Schools in RPGs - what elements do you consider important?

CrazyCrab

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Hi everyone,

my current side project is most likely to be located in a school, but the more I think about the more confused I am about some of the mechanics. Keeping things simple, how do you feel about the following:

  • Lessons: Do you like the idea of being 'late' or do you think that the traditional way of nothing will happen until you get there is a safer bet?
  • Survival: In a game about exploration, do you like the idea of having to eat, going to sleep etc? You will be exploring a dungeon between lessons and I'm wondering if having to go to eat somewhere will not just take away some of the fun and become frustrating.
  • Other people: Do you care about other students in that kind of a game? What about the teachers - do you feel like they should be more than 'Skill givers'?
  • Exams: I've been thinking of getting rid of this altogether, but I'm just curious - do you like the idea of having to exams? It won't be a normal school so they'd revolve around boss battles, quizzes, puzzles... Again, I'm not sure if I should just get rid of this and focus on the dungeon part.
Other than that, I'm sure I missed some things as I'm writing in a hurry. If you think I should pay attention to something I completely forgot about, please tell me.

Thanks!
 

C-C-C-Cashmere (old)

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Lessons

  • Depends on what time system you're using. If it makes it really easy to be late, then I don't want to be late every single time
  • If the story is really linear and the concept of being "late" shouldn't provide any negatives, than maybe the second option is better
Survival

  • Like most survival mechanics in games, if they aren't done right they simply aren't fun
  • Even if they're done right (Don't Starve) sometimes they're still not fun
  • Bottom line: only put it in there if you think you can pull it off
Other people

  • I think teachers can make good characters in the story
  • Gameplay-wise, it would be nice to make them skill-givers
  • Otherwise, they can be just as 3-dimensional characters as the students themselves
  • That said, most high school media base their dramas on the students themselves, and their parents
Exams

  • Exams might be an interesting concept. I personally love the concept of being graded for tests, exams
  • It provides a good way of "ranking" you against your classmates. For example, if you're the delinquent then you can get C's and the nerds will get A's.
  • If anything, it's just a way of portraying story. But if you want to pose it as a challenge for battles, etc. then that will be serviceable too
  • Perhaps they can be tutorial sections before you go into dungeons, that help teach you certain mechanics.
 

whitesphere

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Lessons:  I like what Rune Factory 2 did here.  If you want to learn a skill/take a test/whatever, you must talk to the teacher during a specific slot of time (such as Monday 9 AM to 3 PM) to learn the lesson.  

Consequences for missing lessons?  It depends on the plot, really.  If this is,say, a military or boarding school, the consequences are probably much more severe than a normal public school.  They might entail not entering the schoolrooms and therefore missing all lessons for the rest of the week (i.e. suspension).

If you go that route, I'd only invoke it if the player misses several in a row.

Survival?  I'm not a big fan of the "you must eat and sleep" mechanic.  The intent of that mechanic is to put limits on what the player can do.  I also like what Rune Factory 2 did here.  Eating is optional (but heals the player and provides bonuses) and sleep will fully heal you --- but missing sleep several days in a row gets the player sick.

This makes the in-game clock a boundary on what the player can do.  

But, if you want a very deep dungeon, where monsters respawn, that really clashes with the sleep mechanic, unless the player can bring a sleeping bag or the likes.

Other characters?  I think all of the students and teachers should be interactive characters.  Rune Factory 2 does this by having the teachers be accessible as normal NPCs when not doing lessons.    After all, it revolves around a school, so I think all characters there are significant for the player.

Exams?  That might be an interesting way of bounding the dungeon exploration.  Maybe some of the Exams (i.e. puzzles/boss battles/whatever) are actually side-quests which do things like give the player access to other areas of the school.  Or, if it is an Evil School, perhaps the Exam completion makes a side character give the player, say, a key to a deeper dungeon level...

Exams might also be the only way for the player to raise his/her level cap, so normal adventuring can, say, raise you up 5 levels, but the Exam unlocks further potential if passed.  
 

C-C-C-Cashmere (old)

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I like whitesphere's suggestions even more than my own. I think this is good advice, since I haven't played many simulation games such as Rune Factory and the like.
 

Kyutaru

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Lessons: You would need a measurable time scale so the player can make conscious decisions.  Something like signing up for the battle arena consumes 1 hour, using the training hall uses 2 hours, or studying in the library uses 3 hours.  Simply having the clock counting down is something a few RPGs have done for specific events and they can be fun if you keep them rare.  Final Fantasy has several RPGs where you have something like 20 minutes to clear the dungeon and defeat the boss or the whole place explodes.

Survival: Minecraft is a survival game and I hate the fact that I need to find and eat food just to heal or stay alive. The first mod I install is always a No Food one that allows me to spend days mining and only have creepers to worry about.  A better way to implement food in RPGs is as your healing items.  Players should not be eating just for the sake of eating but eating to gain a benefit that they're conscious about.  An alternate way to use food is as an intermission for cutscenes and plot development.  Players attend Morning Lessons, doing battles and puzzles and adventure stuff, then they go to Lunch for some exposition dialogue.  After Lunch it's back to Afternoon Lessons, more adventure stuff, and then off to their dorms for more plot stuff or "special" encounters.

Other People: Teachers can be very important to an RPG plot, take the Harry Potter series for instance.  They can serve as the exposition dumpers at key moments when you want to reveal some part of the story to the player that his character doesn't already know.  Typically teachers know a lot more than the students too so they can offer advice or hints.  Students are also interesting characters to add with diverse potential, including bullies, rivals, love interests, and partners, all of which add to the RPG flavor and enrich the dialogue.

Exams: These have been in all kinds of famous RPGs already, including Final Fantasy 8.  They represent the most basic type of quest you can offer the player, one with a clear goal, instructions, and perhaps even guidance or assistance.  From the beginning of the test, the player is aware of what he's trying to do as opposed to aimlessly wandering the world looking for places to explore or use key items on.  An engaged player is never bored.

To add onto the Other People question, an extremely common RPG trope present in virtually all of them is using other people as a measuring stick of the main character's power.  When the story begins, Naruto might suck at doing anything in school, even a simple shadow clone technique.  Every other character just acts and seems so much stronger than him.  Some ninja are shown to be virtual gods with limitless skills that one has to wonder how anyone would stand a chance against them.  Then later in the story, bad guys arrive that can challenge and DEFEAT these so called ninja gods, yet the main character ends up saving the day.  This directly shows the growth of the character's power.
 
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Mouser

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The only game I can think of offhand with a 'school' system is Final Fantasy 8 with those SEED exams.

As for eating/drinking - unless it's to get stat buffs, I'll pass. Needed to keep track of that stuff in MUD's (still do, I'd assume), but that doesn't make it any less of a PITA to deal with.

As for late? Late is when you can't get in any more, so if you can 'work' till 4:50 and still get credit for class, guess what time class really starts?
 

Titanhex

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A survival system should be about resource management. The player should have a limit of how much food he can carry into the dungeon, or a limit on items. This should make them considerate of how they handle exploration. Any limitations should come secondary if at all. Limitations can be done a lot better without survival systems.
 
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numfanklewhat

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Hmm.. I think you might want to check an old SNES RPG, called " Hourai Gakuen no Bouken" or "Adventures of Hourai High" for a reference. It has a school setting and have a rather good mechanic, such as incorporating an extracurricular activity to skills/job/class and other school related stuff without making it too much a chore to the player. Other than that I think the suggestion from the posts above me is already awesome enough. 
 

Ed19

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Bully (PS2) has one of the best game mechanics, it's kinda like The GTA series, unless the violence meter is totally toned down. 

Few things that I liked from Bully :
 

Lesson : Most probably the main missions. I liked the mission such as : gathering tools for your engineering class, etc.

The Other people : There's a faction in the school... (for example : nerds, bullies, celebrities, etc.)

Survival : The teacher and the security guard are your worst nightmare. Avoid them at all cost!

Exam : I can't really think about this, perhaps you can make mini-games?
 
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aozgolo

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For lessons, I think that's only important if you make it important. If you look at the Harry Potter series, we only see classroom scenes when it makes sense in the narrative, most of the story takes place outside of class. Many Visual Novels involving school-age kids even gloss over school by just showing you leaving for class and returning from it. If you want lessons to be an integral part and meaningful you can use mini-games similar to how Bully did it, or even have exams similar to the SeeD exams from Final Fantasy 8.

Survival: I would say no, simply because the setting doesn't match. Survival games typically involve independence and scarcity, you have to actively work to keep yourself alive. Most schools have cafeterias, most students have providers who pay for their food. Unless your school is in a Uganda Ghetto I would say skip the survival mechanics altogether, they don't make sense in a school.

Students: I think the best way to make the player care about students is make all character archetypes purely an "in-game" thing. What I mean is, kids in school inevitably label other groups, you have jocks, preps, nerds, goths, whatever it is you want. That is real labelling that occurs but that doesn't mean every member of those "cliques" must conform to that archetype, in fact many should not. A jock who plays D&D? A Preppy kid who volunteers at a homeless shelter? A nerd on the football team? You don't ALWAYS have to go polar opposite but never let archetypes be used as an excuse for lazy characterization. Make each character have their own personality.
 

whitesphere

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I like whitesphere's suggestions even more than my own. I think this is good advice, since I haven't played many simulation games such as Rune Factory and the like.
The Rune Factory series is basically "Harvest Moon (a farming simulation) meets RPG" There is a real plot and dungeon exploration, combined with a pretty robust farming simulation, including seasons, special events, various types of plants to farm, mining, monsters to raise as farm animals (some act as party members and will go adventuring with you).  And the RPG aspect has a wide variety of skills, which increase with usage, dungeons to explore, armor/weapons/etc, and your main character goes up in level.  Combat is action-based and takes place on the main screen.

Rune Factory 2, in particular, is an excellent game.  The basic plot is this:  Typical "protagonist without a memory" comes to small town and starts farming.  Eventually, he marries (this is crucial to the plot of Rune Factory 2).  When his child is born, he goes about building a school (requires a LOT of gold and wood).  There is no school because it is a small community and has had no need of one.

When the school is finished, the game advances 8 years and the protagonist suddenly remembers who he is and what he had to do.  So, he leaves his child and wife behind.  Then, you play as your son or daughter.  They start with ALL skills at the level inherited from their father, but to learn anything else (like cooking, forging, etc) they learn from teachers in school.  So the school is a huge part of the game play here.

The school in RF2 also includes something that might be nice:  A training hall.  Here, your character battles monsters.  But, if he loses, he does not die.  Instead, he wakes up, the next day, at the school infirmary.

If you have a Nintendo DS, these games are very addictive.
 
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