Random encounters considered harmful

WyreWizard

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I have to say I agree with you.  I love RPGs but DONT love random encounters.

I like to go explore a dungeon or overworld area, but I vehemently dislike being dragged into a battle, disrupting my exploration or puzzle-solving.

I mean let me ask this, how many of you go through a very maze-like dungeon, decide a path, then the game pulls you into an unwanted battle and when the battle is over, you forget where you intended to go so you take a different path.

I'm ashamed to admit some of my favorite RPGs, some of which I still have, have random encounters.  I play them from time to time and when the random encounters get too irritating, I put the game back.
 

kerbonklin

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Random encounters shouldn't really break any kind of immersion for the player since the immersion should already be broken. Your current storyline-telling and chats should be over with, and now you're travelling somewhere. The immersion stopped. Then when you get up to a fancy map area after some travelling where you feel like something will happen, or is different, or a boss will be lurking, then the immersion comes back, which usually more storyline-telling happens and maybe a boss fight.
 
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avkrakkle

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Disclaimer: No judgement is implied by the following questions. I'm just curious, and trying to generate discussion.

To those who dislike random encounters: Have you played Legend of Dragoon? The game had "random" encounters, but was very clear when you would run into one, via a colored arrow above your head. What did you think?

Also, what about Final Fantasy X? No encounter indicatator, but very clear distinctions between "encounter" areas and "story" areas, with predictable encounter patterns.

What about (various) games with random encounters but action-oriented battle systems? Is it the disruption you hate, or do you dislike the battle system to some degree?

Here's a good one: Who liked Final Fantasy XII's battle system? (Me, I confess...)

Edit: If you're curious, my favorite solution to encounters comes from Persona 4. If you haven't played it, here's a summary. Enemies show up on the map. If you attack them first, you get first strike. If they get you first, they get the first turns. Ties are... ties. It's a typical turn-based battle system, but every character moves after their action is chosen (like LoD, or FF if the Active Time Battle system is set to Wait). The best part about it is that you can set your friends to "Act Freely," and they're fairly intelligent about their actions. For the most part, I can even leave them on Act Freely (versus "Direct Commands," where you control them) during boss battles, and they won't perform too badly.
 
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Lars Ulrika

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I tend to disagree with the "immersion break" invoked against random encounters. That depends on how you manage them and the kind of monsters you make for such or such area. 

I have nothing against random encounter as long as it doesn't happen every five steps. Therefore, touch encounters are excruciatingly hard to balance correctly. The line between over-avoidable enemy and unavoidable one is so thin it's a pain to do correclty. 

I think making correcly configured random encounter is less risky to design. 
 

Indinera

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I tend to think most players will play a game they like regardless of the type of encounter. I tried both and results seem to indicate there is no significant weight on encounter-type.
 

Indinera

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To be fair, nobody likes the 3 Steps 2 Encounters which is a possibility with old games. I was fed up with it and got it removed forever from my games. Once you set a fixed amount of steps between encounters, it runs smoothly and is just as good as visible encounter.
 
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Lars Ulrika

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The only game that made me hate Random Encounters with a passion was Breath of Fire 1
Breath of Fire 2 quite pissed me off in some dungeons too lol. 
 

Indinera

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You can use Rand or the frog to move faster on the map. :)
 

amerk

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To be fair, nobody likes the 3 Steps 2 Encounters which is a possibility with old games. I was fed up with it and got it removed forever from my games. Once you set a fixed amount of steps between encounters, it runs smoothly and is just as good as visible encounter.
Agreed! The default of 30+ steps is way too small for most areas and heavily flawed in its math. My suggestion (for those who prefer random encounters) would be to either use a script that provides an encounter indicator, making it the same exact steps each time, or raise the default to something like 50+ steps for smaller dungeon rooms, maybe 100+ steps for larger dungeon rooms, and 0 encounters for puzzle rooms.
 

ExeErdna

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I don't mind random battles at all. Yet for the map I've been building is 200x400. So I want the enemy majority to be touch / approch encounters. An example is like a snowfield that's being controlled and patrolled by human chars. So I have them walking routes and jumping out from behind trees. After that I have dangerous wildlife and monsters be on the random setup because the current area is controlled by people so they'll already have cleared the former majority.
 
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I'm probably going to get a faceful of rotten ketchup but here goes.  Anyone consider "scanner encounters"?  While monsters spawn randomly (and somehow block cell phone reception *shrugs*) you can almost ignore them getting most of your strength out of lot's of eating and just stroll from boss to boss like it was a normal sunny day.

If by chance you needed what the monsters are packing you just turn the scanner on and grab what and however many encounters you want (hello chain bonuses).

Not really sure how someone can pull this in RM but there you go.
 

Travatar

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As much as I hate random encounters, I'll play devil's advocate and say that I can sort of understand a purpose for them. Let's say your characters are in General Evilman's fortress, guarded by soldiers and/or monsters. By all rights, your party should be at a disadvantage. After all, they're entering unknown territory, and it's someone else's home turf. They are likely being stalked by the aforementioned soldiers/monsters. It only makes sense that you would stumble into soldiers making their rounds, or foul beasts who smell something amiss in the air. But in a third-person perspective that allows you to see all of your immediate surroundings without even turning around, how can you simulate this element of surprise?

One way employed by those who came before, was to remove the ability to see the monsters ahead of time.

I'm not saying that this way is right, and I'll be the first to admit that it used to frustrate the hell out of me in the days of 2-step and 5-step encounters. And don't get me started on the levels of Hell that should be reserved for people who make complex, puzzle-heavy dungeons with absurdly frequent random encounters. But I can concede that it does serve some purpose beyond saying simply "Let's frustrate the player."

There are now better, albeit more complex ways of accomplishing this. For the would-be creator that wants to use random encounters, ask yourself this: What sort of immersion are you trying to produce? Maybe you want to give the player that feeling of "Aw, crap we just tripped into the Orcs!" but without making it a full-on stealth thing. Random encounters are a possible solution to this, but I would recommend keeping the dungeon's layout as logical and light on puzzles as can be afforded. And you may want to keep the frequency of those encounters low. If you're going for some sort of plausibility, think of this: How many groups of stupefied Orcs can you stumble on before an alarm is sounded and you're mobbed by hundreds of the *******s and dragged down into General Evilman's collection of Spanish Inquisition torture devices?

(And if that last bit sounds like it would make a great idea for your game, you're probably better off finding a way to make it a full-on stealth level, with visible enemy encounters.)
 
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Clord

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There is also other problem with those so called "visible" monsters which roam around. Some people tend to skip them and then have hard time due they try to face some level 10 easy to beat boss as level 1. Not that many would be so foolish but I overexaggerate to make a point.
 
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amerk

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Treat visible encounters like you do random encounters, in that they should be balanced accordingly. If every 17x13 map had 3 or 4 visible enemy troops, and the player fights through each one, they should be able to tackle on the next map without having to respawn the enemies they just fought, unless it's because the player enjoys grinding, and they choose to. You may tailor the combat knowing the player will only fight about 3/4 of what's there, if you think it will help. However, if the player chooses to skip those encounters, that's there problem, and you can't hold their hands 100% of the way. The same is true with random encounters if the player escapes all the time.

With random encounters, they should be spaced well enough so the player isn't being targeted every few steps, but also just enough so the player can get through the dungeon without having to stand around and level grind, unless they want to.
 

Maus Merryjest

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Clord, that's a valid concern. There's the option of having scalable enemies-- enemies that level up with you, with specific enemies reaching the plateau at specific levels (slimes don't go past level 5, for example) so that if your player skips on some XP, he faces a challenge that is within his grasp. Of course, at this point you have to stop thinking of enemies at specific levels but set their stats by a first level party's standards-- and those states would simply scale with levels (up to the level limit.) The idea in paper, therefore, is that players who skip on fights don't get stomped to the ground, and players who do their work might find some encounters easier if they are past a particular enemy's level cap.

There are some problems with this, of course-- Oblivion showed some of the more problematic issues of this when you don't have level caps implemented.
 

hian

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A few objects to your line of reasoning here.

First and foremost, they destroy any immersion the player might have had in the game. Random encounters are a sudden and unexpected interruption against what the player was previously doing, breaking the flow of the game and the train of thought that the player had. Although one might argue that it's irrelevant since the player can escape, in most games the escape option works a negligible amount of times and even when it does work properly, escaping doesn't undo the interruption that the encounter itself had on the flow of the game.
This is an extremely subjective argument. For instance, while it might ruin your immersion in a game, it does not ruin mine. This I suspect, has a lot to do with what you expect of a game to begin with. If you accept and expect random encounters to be a part of your rpg experience, you're not going to feel that they ruin your immersion.

Secondly, sudden and unexpected interruptions in games are not limited to random encounters, and is something that can just as easily be said for touch encounters as well.

Chrono Cross is a good example. The encounters in Chrono Cross are extremely annoying despite being touch encounters.

Personally, I find encounter rates and loading times to be much more relevant issues when it comes to what I feel break the flow of a game.

Secondly, they disincentivize exploration. When a player wants to explore, let them explore! If I'm really digging your map and find your world fun to discover, then let me do that! Don't pull me away from what I want to be doing to do something else! If the player is looking around the world when they aren't forced to, then they're expressing an implicit desire to explore the world. They're having fun! The worst thing you can do as a game designer is to tear the player away from something they're having fun doing.
But then again, maybe the player is like me, a person who doesn't care all that much about exploration to begin with.

Never confuse what you want to be doing, with what everyone else wants to be doing.

Personally, forexample, I thought FF12 was the worst in the series largely because of the large, and largely pointless dungeon/town exploration segments. I've always played FF games for the story, so to me exploration is what is detracting from the fun of the game(namely the story and the battles).

But aren't battles a defining characteristic of RPGs? Why would someone be playing the game if they didn't want to fight? Well, there's a time and a place for everything. By placing encounters visibly on the map, you allow the player to explore while alerting them of the presence of danger. This allows the player to recognize that the area they're in isn't safe to explore, which allows the player to leave if they don't want to fight battles now, or to take a gamble and try to evade the battles.
I'd say story and character development are the defining characteristics of RPGs, but I digress.

I do agree fully with this point though. However, if the game I'm playing has a good and fast paced battle system, then I wouldn't really care about these points at all.

Again, in Chrono Cross, touch battle function works best(still frustrating though), namely because the transition into battle is super slow, and the battles are slow as well. If I couldn't avoid the battles, they'd be more frustrating than they already are.

In FF7 on the other hand, transitions are fast, and battles end quickly. You are also frequently rewarded for your efforts(Levels, materia levels, limit breaks, items, and general progress) I.E I hardly noticed them at all.

In summary, I'd rather Chrono Cross had random encounters with fast transitions and fast pace, than it's current touch battle system.

Not only do they improve the experience for players who enjoy exploration, but they also make the game better for players who enjoy battles. When the encounters are visible on the screen, combat-seeking players know exactly where to go to engage in battle and to expect what kinds of challenges they'll be facing. This lets them pick and choose their fights, allowing them to maximize their own enjoyment of the game. It's obnoxious running around in circles, waiting for that one encounter you need to proc, only for a battle to start up and it not be the one you wanted to fight, forcing you to waste time running away and beginning the process all over again.
That depends. Respawn rates, for instance, largely impact(and cause trouble for) battle-focused players.

If I kill everything on the map, will new monsters spawn? Or will I have to leave and come back?

Both alternatives are a pain -

Endlessly respawning monsters have a nasty habit of breaking the gameplay mechanics that are supposed to allow you to evade the monsters to begin with.

Leaving and coming back is a waste of time that forces you to back track("run in circles"), and is therefore not really much different from running around waiting on random encounters.

As for not being able to pick and choose your fights - This can be a good thing. Maybe you want some drops, or foes, to be rare. This is easily solved with random encounters. The only real way of solving it in a touch battle system is having your mobs spawn randomly, which again detracts from the original idea of the mechanic, and renders it not much different from the random encounter dynamics to begin with.

As such, touch encounters benefit both players who prefer exploration and players who prefer to fight battles. Who does this leave? Why would you choose to use random encounters, even knowing that you can increase the enjoyment of both combat-types and exploration-types by eliminating them?
Because, as I illustrated above, the issue isn't that black and white.

Here are a few pros to random encounters on the top of my head -

- You are free to create your maps the way you please without having to take into account the mechanices of the touch system I.E you don't have to worry about enviroments being to narrow, or small for the player to avoid the enemies.

- You don't have to worry about how your mobs going to spawn, in what frequency etc, and how that is going to effect the experience of the players who're going to invest a lot of time in battles.

- You can use the random encounter system to increase the difficulty of acquiring certain items, or triggering certain events(FF7 - Yuffie, Breath of Fire 3 - skill system for example) with ease.

In any case, the touch-battle system is fine in its own right - but that doesn't mean that it's somehow always preferable to random encounters, or that people who stick to random encounters are somehow ruining the fun of all the players.
 

Jawnsunn

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I'm not the guy that prefers one or the other.

I'm more attentive to the battle system for the random/touch encounter than the kind of encounter itself. A REALLY bad example would probably be Final Fantasy 9 and the ATB system. Even at the fastest setting, the gauges are so damn slow with the overly long camera angle intros. It takes almost 5-10 minutes to get a random battle done. That's pretty unacceptable if I'm dealing with low HP enemies.
 

Travatar

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In any case, the touch-battle system is fine in its own right - but that doesn't mean that it's somehow always preferable to random encounters, or that people who stick to random encounters are somehow ruining the fun of all the players.
I can agree to this, but I think anyone who opts to use random encounters in order to save time is doing it wrong. While the considerations and effort might be different, someone who uses random encounters should be using the time that they're saving to balance and tweak the random encounter system to make sure it works. A dungeon that works in a touch-encounter system may not work in a random encounter system, and vice versa. (The same goes for battles that take place on-screen vs. shifting to a different battle screen, but I digress.)

It's not that random encounters are annoying in and of themselves, but when combined with potential hazards like high encounter rates, battles that consistently take way too long to complete, and dungeon/puzzle design that results in players getting turned around or lost... they can be the worst thing ever. The reason they have such a bad reputation is because lazy designers confuse challenge-and-reward with stress-and-tedium.
 

TheCastle

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Random encounters compliment these styles of game play

-A game based around survival without main goals outside of leveling up or finding a rare encounter.

Pre set encounters compliment these styles of game play

-A main story and goals that are not solely based around the games combat.

In other words, if the player ever has a goal other than to fight random stuff in an area then you want to avoid random encounters. If you do intend to use random encounters when the player has other goals in mind outside of just the games combat then you want to make sure you limit them and give the player the option to turn them off or avoid them.

Random encounters are only good when they are the point of the game.
 
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