BUTTON MASH - FORCING THE PLAYER TO USE DIFFERENT SKILLS

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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
In many RPGs, most characters have one skill that is most effective, and not many good reasons not to use it every round. Sometimes for physical characters that skill is just a normal attack. For mages and other characters who get upgrades to their skills as the game goes on, the best skill changes over the course of the game, but it's not really an improvement - you spend an hour or two where one skill is the best, then you spend an hour or two where another skill is the best, etc.

I find this boring. I prefer when games give the player reasons why they can't keep using the same skill over and over - I like to be doing something different every round. World of Warcraft gives cooldowns to all the skills you'd want to use over and over, so you have to rotate between different ones. Final Fantasy 13 gives you part of a free turn any time you change jobs in battle (and haven't changed jobs in the last 30 seconds), so that you aren't ever forced to stop what you're doing if it's working, but you get a direct benefit from choosing to constantly change it up. SaGa Frontier 2 has two types of MP, and regenerates both by a little bit every round, so that if you alternate between attacks that use different types of MP, you'll never run out. Even FF7 has limit breaks, while FF10 takes it a step further and makes sure that limit breaks can be used every few rounds even when you're not in danger.

A traditional MP system alone generally isn't enough to create real variety. It's better than nothing, and it's not impossible to make work; but typically either MP is easy to recover so you always use your strongest move, or MP is hard to recover so you always use your cheapest move. I like to see these kinds of more complex cost systems added as an extra layer to make sure the player is not getting bored by doing the same thing over and over. To me at least, having to alternate between a few skills is an improvement; having to actually put thought into the decision every single round is ideal.

Does this actually make games more interesting to you guys than mashing the same skill almost every round of almost every battle, and only stopping if something goes wrong or the enemy requires a different element? What other systems do you use, or have you seen, or can you imagine, that create a similar kind of result?
Versalia
must be all that rtp in your diet
1405
I'll point you to my Persona:Reverse blog in regards to the Sync system I use. Essentially, Sync is a second MP Source (we've all seen this used as "rage" etc). It assigns a Role to each Class, and that class earns more sync than usual for conforming to their role. Aisling, for example, has powerful physical and magical attacks, but her role is that of a Fencer ("dealing physical damage".) Because my game's mechanics are EXTRA punishing in regards to elemental resists, it's obviously not your advantage to use just one element all the time (in this case, physical), and her Sync Role makes spamming Water magic against Water-Weak enemies less rewarding than mixing up the strategy.

Now, in general, I don't think it's an issue if a character has one solid ability that is more often than not their go-to attack. This doesn't mean "best strategy equals spam Firaga," but you need to have forms of attack that are reliable and constant. Etrian Odyssey has a good setup here. They give you a skill tree to progress through, so you build onto the skills you've already acquired. Each new skill allows you to interact with the other skills in a new way. I think that's the key - not necessarily giving players new skills constantly, or even forcing them to use different skills altogether, but forcing them to use the same skills in a different way. (Note that Sub-Classing is key to their use of skill synergies. No one class can use all of their own skills to 100% effectiveness.)


having to actually put thought into the decision every single round is ideal
For a boss fight, maybe; but for normal fights, thinking about every action every round is nightmarish - more Final Fantasy Tactics than I'm usually willing to put up with in a non-Tactics game.

About MP: What if Firaga overwrites Fira overwrites Fire? If the setting is similar to what I've chosen (highly restricted healing inside dungeons), then MP expenditures become far more important. You don't HAVE the option of using the cheapest version over and over. If you play hard rather than playing smart, you'll blow your entire MP pool.
There's nothing wrong with having a character just use the same skill over and over again. In fact, in some cases, I'd even call it the result of good game design.

Look at Etrian Odyssey, for instance. If I have a Gladiator, his role is physical damage. Most of his turns are going to be "Charge, *attack skill*" over and over, because that's what he's there for. Is this somehow detrimental to tactics? No, not really. Someone needs to be smashing faces; all of the other characters are doing the fancy things. If you're fancy, you might get a Ninja/Pirate who is using "Clone self, lower defense, then use Pincushion," where Pincushion=Face Smash, but that's really just a variant strategy.

If you made Face Smash have a cooldown, then I'd just have to use another, worse skill, or I'd just have to rotate X skills so that Face Smash's cooldown ended just before I wanted to use it again. Say it had a cooldown of two turns. Then I'd be doing Berserker Vow -> Charge -> Face Smash. Congratulations! Now, what does this actually *do*, other than making sure that I'm only actually doing damage every three rounds? Is this really what we want to accomplish here?

(There's something to be said for that, of course; there's lots of little ways to screw with any plan that requires set-up, and that's something a player has to consider in tactics. For instance, if the enemy also has Charge, and you need to block so he does not wreck you, which causes you to waste your own Charge, or if the enemy has figured out the Defend command and can see your use of Charge. Then you can even get fancy and have the player figure out how to fake out the AI so they don't ever stop blocking. But that has to be what the designer is going for and not just an unintended side effect.)

My feeling is the exact opposite. I don't want Bolt 1, Bolt 2, and Bolt 3 along with multi-target versions of the above. I want Bolt Dude and Bolt All of Those Dudes. Ideally, there will be some sort of skill tree situation such that I can decide just how much Bolt Dude I want at any point, and can make it stronger (to a point) if Dudes just aren't getting Bolted sufficiently any more. Or, if you must have Bolt 2, make sure that I can decide when I want Bolt 2. Then there's a point where you can let us have a bit of fun with something we probably aren't supposed to have yet.

Don't give us lots of choices. Give us a smaller number of choices with more meaning. You don't want me using Face Smash over and over? Then give me situations where I want to be using Smash Armored Face or Smash Hard-to-Hit Face, or put me in a situation where I have to carefully consider how much Face I want to Smash because of low HP tactics triggers, or environmental situations, or statuses, or the fact that I've been fighting through a dungeon and am therefore conserving my precious supply of Face Smash. Make buffs and debuffs easily accessible and necessary. Make statuses interesting. Make multiple enemies. Give simple tools and a multitude of situations in which they may be applied in interesting ways.

And, most importantly of all, consider whether added "depth" is actually changing the number of choices available, or if it's just obscuring the same choice behind a layer of illusionary complexity. The illusion of depth is almost as much of an evil as no depth; it causes serious problems when it comes to making your game intuitive, and "intuitive" is what makes, for example, Shigeru Miyamoto ridiculously rich. You are making RPGs, but there are still lessons to be learned from Mario.

My two cents as a player and an amateur designer. Hopefully this is half-way coherent. (Man, that's a lot longer than I originally intended...)


(To digress for a moment... Saga Frontier 2 is a terrible example to use, by the way. Y'see, here's a dark secret of the mechanics: Your JP - 'spell MP' - is set to the amount provided by your equipment if it's below that at the end of battle. So, if you're playing optimally, you should be using only Hybrid Arts and Spells for random battles, because this makes WP and JP no concern at all. Plus, spells are stronger at low JP anyway, so this even serves to "prime" your magic attackers for stronger enemies. Against said stronger enemies, you use the strongest sequence of Arts you have that works out in a combo. Love that game, but bad example.)
kentona
Your mom is a hero
20851
having to actually put thought into the decision every single round is ideal

I too would find this tedious.

And, in defense of button mashing, sometimes it is fun to see just how awesome your characters are as they plow through hordes of enemies using their beefed up awesome killing skills!

*makes Whirlwind Barb* *wins game*
Sounds interesting, LockeZ, but sort of hard to pull off without being as equally tiresome as using the same skills in repetition.
author=kentona
having to actually put thought into the decision every single round is ideal
I too would find this tedious.

And, in defense of button mashing, sometimes it is fun to see just how awesome your characters are as they plow through hordes of enemies using their beefed up awesome killing skills!

*makes Whirlwind Barb* *wins game*

*cast Iron Maiden*
why the fuck do people post so many paragraphs in these game design threads lately, it'd be nice if there was some brevity

I like to be doing something different every round. World of Warcraft gives cooldowns to all the skills you'd want to use over and over, so you have to rotate between different ones.


press button 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3... See how repetitive that sounds even though mr. variety pitched in? Just tailor some skills to specific situations and even if they're spammed the player is rewarded for exploiting their full effectiveness. Games like persona 3/4 get away with it, and it's enough. Most light RPGs are more about preparation/customization than anything else. I agree with Kentona that if battles are too complex they just become annoying.
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
Normal fights are definitely exactly the point in RPGs that I think benefit most from this. In bosses, you already have to think about each round, because the boss itself generally has some gimmicks or strategies that you have to respond to. Normal battles are where I get insanely bored because it's just the same thing over and over with no thought. FF12 recognized this problem but solved it in the wrong way - by making it so that if you're just going to do the same thing over and over every round anyway, it lets you automate it. But I'd rather, you know, have every battle be interesting and engaging.

I'll grant that alternating between the same two or three skills isn't a whole lot better than just always using the same one. I do think it's somewhat better, though. The optimal solution is to involve actual thought rather than just obvious rotations, but of course if the player is put in the same situation enough times he will eventually figure out the optimal solution to that situation and repeat it from then on. So I guess part of the answer to this problem has to be not putting the player in the same exact situations so many times.

World of Warcraft is really the example I like best. Cooldowns make everything feel much more dynamic. Sure, there's an optimal "rotation" of skills, but there's so much depth to the system that it takes until well after max level for most players to find theirs, and there are extremely few fights where you can actually use said rotation without the boss throwing your shit out of whack. That said, WoW combat is still far from perfect, especially when doing single-player content.
Versalia
must be all that rtp in your diet
1405
author=Darken
why the fuck do people post so many paragraphs in these game design threads lately


do you need a tampon for that?
I agree with a lot of what Einander said (excellently written, btw), but I don't like the idea of getting rid of your lower level spells. Yes, it does clutter up your spell list when you have to scroll through "Fire 1, Fire 2, Fire 3", etc, but I think the failing isn't that you have them, it's that there aren't enough opportunities to use your lower level spells once you get the next level up. This, I think, is a mistake on the part of the game creator. I like my options to be open in a fight, and until someone figures out a sliding power indicator that lets me choose how powerful an attack I want my fire spell to be, I'd rather have multiple levels of the same spell that I can use differently in different situations.

An example off the top of my head: Let's say you're fighting an ice monster. Obviously you go for your most powerful fire spell to melt the bastard's face. Ah, but what's this? He's right next to a monster that explodes when struck with fire, dealing your party massive damage, and your high level fire spell always has splash damage! What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

You use your lowest level fire spell, of course, thus melting frozen face and keeping you and your buddies alive. Man, aren't you glad you held on to that weak little spell?

And so on.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have a system that replaces each level spell with the next, but I enjoy a system that makes clever use of the spells I've already learned, giving me more control over a battle and pushing me to use a bit of strategy. Not for every fight, no; this seems to be something a lot of people agree on, you don't want to bog the player down with fight after fight of mental challenge. But every once in a while, it's fun to see something clever and new, something that makes me think. It keeps the game from getting "grindy", and makes the entire experience more fun.

TL;DR - Options are good, but don't overdo it.
@ubermax: Speaking of multiple levels for the same spell, there are two examples of that:

* Shining Force: There's a limit to the level that spells can reach (usually 4, 2, or 1), but at least the option to choose different levels of a spell is there once it ascends to a higher level.
* Disgaea: For each new level of a spell, the target range expands, allowing it to affect multiple targets for a higher MP cost.
author=Einander
Great Wall of Text

This is a great reply.

I've thought a lot about this before, and Ein has nailed a lot of points that I considered as a response. If you take a fully cynical approach to things, choice is always an illusion. There will always be a skill, or an order in which to perform skills, which will provide optimal damage dealt while sustaining acceptable losses. This is true from Final Fantasy I to World of Warcraft.

The reason WoW can be fun and engaging goes beyond skill choices. They're fully aware that people know the optimal skill rotations to pump out the most damage, so that's why encounters are based around several mechanics:

1) Type of damage (only physical or only magic damage can damage a target)
2) Positioning (pump out as much DPS as you can while moving to avoid attacks)
3) Endurance (bosses with high health pool that burn through healer and mage mana, sometimes called DPS race)
4) Buff/debuff management (dispel that poison, silence that spellcast, stand in the glow for the buff)
5) Phase changes (it can be easy to get into the groove of a particular phase of a battle, then the phase change hits and you're back to square one, time to step your game up)
6) Unique conditions (add management, interacting with objects, or meeting other conditions not directly related to causing damage to the boss)

I read Ein's first sentence and was taken aback at first. Then as he went on with his point I realized that he's probably right. Instead of giving players the illusion of choice, give them what they need to put out the best numbers under optimal conditions, then change those conditions.

The most basic condition, enemy weaknesses, is not useful for giving the player choice, it's useful for introducing them to the concept of changing conditions. Fire is no longer the optimal choice against this fire enemy, use an ice spell. Once that is established (as it already is in the mind of every person who's played any rpg ever), you can still use it, but up the ante a bit. Make enemies change weaknesses, or respond to them in new ways, and make the consequences of getting it wrong more dire. Here's an example:

That Fireball you fought earlier ran to its Firemom, and now she's pissed. So she's blazing you as normal, and you cast your ice spell. It hits hard as it should, but now she's enraged and hits your whole party for more each than she would regularly hit a regular person. You realize this isn't sustainable, so you heal up and try some other things and soon realize that you have nothing in your arsenal that can put out that same amount of damage. Maybe you don't feel like weaning her health down little by little knowing instinctively that there's a better solution, or maybe she gets a strength buff each turn so time is a factor. Maybe after putting up some defenses, you try the ice spell again, she responds the same way, and she hits two of your characters and misses the other. You realize she might have accuracy problems when enraged. So you try to blind her, throw up a fog spell or something, and now she's whiffing at air when you blast her with ice. At this point, you know your optimal ability, and you use it until a) she's dead, or b) there's a phase change and you need to find a new strategy.

I think that's a good example of knowing what skills need to be used, and using them after establishing favorable conditions to do so.

Alternative skill currency systems are all ok (WoW uses them to differing effects), but I agree with Ein in that merely using them to mitigate skill use is an illusion of choice, and can be frustrating to a player if they feel like they're just being forced to use a skill that's weaker because the one the want to use is overpowered. What's more important is that each player has in their itinerary something that can be used in most any condition. If your monk can't do physical damage to an enemy in present conditions, what else can he do? Can he help heal while you work on a strategy? Can he do buffs or debuffs? Can he help draw away some of the enemy's attacks if you want to try something else? If not, can your other party members create a condition under which the monk can do what he was designed to do?

I think that degree of thought should be put into each encounter.

author=ubermax
I'm not saying you shouldn't have a system that replaces each level spell with the next, but I enjoy a system that makes clever use of the spells I've already learned, giving me more control over a battle and pushing me to use a bit of strategy. Not for every fight, no; this seems to be something a lot of people agree on, you don't want to bog the player down with fight after fight of mental challenge. But every once in a while, it's fun to see something clever and new, something that makes me think. It keeps the game from getting "grindy", and makes the entire experience more fun.

Agreed with this, and others who mentioned thinks like it like Versalia. Lower level spells should be thought of as the optimal spell if you have the ability to buff a person's magic or skill with that particular spell to great heights, making it a faaaaaar better with cost-to-damage ratio than the big nukes. Such nukes are ideally set up to blast the enemy when there's an opportunity to cause more damage with your spells via buff or enemy weakness.

author=LockeZ
Normal fights are definitely exactly the point in RPGs that I think benefit most from this. In bosses, you already have to think about each round, because the boss itself generally has some gimmicks or strategies that you have to respond to. Normal battles are where I get insanely bored because it's just the same thing over and over with no thought. FF12 recognized this problem but solved it in the wrong way - by making it so that if you're just going to do the same thing over and over every round anyway, it lets you automate it. But I'd rather, you know, have every battle be interesting and engaging.

I didn't talk much about non-boss fights =. But a game that actually handled this very well was FF13. The fights were specifically set up so that you'd encounter a new area's enemies in small numbers, or alone. They give you a chance to scan for the enemy's weakness, find out the best skills to use. Then, as you progress through a zone, new enemies are introduced, more enemies are put in a group, and then they start combining them. Some of these fights require new strategies, such as determining which group of enemies you need to take out first, which buffs you need to survive attacks in the mean time, finding out if you need a healer from the start or have time to deal out some damage and buffs before healing up. In essence there IS a strategy to each zone, which may or may not correlate with the boss fight, but at least keeps you engaged in the meantime.
DBA: I know, but the argument is that there's precious few opportunities to use those lower level spells for any effect that isn't made immediately better by choosing your most powerful version. The same goes for weapons, most times. Sure, you can have a weapon that's strong against a certain type of monster but weak against others, but all that goes out the window when you get your Master Sword, or what have you.

The only example I can think of where a game made clever use of weapons was in FFIX, where you come to an upsidedown castle and all the monsters are only weak to your lowest level weapon. I want to see more like that, where even the weak can be made strong in the right moment.
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
I love the responses so far and I think I agree with pretty much every single suggestion made by Einander and S.F. LaValle, except that I think making the player's "default" skill choices in the absence of outside factors be more varied and less repetitive (as stated in the original post) is still good to do as well. Making encounters more interesting and varied to force players to switch things up is awesome - but making skills themselves also be more interesting and varied can only help, right?
LockeZ: It can help or hinder, it all depends on how it's done. If you throw a bunch of spells at people, filling up their spell book with "Fire level 1-9", then do nothing to keep those lower level spells useful, it'll just annoy the player. If a game maker's not going to keep them useful, they might as well go the "Fire spell 1 becomes Fire spell 2" route.

Edit: And for the love of god, if you're going to have spells that effect status (i.e. blind, confuse, poison) make them useful! I hate it when in an FF game I'm given access to all these abilities, but it ends up a crap shoot on whether or not they'll work.
The real challenge in pulling this off is in a game with flexible character customization and all of the sudden, the player decides to have a character specialize in a specific role, whatever it may be.
author=LockeZ
I love the responses so far and I think I agree with pretty much every single suggestion made by Einander and S.F. LaValle, except that I think making the player's "default" skill choices in the absence of outside factors be more varied and less repetitive (as stated in the original post) is still good to do as well. Making encounters more interesting and varied to force players to switch things up is awesome - but making skills themselves also be more interesting and varied can only help, right?

Absolutely, it's all about how they are used. In WoW, your skills are all used as the rotation. They aren't choices so much as tools, and using them correctly determines how successful you are. This becomes less-emphasized in slower-paced combat, so you probably don't need to have the sheer number of abilities WoW does, but if you do, just think about establishing conditions that make them effective.

author=DBAce9Aura
The real challenge in pulling this off is in a game with flexible character customization and all of the sudden, the player decides to have a character specialize in a specific role, whatever it may be.

You certainly don't want to set up players to fail that bad, no. If players have the opportunity to specialize the characters that dramatically, and it becomes apparent that they don't have the healing power, for example, for a fight, you should allow them the ability to change specialties. If not the ability to change specialties, any combination of characters should at least have the tools to dig in and turtle their way through a long fight that they are not very effective in.

Ideally, specializations should be elastic, in that they could be stretched wide so a character has a wide variety of abilities to help survive a fight, though not efficiently, OR they can follow one path so absolutely that if causing pure damage mayhem is their function, they also have tools that create more opportunities to do so. Healing may be hard, but the increased damage output should ensure fights don't last as long. That sort of thing.
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
So, as a belated example of what I mean, I'm making a character in my game right now who uses guns. The current plan is that she can equip three different types of ammo. She gets only one bullet at a time with each, and there are several skills that use each type of ammo. She also gets a Reload command that reloads all her ammo of all types (and also defends). In this system, it's obviously best, but not required, to use a skill with every bullet before she reloads. So the player is usually using three different skills before reloading. And because most of these skills have a 100% chance to inflict a status effect that lasts 6 or more rounds, you typically won't be using the same 3 skills again after reloading, either.

Is this an unhelpful layer of complexity? I feel like it is more fun and also goes a long way toward simply keeping the player paying attention, but perhaps some of you would have more fun with infinite ammo, spamming Sure Shot every round of most normal battles, and only deviating in boss fights or when the monster did something weird?
author=LockeZ
So, as a belated example of what I mean, I'm making a character in my game right now who uses guns. The current plan is that she can equip three different types of ammo. She gets only one bullet at a time with each, and there are several skills that use each type of ammo. She also gets a Reload command that reloads all her ammo of all types (and also defends). In this system, it's obviously best, but not required, to use a skill with every bullet before she reloads. So the player is usually using three different skills before reloading. And because most of these skills have a 100% chance to inflict a status effect that lasts 6 or more rounds, you typically won't be using the same 3 skills again after reloading, either.

Is this an unhelpful layer of complexity? I feel like it is more fun and also goes a long way toward simply keeping the player paying attention, but perhaps some of you would have more fun with infinite ammo, spamming Sure Shot every round of most normal battles, and only deviating in boss fights or when the monster did something weird?


I don't think the complexity of that is a problem. A player will get used to what they can accomplish with that character in the most efficient way. The question will be, will conditions exist to use her optimally? You throw up buffs or debuffs, which are good for 6 rounds. Does she have something to contribute when those are all up? Or if they are ineffective?

You see, the conditions preempt these decisions. In a boss fight, players know they want the buffs and the debuffs, so they lay them out. In regular fights, they know the party has the collective strength to button-mash to victory, so they'll use whatever she has that gets the fight over quicker. In THIS situation, forcing them to pay attention to which rounds she's spent creates the frustration, it's safer to have something they can spam. It doesn't have to deal optimal damage, just some; they'll employ party-wide tactics if they want to end battles one or more turns sooner. They will gauge if the extra turns are worth being able to button mash.
People have mentioned thinking in boss fights, but one thing that I've noticed is that a lot of the thinking is almost immediate. I notice two characters need healing and almost always I can decide who or which will do the healing before I even get to make the choices. Even in situations where more than one character can accomplish a needed task, you usually have an order of preference. If something interrupts that order, pick the next one on the line. The most simple example of that is that you want to heal, but white mage have to refresh the defense up buff, so you let thief use a potion instead since he's faster than fighter and black mage and also deals less damage anyway.

In those cases, you can make the decisions as the situations arises. Unless you need to think forward more than one turn, chance is you wont actually have to stop and think for more than a second or two, if even that.

If you're afraid that forcing people to think on every random battle makes them boring, then try this; make it so that the player has to change up his tactics for every battle, but make the decision process simple enough so that the player can make those decisions while the animations play out and don't have to stop and think when it's time to issue commands.
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