Stat and Level Caps

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Orpheus, Feb 6, 2018.

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  1. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    Greetings.

    So for the project I'm working on (see signature; searching for team members) the game functions closer to a game like Fire Emblem, where rather than having a party of usually under 10 or so people, you essentially have a small armies' worth of people (somewhere around 20-30+) that participate in battle. As a result, the level and stat caps aren't all that high, like say a game from the Persona series where the Level cap is usually 99, but in that case you have a much smaller group to work with. So the problem I'm coming across is where to set the caps at for each character. Fire Emblem does this well with each character capping out at Level 20, though allowing them to reclass at this point, but as this project doesn't have any real reclassing (heck, the class system is barely there anyways), that doesn't seem like the right way to go.

    In regards to stats, I'm more or less at the same problem, as the stats are based on the Level of a character. Since I can't seem to find a good place to cap out the Levels, capping out the stats isn't any easier...

    With so many characters in play, I don't want the caps too high since no one is going to want to have to try and get that many characters up to the highest level just to deal with standard enemies. So, to get to the point of my question:
    When dealing with a game with a rather large cast of characters, say 20-30, who all participate in battle, where is a good place to cap out their Levels/Stats? Level 10, but take a long time to get there? Level 20? 30? Infinity(not really)?
     
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  2. Titanhex

    Titanhex Do-It-All Veteran

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    It's like this.

    Level Range of 10.

    Each level is difficult to reach. Gaining a level can come with a monumental reward towards progression. Due to this, a player might find a drastic change between level 1 and 2, and level 9 and 10.
    As well, in order to keep up with pacing, experience to reach the next level would take a while to amass in order to get a level.

    This could result in the player focusing heavily on a single character, because having a level 9 warrior in a fight against level 7's might be monumentally advantageous.
    Every stat will likely increase, with the main stat(s) increasing by a marginal amount.
    The player will likely know what the character's specialization is from the stat gains they see per level.
    Gaining a level will be slow. It could take around 30 equal level kills.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum.

    Level Range of 99.

    Each level bring minor rewards, but over-all feels progressive. Minor boosts here and there.
    Some stats may not increase at all each level. The player's main stat(s) will always increase almost every level.
    The player may not fully realize the focus of their character though due to the stat boosts being small between each level.
    Gaining a level may be quick, perhaps around 10 kills or less for enemies at an equal level.
    The player may find it easier to keep allies close in level or catch up, as each level will slowly increase their power and survivability.
    Also, due to the smaller margin of power between levels, enemies can come in a wider range without being too easy or too difficult.

    It's easier to manage skill distribution through a system with a higher level range.

    Your game's pacing could be a large factor as well.
    A game with a low level range might be shorter, and replayable.

    There's plenty other things to consider with level ranges. This is just the most obvious.
     
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  3. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @Titanhex

    Allow me to ask this then, in regards to the lower cap side of the spectrum: Would you, as a player, feel it would be worth it to take your 20+ characters through the process of killing 30 or so equal-leveled enemies for each character just to be able to have a roughly balanced and equal-leveled group? Or would you rather just spend all time focusing on leveling up a few primary characters and letting them handle most if not all enemies? (The wording on this question might be a bit off)

    In regards to the opposite end, would caps being higher (though not as high as 99) be better for game meant to be played for longer (though not as many replays)? I say this because, as of the plan right now, the project I mentioned is roughly 25 or so base-level "maps" (levels), with various side ones planned as well (in a nutshell, it's rather "long").
     
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  4. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    To be honest, I have no experience on fire emblem like games, where you only have fixed cast(?), no buying more units or so. But I do have experience on tactical with leveling system, namely XCOM: Enemy Within (and XCOM 2, but I gave up. The enemy, codex, is just too annoying to deal with it).

    When I'm playing tactical games, mostly I almost forgot about the grinding all together. What I focus is to actually win the game. Sure, you may score some EXP if you kill / last hit the enemy for the one who did it. But it's a bonus, if I could do it for my low level character, but when the situation is impossible, I don't mind using my elite unit to last hit the enemy. I don't mind hitting level cap in this game, since this type game provide more dynamic gameplay and engaging situation where you need to think (Generally, I lost interest to the game when I already hit level cap, especially RPG).

    That said, about the level itself, I don't think it's necessary to put a high level cap such as 99 with minor reward each level up. I prefer a low level cap, but you can (and should) actually use level 1 character to clear the content. It should not be an underleveled. A one level up may improve the quality of life, but don't make it too broken. A one character with level 15 should be beatable with some level 1 characters with some tactic and team work. Remember, your game is tactic, so put the engaging part on the tactic itself, not about leveling. In short, stat change should really not much change. Maybe, an addition of a new skill or two would be okay to give some options in battle

    Now about how fast the progress is, I prefer a slow progress where your character might not hitting the level cap once you reach the end game. But may reach level cap mid game if you keep using it for last hitting for bonus exp or so.

    TL;DR version
    • I like grinding and a grind-y game, but I don't grind in tactical games
    • A level system is okay, but don't make it too broken. Level 1 character should be usable too, it's tactic game afterall
    • I prefer low level cap with slow progress
    EDIT:
    Wait. Is this topic mainly about stat and level cap for tactical games? or a game with large cast in general?
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
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  5. Titanhex

    Titanhex Do-It-All Veteran

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    Q1: For sure I'd be inclined to focus on a few, especially if I know I can replay the game and raise a different set of characters if I want to see more of another character.
    Fire Emblem openly encourages this in a few of there games, limiting what a player can do on a single run.
    It's important to encourage completionists to not spread themselves thin over the course of a single playthrough so that they can complete the game.
    A low level range with a huge cast might mean a lot of testing iterations to ensure that the player can doesn't hit a gate they can't pass late in the game.

    Q2: A longer playthrough with low replayability and a large cast probably benefits the most from a higher level range.
    It allows the player to get lower characters leveled up.
    The more stages you have, the greater you want your level range to be. It also allows the pacing to be far more malleable and coherent while designing the level curve.

    Hopefully this helps.
     
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  6. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @TheoAllen

    Technically, it's for a tactical (grid-based combat) game with a large cast.

    That aside, from what I understand, XCOM seems to more tactical than RPG, at least compared to Fire Emblem. In the case of Fire Emblem, a low-level unit (who isn't of a promoted class) has little to no chance of defeating higher-level enemies, even with good tactics. The reason being that a unit at Level 1 with say, 6 ATK. 5 DEF, and 20 HP, has no way of getting over the beefy Level 15 enemy with 25 ATK, 12 DEF, and 34 HP, and as a result, the Level 1 unit goes in for an attack, and just gets one-shotted in return. I'm not sure how XCOM works, but numbers tend to dominate strategy in cases like that.
     
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  7. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @Titanhex

    It certainly does help. You have my thanks.
     
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  8. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    @Orpheus of course, one level 1 has no chance beating the opponents higher than them. But multiple level 1 units could take down the a higher level opponent, with, maybe, some casualties. But idk, if you're going to implement perma-death mechanic. Idk about that.

    And yes, XCOM is more tactical with RPG flavour like customize equip for your unit, looks, and it has level system too with new skill learned from level up. But you can have more unit by purchasing it, which of course, it started from level 1.

    (p.s: number doesn't work in XCOM since you're only allowed to bring limited unit on field, so you do really need a strategy to beat numerous of aliens)
     
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  9. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @TheoAllen

    I misspoke: When I said "numbers", I was talking actual numbers (as in stat numbers), not number of units (Fire Emblem limits how many you can bring for each map anyways, but that's besides the point). In FE, even if you send an entire team of Level 1s after a Level 15, they'd all get murdered. No amount of strategy could overcome that.

    As for the perma-death....I've been debating on that since I came up with the idea....
     
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  10. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    Well, that depends on what "tactical" you're working on it then. That is more like grid is just a gimmick where the stat would take the biggest role in the end. It's more like dictating who is fighting who based on the location?

    In case like that, maybe a big level cap may works with minor improvement. But then again I don't have experience on how tactical JRPG works. So take it with a grain of salt
     
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  11. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    I'm going to reply to the initial post. Mostly, because I think it needs a different perspective.

    I think you need to decide as a dev just what your Level Ups mean in terms of your own game as well as decide what your Level Cap means. In games like Fire Emblem, it is to promote "swapping characters". It's "Class Change" system promotes the same thing. Namely, that you level up everyone fairly equally and take everyone down a different Class Path to get one of each class. Every Fire Emblem game I've played gives you enough characters to have 1 of each Class with no repeats. I don't know if the games from Gamecube onward continue to do this, but the ones before that one followed this. In any case, these systems exist to promote "swapping characters out" instead of doing what normal RPG players do: Picking a single team, always using them, never using anyone else. They promote this precisely because it is difficult to take Level 1 characters up against the harder enemies of the game... and they've got a "perma death" mechanic. If you lose your best characters, there's a very real possibility that you could not finish the game or you could get yourself "stuck". So, they promote player behavior to frequently swap characters around in combat. They also offer just enough combat in each game to get every character to max level.

    So, the question needs to be asked:

    "What is the point of your Level Cap?"

    You should be doing this with every feature you implement during game design. "What is the point of this system I'm implementing?". If your answer is "Rule of Cool", then you need to rethink it or ditch it. Anything you put in should serve a purpose to the design of the game. Once you know that purpose, designing for it and around it is easier.

    That being said... There's no "hard and fast" rule about Level Caps. Generally speaking, you're either expected to hit the Level Cap before the end of the game and the vast amount of your power will come from equipment and tactics... Or, you're not expected to hit the Level Cap during a normal playthrough of a game and it exists as a steady form of progression for characters, even when they haven't found new equipment for a while.

    The rule about stats is... It doesn't matter. If you make them small, you balance around small numbers. If you make them large, you balance around large numbers. In the scheme of things, they really only matter to one thing:

    "How many hits does it take to kill my characters?" And "How many hits does it take to kill the enemies?". That's what your stats do and are for. So, in terms of stats that's what you need to be thinking about. Set a number you want for both. "If both characters are of similar stats, it takes 6 hits to kill a character and 4 hits to kill an enemy". Bam, you now have your stat numbers. All you really need to decide after that is just how high you want your stats to be in the first place. In which case, it's close to an aesthetic change. Though, larger numbers are harder to "balance around" than smaller numbers because of the use of "multiplication and division". But, it can still be done.

    I wish I could provide more help on the topic, but it's really kind of a "Design my game for me" type question. As such, it's going to be rife with personal preferences from other game devs and not a lot of solid information on what to do and how to do it. The reason it's a "design my game for me" type question is because what you're asking doesn't really have a solid answer. What you're asking typically falls to questions you should've already answered yourself as a game dev. "Why do I want a level cap? What am I accomplishing with it? How high do I want my stats to be? Why? Is there a reason I have so many characters?" Etcetera. Much of this stuff is "personal preference" amongst the devs. We could tell you how to implement any decision you want "better", but not which decision to make initially.
     
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  12. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @Tai_MT

    To answer the question, the point of the Level Cap is to be the "end" to what I can only describe as the "timeline" of each character's stat growth and skill gaining. It makes planning their progression easier from a development standpoint. As for the Level Ups, if I'm giving meaning to them, it is to promote continuous usage. As long as a unit is Leveling up and the Leveling Up is both A. Not horribly time consuming and B. Feels worth it, than (I personally feel) a player will continue to Level up units. In some of the newer Fire Emblem games (which is where much of my observation comes from), units often outlive their usefulness (i.e., aren't worth leveling up or even reclassing), and as I've seen in both my own personal experience and in the experiences of others, players end up benching those units for the remainder of their playthroughs, which is not something I'd wish to happen for this project.

    I'll admit, it was foolish of me to word this as a "What should I do?" thread rather than a "What do you think?" thread. I didn't mean for it to come out as a "design my game for me" question, I just wanted to gauge some opinions and compare them to my own thoughts (even though they say design a game you want to play, not just for everybody else), but I came off wrong.

    Oh, and just to answer all those hypothetical (even though no one asked me to):
    1. The level cap makes it easier to plan things out (starting to lean towards it being lower, by the way).
    2. It's accomplishing both making the development easier and giving the player a sense of accomplishment when they reach the cap (for both reaching it and the benefits that come with a character being at the cap).
    3. I'll test on those stats.
    4. I'll find out when I test them.
    5. I'd like a cast of interesting characters making up the members of Union (story stuff), and each one essentially being their own "class" and having their own skill-sets makes for a variety of tactics during gameplay.

    I must say though, thank you for perspective on the subject. It certainly is useful food for thought.
     
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  13. Titanhex

    Titanhex Do-It-All Veteran

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    As to your huge arrangement of available characters (20-30)

    Do you know what a Matrix is?

    Well, regardless, what I'm trying to bring up is this.
    If you have two characters to balance against one another, it's a real simple A <> B comparison.

    When you add a third, it becomes A <> B, B <> C, A <> C
    A fourth? A <> B, B <> C, A <> C, D <> A, D <> B, D <> C

    A fifth? Now you have 10 comparisons to draw. Next, 15, 21, 27.

    Each unique class or character you add has a marginal increase in the amount of work you have to do balancing each character/class to retain their standing in the game.

    I bring this up because you want to keep all characters/classes relevant throughout the game.
    I need to express how difficult that becomes as you expand on your roster.

    The biggest problem you face doesn't necessarily even come from their raw number output. It could come from the tactical approach to a given level. When you design a level, you should have several tactical options for the player to approach it at. This is how Fire Emblem operates. The more unique classes, the more intricately you have to design the level to allow several classes to be useful during it.

    Food for thought.
     
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  14. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    I've admittedly only played a little bit of Fire Emblem (the "flow" of it is too slow for my personal taste), but as a rule of thumb, I would almost always recommend against using a Level Cap in games.

    Even if the change in actual power is minuscule, it is psychologically rewarding for players to see their numbers going up. This is just a basic tenet of behavioral human psychology which won't change anytime soon (and it's also why you end up with the existence of the "clicker" genre), so it's best to steer right into the curb and allow players to feel "rewarded" with increasing levels and stats at all times - even a hundred hours into grinding, if they so desire!

    Your two objections toward an infinite level cap seemed to be that (1) you don't want players to feel like they have to spend hours grinding in order to progress, and (2) you feel it will encourage players to choose one party and stick to it, rather than experiment with different party compositions. These can be solved with smart choice of game mechanics, though!
    • For (1), balance the game around a player who barely grinds at all, and mostly just plays through what they have to (or what they feel is the most fun). If players choose to grind the heck out of their characters, sure it will be easier. Who will complain about this? If you think that will make the experience less fun, then add a very steep EXP-to-Level curve to your game so that grinding a lot in one area might get the party well ahead of the curve for that one area, but will mean very little two areas later.
    • For (2), implement some kind of catch-up mechanic or party-wide power mechanic to your game if you think it's an important part of your game's play experience to experiment with different compositions (for some games, it won't be). Perhaps if a character in combat is "underleveled" compared to the top 3 members of your roster, they receive anywhere from +100% to +500% "catch-up" EXP depending on how far behind they are. Or perhaps there's an actual "mentoring" system in your game where new characters can be paired with veteran characters (who have participated in at least X battles) and both receive some kind of bonus when in combat together. Or, perhaps your game's balance is so tight that you need new characters to be useful right away - in this case, eschew the EXP system entirely, and have a system where you gain something like "power orbs" from winning battles (with more orbs coming from big, important battles than meaningless 'random' encounters). These power orbs would each let you add one stat point to each of your characters, so that a character who's already made will experience a bit of power gain, whereas a character that hasn't been created yet will be created with this additional power gain when they are created, because you possess this power orb!
     
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  15. Orpheus

    Orpheus Villager Member

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    @Titanhex

    Definitely good food for thought; I think I'm getting closer to about 20 (or possibly lower) for the fully completed just because, like you said, more units would mean even more meticulous balancing between them. Overall, this is just something I'll have to test and test over again to get right (and even then, it'll still probably need testing). Though I will say that I considered the idea of making each character in the roster fulfill some type of purpose that no other character besides themselves does, though that might make each character a bit too niche for most general situations. Either way, it's something to give some serious thought to. Thanks again. Semi-related, but I vaguley remember matrixes from my 11th Grade math class, though that was 2 years ago and my memory of then is hazy at best.

    @Wavelength
    I was thinking over something similar to what you described to help lesser-leveled units catch up, and I looked at FE: Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn's <Bonus EXP> system as a relatively good way to encourage the usage of some other lesser-leveled units since players won't have to grind with them just to make them "usable" at whatever point in the game they are in. I had also looked towards "Fate/Grand Order's" Leveling system (or Enhancement System, as they call it), where the units don't level up from battle but instead Level up from "items" (cards, technically) that you can gain as enemy drops. The cards function as EXP and each card holds X amount of EXP. Was just a small idea in the back of my head to allow have the player choose who the EXP goes to and who Levels up first/last. While under normal conditions, this could cause a player to rely on one team of units and not focus on any other units, one possible solution (while possibly frowned upon) could be forcing the player to use all of their units in their roster. This was one of the less "noble" ways I had considered encouraging the player to focus on all of their units, and not just a few select ones, The Fate/Grand Order-esque leveling-system would also probably work a bit better as it would encourage spreading out any gained EXP resources among the roster, since they will all be participating in battle, rather than just throwing them all into a couple of units.
     
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  16. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    Your current thought process sounds very decent, but don't forget that there are always ways to encourage a player to do what you want them to do, without forcing their hand. In this case...

    A less heavy-handed way to do this could be to have different items (cards) have limits on the level of the character you can use it on (for example, an enemy might drop a 500 EXP card that is usable on characters of levels 1-25, and a 300 EXP card that is usable on characters of levels 1-10), or alternatively, to have limits on what types of characters can use each card (one card might be usable on vanguards only; another on mages only; another on archers only; another on any class whatsoever). Such a system would encourage players to spread out their EXP evenly and use several different characters rather than relying on one or three characters that they built into super-OP juggernauts.
     
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