Large EXP Gaps to Control Level Progression

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Titanhex, Feb 10, 2018.

  1. Titanhex

    Titanhex Do-It-All Veteran

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    So, wasn't entirely sure how to phrase this kind of system. But lets take a look at a simple system that exists in a few games. Primarily, I've seen it in oldschool western RPGs. I'm sure the spirit of the system still exists but in much subtler ways.

    So, the idea is simple. Monsters in Dungeon A give 5XP to 10XP.
    Level 1 = 50XP (50)
    Level 2 = 110XP (60)
    Level 3 = 180XP (70)
    Level 4 = 260XP (80)

    Level 5, however, is a huge jump.
    Level 5 = 460XP (200)

    Fortunately, the monsters in Dungeon B give 20XP to 30XP. This effectively caps Dungeon A at Level 4, and getting to level 5 there is inefficient. Of course, the monsters in Level 5 are slightly more difficult, but not by the 5x to 2.5x. More like 1.25x harder.

    In order to keep the player from rushing to the next level to grind, there are plenty of incentives that can keep the player in the current dungeon and a difficult boss that is made easier by a new skill or stat increase at level 4.

    This is a very cookie-cutter system, but it's used so often because it's effective when starting out.

    My question is, how do you feel about this kind of system?
     
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  2. Leon Kennedy

    Leon Kennedy Restaff Novice Restaff

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    It just makes the most sense. In any game [let's use pokemon as example] if you could just battle the beginner level monsters outside the first town the entire game and get to max level that would be to overpowered. [You COULD do that but it would take a century]. This level system is probably the best way to go about level progression.
     
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  3. velan235

    velan235 Veteran Veteran

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    me personally hate that. I can't remember the title , but there are some games that gives you 1 digit exp with next level on 1xx . It gives me an unpleasant feeling just by looking at it. feels like next random battles just waste my time , (especially RPG with long battle start animation sequence).

    this kind of system is well executed for suikoden. the combat is fast , and they even give you 'let go' option to practically skip the fight.. also in suikoden , reaching the cap actually pretty fast (because of 60++ characters roster too). from your example , there are still a lot of effort even before the "soft cap".

    if you really need to cap the player , mana khemia is a good example. in battle you gain AP , AP is used to assign bonus stats in your grow book. the node in your grow book need to be filled with crafted item before you assign your AP (ex. iron sword , atk+3). the cap is that iron sword can only be crafted on chapter 2 onward (let's say the iron material is not available in chapter 1). this way, player doesn't feel punished because they still gain AP and can stock them for future node, and roughly they stats is "capped" based on available node (and newly unlocked node) in every chapter
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
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  4. Wavelength

    Wavelength Mo Daylight, Mo Problems Veteran

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    This kind of arbitrary "break" or gap in the progression seems to me like the use of a very poor tool in service to a decent goal (tight rubberbanding of player power in relation to the newest enemies).

    It's best to keep the rules as consistent as possible. Just like no one wants to have their Attack Buff skill give a 50% ATK bonus and then arbitrarily only give a 20% buff after a certain point... no one wants to be earning Level-Ups at a certain clip and then have clip dramatically slowed down at an arbitrary point!

    A much better tool to use here would be a generally steep but consistent EXP curve. Consider a very EXP curve like the following:
    Level 2: 50 XP
    Level 3: 100 XP (in total, meaning +50 XP after level 2)
    Level 4: 200 XP (in total, meaning +100 XP after level 3)
    Level 5: 400 XP
    Level 6: 800 XP
    Level 7: 1600 XP
    ...and so on...

    The enemies in the first dungeon (where the intended level is 1-3 and the designer expects you to fight about 10 fights) grant about 15 XP apiece. The enemies in the second dungeon (intended level 4-6, again approximate 10 fights) grant about 60 XP apiece. The enemies in the third dungeon might grant 400 XP apiece, and so on. Even if the player grinded 70 battles in the first dungeon instead of 10, they'd only make it to Level 5 instead of Level 3, whereas in a system with an arbitrary gap you'd hit a weird point in the excess grinding cycle where it went from "hardly effective at all" to "all of a sudden very effective again".

    The curve probably doesn't need to be this steep (instead of x2.00 XP to reach each level, x1.50 to x1.75 would probably do), but you can see that even with this quick rate of increase that enforces relatively strict rubberbanding, it still feels far more consistent and fair than an XP table with large and arbitrary gaps.
     
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  5. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Even the EXP curve in RPGMaker works kinda like that if you tinker with the Acceleration and Base rates. Look at the EXP needed to next level, and there is a pretty steep jump once you get into the 30's. Sure only 50 EXP to level 2 seems nice, but with 1723 EXP needed for Level 10, even a 10 EXP slime isn't going to feel as worth fighting as it did when you were level 1 (5 battles to level up vs 173.2).

    With some good math and tinkering of the EXP rewards, you can effectively achieve this without too much trouble, and without making the gaps feel too strange either.
     
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  6. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    Honestly? I don't like such systems.

    1. They're punishing me as a player, for the dev's poor design choices.
    2. They keep me from wanting to engage in battle against anything EXCEPT the strongest enemies, which means your combat is less about strategy and more about stats.
    3. They create many... many more problems than they solve.

    So, what're you trying to solve? "Players gain power too quickly and unbalance the game". Okay, basic thing most devs want to solve. Smarter ones don't immediately jump to "punish the player for engaging in ways to gain power".

    But, let's look at our options for your problem here:

    1. You could decentralize your stats so that combat revolves less around your stats (also known as "power") to beat enemies and your game revolves more around tactics, strategy, available consumables, party composition, etcetera.
    2. Rework skills so that the vast majority don't just do higher and higher amounts of damage without some kind of measure to keep their power in check so that new skills don't break your game. You could also rework the vast majority of your skills to take advantage of weaknesses or of changing the flow of battle so that you don't have instances where a player has Fire Level 4 and is destroying low level content with it early on.
    3. You could balance boss fights better and have them revolve around mechanics and gimmicks instead of HP and Damage. It is entirely possible to create enemies that ignore your very high Attack stat, or it does very little damage to them, regardless of player level. It is also possible to design enemy skills that work regardless of the player's stats or levels.
    4. Reward less stats per level than you otherwise would, turning the game into something about which equipment you have instead of how high of a level you are.

    That's just four ways to fix it off the top of my head without resorting to "punish the player".

    In general, these systems used to exist because older games on consoles just didn't have the memory necessary to do anything more interesting. Likewise, most early video games were "power fantasies" since you couldn't do anything remotely close to "true RPGs" (like tabletops). The reason they have persisted so long is because it is generally very easy for a dev to implement them (see: lazy). "It's easier to balance when you gate levels". Well, yeah, it is... But, you're also hurting your players by doing so. Namely, you're effectively punishing them for deciding to spend some extra time grinding out monsters or loot so they can do the one thing they want to do: Skip Your Boring Combat.

    Let's look at that for a moment. What are reasons players will engage in Grind themselves?

    1. They don't like the combat system, so they gain some extra levels so that they can steamroll anything in it and get to the parts they do like: Exploration, Story, Mechanics, Etcetera.
    2. Combat has been difficult for them, so they intend to gain a few extra levels to make combat much easier on them in the future in order to feel less frustrated with frequent losses.
    3. The boss monster stomped them into dust last time, so they want to gain 3 or 4 levels and attempt it again, with the perception that they are now standing on much more even ground. If it is still not even enough, another few levels will push them over the top.
    4. Loot. Rare Drops. Got to have them. They are invaluable later. Or, maybe you just like to collect everything in the game.
    5. Currency. Need some money in order to buy the best gear in town, which is invaluable. Maybe grind out a lot more money for the next few towns so that a player doesn't have to worry about money for a while.
    6. Aiming for a goal with their level. Evolution with Pokémon, spells/skills for some games... AP/JP for Classes/Jobs... XP for equipment... Points to learn new skills... Etcetera.

    Okay, now, when you try to punish the player for engaging in voluntary grind... You are shutting down those six things. You are figuratively sticking up your middle finger at your players. You are telling them, "you will play the way I intended. If you don't, your fun will grind to a halt because every other way to play my game I've gone out of my way to make as terrible, horrible, and pointless as possible".

    I don't know about anyone else, but I usually quit those kinds of games. I get bored of those games. Fast.

    Why do so many devs keep brining this subject up? Why do they keep thinking they have to limit how much XP is gained and how many stats a player gets just to "retain the challenge"? Why do so many devs keep treating players as if they are the enemy?

    I'm serious, I'd like to know. Is it because poor planning on the part of the dev has made all of their combat revolve 100% around stats and any deviation in what they predicted absolutely destroys the "challenge"? If so, I think that's more a problem with your combat system and the way you've designed your game, and not with whether or not players decided to grind and break the challenge for themselves, because they knew they could, because they knew you designed your game poorly.

    See, here's the thing:

    There is already incentive for players to not grind low level monsters. You don't need to exacerbate it. You don't need to make it more pronounced. You don't need to make it obvious you hate your players. When do players move on to the next group of monsters? When they feel like they're not "progressing" enough. Namely, when they stop having fun. In a system that doesn't go out of its way to punish players... A default system that leaves XP gains as what they were... Players naturally move on, on their own. Eventually, they get tired of killing the Rabbits that give 5 XP. All by themselves. Via natural progression. Level 2 required 25 XP, so they killed their 5 rabbits. Level 3 required 35 XP, so they killed 7 more rabbits. Level 4 required 55 XP, so they killed their 11 rabbits. Level 5 required 70 XP and they decided... "No, I'm bored with rabbits. I'm going to move on. They don't drop anything I want or need, and 5 XP isn't worth it". 23 Rabbit kills was plenty for them. They didn't like the prospect of killing another 14 and bringing that total up to 37 rabbits murdered just to get to Level 5. Not when they could move forward and kill something that offered 10 XP instead. Players naturally find the most efficient ways to play your games.

    If a player can get a ton of XP to gain levels for minimal effort, they will do so. Sure, the Dragon might grant 2000 XP per kill, but it takes roughly 3 minutes to kill of game time and about 8 turns. It's a large chunk of XP to be sure... But, why kill that when the player can kill 20 monsters of 100 XP a piece in the same 3 minutes? Or, even less? Killing them in a single turn? Maybe less than a turn? With no risk to themselves? One of these options is clearly better.

    Personally, if you want the player to keep moving forward in your game, punishing their grinding isn't the way to do so. You need to incentivize moving forward in the game, moving to the next dungeon, not spending time grinding. You don't need to punish the player's choice to grind out a few extra levels.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I hate when devs make a lot of design decisions that obviously exist because I'm "the enemy" and need to be tightly controlled, monitored, had my hand held, need to be led by the nose, and saved from myself. Invisible walls? Yeah, prevent me from breaking your events or going to places you don't want me to go. XP that scales downward as I gain levels? Yeah, prevent me from grinding out levels, destroying your very "simplistic" and "lazy" challenge that revolves entirely around stats. Large gaps of XP as my levels get higher, requiring me to kill 3x as many enemies as I just did in order to gain the next level? A worse version of the scaling XP that accomplishes the same thing. Keeping me from breaking your "challenge", which only exists because you couldn't figure out how to make combat more interesting than doing math. Quests that don't trigger because I tried to skip steps and solve them early? Yeah, thanks, trying to keep your narrative intact by destroying any player agency I had. The list just goes on and on. I just don't enjoy it.

    As a player, I don't enjoy being treated as "the enemy". I don't enjoy the devs taking out their lack of ability to create a game on me, the player.

    If you're worried about combat challenge, as a dev, why are you so worried about players gaining extra levels? Why not worry about whether or not your combat is a challenge regardless of level instead? Gimmicks. Combat puzzles. New Mechanics. New ways to think about Old Mechanics. Why is the first thought to devs, "I need to keep my players from grinding out extra levels and breaking my challenge"? Why isn't it, "This combat will be challenging unless they've got an extra 10 levels on this enemy"? Is it because it's a lot of work to create a good combat system? To create one that doesn't revolve around raw stats? Lots of hours of Test Play?

    Anyway, that's my two cents.

    /rant
     
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  7. HeathRiley

    HeathRiley Veteran Veteran

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    I don't mind this to an extent, its always ok to increase how much is needed to the next level and I think players will expect that. Its ok to make jumps in how much exp the enemies give, but you may not want to go too far. I personally don't mind stopping players from ranking up on a low level mob. Its best to use a combination of the two. Require a bit more exp, and have the monsters give more exp gradually.
     
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  8. lianderson

    lianderson Veteran Veteran

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    Instead of going from 5-10 to 20-30, make them go from 5-10 to 6-12. This will give the player the choice to grind weaker monsters for EXP or stronger monsters for items.

    Also, this fixes your power scaling problem without any arbitrary jumps.
     
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  9. Wavelength

    Wavelength Mo Daylight, Mo Problems Veteran

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    @lianderson Have you ever seen a complete, well-balanced game that did this? Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me like this would only work if there were thousands of items so that you could introduce significantly better ones in every single new location, and even then, the party's level is more likely to be far different than you expect as a designer at any given point with such as flat EXP curve so either the balance would need to be almost entirely skill-based, or the Levels would need to provide a very miniscule amount of the player's total power budget.
     
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  10. Martin_Arcainess

    Martin_Arcainess Emperor Veteran

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    Super Paper Mario had a system where after a while, enemies would give you 5 exp but then once you leveled up enough they won't give you any more or just give you 1 thus forcing the player to move to the next area. Well say force, why would you be grinding away all day in the LV1 cave where the next Lava Cave will get you to higher levels quicker?

    FF8 had a similar system where you always need 1K exp to level up and the exp gained is dependent on your LV vs the enemies LV and a few other things as well. So the higher the level the enemy is the more exp you gain and monsters would level up with you so you can grind the same area over and over again but I don't think you get as much as you would when you first started? I'm not 100% sure how FF8 exp worked but it was a good system.
     
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  11. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    Paper Mario's system was also "gain 100 XP, you gain a level", so their system worked well. Every level was 100 XP. The only thing that changed was weaker enemies gave less XP.

    FF8's level up system was actually there to punish players who grinded out levels. Enemies scaled so massively in response to your level that the best way to play the game was to do all the tests to maximize money gained, draw magic and never kill enemies in random battles, and slap those spells on your stats to become overpowered.
     
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  12. Martin_Arcainess

    Martin_Arcainess Emperor Veteran

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    Ah FF8, I'd given it credit for trying something new but yeah my god was it broken.
     
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  13. lianderson

    lianderson Veteran Veteran

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    That's a good post, but I feel you misinterpret the exp rate I presented. (perhaps due to my lack of explaining it)

    5-10 to 6-12 is a 20% exp increase. Which means the next tier of enemies would be 7-14, then 9-18, then 11-22, etc, etc. So realistically, this isn't too crazy sounding.

    Also, items don't have to be items, they can also be gold or AP or JP or whatever other power currency you got going on besides EXP. (this wasn't explained in my original post, so I'm not holding you to that either)

    As for the games that do this, the Dark Souls franchise comes to mind. As does MMOs, Dragon Warrior I, and if you sit down and think about it, Final Fantasy Tactics. And I'm certain there are a lot more games that rely on slow enemy exp growth as opposed to arbitrary exp walls. But honestly, both can be fine. I just personally recommend the first one.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
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  14. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    @Tai_MT

    Okay, so what is the point of levels then at all? Why not just make attacks to a percent of enemy HP and have "tough" enemies regenerate some level of HP? I don't get how challenge revolving around stats is "simplistic" or "lazy" even if you implement gimmicks being able to one shot the enemy destroys the challenge, while if leveling up has next to impact that a level 1 enemy still doesn't go down in 1 hit at level 20 then why bother leveling at all? Lets say you have to kill all enemies at once to progress, at level one this means weakening them all and finishing them with an AOE at level 10 it just means using the AOE which destroys that idea, unless it still leaves them alive, if it doesn't even save you an extra turn then whats the point of gaining levels at all. Your points contradict one another if grinding 3 or 4 levels makes a boss easier, then your system falls into the "simplistic and lazy" design you spend most of the story blasting, if grinding makes the game easier at all then it'd be "simplistic and lazy" as it means the challenge was "based on raw stats". What you've said doesn't work together as it is. I think you'd need further elaboration for this to make any sense. Normally I agree which challenge based on tactics, and I prefer when games require more turn to turn thought than preparation, but I think that if combat challenges are the same regardless of level or that leveling doesn't make encounters easier then you might as well not even have it.
     
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  15. Titanhex

    Titanhex Do-It-All Veteran

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    @Tai_MT You're overthinking it. You're also adding a lot more to it than is actually there.
    I also stopped reading your post half way through. There were way too many weird tangents and it was getting too long and going nowhere.

    @lianderson Yea, basically. It's all about what the player does and doesn't notice. All these systems basically do the same thing, scale the game's challenges. AP, JP, Gold, EXP, they all function to enforce scaling in the game. The more you have, the more subtle the scaling and changes can be to keep the player from noticing. However, more issues are introduced with each, which can compound and hurt your ability to keep the game under your control without strong organization skills and design experience.

    While gates and walls may seem intrusive, they also serve as a way for developer's to communicate to the player. That communication is "This is not where you should be" or "You are ready to move on." Sometimes, both. And, as always, the more clearly they're represented, the more likely the player will catch on. After all, who likes an invisible wall?

    A more subtle growth of EXP, instead of a sudden jump in EXP, may have the player performing a less optimal task for a longer period of time because they haven't yet noticed the slow-down.
     
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  16. BigEd781

    BigEd781 undefined method 'stupid_title' found for nil:NilC Veteran

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    If exp curves were linear and exp / enemy type never changed there would be little incentive to not just sit in older content and power level. You have to have _some_ way of making old content irrelevant.
     
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  17. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    I think something that may be missed is that if EXP growth doesnt increase exponentially, grinding actually becomes faster until a certain point where battles are ended in 1 move, but this might mean that beating 30 of the same enemy takes just slightly more (you have to find the encounters) time than defeating 5. At this point grinding is extremely efficient and will likely snowball ouy of control as it takes less and less time to reach that point each time you reach a new area. Even with things like combat gimmicks, a battle designed for 2 turns will be boring if its done in 1, and if grinding doesnt reduce the number of turns it takes to win then its usless unless the battle was on the edge where you needed luck to win before or it took too many resources for it to be feesible beforehand.
     
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  18. lianderson

    lianderson Veteran Veteran

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    Honestly, just about every EXP system is workable. So unless we get the details on your specific exp system, and what you want to do with it, we're all just designing in the dark here.

    In short, we'd need to open up your game and/or play it to give you any meaningful advice. (which of course is best reserved for those close to you, instead of this forum thread with all of us strangers)
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
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  19. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    @lianderson summed it up best. Any EXP system can be gimmicked to some degree. Most games that punish the player for being overleved by giving low EXP just end up becoming low level runs in the end, as players find a way to avoid grinding altogether. Maybe instead of trying to find ways to punish the player if they level to much, we should be focusing on finding ways to make our game fun?
     
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  20. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    Because those two things aren't mutually exclusive and one may be a direct consequence of the other. I also object to the use of the word punish. There is no punishment involved, you'd have to be really abstract to even call it negative reinforcement. A punishment for leveling up too much would be enemies that scale up in power faster than you do as there's an appreciable negative outcome, at best its changing a reward interval.
     
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