MAKING RANDOM ENCOUNTERS MORE BEARABLE

Not a fix-all solution, but some notable pointers

  • Puddor
  • 01/25/2012 11:36 AM
  • 4893 views
Now, I know there’s a heavy stigma against random encounters in the RPG indie community. Quite frankly I can see why, but for short games they’re easy (RM has a default setting for random encounters) and it means you don’t need to create individual walking graphics for every enemy (unless you use a default enemy graphic).
However this tutorial isn’t about the debate between random and touch encounters- it’s about making random encounters bearable- and on another note, making them contribute to your game’s overall development.

Tips

Tip 1: Variety
No one wants to fight a million slimes of the same colour. Even palette changes (the lazy man’s way, but it works!) can give the player a bit of fresh air. On top of that, don’t make every enemy in a fire-weak area fire weak. Every place on earth has different species with different weaknesses, why would a video game world be different?
Don’t be afraid to throw in infrequent, rare ‘semi-bosses’ that drop great stuff. If you happen to score dedicated players, or have extensive dungeons later on, item farming maybe a route they take. Give the players what they want in equal balance with what you want.

  • Tip 2: Infrequency

Try to avoid overly loaded enemy maps in places the player is required to venture through. There are other methods of sneakily making the player encounter enemies on their own, which I will discuss later, but all in all you should really never go below 20 steps per battle. RMs* tend to have strange encounter calculations, but you can get fixes for that in XP up if you so desire.

  • Tip 3: Speed

Your players should not be spending extensive amounts of time in enemy encounters unless they’re the semi-boss types, and this should be immediately obvious to the player. Drawing from my own experiences, in FFXIII, the Pulsework Soldiers took literally forever to stagger and took barely any damage in a normal state, leading to me spending HALF AN HOUR fighting a single monster. Let’s just say I quit at the Fifth Ark because of this. If the player wants to spend a long time fighting, they’ll make the decision themselves. Enemy encounters should never take excess of ten minutes to complete, EVER, and the goal should be from 3-5 minutes maximum. Save the long hauls for the boss battles. Your game should have set-ups to allow the player to clear up enemy groups quickly- Multiple-target spells, easy/exploitable enemy weaknesses, anything is better than spending ridiculous amounts of time in fights. You know the saying ‘Ultima: for when you really can’t be bothered with a random encounter’? 90% of the time, players can’t be bothered with encounters (including the touch types!). And it doesn’t necessarily have to be Ultima. Besides, if you incorporate strategy into speed, why do you care if the player is only fighting for 60 seconds? It’s a better alternative than them quitting the game entirely and deleting the folder. You don’t have viable room for ball-breaking unless that’s the audience you’re aiming at- your players didn’t pay for your game and they have less incentive to ‘get their money’s worth’. You have to keep them happy or you’ll lose them very easily.

Other Pointers

  • Getting the player to ‘Fight the Good Fight’.

Going back and playing FF7 these days feels like a tad bit of a chore due to a relatively high encounter rate in basically every single map. However, the map design itself was very intelligent, and grabbing ideas from the greats never really hurt anybody. (As long as you don’t plagiarise and profit). Strewn across most maps is a variety of small items, chests and other nick nacks. They’re not necessarily GOOD items, and they shouldn’t be. Why? Because they are basically a carrot in front of the player’s face. What player can resist picking up every item on the map? By making fairly large maps and tempting the player to explore every inch of it through a potion-ether-eye drops-potion bread crumb trail, you can deliberately increase the player’s level rather than having them run straight out of your dungeons and arrive at the boss under levelled. And the player isn’t cursing at you for forcing them through twenty fights because of a 5-step encounter rate- you’ve thrown them a bone and they were the ones who picked it up. Getting a player to shoot themselves in the foot rather than you shooting them in that same foot causes inward blame rather than the player in question posting a complaint on your game page.

  • Use NPCs as Warning Posts (Or actually use warning posts).

A technique I used less in CC because I had the luxury of using recognizable areas instead, the Warning Post method is a great technique to avoiding having the player feel cheated. In areas with high difficulty, the semi-boss types or in general high levels of enemy encounters, you can skip treading on the player’s toes by giving them sufficient forewarning. A simple “don’t go in there, there’s ---- around!” or “Danger: High Monster Concentration Area” gives the player time to crack their knuckles, check the time and go get a hard drink. The greatest asset one can have, especially in an RPG, is preparation, and actually giving the player time to prepare is far better than having that sad ending route where your game ends up in the Recycle Bin. It also means that you, the creator, have acknowledged that this section DOES have high difficulty, semi-boss types or high encounter rates, and that it’s game design rather than a bug or flaw and will be more likely to take it as they come. If you’re using save points, a save point prior can also be a good indicator…as long as you don’t have save points every three steps (I am looking at you, Final Fantasy XIII! Your forewarning sucks! SUCKS!)

Conclusion

I’m not out to change public opinion on random encounters. If you steadfastly avoid random encounter games, it’s your loss (given that a game is not necessarily built on its battles!). But random encounters don’t have to be physically torturous. If you provide 50% of the effort in encounters and make the other 50% player driven, they’ll appreciate it and it’ll make one more section in your game a bit better and more enjoyable.

Posts

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Those are some pretty good tips (I'd extend the first one to all encounters in general), although I'd say that the third one should be taken in moderation. Half-hour random encounters might alienate the player, but nobody wants to be dragged away from the map for an encounter that's going to be finished in less than 2 rounds of battle (aside from early-game training battles, I suppose). In general, there should be an inverse relationship between encounter frequency and encounter length, but going too far toward either extreme becomes unworkable. (ie. hit-attack-once-and-everythings-dead encounters every 3 steps, or a 20-minute encounter once every 5 rooms).

The "Warning Posts" idea might also be less-than-effective at first, as well. I seem to recall once being told that in Zelda games (but being information that could be extended into rpgs), there are two major types of NPC dialog: "You should check out location X" (which means go to location X), and "location X is a dangerous place, you shouldn't go there" (which also means go to location X). Players might eventually get the idea, but at first they'll probably hear "It's a dangerous place that can only survived by a 'Strong Hero'", where "Strong" is defined as "whatever level the PCs are when they arrive at that location".
Even 3 minutes is way too long for a common fight IMO. I never understood why several makers tend to design long battles. There is no fun in waiting for a slow ATB gauge to fill up or in spending more than three turns doing the same actions toward enemies that just won't die already.
Ex: FF7's battles last 15-30 seconds if you increase battle speed to maximum, and that feels perfect.

Aside from that I think these pointers are great. Good job Kyrsty ^^
author=Avee
...or in spending more than three turns doing the same actions toward enemies that just won't die already.

In such a case, wouldn't it be better to design encounters that don't involve performing the same actions three turns in a row, rather than deciding that those same actions will suddenly become more interesting if you're only doing them for one round of battle instead of three? It might make the annoyance less noticeable by virtue of being shorter, but it still won't add any significant gameplay compared to just removing the battles altogether.
author=Muninn
Half-hour random encounters might alienate the player, but nobody wants to be dragged away from the map for an encounter that's going to be finished in less than 2 rounds of battle (aside from early-game training battles, I suppose).


I think in this case you want to be looking more at how you can improve the UI and process of dragging someone away from the map, than blaming the battle.

Look at easy battles in Chrono Trigger. Many of these are not especially interesting in any mechanical way. But they're fast - it's not a matter of "wait for screen transition, navigate a menu to start, everybody's ATB starts at 0 and counts up, alternately take turn and wait". Instead, the characters jump to their spots, within a couple seconds you're attacking, and within a few more your enemies are dead. Insofar as you have battles that require minimal effort, I think keeping them fast is pretty useful.

Megaman Battle Network is another game (well, series) that does a good job with this. (As well as hitting one of my other difficulty-related buttons, better rewards for better performance, which gives some motivation even to people who are starting to find the battle easy.)
Two other methods I've seen people use:
Have some kind of magic thingy in your dungeons that magically dis-/enables random encounters. Obviously placed at the end of the dungeon, so you can still search for treasure/hidden stuff after defeating the boss.

The other one is from cthulhu saves the world (pretty good game btw): Have a finite number of random encounters for each dungeon. If the player still wants to fight some monsters, have an optional start-a-random-encounter command in your menu.
In a perfect world, random-screen transition battles wouldn't exist. Anyway, this is a good write up. Lots of good tips. Short battles with lots of variety. When I design my battles, I try to make them at least somewhat threatening. Make your healer actually do something but, still... keep it short. Tough enemies doesn't necessarily mean tons of HP.
When you find yourself trying to work your way through a labyrinth of a dungeon, random encounters are more annoying than constantly running into dead end after dead end after dead end after...well, you get my point. Anyway, one thing I've discovered that makes these battles less irritating is making the map music and the battle music the same soundtrack. Put simply, save the awesome battle theme for the boss and let me battle the bats/snakes/spiders in peace. If a specific enemy is slated to appear in the dungeon and you want it to have a specific battle theme, you can always add that as an event for that particular Monster Party.
i found a lot of games on this site like making extremely tough regular battles for the sake of challenge, but if each 5 step random encounter requires that much effort it gets annoying fast. Dont even get me started on the regular enemies that have potential to randomly 2 shot your party
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