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.
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If a large, highly customized MUD, now over 10 years old and still being expanded, with a job system and worlds based on some of the most popular console RPGs seems interesting to you, feel free to log on and check it out. Visit uossmud.sandwich.net for information about logging on.
Born Under the Rain
Why does the jackal run from the rain?


Tutorials, learning and hand-holding

Instruction manuals have fallen out of style for what I consider a good reason, the same reason why hour-long cut scenes before the game starts are considered awful: when you put something in your game, the player should play it. If it's not interactive, it usually gets boring fast, and even if it's interesting it isn't what the player signed up for. They came to play a game. And this is far more true at the beginning than it is later when they have a mental investment and know that they're gonna get back to the gameplay they already decided they enjoy.

Instead we now have instruction manuals do nothing but tell players what buttons to use, and we create in-game tutorials to teach players how to play. This can be done well or poorly! It's unfortunately a lot more complex than just making a manual.

Watch EXACTLY TEN MINUTES of this video, from 5:47 to 15:47 (you have probably already seen this video, it's the mega man one where he screams a lot)
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One nice thing about old instruction manuals is that you can skip them. If you're replaying a game I don't actually care; 80% of the game is honestly there to prepare you for the parts of the game that come afterward, so the "tutorial segment" gets a lot blurrier. But if I've already played a hundred other RPGs, there are things I'm going to understand in your game - that's what a genre is, it's a set of conventions that a lot of works use. I skipped reading the instruction manual to FF9 even though it didn't have a tutorial segment.

But in lieu of making the tutorial skippable, there's the idea the video above brings up: hide it in the gameplay.

I wonder how well this can really be done in RPGs. One unique feature of RPGs is that, compared to other genres of games, you're constantly getting new things as the game goes on. So the issue comes up many, many times during the game - each time you unlock a new job or get a new party member or acquire enough members to party-switch or get your first weapon that inflicts status effects or start breeding chocobos or whatever whatever etc. The characters are constantly growing in power, which means the player is constantly getting new toys, each of which potentially can have its own explanation or tutorial or easy gameplay segment that works like a tutorial.

Another unique feature is that you are choosing your actions from a menu - so forcing the player to do a certain action isn't really any more interactive than just telling them what to do. If you gray out every command except the right one, you might as well just show an instruction video. Making a tutorial that successfully teaches the player when to do something can be really hard, and even harder to do without feeling hand-holdy and super blatant, and I'd love to hear ideas of how to do this in a menu-based RPG. (I say unique, but both of these features are really shared with strategy games.)

So an alternate option is, of course, to not explain the features, and leave the player to figure them out. In games like Nethack and Dwarf Fortress, figuring out the basics of gameplay/controls/interface is practically the entire game. Or at least the first two hundred hours of it. So I guess there's a market for these types of games. It just isn't me. Or anyone I've ever met. I think sane people like to get the part where they have no clue at all what they're doing out of the way ASAP.

I'll just post this conversation here that I had with a friend two months ago or so about adding this kind of interactive tutorial to his game Soul Shepherd, because it's super relevant and is what made me start actually thinking about this topic as a legit debate instead of just a thing to do that some people don't understand. And then I want to hear you guys' thoughts.

LockeZ: It's absolutely possible to teach the player things about how your game works without using a single word
Zombero: not my game
LockeZ: For example, rallies in your game
LockeZ: They're an improved defend command
LockeZ: So right after getting your first rally, have a battle where the player very very obviously needs to defend
LockeZ: Like an enemy that counts down from 5
LockeZ: And they'll use the rally and, assuming it's one that is actually relevant to the big attack, they'll see how it works
Zombero: but that's an approach for linear, story-driven games
Zombero: it's entirely possible to avoid ever having a rally for the whole first twenty hours
LockeZ: Hmm, you have a treasure chest in a room by itself in the northeastern cave, right?
LockeZ: Put the first rally on the shield in that chest
LockeZ: Make the shield also have better stats than the normal shields, so the player will equip it immediately
LockeZ: And make a sub-boss enter the room when you open the chest
LockeZ: That doesn't break any aspect of your nonlinearity, and doesn't feel different from other sub-bosses in the game, but because of how you've already trained the player to believe that opening chests and obtaining stuff from dungeons is super duper important, even though it's technically missable, no one's gonna miss it
Zombero: Also watch this sequelitis video about mega man (linked him the video above)
Zombero: heh seen it
Zombero: I don't think the same approach is as good in RPGs
LockeZ: I had like three text boxes explaining the laser cannon when you got it in my game, in the original version
LockeZ: When I did the second demo, I removed them. Instead, in the battle right before you get it, against the laser sharks, before the sharks attacked you they shot and blew up two crates
LockeZ: And then I surrounded the crystal orb you have to blow up in the conveyor belt room with a circle of crates
LockeZ: Entire laser tutorial right there
Zombero: for something like a tool you use outside of combat it works
LockeZ: I definitely think it works just as well in rpg combat
LockeZ: It's not easy to do
LockeZ: But it's also not easy to do in any other genre
LockeZ: But it makes a difference, I think
LockeZ: Makes the player feel like they are playing a game instead of learning about a system
Zombero: isn't learning about a system part of the fun in the context of an RPG though?
Zombero: if you're *just* playing the game, in the same sense as you're just playing megaman... there's no much *game* there
Zombero: the mental exercise is part of the experience
LockeZ: Using what you've learned to win is absolutely a massive part of the fun
Zombero: and when you combine guiding the player with menus I just always wind up hating it
Zombero: it always feels so obvious, so contrived
Zombero: it's not like megaman where there's more to performing an action than just choosing an action
Zombero: choosing an action is all there is
LockeZ: If that were really true you wouldn't need to explain anything
LockeZ: There's still choosing the right action at the right time
LockeZ: And I think that's absolutely something that enemy encounters can teach the player
Zombero: they can
Zombero: but they teach it slower
Zombero: and the whole encounter is a waste of time
Zombero: and it feels so hand-holdy
LockeZ: Overcoming an obstacle on your own does NOT feel more hand-holdy than reading a tutorial
Zombero: it's not on your own
Zombero: it's over-coming an obstacle using the obviously intended method
Zombero: vs. reading what something does, and having to figure out when to use it on your own
LockeZ: it feels far more "on your own" than being told what to do by a wall of text
Zombero: but you aren't being told what to do
Zombero: you're being told what you *can* do
Zombero: in the tutorial you're being guided into what to do
LockeZ: You don't feel like you're being guided, though, if it's done right
Zombero: then I've never seen it done right
Zombero: in an RPG
Zombero: I've seen it done right in other games
Zombero: I'm not convinced it can be done right in RPGs
Zombero: because your options in a menu system are too obvious unless you throw 1000 options at the player right from the start
Zombero: though being taught how to do things *outside* the menus can be done similarly to other games
LockeZ: I will grant that the menu screen is much, much harder to do that for than a battle is
Zombero: well I mean anywhere that has menus
Zombero: including battle
Zombero: like oh you just got this new command
Zombero: here's this enemy you need to use it on immediately after
Zombero: feels like kindergarten -_-
LockeZ: I don't think it feels like kindergarten, unless every other aspect of your game's normal strategy is put on hold until the player is done learning the new thing
LockeZ: Well the alternative is... that the new skill isn't immediately useful at first? In which case getting it feels less meaningful, like it wasn't actually worth getting. And also by the time it is useful, I've halfway forgotten about it

You agree with me? Him? Think there's a way to do both? You have third point of view? A fifth? You want instruction manuals back? You think pasting an IM conversation instead of explaining the points myself is tacky and hard to understand? TUTORIAL TALK GO

RPG Maker VX Ace on sale for the next 10 hours on Steam

50% off, it looks like. Your excuse for using RM2K3 for all eternity just got flimsier.

Link here in case you are too dumb to figure out how to open steam and find VX Ace on the front page

Puzzles that make sense

I've been trying to come up with puzzles that make sense in my dungeons. I decided to look at some other puzzle-heavy games for inspiration. This proved rather less useful than I'd hoped.

Puzzles in Zelda games, if you pay any attention to them, really don't go out of their way to try to make sense. I mean, they follow logic: there's an eyeball on the wall, and if you shoot the eyeball, a door opens somewhere. But why the HELL is the door's opening mechanism linked to an eyeball on the wall? Why would doors work that way anywhere, much less in almost every level in the game? Or why would a door be opened by a series of torches, or four windmills that have to be spun in a certain order, or whatever? Why would a room in a mine have platforms that raise up into the air for ten seconds when you shoot a crystal orb? Why does the castle garden have colored blocks that change color if you hit them with a sword, and a false wall that automatically lowers into the ground if all the blocks are yellow? IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Zelda does not give a shit if a puzzle makes sense for this area; to Zelda, every puzzle makes sense for every area. (Some Zelda games are better about this than others, though. Lufia 2 is worse than almost any of them.)

But, like, maybe no one cares? Maybe I am the only one who thinks areas in games need to make any sense or reflect any kind of coherent setting at all, and everyone else is fine with every game having Mario levels? I know there's generally a little more leeway in the "making sense" department for games with puzzles, but how MUCH more?

Also what's a puzzle that uses a laser cannon and/or a lighter to either get through a ship's engine room or to turn on a piece of machinery in it, and is at least slightly more complicated than "there's a crate in the way, shoot it" :(

Like a boss

We don't have a giant thread full of random RPG boss ideas? Really? This is a problem that we need to solve.

But man, I've seen these threads before on other sites and some of them are kind of bad! Like hey, a boss that paralyzes the player as a counterattack! THAT'S TERRIBLE. That's not even a boss, that's just a single goddamn skill. You can do better than that, guys!

So I don't want you guys to post skills that bosses could have. Because that includes every skill ever. I want you to list whole designs for encounters. And then I want you to tell me why they work.

I know (or at least hope) that each of the elements you include in your best bosses is there for a specific reason. Tell me how to beat it, tell me what it's designed to prevent, tell me what it's designed to teach, tell me why you're doing it, tell me what skill you're testing. Give us some context, so that the boss MEANS something to us. (I mean, that's what I think would be best, but it's up to each poster to decide how much detail to give, obviously.)

They don't have to be great bosses, or endgame bosses, or bosses you've actually coded yet. They just have to be something you think is worth sharing.


Martec, lord of all demons
- At the beginning of battle, the Holy Guardian locks all of Martec's abilities except his weakest attacks and the Slow spell. He'll use these at first. Slow can be healed by a healer or a rare item; in this case it's probably worth using the rare item if your healer's turn isn't about to come up.
- After a certain number of turns, Martec will start to break free of the Guardian's bindings, regaining access to his spells.
- After about 5 turns, he gets his area attacks back. No big deal.
- After about 10 turns, he gets a healing spell back. This would usually be trivial, but in this case, buying time is exactly what he needs to do. There's no particular way to deal with this except to deal lots of damage.
- After about 15 turns, he gets his status effects back. He'll start to poison, blind and silence you. Poison will hurt, but the best strategy is to ignore that one. The others limit the skills that certain characters can use, but depending on how much time you have left, you might need to just use physical attacks with magical characters and have blinded physical characters use ki attacks or become your designated healers, instead of taking the time to heal them of the effects.
- After about 20 turns, he gets his instant death spell back. This is resistable with the right equipment, which you're probably already wearing on exactly one character, but not on the other three. If you haven't killed him yet at this point, you're already taking too long, so I don't feel bad about it.
- After about 25 turns, he gets his ridiculously powerful dark magic, which is unresistable and deals 9999 damage to a single target. If you can't kill him before he casts it four times, you lose.

Operative Vadak
- Vadak uses spells that you're familiar with. Most of his spells are ones you can also use.
- If you go below 50% HP, he'll use Giga Blast, which can only be used once per battle. He saves it until it's worth using.
- Twice during the battle, once at 70% HP and again at 30% HP, he'll summon two protective circles. The circles don't attack, but buff Vadak to make him invulnerable. Kill the circles and he can be damaged again. Earlier enemies in this dungeon introduced the concepts of both invincibility buffs on enemies (which force you to target a different enemy) and enemies that summon reinforcements (which force you to target the summoner). Vadak combines the two ideas, testing your targetting skills.
- If the second pair of protective circles is killed, Vadak will immediately use Giga Blast if he hasn't already, as a last-ditch effort.

Volcanic Crystal Dragon
- Uses some typical damaging attacks.
- Summons a lava elemental every round. They attack the lowest HP party member. Once there are several elementals out, you're probably going to need to use multiple characters to heal.
- The lava elementals explode after five rounds if they haven't been killed yet. The explosion hits the whole party but doesn't do any more damage than a normal attack. Worth using area attacks to kill them? Depends how good your healing is.
- The Volcanic Crystal Dragon will occasionally use a very powerful area attack; after using it, a crystal pillar rises from the ground. The crystal pillar is an enemy, but doesn't attack or do anything at all.
- Destroying a crystal pillar releases a sonic wave that paralyzes and lowers the defense of all enemies for a round.
- The Volcanic Crystal Dragon will occasionally use a channelled attack that causes damage to all characters. It starts out weak but deals more damage each round he continues doing it. After a few rounds, it will kill you. Destroying a crystal pillar will stop the attack. If there are no pillars left, he will use the pillar-summoning attack instead of this one.

(if this topic is popular, I will populate it with dozens more bosses, but for now it's time to post your own)

Make the player use offense

Hi, my name is LockeZ and I hate boring fights. By default, the best strategy against any enemy that just attacks you is to focus on defense as much as possible. If you don't die, you will eventually win, no matter how little damage you're doing. That's stupid! It happens more often than I wish it did, though. Even in the top commercial games.

Designing battles shouldn't just be a choice between making them super easy vs. making them require turtling. The player often (almost always, in fact) has a choice between gearing and preparing for offense vs. defense - this should be a more meaningful tactical decision, instead of defense letting you win fights and offense letting you get the fights you were already going to win over with faster.

What are some ways you can think of to make battles require offense? Lots of ideas. Fill this thread with ALL the ideas.

Which ways do you think are more fun, or work better than others? Can you articulate why?

I need a good free program that can edit and convert sound files.

Just like it says on the box, governor. I'm sick of having to spend an hour reinstalling the free trial of the one I've been using every single time I want to use it.

My editing needs are not complex. I'm not writing music, I'm just doing clipping and volume fading and stuff.

Cap'n Levels

Let's have a discussion about level caps!

A level cap is the maximum level you can reach by gaining experience points. Level caps are typically used to limit the maximum power the player can gain through pure grinding.

- The level cap in most Final Fantasy games is 99, which is about twice the level you are expected to finish the game at.
- The level cap in Diablo 3 is 60, which you will reach 3/4 of the way through the game.
- The level cap in Crono Trigger is 99, but most characters will max out most of their stats at level 60-65; further levels do practically nothing for anyone but Marle. So, there is a soft level cap about 10 levels higher than the level you are expected to finish the game at.

This time instead of posting all my own thoughts in the OP, I'm just going to start the topic and sit back for a while. Talk about what this mysterious feature is good for, and what it's not good for! Some of you guys must have weird, novel ideas on how to use level caps better, right?

Unlocking equipment (and other upgrades)

As you play through a game with anything even remotely resembling an RPG style progression, you'll get upgrades as you go. Some of these will be better versions of things you already have, while others will be alternatives to things you already have, and others will be upgrades that occupy their own "slot" and don't take the place of anything else.

There are a lot of ways to obtain these things. Some of the more common ones in RPGs are:
- Bought with money, which is typically a common resource obtained in a variety of ways
- Obtained as part of the story
- Granted as a reward for an optional quest
- Found in a treasure chest during exploration
- Randomly dropped by enemies which can be fought over and over
- Randomly dropped by enemies or found in chests which there are a limited number of (randomly generated content, such as in a roguelike)
- Won from some kind of battle arena
- Crafted or customized via some kind of more complex system
- Won in some kind of minigame

Which of these do you prefer over others, and why? Do you prefer some of them for certain types of upgrades? It doesn't have to be on this list; I'm sure I forgot some.

For example, I find most minigames obnoxious, because they tend to be a wildly different type of gameplay than what I really turned on the game to play (racing minigame in an RPG), and they also tend to be far worse than real games of the genre they're emulating (I'd definitely rather play SSX Tricky than FF7 Snowboarding). As a result, if I have to play a minigame to get an upgrade that's irreplacable or that's really strong for the point in the game that it becomes available, I get annoyed. But if it's something I can easily skip, it doesn't bother me - because if I get sick of the minigame, I can play the real game instead, and eventually get the same reward.

On the flip side, I think most of the best stuff in the game is better suited to the more complex and time consuming methods like crafting, battle arenas, and sidequests. I actually think all types of upgrades become better suited to these methods as the game goes on - start it out simple, giving the player their early upgrades with less effort, and then require more effort as the game goes on. Basically this is a matter of expecting the player to get better at the game as he plays it, and thus find those things to be less of a burden. Also, it feels like the effort matches the reward better.

Idiotic things you believed as a child

When I was in kindergarten or so, I thought girls' belly buttons were their vaginas, and that every time a woman was wearing a two-piece bathing suit or an outfit with a visible middrift, she didn't realize I could see her privates.

Also I thought that when actors were killed in plays, they really died, and their family was sent a lot of money for their performance. I knew violence on TV was fake, but was confused by live theatre.



So, here's how your typical American epic fantasy/scifi tale escalates:
- Story begins
- Villain is introduced
- Villain announces his plan, people assume he's bluffing
- Villain takes over, starts enacting his plan, things get bad
- Heroes fight the villain's minions
- Heroes fight the villain's stronger minions, and either lose contact with or are abandoned by the agency giving them support
- Heroes fight the villain's crazy axe murderer, the black hero dies in the process
- Heroes fight the villain's mad scientist, the asshole hero dies in the process
- Heroes fight the villain's lancer, the professor hero dies in the process (but leaves his journal)
- Heroes fight the villain's second in command, the female hero who is the less popular member of the love triangle dies in the process
- The last surviving two heroes fight the main villain, the world is saved, and the hero makes out with the surviving girl as credits roll

Here's how a typical Japanese epic fantasy/scifi tale escalates:
- Story begins
- Terrible things start happening
- Villain shows up, announces why he's doing it
- Heroes fight the villain's minions
- Heroes fight the villain's crazy axe murderer, who hints at secret motives by the villain
- Heroes fight the villain's mad scientist, who explain's the villain's true goals, which are different
- Heroes fight a former good guy enslaved by the villain, who explains the villain's actual true goals, which are even more different
- Heroes fight the villain, who explains his real actual true goals, which are even more different still
- A new villain appears from behind the scenes, and explains his goals, which involved manipulating the previous villain to do everything he did
- Heroes fight the new villain, and for a moment the world seems to be saved
- Another new villain appears, this time a cosmic deity who has manipulated all the events of the game for its master plan, which involves the destruction of the universe
- Heroes kill God, humanity is nearly destroyed but survives, humanity gets ready to rebuild as credits roll

I am wondering how people feel about these two extremely typical and predictable styles of escalating story. Obviously some party of those lists are examples rather than generalities, but you get the idea of what I'm trying to say, I hope.

Is there one you prefer? Do you like your story to reveal the main conflict and the main villain early, or not until the end? Do you follow a completely different path from the villain's introduction to the final conflict? How much escalation do you really think is necessary at minimum, or allowable at maximum?

Share your thoughts about what methods of rising action you think work well, and what methods you think are ridiculous!