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Disposable equipment

One of the things I've pondered as a mechanic for Forgotten Gates is disposable equipment. It's a lesser-used but still not-unheard-of mechanic for RPGs: as you make use of a weapon, armor, or other piece of equipment, it becomes dulled, battered, or otherwise unusable. Some games will gradually decrease the effectiveness of the equipment as it is used, and perhaps allow the player to repair it to full strength periodically. Others simply give a piece of equipment a limited number of uses, and when it's used up, it's gone. Fire Emblem is a decently well-known game series that uses this mechanic, and apparently the latest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, also follows this paradigm. (I know, I know, I'm making a Zelda fan game and I haven't played BotW yet? How shameful.)

There are several reasons why disposable equipment might be a good fit for Forgotten Gates. Stealing weapons from enemies or simply receiving them as item drops when they die is one of the game's existing features. If weapons are imperishable, then it might feel good the first time you acquire a particular weapon, and to a lesser degree again until you get enough for all the heroes who can wield it, but after that getting more of it would just be market fodder. If weapons are an expendable resource, though, then gaining more of them has more meaning. It allows me to be more generous with weapon drops, instead of making it a lucky event that could take beating just one monster or dozens. It also has some interplay with Shemri's Throw ability which I mentioned last time. Players would be a lot more willing to Throw weapons if they would inevitably lose them to deterioration anyway, and they'd get to feel clever for Throwing weapons that only have one or two uses left.

An argument could be made that disposable equipment meshes well also with the unusual "reset levels with every quest" rule I'm planning on too. I'm not entirely sure yet whether equipment should be carried over from one quest to another. At the very least, any quests that are one-off challenges having nothing to do with the plot should likely have their own specially defined starting equipment and further equipment to be found during the course of the quest. That being the case, it would be easier to design the challenges around extra equipment being a temporary boost, rather than a permanent one which lasts for the remainder of the quest. The latter could make finding and acquiring the extra equipment early on too critical of a need.

All this sounds great when discussed from a pure design standpoint, but there's a huge technical problem: RM2K3's item system isn't built to accomodate equipment deterioration. There are several ways I can think of to deal with this problem, all of them having significant disadvantages.

  • Use "skill scrolls". I say RM2K3 isn't built for equipment deterioration, but it does have one built-in feature that's similar. Skill scrolls, which are items that invoke a certain skill when used, can be set to have up to five uses. That's not a whole lot, but depending on the frequency of weapon drops/finds, it might be workable. However, skill scrolls can't be equipped, just used, so they wouldn't contribute to passive attributes like defensive stats. Also, the player would have to choose their weapon to attack with every time by looking into the item menu. Very awkward.
  • Treat the number of items in the inventory as the number of uses available. This would take a little under-the-hood manipulation, but it wouldn't be too hard to subtract one from the inventory count of a piece of equipment every time it's used. That way, having 10 swords in the inventory doesn't "mean" having literally 10 swords, it means having 10 uses left of your sword. The trouble there is, there's nothing stopping the player from equipping that "same" sword to multiple different heroes. It's also wierd for the Throw ability. If using a weapon normally costs 1 weapon too, why wouldn't you use Throw as much as possible? I could make it so that Throw uses a higher count of the weapon, but then it would just feel like a more expensive version of a basic attack.

  • Make equipment breakage a random event. This is a less intuitive solution, but it's one of the easiest to implement. If equipment simply has a chance of breaking every time it's used, there's no need to keep track of how many uses are left. The downside is, a run of bad luck could leave a player very low on equipment, and a shiny new toy could break on the first use. I could mitigate this somewhat by providing another type of item, more common than the weapons themselves, that can be used to repair broken equipment, but it would still leave the player cursing the RNG on occasion. There also wouldn't be times when the player knows they're close to using up a weapon and thus are encouraged to Throw it.

  • Implement a custom item system. At the end of the day, I can do nearly anything with DynRPG, so if I want a system which tracks the durability of each individual weapon in the inventory, then Link's cap, I can make it! I could even get really fancy with it and turn item storage into a mini-game, where the player has to arrange items of different sizes and shapes into a limited space in their backpack. "This axe only has a few uses left and it's an awkward shape, so I guess I'll toss it in favor of keeping these potions I just found," etc. That would really start to evoke a spirit of Rogue-like resource management, although it could be an irksome distraction from the main meat of the gameplay. Regardless of the exact details, though, the big problem with a custom item system would be that it's a TON OF WORK to implement! I'd have to create an entirely new menu system that's available both inside and outside of battle. I'd have to replace the equipping menu too, since it normally relies on the built-in inventory. All in all it seems a lot of effort and delay for a small mechanical gain that a lot of players may not even like.

As a note, I've talked about this mainly in regard to weapons, but there's no reason it can't apply to shields, armor, headgear, and accessories as well. Doesn't necessarily mean it should, though. Accessories especially I could imagine being very irksome to have to replace, although if they could be repaired it might not be so bad.

So what are your thoughts? Does managing equipment as a limited resource appeal to you, or would you rather just keep your stuff for the rest of the game once you acquire it? If you do want breakable equipment, do you have a preference amongst the above methods of implementation, or can you think of another way it might be done?


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Brainwave on this. I've come up with a variation on the second of the above methods which would be a bit more workable.

  • Have multiple copies of each breakable equipment in the inventory and allow the player to have only one of each copy at a time. In other words, the first time the player finds a particular sword, they'd see one of it in the inventory; the second time, they'd see two singular, separate swords of the same name in the inventory; and so on.

    If you're quick on the uptake, you might now be wondering, how then would I know when a piece of equipment should break? Well, I'd have to track that with variables, which shouldn't be terribly difficult. The tricky part would be how the player could know how many uses are remaining. I could leave it up to the player to remember how many times they've already used a particular piece of equipment, which some would argue could make for intriguing gameplay -- "I know this weapon is close to the breaking point, should I Throw it, or risk a couple more whacks first?" But I think it'd probably be more aggravating than fun for most players. So it's DynRPG to the rescue again! As I track how many uses an item has remaining, I should also be able to rename that item with the number of uses left. It would look something like "Flamberge (4)". Since each item would be a separate entity in the database and in the inventory as shown to the player, I'd be able to show the uses remaining individually.

    It's not an entirely perfect system still. I'd need to have quite a few copies of each breakable item, say at least 20, and I'd have to track their uses with variables. That won't take nearly as many variables as you might think thanks to my data compression algorithm, but it'll be a little work to set up a system for handling it. Letting the player buy equipment will be tricky too, since in the shop menu provided by RM2K3 they can buy as many of a particular item they want so long as they have the cash for it. At first I was thinking I'd have to have an entirely custom shop system, at least for breakable items, but as I was writing this I thought of an easier solution: have one copy of each breakable item reserved as a "shop" version, let the player buy as many as they like, then immediately after shopping call an event which checks how many items were bought and distributes them as "working" versions of that item. It would also have to alert the player if they bought more than the maximum (another minor quirk of this system) and refund them, which would be a little less convenient than the shop system stopping them from buying them in the first place. Still, I think this might be an acceptable solution.
A couple of notes for you on this kind of idea:

1. Fire Emblem does this, every weapon has a number next to it telling you how many uses it has left - it's a mechanic that's been in the fire emblem series basically forever - and often forces you to use cheaper/worse weapons as if you just go for the best stuff you can't outfit your whole army.

2. BOTW as you noted above has a system like this, the reason for it in BOTW is that you arm yourself primarily by taking equipment from enemies, and basically every enemy can drop their weapon and if weapons didn't break you'd very quickly have far too much gear + if weapons didn't break you wouldn't experiment with different gear you'd just use the best sword you'd found for the whole game. In BOTW it doesn't tell you how many uses are remaining BUT it does give you a warning message when there's only a couple of hits left (and the weapon starts flashing red in your inventory screen).
Indeed. One of the peculiar things about how Fire Emblem handles it is that a unit can switch its currently equipped weapon without penalty. The only potential downside is that once you've taken action with that weapon, you're stuck with it while the enemy side takes their action, so they could take advantage of the game's rock-paper-scissors weapon priority system, attack from long range while you're armed with a short-range weapon, etc. I'm sure you know all this already, I'm just stating it for general discussion.

In Forgotten Gates, I could probably mimic this by using RM2K3's option to activate a skill when a weapon is "used" from the Item menu in battle. The skill would both switch out the actor's current weapon and act like the standard Fight skill. I unfortunately wouldn't be able to let the player switch weapons and use whatever skill or ability they like, but letting them do a basic attack would at least make weapon switching a bit less costly of a move.

The visual warning of BotW is an interesting approach too. I could theoretically use a battle animation to indicate to the player that a weapon is close to breaking. Still, I think I'd better have a way for them to look at a weapon in the menu and see how many uses it has left, since there are four heroes at a time in this game all using various weapons as opposed to traditional Zelda's one.
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