REPLACING LEVELING WITH DIFFERENT PROGRESSION IN ESTABLISHED GAMES

Posts

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.
6003
Yeah I get that there are hidden things that the game never tells you about that are subtly giving your characters different stats. In practice they are completely indistinguishable from getting bad RNG rolls, unless you're playing the game five years later after reading several guides that document the growth mechanics, and so they don't actually affect your choices. All the characters seem the same and so you treat them the same.

Those games need a hell of a lot more transparency. If the player doesn't know the advantage of playing differently then most players won't try to do it; they'll stick with what they already know works. When you recruit a new character there's absolutely zero indication that they'll be any different from your existing characters until after you spend 10 hours leveling them all up and comparing the results. And then at that point you will realize the difference is that one of them was good at the type of thing you made them do and the other one wasn't, so you ended up with two characters that are the same except one does 30% more damage and dodges more often. Blegh.
author=LockeZ
When you recruit a new character there's absolutely zero indication that they'll be any different from your existing characters until after you spend 10 hours leveling them all up and comparing the results.

I mean, I can dig with some of the rest of what you're trying to say, but I disagree with this. In almost all of the SaGa games, characters you recruit come with visible stats, skills, and weapons that do a pretty good job of indicating what they're good at. "Oh, Gen joined my party equipped with a sword, he has several sword skills learned, and he has high Strength, Vitality, and WP. I know what I should make him do!" Sure, you can say 'fuck it' and ditch the sword and have Gen go with fists, great, similar enough, but there's nothing hinting that you should slap a robe and wizard hat on the guy. There are few deviations from this paradigm.

SaGa Frontier 2 in particular goes the extra mile and tells you a character's talent straight up on their status screen. There are very few characters in the entire series that have absolutely no indication on what their talent is.

author=LockeZ
And then at that point you will realize the difference is that one of them was good at the type of thing you made them do and the other one wasn't, so you ended up with two characters that are the same except one does 30% more damage and dodges more often. Blegh.

This doesn't happen man! This is not a thing! Dude I will be the first to break down the flaws of the SaGa design but I am beginning to think you've either played the games a very, very long time ago or just read the description on the back of the box and imagined you did.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
so you can do whatever you want but there's a specific way you should do things? =|

transparency is important though. i failed at that in V&V's first run and it's still not great in the rework, but it's better than before. Wine and Roses does a much better job at it, I think.
author=Craze
so you can do whatever you want but there's a specific way you should do things? =|


No, but there is an optimal way you should do things. But you can absolutely just say 'fuck that' and beat the game however way you figure out how.

If the idea of an optimal method frustrates you, join the club. If you can design or find a game where thousands of people playing it over years and years don't figure out a mathematically optimal way to play/beat it, you deserve a Nobel Prize. You will also become the patron saint of fighting game fans who are on the eternal journey of finding a fighting game with completely equal characters without tiers (and that doesn't exist, either).
Corfaisus
"It's frustrating because - as much as Corf is otherwise an irredeemable person - his 2k/3 mapping is on point." ~ psy_wombats
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author=Feldschlacht IV
a fighting game with completely equal characters without tiers (and that doesn't exist, either).

Sure such games exist, they're just too simple and boring to be at all entertaining. I'm sure you can find some PSX era fighting games that are essentially jump and punch. I know I've seen/had one but I honestly can't remember a damn thing about it, that's how bad it was.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
I guess it depends what the difference in frustration is between methods. If we had a FRUSTRATION SCALE from 1-10 and the final boss using the optimal method was a 5 compared to "eh i'll do some characters this way and others this way i guess" was a 7... okay, that sounds fair to me (obviously this is an INCREDIBLY ABSTRACT scale). But if it were, say, FFT which tends to be like 2:8 or something like that instead, that bugs me a lot.

I don't design pvp games because i'm not smart and/or willing enough.
Versalia
must be all that rtp in your diet
1405
Let's talk about Information as Power, which I haven't seen mentioned yet. Information can be one of the most valuable commodities in an entire game. When a player accidentally wanders into an extremely high-level area and dies rather abruptly (which has happened to all of us at some point) they learn several lessons. One of them is obviously "this area is too dangerous for me right now!" but they also get context clues about why, even if it's metaknowledge or genre awareness ("this evil castle has an ornate and spooky-looking tileset, it must be endgamey"). Information control is something all game designers have to think about, whether it's how detailed to make your explanations of mechanics, when to introduce those explanations, and how to inform the player using contextual clues and feedback (like the above scenario).


Pillars of Eternity has an excellent Bestiary progression where many of the entries are ????'d out, and fill in slowly over time, as each kill of a certain monster adds EXP to that monster's bestiary entry until it is complete. If you go out of your way to make sure you mop up all the kobolds in the nest, your reward is a completed bestiary entry, which means a ton of very specific data at your disposal for any time you run into a Kobold again in the future. If you don't care to make sure you get every single one, it'll probably get finished eventually anyway, and you still get a bunch of useful information revealed - just not as much. I don't care if I get zero EXP for my characters for the entire endeavor if I'm now armed with enough info to kill the Kobold King a whole lot easier!

In Romancing SaGa, you don't have a lot of information about how the passive skill/stat progressions work until you get it through gameplay feedback (watching it happen and recognizing patterns). In fact, SaGa games are well-known as some of the most opaque and arcane systems beneath the hood; imagine how nice it would be if they leveraged information as more of a reward commodity! Your reward to the player for reaching The New Town could be a fortune teller who gives you hints about a particular character's stat growths or preferred weapons, so that you can anticipate this without having already played the game before or looking it up on gamefaqs.

What I am saying is that game designers should push hard to think about why your mind goes right for "EXP POINTS" or "BIG SWORD" when you think of power progression, and smash that box (in the weak spot you revealed from info rewards). KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Now that's a great post. And a lot to think on. I've always been a big advocate of informing your player as much as reasonable, I love bestiaries and codexes and the like for that very reason.
I wish there were games that did progression scaling - that is, you can do the bosses in any order you want and their level/abilities depend on how many you've beaten already.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
I've tried to make games like that but they all failed because I'm only one man.
Edit: I just noticed that the original topic specified for this thread was discussing how to hypothetically improve established games. I'll delete this if it's unwelcome. -.-;

Interesting that this topic should come up now. I was pondering some very closely related stuff for my game project's monthly blog post. I guess I'll talk about it here, might make a good concrete case study for all of us.

The project I'm referring to is The Legend of Zelda: Forgotten Gates. It has a combat system similar to Final Fantasy 6, and from the start I've assumed it would take the "default" route of traditional XP. Lately, though, I've been wondering whether this game really needs XP and leveling up at all, at least in the most familiar sense. I was planning to have a New Game+ of sorts, with the heroes reaching approximately level 30 by the end of the first run, maxing out at level 50 (or getting pretty close to it) by the end of the second run, and in the third run (or any subsequent ones) the heroes would be at full power, with the strength of their opposition designed to match through each run. But if that third run is the ideal gameplay, why bother with leveling up at all?

Well, there are a few reasons still, of course. The gratification of watching your avatars get stronger has already been mentioned in this thread, although one could say we're looking for alternative methods of controlling that growth. There's also the learning curve to consider, meaning the actual learning of the player about the intricacies of the game. If I give the player access to every skill of every hero right from the beginning, the player might be a bit overwhelmed by the options. They could also think, "What am I ever going to need this powerful but expensive blast spell for, the baddies go down easily enough with regular whacks," and then late in the game when that spell would actually be useful they're too ingrained with what's worked so far to even remember they have other options. Perhaps most importantly, if there's no XP, there isn't much incentive (in terms of the lazy, path-of-least-resistance psychology) for players to engage in battles. I could gate things so that they have to battle to progress, and in fact some battles I already expect to do that with, but it would be nice if the general solution were something more elegant, even something that makes "to fight or not to fight" an engaging gameplay choice.

Another thing to consider about this game specifically is that I'm trying to employ a mix of traditional "epic" JRPG progression with more short-term "Rogue-like" gameplay. The main story of the game will involve pre-designed dungeons (or quests as I'm calling them in-game) that are required for plot progression, but there will also be optional, procedurally-generated challenges separate from the plot. In these optional quests, I plan to temporarily set the heroes' "levels" (whatever that ends up meaning) to something appropriate for the challenge, then switch them back to whatever their progress was in story mode once they go back to that. All this is to say it would be great for there to be significant short-term progress within the optional challenges. The easiest way I can think of to accomplish this would be to make equipment a significant booster to the heroes' capabilities and generally start challenges with relatively low-level equipment.

To summarize, here are the "pros" of traditional XP for my game as I see it, which are things I would ideally hope to capture with any alternative system:

  • Sense of progress
  • Controlled learning curve for the player
  • Motivation to engage in battle

And here are the "cons" of traditional XP, which I would hope to avoid in switching to an alternative system:

  • Difficulty of balancing (can't be sure what level heroes are at during a given point)
  • Motivation to grind (yes, I realize that's almost the same as motivation to engage in battle)
  • Does not provide significant growth in short-term quests (or if it does, gives run-away growth in long-term campaign)

Thoughts, suggestions, things to add to the pros/cons lists?
@Aubrey
The solution is to have a fixed level while awarding the player with new spells one at a time, at fixed points throughout the game.

As for the roguelike quests, maybe what you can do is have your characters be level 1 for the entire main quest. Only the roguelike quests would award exp, and afterwards you'd revert their level back to 1.
author=zeello
As for the roguelike quests, maybe what you can do is have your characters be level 1 for the entire main quest. Only the roguelike quests would award exp, and afterwards you'd revert their level back to 1.


...That's actually not a half-bad idea. Unintuitive and a bit risky, but it has a certain merit. I wouldn't even have to leave it entirely out of story mode, just make levels something that the heroes gain during each specific quest and reset it when they enter a new one (I don't expect to have overworld combat, BTW). I've occasionally seen more action-oriented games have similar mechanics of requiring the player to grow in power from the start of each stage, Drill Dozer comes to mind.

Of course, I'd have to call it something significantly different than "experience points" to avoid the expectations that come with that. Something that evokes gathering momentum more so than permanently growing. Hmmm...
If the levels reset when entering a roguelike dungeon, this may drastically discourage the player from entering them. Having less overworld combat might not be a sufficient countermeasure since the player wouldn't really know you did that. It would also make it hard for you to balance.

One way might be to have difficult story battles that require the player to be at a high enough level, thereby making the rogue like dungeon effectively mandatory. However, after this difficult battle the player must revert back to level 1 (otherwise the player can just choose sustain their level for the rest of the game) and then the process would repeat, this time for a different "boss" and a different roguelike dungeon.
author=zeello
If the levels reset when entering a roguelike dungeon, this may drastically discourage the player from entering them. Having less overworld combat might not be a sufficient countermeasure since the player wouldn't really know you did that. It would also make it hard for you to balance.

One way might be to have difficult story battles that require the player to be at a high enough level, thereby making the rogue like dungeon effectively mandatory. However, after this difficult battle the player must revert back to level 1 (otherwise the player can just choose sustain their level for the rest of the game) and then the process would repeat, this time for a different "boss" and a different roguelike dungeon.



Lufai II's Ancient Cave not only reset you to level 1, it also took all bar special items from you and your skills/magic. It is highly addictive if done correctly.

The special items not taken are weapons/armour that can be found in blue treasure chests in the cave or ultra rare items found over the course of the game (like the Gades' Blade). All other spells, items and equipment are completely randomly generated so you could get a play through where you get only high tier spells that you can't use until you level up, or only first tier armour or a mix of weapons of every time. It's not unheard of to find an apron in a chest and the Valor spell in the next one.

That dungeon is one of the best and most addictive ones I've played. 100 floors of pure random and if you die you don't get to keep the blue chest treasure you found - instead you have to use an item you can find on floors 20-30 to warp out.
Why not just remove level entirely, and replace it with the following:

Players receive rewards for doing specific tasks.
Players unlock access to new areas/storyline for doing specific tasks.
unity
You're magical to me.
12403
author=Liberty
author=zeello
If the levels reset when entering a roguelike dungeon, this may drastically discourage the player from entering them. Having less overworld combat might not be a sufficient countermeasure since the player wouldn't really know you did that. It would also make it hard for you to balance.

One way might be to have difficult story battles that require the player to be at a high enough level, thereby making the rogue like dungeon effectively mandatory. However, after this difficult battle the player must revert back to level 1 (otherwise the player can just choose sustain their level for the rest of the game) and then the process would repeat, this time for a different "boss" and a different roguelike dungeon.
Lufai II's Ancient Cave not only reset you to level 1, it also took all bar special items from you and your skills/magic. It is highly addictive if done correctly.

The special items not taken are weapons/armour that can be found in blue treasure chests in the cave or ultra rare items found over the course of the game (like the Gades' Blade). All other spells, items and equipment are completely randomly generated so you could get a play through where you get only high tier spells that you can't use until you level up, or only first tier armour or a mix of weapons of every time. It's not unheard of to find an apron in a chest and the Valor spell in the next one.

That dungeon is one of the best and most addictive ones I've played. 100 floors of pure random and if you die you don't get to keep the blue chest treasure you found - instead you have to use an item you can find on floors 20-30 to warp out.


I want to make a game that works close to this, some day :D
Versalia
must be all that rtp in your diet
1405
author=Kombosabo
Why not just remove level entirely, and replace it with the following:Players receive rewards for doing specific tasks.
Players unlock access to new areas/storyline for doing specific tasks.


Wow, this is really fresh and unexpected!! I can't believe not a single post since the start of the thread has said anything like this.
it wasn't without its problems, but the system in The Longing Ribbon still kind of sticks with me as the seed of something interesting. battles do nothing for you, but every sink (yeah, sink!) you encounter lets you increase one of the limited stats your character has. what was interesting about that (to me, at least) was that in that game, the map changes subtly (at first) on a pretty regular basis -- and each time that happens, whatever sinks you can find count as 'new' ones, even if they're in the same space as ones you previously used. it helps that there are a good number of secret or hidden sinks, too; if the player's having trouble, they can go hunting and turn one up, you know?

I liked it, at least, even if there are a good few problems to it that I'm not a hundred percent sure how to address yet. making those level-up points into a single, recognizable object is necessary for clarity, but at the same time searching for a single object always makes me gloss over the rest of a map, and isn't very fun.

(that's not meant to be an exercise in beating up on an ancient game's design almost a decade after it was made. I feel like there's something neat there, and I really want to figure out how to bring it out.)
Just thought I throw in something I'm using in a small project I'm making now.

It's a story-based dungeon crawl thing focused on finding clues to proceed.

For every clue you find, puzzle you solve and monster you kill, your maximum health goes up.

Considering that there are no permanent healing skills, or shops (meaning limited healing items), this minor healing and health extension should be really useful.