Poor Mechanics in RPGs

Vox Novus

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Okay, so like many I've been playing IGMC games about 26 at the time of this post (although not all rpgs as this post is concerned about) and since many have just picked up rpg makers in the recent humble bundle offerings before the contest I thought it would be good to discuss what are poor mechanics and design choices of role-playing games (especially since many new developers in the contest haven't gotten feedback on their games). Of course this goes for more than just new developer's as well, we all have areas we could potentially improve upon. I recently have been playing Whisper of a Rose and while there are some aspects I like I was disappointed with some of the mechanics of the game.

Rpgs have a few main cores that make up what they are but the most important in my opinion anyway are the mechanics of the gameplay; the battle-system, character progression, balancing, etc... If you don't make your game fun for an rpg fan to play it won't usually matter how great your story is or how fantastic the artwork and graphics are or how much your ears can come alive at listening to the heavenly sounds being produced from the speakers.

So I leave this open to the community to discuss examples of poor rpg mechanics you have seen, as well as methods to better implement them or prevent them in the first place. (Hopefully this isn't too broad of a topic)

*Note if you have to reference a community members/developers game you've played remember to do so with the intent of being helpful and offering feedback (also be sure to give the feedback directly to the developer as well); the purpose of this topic is not to bash but to help us all improve*

Here are some of mine:

-Difficulty of the game: This is slightly relative to the player of course as not everyone is going to think with the same level of strategy. I'm fine with easy games in fact as long as it fits the tone of the game and I at least feel like I have to try at times. I should not be able to spam the attack button and win encounters that way unless I am severely over-powered from extra leveling or revisiting an earlier point in the game. 
Going along with this I should also not be taking little to zero damage unless it is for the same reasons above or because I am using a special skill to circumvent damage (even in this case their still needs to be a balance to it as far as usage goes). The only other reason for there being small amounts of damage should be that the baseline of number values used in the game is small to begin with.

Also think about where difficulty is coming from, a difficult game should be so because proper strategy and precision use needs to be done to counter an enemy strategy rather than the enemy having cheap skills or just having a tremendous boost in stats. On the other hand a game shouldn't be easy for the fact that you can just spam attack or wipe enemies out with a random spell or skill.
-Available Skills: Skills/spells need to have a purpose too often have I seen that the player has access to all these skills and spells but very few of them actually need to be used to beat enemies and progress. Think about what skills need to be used and try trimming out ones that aren't necessary. Also a developer should design battles to make use of the character's abilities, if skills are becoming obsolete for the player to use over time it is because the developer made them so by not forcing the player to need to make use of them in the first place.
In some games this is where cooldowns/startup times or a resource pool come into play. For a resource pool take a classic final fantasy example with spells Fire, Fira and Firaga. In order they are from weakest to strongest respectively and the resource cost is respectively higher increasing as well. Fire the weakest can still be useful later in the game due to its lower cost even though it does less damage. Of course this is only so if the damage formula for fire still will inflict enough damage to be significant, if it doesn't do enough damage late game there is no more reason for the player to use it even with its low cost and thus becomes another obsolete skill. This is especially true if the player can simply chug an mp restoring item whenever they want by buying it at a shop.
Resources: The previous example brings me into the next one, resources. If resources are present they should be limitedin there use. What is the point of the player having a resource pool if it is extremely easy to restore by available items or by easily accessed healing points in dungeons? Of course you want the players to use their skills to overcome the foes' strategy so implementing some way for them to circumvent the loss of a resource is in order. Perhaps, other skills grow stronger with less mp available or perhaps the player can restore mp using skills strategically. Another option is to have a resource that steadily increases each turn (like in my IGMC 2015 game or Remnants of Isolation from last year). This gives the player some leeway but makes sure they still need to manage it so it doesn't run out when they really need it.
Progression: The developer needs to keep in mind how the player is going to progress; how many battles should they get into to be strong enough to beat the next boss without making normal encounters too mundane? In Whisper of the Rose there are touch encounters which normally need to factor in avoidance but many are jumbled together in tight passages and are hard to avoid resulting in them being fought especially with the fast movement speed of enemies. This coupled with large maps in general with many side paths leave the player getting too strong (and bored of combat). Consider how many battles are necessary and leave room for the player to avoid some without the boss being impossible to defeat. Of course a player avoiding too many encounters is their fault and thus should be faced with a tough boss for it.
Also think about the difficulty of enemies as the player progresses, the more enemies the player fights the stronger they get typically and enemies seem weaker. Add ways to make them seem challenging again until the player completes the area, maybe they face a new batch of foes on each dungeon area or old enemies use new skills or get a stat boost when the player is a certain level.
I'll leave the rest up for others to go in depth with (especially since there is a word limit to posts) but other ones to consider are: Running in battle, relation of save points into perceived difficulty of area vs. touch encounters and equipment and stat increases having a noticeable feeling of making the player seem stronger/take less damage.

edit- For a more in-depth look at all aspects of potential errors (not just mechanics) in rpgs and rpg maker games look here: http://forums.rpgmakerweb.com/index.php?/topic/23503-what-are-the-1-mistakes-that-rpg-maker-games-make
 
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Kes

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For an extensive overview and more ideas, you might want to check out this thread
 

Vox Novus

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Thanks, I'll add that in the main post was trying to keep this specific to mechanics though since to me that is where you are really going to catch the player; make it fun for them to play and they will over look other aspects.
 

bgillisp

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A few that have bothered me so far:

Overuse of the default poison. I've played waaaay too many RPG maker games that love to just use the default poison as-is, and give early enemies the ability to poison you to death, often before you even have a restorative item!
Bosses immune to every status aliment. That is a carryover from the FF games I know, but it's bad there too. If the status aliments never work (or have a chance to work) on bosses, then the spell becomes, in the player's eyes, totally useless. I know I never use the status aliment spells in an FF game as anyone I *ever* want actually use them on is immune to it.

If you're that worried about someone taking out your precious boss with a status aliment, either 1: Remove the aliment from the game totally, or 2: Think up a new way to make the boss tough please. 
 
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Vox Novus

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@bgillisp

I agree with both your points here, in regards to poison I'm not a fan of it lasting after battle I think it should be removed. You don't want to potentially trap a player in a dungeon with no way to remove poison because they used up antidotes.

Bosses should be immune to certain ailments in my opinion like confusion but most of the time inflicting ailments on them can contribute to greater strategy. Make them react differently when certain ailments are on them (blind them then make them use magic more for example); also that is what resistances to ailments are for, you can make the ailment unlikely to succeed at a higher rate for bosses without eliminating it's potential application entirely. Of course a few ailments shouldn't make a boss cripple to it's knees either. Train the player to think that ailments won't ever work for bosses and eventually they will stop trying altogether and then not use them when the developer wants them to. 
 

bgillisp

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Exactly my point. Though, I will say I did put a couple early game bosses that applying the status aliments to them is the intended strategy, so in that case I do want the player to bring them to their knees by a status aliment.

For example: One boss has an attack that hits for 8 times that he will use on turn 6. The party is meant to either KO him in 5 turns or less, or blind him so the attack will miss on most of those hits. Parties who fail both can still guard on turn 6, as it is quite survivable if everyone guards that turn (and, even if you don't, if you were smart and kept your health up it will just hurt a lot, but not KO the party).
 
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Eschaton

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I have an issue with an actor's skillset not being congruent with current narrative and the design of the current encounter.

Por ejemplo, I remember one game in which the player character, who was an unarmed (and likely teenage girl) who knew no magic fighting two soldiers and an ogre (boss).  Unarmed.  Without magic. 

!?

Design your encounters around the capabilities of the character.
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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Bosses being immune to almost everything is one of the reasons I rarely use or learn debuff skills in games and sometimes they even have a class specific for debuffing. It's a good thing that FF seems to have realized that as I could debuff bosses in FFXIII or else the whole Saboteur paradigm would be useless.


Some games also tend to put items on shops that have very high prices that you cannot possibly buy them unless you grind from the start (and for a huge time too). How am I supposed to grind on the first place if my gear isn't enough to keep me alive for a number of battles?
 
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Vox Novus

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As far as economy goes I like to make it so that the player should have enough money to purchase upgrades for all armor slots and a weapon slot for each character at every new shopping juncture that they are available at, this leaves it open for them to have the necessities. I like to try and leave in choice though, maybe they can choose between different armor/weapon types or maybe even different equipment that offers different skills when they are equipped. 

The player also should have some leeway with this for purchasing new items or accessories but not as much so that they have to make choices; do they by a full stock of new accessories or do they double-up on items? 

I find having a boss drop an item that can be sold in a shop for a certain set amount of money is a nice touch, it lets you control to some degree a baseline of how much money the player will have at a certain point and what they can accomplish with it. Currency should seem valuable or satisfying to obtain though, in my playing of whisper of the rose I find that often I've grown tired of collecting memory orbs (the currency) because they don't seem to get me as much as they should and I collect a large stock of them only to spend them at very few intervals.
 

Kes

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One of the things I'm not keen on is simply buying your way to excellence.  I tend to have very restricted opportunities for buying gear, which I also think is more realistic.  Why should a village with 3 houses and a cowshed be able to sell you fabulous armour?  Doesn't make sense to me.  Instead, if the player wants to upgrade their gear, they have to explore for it or do quests where some gear is part of the reward.  It gives the player a real incentive to go out and look around and not just grind on convenient enemies until they've got the money to buy that fabulous shield in the shop.
 

Kes

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Yes, that's the kind of absurdity you get when you follow the traditional pattern of gear acquisition.
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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Another poor thing I think is when you sell equips in the shop but in the dungeon before that place you can already get a super awesome weapon that is far better than shop weapons. It's fine if it's a random drop as the player might or might not get it, but if it's a sure get item: Congrats, you just made the shop inherently pointless.
 
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Vox Novus

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@ Engr. Adiktuzmiko and Ksjp17 agreed to a certain extent, I try to have equipment make sense, the small village might not sell you anything equipment wise but the bustling castle town might (or maybe the reason for equipment being restricted is because of a plot device; I.E. there is less gear available for sale because it is being delivered to the castle due to a war going on). This seems slightly less an actual mechanic issue though. 

Although having gear found in quests/dungeons would change how you think about the economy otherwise and what the player spends. It seems though it would be strange to find random equipment laying around in some places as well though. As far as a mechanical impact one would have to be careful about gear being found and results of the player not finding it.

-edit agreed about the shop thing though, don't make the player waste their money on something they may easily find later, unless you've given them a variety of choices and they may not have gotten it.
 
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Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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It's fine if they can find it later as it's still later, but surely finding it beforehand totally defeats the purpose of the shop. Why will I buy it if I already have it anyway?
 

Vox Novus

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oh lol read that wrong, that would be a problem. Although I think the point I make is valid as well, I've played may rpgs where I buy something then go to the dungeon and find what I just bought thus meaning I wasted my money that could have been used for something else. Something that creates an issue in the actual funds the player has available to them.
 

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Depends on how fast you're gonna get them after, there's still the issue of "I might get it later in drops but I do need it NOW"


So like:


If it's by the end of the next dungeon that is pretty long, it's fine as I might not even finish this dungeon if I hadn't bought it


If it's right at the beginning of the next dungeon, 0.0 ALT+F4
 
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bgillisp

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The reason you might want to give it as a drop still is as a reward (for exploring), or, maybe a gift so the player doesn't have to buy everything. For example, in my game I have 10 characters in my party at once in Chapter 4. Buying gear for 10 of them will bankrupt the party easily, so why not give them the gear for 1 - 2 of them on the way to the shop?

Or,  you can also give them gear you can't buy. Maybe you could buy the Sword + 3, but if you explore you might find the Sword + 3 which also gives 1% HP Regen? Or the Awesome Sword + 3 of blindness, which you can see from space?

As for why give it as a drop after the dungeon...maybe it is meant to give a decent weapon to one player in case funds ran out? Sure, it's not perfect (it might be the one you bought the weapon for, and not the one you didn't), but this way the player who had to spend all their money on healing potions still gets a small improvement?
 
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Vox Novus

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yeah but if the player is running out of funds that badly something is wrong with the economy of the game relative to what is needed by the average player. Depending on how many reserve characters there are and what they can equip in common finding equipment later could have a point to equip back-up characters. Although I prefer to make characters unique in skill usage so that they stand apart based on that rather than being able to just throw them in to fill some other characters place so easily.
 
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Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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That is one reason why I hate games with large parties but has relatively little money to gain and have so many equipments to fill. Either make more money to gain or have less equips to fill in. You don't really need to have like Weapon, Off-hand, Hat, Body Armor, Armguards, Leg Armor, Boots, 2 Rings, Necklace and a Cloak do you? That's more or less used in MMO's in which you only have one character to build, do it for a big party and it becomes troublesome for the player to have good equipment for the whole party.
 
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