Things to avoid in your game

Engr. Adiktuzmiko

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Of course you'd do more things afterwards, so post-game just works there. It doesn't hurt that post-game in Pokemon games tend to be an extra 1/3rd of the game either
Well, considering the main quest of Pokemon is actually to finish the Pokedex, its really a given that its not finished after the League...

Extremely weak/useless skills - I hate it when a game has a ton of skills, but only a few of them are actually useful. Makes skill selection on battles harder when you have to go thru a list of skills you dont event use..
 

Wavelength

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@Aesica @Soryuju Thanks for the kind words about my overall list. I'm going to defend my inclusion of "Reliable, Powerful Healing and Revives" on my list of Don'ts, but first of all I should admit that unlike most of the other "design plagues" I mentioned, this one is definitely more of a rule of thumb that can be broken by designers who know what they're doing and have a very clear purpose for including powerful healing/revives as part of their combat design.

But many professional designers, and nearly all amateurs, screw it up, and end up creating combat systems that would be far better if the healing/revives were removed (and the other numbers adjusted accordingly). At its core, the kind of bad design I am talking about is where the player (and particularly one character) out of a party can consistently outheal a boss' (or even a tough mob's) entire output of damage. (Consider the converse: how uninteresting would it be if a boss could consistently outheal any damage you laid on it?) And in the same breath, Action Battle Systems where the player can just pause and use as many items as they want to fully heal their characters are an even worse form of this design crime.

To some extent this also applies to status cures vs. statuses, and so on - the idea is that if you can consistently erase any danger that enemies pose, after the fact, and do it with no significant risk/cost, it creates a broken and boring system.

Two of the tougher RPGs I've played (Epic Battle Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius) have strong full-party healing, and in FFBE's case, there's even things like full party 100% raise and full party 80-100% reraise. In order to remain challenging, it's very common for something to splatter one or more characters in a single turn.
Based on my play of EBF3 (it seems like the battle system is reasonably consistent across versions?), I'd say "yes and no".

There are certainly some battles in EBF where simply having Natalie use her most powerful heal each turn wasn't enough to "keep up" - usually because the boss had buffed themselves or debuffed my party, or because they laid damage onto the party as well as crippling statuses (like heavy poison). In either case, I was at risk of KO's even if I got my party back to full health, and what was really interesting was that there was sort of a solution in trying to remove the enemies' buffs (or kill the threatening ones or remove statuses) during the "easier" turns so I could focus on healing after getting whacked. Felt like a nice balance during most boss battles and some normal encounters.

However, for most normal encounters, and even a few bosses, the "first order optimal strategy" of having Natalie use her most powerful healing spell when someone's HP got low, and having Matt and Lance just whack enemies with whatever element the Scan showed they're weak to, was incredibly effective, and pretty boring. Pace didn't matter; tactics didn't matter; there was no sense of danger or risk. The only "challenge" was in not forgetting to Heal. It was very paint-by-number, much like most RPG combats are, and a lot of the lategame mobs presented the never-fun question of "how many more times do I need to do this before I finish the wave?".

I admire EBF a lot for making even a significant minority of its "Classic JRPG" battles feel wonderfully tactical, but in my opinion reliable, powerful healing is the main culprit behind making the majority of its battles feel boring.

In most of the RPGs I've played where healing is strong and consistently available, bosses have tricks up their sleeves other than damage to disrupt the typical damage -> heal -> repeat cycle. Aesica mentioned instant death as one option, but things like defense debuffs, heal blocks/reductions, Silences/stuns, turn order manipulation, summoned adds, etc. can all turn a safe healing loop into a situation where you're suddenly losing ground each turn. The challenge is then on the player to find a way to survive until they can return to a stable position, and I think the build and release of tension in this model can absolutely create climax moments during battle. Surviving will often involve spending additional resources (which you may still need later in the battle), reviving KO'd allies, applying special buffs, using items, supplementing healing with other characters, bursting down adds, etc. This means that the whole team potentially needs to switch up what they're doing and scramble to turn the tide back. In my personal experience, most memorable RPG boss battles involve these sort of moments in some way.
This is an excellent review of how to design and pace turn-based RPG battles! Indeed, these "climax moments" are what we look for when we're trying to create exciting combat, and barely recovering from an unstable position can certainly be a climax.

In the vein of your examples, if a boss periodically uses a move that damages the party and silences several members, the player will be left wondering how to recover - perhaps use an item (ignoring the silence for now) to get back to full HP and pressing the attack, perhaps removing the silence from the healer and then healing the party (leaving the party healthy but half-silenced and vulnerable to big attacks), perhaps getting rid of all the silences but risking a turn at middling HP (hoping to survive it and heal up next turn)? Generally this kind of design requires consistent AI behavior rather than AI Roulette, but it definitely can create good moments.

I'm going to posit something a little unintuitive, though - that this kind of "tug-of-war" excitement can still be had without any healing whatsoever. If the risk becomes not "can I survive next turn" but "can I keep up the pace after this big hit", the design is still interesting (and can be more consistent across big boss battles and regular mobs). In a fight where you and your enemy are dealing damage to each other without healing, and you're a little ahead in the race but the enemy comes out with a big move (like a damage + silence), you're left with the same kind of decisions about how to recover the upper hand. Perhaps keep fighting through the silence, perhaps spend a turn to cure it and try to make up some pace next turn, perhaps defend/cover for the battler that took the damage and silence if they're near KO until they can recover from the status?

Maybe it seems strange that I hold opposing opinions on the acceptable convenience of revives and heals, but I think the difference is that when characters are KO'd, that represents the beginning of the actual loss condition for players, and it's a point at which the player has made clear mistakes in the battle.
Your view on revives vs. heals doesn't seem strange to me; I think it holds a lot of merit. In fact, I grouped them together to avoid taking too much space in my "Top 10" list (since they are fairly similar in purpose), but in many combat designs damage and KO really do represent different things.

Having to heal a character after they accumulate a large amount of damage doesn't necessarily represent a "mistake" on the player's part because most turn-based RPGs just don't give players the tools needed to mitigate all incoming damage. Even if you play perfectly, in most games you'll eventually need to heal just as a matter of course.
You're very correct that a large heal after accumulating damage doesn't necessarily represent erasing a mistake that the player made, but it can represent the erasure of mistakes, and if that can be done consistently, it eliminates the incentives for the player to play creatively/wisely or even to pay much attention to anything besides his character's HP bars.

If the player is taking more damage than they should (through a fault of their own), or is putting out less damage per turn than they should be able to (again through their own fault), it means that over time their party will take more damage than necessary. But if a cheap heal can make that go away, then who cares?

That's essentially my issue with the powerful, reliable heal.

To use another example from your list, instant death in combat is horribly unfair if raising fallen allies comes at some sort of cost, or is hard to do. But if your game has things like cheap phoenix downs or healers with full-party-raise abilities, a boss that uses instant death several times per turn becomes a lot less threatening.
And a lot less interesting! I feel like this setup is one of those situations where there's a rat problem, so then you send in cats to eat the rats, but then you have a cat problem, so you send in dogs to chase away the cats but now there's a dog problem... :p

Since damage is usually the most "nuanced" aspect of battle (in the sense that more factors play toward dealing, rerouting, improving, reducing, healing, and stopping damage than toward any other aspect of battle), that's usually the best level on which to have the player and enemy "play" against each other. Once you create something that can supersede all of these nuances (e.g. an Instant KO ability), you've released the cats! You need to create something equally easy to fix it (the Phoenix Down), but in doing so you've also created a quick-and-easy one-turn solution to getting KO'ed through multiple turns of damage (damage = intended gameplay), which is an even bigger issue.

Once again, there are probably combat designs where this is all OK, but far more often than not I see the Instant KOs spiral into the death of interesting/interactive gameplay.

In fact, the opposite of this is something I actually dislike even more:
Heal Starvation: The problem with this approach is that everything meant to be challenging becomes a damage-per-turn race/battle of attrition, in that you either hit the boss as hard as you possibly can, or each turn, you're worn down further and further. After turn 1, the party is somewhat weakened despite available healing/etc. After turn 2, they're more weakened etc until people start dying and everything falls apart. Victory vs defeat becomes less about tactical play and more about "I guess my side didn't club his side hard enough."
I couldn't disagree with this more!! You do mention in a later post that you were mostly talking about "badly designed" combat that includes heal starvation, but I feel the need to point out how much potential "Race to the Bottom"-style combat has.

If you think about it, nearly every great game is outpacing your opponent in some manner, whether that's racing to score more points, or achieving a goal before they can (with added pleasure when your moves can also set your opponent back). There are very few great games where you can simply "erase" what your opponent has accomplished. Chess is probably the finest example of forward progress and pace creating interesting gameplay, but Street Fighter, NBA Basketball, Phase 10, League of Legends, and Tennis all share this in common too.

Too often, RPG combat misses this, as anything your opponent accomplishes can be wiped away with a healing spell or an item. When you restrict or remove healing in a good combat design, though, you don't create a "stats check" where both sides hit each other and whichever side was more powerful will inevitably win. What you do create is a "Race to the Bottom" combat system, where every little bit of efficiency you can squeeze out of good tactics matters. In a system where you can erase the damage your enemy lays on you, there's less need for a creative combo that deals 15% more damage than spamming your strongest move. In a design without healing, where you are going to eventually fall if you can't get out your own damage quickly enough, that +15% damage can be the difference between victory and defeat. It makes pace important, and therefore it makes tactical, efficient play important as well.

I expressed before that this "Race to the Bottom" design can still create exciting moments in the middle of battle, but the best thing it does is to build every fair fight to a dramatic climax. It's far more common in this design to beat the boss with barely anything left in the tank, rather than full HP bars. And similarly, it's also far more common to lose to the boss by just a turn or two (rather than get crushed), leading the player to know that if he plays just a bit better, he'll make it happen next time.

My Own Designs on Healing
It's been a couple years now that I've really been thinking about healing and its role in RPG combat, and I've implemented two different designs into games I've been working on since:

** In one game, healing is very limited. Only one character has a "bread and butter" Heal spell (most other healing comes in trivial amounts as extra utility on damage skills, equips, etc.), and that Heal spell can only be used 3 times per battle. It's single-target, has a short cooldown (2 turns) , a very low MP cost, and scales in effectiveness based on the target's missing HP. The game very much uses a "Race to the Bottom" philosophy to combat where even the strongest bosses are only dealing about 20-30% of your characters' HP with their strongest blows, and the expectation is that your party's health will continually fall over the course of the fight.

I feel that the combination of limited charges, a cooldown, and higher effectiveness at low HP creates a lot of interesting decisions. Do you wait for an ally's HP to get low before starting to use your charges? Do you use the healing skills earlier on, so that the boss can't spike a character's HP to 0 while you're waiting for the heal to come off cooldown? And do you focus your tools (such as MAG buffs) on damage efficiency to achieve "pace", or do you save those tools to combine with your heals when an ally's HP is flagging?

** In another game, I use an "Exhaustion" system where after taking damage, a character's Max HP will slowly drop by a portion of damage taken over several turns (for example, if a character with 200/200 HP takes 90 damage, they are at 110/200 HP; over the next six turns they'll lose 5 Max HP per turn until they're at 110/170 HP). Healing restores your current HP and it's powerful, but it can't heal you above your Max HP and won't prevent Exhaustion from setting in (even if you heal immediately, the character will be at 170/170 HP 6 turns after taking the damage). Leaving a dungeon to rest for the night, or eating food items outside combat, are the only ways to relieve Exhaustion (allowing you to get back to 200 Max HP).

I'm still early on in developing this game, but so far it feels like the Exhaustion system is allowing Healing to be useful without allowing it to completely erase mistakes. Heals can be great where a character is being spiked with damage (e.g. 20/170 HP), but the key to avoiding Exhaustion is to either avoid damage in the first place (disabling enemies, making use of short-duration Shield skills, etc.), or to finish off enemies quickly and efficiently before too much Exhaustion can set in. Dallying around in boss fights, especially, and blindly healing any damage you take, will allow heavy Exhaustion to set in, eventually bringing your Max HP low enough that a boss can one-shot you. It's not as punishing as it probably sounds, but it lines up the player's incentives nicely.

The other thing I like a lot about this mechanic is that it allows me to offer the player the power fantasy of absolutely stomping standard mobs (and even offer the convenience of healing characters up to their Max HP automatically after combat), while still making skillful play in those encounters matter. The quicker and more efficiently you eliminate the monsters, the less Exhaustion you take. And you want to take as little as possible, because the goal of the game is to make enough money to pay off a debt, and you only have a number of in-game days to get it done - so the less you need to spend your hard-earned money on Food (or needing to leave the dungeon to rest) to relieve Exhaustion, the better!
 

Henryetha

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Extremely weak/useless skills - I hate it when a game has a ton of skills, but only a few of them are actually useful. Makes skill selection on battles harder when you have to go thru a list of skills you dont event use..
Jup, it's a weak game design.
Of course on lower levels characters would need skills which later might become useless the way they are. But there are so many possibilities, to make this thing more comfortable for the player...
A few examples would be
  • Let the actors learn an improved version of the skill by "leveling it up"
  • Make combo skills of 2 or 3 weaker skills to improve their effectiveness
  • Implement a system to "equip" skills, so the player doesn't have to go through all of them during battle
I think, many make this mistake, because they want to offer "too much" to the player. Sure it doesn't sound bad to advertise a game with "hundreds of skills".
Myself i tended to implement simply "too much". But one very important thing I've learned over the years is.. Less Is More.
Or at least to make sure, anything implemented should have an actual purpose.. Skills, equips, consumables, ... all of these are annoying if there's a bunch of it without being very useful.
 

jweav8705

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There's two things I dispise about RM games specifically, and one thing I dislike in general.
I know one of these has been mentioned.

Words:
When an RM game starts and it's just dialog, dialog, dialog, dialog, words, words, words, words, words; I'm out. I know RM can be limited but your game doesn't deserve this much time and attention right off the bat. Honestly, I don't like other people's RM games that are actually RPGs even though I'm trying to make one because I know that right after loading I'm going to be subjected to someones book. Usually the combat is off, money problems prevent me from buying heals, the encounter rate is too high.....but when I have to read your novel to get started, I don't care. Your extremely ominous title and cover picture from your game's download page has interested me enough to start, but now you've given me homework. "Anna and Else's Legend: Time Forgotten - the Myth" does not deserve 20 minutes of your characters setting up the story and then spoon feeding things that I should be inferring.
I'd rather read a a supplemental .txt file setting me up then your too slowly populating text boxes.

Huge towns:
I know you worked really hard on your map and it looks really good, but I don't know where everything is to find this one person. There's ways you can distinguish an inn from a potion shop from a weapons shop from an armor shop, but not everyone is good at this or even does it. Main problem is I can only see so much of your town at once. It's really frustrating to be in this position:
"OK, let's go left."
"Not here, let's go up; now I can go left or right."
Explore those options.
"Alright back to the start."
"Let's go right."
Explore all the options after going right.
Come back to start, then do up and down.
I don't have a mini map. There's no mouseover identification of things. If I can see the whole town, I can at least plan a route or know what's going to be available; I know what's coming.
Even games that have the features that help that I mentioned (Skyrim, WoW) it's still a chore to navigate these elaborate cities; those games will even mark a minimap and sometimes it's a chore to get to that marker.

The chosen one:
I only like this out of happenstance or chance. I know all heros are selected by developers, but I especially hate it when the diety in charge chose someone because plot. It's much better when it's something outside of a conscious selection; being born with [ability], [ability] after accident, character choosing to embark on this adventure for [reason].
I hate:
"I'm God, and I choose you."
"The council selected you to consume the energy stone."
"The coven conducted the ritual to imbibe you with arcane knowledge because your hair is a different color than everybody else's."
I had a hard time believing in Deadspace that Isaac just happened to be THAT hardcore and mentally stable to deal with that; but it's much more believable and understandable than a teenager being chosen by God.
 

Ebanyle

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@Wavelength One thing I liked in Wakfu is a stat called "Healing Resistance". Basically, every time a target - be it ally or enemy - healed themselves, this stat would increase and make the healing weaker. iirc the only class capable of lowering this stat was the healer class, but I'm not sure if they were the only ones, I don't remember.
Also another thing that I liked in the game was the "Dead State". When your character is knocked out, they'll have 3 turns to be resurrected (unless the whole party is already wiped), otherwise they'll permanently die in that battle. That would be tricky for the default RPG Maker battles though, because of area attack and all. When you die in battle enemies are capable of attacking you and lowering down this state, but they'll usually ignore the player and seek other characters.
There's also a dungeon where monsters won't die instantly, and instead they'll have 5 charges of the dead state. You need to break all these charges, otherwise the monster will be resurrected after a x number of turns. It was a bit lame sometimes, specially with the fact that I needed to go +100 times there to craft an equipment that I should thrown away 10 levels later, but I think this is mostly the MMO and competitiveness factor than the mechanics fault itself.
Also, in the same dungeon, after dealing a x amount of damage to the boss, she would only receive damage by 'undead' characters. You needed to die and then you would be resurrected as an undead, but you couldn't be healed in any way.
Not only that, the dungeon had a "Frozen" state that would remove Action/Movement Points based on it's level, and eventually if the state was too high it would freeze the character, so players constantly needed to use fire skills

I think Wakfu is a very good example of strategies; probably it's whole battle genre (the FFTactics one) is focused on those strategies and all, but I'm not sure since I only played one. Anyway, the game has a wide range of different strategies in bosses battles, but the problem as of lately is some balancing issues, combined with the fact that with a "hero system" players have been basically wiping dungeons alone in 2 different accounts. Of course, if they have the $$$ AND time.
 

Wavelength

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@Ebanyle Some of the mechanics you're describing from Wakfu sound really cool, and others sound pretty lame!

Healing Resistance actually sounds like a pretty good one, as long as the implementation of it is careful. In practice it might work like a soft version of the "Charges" system - players (characters) are consigned to receiving a certain amount of healing throughout a single dungeon (or a single battle), until the amounts become so low it isn't even worth using. That means that you can't simply use ineffective tactics over and over, avoid being spiked to zero, heal your injuries, and repeat ad nauseum - you have to make good use of the time you have (or avoid damage, if that's possible in Wakfu?). It also means you have to consider whether it's worth healing early (to avoid big spikes of damage that can kill your character) or whether it's better to wait a little (for a more efficient heal, giving you more long-term value from your limited "charges").

It's a little weird that Healers are the ones who can lower a character's Healing Resistance (unless that's the main reason they're healers, and the actual healing can be done by anybody?). As a designer I'd generally be more keen to move that kind of power into Consumables (giving them a very good reason to exist where most MMOs don't really give you one) or have the Healing Resistance lower slightly as you participate in killing tough enemies.

One question about it I'm a little curious to know: Does the Healing Resistance carry over between different battles, or is it a stat that persists through an entire dungeon (or more)?

A Limbo state (the "Dead State" you mention) could be scripted into RPG Maker without a ton of trouble. I remember Sacred Earth used a system where a character entered Limbo upon being reduced to 0 HP, then was automatically revived after 3 turns if the party hadn't been wiped. Instead of reviving them, you could remove them from the party entirely after 3 turns if they still had the Limbo state on them. The only game I've seen which uses a mechanic very similar to what you're saying is Phantom Brave. Honestly I found it a little annoying that enemies could continue to hit that character to "lower the state" and destroy that character so they couldn't be revived for the rest of combat (they'd often do so by accident with AoEs). It's like ripping the key out of the player's hands before they have a chance to put it into the lock!

I believe that the best mechanics "twists" and gimmicks are the ones that offer several ways to play along with them, play through them, or play around them. If the only way to damage and defeat a boss is to become an Undead, then really you're just reducing the possibility space of things the player can do (like healing), and what are you really gaining? The choice the player gets is "do this specific thing, or lose". Meh. Workshopping the idea a little, I might have the boss summon crystals that give it, say, 75% resistance to all damage except from Undeads. Now the player has several options off the bat: play into the twist and try to destroy the Crystals in order to drop the boss' resistance, play through the twist and try to finish off the boss despite its 75% resistance, play around the twist and become Undead to deal full damage to the boss, or play around the twist and make use of Status Ailments (which the boss isn't resistant to) to make your other options easier. Same kind of thoughts to the "Freezing" gimmick in the dungeon, as well.
 

Ebanyle

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Hmm, there are various classes that can heal in the game besides the one I mentioned, I'm not sure if they are the only one able to lower heal resistance though. The thing is, this resistance percentage scales reaaally slowly, besides the fact that no healing in Wakfu can fully heal a party member iirc. The max it can heal is 3/4 of the HP I think, and for that it can take most action points of the player AND a Wakfu point, which can only be restored by certain skill conditions and the default max is 6!
So yep, you can't keep healing and healing in Wakfu. xD

Oh right, indeed damage is something you can avoid in the game. Usually a team will have a tank that will block the boss/tougher enemies, so it's easy staying alive unless the enemies are long ranged. But the long ranged ones are usually weaker so they can be finished off quickly :p
As for the question about healing, no, it only stays in battle. But I'll be honest: this mechanic is not a troublesome one. You'll only scale up if you're in a REALLY tough dungeon. Funny thing is, you can't use items in the middle of battle. So a healer is really necessary xD
And funnily too, it's reeeeeeeally uncommon for players to be finished off by enemies. If the player dies close to it's teammates, then that's a problem. But usually we can gather some time to go to the other side of the map to die alone hehe~ but really, sometimes it's even a little awkward how monsters ignore knocked out players.

And while I liked the mechanic (and I can't believe I'm saying that, I still dislike that dungeon), I agree with you that it's a little inflexible, and that may apply to most bosses in the game. They have VERY specific rules that can get worse. There's a dungeon that you end up with 1 MAX HP and needs to pick up shields a.
Back to the undead dungeon, honestly I don't think it's much of a problem since the boss needs to be at considerably low health to active the effect. Oh, and the boss also gets stronger when that happens. Few! I really can't explain it but I found it somehow balanced. Bosses have very strong attacks? Yes. But we still managed it somehow, it was fun hahah

I'm almost sure there's a boss in the game that has a mechanic similar to the one you suggested (and I really liked your suggestion :D), but they're so many, and I've played it some time ago and can't exactly remember. I think an Enurado dungeon has a similar mechanic but in other way; in the boss there's 4 crystals of each element and if you hit them the damage against enemies of x element would increase, but I'm not sure about it. All the skills in the game are set by those elements (water, fire, air and earth), with most classes having 3 types of each element aaand usually players chose builds with 2 types, so it's not a specific scenario where "what if you don't have x element".
 

bgillisp

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@Wavelength : I dunno. I look at the system and I have to ask myself is it FUN? Every time I've played a game that got too cute with healing it ended up not being fun in the end as I felt like they were trying too hard to hoard healing. If I feel like your healing is as restrictive as access to Fort Knox I'm probably going to quit the game before I finish it. Now, maybe you can pull it off, but so far I've yet to see someone that gets too cute with healing pull it off and still have the game be fun in the end.

More things to avoid:

Boss battles that take longer to attempt once than it takes to watch a movie: Persona 3 was a big offender of this, and there was one blogger who clocked how long it took them to win the final boss battle...3 hours, just to try it once and win it. I'm sorry, but no boss battle should take longer to attempt once than it takes to watch Independence Day from start to finish, final boss or not.

Status ailment spam by a boss that didn't prepare the player for it first: I've played two games that had problems with this recently, and in both cases the game didn't prepare you first by letting you learn about this status ailment in a random or standard fight first, then the boss just spams it to death. This is worse if the ailment is a game over, which it was in these two cases. The two cases were the Sphinx in Persona5 spamming Despair, and I've never seen it before that fight so I had no idea it was a KO if not cured in 3 turns, nor did I have healing to cure it, and Trails in the Sky SC the tower boss in Chapter 7 where the minions spam Petrify which is a one hit KO if it hits, and as often as it is spammed it will take out your party in about 2 rounds if you didn't know to prepare for it (which you won't unless you read a guide first). Which brings me to:

Guide-Dang-Its: If the only logical way to know of something is I read about it in a guide as the game failed to tell me about it or train me for it, that's a big nope in my book.
 

Wavelength

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@Wavelength : I dunno. I look at the system and I have to ask myself is it FUN? Every time I've played a game that got too cute with healing it ended up not being fun in the end as I felt like they were trying too hard to hoard healing. If I feel like your healing is as restrictive as access to Fort Knox I'm probably going to quit the game before I finish it. Now, maybe you can pull it off, but so far I've yet to see someone that gets too cute with healing pull it off and still have the game be fun in the end.
Very reasonable.

I've only had a single complaint about the lack of healing from playtesters on the "1 skill, 3 charges" system I described (which might have been because that build's enemy stats were a bit too high), and I'm confident that it will continue to please players, because the "Race to the Bottom" style doesn't really necessitate healing at all. It's kind of there as a mini-trump card you can use when things get sticky; it's not an integral part of your kit, even during boss battles.

Now, for my other design (the Exhaustion system), it's possible I'm getting a little too cute. I'm hoping that the Exhaustion serves as a good bridge between acute and chronic challenge, but I don't know for sure that it will, and I think your advice is good. I just finished implementing Exhaustion this month, and in short playtests with easy battles it has felt very satisfying (burst down enemies fast when possible; use an item once in a while when your Max HP is flagging), but I haven't put it through the wringers of a long play session yet. I'm definitely willing to back off and re-think my approach if it seems like Exhaustion is causing more frustration than satisfying play.

Boss battles that take longer to attempt once than it takes to watch a movie: Persona 3 was a big offender of this, and there was one blogger who clocked how long it took them to win the final boss battle...3 hours, just to try it once and win it. I'm sorry, but no boss battle should take longer to attempt once than it takes to watch Independence Day from start to finish, final boss or not.
It took me nine months to beat Nyx!! D:< I imagine I tried about 30 times, and spent about 50 hours in total trying to beat it over those nine months. Sometimes I'd come home from work, have dinner, sit down and steel myself to achieve victory... and three attempts and five hours later, I'd gotten nowhere, and it was time to go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow!

I did think it was a very cool, very epic boss fight, but for sure there's no justification for them being that long (especially if they're also that difficult!!).

Guide-Dang-Its: If the only logical way to know of something is I read about it in a guide as the game failed to tell me about it or train me for it, that's a big nope in my book.
Total agreement with you here, but I feel like most "Guide Dang-Its" are probably cases where the designer thought their ask was logical, and it actually wasn't because very few people were thinking the same way they were? If you were giving advice to a novice designer on how to avoid ending up with a Guide Dang-It in their game, what advice would you give them?
 

bgillisp

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@Wavelength : Probably the best systems I've seen for limited in battle healing were the very old D and D games (the Gold Box ones) where you could heal in battle, but due to how casting times worked it was often better to not and to just take out the enemy quickly. Betrayal at Krondor also did it pretty well by the only healing spell was one that transferred HP from one party member to another. So sure, you could heal, but you were weakening the other party member instead. But I think it worked there as it was a tactical grid based battle system too, so the weakened party member could just play keep away then.

Nine months to beat Nyx? Yikes! Thankfully I'd heard the warnings of how long the fight was so I grinded to level 90 first. Nyx fell very quickly at level 90 as most of my party one shot KO'd most of the forms, and then I just used Armageddon (a combo skill you can get via two persona's, but you have to be level 88 to fuse the last one needed) on the last form. 9999 damage = goodbye Nyx.

As for how I got to level 90...I defeated the Reaper and unlocked the bonus dungeon. All monsters there are level 90 - 99, and due to how Persona does EXP I leveled up quickly there.

Easiest way in my opinion to avoid Guide-Dang-Its is to make sure to train the players. And note where your playtesters struggle due to things you thought were obvious. Or just do what I did...put your game down for a few months once it is complete, then go back and playtest it. You'll forget things that used to be obvious to you and will find most of them that way.
 

Soryuju

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But many professional designers, and nearly all amateurs, screw it up, and end up creating combat systems that would be far better if the healing/revives were removed (and the other numbers adjusted accordingly). At its core, the kind of bad design I am talking about is where the player (and particularly one character) out of a party can consistently outheal a boss' (or even a tough mob's) entire output of damage. (Consider the converse: how uninteresting would it be if a boss could consistently outheal any damage you laid on it?) And in the same breath, Action Battle Systems where the player can just pause and use as many items as they want to fully heal their characters are an even worse form of this design crime.
I'm going to posit something a little unintuitive, though - that this kind of "tug-of-war" excitement can still be had without any healing whatsoever. If the risk becomes not "can I survive next turn" but "can I keep up the pace after this big hit", the design is still interesting (and can be more consistent across big boss battles and regular mobs). In a fight where you and your enemy are dealing damage to each other without healing, and you're a little ahead in the race but the enemy comes out with a big move (like a damage + silence), you're left with the same kind of decisions about how to recover the upper hand. Perhaps keep fighting through the silence, perhaps spend a turn to cure it and try to make up some pace next turn, perhaps defend/cover for the battler that took the damage and silence if they're near KO until they can recover from the status?
No disagreement on the case with ABS systems, though I've never personally played one which functioned like that. The closest one would be when I played Ragnarok Online many years ago, and you could tank to some degree by spamming potions as fast as you could press the keys. However, the amount restored by common consumables was usually too small to make a difference if you were trying to fight something significantly stronger than what you should be, and the gold cost of potion spamming like that added up very quickly.

I also agree that the type of consistent healing you describe can be a liability to combat systems if designers aren't conscientious of its impact, but I don't agree that designing a system without healing (or with limited healing) is necessarily a safer approach for designers who don't already have a strong understanding of RPG healing dynamics.

For one thing, we haven't even addressed whether we're assuming the player's party is healed (partially or fully) after combat or not. The classic challenge of RPG gameplay is attrition through long dungeons, and while it seems like more RPGs are switching things up in recent years, I'd say attrition is still the norm. Offering regular healing via MP/consumables is the standard that goes along with this. If you take that out, you can get some unpleasant scenarios where a single bad mistake can force the player to turn around and leave the entire dungeon. Even if you heal the player before the boss, trying to maintain the appropriate challenge and pacing of a non-heal system throughout the entirety of each dungeon in your game sounds like a major design headache. As such, I feel like unless you're a very experienced designer, limited healing systems aren't even really an option unless you've committed to healing the party after each battle, and this has its own design ramifications.

As another example, the "Race to the Bottom" type systems you've described sound like they could lead to very engaging and dramatic encounters. But how precise does the design have to be to actually realize these feelings during gameplay? I imagine that if you're backloading the tension of the encounter, it would be rather easy to end up with battles where the player feels minimal pressure for 80% of the fight, and then realizes in the last 20% that they already made too many mistakes to kill the enemy in time. Your climaxes could be dampened by all the safe, boring rounds leading up to the end, and by the time the player gets there, they might be facing a hopeless situation instead of any sort of payoff. I'll grant that it's difficult to implement "fun" ways for players to lose, but that scenario sounds particularly awful.

I have no doubt you could come up with similar scenarios in systems which allow for liberal healing. However, I offered a variety of solutions to alleviate the potential dullness of a consistent healing loop in my previous post. I think that these solutions are more familiar to designers in general, since relatively few mainstream RPGs embrace restricted healing systems, and I think they're generally easier to implement than trying to balance the pacing and tension of entire games which feature limited/no healing.

So the thrust of my point here is that while designs with little to no healing can be great, I wouldn't recommend them over the liberal healing model as a default design template. The importance of including post-battle healing constrains which games can forgo healing, and there's also more skill required to make the limited healing model feel consistently fun. If you fail to design it properly, your encounters could easily end up being even less engaging than ones with poorly-designed healing models.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that limiting heals can have unintended side effects in systems where the player can customize their characters' abilities, especially systems which let you change characters' classes freely. If you completely remove healing from the options, you can decrease the diversity of available roles, which will typically just lead to your player stacking more of whatever the best damage classes are. If you limit the availability of healing, the same thing can happen, but additionally, players can opt to stack healers to circumvent the limits. You can try to counteract the heal stacking with diminishing returns, but it's harder to limit damage stacking without just slowing down your combat and making your game less fun.

One major example of the stacking problem happened in Guild Wars 2. The designers touted that their game would feature no DPS-Tank-Healer trinity because they were getting rid of dedicated healers and instead giving each class a self-heal skill. The result was that tanks also fell by the wayside, and the holy trinity was instead replaced by a DPS monolith. They eventually ended up having to roll back their design and give certain classes the option to play a dedicated healing role because the previous structure was limiting the complexity of the fights they could create for players.

You're very correct that a large heal after accumulating damage doesn't necessarily represent erasing a mistake that the player made, but it can represent the erasure of mistakes, and if that can be done consistently, it eliminates the incentives for the player to play creatively/wisely or even to pay much attention to anything besides his character's HP bars.

If the player is taking more damage than they should (through a fault of their own), or is putting out less damage per turn than they should be able to (again through their own fault), it means that over time their party will take more damage than necessary. But if a cheap heal can make that go away, then who cares?

That's essentially my issue with the powerful, reliable heal.
So here's a question: do you consider a heal reliable if it's got a cheap resource cost and it's always available to use, but there's a notable opportunity cost for choosing to heal? Say your healer also has several powerful offensive buffs they can apply for their party, but the duration of these buffs is limited to a few turns each. So your healer can potentially spam their heal every round, but this could come at the cost of letting some of those buffs expire on the party and cutting your overall damage output significantly. Now, to make up a scenario: you're fighting a boss which summons adds that deal additional damage while applying debuffs, and you also need your healer to cleanse the debuffs. Under these circumstances, that cheap, strong heal has a pretty significant opportunity cost. Spamming the heal to keep up with the boss's damage could increase the time it takes to kill the adds, and the adds may be distributing damage/debuffs to more targets than you can heal/cleanse each round. Then you could end up falling behind with healing anyways. This is a fairly simple design which still gives the player ways to fix their mistakes cheaply in the sense of resources expended, but there's still weight to those mistakes. Choosing to fix them could cost you momentum in the fight and end up making things harder later on.


My own healing designs don't actually reflect any of the things I've defended above, since I'm aiming to have a system where the player is fully healed at the end of each battle, and I think that including cheap, strong heals is definitely a questionable design choice in that context. Interestingly, some of the ideas I've been testing overlap with your own healing systems. In particular, I've been experimenting with heals that get stronger as the target's HP gets lower, and the gradual loss of max HP as an attrition mechanic, though I'm not sure if they're going to end up as part of my final design.

My systems seem to diverge from yours in the availability of healing during battle, though. I've currently got 3 main sources planned:

  1. Guard. Guard can restore a significant amount of HP to the user based on their missing HP, and it also helps them accumulate more of a resource which every other action in the game requires. Characters can act up to twice per turn, so a character can use Guard to heal while stockpiling available actions for future rounds.
  2. Passive Regeneration buffs. These recover HP slowly, but they're very accessible, generally inexpensive, and they restore a significant amount of HP over many rounds. They also scale in power with the target's current HP and the user's Spirit stat, and they're the default way of recovering from damage which isn't immediately threatening.
  3. Burst heals which cost HP to use. These are a relatively new addition to the system and still subject to major changes, but the idea is that the healer needs to sacrifice a significant amount of their own HP when healing the target. I'm currently thinking that both the HP loss and the heal's power will be influenced by how much HP the target is currently missing, and the output will also be influenced by the user's Spirit (generally resulting in a net HP gain).
On top of this, I'm testing a shared resource system in my project where the party's skills all draw from the same source, which accumulates over time. Buffs, debuffs, and utility skills are generally cheap, while damage and burst healing are more expensive. Overuse your burst heals and you'll cut into your buffs and damage output, which will be a problem when enemies are regularly scaling up their power in battle.

The way I'm trying out max HP loss is similar to your system, but I think my MHP penalties each round are higher, there's a lower limit of 50% MHP, and you can stop the MHP loss early by restoring the character to full HP. Long boss fights may also have mechanics which restore some of your MHP when certain conditions are met.

Since I'm trying to incorporate a class change system and don't want the player just stacking damage, I'm trying to let healers serve a distinct purpose even in regular battles, and their Regeneration in particular can help reduce MHP loss from the system. It does make the current plans for HP costs on burst heals feel a little odd, though, and honestly, I'm not sure if people will readily embrace a system which regularly depletes their max HP, even with full healing after battle. I'm still probably going to have to retool things a few more times before I settle somewhere that I'm comfortable with. These systems could very well end up on my own list of "things to avoid!"
 

Aesica

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But many professional designers, and nearly all amateurs, screw it up
Oh yeah I agree, nearly every RM game I've played (with few exceptions) is either too much or too little healing without other factors to balance that out. It's by far the hardest thing to balance in RPG combat IMO--something I intend to spend a fair amount of time on to make sure I get it right. Even then, I might not.

To some extent this also applies to status cures vs. statuses, and so on - the idea is that if you can consistently erase any danger that enemies pose, after the fact, and do it with no significant risk/cost, it creates a broken and boring system.
In this case, I think it's okay because generally, your primary healer is the one who also has the power to remove them. A choice between "do I heal my mage or un-charm my warrior?" could be seen as an interesting choice. Having said that, I am against panacea/esuna cure-all abilities without any sort of restriction. In my current project (and future ones most likely) "Esuna" removes only the lighter ailments. Others, such as Stop, Charm, Doom, and a variety of DoTs are much harder to remove, with some not even being removable at all.

Based on my play of EBF3 (it seems like the battle system is reasonably consistent across versions?), I'd say "yes and no".

There are certainly some battles in EBF where simply having Natalie use her most powerful heal each turn wasn't enough to "keep up" - usually because the boss had buffed themselves or debuffed my party, or because they laid damage onto the party as well as crippling statuses (like heavy poison). In either case, I was at risk of KO's even if I got my party back to full health, and what was really interesting was that there was sort of a solution in trying to remove the enemies' buffs (or kill the threatening ones or remove statuses) during the "easier" turns so I could focus on healing after getting whacked. Felt like a nice balance during most boss battles and some normal encounters.

However, for most normal encounters, and even a few bosses, the "first order optimal strategy" of having Natalie use her most powerful healing spell when someone's HP got low, and having Matt and Lance just whack enemies with whatever element the Scan showed they're weak to, was incredibly effective, and pretty boring. Pace didn't matter; tactics didn't matter; there was no sense of danger or risk. The only "challenge" was in not forgetting to Heal. It was very paint-by-number, much like most RPG combats are, and a lot of the lategame mobs presented the never-fun question of "how many more times do I need to do this before I finish the wave?".

I admire EBF a lot for making even a significant minority of its "Classic JRPG" battles feel wonderfully tactical, but in my opinion reliable, powerful healing is the main culprit behind making the majority of its battles feel boring.
You should really try EBF4 and 5, as they're significantly ahead of 3 in terms of design, polish, balance, and pretty much everything.

EBF4 is free to play on Kongregate
EBF5 is free to play directly on the developer's site

The free versions are scaled down, both in terms of asset quality and they have no bonus content, but they're otherwise the full game.

That said, the early EBF games (3 might've been one of them) suffered from healing being way too powerful and boring, as well as most characters having too much elemental coverage, which is a bit dull I agree. In 5, a lot of that's been addressed. AoE healing has cooldowns so you have to plan things a bit more carefully. In other words, you can't just spam Natalie's Healmore every turn or lazily roll party-wide regen through everything anymore. Elemental attacks are also a bit more limited in that aside from Matt (who is limited to mostly single target) characters only really get to specialize in a few elements. Like Natalie gets strong light and dark, but her other damage types are less powerful. I really like the developer's approach to combat balance in 5.

I couldn't disagree with this more!! You do mention in a later post that you were mostly talking about "badly designed" combat that includes heal starvation, but I feel the need to point out how much potential "Race to the Bottom"-style combat has.

If you think about it, nearly every great game is outpacing your opponent in some manner, whether that's racing to score more points, or achieving a goal before they can (with added pleasure when your moves can also set your opponent back). There are very few great games where you can simply "erase" what your opponent has accomplished. Chess is probably the finest example of forward progress and pace creating interesting gameplay, but Street Fighter, NBA Basketball, Phase 10, League of Legends, and Tennis all share this in common too.
See this is where I disagree, and I'll use EBF as an example to explain what I mean since it's come up a few times here. In EBF5, any given turn can leave you with 1 or more dead members, heaps of damage, several nasty status ailments, or any combination of the above. In order to succeed, you need to erase everything the boss did, or at least as much as possible, because a straight race to the bottom will have the foes emerge the victor every time. FFBE is the same way, in that winning isn't about each side clubbing one another's numbers down until one side wins the number tug-of-war. It's about getting a good skill rotation going, then recovering when the boss's attacks throw that rotation off in various ways (lethal damage, debuff removal/self-buff, etc.

I guess part of why I kind of dislike the race-to-the-bottom approach is that I see it used in a lot of scummy Chinese P2W games, where the battle rating of your team is basically matched against the battle rating of whatever your opponent is. Each side beats each other down until one (usually the one with the bigger battle rating) claims victory. Now I know the type of RPGs we all make here are not really like that (i hope!) but I guess I just find it more interesting when victory comes from using abilities to maintain a survivable state and recover from boss attack curve balls rather than racing to the bottom. Just my opinion though. :)

Too often, RPG combat misses this, as anything your opponent accomplishes can be wiped away with a healing spell or an item. When you restrict or remove healing in a good combat design, though, you don't create a "stats check" where both sides hit each other and whichever side was more powerful will inevitably win. What you do create is a "Race to the Bottom" combat system, where every little bit of efficiency you can squeeze out of good tactics matters. In a system where you can erase the damage your enemy lays on you, there's less need for a creative combo that deals 15% more damage than spamming your strongest move. In a design without healing, where you are going to eventually fall if you can't get out your own damage quickly enough, that +15% damage can be the difference between victory and defeat. It makes pace important, and therefore it makes tactical, efficient play important as well.
Good tactics can certainly matter in an erase-bad-stuff approach as well. Okay so let's say my tank has provoke + mitigation up, my healer has everyone topped off and buffed, and my 2 damage dealers are pounding away. The boss is under control and it should be easy, right? Don't need special combos, just spam Flare! Wait, suddenly the boss hits an HP or turn threshold, uses a party-wide dispel, clobbers my tank with fatal damage, empties the MP of my mage, and then begins charging some nasty attack. I've got 3 rounds to deal enough damage to interrupt that or it's game over. So, not only do I need to get everything back under control as quickly as possible, but I'll need to squeeze every last bit of damage out of my party that I can. Those combos for 15% extra damage might just mean the difference between interrupting its death attack and getting obliterated.

See, that's an example of the kind of RPG combat I enjoy, a struggle to survive everything the boss throws at you--not with timers (direct or indirect via gradual resource depletion/exhaustion/etc) but with careful manipulation of each piece on the board, and each action the boss takes at various points in the battle.

- - -

That said, I don't think you're wrong at all--your approach definitely has merit, and really any game where a lot of care is put into balancing combat will most certainly result in a good gaming experience. Given the game you described (X days to accomplish a thing) I'd say the race-to-the-bottom fits the theme just fine. It's just not the approach I'd take in my projects and that's fine. Things would be pretty boring if everybody made their battle systems the exact same way.
 

CuddleFox

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This one may sound weird, but you're probably familiar with it. Monsters can be really strong sometimes, but that's ok since you'll fight them, right? Nope. Sometimes, a game escape rate can be... rather low. And if you try escaping for example, only 2 times, it can be enough to wipe half of your team.
Several solutions. Make the escape chance rate visible to the player, (or make it work after a certain number of escapes and indicate this number to the player).
Make this escape rate depend on something that the player can easily increase.
Or make one item of the game allow 100% escape.

A sudden really strong monster. This may confuse you at a first look, but it's more common that it seems to be. The game usually has weak monsters and bosses - no bother at all, they can be killed easily. But suddenly, out of nowhere, the game throws at you a boss with an area attack that will suck out half of your HP. And not only that, that boss is a must-defeat because it won't let you advance in the game.
What you're describing is called a normal xD rpg boss.
Personally I like it a lot in an RPG when a monster in one area is much more difficult than the others. Like FFX Malboro, you really have a feeling of progress, of accomplishment, when you see them again later in the game and dismantle them in 3 moves.
 

BreakerZero

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Narrative Deaths of Playable Characters - Unlike other mediums where the audience are detached observers, in video games the audience (player) is directly invested in the fate of their characters. The player needs to believe he is in control in order to stay invested. If something really bad happens to the characters, the player will feel like he failed. While this can be a powerful emotional moment, the player can also mentally "rebel" against it (shattering the illusion they are in control) if they feel like the failure was unfairly handed to them, and in addition you've taken away a character the player had connected with. Permadeath through combat/gameplay can be okay if done well; character deaths through choices made can be okay if done well; forced narrative deaths of playable characters, on the other hand, are a case where the juice is never worth the squeeze.
This so reminds me of what happens to Aerith (or whatever the spelling is) in FF7. Or what Chrono has to do to himself at a certain part of Chrono Trigger. Or in terms of literature, when it becomes apparent in the final parts of Deathly Hallows that "what's his name" was partially merged with his intended target by no fault or intention of his own. Not in my case - for the purposes of my approach I actually reserved this for the supporting cast which I think may work as a compromise in this regard.

What you're describing is called a normal xD rpg boss.
Personally I like it a lot in an RPG when a monster in one area is much more difficult than the others. Like FFX Malboro, you really have a feeling of progress, of accomplishment, when you see them again later in the game and dismantle them in 3 moves.
I suppose this can also extend to the implementation of a boss rush scenario during the endgame where you penetrate the core of the enemy base to bring down the big baddie and save the world, and then (BAM!) you get thrown into a pit or path selection or transporter room or whatever... and the next thing you know it's a very bad case of deja vu as the key challengers rise up again to see if you're really up to the task ahead of you (or simply to exact revenge, depending on the relevant intentions and design aspects).
 

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Starting a game "in media res".
As in, you start the game in combat. In the middle of a situation. The middle of something strange going on with no explanation. No. Sorry. I need time to acclimate here. This is an amateur move done by terrible writers. I need you to introduce me to the character and the setting so that I have reasonable expectations going forward. If you just start me in combat... what am I meant to infer from this? I'll be doing nonstop combat and your story is garbage and not worth paying attention to?

If you want to capture my attention, you introduce me to the Main Character (or initial main cast) and then push them into the situation they're currently in. You can have the first action after this introduction be to shove me into combat. But, don't start the game with like 3 sentences and then combat.

I need some set-up here. Establish your characters. Establish the baseline of your setting. I need to at least know what is normal and what isn't, as well as what type of characters I'm controlling here.

Crafting Systems
I have yet to see a crafting system "done well" in an RPG. It is literally just a list of ingredients to craft something. The items you craft are often so worthless you can easily avoid the system... or so valuable that you ignore every system except crafting. Drops of crafting materials also require an insane amount of grind as well. Shops don't sell crafting materials...

Just... no. Don't put a crafting system into your game unless it's an MMO and you're selling equipment... Or it's a sandbox thing like Minecraft where crafting is the whole point of the game...

If I see "robust crafting system!", I tend to write the game off as garbage. Mostly because there is no room for experimentation in the crafting system. It is "put into this thing exactly what we ask and you get exactly what the recipe says you get". If you're going to do a crafting system, I want you to allow experimentation. As in, this recipe works with Wood, Iron, Steel, Silver, Magic Wood, Magic Steel, Titanium, etcetera... and it's up to me to decide what to put into it as each of these materials raises and lowers certain stats... And then it can have any number of a dozen catalysts... or augments... This way, your crafting system allows me to CREATE EXACTLY WHAT I WANT and not be limited BY IN GAME PROGRESS on what I can create (I so much just LOVE when I have endgame materials, but can't craft endgame items until I'm given the endgame recipe... just... no. Don't do this. Let me use any and all materials I come across at any time.)

Mini-games
I, so much, hate mini-games. Why do you want to put a second game inside your first game? Wouldn't your game benefit MORE from taking the dev time of making that second or third game and putting that into your FIRST GAME? I can't count the amount of "card games" I've played in an RPG and I simply sit in stunned silence at what must've been over 1000 dev hours to code this other game... when it could've been used to improve the main game, or offer more ACTUAL CONTENT for the main game.

If you want to create a little game of Poker or something, just give it its own game. Design it's own little game and leave it out of your main game.

I also don't like the argument of, "well, if my players need a break from the game... they can play a mini-game". No. If you need a break from a game, shut off that game and play a different one. You're already bored of the main game (most likely because of burn-out or because the dev did a bad job of holding your attention), so you may as well just turn off the game you're playing and play the one you WANT to play instead.

Yes, I loved Blitzball in Final Fantasy X. I constantly wished it had been fleshed out more and had been its own stand-alone game instead of what it was in that game. As a result of being a mini-game, it wasn't as good as it could've been, and neither was FFX.

If you split your dev time between creating games within your game... Just... no. I'm not going to play your game. It becomes obvious you even got bored of your own game if you started coding another inside of the one you had. If that's the case, just start an entirely new project and trash bin the first one that you're bored of.

Cluttered maps
You do not need something on your map every 3-4 spaces. Seriously. I hate clutter. It feels less "lived in" and less "natural" and more like trying to artificially overload my visual senses. Please don't do this. It annoys me to no end. Make your environments and maps look as realistic as possible, or so that it at least looks like they serve the purpose they do in your game. Homes should look lived in (with as many beds as people... as many chairs as people... etcetera). Forests, if nobody travels in them, should be overgrown with a ton of long grass or super thick trees and forest debris. Your maps should look like what they are. You shouldn't be putting something every 3 or 4 spaces in the map. It looks terrible.

No threat of death
I don't like knowing I can beat pretty much every RPG Maker game on these forums by mashing attack or spamming my best skills. If I have to turn off my brain to play your game, I simply don't really want to play it all that much. The only time I want to "turn off my brain" in an RPG is when I'm deliberately grinding for gold, job points, xp, items. If I'm travelling from one section of your map to another and every encounter is "Attack, Attack, Attack, Attack, WIN!" I'm going to be bored. Please put more effort into your combat to throw me some curve balls. To keep me on my toes. To make it feel like a standard encounter COULD give me a game over if I'm complacent or stupid about how I play.

Likewise, if I beat a boss the first time I encounter it... I tend to feel like the game is "too easy". You know all the strongest attacks, equipment, and combos in your game. Please do something about letting me spam them against your bosses. People on the forums make such a big deal about "preserving challenge", and yet they almost always fail spectacularly in doing so. Put simply, throw gimmicks at me. Be prepared for the OP stuff I'm likely to do. Your bosses should be a test of everything I've learned up to this point.

There should be a general feel that any boss can and will wipe me out on the first run and I may have to make 3-5 runs before I beat it. This is acceptable. Any less, and I'll wonder what kind of "easymode" game I'm playing. For the same token... if I'm hitting the "this boss killed me 10 times", I think we're at a point where rebalancing needs to take place, or you need to find a way to better teach me the mechanics I need so I'm not dying so much.

Level Scaling/Reducing XP
I hate this with the passion of 10,000,000,000,000 George Forman Grills on the Surface of the Sun as it goes Supernova. These are the tell-tale signs a dev does not know how to create a compelling combat system or how to balance their creatures. The systems that use these balance purely by stats alone. Which, anyone can do. Including rank amateurs. They do it as a means of "preventing the players from grinding and ruining the challenge". Here's a tip, if you have to resort to either of these to "preserve challenge"... your combat system had no challenge in it to begin with. It's going to be steamrolled regardless, because you didn't take any time to make it at least decent. It's baseline. Mediocre. Still easily exploitable. The only difference is now you're annoying your player because you couldn't figure out how to balance your combat without these.

The acceptable limitations I will accept are... what Paper Mario does. If you always need 100 XP to level up, and weaker enemies stop dropping XP, I accept this. But, if it takes 100 XP to get to Level 2, and then 300 XP to get to Level 3, and 900 XP to get to Level 4... AND the enemies stop giving me XP... No. Just no. Stop.

It is never acceptable to scale an enemy to the player's level either. Unless that "scaled up" enemy actually behaves differently, has different skills/attacks, has different strategies for defeating... you're wasting your time and mine. I don't want to fight "Rabbit Level 40" any more than I want to fight "Rabbit Level 1" at level 38. It's the same boring enemy, it just takes more hits to kill. Please insert some actual creativity into your monsters and combat system. Stop relying on just making larger and larger and larger stats in hopes that you're "creating challenge". The RPG Maker engines allow you to do an insane amount of creative and interesting things with a combat system. Pretty much anything you can imagine. To rely solely on stats as the backbone of combat is... boring. Likewise, it leads to players just steamrolling your game... and then you wanting to do Level Scaling or XP Reduction to "preserve challenge".

Just be more creative with your combat and stop trying to punish the player because of your short-sightedness.

Visual Encounters
I know a lot of people prefer these. I don't. I think they're pretty much universally done terribly. Their existence promotes "avoid combat", but never rewards you for doing so (in fact, you're punished for doing so). Their existence also ensures that every single player will fight every single encounter on the map to maximize XP gains because they're going to assume they're meant to fight all the battles just to be properly leveled up enough to kill the boss. Likewise, the devs who use this often create a ton of "choke points" that force players into combat... Most of these systems use simple "move towards player at X speed", which is sort of dull to watch.

Basically, the way Visual Encounters are used across the vast majority of RPG Maker games... you're probably better off hitting the player with all the combat of the map the minute they enter the screen, and then leave them free to do whatever they want on the rest of the map. Basically, enter map, 3 battles, then they can do whatever they want. It's the same thing, except you get the nuisance out of the way immediately.

I have every confidence that a "Visual Encounter" system can be done well. That it can be a fully fleshed out and interesting feature. But, nobody has bothered to do that yet. The most extensive I've ever seen it get is just thoughtfulness in how to keep players from getting cornered by the encounters and how to let them "run away" from combat.

Guess what, I can do the same thing with a Random Encounter. Let's see... create an item that makes Encounter Rate 0%... Let the player equip it... and bam... didn't have to event a ton of crap for such a simple purpose.

If you're creating a Visual Encounter system with the only reason in mind for doing so, as a means to "let players limit combat"... just don't. You can create a single item in about 25 seconds that allows players to do that... and you can give it to them the minute they hit "start game" on the menu.

If you aren't going to make your Visual Encounters a major mechanic where the player interacts with the encounters, can do interesting things on the maps with the encounters (or because of them)… change up how battle works because of the encounters... Just don't use it. You're wasting your time. You're wasting my time.

I'll give an example of what I mean... If I can't throw a rock at an enemy encounter to lure it over to another encounter and get them to fight each other so I can pass unhindered... and you give me a reward for doing so... I don't want to deal with your Visual Encounter system. I want interaction like that. It should engage me as much as the combat does, and if I evade the enemies, I should be rewarded just as much as if I'd fought all the encounters.

If your Visual Encounters are little more than a change of set dressing (and actually WORSE than random encounters... and most of them ARE)… don't bother.

If players don't want to engage in your combat, it isn't because you're using random encounters or visual encounters. It's either because A. Your game is too hard. Or B. Your combat is too boring to bother with.

Puzzles
Please don't put puzzles in your RPG. I have no desire to stop the narrative to deal with a puzzle. No, I don't want to solve a math problem. No, I don't want to flip switches until all the right doors are open. No, I don't want to push boulders around. No, I don't want to have a trivia quiz. Just. No. If I want to engage with puzzles, I'll play a puzzle game. I want nothing more complicated than "find a key, open the locked door" in terms of a puzzle. I don't want to flip switches. I don't want to find the scrap of paper that tells me which order to step on the buttons in.

Leave that stuff to Zelda, where it gets more creative. Or Portal, where you feel smart for solving the puzzle.

If you want to put puzzles in your game so badly... put them in your combat system. At the very least, it then makes your combat interesting to engage with.
---

That's all I got for now. Lots of things RPG's do annoy the crap out of me... Especially things I see in a lot of RPG Maker games. This is the short list.
 

bgillisp

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@Tai_MT : A few of the things you mention I agree with (especially the scaling of EXP), but a few I disagree as designers have tried to avoid them, and they got more player complaints and not fewer. Here's why:

Mini-games: Despite your feelings about them, many players out there like and expect mini-games in their game. My feeling though is it better be totally optional if you DO put them in, but due to how many do like them I don't see that trend going away.

Visual encounters that you cannot dodge: The funny thing is, someone tried that where you could dodge them all, and guess what the #1 player complaint was...that they were underleveled and the bosses were too hard. Yep, seems they were dodging ALL of them, and that was causing problems. Now I do think you should allow the game to be possible if you dodge every fight (I tested my game to see if it could be done, and it can, but it is NOT easy and I'd only try it if you want to really challenge yourself), but it has been noticed by many devs that if you don't at least put some visual encounters on a narrow ledge to force the player to fight some of them, many players will dodge them all and then complain your game is too hard.
 

lianderson

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@Tai_MT Whelp, I guess you're not playing my game then. I got puzzles, cards, and crafting. (although the crafting is for endgame items only)
 

Tai_MT

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@bgillisp

My problem with "minigames" is that they primarily steal dev time away from the actual game. In the same way that slapping Multiplayer onto a Singleplayer game does. Gamers have a problem with this, but fail to recognize this same issue when it comes to "minigames". I recognize it as exactly the same thing. Two mediocre games slapped together when you could've had one really great game.

Now, if your minigame is part of a mechanic, I have no issue with that. I loved the "Pipe Dream" game in Bioshock 1 and 2 for hacking. I found it pretty fun and at least a bit engaging. I enjoy the "fishing" minigame in Stardew Valley (just keep the bar over the fish icon and try to predict its movements!).

But, RPG's generally have things like, "racing". Or "play cards". Or some other weird and obscure thing that has nothing to do with anything and doesn't enhance the core experience. It simply takes away from the core experience in order to provide a 100% different experience. At which point... why bother? Because players are too lazy to hit two buttons with their mouse and load the game they actually want to play? I don't understand it.

Now, if you implement the minigame like say... The Beauty Contests in Pokémon... It makes sense. It builds on the core of the concept of the game. It shows off how "good" of a trainer you are. It shows off how good your Pokémon are. I enjoyed the contests, but found them to be fairly limiting in scope and challenge. I'd have liked if they were akin to the gyms and there were more mechanics associated with them.

But, that bleeds back into my point. It could've been it's own fun standalone game. It didn't have to be some throwaway concept that was mediocre at best... and took away dev time from the games it was in, that could've been better spent doing other things.
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As for the Visual Encounters... That's sort of my point. They exist to tell the player "you should be dodging these!" and then they aren't rewarded for doing so. Why not? You are deliberately confusing your players. It's no wonder they say, "it's too hard". The very system itself communicates to them that they need to be avoiding the encounters.

With random encounters, the player isn't likely to hit "Escape". But a Visual Encounter, the player is more likely to just evade combat, unless you prevent them from doing so. And, if you do so... then how is that any different from the forced combat of a random encounter? Placebo effect of the player THINKING it's better, when it's the same in a lot of regards and worse in others?

I think Visual Encounters could be done well. I really do. I hope someone, someday, decides to just blast such a system out of the park and make their version of it the "standard" for the system. But, nobody has done that yet. Nobody has even tried.

So, until someone actually makes a good Visual Encounter system... I'll always prefer the random encounters. Because, at least if I want to avoid combat, I can equip the item that lets me do so.
 

bgillisp

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@Tai_MT : Assuming it exists. And BTW I do run away from random encounters too, and just get annoyed that I couldn't dodge them now (I'm looking at you FF9!).

As it is you may have to accept that you are a minority on this, as most gamers don't like random encounters anymore from what we've seen. And that's fine, design a great random encounter system then, everyone is different!

BTW, the reason I hate EXP scaling is it shows that the dev doesn't understand math. There's NO reason you need to both raise the EXP needed per level AND lower the EXP per fight. That's two moving targets when a well designed EXP curve would handle all of this quite well, you just need to spread out the EXP per level more to get the same effect. I still remember one game I fought a dragon, it took 5 minutes of my time and I got a lousy 1 EXP due to the EXP scaling, and I needed 40,000 EXP to level up. As it is, if you implement the EXP scaling you can get players who can't defeat your boss as they didn't figure out the one pattern you allowed for beating that boss, so they are trying to grind, but you just disallowed it. And this brings me to another point:

Thinking your balance is more important than fun: I've seen many devs on here posting they want the player to be exactly x level when they fight a boss for balance reason. But the problem is, that might be the level YOU can win at, but not the level THEY can win at. For instance, I've beaten my game at level 44, the lowest level I could be with only boss EXP (and the few mandatory regular fights) going into the last fight. I would never recommend anyone play my last dungeon though at level 44 unless they want to die, and often.

So basically, make sure players CAN grind if they want to. Put an optional dungeon or two for those who want to get more levels. Maybe even hide ultra weapons that break the balance some, after all FF7 did, and I don't know anyone who complained that Knights of the Round made the game too easy*, as you had to earn it.

*: Based on observations on my dorm floor in college when ff7 first came out.
 

lianderson

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@Tai_MT Out of curiosity, I copied and pasted the long post you made into microsoft word, and it came back with 2,432 words. Two thousand... four hundred... and thirty... two... words. (and that's not counting the follow-up response you had to type because of it)

I'm gonna be real with you fam. You got a problem. You need to spend less time on this site expressing yourself, and more time on your game developing stuff. You're holding yourself back.

In other words...
*cracks whip*
Get back to work dag nabbit!
 

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