BATTLE PACING

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I'm tired and typing off the cuff so if I ramble or if something doesn't make sense then I am sorry.

One thing that has bothered me in most RPGs is how generic encounters are always harder in the first round than they are in the fifth round of combat. This is because generic encounters generally start with a large cluster of enemies and as the player defeats each one the group as a whole gets easier. There's a lack of build up, of pacing, or of whatever you want to call it. However, one positive to this method is it basically guarantees that players will receive some amount of damage every encounter--at least at the beginning--which helps you pace attrition/resource management for the dungeon as a whole (i.e. the designer knows the player will lose about 10% of the health each battle so they can predict an appropriate number of encounters and healing and consumables and etc).

So, let's think of ways we can diffuse this. I have a few ideas that are probably derivative, although I've convinced myself they're all mine, and a few other methods that are pulled from existing games. Some of these go hand-in-hand with that other thread about encouraging players to play offensively. Here are a few of them:

A) Enemies grow more powerful as you defeat their allies. This can be statistical or by giving them access to new attacks based on the number of fallen enemies, and is sort of similar to a boss pattern that changes based on boss HP. A disadvantage to this method is it becomes counter-productive to defeat enemies individually, as their powered up allies become a problem which encourages the player to try to wipe out the entire group simultaneously rather than picking enemies off one at a time. Of course, for some encounters this might be the kind of solution you want the player to lean towards, but I wouldn't recommend designing encounters such that every battle is this way. One way you could mitigate this is to have the enemies power up relative to the total remaining HP of the enemy party rather than the number of defeated enemies.

B) Enemies grow more powerful each turn. Breath of Death VII does this, as does the Cthulhu sequel. Basically, this encourages the player to defeat enemies quickly before they become overwhelmed. It does a great job of building tension or creating a damage race. Unfortunately Breath of Death VII also had a mechanic where the faster you defeat enemies the more XP you are rewarded with also. This creates an incestuous self-perpetuating grind cycle... Where being a higher level means players can kill things faster, netting them more XP so that they can level up faster and kill things even faster for a bigger XP bonus to level up faster... and faster. I think this is a great solution if you omit the XP bonus.

C) Enemies trickle into combat. This is actually the solution I've settled upon for myself. Basically, an encounter might begin with only one or two enemies but every turn a new buddy joins up until the enemy party is full. In my case, I like to show what enemies will join up in advance because I want the player to prepare for what's coming. It also helps me diversify some of the player's attacks by allowing them to damage enemies that haven't actively joined the encounter yet. Unlike solution B, tension only rises until mid-combat and then falls off as the player starts defeating enemies. While there are advantages to continuously rising tension from a challenge/balance perspective, I think there is value in providing a mid-combat climax where players feel like they're getting a handle on the situation and starting to turn things around.

So what are some solutions to battle pacing that you've found?
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.
5363
Hmm, I see what you're getting at. You want to gradually increase tension and then release it at its peak, just before it overwhelms the player. But you don't just want to do this for the game as a whole, you want to do it fractally, whenever possible. It applies to an individual battle as much as to a dungeon, and maybe even to a single round?

Another interesting idea is to give enemies limit breaks. Probably a gauge that rises each round and possibly also rises on taking or dealing damage, because it'd be kinda dumb if the enemy just taking damage were enough to set it off. The battle isn't specifically getting any harder each round, but the tension is still rising. Every round, the enemy is getting closer to a point where he's going to kick your ass. When you win the battle before the limit break happens, the tension is released. It's like putting a timer in every battle. For long battles and boss battles, you could set it up so the limit break will go off at least once, creating several rising tension segements within a single battle. Or you could make the gauge take proportionally longer to fill up.

This kind of tension requires the player knowing that the limit break is coming up, so it might not work well for normal battles unless it's extremely common (like every enemy in the game, or every human enemy, or some other blatantly obvious pattern that immediately leaves the player with zero doubt that the skill is coming up).
Yeah, one problem with the method I've been going with is that once you become powerful enough, you are basically defeating enemies as they actively join the encounter, so it becomes a series of duels. Although, maybe that's okay because it is nice to enjoy the fruits of your power. Ideally, at the top-end of expected player level in a given area, the player should only be reducing the amount of time they are fighting multiple enemies at once rather than being so powerful they are fighting one at a time... That's just a matter of stat tuning, though. Of course, it does introduce the possibility of an Earthbound-like method... Defeat the first enemy before his buddies appear and you instantly win the entire encounter, so you don't even have to deal with going through the motions.

Limit breaks could be cool. You could even do something like give the player some capability to interfere with an enemy's limit break meter. I see that they're building it up for their Ultima spell... I better stun them and unload my nukes before they actually get the chance, but if I mess up and don't deal enough damage then I've given them overmeter on their limit break, which makes their Ultima hit even harder.
slash
APATHY IS FOR COWARDS
4008
I think a chess-like method could be fun, where each side of the battle is bound to lose a few pieces (party members) as the fight goes on. The pressure increases as members of the battle on each side are removed, because it's clear the battle is coming to a close.

This is used in Tactical games often, due to the obvious similarities to chess, but you could try it with a JRPG formula if:
  • You reduced the likelihood of encounters, but increased their difficulty; Chess as a game is 100% even mechanically, although this doesn't have to be the case in every game. You'll want easy "wipe-the-floor" battles and hard "holy-shit" battles.
  • Each battle starts off with a clean slate; downed characters are revived and HP and MP restored, focusing less on the "attrition" model of classic JRPGs.
  • Make sure battles have a chance of wiping out some of the player's "pieces", whether they're characters or special abilities, and possibly allow the sacrifice of some pieces for others, so the player has difficult choices to make.

I don't know how many games this model would work for, but it could be a fun take on the purpose & excitement of a battle
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.
5363
author=slashphoenix
Make sure battles have a chance of wiping out some of the player's "pieces", whether they're characters or special abilities, and possibly allow the sacrifice of some pieces for others, so the player has difficult choices to make.
Once-per-battle abilities are something I'm doing in my current project. I should do more of them, especially with healing skills. It really does work. Using the ability momentarily lowers tension, but it goes back up even higher afterwards. Currently all my revival skills are once-per-battle, and so are a lot of utility skills, status effects, and stun skills.

Other skills have long enough cooldowns that they can typically only be used multiple times in boss battles, which I think is another good idea - if the battle is short you're gradually losing skills as the battle goes on, and if it's longer you're going through cycles of tension as you lose skills and gain them back.

Also, this is so obvious that it almost goes without saying, but MP decreases as the battle goes on, and if you make running out of MP actually be a serious threat (meaning it's something that can happen pretty easily, and also something that really matters when it does happen), then you will get some great battle pacing without doing anything fancy. You just need to set the enemy HP so that the battles last long enough to almost run out of MP every time.
author=slashphoenix
I think a chess-like method could be fun, where each side of the battle is bound to lose a few pieces (party members) as the fight goes on. The pressure increases as members of the battle on each side are removed, because it's clear the battle is coming to a close.


Generally any tactical battle system does this well, primarily because even though there are more enemies in the first round, not all enemies are actually in a position to act yet. As the battle progresses there are more threats within the heroes' proximity. This is actually what gave me the idea for Solution C--to simulate this aspect without actually creating a tactical battle system.
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.
5363
They don't even necessarily need to summon allies for the gradually-joining enemies thing to work. They could be in rows, so that the back rows can't attack or be attacked until the front row is dead.

I realize listing ideas from FF1 of all things isn't the height of creativity. But in FF1 it wasn't used for this purpose, really. The back enemies were almost always the same strength as the front ones, so it stretched out the initial danger phase for longer but didn't add any new danger. So to get it to cause this effect, you'd need to make the back row be stronger, and also get rid of or severely limit skills that can ignore rows, at least for enemies. (Player skills that can hit the back row don't quite ruin the effect, but enemy skills that can hit from the back row do.)
author=LockeZ
They don't even necessarily need to summon allies for the gradually-joining enemies thing to work. They could be in rows, so that the back rows can't attack or be attacked until the front row is dead.

I realize listing ideas from FF1 of all things isn't the height of creativity. But in FF1 it wasn't used for this purpose, really. The back enemies were almost always the same strength as the front ones, so it stretched out the initial danger phase for longer but didn't add any new danger. So to get it to cause this effect, you'd need to make the back row be stronger, and also get rid of or severely limit skills that can ignore rows, at least for enemies. (Player skills that can hit the back row don't quite ruin the effect, but enemy skills that can hit from the back row do.)

You must've played a completely different FF1 than I did, because enemy position didn't mean squat in the NES, PSX, GBA, PSP, iOS, etc, etc versions. They could attack regardless of where their sprte was located.
Speaking of enemies with limit breaks... I've been playing Fate/EXTRA, as it piqued my interest as an RPG that has a rock-paper-scissors element as a core mechanic. As it turns out, the bosses in that game do have limit breaks. (Given the setting, all bosses have a similar skillset to the player, actually.)

It does add a bunch of tension to the fight when you know it's coming. Being on the receiving end of an incoming limit break is an interesting experience. Even if you had momentum before, the tables have been momentarily turned. You have to focus on surviving that one turn. I have to admit that most of my deaths against the first boss had her limit break as a cause.

And being able to do something about that limit break is also a pretty nice thing. Against the second boss, I managed to manipulate him into not using his limit break even though he had it ready for some turns.
His limit break isn't just an immensely powerful attack. It's actually a very large boost to poison damage. He plays it safe and never uses his limit break unless you're already poisoned. By making sure I was not poisoned whenever he would attttempt the limit break, I prevented him from using it.


Edit: And the discussion shifted by a lot once I posted. Lemme catch up to the new points...
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.
5363
author=Jude
author=LockeZ
They don't even necessarily need to summon allies for the gradually-joining enemies thing to work. They could be in rows, so that the back rows can't attack or be attacked until the front row is dead.

I realize listing ideas from FF1 of all things isn't the height of creativity. But in FF1 it wasn't used for this purpose, really. The back enemies were almost always the same strength as the front ones, so it stretched out the initial danger phase for longer but didn't add any new danger. So to get it to cause this effect, you'd need to make the back row be stronger, and also get rid of or severely limit skills that can ignore rows, at least for enemies. (Player skills that can hit the back row don't quite ruin the effect, but enemy skills that can hit from the back row do.)
You must've played a completely different FF1 than I did, because enemy position didn't mean squat in the NES, PSX, GBA, PSP, iOS, etc, etc versions. They could attack regardless of where their sprte was located.

Fuck was it FF3 or something, I don't know, it was one of those terrible old ones with twenty rows of goblins and no commands except attack
author=Jude
You must've played a completely different FF1 than I did, because enemy position didn't mean squat

author=LockeZ
But in FF1 it wasn't used for this purpose, really.

Question answered.

And you touched on something I've been toying with for a while now in my mind, setting enemies in rows. I though of it just because it would be interesting for enemies to body block each other, and having skills interact with these formations in creative ways. I've never though of it as a way to break encounters into sections, even though they do just that. Its even more interesting now.

And has any turn based RPG used cooldowns? I'm used tot hem on MMOs, but those are real time. Would they feel weird or artificial on a turn based battle system? I've been thinking about using turns as the only resource spent for using skills and getting rid of all MP type resources...
author=CyberDagger
And has any turn based RPG used cooldowns? I'm used tot hem on MMOs

Yes, and it's amazing. That, along with the ability to increase "aggro" on a PC, and I feel right at home :3
author=CyberDagger
And you touched on something I've been toying with for a while now in my mind, setting enemies in rows.

That's a very good idea. In the troops menu, I would give the monsters in the back a buff which makes them immune to melee, but they deal slightly less damage. After the monsters in the front are killed, the buff removes itself; making the mages easily killable, yet more powerful.
You could do a lot with this~
author=Clareain_Christopher
That's a very good idea. In the troops menu, I would give the monsters in the back a buff which makes them immune to melee, but they deal slightly less damage. After the monsters in the front are killed, the buff removes itself; making the mages easily killable, yet more powerful.
You could do a lot with this~


And enemies in back rows would also be unable to use melee attacks. It has to be two-sided to be believable.

It would actually make sense in a game that implements this for melee to be significantly stronger than magic. You trade the ability to hit back rows for the extra damage.

Man, this has potential! I'll probably have a bunch of ideas for this tomorrow.
why not program enemies to behave differently and use more powerful attacks as their hp falls or as their comrades die? when it becomes apparent they're fighting a losing battle, they realize the player party means business and bring out the big guns. it's a fairly common practice with bosses; if your general encounters are lengthy enough that you feel pacing is problematic, then you should be able to correct it in the same manner.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
I ripped off the BoDVII/CStW monster power build-up for Promised Abyss, except it doesn't reset after battle. So, every single turn in the dungeon increases enemy power. You also get a full heal at the end of each battle -- but you have to pace your Energy usage (you only build 3E/turn up to a max of 7, and anybody can act as long as they'd like). You can leave the dungeon at any point if you so choose, but only by defeating bosses can you cash in your Kill Kount earned by fighting mobs.

So, in any given dungeon (note: there are only five, and you repeat them lots and lots of times, but this is not the topic to discuss how they work/why that doesn't suck in this case), you can build your Kill Kount for better post-dungeon rewards at the risk of a high Monster Rage% (possibly resulting in the boss wiping the party), or you could rush bosses but not build as much Kill Kount.

I find that determining how to pace your battles is more effective when you consider the dungeon as a whole. =|
In my game, I settled for the route of giving enemies high amounts of HP which forces players to utilize heavy hitting skills, or status debuffs/buffs, or elemental weaknesses to whittle the enemy down easily. Hitting attack over and over isn't going to cut it, nor is hard-hitting skills over and over. The enemies gain skills be it if their HP is low or if they are the only ones remaining on the field. So every monster party is a tactical problem to solve, and one the player won't find out about until it actually happens!
Late in the game, enemies start regularly having 20,000 to 40,000 hp and can hit for 1000-2000 hp a pop. Attacking and doing 2000-3000 or so damage per hit isn't going to cut it. The player must utilize all tools available to them and that includes elemental weapons and armors. The tension is high when you start a battle and one of the enemies busts out Meteor, another does a Mighty Guard on an ally and the third instant deaths one of your teammates. So to counter this tactically, one would go so far as to silence the instant death caster, poison the meteor beast (who has the highest HP of the bunch) and focus on dispelling the Mighty Guard from the third enemy if it decided to cast it on itself. While your fourth member starts buffing your team. Once accomplished, focus on the buffer enemy of the group, then work on removing the instant death caster, then finally come back to the HP-heavy beast who should now be near death due to Poison. Every battle has split second decisions like this and I feel it creates a lot of battle tension for the player if they know that every victory is one well earned.
One solution I've been thinking of is to make combatants take more damage if they are outnumbered. This will not stop battles from becoming easier and easier, but it will ensure that once the battle stops being a threat, the remaining enemies will be quickly cleared and the time the player has to spend on a battle that's already won is minimized.

It makes sense as well, RPGs under-represents the disadvantage of being outnumbered. In RPGs, monsters will die four times as fast if four guys are hitting them than if only one guy is. However, it's actually worse than that. If four guys are attacking you, not only do you get four times as many blows directed at you, but every single blow also becomes harder to defend against. So, you can represent that by implementing an effect that makes enemies (and characters) have decreased evasion and take more damage if outnumbered and attacked by multiple opponents.

Anyway, if you really want to increase tension slowly, I prefer the idea of having more enemies show up as the battle goes on. In such a case, the player should be able to see which enemies are incoming and when. This allows the player to make tactical choices thereafter. You can make the battles harder by not showing the incoming reinforcement, but I dislike difficulty increase that removes tactics.

Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
13715
Crystalgate, if you're trying to make battles end more quickly, then you have a different problem -- you're taking the main gameplay component of the game and saying "NO NO GET OUT OF HERE SHOO" which sounds counterproductive to 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.
5363
author=Crystalgate
One solution I've been thinking of is to make combatants take more damage if they are outnumbered. This will not stop battles from becoming easier and easier, but it will ensure that once the battle stops being a threat, the remaining enemies will be quickly cleared and the time the player has to spend on a battle that's already won is minimized.

This isn't a solution, this is just accepting the problem as unavoidable and trying to focus elsewhere. Kind of like when FF12 realized random battles were all played the same, but instead of trying to make them more interesting, it let you automate them...

I've been playing FF13-2, and it is definitely a game that tries to improve battle pacing in an unusual way. Almost any time enemies attack you, it not only damages you but also slightly lowers your max hp. So you are slowly whittling away at the enemies, but they're also slowly whittling away at you, in a way you can't heal. By the end of the battle, your max hp might be 70% of what it started... or in a long boss battle, it might be 20%. On top of that, every single battle in the game gives you a bonus for winning quickly enough, so when all but one enemy is dead, your mindset isn't relief, it's anticipation - you don't care that the danger is almost gone as much as you care that the timer is almost up.
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