Map Exploration and the Tactical Battle System

Does free exploration clash with the concept of a Tactical RPG?


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Eschaton

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I'm experimenting with GTBS, but I feel like it may clash with exploration of maps.  Free exploration of maps is important to this project, which is supposed to be a balance of staff and resource management with an open world.

Yes, I know that's really ambitious.

What I'm asking here, is whether other people think these to gameplay concepts might clash with one another.
 

Sharm

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I think the concepts are too nebulous for me to form an opinion about that. It's really going to depend on how both are implemented.
 

Cutie Mark Keldeo

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I don't see the ideas clashing so much as it becomes a handful to design, program, etc.  In essence, many tabletop RPGs, including Dungeons and Dragons function exactly like this: Players are usually free to explore an area casually, but when enemies appear movement and actions are done on a grid in turn.   

I have seen a few games that have implemented this to some degree.  Nippon Ichi in particular has experimented with this over the years.  The Disgaea games tend to allow free movement in towns.  The original, PS1 version of the lesser known game Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure did indeed have full exploration, complete with random encounters that were tactical.  However, the DS remake revamped it to a more standard (non-tactical) turn-based system, possibly because the game was too complex- I'm really not sure why.  

The main problem in video game terms is that you need to create a map that's explored, as well as a "battle map" for practically each and every fight, which becomes quite a handful.  The exception would be if you're planning to have battles take place right on the field, which is also a lot to program, such as switching into and out of "battle mode" and restricting movement as such  (this also requires careful map design).  From a gameplay perspective however, I see no contradiction between exploring and tactical combat, and I'd be charmed to see it in action.
 
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Curia Chasea

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I think the concepts are too nebulous for me to form an opinion about that. It's really going to depend on how both are implemented.
This.

Perhaps you could share a bit more information on what exactly you are planning to do?
 

Eschaton

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Okay. 

GTBS.  I don't plan to use the Layya isometric engine.

And regular free movement between combat like any other JRPG.

I would want the combat maps and the exploration maps to at least be copies of each other if I can't use the exact same map.

I ask this question because games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre (which pioneered the gameplay) have zero exploration between combat.  I wanted dungeon crawling with the occasional grid-and-turn-based combat on the same map (or a copy if necessary).

I have misgivings as to how clunky or unnecessary map exploration would be.  I recognize how clunky it might be, but map and dungeon exploration are MUSTs.  Unless you all can convince me otherwise.

I guess the gameplay would be similar to the first two Fallout games; with point-and-click free exploration and grid-bound combat but there's a reason the newer Fallout games didn't revisit that style.
 
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Sharm

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BTW, I heard that the reason why Rhapsody's DS version removed the tactical battles is because of memory constraints. The tactical aspect of the PS1 version wasn't exactly complex.
 

Curia Chasea

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Ah, now I see your problem. Let's go with the logic of solving these problems first. 

The question you have to ask yourself is "What is the key-feature of my game"? Consider your game idea and try to find the MAIN ACTIVITY that the player will be performing. If over 50% of game time is exploration - Your Open World is more important. If over 50% of game time is spent on combat - Tactical combat is more important. 

Notice - I am speaking GAME TIME here. Real time spent on an activity. 

Afterwards once you have that question answered you can ask the following question -> "Does the secondary activity PREVENT the player from ENJOYING the PRIMARY ACTIVITY?"

If not - they do not clash. Clashing occurs when the primary and secondary activities for some reason prevent you from having fun when put together. An example of this would be putting a Speed-Run Clock on a Minecraft game. If the developer put a 3 hour clock on the world saying "You have 3 hours to get to The End to win the game. Afterwards your save is deleted and all progress lost." Obviously that would break Minecraft, since the enjoyment of creating huge projects and building whatever you imagine is crushed by the 3 hour limit of the world existence. 

In your specific case - Tactical Battles will not clash with World exploration unless you do one of the following huge mistakes:

- The encounter rate will be very high.

- If Random Battles are present: Battle time will exceed 10 minutes each. (Boss battles can exceed the limit freely)

- Not enough to discover in the game world while travelling.

- Pointless battle options.

- Not enough chances to save game progress.

I could discuss these points a bit further if you wish. 
 

cane_danko

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I think it just depends on how the game implements them. Like Cutie Mark said about table top rpgs. Those games have very complex battle systems and have been used in PC games also. 16 bit games like shining force series and the shadowrun video games both used similar systems but had plenty of exploration when you did not want to bog down the players with battles. Even Final Fantasy Tactics to some degree though I admit it was limited.
 

Eschaton

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- The encounter rate will be very high.

- If Random Battles are present: Battle time will exceed 10 minutes each. (Boss battles can exceed the limit freely)
No.  Random encounters make me close other peoples' games.  Combat pacing is an issue I'm worried about, though.  I want quick, frantic battles in which superior tactics and strategy (rather than f*cking grinding) will win the day.  I still want combat to be fast and sporadic.  There will be no random encounters.  I...*want* to design every encounter to be distinct from the other. 

- Not enough to discover in the game world while travelling.
Time?  Not enough time?  Or content?  I don't want to pressure the player to power through the main storyline.  I want to pressure the player to see all of the maps and encounters I'm making, the majority of which are to be side-missions.

- Pointless battle options.
Yes and no.  On one hand, I want to have enough distinct build options to allow a player to have a personal preference in their play style, but on the other, I don't want a lot of wasted build choices and I *certainly* don't want to design a bunch of classes (of which there are only three) and build options to go to waste in favor of a universal "golden build," that I tend to see in JRPGs.  Ninjas in Final Fantasy Tactics are a big one.  All those classes and build options and the only ones worth using are Calculators and Ninjas...

I'm also a strong adherent to the "less is more" and "elegance through simplicity" design philosophies.  If I create a Skill in the database it's going to do more than just damage, debuff, crowd-control, or just exploit an "elemental" weakness.  It'll probably do all of the above, but its effectiveness would be situational.  I want each skill to have "expanded utility" so that turns aren't wasted.  I want the player to feel like any action they take could be a useful one, even if it was the wrong choice in an optimal playthrough.

- Not enough chances to save game progress.
This will be a tough one.  GTBS does not allow for saving in combat.  To remedy that, I will probably give the player the option to flee from ANY combat except maybe the last storyline battle.  I wrote myself into a corner there.

I could discuss these points a bit further if you wish. 
By all means.
 

Ralpf

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No.  Random encounters make me close other peoples' games.  Combat pacing is an issue I'm worried about, though.  I want quick, frantic battles in which superior tactics and strategy (rather than f*cking grinding) will win the day.  I still want combat to be fast and sporadic.  There will be no random encounters.  I...*want* to design every encounter to be distinct from the other. 

Time?  Not enough time?  Or content?  I don't want to pressure the player to power through the main storyline.  I want to pressure the player to see all of the maps and encounters I'm making, the majority of which are to be side-missions.

Yes and no.  On one hand, I want to have enough distinct build options to allow a player to have a personal preference in their play style, but on the other, I don't want a lot of wasted build choices and I *certainly* don't want to design a bunch of classes (of which there are only three) and build options to go to waste in favor of a universal "golden build," that I tend to see in JRPGs.  Ninjas in Final Fantasy Tactics are a big one.  All those classes and build options and the only ones worth using are Calculators and Ninjas...

I'm also a strong adherent to the "less is more" and "elegance through simplicity" design philosophies.  If I create a Skill in the database it's going to do more than just damage, debuff, crowd-control, or just exploit an "elemental" weakness.  It'll probably do all of the above, but its effectiveness would be situational.  I want each skill to have "expanded utility" so that turns aren't wasted.  I want the player to feel like any action they take could be a useful one, even if it was the wrong choice in an optimal playthrough.

This will be a tough one.  GTBS does not allow for saving in combat.  To remedy that, I will probably give the player the option to flee from ANY combat except maybe the last storyline battle.  I wrote myself into a corner there.

By all means.
The way I'm reading that is you expect battles to be done quickly, in that case saving in battle is unnessicary as I see it. As long as the player can save any time outside of battle. Running from combat would be weird in a tactical battle setting, unless you made it so the players has to all be togather and away from the enemy to run, which would generally be difficult.

Without random encounters (which would be weird and annoying if you want exploration and tactical battles, anyway) you would just need to make sure the areas that you are setting the battles up in have terrain that is good for tactical battles. Then duplicate the terrain in the battle map (assuming that is how that works).
 
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Curia Chasea

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Time?  Not enough time?  Or content?  I don't want to pressure the player to power through the main storyline.  I want to pressure the player to see all of the maps and encounters I'm making, the majority of which are to be side-missions.
Travelling in games is a pointless activity in itself unless there is something interesting about it. Imagine a game of Mario where the whole stage is just a flat run with no enemies, no nothing around. If you just make the player run towards the goal with nothing in the way - its just a boring waste of time. Adding loot, obstacles, powerups and enemies creates the gameplay. 

That being said - If your world is an open one, it will require something to make it interesting to explore. Putting secrets and loot in places encourages the player to search his surroundings and poke in every hole. Enemies (even some much stronger than at the current level) guarding loot make it worthwhile to revisit the area once you are stronger. If you can create levels that also require a bit of skill to pass - your world is worth exploring. 

Usually most open world games have Fast Travel. This way you are not required to go through the same place twice, fixing the problem. However the first journey has to be meaningful. Now - depending on the game there are different ways of tackling the issue. Some just put random encounters and enemies walking around to break the travel pace with battles. Some offer mini-quests that can be done over and over. Hack'n'Slashers like Sacred or Diablo II would simply put waves upon waves of enemies at you. Others simply offer a driving mechanic where the player has fun simply driving a vehicle. Mario RPGs would add a bit of platforming, so passing through the stage would require some execution skill.

AAA games use one more trick -> Spectacle. Super-polished, beautiful graphics that are a joy to watch are also a way to make travelling easier, since the player is enjoying the view. However let's be honest - unless you have a huge dedicated art team, you will not be able to use this for your project. Especially that if you actually could afford it, you would probably go for Cryengine or Unreal Engine instead of RPG Maker. 

Yes and no.  On one hand, I want to have enough distinct build options to allow a player to have a personal preference in their play style, but on the other, I don't want a lot of wasted build choices and I *certainly* don't want to design a bunch of classes (of which there are only three) and build options to go to waste in favor of a universal "golden build," that I tend to see in JRPGs.  Ninjas in Final Fantasy Tactics are a big one.  All those classes and build options and the only ones worth using are Calculators and Ninjas...

I'm also a strong adherent to the "less is more" and "elegance through simplicity" design philosophies.  If I create a Skill in the database it's going to do more than just damage, debuff, crowd-control, or just exploit an "elemental" weakness.  It'll probably do all of the above, but its effectiveness would be situational.  I want each skill to have "expanded utility" so that turns aren't wasted.  I want the player to feel like any action they take could be a useful one, even if it was the wrong choice in an optimal playthrough.

This will be a tough one.  GTBS does not allow for saving in combat.  To remedy that, I will probably give the player the option to flee from ANY combat except maybe the last storyline battle.  I wrote myself into a corner there.
Let's get the simpler one out of the way - save options.

If you cannot put game suspending into the GTBS, I would simply allow the player to save anywhere on the map. That fixes all your standard issues.and should be enough for player needs. 

Let's discuss Pointless Options in games in detail.

A Pointless Option is basically having an ability in which using it is no choice at all. Most elemental spells fall under this problem. If the player can cast Ice, Thunder and Fire and these deal damage depending on enemy resistances, then he has no choice. You will always use Fire against enemies weak to fire. If you get Fire II which deals more damage than Fire, you will always use Fire II. 

You see - if there is ever only one reason to use a skill, asking the player if he wants to do so is pointless. If you have only one damage skill, one status effect and one recovery skill - there are no options in battles. What you did is simply make a "Simon Says" game where the player pushes the right buttons to respond. If there is no execution challenge to that - the player will be bored. 

Balancing options depends on what levers you add to the battle system. Let's say that we could utilize these levers in our system:

- Skill Cooldown.

- Accuracy

- MP Consumption

- Damage

- Area of Effect

- Extra Status Effects

So, let's go back to our Ice, Thunder, Fire example. 

Let's say we give them each a status effect. Fire causes ATK&DEF debuff -25%. Thunder causes their Evasion to drop by 55%, Ice slows their movement speed by half. 

Now you have 3 spells that also cause status effects. This means that while a certain spell could be ineffective (an enemy has 80% Damage Reduction from Ice), you still can consider casting Ice on an opponent who would be dangerous if close to your party. Now the player will consider, whether he wants to take care of a slowed enemy later or if he can just burst him down and face the rest without his burst.

Now, we give our player a new spell - Fire II. It delivers 3x damage of Fire, has 4x the mana cost, 2x Area of Effect and can only be cast once every 3 turns. 

How does the spell sound? It depends on the circumstances. If there is a single target there, the cast would be mana-inefficient. However if the target is a fast opponent with huge atk, BUT can be bursted down by the spell immediately, the spell becomes worth considering. What if there are two such enemies and out of range for one spell cast? Now you are considering casting Ice on one of them. You start creating strategies here. 

Now for support we add Thunder II - 4x the mana cost of Thunder, 3x damage BUT has only 50% accuracy. Yet, no cooldown. The first player thought would be "Cast Thunder and chain Thunder II for huge Burst DPS". However the Mana cost here is the limiter. The character that does this will drain all of his MP in a few turns. Is this worth it? If the enemy has some kind of shield that drops only for 3 turns - very worth it. You will recover your Mana while the shield is up. 

These are basic examples. You need to make sure that a spell is "valid" in more than 1 scenario. However you also need to make sure that you have enough limitations for skills to add depth. Their AoE, Range, Damage, Mana cost, Cooldown, Accuracy, Special Effects are all valid ways of balancing it. Depending on the game, you can add even more - just try not to overdo it. 

I'll give you my cheat-sheet for Skill Limitation Balancing. Note these don't always apply, but help understand what you did to the skill:

Cooldown - The lower it is, the more spammy the ability becomes. The higher it gets, the more conscious the player becomes when casting it. Also helps you determine how often you will see this ability used per battle.

Resource cost - Balances cost to efficiency of skill. Also limits total usage of skill per battle.

Range - Balance skill safety. The longer the range, the safer it is to use this.

Accuracy - High values make the skill reliable. Low values make it unreliable OR require the player to prepare before casting it. 

Damage - Adjusting this value will determine if the skill is a DPS, Support or Burst ability.

AoE - Multiplies your damage and effects by the amount of targets it can hit.  

Extra Effects - All extra effects are incomparable to each other but increase the value of the skill. 

When adding limits to skills - remember to consider what they actually do. If characters get passive Mana Regen, this means skills low on cost will become stable DPS, while high cost skills will be considered Burst cases. 

I guess I will stop this now. 
 

Knightmare

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@Curia - Dang that's a huge post! 

Although most TRPGs I've seen don't use a free movement map exploration I don't think it would be a game breaker by any means if it was done that way.  And I don't think any players would really mind either way.
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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I think it's nice, though one thing that I'm worried is that it might be too time consuming... I've never played a game that uses a tactical battle that isn't time consuming (tactical battles just simply take longer to finish than others) and pairing it up with exploration which also could be time consuming could result to a really time consuming game... So I think if you're really planning on doing it, make sure you keep the pacing right
 

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