Party Homogeneity

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Eschaton, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    I started out on Final Fantasy.  I never questioned its methods.  In fact, when I started branching out in to games like Baldur's Gate and Final Fantasy IX, I found that the inability for everyone to learn every ability and absolutely max out their stats to be a bit strange and even decried it as bad design.

    Years later, after dayum near exclusivity to WRPGs, I have revisited games like Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII, even, X, and Dragon Quest...whatever... and found that the party were ultimately homogenous; everybody could have access to max stats and all spells and techniques after a sh*t-load of grinding.  Since you could do it in one playthrough thanks to an infinite supply of XP, AP, PP, what-have-you-P thanks to random encounters, this begs the question:

    What is the dayum point of having different party members when they're all the same?

    In FFVI, everyone could learn magic, which had the highest damage-dealing potential of all moves (in theory).  I just had one party who I maxed out and didn't use the rest.

    In FFVII, I just switched my Materia around whenever the plot called for a particular party member, but I always stuck with Cloud, and the others (I don't freaking remember)

    IN FFVIII, I just switched my Junction setups around whenever the plot called for me not to have Squall, Selphie, and Irvine.

    In FFX, you could max everyone's stats through careful manipulation of the Sphere Grid.  And even without exploitation, you could have everyone know each skill, and build their weapons to address their weak points.

    In FFXII, every character could learn every spell, technique, and gain the ability to wear any piece of equipment.  Rendered moot because you could rely on Quickenings for DPS in the end.

    By the end of these games, nothing really differentiated the party members except for their Limit Breaks/Overdrives/Whatever, and you couldn't rely on them except for 6 and 8.

    And we look upon those games as paragons of design.  The best design is one that actually uses the skills you've given your actors that allow them to PLAY A ROLE in combat (or, ideally, the rest of the gameplay, too).

    Anyway, thoughts?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 14, 2013
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  2. 22pepperjack

    22pepperjack Veteran Veteran

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    in my personal opinion, customization is one of my favorite features in a  game. i personally loved final fantasy 12. the fact that i could make any of the team members into anything i wanted was great! i didn't have to stick with the default cloud-swordsman, fran/baltier-ranged attackers set up. instead i devoted fran to being a ranged attacker and very frequent healer. while cloud and baltier were swordsman with self-healing. (which turns fran into my weak point as she only heals ally's not herself., however, this is also fine as the enemies always focused on cloud and baltier first.) so, although the characters didn't have any special meaning in battle, and i could TECHNICALLY switch them around whenever i wanted, to me, that's not what differentiates a character. if i wanted i could have made fran one of the sword fighters, but thanks to the STORY, i didn't. i liked frans attitude, and i wanted her to be as far from combat as possible. while i personally didn't give two sh**'s about cloud. (Baltier is cool.) so yeah, like you said, the battle system itself may not have differentiated the characters, but i personally believe it to be a good game design, because they relied on the story to do ALL of the character differentiation, and also allowed the player to customize each character.

    again, this is all just my opinion. but a good example for my reasoning is that i find it to be a better alternative than having a game where three knights would help me win a tough battle, but instead im forced to use a knight archer and mage set-up which ultimately screws me over.
     
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  3. Harmill

    Harmill Veteran Veteran

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    Generally, I don't like it when all party members eventually become the same but it depends on how much effort the player has to go through to max everyone out. It's not that hard to max everyone in FFX, so they really feel like clones of each other with their Overdrives being their only unique point. If you made it harder to achieve those max stats, or make it so that you don't need max stats to defeat the hardest bosses, then it's not as noticeable. People are then most likely not going to get to that stage where all party members are 90% clones of one another. Sometimes you can allow party members to have access to every spell while also being able to have max stats, and just make their access to equipment their unique points.
     
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  4. Espon

    Espon Lazy Creator Veteran

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    Normally when you play these games, the average player won't be unlocking everything for a particular character unless they go after the optional content.  In some of them, the characters are locked down a particular path until later the game, where as others you get to pick who should focus on what for majority of the game.

    I just find it fun to give people the weird roles.  Lets make Balthier do the healing, Penelo the one that tanks the giant bosses, and Ashe doing buffing and DPS.

    How'd you get Cloud in your game?  I was stuck with this little turd named Vaan.
     
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  5. 22pepperjack

    22pepperjack Veteran Veteran

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    oh right, sorry my bad, its a PS2 game so i haven't played it in ages XD i meant vaan. although you gotta admit they look strikingly similar.

    EDIT: although i got his name wrong, i gotta say i hate both cloud and vann. they are so F***ing weak! i kicked more rear with just fran than i did with a 3 levels stronger vaan. tehy both look awesome, they just suck.
     
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  6. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    Yeah, but you can do it in one playthrough, and all of those games really encourage the Grind.  One plus two equals eventual party homogeneity.

    Personally, I like a level cap that can be reached before the end of the game... and you have absolutely no way of homogenizing the party or even learning every skill or maxing our stats.  You'd have to eschew progression linearity, though.  Give the player customization options before they reach the cap.

    That's just me.
     
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  7. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    I'm fine either way, but I think I prefer characters being at least somewhat unique. Although being able to customise some of their abilities and stats is fun.
     

    It's an easy way to assure no party member is really useless, you can basically play with whoever you like without being like: damnit, I really like this character...if only he was as good as this other character I have, then I would actually consider using him in my party. Or if you hate your generic stereo-types (such as girl healer), you can give them whatever you want to fit your own likes. Also, you can try out all sorts of crazy and different things on your next playthroughs, whereas with games with unique characters you're much more limited in what you can customise.

    In my own game I go with characters that all have their own unique skills, although there'll be a few special skills that can be unlocked and used on any character.
     
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  8. Andar

    Andar Veteran Veteran

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    I agree with the OP that a mass of identical super-characters is bad for gameplay/roleplay, but what really causes this is not the customisation option, it's a combination of reset and unlimited points.

    if you don't have the points to learn everything and can't reset the skills you previously learned, then those identical supers will not be possible.

    However the problem with this approach can be, that a wrong skilling might prevent the player from completing the game - it is a lot more work to make a game that prevents this without enabling a reset-option.

    If I were to enable a reset option for actor abilities in my game, it would be rather expensive and in limited supply - perhaps only one chance of resetting per actor.

    However, I already target replay value - so I want the players to start the game several times to see ho the story changes with different options selected.
     
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  9. CWells

    CWells Storyteller/Artist Veteran

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    I don't mind having this as an option, to allow characters to be customized but when it's already built in to each characters progression line, like in Xenosaga III where everyone could learn without effort every magic, it does take the whole idea of character roles in battle and trashes it.

    But here is what I say to those who complain about heavy customization. It is an option to have your characters learn all of the same skills and behave the same way, not an obligation.
     
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  10. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    Yeah, but when you encourage your players to grind (I'm looking at you, Square Enix!), you encourage your players to max out.
     
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  11. CWells

    CWells Storyteller/Artist Veteran

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    There may be some encouragement if you are looking to go after all of the extra boss challenges or whatever the game provides, you are still responsible for drawing your own limit for how you use the characters and how you much you strengthen them.
     
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  12. Archeia

    Archeia Level 99 Demi-fiend Staff Member Developer

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    And how is that a bad thing? I want to make my FFT Cloud destroy Orlandu role wise. Or I want Ramza to God Mode. Or I want that wimpy looking priest be a battle priest in RO and smack Knights at their faces. There is nothing wrong with us having the option to customize everyone on however the fudge we want :'D


    Especially if you hate certain main protagonists or characters and want to never use them. Ever. I hate being forced to use a character I hate looks and personality wise, just because they have that awesome skillset or anything.
     
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  13. 22pepperjack

    22pepperjack Veteran Veteran

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    exactly! its a choice to customize, buts its also a choice to "Max out" the party. you say its encouraged, and that may be, but i would still rather it be a choice. as its one i have never followed fully to this day. i have never maxed out a character inan RPG. i get it to the minimum required level to beat a boss and i keep at it like that. it makes the bosses a challenge and fun to fight.a good example of this is Thousand Arms for the old playstation console. out of the 4-6 people on my team. (i cant remember the party size.) im pretty sure none of them ever got higher than level 50. and i still mamanged to get to the second to last level like that. (game broke, couldnt continue.)
     
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  14. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    FF6:  Everyone can learn magic, not everyone is effective with it.  It takes very careful management of your level ups to make everyone highly effective with it.  On top of which, Gogo becomes super overpowered just by mimic alone.  There's also Bum Rush, Quadra Slice, learning X-Attack while having a Genji Glove on...  It depends on how you WANT to play.  If all you did was jack everything you had into magic and didn't look to see that everyone else becomes super OP as well, then you're honestly playing the game wrong, or only played it once.  On my first playthrough I used Locke and Celes almost exclusively in every party and switched out the other two members depending on what I was doing.  Sometimes, I'd carry Gau as some of his Rages were quite OP and/or useful, sometimes I'd carry Setzer...  It just depended on what I was doing.  FF6 is designed in such a way that no matter WHO you want to carry with you as characters, they all become super OP by the end of the game.  Whether that damage is dealt through physical or magical.  A lot of their abilities even make them VERY FAR from "interchangeable", if you're using them properly.

    FF7:  I'd comment, but I don't care.  I personally thought the game was a massive travesty in every possible way imaginable.  I got two hours in, shut it off, never looked back.

    FF8:  Yet another FF game I thought was completely retarded.  Yeah, I totally want to play as a cracked out Emo Kid with all the personality of a rock.  Without likable characters, I couldn't enjoy any aspect of that game.

    FF10:  I enjoyed this game for the uniqueness of each character (if you didn't notice it, you either didn't play the game, or have no clue what you're talking about).  The only real "unique" trait that could be passed to others is "Piercing" on weapons.  Which, all that means is, everyone can hit and kill armored enemies instead of just Auron or Kimahri.  I suppose you could say anyone could learn to be a healer or a magic user...  But only Yuna can summon and Lulu becomes a massive powerhouse once you drag her into either Tidus's or Aurons sphere grid.  The major complaint I have with your analysis of FF10 and "you can make everyone the same!" argument is the sheer amount of time and willpower you would need to DO that.  I, for one, refuse to invest THAT much time into the game to do it.  By the time I had to fight Sin when he was flying, everyone was at the end of their particular grid and had to break into the next one.  Know how many hours that was?  80!  I'm sorry, but I'm not going to grind to max everyone out, and I doubt many other players will either.  We're going to take one, maybe two grids for each person, and beat the game before getting too much farther.  You don't even need the optional content to beat the game, so you can ignore it all.  Celestial weapons?  Ignore 'em.  Capturing monsters to build stronger monsters or rare items?  Don't need them.  Sure, at some point, you can make everyone the same, but why would you WANT to?  The massive time investment alone is a good reason to specialize characters and leave them that way.  On top of all of this, we still have faster monsters more easily killed by Tidus, flying monsters more easily killed by Wakka, machines more easily killed by Rikku, and armored enemies more easily killed by Auron (especially since his attack power is far higher than Kimahri's is for a massive chunk of the game).

    FF12:  Yeah, everyone can learn everything.  Again, this takes a long time.  I invested something like 95 hours into the game before giving up, 'cause I wasn't even sure I was at the HALFWAY point of the game yet, and was still using spells like "Fira".  I hadn't even seen level 5 magic in any school yet for purchase.  Honestly, it was far easier to specialize the characters I liked, and keep those ones with me.  I turned Fran into my resident Summoner/Black Mage.  I gave her every single Summon and gave her every single attack spell.  I also specialized her in staves and cloth and such.  It wasn't a system I enjoyed that much...  But, at least it gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted my characters to do right from the beginning, and then do what I liked.  I could carry characters I enjoyed with me, and ignore those I thought were stupid or boring.  Which, really, lead me to leave Penelo and Vaan behind almost 99% of the time.

    Basically, I don't understand what the complaint is.  I, for one, hate specialized characters in an RPG.  Why?  It leads to "the holy trinity" of RPGs.  Tank, DPS, Healer.  Everyone will bring THOSE particular characters along with them in EVERY RPG that limits and specializes characters as an effort to "make them unique" from each other or "make combat worthwhile".  Of course, game developers are doing this wrong, but how would they know when everyone buys these games regardless of how poorly managed a combat system is?  Especially when RPG fans so irritatingly tell you that "a good story can make up for terrible gameplay".  Well, if that's the case, just read a book, same experience.  A game needs a good story, yes.  But a game also needs good gameplay, because you'll be interacting with that for almost 90% of the game as you move from story segment to story segment.

    If you create characters that have "specializations" or "unique abilities" in combat, but leave it so that the player can also CUSTOMIZE these characters as a means of either shoring up their weaknesses or using them in ways the designers hadn't anticipated, this is somewhat more fun.  The player feels they have more control over combat as well as the freedom to use WHOMEVER they want, instead of just the token characters that form the Trinity.  This allows for more diverse parties across players and even playthroughs.  It means that not everyone will take the same characters.  People will pick who they enjoy instead.  Going back to my FF6 example for a second, it's what I did in that game.  I turned Celes into a physical powerhouse and never really used her magic.  I gave her an Atma Weapon and some of the best gear, and she became my main DPS and tank in the game.  I carried Locke around with me for the sole reason of stealing anything that wasn't nailed down, as well as because he was my favorite character in that game.  I never really carried Terra with me all that often 'cause she bored me to tears with her arc, and I didn't carry Sabin along with me 'cause I thought he was rather boring as well.  I turned Edgar into a magic user and never really touched his Tools other than "Chainsaw" most of the time.  I more often than not would end up with Setzer in my party and Mog or Cyan.  I played with the characters I liked, and relegated everyone else to benchwarmers, only leveling them up enough to take on the bosses at the end.  I was able to do this, 'cause the Magicite let you customize your characters.  I guess I COULD have found them all "interchangeable", except that the measure of "interchangeable" shouldn't be roles in battle, but roles in the story.  If characters can be interchangeable in battle, then players are more likely to pick who they enjoy, rather than who is most effective in combat.  The only real issue with "interchangeable" skills and abilities in combat is how dull this makes combat because of how combat is often designed.

    Combat, itself, should be more varied and versatile than Any Final Fantasy Game ever tried to be.  Some characters should have advantages against some monsters and disadvantages against others.  Some characters should learn skills or abilities that are more highly effective against other monsters.  Characters should also be unique in that some monsters just don't hurt them that much.  Pokémon is a great example of how this works and can be effectively executed.  Unless you're min/maxing in that game, there's little reason to take "the very best mons" with you anywhere.  Take what you enjoy, it's all effective enough to beat the main storyline of the game and stay in your party until level 100.  None of the Pokémon are really that "specialized" that they can't fill two or three roles in your party at once.  Other RPGs don't do this, and their combat is somewhat lacking.  Most RPGs combat boils down to "weak to magic" and "weak to physical hits".  Some try to spice that up by going "weak to fire magic" and "weak to ice magic" while never really doing the same to the physical side of the spectrum.  It's one of the main reasons EVERYONE takes a magic spell caster with them in every single RPG.  Combat is designed REALLY poorly.  It's designed so poorly that what WEAPONS and EQUIPMENT you're using rarely matters unless it's just "too weak" for the monsters you're fighting.  The difference between a whip and a flail in terms of the game's combat system is 10 points of attack power.  Not helpful, not useful, not making combat interesting or fun.

    Anyway, that's my two cents.
     
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  15. 22pepperjack

    22pepperjack Veteran Veteran

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    i get so irritated when fans tell me this as an excuse for their reasoning. it's one of the dumbest things i hear. it's basically the same as a male saying "good sex can make up for not having a penis." -_- some people...
     
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  16. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    Pretty easy to fix by making weapons deal different kinds of damage (slash, blunt, piercing), which would be effective against different kind of enemies, same way how magic is better/weaker against different monsters.
     
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  17. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    While this is true as well as something I've implemented in my own RPG, but how many mainstream RPGs implement something like this?  How many design monsters that are weak to some of these things?  Skeletons and Zombies and other undead would likely be nearly immune to slashing, slicing, and piercing weapons.  Meanwhile, you could likely destroy them fairly easily through simple bashing or crushing weapons.  What about monsters made of stone or other things?  More that are immune to standard slicey dicey weapons and need smashing weapons.

    But again, there are so few games that execute combat WELL to make it worthwhile to play it or even to try to specialize characters in, aside from personal preference.  "Everyone is the same!" syndrome comes about because a battle system is fairly simple and poorly designed.  How is it RPG makers have like 20 different kinds of magic with all sorts of different effects, but just leave straight up physical combat to "this weapon does more damage than this other weapon" or "this guy can only equip these kinds of weapons" as a means to retain character identity?  It's one of the largest things players just ACCEPT because they don't know any better.  They've always played RPGs a certain way, so they expect them to stay that way.  I tend to prefer lots of different kinds of weapons, weaknesses, strengths, etcetera, just to round out the combat and make the player THINK about who they're taking and what they're equipping.  Or, if they want to take certain characters regardless, giving them the option to customize the stats and skills of those characters to fall more in line with the player's desires.  Granted, a mage is always going to be a mage in any game I design, but there's no reason they can't be a heavy hitter with daggers, staves, and shortswords.  They're going to be kind of "glass cannons" because of their armor, but there's no reason you can't choose to have mages like that if you want them.

    You can do characters really only in two ways.  Hyper restrictive so their identities remain intact while trying to vary up combat enough that you bring them all along at some point for the sake of balance.  Or, you can make them somewhat unique as characters while also making them able to be customized somewhat by the player to let them choose who they want to bring with them at all times.

    That's really your options.  I prefer the second option to the first...  But, I don't fault those who prefer the first option to the second.  I kind of like player freedom though, as well as the opportunity to do something developers or other players may not have figured out how to do.
     
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  18. Engr. Adiktuzmiko

    Engr. Adiktuzmiko Chemical Engineer, Game Developer, Using BlinkBoy' Veteran

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    At least for FFX, these maxing out things is only applicable if you're super duper fond of grinding... because if not then you'll not be able to get enough AP in order for all chars to have all skills and stats... so in the end, if you're just a normal player, you'd still end up with unique characters... so if you just follow the storyline and level only to up what you need to finish things instead of doing loads of grinding, you'd probably end up with the character design that the developers want...

    doing the maxing out is a choice that the player makes, the developers simply gave them the ability to do so... which IMO is a good thing, because it caters to different groups of players...
     
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  19. Milennin

    Milennin "With a bang and a boom!" Veteran

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    To be honest I don't really care for weapon/magic strength and weaknesses, which is why I don't have them much in my game. Like, fire monsters will still get hurt by fire magic, maybe a little less than a normal monster, but not to the point where it simply isn't worth using at all.


    What I hate about weakness systems is that it renders some of your characters completely useless in certain situations. Example: You encounter a fire monster boss. Your character with fire skills is pretty much useless now because the fire boss will absorb or nullify all fire damage. This sucks. No, it's not smart, and no, it doesn't make for more strategic gameplay. In the case of such an encounter you'll just have your water mage guy spam his water spells to exploit the elemental weakness for an easy win.


    The problem with combat built around weakness/strength systems is that it's simply a rock-paper-scissors game. You see a water monster: Oh, better use my lightning skill now. You see a mage monster: Oh, better use my physical attacks now.
     
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  20. Andar

    Andar Veteran Veteran

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    That basic mechanism is used in a lot of games - but usually with "elements" like fire, ice and so on.

    But from the developer point it's exactly the same whether you make a monster weak to ice or weak to bashing weapons, you'll just have to add those physical damage types to the list of other damage types that already exist for magic.
     
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