You're tearing me apart Plot!

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by Dr. Delibird, Dec 13, 2016.

  1. Dr. Delibird

    Dr. Delibird Veteran Veteran

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    I want to open up a discussion about what kind of an effect splitting the party up in a game has on a game overall. Is it something that you like when it happens in games you play? Do you feel like the splitting of the party is more a nuisance and should be avoided at all costs? What systems do you think will need to be put in place for party splitting to be a viable gameplay and/or story mechanic? These are just example questions, I don't mean to say I want them all answered but rather they are to help with getting icky brain juices flowing. The overall question is, what are your thoughts and opinions on party splitting from both a gameplay and a story perspective?
     
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  2. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    There are (at least) two types of party splitting.  One is to start with split parties which later join up and the other is starting with one party which at some stage splits, presumably to rejoin again.


    I built my last game around the first sort, so that is the only experience with split parties that I've had as a developer, though I have played many games with the second sort.


    A couple of issues which I think unite both approaches.  The first is the inventory.  I personally think it only makes sense for each party to have their own inventory.  That is easy to set up when they start as separate parties, or it was for me as I used a Party Management script which allowed for that.  Not so easy when the parties split partway through.  How you decide to share out the inventory will depend on your story and the characters involved.  For example, in one game I played, because the second party was being led by a character with good healing abilities, all the HP restoring items were left with the first party.  How you share out the gear is also vital.  I prefer it when you are given a chance to swap equipment around before the parties split off.  I get very annoyed when the split happens without that provision, and someone in my party lacks a crucial piece of gear because I'd temporarily allocated it to someone else who is now in the other party.


    The second issue is levels.  How do you ensure that both parties are viable?  One way to do it is to give the Reserve Party the same EXP as those in the Active Party.  If you don't want to do that, you need some other mechanism in place.  It is not unusual for players to have a few favorite characters which see a lot of the action and a couple that they hardly ever use. 


    When the parties start separate, there is a clear story-driven reason why that is so.  The requirement then is to come up with a good reason why they should join together.  With parties that split part way through there are again (at least) two main reasons.


    The first is that you are only allowed to take X number of characters with you on this section, or maybe all sections going forward.  Typically that involves some sort of hub location where you can swap your players around.  I have never played a game which gave a good reason why that should be.  It just seems taken as the norm that some of your party will lounge around drinking cups of tea, or whatever, while the rest go off to perform deeds of glory.  I find this most unsatisfactory, and so unlikely, given that these characters are usually presented as being eager to join the quest.  I suspect that this whole mechanism is a left over from the early days when it wasn't possible to swap players on the fly.  I find it surprising to still encounter it.  The only reason for it to continue that I can think of is if this particular mission requires such stealth that only the minimum number of characters can approach the objective without automatic detection.  But that can't really be turned into a justification for everything.


    The second approach is where you require two (or more) parties to accomplish something at the same time but in different places.  This can be to complete some form of puzzle mechanic which e.g. two or more switches have to be activated simultaneously.  This can feel a bit contrived, but is often okay because it does vary the game play a bit.  Then there are the cases where there is a coherent story-driven reason why a second party needs to go off to do something while the other party gets on with another aspect.  If it is just done because well, why not? then it usually comes across as lame. 


    Executive summary coming up - as a mechanism it can add interest and strategic choices, but as always it comes down to implementation.  I personally think it needs to be story-driven.
     
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  3. Dr. Delibird

    Dr. Delibird Veteran Veteran

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    @ksjp17 most of my opinions either share a lot of similarities with yours or are identical. Especially that last statement about how it should be story driven. I can understand the need to leave behind all but 4 (for example) characters because we need people to guard the entrance so that we are not attacked from behind. I cannot get behind being told I can only have 4 characters with me because #partysplit. 
     
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  4. Crabs

    Crabs Veteran Veteran

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    The game I'm working on since october has this "party split" concept.


    If you decide to make a game like this, I highly recommend Hime's inventory core plugin and multiple inventory plugin to manage two or more inventories. It will allow you to easily switch inventories and merge them. But you will have to do some coding if you plan to split the inventory at some point.


    It's not hard to write a script that let you manage the split, but it's boring to code this kind of plugin.
     
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  5. Dreadshadow

    Dreadshadow Lv 38 Tech Magician Moderator

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    First thing that comes to mind: Final Fantasy 7 and it was a successful game.


    Second thing that comes to mind: Final Fantasy 6. the game had not just a party, but all members lost and scattered in the middle of the scenario.


    Let's take a look. You are a player. You have a party split. Why feel bad about it?


    If a member is splitted as part of the scenario (Aeris from FF7, everyone on FF6) it is all right. Yes it has some emotional impact potentional, but that's something you might actually want to have.


    On the other hand, let's say you are grinding for two weeks, to reach your selected party members to the highest possible level and stats and you also found a strategy to beat almost everything that the game will throw you. Then the game splits party. You get others than the hard worked with characters. THIS is annoying to some people, while others see an opportunity to max level the rest. Same goes with gold spent to specific character equipment. So to be honest, in my opinion this ends up on how much grinding is okay to be in a game and I think there is a thread about it somewhere. 


    There is a potential to see different endings according to party split, used smart. This can be fantastic and rewarding. Take for instance Mass Effect 2 (WHAT A GAME SERIES!!!!)


    You had to split the part wise. Every decision you make, everything you upgraded till now (and it was a sudden part) will determine the game outcome.


    So bottomline, I believe we have to be men of measure when choosing anything in a game and that is the art and craftsmanship of good games really. Harmony.
     
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  6. Oddball

    Oddball Veteran Veteran

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    @kjsp17: a twist on the second one is the party splits because of some different way of doing things and each becomes the final boss for the other, both played by player till end game when they pick a side


    anyway, i dont really like split parties, although i have seen it done well and in interesting ways
     
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  7. Azurecyan

    Azurecyan Veteran Veteran

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    As long as there is some sort of event that causes the party to split, it can either go in a bad direction or a good direction. A bad direction would be having them split and then join up later on but they learn nothing about the main conflict(which would be entirely a filler). A good direction would be they split up because some sort of conflict, clashing objective, the big evil splits them up in all directions AND they learn something about the big bad as they attempt to meet up again.


    In one of my original ideas, I had the main character and another character from the party split from the main party because of conflicting ideas/objective and clashing of personalities(mainly because the main character's objective was different and more personal from the heroine's and also the fact that she doesn't like another person in the party because she found them suspicious) so they split and go off on their own. The heroine wanted to find an ancient relic and who she was(she was locked up under a castle for a long time), while the hero wanted to prove her innocence(she was a princess who was accused of killing an important figure after finding the heroine). Eventually the main character's objective intertwine with the heroine when she learns that the big bad's plan is to use the heroine to find this ancient relic. It's kind of complicated so I can't summarize it fully, but you get the gist.
     
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  8. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    @ksjp17 made a lot of good points that I will try to avoid rehashing; I agree with pretty much everything he said that I don't specifically mention below so definitely read his post for some good advice.


    One of the greatest benefits of splitting up a developed party (or having characters start in separate parties) is to force the player to use most/all of the characters for at least a little while and try out new playstyles that he might not already realize that he enjoys.  Another nice benefit is that it tends to make characters and their story arcs a little more memorable once they've joined the party; the character isn't just a member of this amoeba-like group but has a more well-defined story and identity in what they're doing once they've joined you (even if that's just in the player's mind and not in the canon of the plot).  A less-used, but still potentially worthy, reason to do it is to reintroduce gameplay based around small party size despite a growing cast.


    One of the biggest pitfalls involved (if a developed party is splitting) is that if the player has been leaning heavily toward a small number of characters in upgrades, battle time, etc., then the rest of the party may be severely unprepared for what's ahead.  Ways to remedy this include allowing non-battle-party members to gain EXP and skill points (as ksjp mentioned), keeping the difficulty curve gentle while the party is split up, and introducing "catch-up" mechanics to quickly strengthen a weak sub-party.  But the best way, if your plot allows for it, is to allow the player to determine how the party will be split up.


    I disagree with ksjp that the individual parties should have separate inventories - I see a shared inventory (while completely nonsensical logic-wise) as an acceptable break from reality, as both a way to meet the player's expectation of "I can use an item I've earned" and a simple player convenience (no need to spend time splitting inventories, memorizing which party has what, etc.).  I say go all the way and even allow the player access to the equipment of members that are currently in the "other party" that's not currently onscreen!


    I also feel like there doesn't need to be a clear story-driven reason to split the party up; a handwave is good enough as long as the ensuing split-party gameplay is fun rather than frustrating.  It could be that some unnamed magical force won't allow more than 3 people at a time into the next set of rooms in a dungeon so you have to split your party up for a little while.  This is a really naked, obvious way to do things but in most games your player will be fine with that as long as he actually enjoys what happens as a result and doesn't see it as a needless and arbitrary obstacle placed in his way (which results from an unenjoyable experience after the split).
     
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  9. Diretooth

    Diretooth Lv. 23 Werewolf Veteran

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    When I split the party, it's typically short-lived. In my Mountain Story game, early on you're split between the main character and his only other party member to navigate a relatively short door puzzle. Was it necessary? Not really. Did it create a scenario where the two characters would have to trust each other? Yeah. Another I did was similar to ksjp17's first scenario, where the main character joins up with the other characters over the course of the game. But, this has a twist, depending on where you go, you will meet certain characters earlier than others, allowing for more variation in how the story is told.
     
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  10. emelian65

    emelian65 Veteran Veteran

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    I have a question for something like this, what would you think of having party members that while seemed to be permant aren't actually permanent...?


    How much can tha game mislead you in this sense without seemed like a bad mechaninc.
     
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  11. LaFlibuste

    LaFlibuste Veteran Veteran

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    @emelian65:


    It depends if using that character is optional and doing so will draw previous exp (or whatever form of character progression) away from other, permanent characters. Also, when this character leaves, does he leave with some possibly precious gear you might have wanted to keep. In other words, would using this temporary character punish the player down the roads? If all characters earn exp at the same rate, in or out of party, if usage of this character is mandatory (or if your party composition is always fixed like in FF IV) it wouldn't be much of a concern (although exp being unequal for character in and out of party and this character being mandatory would still feel cheap, it's only the player would have no choice but to suffer instead of having punished himself without knowing he would). It might still be disappointing to lose a character I'd grown to like, but if I lost no gear and rework my party composition with other characters that are up-to-par level-wise, I could live with it. But if having this temporary character around is going to punish me in any way without me knowing beforehand, if knowing in advance that I'm going to loose this character would impact the way I play your game, then it'll be a tomato surprise and those are baaaad things to have in your game. I'll reload in order to ditch him and, if your game is not good enough to make me want to replay any part of it or the reload is too far away, I might just give up on it altogether. But maybe it's just me.
     
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  12. emelian65

    emelian65 Veteran Veteran

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    @LaFlibuste I see, so if the character had his own upgrades (like unique equipment) that nobody else would be able to use, then when she/he is gone, as long as it doesn't affect the player progress(gameplay wise) there wouldn't be a problem right?
     
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  13. Kes

    Kes Global Moderators Global Mod

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    A couple of times when I've encountered this, the character comes with really decent stuff which is sealed.  I can't remove it for someone else, true, but it also means that I don't equip that character with stuff that I'm going to lose.  So that's a reasonable variation on the 'own unique upgrades' option. 


    What totally hacks me off is when the character comes in at a significantly lower level than the rest of my party, and so I have to grind to get her/him up to scratch (thereby possibly overlevelling other characters) and a while later I lose the character anyway.  I've just wasted a lot of my time.  The obvious way round this is to include in the 'X joins the party' event, using a variable to get the party leader's level (or whoever) and set the new character's level to be equal to/a bit below/a bit above depending on the character and what the story requires.  Unfortunately, the obvious doesn't always occur to people.
     
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  14. Jhale M.

    Jhale M. Goddess of health, purity and truth. Veteran

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    I think this is actually a good game mechanic to use. This means you would be thinking about something like having the character die or being rendered helpless. My advice is to actually take the character and transform them into a new one. Give them a new sprite, name and everything, but use the same "actor". That way, the essence of that character lives on and it feels like a powerful message while not lessening the enjoyment of the game.


    Two very clear examples of this would be Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VIII. In Final Fantasy VIII, you are sent into a dream sequence where you essentially are sent into the lives of adventurers who came through the same world before you. These characters carry on the stats of the party members you had active before transitioning because of the GF (Guardian Force) summon system and magic stock junction system holding character's powers. On the other hand, Final Fantasy V had a major character die and although that character was cool, you get to play as their child with the same hard-earned stats as well as being prettier than their predecessor. It freshened the game experience and was also used to instantly prevent the game from depriving you of having four party members at almost all times because the leveling system was so dependent on grinding and falling behind was very bad.
     
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  15. Dr. Delibird

    Dr. Delibird Veteran Veteran

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    @ksjp17 you could even get the average party level by designating each character level to a variable and then adding them all up then deviding by the ammount of characters the party should have. This is just how I would do it personally.
     
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  16. LaFlibuste

    LaFlibuste Veteran Veteran

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    Well there's still the question of EXP, but this would mitigate the problem. Although for anyone genre-savvy, fixed-equipment would be a dead giveaway about the character being temporary (ok, there are exceptions, but it'd still be fishy), especially if all his gear is fixed. So if your intention was for it to be unexpected... A less-obvious way to fix the gear issue would be for the character's equipped gear to be returned to the party's inventory when he leaves. Maybe justify this through plot by him borrowing gear from some faction instead or whatever fits your story so as not to give the impression the character wanders off in the wilderness naked and bare-handed...
     
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