Poor Mechanics in RPGs

Wavelength

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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.
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.
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.
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.
Just quoting a few of my favorite lines from the last page of this thread.  Awesome stuff. :)

My own thoughts on the matter: variance is fun when it leads to reaction and improvisation.  Like Ryu said this kind of variance can be found in a pen-and-paper RPG, and I think it can also be great when the setup has variance like in Civilization or Culdcept.  But variance in the result, after an action is taken, in a video game at least... that's much harder to get right, because there is less room for reaction or improvisation.  It becomes frustrating rather than interesting or strategic or fun - and frustration is the #1 symptom of bad game design.

With that being said, I've never seen a standard RPG combat setup where RNG-based chances of hits/misses/criticals enhanced the experience for me.  I don't think it's an impossible task, but I've never seen it done right.  Persona 4 is probably the closest I've ever seen a JRPG get, because battle strategy can be so dynamic from turn to turn in that game, but even then the variance adds approximately equal parts frustration and fun.

Tactics Arena Online (an online competitive game with SRPG-like battles) is one place where I think missing ("blocking") works well.  Only some units have a chance to block and a unit being attacked from the back (hard to pull off against a good formation) can never block.  Additionally, when a unit with a chance to block succeeds or fails in doing so, its chance to block for the next few turns is lowered or raised by a known amount to compensate for a player's "bad beat".  What's brilliant about this is that not only does it greatly reduce the role of dumb luck in the game, but it also gives both players the chance to try to play around the temporary change to Block chance.  It allows you to improvise and to react.  It's fantastic.

I also wonder whether a video game RPG could provide the kind of dynamic roleplaying experience that a pen-and-paper RPG provides when you roll during combat.  Sryth (a text-based, single-player browser RPG) gives you some nice roleplaying opportunities with the final result of many combat encounters, with lots of branching paths or at least convincing dialogue for defeat in many battles, but it doesn't really provide any RP opportunities within combat.  That would be a pretty hard thing to accomplish, I think, but would also be incredibly cool.
 
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I try to do allot of sensible RNG. For instance in Wills and Wonders damage amounts vary but attacks always execute. Then some classes will have traits which give them RNG towards specific combat aspects...

Fierce - chance to critical strike, being total damage through a multiplier; so something along the lines of 2X damage

Evasive - chance to evade attacks

Counter - Counter on evade

I also use negative effects that will have a lingering RNG factor. Such as an attack that causes Blind, which could lead to missing attacks.
 

Vox Novus

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Hey let's talk about agility and turn order :thumbsup-right: Been playing Skyborn and it brought up an issue to me (I have another major issue with skyborn but it isn't mechanic related so I won't bring it up).

If turn order is based on agility it needs to make sense to the player in some way; there should be a way they connect with who is going to act first, etc...

In Skyborn I ran into this issue and am currently absolutely confused by it. The battle system's twist is that characters generate threat by attacking or slaying enemies as well as being the last to act in the turn order. Some skills execute later or generate threat so from that point its easy to alter turn order at least early on.

What has me confused though is what is determining the turn order/how it is determined. It isn't quite explained in game; I assumed it was agility since that is the standard and the game didn't say otherwise. Since you can craft armors of different forms (light, middle and heavy) you can use that to alter agility with heavy lowering agility greatly. I assumed a lower agility would mean they act later so I gave my tank sullivan all heavy armor giving him incredibly low agility yet he acts second in battle for some reason.

Also there is weight to weapons; does weight effect turn order? Does it effect agility; the game isn't explaining something or the system is really broken/glitchy.

Basically make your game so the player knows how the turn order is determined whether it is by agility or etc... or just by action order. Another way in determining agility is to look at what armor the character can equip and have that alter agility as well as look at the character. The big beefy warrior or old mage might not be as quick to move as a spunky kid or a sneaky rogue.
 
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bgillisp

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Yeah, Skyborn really blew it with the turn order + threat system. I never found a way to make it so that my tank ever went later than 2nd, so my 5th person to act usually ended up with all the threat, and therefore, an instant KO. Of course, I found the final boss everyone complains about a total joke too as they just targeted my 5th person all day, I revived them, repeat until I won.

On the original post idea. I've been playing pillars of eternity, and it has *many* bad mechanics. Maybe it is a case of they put in what the crowd wanted, ignoring the fact that the average person doesn't want it. Here are a couple examples:

1: Restricting rest unless you had camping supplies. I get that they were trying to prevent you from resting after every battle, but what they did then was they put a cap on how many of them you could carry with you at once. Plus, I've never had camping supplies regenerate in my game, so once I buy the meager 3 - 4 the merchant offers, that's it. So, what it ends up resulting in is I will retreat from the dungeon, rest at an inn, then return, and all this dynamic does is waste 3 - 5 minutes of my time. Any mechanic that exits only to waste the player's time is flawed. Maybe if the supplies had actually restocked, and/or didn't have the cap (which in my game is 4, so 4 rests then that's it. Fun).

2: The health + Endurance system. Attacks take off Endurance...except when they don't. Seriously, I've had a player go from full health to dead in the same fight with no explanation of why. Also, I personally don't like it as enemies don't have the same restriction, so it feels more like an attempt to restrict how many fights the player can do without resting more than anything.
 

Vox Novus

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@bgillisp I don't like a system like that where it effects the player but not the enemy it feels unfair unless there is a particular reason for it and it is well-balanced. For example in Skyborn's case it doesn't make sense for enemies to have threat of course because you need to be able to choose who to attack to get through battles (of course that system seems to have enough of its own problems).
 

bgillisp

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@Vox Novus: True. I can't see how a threat system that was on enemies could work, so I agree there. But then again, I'm also the player that now when I see an RPG has a threat system I cringe as I've seen it poorly implemented so many times now that I've come to despise the system.
 

Vox Novus

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I guess thinking about the point you make with resting it should either be like early final fantasy games where you could use a tent or something to heal and you could just find or re-buy them or you should create a point in the dungeon where they can restore (I find before bosses is good although you may need a mid-point depending upon length). Designing the dungeon to take into account how taxing it is on the player and available supplies is important if the main method of healing isn't going to be rest points otherwise the player needs to have access to them.

Another interesting option and one that involves gameplay more would be to have an easily accessible "camping spot" and have the player need to gather supplies to set-up camp when they want to. Maybe they can start a fire by gathering rocks and branches in the dungeon or the surrounding are around the dungeon (as an example it would vary depending on game type and dungeon area, etc...).
 

DosBuster

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It'd make the process of getting camping supplies fairly trivial, even early game I mean logically rocks and branches are everywhere so if you only have a rare amount then players will think "Hang on, are you telling not only does erosion exist in this world, but also that no trees inhabit the environment?". The best way to handle resting, is not to have it as a healing mechanic. It always ends up being spammed and exploited.
 

BadMinotaur

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To comment on a subject that came up a few pages ago -- I think instant KO can be done well, at least when only the player has access to it.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep does this very well. The Void spell instantly kills non-boss enemies, and a lot of them. They still drop their items, but they give no XP. In fact, Re: Chain of Memories also has Void and almost encourages this -- one of the best ways to get the rarest cards in the game is to go into encounters and use Void to insta-kill everything.
 

bgillisp

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I dunno. I think the problem with a rest system is if you restrict it, you need to restrict it in a way that makes sense. I personally think the old D and D games did it the best when you could rest wherever you wanted to, but you had a chance of being attacked (the chance depended on where you rested. Rest in the middle of the enemy lair, you would almost always be attacked). Then it turned into a "How badly do you need to rest?" type mechanic.

Sure, you could exploit it by save scumming, but honestly, what system can't be exploited by save scumming?
 

Omnimental

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In regards to the rest mechanic, I got around that issue by making a 'wounded' status that was inflicted if an actor dropped to a low health, and persisted through KO. This state reduced all their attributes, and resting at camp recovered health, but didn't remove the effect. Removing the wounded state could only be done via items/apothecaries/inns.

So resting places still had their uses, but they weren't abusable full heals.
 

Vox Novus

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To start a new point of discussion, I think when you balance your battles and factor in the characters stats from leveling and equipment its important there is a perceived notion of getting stronger at each new area. By this I mean if I start the game doing around 20 dmg to an enemy and by the time I leveled and got new gear and headed to the next new dungeon I'm still doing around 20 dmg to the enemies there I don't feel like I've gotten much stronger even though level and gear wise I know I have. 
 

BadMinotaur

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One thing you can do to get that feeling of power is to balance everything off percentages of the opposition's health. Sure, you're doing more damage now, but your enemies have more health proportionally now, and it still takes three hits to take down an enemy.

But the numbers still go up, so you still get that rush of power.

I noticed one thing that Grandia II does -- it lets you upgrade your equipment, then tosses some of the weaker enemies at you for a brief part of a dungeon or wilderness area. This way you feel awesome, then challenged again when they toss the harder foes at you.
 

Nanaki_Fan

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I noticed one thing that Grandia II does --.............................tosses some of the weaker enemies at you for a brief part of a dungeon or wilderness area. This way you feel awesome, then challenged again when they toss the harder foes at you.
This is pretty much what I am doing in my game. I am every so often mixing stronger foes in with some weaker ones as you transition to harder maps.
 

Liak

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I hate ATB battle systems. Why keep people doing that when CTB is basically the same thing but clearly better (since no wait time)?
 

bgillisp

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@Liak: I've never liked this obsession with ATB's either. If I want to play an action game, I'll go play an action game. I play RPG's to let me think and plan out my moves at my own speed.

Though, funny thing is I usually can decide my moves much faster than an ATB bar. I still remember playing FF7 (PC version) and waiting and waiting and waiting for that bar to fill just so I can hit attack and finish off the last monster.
 
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Vox Novus

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I don't mind ATB's and for the most part you can still plan ahead, it seems to somehow end up being more a visual thing than an actual factor in the battle system. I think rpgs that move at a quick pace are nice to though; Final fantasy X-2 was really fun it moved at a quick pace in battle and enemy actions even could occur while you were trying to sift through items (this can be adjusted though in the options); it keeps you on your toes the entire time and makes the game exciting and interesting.

One thing is for sure though, be up front with the people who might play your rpg when describing the battle system. Don't tell them its turn based and then surprise them with something like wacky quick time mechanics.
 

Wavelength

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I hate ATB battle systems. Why keep people doing that when CTB is basically the same thing but clearly better (since no wait time)?
There are "Real ATBs" and "Faux ATBs".

Faux ATBs are ones like RPG Maker 3.  You wait for the gauges to fill up, then the action pauses while you work through the menus and select your action.  These are dumb.  They don't belong anywhere.  Like you say, they are CTBs with additional unnecessary downtime spent waiting for bars to fill up.

Real ATBs are ones like Final Fantasy 7.  You wait for the gauges to fill up... but then the bars keep filling and actions keep happening while you are working through the menus.  Done well, it adds an exciting, hectic element of "think quick" to battle that a CTB could never provide.  It is like playing speed chess - you are not trying to calculate a million details to come up with the best possible move, but instead trying to crunch a few hundred quickly to come up with a merely good one.  Any "downtime" can be effectively spent planning your next move in advance.  Heuristics will rule the day.  I like this as kind of a medium between ABS and CTB - real time without will real movement - and I think there's definitely a place for it in some RPGs.

Additionally, this kind of Real ATB would also allow a creative developer to create fun "interface screw" status effects (e.g. a "dazed" status that swapped the position of different choices on the menu) that would have a real effect on battle by forcing the player to either slow down or risk mistakes - in a CTB this would be nothing more than an annoyance since forcing the player to slow down has no effect on the course of battle.
 

Kes

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I think that there are significant drawbacks even to the way Wavelength describes it, because it still militates against any sort of deep strategy.  it encourages reliance on just a few skills that you can remember, that are probably near the top of the skill list so that you don't use any time scrolling through, ditto items near the top of the inventory, because spending time to go down either list could mean that the enemy gets another hit in.

It also cannot take account of the unexpected.  There was one final boss battle where I was about 20 minutes in, had got to the point where the battle was going to be mine in just a couple of turns, and then I had a small sneezing fit.  During that time enemy healing took place, the boss's mega skill got charged up and I ended up with Game Over.  No, not ever again.
 

Wavelength

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I think that there are significant drawbacks even to the way Wavelength describes it, because it still militates against any sort of deep strategy.  it encourages reliance on just a few skills that you can remember, that are probably near the top of the skill list so that you don't use any time scrolling through, ditto items near the top of the inventory, because spending time to go down either list could mean that the enemy gets another hit in.
Like speed chess - it has benefits and drawbacks.  It's different.  Speed chess, too, favors recognition and common patterns over deep thought.  Yet, some people like this.

I think it's a good fit for a battle system where tactics are less important than overall strategy and most mechanics are intuitive, or where you want "reaction" to be a big element of the battle system's skill (e.g. a lot of enemies can two-shot characters but not one-shot them, so you need to heal the right person quickly before they get another hit in).  There are a lot of games it wouldn't be a good fit for.  I wouldn't want an ATB system in Persona, for example.

A good battle interface is necessary for ATBs as well as any game with active elements (ABS's, MOBA's, RTS's, Fighting Games, etc.).  If it takes the player 14 clicks to select the skill they want to use, of course they're not going to use it in an ATB (or MOBA or RTS or Fighting Game).  Hotkeys, friendly scrolling, large grids with readable icons, etc. are helpful in designing a good ATB.

Edit: I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think it's wrong to say ATB is a poor mechanic on its own - unlike the things I mentioned in Post #42 which I think ARE bad mechanics per se - but rather that designers too often try to shoehorn all of a Turn-Based system's mechanics into an ATB system - which at best is going to cause unnecessary waiting and obscure some deep strategy elements and at worst is going to make the battle system a player-unfriendly disaster.

It also cannot take account of the unexpected.  There was one final boss battle where I was about 20 minutes in, had got to the point where the battle was going to be mine in just a couple of turns, and then I had a small sneezing fit.  During that time enemy healing took place, the boss's mega skill got charged up and I ended up with Game Over.  No, not ever again.
This is true in 95% of games (with turn-based RPGs, TBS's, and board games being rare exceptions).  If your cat starts attacking your friend or you spill a gallon of juice or your doorbell rings or you go into a sneezing fit, you Pause the game!!  I see no reason ATB's should be any different.

Edit: In theory the ability to pause the game sort of defeats the point of an ATB, but a player who would constantly pause to think is missing the entire point, I think.  The same player could probably improve their performance by pausing a game of Super Smash Bros. every few seconds to think about their next move, or for that matter calling "timeout" every time someone make a pass or steal in a pick-up game of basketball, but they'd be missing out on the fun of frantically trying to figure out what to do next.
 
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