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BTB

New article up about modding and game design

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On 2/22/2018 at 0:28 PM, BTB said:

http://ngplus.net/index.php?/ngplusarticles/hackingmodding/on-the-nature-of-modding-game-design-r12/

For anyone who doesn't check that section of the site, I put this up the other day in response to some of the questions that I'm commonly asked as a modder. I also talk a bit about game design near the end.

Read the article. Watched a piece of the video. I'm up to Terra learning about her parents in BNW. I have a few comments on BNW from the view of game design. I should mention while I don't have much modding experience, I'm pretty knee-deep in programming and design: I've been making an RPG that I've been calling a love letter to FF6. You may want to add "and it takes a long fucking time" to the "original game" section. :)

One of the things in BNW that irks me a little: the changes to random encounter monsters. The original game was certainly stupid easy. After having played through it at least half a dozen times, even the difficulty bumps (Phantom Forest comes to mind, as does getting "Gerad") are little issue. Naturally, I have my own ideas about what makes a game difficult and how I would have modified the combat to make it more enjoyable for someone like me. Having actually started an RPG, one of the things you will fight against is expectation of player power given its capacity to go off the rails if the player decides to grind, and then you only catch up with difficulty jumps.

Two things for reference:

  1. It's obvious to anyone who's designed a game that "playing" means making choices. Having those choices be meaningful and rewarding to the person playing makes it fun. Big, flashy numbers are an easy way to make it all look rewarding. If those choices are dull -- or shit, if there are no choices to begin with -- the game gets dull. Make the player weigh a few thoughts in their head. Or even just give the player agency to make something happen.
  2. There should be a separation between difficult and frustrating. A lot of older games achieved difficulty through flat out frustration.

I'll get back to the "it irks me" part in just a bit but first my thoughts on the original -- and insight into how I've been designing the combat in my own. I'm a child of Blizzard Entertainment game design. I believe their designs are mostly objectively good. (Ignore Diablo 3 for the moment. That's a complicated topic.) One thing Blizzard likes to do is give every button a purpose, and they've been stripping buttons in World of Warcraft that have no unique purpose after years of design inflation. They will give monsters abilities to make those buttons useful, if it comes to it. Or else, they'll design the monsters and make sure everyone has a button that can help. In Starcraft, the three-pronged design simply lends itself to rock-paper-scissor where playing boils down to an endless game of hard-counters. Overwatch works similarly but requires teamplay. Hearthstone, well, I don't play much of it.

Contrast this to FF6 combat: you had, what, 50 spells and the only thing you had to worry about were immunities? Only one boss actively required you to do something, if I remember right, and it wasn't even related to your abilities: Wrexsoul. Other than that, cast Reflect on your party and enjoy 2x spell damage from Fire 3 until you get Ultima. (I have fond memories of the magic tower in the WoR.)

What was the point of them all, then? I think we have so many spells so that the game can keep rewarding you for the sake of playing to keep things interesting (look up a video of the reward loop in Diablo 2 as Blizzard designed Diablo 3), but in the end most of those spells are nigh-useless. Later Final Fantasy games make a point of stripping you of most of the duplicates and/or splitting spells among party members (as BNW does). What did you do with those 50 buttons? I was fond of Fire and used it a lot. Flare and Pearl were some of my other favorites. Muddle, Imp, Mute, Demi and Drain were among my least-used spells.

And now, slight temporary topic change. In my RPG, the first 4 characters have the following abilities: Wild Shot, Quick Shot, Slice and Dice and Blood Whisk. Quick Shot does something like 60% normal damage but doubles your ATB speed for one turn, and then you cannot use Quick Shot again on that turn. Wild Shot either makes the target take some poison damage or increases their damage taken, both for a few turns each, but the shot itself does lower damage. Slice and Dice attacks every enemy for I think 60% damage. Blood Shield is a single-target damage shield. You can see the reason to use and not use them. Wild Shot should only be used if you want to debuff. Slice and Dice works best on 2 or more targets. Quick Shot is a little questionable but it's good to finish off something at low health, or for burst damage. Blood Shield doesn't heal but can help someone low. The encounters are designed around those abilities. If you're up against 6 rats, Slice and Dice is a no brainer. If you're up against a boar that heals itself, keep it debuffed with Wild Shot. The AI system in the game supports "Next Action", so that the monster can say "Incoming ability!" and then do it, giving the player time to react. Chrono Trigger did this with its "Powering up!" countdowns for some monsters/bosses.

So what should you do with those 50 buttons in FF6, then? Here, BNW decides to punish you for picking the wrong button. This is what irks me. If I use a spell on the wrong monster, I get hit for 200-300 damage. As a player, my expectation is that the choice in what button to push results in a reward: less damage because you blocked an incoming attack (that you were warned about), or it dies faster because you're doing more damage. Consider an attack rotation in World of Warcraft. I played a Fire Mage. If you just cast Fireball over and over on that one monster, it gets the job done but it takes a long time and you may lose half your health. If you do your rotation right, you may wind up killing that monster in less than half the time. With BNW, it would be like: if I casted Fireball when Heating Up procced the monster throws a special ability that does 1/4th my life in damage. If I throw 4 Fireballs while Heating Up is sitting there, I'm dead.

Obviously, WoW doesn't do that. Its combat is centered around practiced rotations, and ways the game can fuck your rotation up by making you pay attention to more than just your combat timers. Diablo 3 centers around gear choices, and what flavor of the month spec there is. Starcraft centers around scouting and countering (which I suck at). Overwatch? Well, it centers around aiming and yelling at 14 year olds in voice chat. Original FF6? It can be said that the game centers around the most damaging spell you have and managing mana. Those really aren't terribly engaging choices if you have lots of money for Tinctures. Some monsters are immune to things like the Noise Blaster so you may have to use a few Remedies. But by and large, just Suplex it.

BNW FF6? It centers around memorizing the counterattacks that each monster has and not using the wrong ability, or else suffering for it. And randomly a boss or monster might use a one-hit KO ability so you need to sync up turns to bring that character back to life and above 1 HP. And then some of your time is wasted because the boss has a 250+ HP regen.

In short: BNW's combat centers around punishments for not remember or knowing what the game wants you to do. Memorizing every counter can be a little frustrating. It can also be said these really aren't choices, I just have to do what the game wants me to do; it's not much of a strategy. (That's not to say JRPGs are paragons of emergent gameplay.)

However, don't get me wrong: I'm enjoying BNW. The rom hacks for the EL and spell points systems are pretty impressive. I don't agree with some of the other choices (I never bought the Drill and was expecting to get it at Zozo, so now I'm just without and Edgar is pretty terrible, and Locke seems a little OP against humans) but it's fun now that the game doesn't roll over at my command. One of the small things that BNW is doing well so far is making the game a little longer. Every time I replayed FF6 it was quite short because I can blow through everything. Boss fights are, so far, just a little more dangerous. I used to sometimes cast regen on a boss myself so he'd last longer.

If you were to change BNW's combat model, what could be done? You'd likely need to revisit every monster and make the fights actively engaging, having the player counter and find vulnerabilities and, for bonus points, encourage attack rotations, allowing the player to ramp up damage. FF13 did a cheap version of attack rotations and did have damage ramping. I've only played the PC demo but Final Fantasy XV uses random "block" events and encourages you to use Warp Strikes so you aren't just standing in one spot the entire time. Diablo 3 monsters often encourage you to use secondary abilities to defend yourself or run away. FF6 does have a fairly intuitive element weakness system (machine => Bolt) to encourage spell variety, even if it isn't terribly engaging -- or even necessary.

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Imo, BNW early game isn't that great. First good boss in BNW is Dadaluma and he sure as hell doesn't need counters to wreck you if you're not prepared. Actually, after that point counters start to become progressively less annoying. Namely, HP esper levels let you survive easily even when you make mistakes, and also you'll start meeting with "palette swaps" of old enemies that behave almost exactly the same.

Example, in lete river you fight albatross and quickly notice that blitz and tools aren't a good idea. Wyvern in the world map in the vector area do the same. Dactyl at the floating continent do the same.

This is true for pretty much every enemy "family", so while you're overwhelmed at the start it does get a lot better.

So yeah that's where the knowledge you acquire in the early game comes into play. There would probably be more elegant solution than just making the game overly punishing early on, but unless you drastically change BNW's system, you'll hit a difficulty spike at some point no matter what. So I guess might as well start immediately so that the player is used to the idea from the start.

Yeah it does make some enemies frustrating. Then again, 9 tough formations out of 10 can be neutralized by noiseblaster in the early game, and that gets rid of counters in the process.

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Yeah, I do need to ask right around where you're at in the game, since pretty much everything up until the Battle of Narshe is tutorial mode and there's not a whole lot you can do to keep an RPG consistently mechanically interesting throughout a period like that.

In any case, I think a lot of what you've said can just be boiled down to scope. There's a lot of interesting things that I can imagine for a combat system and a lot of flaws I can easily see, but the ultimate question is what all can actually be done while working within the confines of the engine we're working with or without turning FF6 into a completely different game.

Good points, nonetheless.

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37 minutes ago, BTB said:

Yeah, I do need to ask right around where you're at in the game, since pretty much everything up until the Battle of Narshe is tutorial mode and there's not a whole lot you can do to keep an RPG consistently mechanically interesting throughout a period like that.

In any case, I think a lot of what you've said can just be boiled down to scope. There's a lot of interesting things that I can imagine for a combat system and a lot of flaws I can easily see, but the ultimate question is what all can actually be done while working within the confines of the engine we're working with or without turning FF6 into a completely different game.

Good points, nonetheless.

I had just completed Vector and the esper research facility. I'm starting to think game mechanics don't need to be anything special as long as you're given a few buttons to push and the crap you're fighting against forces you to mix it up, or rewards you well for doing so. Breath of the Wild is a good example of that. FF6 has lots of unique monsters but, difficulty jumps aside, they often aren't threatening enough to force you to react.

I do think FF6 has the capacity to play like a turn-based version of an MMO raid boss but I don't know if it has the ROM capacity for the extra space needed for longer monster scripts. :) I was a little disappointed Square ditched the turn-based model in FFXV for real-time combat. I was looking forward to a modern take on that. Imagine a game that followed Diablo 3's model of no-thought trash monsters and every so often throw a big ass one at you. The big guy in Zozo was always interesting to me because he filled that role, even in the original, and could wipe the floor with you if you didn't pay attention. His death strike often killed my party members. Zozo was always one of the more interesting early areas to me for that reason, and that dancer witch that casts Fire 2.

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Well, one of the biggest reasons that I've resisted expanding the ROM thus far is knowing that the second I get a metric fuckton of free space in the AI bank, I will immediately fill it all up. And if I don't have enough good ideas (I have a list of notes), I'll just fill it with crap instead.

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8 hours ago, BTB said:

Well, one of the biggest reasons that I've resisted expanding the ROM thus far is knowing that the second I get a metric fuckton of free space in the AI bank, I will immediately fill it all up. And if I don't have enough good ideas (I have a list of notes), I'll just fill it with crap instead.

lol

I'm sure I can help you with that if you wanted more ideas.

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On 3/4/2018 at 6:48 AM, Domiran said:

BNW FF6? It centers around memorizing the counterattacks that each monster has and not using the wrong ability, or else suffering for it. And randomly a boss or monster might use a one-hit KO ability so you need to sync up turns to bring that character back to life and above 1 HP. And then some of your time is wasted because the boss has a 250+ HP regen.

In short: BNW's combat centers around punishments for not remember or knowing what the game wants you to do. Memorizing every counter can be a little frustrating. It can also be said these really aren't choices, I just have to do what the game wants me to do; it's not much of a strategy. (That's not to say JRPGs are paragons of emergent gameplay.)

However, don't get me wrong: I'm enjoying BNW. The rom hacks for the EL and spell points systems are pretty impressive. I don't agree with some of the other choices (I never bought the Drill and was expecting to get it at Zozo, so now I'm just without and Edgar is pretty terrible, and Locke seems a little OP against humans) but it's fun now that the game doesn't roll over at my command. One of the small things that BNW is doing well so far is making the game a little longer. Every time I replayed FF6 it was quite short because I can blow through everything. Boss fights are, so far, just a little more dangerous. I used to sometimes cast regen on a boss myself so he'd last longer.

If you were to change BNW's combat model, what could be done? You'd likely need to revisit every monster and make the fights actively engaging, having the player counter and find vulnerabilities and, for bonus points, encourage attack rotations, allowing the player to ramp up damage. FF13 did a cheap version of attack rotations and did have damage ramping. I've only played the PC demo but Final Fantasy XV uses random "block" events and encourages you to use Warp Strikes so you aren't just standing in one spot the entire time. Diablo 3 monsters often encourage you to use secondary abilities to defend yourself or run away. FF6 does have a fairly intuitive element weakness system (machine => Bolt) to encourage spell variety, even if it isn't terribly engaging -- or even necessary.

While I generally agree with you about having something like rotations to change up your offense and make it require a little more thought, I actually like the counters and sandbagging.

It never seemed cumbersome to learn what enemies react to because I only had to learn the counters enemies use in a single area at a time, so ever initial venture into a new dungeon or area I started off playing cautiously and experimenting, and once I learned how the enemies worked I started blazing through them, and I actually found it pretty rewarding.

And as for sandbagging, I actually liked how being forced to rez people changed up how I fought bosses rather than just spamming my best attacks, and it also made buffing characters a choice, since you'd waste time and MP if they died quickly, as opposed to how an FF game typically goes where you just set up all your buffs at the start of the fight. It also made speedy characters more valuable because they can get everybody up more quickly, especially Locke, he was the anti-sandbag with those speedy double Life 2s.

Also I'm pretty sure there were only like 4 or 5 bosses that had auto-regen on and the ticks are still only like 250, so it wasn't really frustrating when I had to break from the offense to patch everyone up and re-buff.

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