Description

The submission period for the contest is now over, but the discussion has just begun!

Forum thread here.

The results are in:

Gold - Azalathemad
Silver - Aegix_Drakan
Bronze - NeverSilent

Congratulations to them and to everyone who took part in the contest!





This is a Community episode a contest and an experiment in game design prompted by Sviel's suggestion among the many thought-provoking comments to that article. If you don't take part in the contest for fun, fame and prizes, do it for SCIENCE.

The individual goal of the contest is to design a RPG battle system and showcase it in one or a few battles, while avoiding the usual clutter of mechanisms that is a staple of the genre, with the help of some guidelines given below.

The collective goal is to search together for the essential principles of the RPG battle - the skeleton of decisions that gives them their flavor and depth.

This is more challenging than a normal contest because it rewards creative and analytical thinking rather than just good craftsmanship. On the other hand, I believe the results could greatly improve the future games produced by the community - both in terms of unexplored strategic potential, and of streamlining battle design to make game-wide balancing (which is one of the worst problems in RPGs) considerably easier.



The three elements listed below are the fundamental aspects of RPG battling. (Explanatory figures and details hidden in spoiler tags.)

They are often obscured by overly complex systems and tons of genre conventions. The purpose of this contest to see what happens when you lay them bare. I am convinced that tons of strategic possibilities have been overlooked so far, simply because they were hard to perceive under the layers of fluff.


1) All RPG systems have a common ground: damage per turn, with the goal of killing before you are killed.

Of course, in this mock-up battle with only Attacks, 1) the hero dies first, and 2) the player is bored to tears. So we must add skills and stuff. (Randomness creates variation that you have no control over, so I won't mention it here).


2) All skills/spells/buffs/items are ways of dealing or receiving that damage faster or slower, more continuously or in bursts. They control the way that damage is concentrated or diluted over time, like pushing and pulling on a rubber band. (The basic, fully stretched state is "spamming attack" as above: not exciting but it gets you there eventually).



Problems:
- the picture above suggests that countless possibilities have never been used (there are many other ways to position and combine these arrows). The most frequent improvement is agility buffs or gaining/losing turns, i.e. ways to do more complicated actions by employing multiple skills at once. But there are lots of other ways to expand on it (see Tips & Inspirations below for ideas).

- usually, healing simply erases some of the enemy's actions in an irrecoverable way. You attack n times, I heal, you attack again, I heal => no net effect, boring. Hence the huge asymmetry in RPG battles: heroes can always heal, most enemies cannot, because there's nothing more infuriating than seeing the enemy heal and erase all your efforts.
It would be more interesting to rethink healing so that the effect of an action was never canceled, but for instance delayed, or spread over X turns, or converted into something else - still there in some form, ready to be reused by future skills.



3) MP, Limit Breaks, status conditions, multiple characters and classes are ways of allowing the player variable access to the skills over time. That's because strategy is not about the winning move, it's about progressively setting up the conditions which allow that move.



Problem: in RPGs you generally have extremely basic (un)locking conditions within the battle:
- "if I have a lot of MP, I can use all my powerful spells"
- "if this character dies/sleeps/is berserk, I lose access to their skills"
- (occasionally) "if I use a weak skill I will be able to use a stronger one next"

I think this is the aspect of RPGs that leaves the largest room for improvement by far. For a battle to have more strategy, every action you take should allow new moves and block other ones, potentially for the rest of the fight. What you can do at any given moment should be the logical product of your past actions and your enemy's, if possible in more evolved ways that a binary question like "out of mana?" or "silenced?".




This all boils down to a simple idea: if you want to encapsulate the feeling of combat, what you need is
- balance of power, represented by any gauge or number (and its evolution in time),
- seizing opportunities, represented by the diversity of available options and how you get or lose access to them.
Everything else is decorative, and there is much more freedom in how you could translate this into a system than what has ever been explored in any game so far.




- Rules with "must" are requirements.

- Rules with "should" can be transgressed at your own risk, if you think your interpretation is more clever than the original rule (feel free to contact me to talk about it).


1) Game:

- The game can be made using any software, but it must contain everything it requires to run on its own.

- You can reuse the Default Battle System in clever ways, use scripts, or make a custom system of any degree of sophistication. You won't be judged on the prettiness of the implementation, only on the strategic depth of the principles beneath.

- The entry can be a single or multiple battles long (but we will judge at most 4 or 5 battles, not 40). It should not contain any cutscene or exploration phase, unless they are entirely skippable.
=> You can make an entire game out of your system, just give the judges a way to play only the 1 to 5 battles you want to showcase.

- There can be as many or as few characters & enemies as you wish. The rules suggested here should make a 1-character 1-enemy duel as complex as a full-scale battle.

2) Skill design:

- The only gauge must be HP. You can work around this rule and make MP/AP/Limit Break equivalents using the rules below, but tons of extra points will be given to contestants who instead try to do something really new.

- There must be no randomness in the effect of an attack or skill. This contest is just an experiment in RPG tactics, so the player should be able to make elaborate plans without computing conditional probabilities in their head.

- Skills should be designed to reflect principle 2) in the Rationale section above as clearly as possible
i.e. skills are ways to change the repartition of damage over time. The effect of any skill in those terms should be very clear, to let players compare skills and conceive strategies more easily. For instance, instead of directly dealing damage, skills could change the number of times a character attacks in a turn (it's easier to compare "1 attack" with "3 attacks" than to have to chose between spells that inflict 70HP on one enemy or 10HP/turn for 4 turns on 2 enemies).


- For more points, every skill should bring something new to the table. No skill should be "the same but stronger". Each skill should provide a different way of manipulating the repartition of damage over time, that cannot be produced by using other skills.

3) Skill unlocking:

- There must be rules to determine when you can or cannot use a given skill. We are trying here not to default to a simple gauge like MP: expending mana/drinking ethers is a very binary way of implementing actions that (un)lock other actions. Ideally, every action could have:
* multiple effects in unlocking other actions (e.g. a feint opens up various attacks)
* multiple conditions for its own unlocking (e.g. an attack requires the right posture, the right distance, and the right weakness in the enemy's defense)
* multiple ways to fulfill these conditions

- As much as possible, the rules for locking/unlocking should not be special cases (e.g. Fire Sword unlocks Mega-Smash), but more general logical principles. Even better if they apply similarly to the enemies' skills!

- As much as possible, locking/unlocking should be long lasting, i.e. not only dependent on the current state of the characters, but also on past actions both by them and by their enemies.

Counter-example to these 3 points: Being "out of mana" is a locking effect that
- depends only on your current state (no matter how you reached it or what the enemy has been doing)
- affects all skills at the same time
- has no real trade-off: more mana always equals more good
- and can be canceled with a single action (drinking an Ether).
By contrast, in a typical strategy game, every time you move a piece, you are closing off some possibilities and opening new ones by combination with the positions of all other pieces, so every move along the way can play some role in your victory.


- You are free to invent the detail of these locking rules, but more points will be given if they are simple and intuitive.
Example: in board games, it's simple geometry that creates these rules (a piece/unit contributes to your tactics by blocking a line of sight, or flanking an enemy...). Here you could use some sort of spatial logic as well, or all sorts of different principles (see Tips & Inspirations below for examples).


- If you have multiple battles, there can be permanent effects transferred from one battle to the next.
i.e. "items" are skills following all the rules above, except their locking/unlocking effects are not limited to one battle (e.g. a consumable item simply locks itself permanently once used, but there could be more elaborate patterns).




General tips and suggestions:

- Anyone who has trouble with the rules can ask questions in a comment or PM. I can help with things such as checking that skills are not reducible to one another, if you want to do it the mathy way.

- "one goal=one action" is the antithesis of strategy. Every action should serve multiple goals and every goal require multiple actions. Real creativity appears when you start finding ways to control the breadth of actions at your and your enemy's disposal, trapping them into predictable moves while extending your own possibilities.

- you can draw some inspiration from CCGs like Magic the Gathering. They are in fact very close to the concepts exposed here for RPG battles: the "skill unlocking" revolves partly around drawing the cards from your deck, with special effects such as reshuffling the deck or drawing more often. Notice that most CCGs contain effects that allow to bring back cards that have already been used/discarded, which is a way of making even past actions relevant to your current tactical options.

- It could be great to have a visual aid for damage repartition/displacement over turns (perhaps a graph of damage over time, in the spirit of what I did in the Rationale section) or some other way to make the effect of any skill perfectly clear and analyzable by the player.

- A suggestion: skills could displace either the same quantity of damage (e.g. 1HP if you're going the small-numbers route), or all the damage dealt in the target turn(s) (including contributions from other skills). This will make elaborate tactics much easier to figure than having a lot of different quantities or percentages. The less math the player needs to do, the more they can make clever plans.

- How much damage is moved around by a skill should not depend on some intrinsic property of the character or the enemy (e.g. elemental weakness). We want strategies to be effective because of what the enemies have done, not because of what they are (i.e. strategy rather than a puzzle that can be solved once and for all). What will differentiate them is their inventory of skills and how they use them.

- You are allowed to "disguise" to some extent the mechanical aspects detailed above to make the game more appealing or closer in appearance to traditional RPGs, as long as damage-moving and locking rules are clearly stated in-game or in a design document included with the game.

Don't go too fancy though: the goal is to expose the skeleton of RPG battles, not bury it under fluff.


Some random starting ideas:

* Why not boil it down to a single HP bar and have each group try to push it in a different direction? (somewhat like Last Word)

* What if a single attack could kill, and the whole battle is a game of counters and feints to try to get that attack in before the enemy does? (Bushido Blade style)

* What if the "rubber band" of damage is elastic, and tends to come back to its natural state over time (so that both bursts of damage and healing progressively come undone)

* Why not use many more status conditions than usual, each one affecting some fraction of the skills (like Silence prevents Magic, but less generic), or even interacting with each other.

* For instance, why not call status conditions "stances" and use concepts from martial arts or fencing to create the skill unlocking logic? (depending on your distance, your weapon, your stance and the enemy's, you can use ground fighting, feints, throws, locks and so on)

* What if there were more categories than just allies and enemies with which to interact through the skills? (for instance neutral resources in the environment)

* For a simple extension of the DBS, you could have a number of different characters with a system for switching them in battle, then group skills that should be locked or unlocked together by giving them to the same character (or make them combos requiring multiple characters), then add conditions to access/summon that character.

* A limited component of TRPG-like motion is not forbidden (think The Reconstruction), although I'd like to see contestants tread newer ground as well.

* For multiple battles, how about having enemies who have the same brute force as you, but are programmed to have an increasingly broad range of tactical possibilities? Every encounter would actually serve the overall gameplay by teaching you how to deal with them in more and more elaborate settings, instead of being its own beast that loses all purpose once mastered.



Recommendations given in the comments section:
An episode of Retronauts literally just came out that discusses RPG battle systems.

http://www.retronauts.com/?p=846.





Anyone who wants to help me judge can let me know here or by PM, I will require their help depending on how many submissions we get. I will ask the judges to read this conversation if they haven't already, so as to have an idea of what we are looking for here.

Tentative criteria for judging:


Originality (20pts): How much does the system contribute to pushing the boundaries of the genre?

Example: Can you find ways to expand on the JRPG system that are not just adding one more gauge, or one more way to get a stat bonus?

Elegance (25pts): Is the system using as few ingredients as possible to achieve its goals in a precise way?

Example: Is each skill truly different from the others? Have you found a simpler way to achieve what usually requires 3 gauges, 10 stats and 100 different items?

Clarity (20pts): How well can the player understand the system, its strategic stakes, and the reason their actions succeed or fail?

Example: Are the effects of each action clearly labeled? Does the system avoid having the player do mental calculus to evaluate the result of their actions? Is the skill unlocking logic consistent and predictable?

Depth (25pts): How much does the system allow and reward elaborate plans, creativity and tactical intuition?

Example: Can we predict how our actions will guide the enemies' reactions, allowing us to manipulate them? Is the game more than pure HP/MP/Item attrition?

Bonus (10pts): Anything a judge finds especially worthy of praise.




I don't expect that making the game will take more than a couple of days at most; however for the sake of all people with a busy schedule, the contest will run from July 27 to August 27 23:59 EST. (however I won't mind if people get the time zone wrong)




The top 3 contestants will get to choose one of the following prizes:

(x1) Any game under 20 USD on Steam or the Humble store, because I might as well make it rain, FOR SCIENCE.

(x3) A (reasonable) drawing by yours truly. Preferably characters (fanart or original, any style), possibly simple environment shots or short multipanel gag in sketchy style. You can do whatever you want with it, use it as title screen or make a tattoo or sell it on eBay.

(x1) A cameo in my future game (hey, that works for Kickstarters. NB: I'm not really expecting anyone to pick this, but I'll give details if a winner is actually interested.)

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All statements below and above this one just make this one look better. :D
Complexity =/= Strategy
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Life is Turn-Based.
Simply complicated ;_;
Fighting to the death with Seiromem!
Oh yes, there will be blood...
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Kentona still owes me a date.
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THESE ARE COMBATS THAT MATTER!
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I am interested in this but I have a hard time understanding its wording ;~:
Darn, that's the problem with me not being a native speaker. Please let me know what is unclear and I will rectify the wording quickly!
Woohoo! Been looking forward to this. This could lead to some really great strategies.

I don't know how useful I'd be as a judge, but I'll gladly help out if you have any need for that.
Can I ask a few questions?

Is the event about making a custom battle system, or battles? I kinda am confused.
Can anyone join? Like, a team of one?
What exactly are allowed? Custom scripts, event-only, and the like?

I am interested to join, so I'd like those to be cleared out.
Sorry if those are already stated...
You can join as a single person, it says "any" on the top as well.
I believe, technically, anything is allowed as long as you implement real tactics into it according to the principles. It all comes down to creating a skillset that does more than the usual. It's a lot about creativity in finding these things, so the choices are up to you.

The damage-bars are the basics, try to find creative ways to play around with it tactically is all it comes down to.

For example, using certain skills could make you much more vulnerable to the next attack/attacks and some also require recharging (lose you some turns), so you could build around striking while the enemy is vulnerable and keeping yourself strong to theirs. You could add that with stun effect, strong debuffs or the like.
Really result-orientated.
Oh? Great! Count me in!

I have another question, though. It's my first time to join in an event, so I'd like to keep track of things. How do you subscribe to events? I can't seem to find a subscribe button anywhere...
- healing simply erases an enemy's action. You attack, I heal, you attack, I heal => no net effect, boring. It would be more interesting if the effect of an action was never canceled, but for instance delayed, or spread over X turns, so that it is still there in some form, ready to be reused by future skills.

This is a bad example. Healing, in any good balanced game, will give you an amount of HP that is several times greater than what the enemy is attacking with. That's the point. For an actual healer that will be the case. Maybe if the fighter has a weak heal spell your example would be true, but there would still be times where it makes sense. Like if the enemy is asleep or can't move.

It doesn't belong in that group because all of the other examples above that are mainly absolute. Whereas you're suggesting that a healing spell is always weak. I would suggest that healing extends a battle rather than to erase an enemy attack. You are also assuming that the enemy only deals damage. If they inflicted a status effect or got some other effect from the attack, then healing will not negate that.
author=karins_soulkeeper
Oh? Great! Count me in!

I have another question, though. It's my first time to join in an event, so I'd like to keep track of things. How do you subscribe to events? I can't seem to find a subscribe button anywhere...


It's on the bottom of the info-page, under "Registration", Sign Up
Thank you Kyla!

Ah, another question. Sorry!
When I finish making my game, do I make a game page for it or do I submit it to the 'event locker' as is stated in the submit button on the upper right?

If it's the former, then how do I link it to the event?
If it's the latter, then I doubt that I'll have enough space in my locker for a game...
Thanks Kyla for the clarifications! Yes karins_soulkeeper you can build this however you want, from a clever use of the default battle system to a fully custom one. The implementation is unimportant as long as the principles behind it are sound.

author=Link_2112
It doesn't belong in that group because all of the other examples above that are mainly absolute. Whereas you're suggesting that a healing spell is always weak. I would suggest that healing extends a battle rather than to erase an enemy attack. You are also assuming that the enemy only deals damage. If they inflicted a status effect or got some other effect from the attack, then healing will not negate that.

Well let's put it like this: healing cancels any number of enemy attacks depending on your current HP and your max HP. If you were at your max HP before the attack and then you heal, you technically cancel only one attack at a time, and so on. In doing so, it indeed extends the battle, possibly by many turns. But in any case, more effective healing just means you're erasing bigger chunks of the history of the battle: that's why everyone hates enemies who can heal, you get the feeling that some of your effort has just vanished into thin air.

You also have ways to cancel any other effect from an attack, but those are generally part of the skill locking/unlocking that I describe in part 3. Most status conditions (Silence, Berserk...) boil down to a variant of being out of mana, i.e. they prevent you from using some skills. Sure there are little concrete differences (in one case you use an ether, in the other an antidote), but by having these equivalent effects come from completely separate sources, we miss out on simple unifications, and on other, potentially much more significant differences to exploit.


Thanks for all your comments, I will update the rules to make these points clearer!
author=karins_soulkeeper
Ah, another question. Sorry!
When I finish making my game, do I make a game page for it or do I submit it to the 'event locker' as is stated in the submit button on the upper right?

If it's the former, then how do I link it to the event?
If it's the latter, then I doubt that I'll have enough space in my locker for a game...


No problem, all your questions are very welcome and help me streamline the event a little! (it's my first time managing one, quite obviously.)
It should be possible to use either the event locker (which is common to everyone and separate from your own locker, so no worries about your space) or to choose any download from any gamepage you have already made - for the latter, I had forgotten to tick the right option but it's been corrected now, sorry about that.
NeverSilent
Got any Dexreth amulets?
6133
I like the idea behind this contest, and I'm sure it's going to spark a lot of original concepts and inspiring ideas. However, I am a bit sceptical of two of the rules:

- There must be only HP. (MP or other gauges would be redundant with some rules below)

I understand that you are trying to avoid ways of fueling/(un)locking skills that are already well-known or even overused. Still, having the availability of certain skills depend on another number (commonly MP) is not automatically a bad or boring design choice. What is more important is how these "MP" can be acquired, refilled or unlocked. A battle system with MP but no ethers, for example, could make for a significant change in strategic possbilities.


- There must be no randomness, as we're trying to isolate pure strategy.

I readily admit I'm not a huge fan of randomness in games either, because it tends to make success or failure more and more dependent on luck. Still, randomness is also a strategic element, which involves deliberately taking a risk hoping for a positive outcome. (This article by Deltree takes a closer look at this phenomenon).


These are just my personal thoughts, of course, but I think it should be avoided to needlessly limit the participants' creativity with these rules. I don't think it's improbable that people will come up with new and original takes on old or well-known battle machanics, and if that means using a ressource like MP in an unconventional way, then why not?
If there's no healing, then you can only last as long as your HP. So you'd either have really short battles or massive amounts of HP. That doesn't sound as appealing as having healing.

I can appreciate the idea of simplifying battle, but some things are in games for a reason. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of this, though. I'm not going to participate but I'll keep an eye on the result.
Edit: Gosh, loadtimes. Sorry.
Well, randomness is certainly a factor, but this is more for experimental purposes anyhow, so it wouldn't refute it, but it's about exploring some different paths and tactics. And luck is something we have already aplenty and isn't really that tactical. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be implemented in bigger projects.

I initially agreed with mana, but I can also see that you could build around it. You'd have to go a roundabout way, but you can apply the same principle without actually using mana. Focus building up can be replaced by recharging attacks (some attacks can't be used first turns), it could also be replaced by stacked buffs you need to use or so.
If you used mana without ethers I'd say screw it. I've played so many fucking RPGs without even touching these items, not great strategy. And would also be possible to cover without using mana in itself. It comes down to a limitation of how many spells you can cast. You can have your spells count down just the same without it.

The idea behind it is that mana could be completely ignored and expressed differently. Expressed as the influence it has on your combat abilities.

About healing .. I don't mind short battles at all, my favorite games did a great job of it. I rather like them. Short-medium time is perfectly fine. Doesn't mean boss battles can't be long.
When I remember some 40 minutes battle .. not too bad, but they usually aren't difficult. And if they were, you'd simply hate them.

You could implement auto-heal after each fight, if it were meant to be a problem in the contest.
author=NeverSilent
These are just my personal thoughts, of course, but I think it should be avoided to needlessly limit the participants' creativity with these rules. I don't think it's improbable that people will come up with new and original takes on old or well-known battle machanics, and if that means using a ressource like MP in an unconventional way, then why not?

I admit this was the hardest choice for me in the rules. The problem is that I'm almost certain that keeping the MP in will discourage most people from thinking about why it is a rather meh system in the first place (see the point about long-lasting locking effects in the rules). If you really want to have some MP equivalent, you can find lots of way around it as Kyla said, and I'm almost sure that whatever equivalent you come up will be better than MP.

As for randomness, yep here we're just experimenting so it seems more right to avoid dealing with unplannable factors altogether.
I should state for full disclosure that I'm convinced risk is more interesting when it stems from unforeseen actions by the enemy, rather than a dice roll suddenly screwing your perfect strategy, but this is my personal conviction and not relevant to the contest.


Now if these two "musts" really scare people away from participating, I will turn them into "shoulds", but they are a large part of what justifies the whole contest in the first place: looking for something that no one has ever done before in their games or even in other contests, because tradition has an incredible weight on our minds. Still, I have updated their phrasing somewhat to clarify.

If there's no healing, then you can only last as long as your HP. So you'd either have really short battles or massive amounts of HP. That doesn't sound as appealing as having healing.
Hmm I should be clearer about that. No rules here are against healing, I'm saying that there are better ways to do it, such as delaying damage (it will come back in 5 turns, better find some way to delay it again then), or spreading it, or converting it into something else. It should just not disappear altogether to avoid this feeling of useless actions. Although "short battles or massive amount of HP" is exactly what is already happening on the enemy side in any RPG, so your criticism should be applicable to standard battle systems as well ;)

(and like Kyla, I really wouldn't mind shorter, much more focused battles - battles that may take time because you retry them a couple of times, not because you spend an hour casting Knights of the Round Table again and again)

In any case, it's a shame you won't contribute, thanks for the comments nevertheless.
I'm very interested in this! I can't promise I'll have my idea completely there by the time this is over, but I'll certainly try.

This is cool~
I'm going to sign up for this as soon as possible. (EDIT: I don't know why I said that I signed up for it immediately anyway.)

I love this kind of stuff, it's most of what I think about when making my games. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the other entries!
Hurray, I'm glad this contest has caught your interest~
(and team names are awesome so far)
I have a question, my battle system is very simplistic but involves environment as a part of it (for example, instead of generic skill progression, tactical placement of a table allowing you the chance to seek cover behind it), despite it being turn based. Is this allowed, or should I strip out those elements which help give it a bit of depth?

I mean, it can work without any real environmental interaction, but it mostly becomes a game of dodges to get close enough to deal damage, or to let your skills warm up.