Starting out with a lot of cash, choose your path by buying equipment

Canini

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In some games (let us take the original Kingdom Hearts as an example) there is a choice available for the player to influence stat progression. At the start of Kingdom Hearts the player is given a choice between a shield, a sword and wand and this influences you stat progression as you level up for the rest of the game.
I want a similar, but more dynamic choice in my game. An idea I have toyed around with is for the characters to start of with a large (but still limited so they cannot buy everything) sum of money and let them buy their own equipments and items for the journey. They can choose to focus on magical defence, powerful weapons or high-level magic and kit out the characters as they choose. They can even choose to save some money! This gives the player agency and feels natural in the contect of the story.

A problem that immediately arises is that the player perhaps chooses to save all their money, buys potions for all their money and no equipment, or equipment and no items. How to avoid this? Are there any other problems with my proposal that I have failed to foresee?
 

Puruiro

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I like this idea very much! Makes more sense for a realistic hero to prepare before their journey properly if he has never been on a journey.
Maybe just make a quest or event inside a shop and make the hero not be able to leave unless he bought at least a weapon, a shield, and a couple items, as a hero who likes to prepared knows what to need (or similar, depending how you wrote you main character)
Anything more or less is a bonus up to players choice (if they want that useful amulet or not and more for example).
It kind of depends of how you wrote/want to write your story to me...
Also I think maybe be careful what weapons, stats, etc to implement so the player doesnt suffer with their choices in their first dungeon
 

EpicFILE

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Maybe you can make the merchants in the beginning of the game a little out of stock.
So the buy-able items and equipments quantity are limited.
I think it's a good way to control the player's money-spending choice. :D

@Puruiro suggestions are also workable.
 

Aoi Ninami

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A problem that immediately arises is that the player perhaps chooses to save all their money, buys potions for all their money and no equipment, or equipment and no items. How to avoid this?
Don't avoid it.

This is pretty much what I'm doing in my DROD RPG levelset "Tetrahedron": the player starts with 50 gold and has a choice of how to spend it. The game starts directly in the shop, so the fact that you have this choice is very clear. If the player wants to blow it all on health, or walk out of the shop and keep the gold... that's their choice too. If your game has achievements, you could have one for "Don't spend anything in the first shop", but even if you don't, the player will recognise that this is an optional challenge they can take if they like. And you know, there are plenty of players who enjoy having the ability to choose their own level of challenge.
 

hiddenone

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I'm one of those players who will usually refuse to buy stuff until I've been in a battle or two. Unless it seems like there's a good reason to buy stuff (like if different weapons give me different skills), I'll just head straight into battles to see if I can win without spending my money. Clearly not the smartest way to play, but it's my choice as the player to go in unprepared (and hey, if I get killed then I'll just reload and go buy some stuff to hopefully keep me alive next time).

So I kinda agree with Aoi Ninami, you don't have to make sure the player spends their money wisely. I think as long as the first few battles are doable (though difficult) to win without equipment then the player should be able to save up some money to equip themselves later. Of course, there's also the option of having an event check to see if the player bought any weapons before heading out and giving them a weak weapon if they didn't (obviously it won't help a lot, but it'd be better than nothing).
 

SOC

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Another problem is that no one knows what's good or what's viable or what they want without experiencing the actual game a bit first.
 

jonthefox

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I love this idea in theory, but yeah, I usually find myself thinking "hrmm, well I have no idea what to pick since I haven't seen much (or any) combat yet." and then i have to spend time testing out the battles and reloading in order to determine what I want to choose. So, my advice would be:

-perhaps do this in games where you have some sort of intro scene that at least gives a taste of what battles are like, the difficulty scale of the game, etc.

-either adding on or separate to the above, have the choices be more meaningful than mere stat bonuses, and give clear descriptions. for example, buying a mace might give you a "bash" skill that stuns an enemy for 1 turn. buying a sword might give you a skill that inflicts bleeding. buying a wand might give you a fire spell. or in the case of shields and armor, have your game use a simple damage formula that you make known to the player (atk - def, or 2*atk - def, etc.) so that, as a player, I KNOW exactly how much defense I'm getting if i choose to buy the breastplate or helmut or shield or whatever.
 

Vincent Chu

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I have two suggestions. One, you can have a library or maybe just some bookshelves that provide information about battle mechanics to supplement the item descriptions. That way, the player can have more information about how to plan their journey. For example, if I was to play a game knowing that the party is completely healed after every battle like in FF13, I would not even think about wasting any money on potions.
The second suggestion is to have some more experienced NPCs around for advice. As well as basics about battle, they can also tell players things such as what elemental attacks certain enemies use and what they're weak against as well as what they tend to drop.
 

Canini

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@Puruiro
@EpicFILE

Those are good suggestions but I kinda want to give the player more agency than that. Optimally they would not even be forced to enter the store at all (although it is strogly hinted to be important).

Don't avoid it.

This is pretty much what I'm doing in my DROD RPG levelset "Tetrahedron": the player starts with 50 gold and has a choice of how to spend it. The game starts directly in the shop, so the fact that you have this choice is very clear. If the player wants to blow it all on health, or walk out of the shop and keep the gold... that's their choice too. If your game has achievements, you could have one for "Don't spend anything in the first shop", but even if you don't, the player will recognise that this is an optional challenge they can take if they like. And you know, there are plenty of players who enjoy having the ability to choose their own level of challenge.
This would be closer to what I am envisioning, although I understand some player may find it unforgiving.

Reading some of the other comments I think putting some sort of clue about future gameplay elements in the items descriptions may be the way to go. Thanks everybody for your suggestions!
 

Kes

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@Canini Please remember that 'Game Mechanics Design' is not for feedback on specific, individual projects. People can, therefore, discuss this subject without any reference to whether it fits with your particular game. In order to keep a discussion broad, it is helpful if the OP doesn't come back and say "oh but that won't fit what I have in mind" (or words to that effect), because that often tends to limit subsequent conversation.
 

Wavelength

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I like the idea a lot in theory, as well, but aside from the problem where players don't yet know how they want to build their characters, and the problem where it's hard to balance the player's choice of equipment vs. consumables, another problem that hasn't been addressed here yet is expectations.

By starting the player out with a lot of cash, and making one of their first activities using that load of cash to buy things, you are setting the expectation that she will always have a lot of cash on hand to spend, or at least that cash will come easily for the rest of the game. If the player starts with 20,000 gold, and then for the first ten hours of gameplay they only earn another 10,000 gold, the rewards are going to feel minuscule and unsatisfying against the expectations that were set, and the player will have been more likely to 'waste' her resources early on, thinking they would be easy to build up again.

I remember watching someone LP a game I made where I gave the player some cash at the beginning and made it hard to come by in general. Since the goal of the game was to accumulate money, the idea was that you should only spend money (in order to gain tools to more easily earn money) once you have enough accumulated to make deadlines. So what was the first thing my LP player did? He went to the shopping zone and spent every last penny he had the first chance he got, on all the "cool items" that were in the game!! Now, I get that the analogy isn't perfect here because your game doesn't require the player to accumulate money, but I think it's still a good example of how the player's expectations can drive them into irrational actions.

Therefore, even though I'm generally a fan of maximizing player freedom in games, this is one of those rare cases I'd recommend aiming for a more restrictive design. Start the player out with something a lot less flexible than money. Perhaps some sort of trade goods that they can trade for either one weapon or another (which offer different starting stats), or different sets of items. Perhaps a choice of birth signs which provide different sets of starting skills (which are a little more intuitive than stats).
 

bgillisp

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One thing I did in my project was you had the daughter of a rich family join you at about the 40 minute point of the game (at least in my playthroughs), and she gives you a fair amount of coins + a huge supply of potions, with a warning that some of these are rare so use sparingly (one will restore the entire party to full HP and MP, but you only get one of them).

I kinda look at it as a chance to give you a decent starting equipment (as a rich child should have a decent selection, right?), and even a couple late game potions to play with or to use to get out of a bad situation. So far it seems to have worked, based on those who have played my demo.
 

Canini

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@Kes Duly noted.

@Wavelength
I feel the issue may be more with making it clear to the player, ie have strong storyline reasons, for the immediate amount of gold to be a one-off that may not so easily come by next time. Such as having the king or some other important figure emphasise that "Everyone is pitching in for this mission, do not squander the money" or something like that.
@bgillisp That one is really good but it needs some kind of reason as to why the rich child can not just get her hands on the same resources again and again.

Personally I am still of the opinion that I´d rather offer the player the choice to ignore or even not realise the choices laid before them rather than hand-hold them.
 

bgillisp

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@Canini : It's explained in the plot. To say more is a spoiler.
 

Bricabrac

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My worry with systems like this is that players might choose exotic equip/items combinations, making a build that will be impossible to play.
Even worse, they might not understand it immediately, because the starting enemies will probably be weak - but on the long term, they'll find difficult to keep up unless they grind a lot. And when a character is this bad, the only solution is often to start another one, wasting hours and hours of progress :\
So my advice would be to put limitations or think very well about edge cases, because you can bet some players will try the most absurd combinations.
 

Milennin

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Since the player is unknown with any of the game's mechanics at the start of the game, they are unable to make informed decisions. Though there could be a few things that'd help...

-Guidelines. Such as making sure the player is able to spend only a portion of gold on weapons. Some must be spent on armour. And some must be spent on consumables.
-Viability. Make it so no matter what the player chooses to spend their money on, it is money well spent.
-Refunds. Make it so it's easy for players to refund their purchases, and get something else instead.

Basically, if the player is able to screw themselves over in one way or another, it might be worth looking at a revamp of the system.
 

Canini

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A refund system sounds pretty good. A potential problem is that it will not fit into all contexts (for example, the player will bot return to civilization for a while). A possible solution may be for the player to go through some sort of training camp (skippable of course) where they learn the ropes of the game and the different builds they can do and monster types they encounter. Problem is, this ruins the surprise for me a bit but I guess that is better than a player giving up because of a bad build.
 

bgillisp

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Definitely consider the long term implications of a bad choice. Strange Journey (on the 3DS) had you decide your build based on questions at the very start of the game, before you learned that the way the game was set up. However, the magic stat was almost useless in that game, as the only spells the MC can do is tied to the gun they equip, and most late game guns have useless skills. Because of this, the player could easily be locked into a MAT strong build, only to learn 30+ hours into the game that the MAT stat was probably the most useless stat in that game.
 

Titanhex

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Throw up a "gate."

Since this is the beginning of the game, a "gate" won't be intrusive.
The gate's purpose is to make sure the player has met the bare minimum requirements to proceed through the game. It should be early enough not to be an inconvenience.
Failing the gate should return you to a point where you can fix passing through the gate.

These are often boss battles in many traditional games. However, there's plenty of other gates that aren't always challenges, but could simply be a check for how many resources a player has, how much time a player has spent in the game, a minimum level, or any other number of things.

Of course, the less intuitive the gate's entry is, the more explanation and context clues should be given to the player before reaching the gate. If a player has been given information and willfully ignores it, or purposely picks something they know isn't viable in context of the game, then it is okay to punish them for that. Just because you give them the ability to make a bad choice does not mean you should reward them for making a clearly bad choice.

The system itself is fine of course. Just remember, if you're creating a game with a very general theme, much like a classical JRPG, you should balance skills, equipment and items around damage mitigation. That is, reducing damage to you and increasing damage to your opponent.
 

rpgdreamer

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I think the idea of starting off with a good sum of money to "choose our own path" in a sense s creative. I'm guessing it would be sort of like... choosing between items to be a rogue, or a knight, or a mage or something such as that?
 

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