If you have many, many party members, how do you encourage players to try some of them?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by atoms, Apr 30, 2019.

  1. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    One small thing I've always liked doing as a developer is just setting things up so everyone's level is basically the MC's level. Low levels can disincentivize using a new character, and I find removing reasons to not use someone is often enough to make people willing to try them out.
     
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  2. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Thanks for expanding your thoughts for me! I appreciate it.

    You may have coincidentally seen lazy design in a lot of games which use single-element characters, or perhaps you just don't like highly-specialized kits (a valid opinion but one I don't personally share). It's certainly true that if a single-element character can't do anything interesting within their one forte, the design will fall flat.

    Well-designed, though, I feel there are dynamics that single-element designs can achieve (assuming a party of more than one) that multi-element designs can't deliver as well. If we were to take, as an example, an 8-element system where each character could use 3 elements and a given enemy had 2 elemental weaknesses, that means that each character has a 64% chance of being able to target at least one of the enemy's weaknesses. (I believe the math is 1 - ((6 * 5 * 4) / (8 * 7 * 6)) but correct me if I've applied the wrong concept.)
    • When any given character has a two-thirds chance of being able to exploit a given enemy, I think it would be harder to encourage the party to spread out their attacks (most characters will be able to just nail the high-priority target with one of its two weaknesses)...
    • And even harder to encourage the player to switch around their party to take advantage of weaknesses (if the characters you're comfortable with can probably hit a weakness efficiently, why try out a character you're uncomfortable with, even if you know they have a 100% chance to hit a weakness?).
    • The changing attack/support dynamic can still work with multiple elements (just with more attackers and fewer supporters), like you described.
    Your (very good) advice of showing discovered weaknesses/resistances onscreen brings me to one of my own (single-element) game designs, where I take the next step of showing the player each battler's Element Rates onscreen at any time (no trial/error or scan ability needed). My ambition is to position weaknesses/resists solely as a strategic element that you can adjust your battle tactics around, and in the name of that I want to give the player information upfront. In addition, I tell the player upfront when they choose the random dungeon they want to explore which elements that enemies in that dungeon will most frequently be weak to. Since this game has you pick a party upfront when you enter a dungeon (can't change within), I think that these mechanics invite the player to try using characters they might not have normally selected, in order to open up lots of opportunities to hit weak points.


    I believe I mentioned this once before - but while I'm normally in 100% agreement with you that giving every single element "low damage single, low damage AoE, medium damage single, medium damage AoE, ...." is a terrible way to design a magic system, and that it's usually far better to have spells within the same class offer different types of utility from each other - I believe that Persona's system is so incredibly focused around its Elements and weak/resist mechanics that the other types of utility aren't really needed (and would essentially be bloat). It's a unicorn in RPG gaming; I've never seen another system I could say this about, but for Persona I really do believe it's true.

    The battles play out so differently if you have a character that could exploit a weakness vs. if you have two (with Joker) vs. if you don't have any at all, and it also matters a whole lot whether the character that can exploit the weakness will also be weak to the enemy's attacks. When a character can exploit the weakness, they become the star and other characters need to support them. When you're weak to an enemy's element, you may need to defend to avoid giving them the "1 More" (free turn). It creates a wild array of different battle situations and I think it's very nifty. And giving characters slightly different situational utility probably wouldn't change your decision-making when the Elemental matchups loom so large.

    It's a little disappointing that Persona offers no real way to know what enemies are coming (and therefore no way to pre-plan your party around them), so its mechanics don't really encourage the players to deviate from parties they're comfortable with (unless retrying a boss fight you've lost). But it does a great job using its elemental system to warp the strategy within each battle.
     
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  3. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @Wavelength : In persona3/4 you could say that more as they had only 4 elements + Hama/Mudo, but in 5 they went to 8 and lost the uniqueness of the elements completely. That is why I say Persona 5 is a bad way to do it. It worked just as well with only 4 + Hama/Mudo in Persona 4, adding Nuclear/Psi added zilch to the game or the mechanic whatsoever in my opinion and served to future dilute the element system into a blur where no character really matters.

    In other words, Persona 5 it felt like they added 2 new elements just to add them. It did not improve the mechanic at all.
     
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  4. kirbwarrior

    kirbwarrior Veteran Veteran

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    Another thought I had that at least applies to me as a player; If the game is worth replaying, then I'm already pushed to wanting to try out different characters to change up the experience. It's similar to wanting to try different classes in new playthroughs, which... mechanically there isn't much difference in approaching having a large cast vs having a large number of classes with a small cast. You can even limit when and how you change them in similar ways (for instance, "town only" makes sense for both).

    You could also look at Seiken Densetsu 3, which does the "large" cast a little differently; Instead of giving the player all characters, you only get enough to fill the active party through the entire game. To see the others, you'll want to restart and pick them (including picking another protagonist).
     
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  5. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Ah, yes - I agree about P5's elemental system being a bit of a step backward in that regard (although I do like the hit weakness -> Hold Up -> negotiations chain). I was hoping Nuclear and Psi would add something a little different, but they just expanded the system in scope without adding depth, and ended up making it less likely for characters (besides Joker) to reach that high point of being the star of a battle.

    I still think the Persona elemental system overall does a lot of good things for warping battles despite (and even because of) the lack of nuance in its skills, and that if more up-front info were given to the player about what types of enemies were coming up, would also go a long way toward encouraging the player to use their whole cast of characters instead of sticking with the same party of 4 throughout the second half of the game (like I do when I play Persona).
     
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  6. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    While I don't like highly specialized characters, I do like some degree of specialization. For example in my current game:
    • Character 1 (protagonist) limited support and moderate tank, but his main forte is dealing damage with 40% elemental coverage.
    • Character 2 is the ideal tank, but can change stance to go offensive. 20% elemental coverage and a decent debuffer.
    • Character 3 is the token healer/support, with extremely limited (10%) elemental coverage
    • Character 4 is the mage, with 50% elemental coverage. Also a superior magic tank, but squishy vs physical
    • Character 5 has 40% elemental coverage and is the best debuffer, no contest
    Since you can swap members anytime (even mid-battle!) I fully intend to design the later encounters in such a way that using every single character is the best strategy. (Or for superbosses, the necessary strategy)

    It could just be a difference of design philosophy, but I don't see the need to encourage players to spread out their attacks. Even against 3 of the same foe, the quicker you clear them out, the better in most cases. If AoE is widespread and easy to use, that'll be the go-to, but if not, it's always better to just burn down one at a time instead of fanning out the attacks. I mean, I've played a few games with autobattle, and although I'd have liked to use it, I avoided it because everyone just attacked random targets rather than grinding down one foe at a time.

    Honestly, I think FF6 handled this really well by splitting the story up in such a way that, at any given time, you're using different characters. So that new fellow you might not be familiar with is suddenly right there, in your party and thus you might as well get to know his skillset. Then toward the end of the game, you know what pretty much everyone can do.

    Thanks, although I'm still struggling on how to best execute this in my game. The idea itself is borrowed from the Epic Battle Fantasy series, but since's mouse-driven and my game is not, I don't get the luxury of mouseover and I don't want that clutter always on the screen. For now, it's just "use Libra and remember what you're fighting" which is still better than the guessing game.
     
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  7. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Indeed, it might come down to a difference in philosophy. I've always been of the mind that every strategic consideration should be a decision, not just a platitude. All things being equal, of course it would be better to burn down one foe at a time (so there are fewer to hit you as you clean up the rest) - which is why I think it deepens the strategy to have a counterweight (such as elemental rates) that encourage the player to divide their party's attention instead.

    Taken to an extreme, my philosophy can start to disintegrate any trace of actual design or intention in the combat system! But in moderation, I think it's a really good thing to keep the number of "live" options (as compared to clearly-wrong options) large at any given time.

    Of course if you have a narrative/game-structure way to force the player to work with different sets of characters, that solves the issue outright! :D (Although it also prevents the player from using certain characters they may like a lot during certain segments of the game).

    Where the narrative/game-structure doesn't lend itself well to that, or you want all characters available at all time, mechanics-based approaches such as well-designed Elemental Systems can be good solutions to encourage the player to mix up their party for different segments of the game, and I believe that single-element systems do usually work the best in that specific regard.

    I actually got and played through EBF3 ("the free one") a couple months ago, since you've been talking so highly about the series throughout our discussions. :) I found it cute and enjoyable.

    GUI is always hard to approach. What I'm doing in the game I mentioned before (where Element Rate info is freely available) is I have an area of the screen dedicated (during target selection) to the stats of the enemy or ally you are targeting: HP, MP, exact ATB amount, Stats (not a huge clutter since there are only 3 stats in my game), Status Effect icons, and Elemental Rates (like your screenshot but smaller). Since a character might not have an action that targets, say, another ally, I may add an action to the Action Menu called "Check" which can target anything (and does nothing and doesn't consume your action).

    A few games, such as Disgaea, use this kind of format where the target's stats and rates are displayed (if known), and I tend to like it.
     
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  8. Umbreon

    Umbreon Furry Veteran

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    From memory, when we have a new character with defined characteristics, Final Fantasy X made a scripted fight that allowed us to use the abilities specific to this character. For example, when we get Auron, which only has weapons that pierce armour, we are made to fight against armoured enemies by forcing the player to hit with tidus to see that it doesn't work.
    When you get rikku you are faced with totally new chest enemies, with Wakka, flying enemies, etc..
     
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  9. atoms

    atoms Veteran Veteran

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    Final Fantasy X, imo, did do a good job at differentiating each character uses, mechanically.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  10. MMMm

    MMMm Veteran Veteran

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    You could add a dating mini game where each "date" is unlocked after the specific character reaches a certain level. If the player wants to see all the cutscenes, they need to train their characters.

    Optionally, there could be secret dungeons where each character gets some expanded backstory and fights a boss from their past. And you can only go in there using the main character and that specific party member(s).
     
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  11. mathmaster74

    mathmaster74 just...John Veteran

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    I liked how KOTOR would occasionally give you some party chatter if you left the "base" with a particular pair of your 9 possible companions. That got me to try combinations. They never did this that I recall, but the same could be done if you leave a target pair behind...a cutscene for "Meanwhile, back at the base..." could almost be a reward for leaving certain persistently used characters behind. Example: There are two characters we've been with since the start of the game and they are so romantically bonded in the story up to now that when one of them falls sick at the camp and can't go on the next mission, the player has to decide whether to keep the other tried and true character in the party or have them stay with their love. Maybe the one who falls ill is the old standby healer and the other is the trusty front-line tank. If you're losing your healer already due to story constraints, do you replace your tank, too and give the others a try, or do you go for winning battles over role-playing the story here? This could be an opportunity for meaningful choice in a game, too. I believe some RPGs have done this sort of thing with positive effect, although I can't say I've played any or remember any such specific scenes. Making the newer characters easier on the eyes is enough for some. Giving newer characters abilities rivaling anyone thus far never hurts. Making them interesting so the player says "I want to know that one's story." can be a draw. There is always the "dead end unless we add X to the party" scenario that's been mentioned in other posts. Yeah, it's not popular, but if it's done right with some cutscene preface that hints you'll need them it will take sting out of "party died because you didn't know you needed X." The thing is, if I've gotta use them, then I want to have a reason why. Maybe X is just the wisecracker and I want to know what dialogue X will add to battle that no one else ever seems to because they're all too busy fighting to have turn-based dialogue. Mostly it comes down to: give new character added appeal of some sort or make the old characters lose appeal somehow.
     
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  12. DRG

    DRG Orange juice lover Veteran

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    In my game, most party members have a unique element, (like water, fire, etc.). so i accomplish this by having multiple enemies with different weaknesses inn the same area encouraging the player to switch out party members.

    As for the party members that don't have unique elements usually have different traits that make them worth while. Like tank has a skill similar to bide from pokemon. and he also has a taunt skill, meaning that he can protect other party members and deal good damage at the same time.

    there are also 3 support characters that have their own advantages. for example character 1 does a large amount of healing and can revive, but she can't heal multiple people at once and she doesn't have many skills that buff, only one really. character 2 a chemist who instead of healing, cures ailments and buffs the party while also being able to debuff the enemies. and character 3 is similar to character 1, can heal, but instead mainly heals groups of people at once, but in return she doesn't heal a whole lot and she can't revive.

    TL;DR
    make every character unique by giving them their own strengths and weaknesses. give them different roles like "buffer" and "group healer' so that there is an advantage to every single one. Also have a wide variety of enemies with a wide variety of weaknesses and strengths
     
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  13. Basileus

    Basileus Veteran Veteran

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    EDIT: I was half-asleep and ended up writing a kind of rambling wall of text. Editing to make it concise.

    I'm not sure what kind of game you are going for (and I haven't played a lot of games with massive casts like Suikoden or Chrono Cross) but it couldn't hurt to look at how mobile games handle huge rosters. I play Fate/Grand Order myself and I switch up between almost a hundred units regularly, partly because I actually have to and partly because I find myself wanting to.

    • Story: You need to give your characters presence in the story. They don't all need to be central to the plot, but they all need at least some point in the story where they can shine. FGO does this by having the story split into chapters with a main cast that is always around and different characters being relevant in each chapter. There are also character-specific side quests that offer additional backstory and development, but you really need some arc of the journey for each character to be relevant to for the player to want to do those side missions.
    • Niche: Your units have to stand out in some way. Having limited kits that can't solve every problem you throw at the player is a good way to do this. A lot of games do this through an Element/Affinity/Class/Typing system. FGO has 7 base classes and a few extra classes that all have rock-paper-scissors triangles of strengths and weaknesses. On top of that there are individual units that focus on single target damage, area of effect damage, and utility. With good mission design, it's not enough to just run a couple strong units you like - the player will actually need multiple units of each class to handle different kinds of challenges, plus good support units that can back them up.
    • Ease of Investment: Some of you may disagree with this, but if you have a massive roster I find that making the leveling process easy is a huge help in making more units viable. In FGO you don't level up through combat, you instead collect a consumable item (Embers) which give experience when you give them to a unit. This can rapidly level a unit if you collect a lot of them and it isn't too hard to save up a bunch. This means it isn't a huge time-sink to invest in a unit you aren't totally in love with on the off chance they could be useful eventually (and then you don't have the excuse of not using them because it would be a pain to level them). Other games make it really hard to bother investing in new units because it takes a very long time for them to catch up so you need to really want them to put in the effort to make them usable.
    • Rewards: When in doubt just give a reward for using units. In FGO your units gain "Bond Points" as you use them in battle and raising their bond level unlocks side missions (which can give buffs to their skills/special move) and valuable items. If you use a unit long enough you will unlock a unique equip item that offers special bonuses if equipped to that unit - some are extremely powerful and open up new options when using them, others aren't that great but are a great badge of honor for characters you really like. Just having this system is enough for a lot of players to rotate units frequently to maximize bond point gain and make sure they aren't missing out on any rewards.
    Obviously some of this is going to be pretty hard depending on the kind of game you are making. Segmented chapters may not gel well with a Final Fantasy style epic plot, but you can break up each step of that huge journey into arcs that feature a few characters at a time. Making all of your units usable at least shouldn't be a problem as these forums have a lot of helpful tips on balancing party members.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
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  14. ave36

    ave36 Veteran Veteran

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    I have 8 standard party members, 2 guest characters that join briefly for plot reasons, and possibly will add 1-2 secret party members.

    With standard party members, it's easy: each of them has at least a rudimentary plot. The least plot-important party members such as the ninja maid Kaori and the cat familiar Geas still have a role to play: for example, Kaori is a bodyguard to the quite plot important white magician chick Princess Melle, and Geas is the familiar of the main character, the dark knight Oscar. So they appear whenever their more plot important partners appear. Also, each of the mandatory characters has unique mechanics: the afirementioned Kaori is a Ninja, the only Ninja-class PC in the game, and Geas is a Blue mage, likewise, the only Blue mage in the game. So if you want to play these classes, you bring them into the party.

    Out of the 8 main cast members, each has their own unique class and plays like no other character. For example, Mira the Paladin and Melle the White Magician both have access to White Magic, but Mira is primarily a combat tank in heavy armor that hits for lotta damage with physical attacks and has weaker healing powers, while Melle is a physically flimsy caster chick that has barely any physical attack, few HP and no good armors, yet her healing and buffing spells are potent and diverse (she has Shell, Protect, Reflect, Exrevi and a lot of other spells Mira never gets). So you can't really say that "I don't need Melle, I already have Mira".

    Also, plot divides the party between two centers of gravity. There are Oscar's Friends (Oscar the Black Knight, Mira the Paladin, Nightwind the Thief and Geas the Familiar), and Agents of the Ruritanian Empire (Melle the Princess, Presto the Magician, Kaori the Ninja Maid and Solomon the Alchemist). Sometimes these two groups have different goals, the party splits, or one group is not available due to plot reason, so you switch to another party leader as center of gravity.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2019
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  15. Marquise*

    Marquise* Veteran Veteran

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    I just read too fast replies here but my first thought for your question would be that each of the many characters have their secret quests solo with their own skillsets for the mission they have to accomplish an a part of the game's lore and secrets.
     
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