Poor Mechanics in RPGs

bgillisp

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One thing I've done is I've made it so there is a cheap MP restore potion...that only restores 10 MP. In  battle, that is going to be enough to cast one spell, and that's it, so it would slow  you down significantly if you have to keep drinking one in battle. But, since it is so cheap, the player can easily stock up on 99 of them and drink to their heart's content outside of battle.

I also though put in a system where everyone restores 1 MP per combat round (this took a script to make it exactly 1 MP no matter who it was, or what their maximum MP was). It's not a lot, but that does mean that *eventually* people out of mana can cast again, if you wait long enough.
 

Oddball

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One thing I've done is I've made it so there is a cheap MP restore potion...that only restores 10 MP. In  battle, that is going to be enough to cast one spell, and that's it, so it would slow  you down significantly if you have to keep drinking one in battle. But, since it is so cheap, the player can easily stock up on 99 of them and drink to their heart's content outside of battle.

I also though put in a system where everyone restores 1 MP per combat round (this took a script to make it exactly 1 MP no matter who it was, or what their maximum MP was). It's not a lot, but that does mean that *eventually* people out of mana can cast again, if you wait long enough.
Wouldn't it be better to make it so you could cast two spells? It allows the player to gain momentum, while not being too overpowered

Another option is an MP Regen potion. This way, you can get more out of the potion without breaking the game. because the player has to wait to use spells if there too loose with there casting
 

bgillisp

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@Oddball: They have both options. Also, there are more than just that version of the MP potion, the one I mentioned is just the cheap and easy to afford one. The player who wants to cast more than one spell has to sacrifice a better potion though (and those cost more). It's a tradeoff.

Though I do find MP Regen potions have to be carefully designed. Make the regen too high, and the player can just spam the best spell all day late game as they will regenerate the mana used, and make it too low and no one cares about it. I find though as I play more I like my +1 MP per turn compromise, because since I have a battle party of 4 and you have 8 party members, you can rotate in and out party members to let them sit and regenerate mana.
 
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Vox Novus

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I would be very careful when putting "not easily restored" and "think about how it should be used" together when talking about MP. I've played games that are designed around that, and dungeon runs typically go like this:

Well, I have limited MP that is not easily restored and I have no idea how big this dungeon is going to be. I'd better auto-attack as much as possible on the regular encounters to save my MP for when I might need it. *1 hour later at the boss* Good thing I went through all those regular encounters using auto-attacks only, now I can unload all my characters' strongest skills on this boss and finish this dungeon.

The main problem is that players have no idea how often they should be using their skills when MP is not easily restored. This is a problem in dungeons, because players also don't know how big the dungeon is and so they feel it's better to preserve their MP for boss fights only.
Well you should definitely never be able to auto-attack through encounters; that's bad design and its just not fun. In this situation the developer needs to make ways for the player to restore mp in limited ways there are plenty of ways to do this, have guard restore a small amount, have mp recover a little each turn or include a rare to find healing item in each dungeon that let's the player restore mp to full on one character. This keeps it valuable and precious to the player and prevents them from abusing high cost skills too much but still gives them leeway; there is little point in a resource pool if its easily restored by mp items. Heal points right before a boss are an easy way to let the player restore health/mp at the end of a dungeon after they've accomplished everything else that way they don't have to worry about not having it available for a boss.

Also as the developer you can easily design dungeons to be the appropriate size based on the available resource pools of the player's characters. I for one think that as a player you should go into a game assuming the developer is giving you the tools to proceed and you aren't going to run into situations like the dungeon being too large (not all games do this of course in which case they are badly designed).

@bgillisp you don't need a script to restore one mp for each character you can do that using in battle event commands. Unless there is some other funky reason for you not being able to do that.

Anyway as Wavelength said the original purpose of the topic seems to have gotten slightly eskewed/off-track so I'd like to mention this: Awhile back I was watching Indrah play Escalia and an issue came up that is a good point to make. In the game as is common with rpg maker games there are "shiny" spots where you can find some items, however there are also spots where you can find items in places that don't have "shiny" spots. Why is this bad?

As a developer you make your game to have rules and guidelines the player needs to follow and as they go through the game you train them or teach them to follow those rules. In this case the player was taught that shiny spots have items, so they won't think that non-shiny spots can have items. Consistency is important when designing your game because that's how the player learns to get through it. The same could be said for other things as well, don't teach the player that open books can be read and then let them read non-open books, don't make the core of your battle system focused on something (elements, status problems, etc...) and then change the focus later in the game completely. The player won't realize what is going on and they may even feel cheated.
 
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bgillisp

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@Vox Novus: The reason I scripted it is I wanted the MP to restore outside of battle too, and since the features for MP regen require a %. Anyways, it was really easy to write, I just had to change one line of how regeneration effects apply.

I think you do raise good points on the consistency thing though. If the player is trained to do things one way, then it suddenly goes another way, the player feels like the game is cheating. For instance, how many of you remember the issue in FFXII where if you wanted the Zodiac Spear you had to *not* open 4 treasure chests in the game? Plus, there was no clue or anything that you were to not open these chests. So, this lead to players being trained that they should always open treasure chests from previous games, so they come into FFXII, and that behavior hurts them.

This brings up another bad design mechanic though. Guide-Dang-Its (see TV Tropes). I personally hate it when a game requires me to do something that I had no way of knowing without a guide. A good example of this is FFX Yunalesca boss, where if you don't have Zombie up that Death attack instant kills your entire party right when the 3rd form appears. However, you were trained all game to get rid of status aliments when they first hit you, so, how many people kept zombie on their characters on purpose their first attempt through the battle? I have a feeling the answer is a big, fat zero. I know I didn't, then I got hit with that undodgeable death attack, and was ready to quit the game then and there, as you have NO warning of it, and NO clue that you should intentionally let your characters get inflicted with Zombie!

(actually, I feel FFX is full of Guide-Dang-It's in terms of it's late game boss design, but that's a rant for another topic).
 
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Vox Novus

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Fortunately I already had the guide and got the zodiac spear :)

I died so many times in that yunalesca fight before I finally looked up how to beat it online.

Completely agree with you here.

edit-FF XIII is sort of like that to you never encounter the death state at all during the game but then its thrown at you in the final boss battle.
 
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Eschaton

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@bgillisp

I've said this before, that games like FFXII have features like that specifically to sell their guides. The late PSX era and all of the PS2 era Squeenix games were really bad about this. Honestly kinda turned me off to AAA JRPGs.
 

TheHonorableRyu

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I would be very careful when putting "not easily restored" and "think about how it should be used" together when talking about MP. I've played games that are designed around that, and dungeon runs typically go like this:

Well, I have limited MP that is not easily restored and I have no idea how big this dungeon is going to be. I'd better auto-attack as much as possible on the regular encounters to save my MP for when I might need it. *1 hour later at the boss* Good thing I went through all those regular encounters using auto-attacks only, now I can unload all my characters' strongest skills on this boss and finish this dungeon.

The main problem is that players have no idea how often they should be using their skills when MP is not easily restored. This is a problem in dungeons, because players also don't know how big the dungeon is and so they feel it's better to preserve their MP for boss fights only.
 

 

Well you should definitely never be able to auto-attack through encounters; that's bad design and its just not fun. In this situation the developer needs to make ways for the player to restore mp in limited ways there are plenty of ways to do this, have guard restore a small amount, have mp recover a little each turn or include a rare to find healing item in each dungeon that let's the player restore mp to full on one character. This keeps it valuable and precious to the player and prevents them from abusing high cost skills too much but still gives them leeway; there is little point in a resource pool if its easily restored by mp items. Heal points right before a boss are an easy way to let the player restore health/mp at the end of a dungeon after they've accomplished everything else that way they don't have to worry about not having it available for a boss.
 

Yeah, the game has bigger problems if all or most the regular encounters can be won by auto-attacking. 

 

There's a balance to strike here. Making it too cheap or easy to restore HP/MP can largely negate the need of thought or strategy, allowing players to repeatedly undo the consequences of poor choices. It can make the most mindless strategy the smartest one: it's faster and easier to spam autoattacks or your most powerful skills and then restore everything later, than to carefully navigate the menus to choose actions that technically result in most damage dealt/least damage taken or the most efficient use of MP. 

 

On the other hand, making HP/MP restoration too expensive or restrictive can be oppressive, unfair, or grindy. The player may be wary of using skills that cost MP, because they know a boss is coming, or they don't know what's coming, and they don't want to be stuck in a situation they can't win.

 

Tough dungeon-crawlers like the Etrian Odyssey or Shin Megami Tensei series take an illustrative approach to the problem. They essentially require all or some party members to expend MP to get through regular encounters, and train the player to expect to only be able to get so far into a dungeon before they inevitably run out of resources and have to turn back, heal at an inn, and then try again. The game trains you to know your party's limits and to find ways to slowly expand them, by allocating the skill point, buying the piece of equipment, or crafting the new unit that you think will be the most help.  This kind of grindiness isn't entirely bad design, but its appeal is limited and many other game design elements have to work well for the grind to feel addictive and rewarding rather than just plain tedious. 

 

Ultimately I prefer games that try to offer creative approaches that make MP and other resources limited and yet fair.

 

edit-FF XIII is sort of like that to you never encounter the death state at all during the game but then its thrown at you in the final boss battle.
Technically the Sacrifice Cie'th use the Death spell before the final boss battle, but your point is no less valid. The Death spell has very low chance of inflicting instant death, whereas the final boss' instant death skill has a very high chance of working and comes as a complete surprise (unless you somehow knew beforehand to equip accessories that reduce its chances). The first time I fought the battle I was doing everything right only to have the battle ended instantly by an instant death I had no way of preventing unless I had previously consulted outside information. So I just replayed the same battle with instant-death warding accessories on my main character. All it did was waste my time. 

 
 

Chiakscare

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Repetition of or repetitive Fetch Quests.

While fine in moderation or when used refreshingly, I quit playing .Hack series because I got to the final area of the 4th game and had to find 860,948 items to open some gate yet again.

Yeah, no.
 
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What I found really improved gameplay on maps is to link encounters to sprites on touch with random walking heartbeat. That way people could avoid combat in some cases.
 
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Vox Novus

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Technically the Sacrifice Cie'th use the Death spell before the final boss battle, but your point is no less valid. The Death spell has very low chance of inflicting instant death, whereas the final boss' instant death skill has a very high chance of working and comes as a complete surprise (unless you somehow knew beforehand to equip accessories that reduce its chances). The first time I fought the battle I was doing everything right only to have the battle ended instantly by an instant death I had no way of preventing unless I had previously consulted outside information. So I just replayed the same battle with instant-death warding accessories on my main character. All it did was waste my time. 
Oh yeah forgot about the sacrifice enemy, never killed me with instant death ever even post game when I used them to farm for stuff to sell or for materials. Funny thing is I actually had the FF XIII guide but never used it until I got to the final boss because I hadn't needed it yet; I had to look up to realize I was getting hit with Death in the final boss fight.

@Chiakster I will say .Hack is my guilty sin of a game series while I acknowledge its not the best by any means I can't help but love it for the pseudo-mmo experience it makes and for other stuff as well. Anyway fetch quests are usually thrown in as a means to pad gameplay length by making you either have to revisit places you've been to before or by making you have to repeat loads of battles to collect items with low drop rates. I honestly can't think of a scenario of a fun fetch quest in a rpg I've played; they are at best tolerable or passable because they are on the way or something like that so the player is fine with doing it.

This brings up another good point, obviously in making long 20+hr games (long by rpg maker standards anyway) you have to make some design decisions to lengthen the game. You should however not do things to do this cheaply by padding it with pointless content or excessive backtracking. This also ties into run rates I mentioned earlier, low run rates force players into more battles than they might need inflating playtime even more. Your environments should also not be an elaborate series of mazes with tight corridors that force encounters and make it easy for the player to get lost and inflate play time that way (I'm thinking of you Whisper of a Rose!)
 

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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The final boss of FFXIII uses Death? Never experienced that... It uses this skill that drains your hp to a very small amount though, but never instant death...
 
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TheHonorableRyu

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It doesn't use Death but a skill called Progenitorial Wrath that has a higher chance (~50% base chance) of inflicting instant death. An instant game over if it works on your party leader.
 

EternalShadow

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@bgillisp

I've said this before, that games like FFXII have features like that specifically to sell their guides. The late PSX era and all of the PS2 era Squeenix games were really bad about this. Honestly kinda turned me off to AAA JRPGs.
In all fariness, the 12 guide is great :p
 

TheHonorableRyu

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Here's a big one: 

Carrying over Dungeons & Dragon-style random number generator mechanics into the battle mechanics of single-player video game. The Wizardry series is a chief offender here (although I like this series' class/party customization).

A high degree of randomness in D&D works because if someone gets unlucky dice rolls the DM and players will tell a story around it; the misfortunes will be incorporated into an unfolding story, which is a major draw of tabletop RPGs. But in a single-player video game that social storytelling element is lost, leaving the player in a meaningless unfair and/or time-wasting contest with the RNG. 

If a player can make the same choices in an RPG battle, even the best choices, and get a wildly different result each time, then I think that's bad game design. It's certainly not meaningful challenge or difficulty. In some RPGs the hitting/missing/evasion/crits is just ridiculous (and possibly sadistic). Winning, losing, the difference between having to use restorative options (unfair if such options are rare and costly, time-wasting if they are common and cheap) is all up to the RNG. At that point why even have battles with choices from menus? You may as well have a slot machine that randomly decides and tells the player whether they won or got a game over, and how many HP, MP, and items they gained or lost. 

Most RPGs aren't this bad, but a lot do perpetuate the hitting and missing mechanics of early RPGs which were imitating tabletop RPGs. In action RPGs and some map-based RPGs hitting and missing makes spatial or positional sense, but in a menu and turn-based RPG it's good to ask what purpose are they really serving. A lot of the time it's pointless and annoying. If one wants to make hitting and missing part of the game then it should be put to strategic use. Like perhaps only some enemies can evade attacks but characters can learn attacks that have extra accuracy, or attach gems to their weapons to make them more accurate, and the player has to decide what characters or how many will specialize in the extra accurate attacks. 
 
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Milennin

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Long post about RNG.
I don't fully agree with this and in fact I believe that RNG can be used to enhance the experience. But as with most things when it comes to RPG-making, it depends on the rest of the game. So, how can RNG be a good thing?

First, RNG helps give the game more variance, which in turn makes it more fun. Having your attack miss at a crucial moment when it should have hit adds a feeling of excitement, because suddenly you're in a bad situation. The same goes for when you're about to go down, but then suddenly you land a miracle critical hit to save your sorry bum.

Second, it keeps the player on their toes. When you know for sure your attack is going to hit, there's nothing more to think about when making your move. When there is a chance to miss (especially if it's a fair chance), the player might want to rethink their move and maybe come up with an alternative plan. In addition, when RNG does goes wrong, the player is forced to adapt to the new situation, change plans or strategy. A bad player will blame their loss on the game, while a good player will make the best of the situation and deals with it.

In my opinion RNG is bad (in the average RPG Maker game setting) when:

-When the outcome of RNG is too big. So, basically if a good RNG roll can easily win a battle out of nowhere, or a bad RNG roll can suddenly lose a battle out of nowhere. Instant kill spells with a low chance to hit are an example of this.

-Too much reliance on RNG. When there is so much RNG involved that the player is unable to form any kind of plan or strategy in battle because every turn is solely decided by RNG.

-No other options but to heavily rely on RNG. Goes with the point made above. Having a skill that is a big RNG roll can be fine (as long as it avoids the first point made), the problem is when every skill functions like that, leaving the player with no choice.

In my opinion how to do RNG right:

-Keep variance in check.

-Keep RNG as a secondary ingredient to help spice up the gameplay, rather than a main component.

-Give the player choice over the amount of RNG they are willing to deal with (like, having weaker weapons with higher hit chance, or possibly skills/equipment that can boost accuracy).

The amount of RNG you should have in your game also heavily depends on the kind of game you're making. Basically, the easier your game is, the more you can get away with random stuff happening in it. While the more difficult your game is, the less you'd probably want of it to avoid the player getting RNG screwed.
 

woootbm

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If a player can make the same choices in an RPG battle, even the best choices, and get a wildly different result each time, then I think that's bad game design. It's certainly not meaningful challenge or difficulty. In some RPGs the hitting/missing/evasion/crits is just ridiculous (and possibly sadistic). Winning, losing, the difference between having to use restorative options (unfair if such options are rare and costly, time-wasting if they are common and cheap) is all up to the RNG. At that point why even have battles with choices from menus? You may as well have a slot machine that randomly decides and tells the player whether they won or got a game over, and how many HP, MP, and items they gained or lost. 
I actually ended up hating Fallout 1 (which is a beloved game for most everyone) for this reason. I was either one-hit killing things with a shot to the eye, or taking too much damage to deal with. Later I learned I didn't put all my points in agi and that is a god stat, but that kind of imbalance just irritated me further. It doesn't help that I first played this game in like... 2011. So I didn't have any nostalgia goggles equipped to get me through.

I do agree a major pitfall of combat in RPG's is to simply throw a mediocre hit chance at the player and call it a day. I've been playing Shadowrun Hong Kong on Hard lately and at first it seemed like "bad hit chance" was how they had improved the tactical play in the game. But as I progress I'm finding skills and strats to put myself in much better odds for a hit, although sometimes putting myself at risk to do so. Which I think is the way to do it right: strategize to get that hit in, or go for a Hail Mary of a shot and hope for the best. Makes the player really feel those "Damn, it didn't work!" and "YES IT WORKED!" as though they actually caused them and earned them.
 

Vox Novus

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I've heard of some people who think there attacks should hit all the time its not necessarily a bad thing and you could make a fun game to play doing that and have it be balanced but I prefer there being a slight chance for most attacks to miss (even if its just 5%). I feel like by not having that in the design the developer is limiting themselves more in the type of skills they can make available to the player.

Since attacks can miss you can make special skills that are guaranteed hits or you can make some skills be have a critical chance or high damage output and balance it out with a lower chance of accuracy. Then to play off of this you could have other party members provide accuracy boosting states or buffs to the allies with low miss skills to boost their effectiveness and create a sort of party synergy when used right.

I think as similar thing applies to evasion, the average enemy probably should have low evasion stats you should definitely be able to hit them the majority of the time.  Designed from a specific standpoint you can use evasion to make the player use different strategies. Maybe you have an enemy that has high physical evasion, this might make the player focus on using magic attacks to circumvent this or maybe they use some of those certain hit skills or accuracy boosting states mentioned above.

One of the biggest offenders I see though in Rng of randomness of stats is Critical hit rate. In your average rpg critical hit rate for normal encountered enemies is a no in my book; it absolutely sucks as the player to be winning doing otherwise nothing wrong and then get nailed with a multi-hit critical hit and get wiped out, save critical hit rates on enemies for boss monsters, which are supposed to be more difficult and threatening than the average encounter.

Of course part of this depends on how the game is designed, look at pokemon critical hits work in that game because one, they actually don't seem to happen that often unless specific skills or something has been used and even if you do take an unlucky critical hit you usually have a back-up ally. Even more though is that if you die the punishment isn't as severe as a standard rpg, you simply go back to the last pokemon center you rested at. This means that all it takes is some quick running through a nearby area and you are back where you were before you died, trainer battles (the majority of relatively forced encounters) don't repeat so it never feels like you've lost a significant amount of progress and you retain any items, exp you had before losing due to there being no gameovers.
 
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Whether it's bad for standard encounters to be able to crit really depends on how damage the enemy will do if they crit. If criticals just do double damage and an enemy isn't going to one-shot you with a lucky crit, it's not really going to be too annoying. If you're going with the RPG Maker VX Ace default of x3, that can be pretty painful.

I'm reminding of playing Dragon Quest III, where you could be going through an area where even a Wizard is taking puny damage from monsters...only to have a monster suddenly crit for more damage than your toughest member's max HP. That's...fun.
 

TheHonorableRyu

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Melennin, I think we agree on the points you listed on how to do RNG wrong or right. The focus of my post is when extremely high D&D levels of RNG are just ported over into a single-player RPG, as in the Wizardry series, and I mentioned that basic/hitting missing can be put to strategic use. 

 

I agree that RNG can serve a useful purpose and that it's usually good to have some variance, but I also think that missing (especially for regular attacks for all characters by default) often ends up fairly pointless and time-wasting. 

 

The amount of RNG you should have in your game also heavily depends on the kind of game you're making. Basically, the easier your game is, the more you can get away with random stuff happening in it. While the more difficult your game is, the less you'd probably want of it to avoid the player getting RNG screwed.
The problem here is that the easier the game the less missing tends makes a palpable difference, other than to waste time. I've played plenty of RPGs where my choices in battle don't matter very much because the game is easy, and here missing doesn't "keep me on my toes" so much as to prompt me to click the same button again or wait longer for autoattack to do its job. Yeah, there some variance but it's like having variance in the task of stuffing envelopes: a character missed, I took one more hit from an enemy as a result, and now I use one more healing potion than I would otherwise--it's busywork. On the other hand, the more difficult or unforgiving the game is the more likely a RNG miss will end unfairly punishing players for something beyond their control. 

I do think one can strike a good balance here, but it does involve submitting RNG to strategic use, that is, meaningful player choices. Stuff like building a party where designated units specialize in hitting evasive enemies, or making only some attacks (not all attacks) have a lower hit chance, or making missing a problem that player can address with different loadouts (like you mentioned), etc. And there's other--and arguably more profitable--areas that help keep battles fresh, exciting, and full of variety. The early Paper Mario RPGs have very little random variance (no RNG misses or even damage variance), but timed command presses, interesting loadouts, and creative scenarios made battles more engaging and fun than a lot of standard JRPGs. 
 
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