GAME MECHANICS AND PACING

Tips on how to not waste your player's time.

So, you’re making a game. You build the maps tile by tile. You name the characters. You write the epic story. You program the weapons and armor. You make the badass battle animations. You choreograph the awesome cutscene where the MC beheads a villain with an envelope opener. You balance your awesome battles. You give the characters stats. You always create your encounters to be a challenge.

“The game is perfect!” you say. And in your mind, it is. It does everything that you think an RPG should do.

But maybe it’s not as perfect as you think it is. Maybe people don’t enjoy the combat. Maybe they find the battles tedious or boring.

“They’re just wimps!” you tell yourself. “The game is challenging! They just don’t like things that are hard!”

Chances are, however, that this isn’t it either. Chances are that your combat, and possibly your entire game, is badly paced.

I am here to tell you why this happens and how you can prevent it.

Go with the flow.

I’m a fan of story-telling techniques through the use of game mechanics. By integrating your mechanics with you narrative, it makes the player feel closer to the story. These aren’t just things happening to a character on a screen. The player is IN the scene and these things are happening to them.

This isn’t something you can impose selectively, however. It happens whether you want it to or not. And all kinds of factors can influence how the player is approaching or interacting with a scene. This means that factors you might never even think about while you are developing your game are influencing absolutely everything about how your player is absorbing information about your narrative.

You need to think about everything that conveys information to the player, and the manner in which they are acquiring it. Some of these can be obvious things, such as font size and style, text speed, the walking speed of the player’s avatar, the game’s palette and other graphical choices. But those are only surface elements. Other things, from dungeon length, to the length and difficulty of encounters, can interrupt your game’s narrative if you aren’t careful.

What I’m talking about here is a game’s flow, and if you don’t know what that is, flow is how the game’s narrative fits together. Think about how someone tells a story. If someone is good at telling a story, they will present all the relevant information you need only when you need it, and probably doesn’t weigh their story down with irrelevant tangents or pointless information. Someone who is bad at telling a story might be incoherent, might forget to mention things, or tie scenes together in an illogical manner. That’s bad flow. Don’t do that.

The flow of a game’s narrative must make sense and be logical. Some of this is obvious, such as scenes logically following from each other. There is actually a style of writing known as modular storytelling that doesn’t follow a coherent narrative, but often consists of self-contained vignettes that may or may not fit together in a larger perspective. But you need to have some pretty serious stylistic justification to get away with that sort of thing. If your narrative is choppy and disjointed, it’s probably just going to confuse and irritate your player.

“But Solitayre, I thought we were here to talk about game mechanics! Story is stupid!”

No, you’re stupid. Also, I’m getting to that.

Adventurus Interruptus

I know your type. You’re one of those gameplay people, aren’t you? You probably think every single enemy in the whole game must be handcrafted through statistics and abilities to provide the a challenging yet reasonable battle for your heroes to face. That’s great. Really. There are absolutely lots of places in a game where you want challenging, well-crafted opponents for your heroes to fight. But there are some places you might not WANT to do that.

Did you know battles are a part of your game’s story? They are! Sure, we can assume that every giant rat and flying spaghetti monster we slay outside the starting village while squirreling away the cash to buy that super sweet LONG SWORD aren’t very important to the game’s narrative. Creatures like that are just game abstractions, they’re there for the player to fight, use his SWEET MOVES on, get stronger. We can assume no major revelations or life-altering epiphanies will happen in the midst of a battle with two dire bunnies and a ninja who lives in a medieval fantasy setting for some reason.

But you can’t treat all enemies like that. Some enemies are part of your plot. And if implemented badly, they can damage your plot, and damage your game. Let’s look at an example.

Evil Baron Nefarious has kidnapped the hero’s childhood love interest, Damsela, and is forcing her to marry him! That bastard! Our Hero, Heroy, decides he needs to go kick the Baron’s ass and save his love interest from this horrible fate. He and his comrades kick in the door to the Church shouting “I do!” even thought the priest didn’t ask if anyone objected yet. They feel kind of silly, but that doesn’t matter. Baron Nefarious sends his guardsmen to stop Heroy from ruining his wedding! The guardsmen come in three separate waves and Heroy will have to fight them all before facing the baron himself, who has been honing a secret EVIL TECHNIQUE especially to kill that pesky Hero with.

So, which of these two scenarios is more compelling in this situation?

A. Heroy engages a battle with the guards. Each guard is a challenging opponent who will take many hits to defeat. These battles go back and forth for upwards of ten rounds as Heroy slowly whittles down each guard, probably being forced to heal several times over the course of the battle. He will repeat this encounter two more times as he fights all three waves, before facing Baron Nefarious who is a very challenging boss who might kill Heroy with his secret technique and force him to reload his game and replay this entire sequence again.

B. Heroy mows down each of these guards in one or two hits. Heroy absolutely plows through them. Each battle is over quickly allowing Heroy to rapidly advance towards rescuing his love. The guardsmen are powerless to stop him. Baron Nefarious challenges Heroy to a duel, but he and his secret technique aren’t actually that much of a threat and Heroy bests him easily to rescue his beloved.


Scenario B is probably more narratively compelling even though the enemies in this situation are complete wusses. Why? Because the actual act of fighting battles is not the point of this scene. The point of this scene is Heroy rescues Damsela like a badass. If Heroy had to spend five minutes with each wave of guards, that would disrupt the scene’s flow. Who cares how strong these guards actually are? Heroy is pissed and they are in his way. Dispatching them in one hit gets the point across. Heroy is kicking the guards’ asses. That’s what needs to happen here. Having each guard be a trial defeats the point of that. Having each guard take forever to kill would distract the player from what’s going on in the larger context. If Heroy actually loses any of these battles, the moment is ruined and the scene will lack any of the same impact when they sigh and reload the game.

What about the Baron? Surely he must be a worthy opponent! Well, sure, but you can convey that narratively too. Because you see, you probably don’t actually want the player to lose in a sequence like this. This is the middle of a cutscene/action sequence, and if the player dies here, he has to do the whole thing again. You don’t want that. Putting a super hard boss at the end of a scripted sequence is usually bad design (I’m looking at you, Xenogears.)

So how can we make the Baron a badass without actually making the player lose to him? The Baron has an aforementioned SECRET TECHNIQUE OF EVIL. If this move actually had a serious chance of killing the player here, that would be bad. The player shouldn’t lose in situations like this unless they’re being stupid. So what can we do?

1. Baron Nefarious telegraphs his attack. “I’M ABOUT TO HIT YOU WITH MY SUPER EVIL TECHNIQUE!” (Translation: “Defend, stupid!”). The player knows the attack is coming and can take proper precautions.

2. The super evil technique is non-lethal. Maybe it drops Heroy’s HP to 1.

Both of these situations are good, because they create tension and the illusion of danger without actually putting the player in danger. In the first situation, the player will guard. In the second, he will heal himself. If they don’t do those things, they deserve to lose!

Using these techniques, we can have game mechanics enhance the game’s narrative instead of interrupting your game’s flow.

“But Solitayre! Enemies should always be well-crafted encounters designed to challenge your player. Why even play your dumb stupid dumb game otherwise?”

You again. You’re the problem. Yes, you. Go sit in the corner.


Variety is the spice of life.

There are lots of reasons to have weak, throwaway enemies. Not ALL enemies should be like this, probably. But having some variety in the level of difficulty in your enemies is a good thing. And again, one of the reasons is pacing.

The player might not want to have to undergo a hellish trial worthy of being chronicled by Alighieri every time they go into a battle. Sometimes they just want to drop one of their strongest area spells on an enemy group and watch them all drop dead. Or maybe they don’t want to spend five minutes jackhammering the attack key while waiting for the battle to be over. Sometimes they want to be Rambo and just blow everything away. It is okay to let them do this sometimes.

There is a psychological effect behind this, too. If every single enemy in the game advances at the same rate of strength as the player, the player won’t notice much difference in encounters from one area to the next. The player won’t feel like they’re making progress. This can be frustrating. Varying up your encounters can not only break up monotony but give a greater sense of progress as the player occasionally runs into an enemy they can annihilate easily instead of all enemies being of equivalent strength and challenge. There are lots of ways to spread out and pace your encounters. Each area might have a pack of really weak enemies that can be dispatched without effort. There might be groups of enemies designed to be a moderate challenge. There might be a single enemy who is quite powerful. Clever designers can mix and match these creatures to create more interesting encounters.

There is plenty to be gained from varying the difficulty of your encounters, both for the sanity of your players, and for story purposes. Let’s go back to Heroy for a minute. Let’s say Heroy was raised in a remote mountain village where he acquired a reputation for being a badass. This reputation was enough that the king wanted to hire Heroy for some task that starts the plot.

Heroy sets out for the castle, fighting monsters on the way. If these monsters are designed to give Heroy a hard time, I’m going to wonder what it is that makes Heroy so badass. Why is he strong enough get the king’s attention? He’s having trouble fighting rats! If Heroy dispatches the enemies around his starting home village with ease, it makes him seem much more competent. He has already mastered this area’s wildlife and it will feel justified as he moves out into the world and challenges greater threats. There is plenty of time for you to ramp up your difficulty. Don’t feel like you have to balance every encounter be a hassle just because. Do you have a reason for why you want to make everything so hard?

So, where DO you put the hard stuff? The dungeons are the places to put your challenging, thoughtful encounters. And not the first tutorial dungeon, either. That place should be easy, to give the player a sense of mastery for clearing it. If they walk out of the tutorial dungeon beaten to all hell, they’ll feel like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Once the player has played enough of the game to get a sense of how to play, what techniques work, what items are useful, once they’ve had a chance to get their equipment in order, to figure out their party’s strengths and weaknesses, that is when you can start populating your dungeons with your fiendish encounters. The player will walk into a dungeon expecting enemies and bosses, so you can feel free to bring the noise. The player will appreciate that you gave them the opportunity to figure things out before manhandling them, and they’ll approach these new challenges with confidence. Don’t manhandle your player right out of the gate. Nothing is more likely to make someone give up on your gate then a game over in the first twenty minutes.

Don’t waste my time.

This is the golden rule. This is the maxim. You should really, definitely think about this part. Yes, even you.

Don’t waste your player’s time. Twenty years of grind-heavy, repetitive RPGs and MMOs have made it acceptable for games to waste your time. I don’t want to waste my time. Your game shouldn’t make me waste my time.

Every time you make any decision in your game, whether it’s adding a battle or a puzzle or making the player backtrack or anything like that, ask yourself this: Is this adding something to the game or am I just wasting the player’s time? If the answer is the latter, you should probably adjust the sequence. Your game, and its pacing and flow, will be better as a result.

But that’s not all! All kinds of stupid ideas designed only to waste the player’s time have been floating around the game development hivemind in the guise of “stylistic choices.” Here’s a list of some of them and why they’re terrible and you’re terrible if you use them. (And you are.)

1. Slow text speed.

I honestly can’t fathom why anyone ever thought this was a good idea. Somewhere along the line, it even became acceptable artificially insert pauses into your dialogue to draw it out.

Some of us can read fast. You are punishing us for being able to read fast. If you want to break up your dialogue, be willing to go the extra mile and break it up with something besides vacant pauses. Even little things like having the characters move around while talking can make a huge difference!

2. Slow walk speed.

This is a big one. People love to throw around slow walking speeds as some kind of legitimate gameplay mechanism as though it can enhance the game’s setting, mood, tone, or atmosphere. “They need to be walking slow here, so they can appreciate all the work I put into building these maps!” No, if I feel like I want to appreciate your rigorous tileset/light map endeavors, I am free to take my own time through the map if I wish. You forcing me to do so is putting your priorities over the player’s. You could get away with a really slow walking speed if the maps are small and well-constructed enough that I won’t notice (some games have done this!) but if I ever have huge amounts of empty space to traverse you can bet this is the first thing people will notice and complain about.

“But Solitayre, slow walk speed is a legitimate tool that I should be allowed to use for certain purposes! You’re dumb and stupid!”

You’re right. When used properly, slow walk speed CAN be used as a narrative tool. But probably not for the reasons you think it is. The primary use for slow walk speed would be for the purposes of building tension during a certain scene. The heroine is alone in a dark room, and there’s a killer! Slow walk speed would be an excellent choice to increase suspense in this situation. But using it always, on every map, all the time, is not only annoying, it makes the legitimate usages of this technique ineffective.

3. Pointless backtracking.

This is another common way to pad play time, by making the player traverse the same few locales over and over again. If you’re going to make the player backtrack, at least add something novel for the player to do en-route. Are there any new events along the way? Have the player’s abilities allowed for opening new passages or revealing new treasures? Are there any shortcuts that can be opened now? Backtracking is an opportunity for you to toy with the player’s expectations! Just forcing the player to pointlessly replay sections of your game is just boring.

4. Random chance.

This convention has been around pretty much as long as role-playing games have. It’s often an easy way to pad play time. MMOs are full of this. Collect 20 “whatevers” to complete this quest. This item is only dropped by the “whatever man” which has only a 1/20 chance of appearing in a certain area. Also, the “whatever man” only has a 30% chance of dropping the “whatever!” Voila, you’ve instantly wasted three hours of the player’s time. Each time they find one of those vaunted “whatevers” they feel like they’re making progress! But they’re not. You’ve just tricked them into thinking they have. You monster.

This happens in single player games too. Any time you have an xty percent chance to succeed at a given task, whether making a potion, disabling a trap, or opening a lock, you’re really just saying “There’s a chance that doing this was a waste of your time.” This is especially true if failing a task forces them to fight a battle or complete some other task for failing what was essentially a dice roll.

“But SOLITAYRE!”

You again? What now?

“Random chance has been a staple of RPGs for twenty years. It’s dumb and weird that you would think this is bad!”

People used to think slavery was a good idea. Then they realized it was terrible and wrong, and stopped doing it. People are capable of realizing that an idea they thought had merit is actually stupid, and moving past it. This is called “progress.” Saying that something should remain the same because it has always been that way is basically the worst way you could ever frame an argument, because you aren’t appealing to logic or reason. You’re just appealing to the status quo.

I’m not saying that if you like random chance, you support slavery, but I’m not sure how you can sleep at night.


You cannot get there from here.

Ever been wandering around in a game not really knowing what you’re supposed to be doing? There are two things that might have happened here.

1. The designer did a bad job of telling you where you were supposed to go.
2. The designer thought making you wander around and figure out what to do on your own was a good idea.

But it’s not!

It’s your job to tell the player where to go to get to the next part of your epic plot! If the player makes an honest effort but can’t figure it out, that’s not their fault, it’s yours. Let your player know where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do, or who they have to kill/talk to/both. Any time the player is wandering around bored and not knowing what they’re supposed to do is bad, and you should do everything reasonable to minimize this.

Honestly, I see a lot of developers who seem to expect the onus of understanding their game to be on the player, and any problems they have are because they didn’t understand the author’s intentions. But it isn’t the player’s job to decipher your ideas. It’s your job to make your intentions and ideas clear to the player. If they can’t figure it out, they’re probably not going to like your game, and you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself!

There are lots of reasons someone may or may not like your game. But chances are you are going to think it is your mechanics or your writing that will make or break your game. Pacing might be something that never even crosses your mind. I hope that now, you realize what an important and essential tool this is in your game design arsenal.

Go forth and wield this tool for justice.

Posts

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Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9219
I am constraining my response to the article itself and making myself ignore all of the comments that followed it: the article is long enough. I may therefore be retreading some old ground, in which case I apologize.

Reading this article, I found myself saying "but what about-" around 200 times. The following response is in some ways a synthesis of all of those "but what abouts".

First off, let me say that while the following is very combative and critical, this is an excellent article about a totally crucial topic.

Adventurus Interruptus

This entire section is extremely well-written, well-thought out, and is all and all a connection of valid, well-illustrated, and well-connected points.

I almost literally could not disagree with it more vehemently.

It is absolute anathema to my way of thinking.

I'm going to take a page out of tabletop game design theory to explain why, using GNS Theory. RPGs (of any kind) are made and played from one of three far-from-mutually-exclusive perspectives or outlooks. These are "gamist", "narrativist", and "simulationist". Your examples describe how to structure a game's flow in a way that is highly conducive to narrativist design and flow. And because you are yourself a narrativist, you identify this approach as "best".

But the truth is, a gamist might find that having challenging guard encounters that require thought from the player is overall more important than making the player feel like a badass. And a SIMULATIONIST, like myself, might concern himself with rendering the game world with greater versimilitude...where were these guards trained? How are they equipped? Would they really be cannon fodder, or a near-match for the hero? The same applies for the baron himself.

And that is the standpoint that I personally design games from, although of course it's not like I blind myself to all gamist and narrativist concerns.

Because you see, you probably don’t actually want the player to lose in a sequence like this. This is the middle of a cutscene/action sequence, and if the player dies here, he has to do the whole thing again. You don’t want that. Putting a super hard boss at the end of a scripted sequence is usually bad design (I’m looking at you, Xenogears.)

Personally speaking, I feel that any victory without the possibility of defeat is hollow and meaningless. Avoiding player inconvenience is a separate issue--by all means put a save point right before the battle. But don't be afraid to make the battle challenging and dangerous if it logically would be.

Both of these situations are good, because they create tension and the illusion of danger without actually putting the player in danger. In the first situation, the player will guard. In the second, he will heal himself. If they don’t do those things, they deserve to lose!

Firstly, I think that having to defend or die is a real danger. And I think that being at 1 HP in most battle systems is a real danger too. So I don't agree with first sentence. However, more fundamentally...

I cannot overstate how obnoxiously smug and patronizing I find the italicized text AS A PLAYER OF GAMES. I like to think that if I knew a game was treating me that way, I would quit playing it immediately, on principle.

***

There is a psychological effect behind this, too. If every single enemy in the game advances at the same rate of strength as the player, the player won’t notice much difference in encounters from one area to the next. The player won’t feel like they’re making progress. This can be frustrating.

This I actually could not agree with more. It is the single reason why Oblivion is worse than Morrowind and Skyrim.

***

So, where DO you put the hard stuff? The dungeons are the places to put your challenging, thoughtful encounters. And not the first tutorial dungeon, either. That place should be easy, to give the player a sense of mastery for clearing it. If they walk out of the tutorial dungeon beaten to all hell, they’ll feel like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Once the player has played enough of the game to get a sense of how to play, what techniques work, what items are useful, once they’ve had a chance to get their equipment in order, to figure out their party’s strengths and weaknesses, that is when you can start populating your dungeons with your fiendish encounters. The player will walk into a dungeon expecting enemies and bosses, so you can feel free to bring the noise. The player will appreciate that you gave them the opportunity to figure things out before manhandling them, and they’ll approach these new challenges with confidence. Don’t manhandle your player right out of the gate. Nothing is more likely to make someone give up on your gate then a game over in the first twenty minutes.

I guess what my objections to this article stem from is that it's all so very, very cookie cutter. So very, very lowest common denominator.

There are so many kinds of good and valid and artistically meritorious and FUN games out there that completely countermand all of these principles. What about, for instance, the ENTIRE GENRE OF ROGUELIKES?

This is not "how to make a good game", this is "how to make a specific cookie-cutter mould of pussified, kid-gloves-and-training-wheels-on, "take my hand and follow me" JRPGs."

I am thinking specifically of how much my current project intentionally and knowingly ignores these principles, and how much that is part of why it is supposed to be fun.

2. Slow walk speed.

This is a big one. People love to throw around slow walking speeds as some kind of legitimate gameplay mechanism as though it can enhance the game’s setting, mood, tone, or atmosphere. “They need to be walking slow here, so they can appreciate all the work I put into building these maps!” No, if I feel like I want to appreciate your rigorous tileset/light map endeavors, I am free to take my own time through the map if I wish. You forcing me to do so is putting your priorities over the player’s. You could get away with a really slow walking speed if the maps are small and well-constructed enough that I won’t notice (some games have done this!) but if I ever have huge amounts of empty space to traverse you can bet this is the first thing people will notice and complain about.

“But Solitayre, slow walk speed is a legitimate tool that I should be allowed to use for certain purposes! You’re dumb and stupid!”

You’re right. When used properly, slow walk speed CAN be used as a narrative tool. But probably not for the reasons you think it is. The primary use for slow walk speed would be for the purposes of building tension during a certain scene. The heroine is alone in a dark room, and there’s a killer! Slow walk speed would be an excellent choice to increase suspense in this situation. But using it always, on every map, all the time, is not only annoying, it makes the legitimate usages of this technique ineffective.

1) Games other than RPGs do exist, and slow walk speed is not only appropriate but hugely superior when used in, for instance, an atmospheric adventure or survival horror game with small distances to traverse.
2) This isn't immaculately germaine to your article, but there is such a thing as a bad player, you know. For instance, in the game I just made, you can hold shift to run (move at a very fast walk speed), or you can open the options menu and select "auto dash: on" so you don't even have to hold shift to run. Someone has ALREADY complained of slow walk speed.

This is another common way to pad play time, by making the player traverse the same few locales over and over again. If you’re going to make the player backtrack, at least add something novel for the player to do en-route. Are there any new events along the way? Have the player’s abilities allowed for opening new passages or revealing new treasures? Are there any shortcuts that can be opened now? Backtracking is an opportunity for you to toy with the player’s expectations! Just forcing the player to pointlessly replay sections of your game is just boring.

Unless your game itself is fun, of course.

4. Random chance.

This convention has been around pretty much as long as role-playing games have. It’s often an easy way to pad play time. MMOs are full of this. Collect 20 “whatevers” to complete this quest. This item is only dropped by the “whatever man” which has only a 1/20 chance of appearing in a certain area. Also, the “whatever man” only has a 30% chance of dropping the “whatever!” Voila, you’ve instantly wasted three hours of the player’s time. Each time they find one of those vaunted “whatevers” they feel like they’re making progress! But they’re not. You’ve just tricked them into thinking they have. You monster.

Random chance has lots of valid uses, and honestly we all couldn't really make RPGs without it. Congratulations, however, on identifying one of the most egregiously bad uses of probabilistic rather than deterministic mechanisms.

Anything in any game I make with a low drop chance is fully non-essential.

2. The designer thought making you wander around and figure out what to do on your own was a good idea.

But it’s not!

Sometimes, it is.

Again, we are not all going for the lowest common denominator all the time.

My decision to add two extra filler dungeons to Vindication, while well-meaning, was not really a good one. It improved the pacing of the game as a whole at the cost of destroying the pacing in those two parts of the game. There was probably a better solution.

I have never put any filler in any of my games. It's already exhausting as fuck putting in the stuff that NEEDS to be there.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6138
My decision to add two extra filler dungeons to Vindication, while well-meaning, was not really a good one. It improved the pacing of the game as a whole at the cost of destroying the pacing in those two parts of the game. There was probably a better solution.

This is a really good article. Every suggestion is accompanied by a thorough explanation of why the the thing it's fixing is problematic and why that solution works. You might not think some of these things are important enough to do, or that they cause more problems than they solve, but it's hard to really say anything in the article is just plain wrong.
Puddor
if squallbutts was a misao category i'd win every damn year
4998
This is really going to come in handy with my later games. CC suffers really badly from the pacing, and with what I've learned and this article I think I can make something well-paced, finally.
author=Darken
Are you joking?
Mostly yes; it was an exxageration. But it's true that I really cannot see why people like it at all, and I assure you I tried hard. Still, it's way off topic and I guess it was wrong of me to post that comment at all.
Hmmm. The description of Baron Nefarious and Heroy in this article pretty much exactly matches the boss and preceeding henchmen in my tutorial dungeon, to the extent that I'm actually wondering if you've played it and it inspired that part of the article (along with Xenogears). Even if not, thanks, really helpful ideas and discussion -I'm definitely going to go back and make those minions a lot easier now...
author=Soli
I sure don't remember saying this!

I'm just saying "wandering around and figuring out what to do on your own" is still a good idea depending on the game you're trying to make. If people take your advice too literally, then you can end up with that "tutorial for everything" approach.

(I never quite got the difference between Yume Nikki and a bunch of .png files tied to a random number generator. But that's probably just me.)

Are you joking?
author=Cozzer
(I never quite got the difference between Yume Nikki and a bunch of .png files tied to a random number generator. But that's probably just me.)

...wow...it's a great game, and you compare it to that? Wow...and not everything comes at random! -_-
author=Solitayre
Baron Nefarious probably isn't the final boss in the scene as described above. The point of this scene is that Nefarious is a challenge, but not hard enough to actually kill the player and ruin the scene.
Still, you seemed to set up that scene as some kind of climax; not for the whole story, but for a storyarc.

And I think making a "plot" climax coincide with a "gameplay" anticlimax would greatly hurt player immersion, as LockeZ said.

(I never quite got the difference between Yume Nikki and a bunch of .png files tied to a random number generator. But that's probably just me.)
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
6138
Ah, the thing about the guards and the Baron is actually good stuff. I definitely agree that having all four battles hard causes a major problem, and having just the Baron be hard still causes a more minor problem. I'm not sure, though, that the more minor problem of the player losing and having to redo the scene and easy guards is worse than the new problem you've created: the fight against the Baron is anticlimactic and doesn't feel like a major achievement on the player's part.

For my part, I am completely ignoring your advice for this aspect of battle pacing. But that's because I know exactly why you want it done the way you do, and I agree with you, but I have a different way of solving the problems you mentioned. My way is to use FF13 style game overs, so that when you die, you get sent back to right before the battle. Not right before the series of battles; right before the exact battle you died in. Because I essentially agree with everything you said, I don't want the player to have to redo the boring crap, but I also want my climactic gameplay moments to coincide with my climactic story moments.

Of course, this kind of custom game over doesn't work well in many types of RPGs, and I'm not proposing it as a strictly superior method. I know exactly why I'm breaking your rule and how I'm going to clean up my mess; your rule is still a good one.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
I've never played Yume Nikki so I can't comment.
author=Solitayre
kentona
Random chance!
My argument is that random chance should never be used as a barrier to progress. See my thoughts regarding the use of chance for criticals.

http://rpgmaker.net/articles/497/


author=Cozzer
But Baron Nefarious isn't a joke villain and if you build up the "wedding" scene as the last showdown with him, then it being easy will just be disappointing.


Baron Nefarious probably isn't the final boss in the scene as described above. The point of this scene is that Nefarious is a challenge, but not hard enough to actually kill the player and ruin the scene.

author=Darken
I feel Soli is part of the camp where everything needs a quest marker location/log thing and an NPC going "HEY YOU NEED TO GO HERE, HEY YOU STUPID, GO EXACTLY NORTH AND WEST, DO YOU WANT ME TO REPEAT THAT?" TUTORIAL TIP: TALKING TO NPCS WILL HELP YOU GO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO. That's not bad, but you don't HAVE to do that, some games are enjoyed through not knowing whats ahead.


I sure don't remember saying this!

pyrodoom
But Solitayre! Sometimes it's GOOD to use this, and what if the author gives you hints and hints to what to do, and the player STILL complains? It's even shown in GREAT games like Yume Nikki and the Legend of Zelda!


Legend of Zelda does have ways of telling you where to go. Hints like "Go up, up, up the mountain ahead" is a clue where the next dungeon is. Once you have the raft, you will try using all the docks. One takes you to a dungeon. That's telling you where to go. All the dungeons have distinctive architecture that tells you "Hey, this is one of the dungeons you need to clear!" You can't walk past one without realizing it's important. The exception is Level 8 which is hidden under a completely random and arbitrary bush which isn't so much as hinted at anywhere. That one is pretty dumb. Can even the Recorder show you where that one is? I don't remember.

And what about Yume Nikki...in fact, it's even greater with another thing, people actually liked it at times! And even the fact that it goes against another thing you said, about random chance, players of Yume Nikki loved how you never knew what was going to happen! Sure...alot of those players shit their pants because of it, but they still loved it.
kentona
Your mom is a hero
20851
I don't understand the comic.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
kentona
Random chance!

My argument is that random chance should never be used as a barrier to progress. See my thoughts regarding the use of chance for criticals.

http://rpgmaker.net/articles/497/


author=Cozzer
But Baron Nefarious isn't a joke villain and if you build up the "wedding" scene as the last showdown with him, then it being easy will just be disappointing.

Baron Nefarious probably isn't the final boss in the scene as described above. The point of this scene is that Nefarious is a challenge, but not hard enough to actually kill the player and ruin the scene.

author=Darken
I feel Soli is part of the camp where everything needs a quest marker location/log thing and an NPC going "HEY YOU NEED TO GO HERE, HEY YOU STUPID, GO EXACTLY NORTH AND WEST, DO YOU WANT ME TO REPEAT THAT?" TUTORIAL TIP: TALKING TO NPCS WILL HELP YOU GO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO. That's not bad, but you don't HAVE to do that, some games are enjoyed through not knowing whats ahead.

I sure don't remember saying this!

pyrodoom
But Solitayre! Sometimes it's GOOD to use this, and what if the author gives you hints and hints to what to do, and the player STILL complains? It's even shown in GREAT games like Yume Nikki and the Legend of Zelda!

Legend of Zelda does have ways of telling you where to go. Hints like "Go up, up, up the mountain ahead" is a clue where the next dungeon is. Once you have the raft, you will try using all the docks. One takes you to a dungeon. That's telling you where to go. All the dungeons have distinctive architecture that tells you "Hey, this is one of the dungeons you need to clear!" You can't walk past one without realizing it's important. The exception is Level 8 which is hidden under a completely random and arbitrary bush which isn't so much as hinted at anywhere. That one is pretty dumb. Can even the Recorder show you where that one is? I don't remember.
author=Solitaiyre
You cannot get there from here.

Ever been wandering around in a game not really knowing what you’re supposed to be doing? There are two things that might have happened here.

1. The designer did a bad job of telling you where you were supposed to go.
2. The designer thought making you wander around and figure out what to do on your own was a good idea.

But it’s not!

It’s your job to tell the player where to go to get to the next part of your epic plot! If the player makes an honest effort but can’t figure it out, that’s not their fault, it’s yours. Let your player know where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do, or who they have to kill/talk to/both. Any time the player is wandering around bored and not knowing what they’re supposed to do is bad, and you should do everything reasonable to minimize this.

Honestly, I see a lot of developers who seem to expect the onus of understanding their game to be on the player, and any problems they have are because they didn’t understand the author’s intentions. But it isn’t the player’s job to decipher your ideas. It’s your job to make your intentions and ideas clear to the player. If they can’t figure it out, they’re probably not going to like your game, and you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself

But Solitayre! Sometimes it's GOOD to use this, and what if the author gives you hints and hints to what to do, and the player STILL complains? It's even shown in GREAT games like Yume Nikki and the Legend of Zelda!
You made several excellent points here.

I will like to add that when lining up inherently 'disjointed' vignettes, you can fake coherency and flow with some techniques.

One method is cut one scene short on a fade-to-black and then 'finish' the flow of dialogue in the next, totally unrelated, scene.

For example:

"Why am I even here? This is such a waste of my..."


"Time! Alright, pencils down. Pass your exams to the front of the room."
"Aw man, I did terrible on that one."
"I know, if I fail this class, my mom's gonna..."


"Kill me, you bastard! How dare you walk away!"
"Mercy is the mark of a great man. And besides... I've proven my point."
"You're going to regret letting me live. Someday, I'll make you..."


"Pay up. 100 in cash."
"WHAT?! That's such a rip off."
"If you don't like my price, you can always..."


"Leave. Get out of my house and leave me alone."
"I'm just trying to help."
"You're not helping. You're just bothering me!"


Obviously, there's no context here, and it really is totally random. However, this can soften the irritation of confusion, while the gamer still has too little information to grasp your "big picture."



Another technique could be to have two well developed perspectives appear together. Well developed as in, you've seen them before and already know what they're supposed to be doing. Say, two parties: one group secretly starting a rebellion, the other group hunting down a famous thief. Both groups are in the SAME town.

Instead of flipping from one scene to another, you could combine the scenes in one "shot." You have the rebel group walking through town, before entering their secret hideout. Instead of cutting to inside the hideout with them, the shot remains outside, where the second party walks onto the screen. They'll comment on how that thief MUST be here in this town.

Totally unrelated parties to the gamer right now. Little do they know that the thief is one of those rebels you already know. How you transition from perspective to perspective is important.



Writing techniques can be important in keeping the audience. Say you have 10 different seemingly unrelated perspectives. Of course, they WILL become related, or are already related, but the gamer would not know that. Until more background or developments on theses different parties surface, the gamer would continue to remain in dark about the relationships.

It's not as disaster unless the gamer is confused within the scope of a single perspective. Then, there's trouble.

Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14510
Regarding direction:
Using these tips in subtle ways to direct the player is the job of the designer. I don't know how often people like to argue good advice because they can come up with a counter-example in a special situation.

Digesting good ideas and implementing them into your game if appropriate is YOUR job!

Regarding Random Chance:
Random chance in things like lockpicking and other activities can often lead to players doing something like saving before a lockpick, and retrying until they succeed.

I think random chance is best replaced by a method that gives the player the choice, like a pool of 'lockpick' or 'skill' points they can spend in a period of time - the more you 'upgrade' a skill the less points it uses, then they can weigh what they want to do instead of depending on random luck (and maybe just saving their game first and reloading until they get the result they want - a tactic I VERY OFTEN use.)

@Kentona:
Allow me to address your concerns regarding Random Chance:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/01/29

(Random chance can have it's place, but once you actually understand how computers do 'random' you realize it's actually a load of bull and why it's a terrible idea.)
author=Darken
I feel Soli is part of the camp where everything needs a quest marker location/log thing and an NPC going "HEY YOU NEED TO GO HERE, HEY YOU STUPID, GO EXACTLY NORTH AND WEST, DO YOU WANT ME TO REPEAT THAT?" TUTORIAL TIP: TALKING TO NPCS WILL HELP YOU GO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO.

You are strawmanning him a bit.
Sure, the player doesn't need an NPC saying "You must go east for 327 steps to reach the Cave of Flaming Ducks", but an NPC saying "You could go east for about three hundred steps, if you need some flaming ducks" is always a good thing.

And, as Craze said, developers do use landmarks as a subtle way to guide the player around; they're not just there to prevent accidental backtracking. It's like a even milder version of the NPC I mentioned before.
(A visible pyramid in a wasteland is like an NPC saying "Hey! If you come here, there will be interesting things!")
author=Craze
Having "landmarks and different-looking structures" helps prove Soli's point. It was a conscious decision to lead you on in that direction.

That just prevents you from backtracking accidentally to prevent time wasted. But it doesn't lead you to a direction, you're still wandering around, there's still discovery. I feel Soli is part of the camp where everything needs a quest marker location/log thing and an NPC going "HEY YOU NEED TO GO HERE, HEY YOU STUPID, GO EXACTLY NORTH AND WEST, DO YOU WANT ME TO REPEAT THAT?" TUTORIAL TIP: TALKING TO NPCS WILL HELP YOU GO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO. That's not bad, but you don't HAVE to do that, some games are enjoyed through not knowing whats ahead.
kentona
Your mom is a hero
20851
Someone's got to stick around and make sure you kids stay in line.
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