a certain feel to a game, depending on how it's done. In Dragon Quest VII, there's around two hours or more before the first enemy shows up, and it really sets up what is a very long, emotional game. One of my games is set up like an adventure game, and the combat isn't the focus at all. It's actually more like a survival horror game that builds the unease until finally monsters show up. My other game is the one I submitted to IGMC. I had to cut out a long scene of exploration (where you explore the reverend's house) which, I think, would have been enough to break up all the exposition. I'm really wondering tho if that would have helped or if there's just too much dialogue. How long do you spend setting up the conflict before you throw the player into the conflict? How do you decide what's necessary and when and where? Is it sometimes just too much walking around, talking to people and examining things with no fighting, and if so, where's the line?
     
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  2. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    This is literally "it depends"-the thread, because there is no set way to determine how much is too much or too little exploration. Anyhow, viewing this from the perspective of the average, traditional JRPG, since that's the most common type of title being made in RPG Maker, I'll just say:

    -Regardless of how much exploration you allow, the next step in the story should always be made clear. Exploration ceases to be entertaining if it comes down to aimlessly wandering around until you stumble upon the trigger to proceed with the story. People will explore if they like your world, but don't force it upon them.
    -The amount of exploration that people will tolerate depends on the quality of your world. Provide them with many things to do and to see, and people won't mind if they get to explore a bunch at once. If it's all the same, then, not so much..
    Have unique set pieces. Tease players with mystery, but not so much that it feels they're never getting anywhere getting answers to what's what. Tell interesting stories. etc etc.
    -Gameplay rewards are important, but shouldn't be the main draw, in my opinion. Things like item drops will incentivise even those who would normally not be into exploration a whole lot. If they're hidden items, make the rules for finding them consistent.
     
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  3. esterk

    esterk Lovable Rogue Veteran

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    There isn't a 'right' answer for this, I think it just depends on what kind of game you are making. But I think it is very important for the beginning of the game to set the expectation for the player. For example, if combat isn't a big focus, make the first encounter take a while to get to, and even then, make sure the player knows (through cutscenes, dialogue, etc) that it's not a frequent occurrence. You don't want 3 hours of exploration, cutscenes, talking to people, etc, and then suddenly the game takes a heel-turn and becomes an encounter every 2 minutes, unless the player somehow knows that is coming. Don't make your players invest time into an experience and then pull the rug out from under them.

    Another important aspect is how entertaining the exploration is. Many games rely on battles because they are usually exciting and give the players more interaction. If they have to sit through 3 hours of talking heads with nothing entertaining to watch or do, it's going to be boring. Spice up cutscenes with fancy eventing, have choices/freedom for the players, change the environments, etc. so that if they are going to be doing things other than battles for a while, that they are still engaged.

    Bottom line is that the player need to be engaged - it doesn't matter if it's 3 hours before the first battle or 3 minutes. Keep them entertained and set the right expectation and you are already on the right track.
     
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  4. artoni

    artoni Writer, Editor Veteran

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    Chiming in with agreement on the 'it depends' front.

    For my current project, the random battles are - in a sense - time for the player to digest the story; they're not meant to be incredibly complex, more of basic obstacles to add to the sense of subtle accomplishments as you progress. A reason to 'reward' the player with more story, once they get through from point A to B.

    If you speed through things, you can get to the inciting incident in around 7 minutes, depending on variables/how thorough you are with exploring. Said exploring is optional to give you more to the initial starting village, and some backstory/feel for how village life is. It's not required by any means, but there are a few rewards (eg; chests) for doing it. Again, though, 100% optional.

    For me, I ask myself a few questions;
    ---What is the player getting out of this segment?
    ---Why should they bother taking their time/not speeding through?
    ---Is there something else for the player to do if they get bored?

    Since I'm associating the money, too, with loot drops - eg, you sell bat wings/monster fangs for silver - it gives a reason for the player to grind, but are these battles too monotonous/long? Etc.

    Ah, the thrills of balancing...
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
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  5. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    I'd say it depends not so much on when the first enemy appears, but when the "prison bars" finally open. What I mean by that is the time it takes for me to be mostly in control of where my character goes so that I feel like I'm playing a game, not watching cutscenes or being dragged from A to B to C. In many RPGs, this equates to reaching the point where I can start exploring the world map. In a game without a world map, it'd be more about when I can feel like I finally have (partial) free reign to move around the areas and explore.

    As for setting up conflict, you don't have to frontload the whole thing. I think FFVI sets up the conflict really well by feeding the player spoonfuls of conflict throughout the game that slowly builds up. After its horrendously-dull intro, FF4 gradually builds its conflict well, too. The players don't need to be chasing the Big Bad or off to save the world right from the start.

    Now for exploration, 3 hours of exploration with no combat is fine as long as that exploration is interesting and engaging. If it's "3 hours of wandering around, either along a rail from A to B or through a tiring maze, both with little to interact with, then no thanks. If along the way, there's NPCs to talk to with fun dialog, puzzles to solve, bits of lore/humor to discover, hidden loot to find, etc, then that's going to be a lot more interesting.
     
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  6. Andar

    Andar Veteran Veteran

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    Let's ask a different question - why do you think you need combat at all?

    As others said before, it depends on a lot of different things - including what kind of game you want to make and for what kind of target audience you're making that game.
    There are a lot of games out there (although usually in a 3D engine) that have only exploration and absolutely no combat at all, and those are as successfull as grindfests where the combat is rarely interrupted by three lines of story text. Those games are targeted at different players however.

    So decide what kind of game you want and set the amount of exploration accordingly. There is only one thing that you must avoid at all costs:
    Do not change the average content percentages at any time in your game.

    If you start the game with a focus on exploration and have only one fight every 20 minutes, then keep the fights rare in your game - and if you focus on battles early then keep that focus later.
    That is exactly because different players prefer a different focus on their games, and a player that likes exploration will drop your game fast if it turns into a grindfest after three hours of playing. Or the other way arount a grinding player will be bored if there is suddenly a sequence without fights.
     
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  7. Black Pagan

    Black Pagan Veteran Veteran

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    Well, I once saw a Youtube video saying the average attention span of a Casual Gamer was found to be anywhere between 5 ~ 15 Minutes. Beyond that, People tend to lose interest in whatever they are involved in, as long as it remains the same level of "Linear Fun". Personally, I think it is wrong to make the Player wait for a long time before the First Battle, Knowing that the Game involves Battles. I would want my first Battle to happen within the first 5 Minutes of starting a Game, In-fact the sooner the better !!!

    I have no complains even if you skip the entire Story and simply start the Game with a Battle in the first 30 secs of starting a Game ! But there are certainly exceptions to this rule for sure. One game i can think of among many would be Pokemon Games. You wouldn't start Battle till you wandered from your house, Explored the Map, Found Professor Oak, Discovered him back at Lab and after having been given the Pokedex (Correct me if i'm wrong).
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
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  8. artoni

    artoni Writer, Editor Veteran

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    Oak's in Red/Blue. ;)
     
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  9. Marquise*

    Marquise* Veteran Veteran

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    I've seen entire games without combats and never got tired of them ^^
     
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  10. Seirein

    Seirein Veteran Veteran

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    Persona 4 starts off with an hour of brainless garbage.

    As typical of these sorts of questions, "too long" is "any length" when it comes to a game someone wants to whine about and there's no such thing as "too long" if it's a game that person likes. So do whatever you want and just hope the vocal minority of the gaming community doesn't want to invent reasons to crap on everything you do.
     
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  11. Elissiaro

    Elissiaro Veteran Veteran

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    Well, there are games that don't have any combat at all so... It all depends on how fun and engaging your exploration is.
     
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  12. synchronicity

    synchronicity Veteran Veteran

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    Honestly, the length for non-combat exploration depends on your world building and characters for me. If you have a lively setting, lots of NPC's, some quests to participate in that aren't related to battle at all, exploration can be a lot of fun, even early in the game. It also depends on the characters that you have, and if it feels realistic for them to not be fighting until later in the game. Maybe you have a character that doesn't leave the town walls for a long time, in which case fighting would be unnecessary until then. Or maybe you have a character that isn't a fighter in the beginning and has to learn those skills later on. Small things like that can definitely influence whether or not a battle is necessary.

    In contrast, I've seen some games where they throw you into a battle during one of the initial cutscenes, and while this can be effective sometimes, I often find it disorienting. I'm more of a story kind of player, myself, so fighting without an idea as to why or who I'm playing or what's going on isn't always enjoyable to me. I kind of like to get a feel for the world I'm going to be immersing myself in first.

    Really, it comes down to your marketing of the game as well. If you market your game as having a great battle system and put all your emphasis on that, and then nobody even sees a battle for the first hour of the game, they're going to be a little impatient with what you have them doing instead, and they may not even make it that far into your game.

    And if you're going to have heavy exploration, there should be lots of things to interact with during this. As nice as some maps might be in some of the RPG Maker games, most people don't wander around just to look at the scenery. Give them incentive to want to explore, things that they can find, or that your character can comment on when they interact with it. Stuff like this can distract people from realizing they haven't done anything more than walk around the map looking at stuff, at least for a while.

    But if you're going to have a heavy exploration focus in your game, you want to have a solid story and characters. It doesn't have to be complex necessarily, but just something that your players can get lost in. One of my personal pet peeves from games is when you're expected to spend a lot of time exploring or doing fetch quests to get the next piece of the story. And I love exploring and doing fetch quests! So if you can inject bits and pieces of your story between tasks, and make it feel like there's not hours between story developments, that goes a long way as well and theoretically your exploration segment can go on as long as you want it to there.
     
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  13. Kupotepo

    Kupotepo Fantasy realist Veteran

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    @mobiusclimber, Please tell us here what is your game are all about. So people here do not have been hesitant to answer without feel like being wrong and keep tying "it depends"
    I think you could through the main character in the battle right away. It is a conflict. Many disagreements are conflicts. I think right away or a little prologue would be enough for players to know what is going on.
    Just keep the switch from a cutscene, battle, and a little walking. Human attention span 5-12minutes: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science...attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/

    I do not think there are too much walking around rather than meaningless walking around. I think if you playtest the game, you will laugh and know when it put you into sleep. You probably need to cut it out from the game. I hope that helps you somehow.
     
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  14. mobiusclimber

    mobiusclimber Veteran Veteran

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    I'm honestly more putting this topic out there just to hear how other people feel about it and what they do in their own games and what they like in other people's games.

    As for my games, I have been working on one that is a horror/adventure/RPG set in a school. I have put in over 100 hours of work on the game (for about half an hour of gameplay XD) without having gotten to a single battle. There is no way to put a fight in before then unless I want to do "it was all a dream" or something. I'm not too worried about it, but I do think that some people will play the game for awhile and decide it's an adventure game until they get hit with a random battle after an hour of just walking around, solving puzzles and talking to people.

    The other one is In League With The Devil, which I worked on for the IGMC, and which has been criticized by a couple people for having a very long intro. Part of the problem is it's repetitious (with similar things being said different ways) and having people spell everything out, which is a failure on my part for putting in placeholder text and dialogue and not getting around to re-writing it. The other problem was skipping an important bit of exploration in favor of more fairly unnecessary exposition. I pretty much know in what ways I messed up here and how to fix those issues, but it got me thinking about how the game doesn't open with a battle and there's no battle for quite awhile. Some games do this well, and others do it poorly. But at the same time, I know some people just skip text, or might read a little bit and then get bored. While I'm not like that (if the game is engaging, it's usually bc of the storyline and I don't want to skip it), there have been times where there's just too much writing. A good example is in some of the Elder Scrolls games, in particular ESO. There are books everywhere that can be read, which usually do nothing to advance the plot or really do much more than add "flavor." Frankly, at the risk of sounding white, there's too much flavor. I ended up dreaming of boiled chicken. So there's where I had the thought to make this topic.
     
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  15. Lornsteyn

    Lornsteyn Sleepy Dragon Veteran

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    Im more a fan of right into the action, maybe a bit talk before, 5-15 minutes should be fine.
    I think its good if the player gets the control as early as possible.
     
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  16. Marillmau5

    Marillmau5 Veteran Veteran

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    I'd say it's like video editing. You have to feel it out. Go by instinct.
     
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  17. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Five minutes.

    Well... it depends.

    First of all, I assume you're asking about the introduction sequence, rather than how long is too long between combat/action at any stretch in your game, right? If your game has some action in it, then it's important to add some action as part of your build-up, and the first fifteen minutes are so important - with the first five minutes being even more prime space in the player's mind.

    Think about a couple of beloved works that didn't do this. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was very well-liked but most fans agree that the first ~100 pages or so (until Harry goes to Hogwarts) were kind of boring. Persona 4 started with two hours of its biggest strengths (character-building and atmospheric exposition), but left out any action, and this is widely considered to be the single weakest part of the game. For what it's worth I disagree with these fans - I was already intrigued by Sorcerer's Stone by Page 20, and enjoying the characters and story of Persona 4 in the first couple of hours to the point where I was actually disappointed when I had to 'play' the game. So there are people out there like me that will like this initial slow burn when it's done well, but apparently not enough of them to make it a good idea in general.

    Also consider that there are games whose action is the exploration or the narrative buildup. Games like Firewatch, or to some extent games like Oxenfree or Detroit: Become Human. These games don't arbitrarily chop up their storytelling with combat or any type of really 'gamey' mechanics (Detroit sort of does with finding clues, but not to the extent that RPGs do). If this is what is truly special about your game, then there's an argument to streamline and purify the game until it's all about that. And this genre of Exploration games has a big enough following that it's no longer important to add some kind of combat action into the first few minutes of this type of game.

    But in general, for RPGs, two quick scenes is a good way to do it - one cutscene, one tight (even outright claustrophobic) scene with exploration - by the third scene, five or so minutes in, introduce the most actiony part of your game, which is usually the combat.
     
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  18. mobiusclimber

    mobiusclimber Veteran Veteran

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    That's the thing: I like and respect games that build a world first before having "action" segments, when it's done right and makes sense. I like all the buildup in Sorcerer's Stone. So for me, I don't have a problem with it. Obviously it has to be interesting and entertaining, but I'm generally fine with spending time in the game world without there being battles. And I do like some adventure games. I just don't usually get ideas that are purely adventure. I try to let the game be what it's going to be. If it makes sense to not have combat, then yeah, chuck that out. When there is a lot of buildup, I have to ask myself "is this detail or that bit of information necessary to give out right now?" Basically, what needs to happen before battles can start happening. Sometimes, it's "not a dayum thing." I have one game I'm working on where demons break out of hell, so the first thing in the game is a boss battle! Other times, it just wouldn't make sense to start with something like "monsters are attacking!" when the world hasn't been established and there are distinct things that have to happen for the monsters to show up.
     
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  19. Kupotepo

    Kupotepo Fantasy realist Veteran

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    @mobiusclimber, I think if you are a good writer and can hook the player right away to the long build-up of a story. I advise against and some of the others advise against because I see many of game of the past which the games are just information dump with an overwhelming feeling.

    If you are feeling like you want to that, just do it ok. Do not worry until your game is finished. I will wait and see your game finished, so I give a personalized answer to you. I think most of the RPG game that tries to build up the feeling that way fail because of most of the game developers are lack deep knowledge of sociology, psychology, and history. It is not relatable or it does not make sense.

    Wait to see your game!
     
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  20. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    I dunno, if there are a lot of cool things out there to do while exploring, there's not necessarily a hurry before the next combat.

    If the game is mostly combat, you should tightly control the exploration-to-combat ratio. There is a kind of golden story structure that can apply to stories of differing lengths, such as entire novel or an adventure module in a tabletop RPG.
     
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