Screenshot Saturday 4

Hmm. I don't know, the EP count placement just seems unintuitive to me. They're basically communal SP on a different numerical scale; having to look down when considering whether you have enough SP and up when considering whether you have enough EP seems strange. Moving them closer together would be better. I can't really suggest where to put them without an idea of how the menus open up and such, but perhaps above the menu shown?

Bugfixes? I hope?

I've had encounters on the fifth floor of a Normal six-floor run crash before entering battle three times so far. Two times were on the 'ruin' level Triopolis Trifecta Triumverate (sic; 'triumvirate,' from Latin for 'three man'), the third was on the ice level Czarina's Fortress. The crash was consistent on the first two times; both times, when I came up the stairs and fought the bottom tunnel skeleton, it would crash and give me a system message. I don't have that save or the message it gave me, sadly, and I didn't spend the hour to test whether it happened if I fought something else first. It did happen even after quicksaving and loading the quicksave on that floor, though.

I do have the message on the Czarina Fortress crash, though. This crash happened on the skeleton right before the blue wall button.

"Script 'YEM Battle Engine Melody IV' line 2096: NoMethodError occured

undefined method 'viewport B' for nil:NilClass"

If possible, could you note the skill cooldowns somewhere in-game? That really impacts some purchasing decisions, but the game structure means you can't exactly save and check most of the time.

I'm not sure if it's intended behavior, but... If you one-shot Czarina (Stratego + Bane Machine + Attack buff + Lava Lane does about 3600), she says her standard "PUNCH YOU" line about five times in a row. I know that's because it's triggered by passing HP benchmarks, though, and it is kind of funny when it happens, so I don't really mind.

My general impressions on power levels so far:
Top: Jesse, Vaunea

Good: Seth, Marcia, Carmilla, Terra, Wish, Olsen, Ulyssa

Weak: Ersatz, Leon, Garret, Jasper

Bottom: Nadia, Padrick, Myra

My thoughts, in more detail. (Apologies if I sound like a jerk, I tend to be blunt when I'm doing analysis.)

Stratego is absurd, and Bane Machine perhaps even more so; Stratego has more widespread applications, but Bane Machine annihilates a single enemy, especially with Lava Lane. Jesse lacks variety, but Fire seems to be the best element to specialize in from the enemies so far. Vaunea's stuns are useful and quite cheap on energy.

Seth, Carmilla, and Wish have a lot of elemental variety; Seth starts with more variety than some characters can ever get! Seth and Carmilla in particular hit very hard, while Wish is just generally good. Terra's a little slow to start, but get her to Charge and her cooldown woes are alleviated significantly. Ulyssa is Shutdown Queen, especially once you get the physical stun for single-target damage. Olsen's just generally solid; she lacks variety, but what she does have is good. Marcia is, again, just generally solid. Physical is consistently good, and so is Wind, mostly because the basic Wind attack spell is amazing.

Ersatz... Well, Tundra is absurd, and his earth/light selection is pretty decent. But Earth is pretty common, and he starts out with absolutely no variety. Defense debuffs are good but not that good. Tundra is good enough that he gets used consistently anyway if it works on the present enemies. Garret has a good skill selection, but he has no offensive ability whatsoever to start, since he can't hit weaknesses; it makes using him unpleasant for a while unless he's on a very offensive team. The fact Leon does the most damage to things that murder him, and that doing that damage makes them murder him specifically more often, is kind of a problem. He doesn't do enough damage to offset that. And Jasper starts out horribly, horribly inferior to Seth, and that pretty much never changes. He's Seth with a worse starting Darkness skill and slightly better physical, but physical is something that's dime a dozen. He feels like party filler.

The bsaic Wind attack spell is amazing! But Nadia has nothing other than Wind and support. Sure, you can reduce the MP costs of others, but since the Wind spell is so good, you're probably going to buy it with most of the characters who can have it. That makes Nadia pointless outside of helping to one-turn the poor worm boss. Padrick has Garret's problem, but Garret starts with an actual moveset, if an uninspiring one. Padrick starts out almost as a joke character. Again, Impact is good but not that good. If Padrick has Garret's problem, though, Myra is the poster child. I'm sure she's very good if you can get the skills! (The lightning and ice spells in particular are damn good.) But her starting moveset is atrocious. Her one attack does good damage, but it also has a Cooldown of 5 or so; it means that, on average, she does the least damage by a big, big margin. If she had a second attack instead of one of her other two skills, she'd be significantly better off, especially if it was one of the aforementioned 'damn good' skills. HP is much harder to restore than energy, so I think you'd be safe chopping a turn off of the cooldowns of the HP cast skills.

I'm enjoying it so far, though the crashes are kind of disheartening; that's pretty much been how all six or so of my games have ended. That's the risk of playing a demo, though.

Button Mash - Forcing the player to use different skills

I'm trying to implement a rather simple idea to get people to use defensive skills. It works like this; if they only use offense and healing and don't use any damage mitigation skills, they get a game over. Enemies will kill them, either by overwhelming them or by eating trough all healing.

The way you're phrasing this sets off blaring alarms, because it sounds like it started at "man, I want my game to be tactical" and ended at "'tactical' means the player uses the right approach to solve a problem." That is distinctly the wrong approach to take as a designer.

Tactics is about making meaningful choices. If you're always going to be one-shot unless you use Buff X, then there's no choice. You use it or you die. It rapidly becomes a tedious chore. "Press X to not die" in turn-based RPG form.

Why should simply healing it away not be an option, for example? Sure, it might mandate that you pick tougher party members, or that you wear heavier armor. Sure, it might be harder. That's fine. You can offer secondary choices that are worse for the player. But why should you work to eliminate it entirely as an option? Does it offend you that players might not play the game "the right way"? Because if that's the case, then you need to think very, very carefully about what you're trying to do here. It's a game, not a movie.

Button Mash - Forcing the player to use different skills

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.)

New Who Is? format: Who is Blaise?

It seems to me that there are two main dangers with blanket allowance of status effects: Poison and Rage/Berserk. I assume that both are traditional forms (i.e, percentage damage and "you use your normal attack instead of spells or abilities")? The former wrecks bosses for obvious reasons (see Tales of Symphonia, where nothing in the game had poison resistance), while the latter is nasty against pretty much everything; even physical bosses have serious problems with losing all of their abilities.

Plus it just potentially makes strategy uninteresting, since "enrage, buff ally defense/debuff opponent attack like mad, and use ST heals" will work on any single target that doesn't have Rage immunity or a programmed "hell no" response. (Case of the latter: Berserking Omniscient in FFV. IIRC, he hits harder than most of the actual 'physical' bosses.) It's just very simple and effective.

(Etrian Odyssey had one of my favorite implementations of poison: it isn't percentage, it's flat damage dealt at end of turn. That made it balanced against both strong enemies and weak ones. At some points, Poison was actually considered flat-out broken in the earlier games. Max the group-poison spell, one-shot everything! Then take advantage of retiring to switch them out for another specialization and bonus stat/ability points once Poison's damage stops being insane.)

Sleep is also a little problematic in any series with good buffs, on account of the fact that even kinds of sleep broken by attacks allow you free set-up; oftentimes, that's the single most threatening part of any fight.

That said, I certainly don't mind as a player. They're interesting tools. I'm also liking the character in light of that; Sympathizer and Chains of Love are both "whoa" levels of good (I'm assuming you need statuses for both parts of Chains? probably better to restate the description as an "if" clause), and Impassion is also really good. He's also dapper as hell. I can appreciate a man with a good sense of dress. (Even if he also has bad sense in hair dye. That probably doesn't help the teasing. He also needs to straighten his shirt, it's really crooked. It's either long on him or he's got some stomach showing under his rad coat.)

I'm a little iffy on Rain Dance, though. I'm just not fond of "truly random" things. It's one thing if you can influence it, like a low-accuracy attack that can either have the user's accuracy buffed or enemy's evade lowered, but I doubt there's any such way to control Rain Dance. I'd say it adds some elemental variety, but the big use you'll want for it is getting around enemies that have some level of Wind resist, and then you're playing roulette with your turn count that action round. So you'll probably just end up using statuses instead (especially with Chains of Love) unless they're weak to Water or Lightning but don't resist any of the three. That's kind of a narrow niche. I honestly see myself mostly using it for quickly testing elemental resists.

Who is Lysander?

Changes? In response to little old me? I feel so special. :D

Oh, okay, I was guessing it was RTP from the style. Still. Holy crap, those shoulders. It feels a little weird to say 'why is the head so small?', but perhaps that's a sign of too much anime.

I like this version better. ST healing should definitely be any healer's focus, and I feel like the change in focus also helps raise the importance of Gaia Link. It also encourages vigilance on the player's part. I definitely like Sukumai, that's an interesting spell. (Should have commented on it previously, but the squeaky hinge and the oil.) The change to give him more offensive 'oomph' is good as well. Soulspring will probably ensure he stays in my party.

My comment on Lysander 'not helping end battles any faster' was mostly targeted at boss fights. It depends on the game, but in my experience, non-boss fights are part of the resource management aspect of a game more than anything. They're a task focused around getting through them with minimal expenditure of resources, whether those resources be HP, SP, or inventory so that you can dedicate a larger portion of those resources to the boss.

Tarukaja helps with boss fights, certainly, but Retribution by definition is offensive only against randoms. Bosses will generally be immune to instant death. And against randoms, it's still likely to be largely defensive, since you won't have the dedicated buffs to increase aggro off of the bat. It depends on the Hama chance, really, since Rylan has Sukumai; it just feels doubly dicey, since they have to A) hit the target and B) die to Hama. It's the old instant death dilemma, where an ID spell is generally not used below a threshold and abused above it. We'll all see which side this sits on. Even without it, though, that half damage effect is useful.

(That said, isn't there a Press Turn/One More variant in this game? If so, please make sure that Retribution's Hama doesn't count against you if it's nullified, since that will happen in every boss fight. That would be horrible. Obvious, I know, but there's no mention of it.)

That said, it looks like he's a pretty good offensive caster, so this is less of an issue. It was really a problem only when he had no offensive buff options and his personal offensive ability was in question.

Who is Lysander?

Holy crap, those shoulders. Is he wearing pads? Because I'm pretty sure that his right shoulder is much wider than his head, even accounting for perspective.

From this description, I don't see myself using Lysander much, just going off of what we're given. A breakdown of why:
- No ST healing past a certain point is a crippling problem. It forces you into a binary dilemma: One, use your MT heal like a ST heal, which means SP woes. Two, gamble, and potentially lose fights due to bad luck. Both of these are aggravating at best. The description makes me think that leveling him up to learn Media may make some boss fights at that point *harder*, because the majority of their damage is likely to be ST and therefore Media just tends to waste your SP. And Gaia Link exists on the main character, who you'll be using all the time, and it apparently lasts the entire battle. And all of his presented buffs work towards 'make one person target of everything and tough enough to take it,' which a ST healing situation. This is 'out of the party at the earliest opportunity' levels of bad. I cannot possibly hammer this home enough.

(Now, I know there's potential here with Gaia Link; just set it up on some other party member and suddenly Media is ticking twice on your tank. That's still costly as hell, though, and likely to be unnecessary. If it *is* necessary, and there's just no other way to get enough healing with the given tools, then a well-designed game will have someone else who can cast the Media, or you'll be at the point where using someone else isn't even an option.)

- Tactician would be "game-best" levels of great, but it has horrible, horrible synergy with his given syncs. If you're striking weaknesses consistently, then you've already discovered their weaknesses, and Data Dump probably isn't that useful to you. Additionally, if you're hitting weaknesses consistently, you're likely to be ending fights pretty quickly. Neither directly assists with that. (Data Dump does, but see point one.)
- His stats are going to make a difference here. In Personas 3 and 4, for example, Yukari and Yukiko had the best magic stats. They could heal and they could nuke, and while they lacked variety in either role, they had quite a bit of power. Does Lysander have that? If not, that's a problem. Even if he does, ST only? He'll be limited at best here.
- All of the mentioned buffs are trade-offs. Are they situationally useful? Yes, but not enough to redeem other factors that are lacking. And none of the ones presented help to end fights faster, only to make them easier to outlast. They don't add any new dimension to his character, they just deepen the already existing one, and the role in question is one I'm not fond of. And I've played SMT for ages, so buffs are typically in my "oh hell yes" list of wants in an RPG party.

Changeable Persona solve all of the aforementioned issues, but I think I'll be too turned off by him at that point to care much.

Harsh words aside, I'm enjoying reading the updates, and I'm quite looking forward to the game itself. SMT is my thing, as mentioned. Feel free to hit me up if you need a tester!

Preventing grind: Why? And how?

Hmm. I like this from a philosophical standpoint, but I'm not so sure that it will interact well with the skill sparking system you mentioned in a previous post. As the systems currently interact, fights will have two objectives:

1) Win the fight with a minimum of consumed resources.
2) Skill X should be used Y times so that you can progress towards learning Skill Z.

The problem is, if battles aren't repeatable, then objective 2 has to take priority against non-boss enemies; if you don't learn new skills, you're eventually going to hit a brick wall against harder enemies, and you don't have the luxury of going back to easier areas to grind out skill uses. (If you don't hit that brick wall without skills, then your game has no tactical element and point 1 is moot regardless.) So you end up having to balance the game around the expectation that the player is going to be grinding out skills, which I think is going to ultimately result in less satisfying battles.

I'd honestly just suggest a point-based skill tree. That allows you a great deal of control over what the player has access to while still allowing for customization and averting grinding. If you dislike grinding battles, why are you including grinding skills?

YMMV, of course.

Masterful Marlowe: Potent Magic with a Weak Frame

Marlowe... Hmm. Does damaging enemies break Sleep in this game? I think Arrest might be a bit of a balance issue waiting to happen. If immunity to it is common, then it's worthless and two of Marlowe's spells suffer. If things aren't immune to it regularly? Hoo boy. Free, highly accurate disabling status does bad things to games; see the original Shin Megami Tensei, where Bind and Charm destroy the game almost single-handedly.

Multiple enemies? Arrest the ones you're not fighting and burst them down one at a time. A single enemy? Any time you need a breather to buff or heal, Arrest. Even if damaging enemies causes them to break out of Sleep, manage to get Marlowe faster than the enemy and a damage dealer slower and they're stun-locked any turn they can't resist the status. Even if it doesn't succeed at any of the above, he's buffing himself while your allies build Burst, and then he can use that buff to blow things the hell up. Even if they resist Sleep, so long as he can get Pale Mist up, then he can shut down any single enemy reliably so not as they're not outright immune. There's even a stat you can raise to increase its hit chance!

I mean, it's an elegant design, and I like it; Arrest being good would make Marlowe very interesting due to its sheer utility, and status is incredibly underutilized in RPGs (in the hands of the player, anyway; enemies use it to annoy you just fine). I just think that Arrest is possibly frighteningly binary: The line between "worthless" and "best attack in the game" may just be whether or not they're immune.

(Marlowe's old group-sleep spell was good times in old V&V, the game's best "I don't want to deal with this right now" random encounter button. Easy to get, decently cheap, reliable.)

Outside of my Arrest concerns, two other thoughts:
1) I'm guessing Shield of Shalom doesn't void currently present statuses, judging by the description. Does it expire naturally? If it doesn't, damn, that's one hell of a reason to use him; Status Lock *and* Permanence.
2) If buffs/debuffs are additive in this system, Witness Protection's drawback is going to be incredibly easy to circumvent if any "increases healing received" buffs exist.

These blogs are fun. They push all of my RPG analysis buttons. I'm looking forward to more!

James's Techniques: Lightbulbs

My main problem with the skill sets here is that they lack coherent internal themes. With this sort of incremental skill set, where gaining further access to the skills requires you use ones earlier in the sequence repeatedly, you want coherent themes so that a player can decide what they want from the character and specialize in trees appropriately. The first two to three skills in each tree should give me an idea of what the tree is about and what it's useful for at its higher levels.

In the Tales games, for instance, if you want better versions of your Demon Fang projectile, or another attack that does the many weaker hits of Sword Rain, you use Demon Fang or Sword Rain. In FF7, you get Fire 2 from the same materia that gives you Fire. And in Saga games, the weapons have small sub-specialties; Swords and Bows tend to have multi-target attacks, Staves have status debuffs, Axes and Spears are high DPS with few frills...

But here, your themes are all over the place; they seem more based on the flavor of the tree than the mechanics it uses. Martial is good - it's the debuff/status + damage tree, with a skill that complements that well. Ki and Dark sort of have buffing and sacrifice themes going. Sword is just all over the place. (Phoenix Wing smacks of 'well, I have this, where should it go? eh, here will work, I guess' design.)

I'd suggest running with the themes I identified.
Keep Martial as it is; the theme is good.
Make Ki the self-buffing set.
Make Sword the heavy general DPS; give it a strong single-hit attack (high defense enemies), a multi-hit attack (lower defense enemies), an attack-all skill (many enemies), the Quick Hit skill you currently have... Make it so it does one thing, but it can do so in many different ways for fighting different opponents. Depth not breadth.
Make Dark more the weird conditional set. Sacrifices for benefits, preventing enemies from taking certain actions, Ebon Defilement, maybe something that triggers based on dead allies... It's not as directly powerful as the others, but in the right situation it's more powerful. (You'll have to make learning higher levels require less uses here than other trees, though.)

Or run with completely different themes. The specifics don't matter, so long as the theme is well-chosen. Just *have* themes. Internally consistent philosophy makes a real difference.