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rpg mechanics 'n stuff

Posted by J.E. Sawyer , 15 February 2007 · 10131 views

why v-twins are cooler than inline-fours
I have written before about the strange position occupied by RPGs in modern computer gaming (PC or otherwise). In summary: tabletop RPGs and most of their CRPG kin were born out of mechanics necessitated by the realities of playing a game with dice, paper, and pencils. Everything was either uncontested expression on behalf of the player or a simulated contest governed by probability. Modern PCs and consoles can now, with a fair amount of accuracy, simulate movement, lighting, perception, and virtually any type of physical activity in the world or through mini-games. It leaves "probability simulation" RPGs, or perhaps all RPGs, in an odd place.

When one plays Thief, Splinter Cell, or Oblivion, stealth is governed by the player's ability to move from shadow to shadow while avoiding the vision and proximity of bad guys in real time. There may be a numerical value (such as Chameleon in Oblivion) that modifies the ability of creatures to perceive the character, but the fundamental mechanic is still something that feels more player-driven than character-driven. Many people (myself included) feel that this is more engaging and generally rewarding than clicking a "stealth" button and letting probability take over as D&D games like the Infinity Engine and NWN titles do. The former rewards moment-to-moment player ability and quick decision making. The latter rewards character building choices, ones which often took place far from where the abilities are used.

Many gamers may reasonably say, "But RPGs are about character building, not player skill." Though I think one can make a fair case that some form of player skill is always heavily involved in any RPG, it does leave traditional CRPGs in a strange place. The fact that they are often referred to as "traditional" makes them seem like antiquated throwbacks. And though I was somewhat annoyed by an early review of Neverwinter Nights 2 that focused heavily on comparing its thick D&D mechanics to Oblivion's relatively straightforward, "player + character" systems, I can't say I was all that surprised by the outcry. I return to the idea that games like D&D, like GURPS, like Hârnmaster and Rolemaster, were born out of an apparent desire to simulate the entire world through dice, at a leisurely (if not glacial) pace. To a certain extent, they need to. Tabletop games will always be games of imaginary spaces. When someone wants to do something... anything... there needs to be some mechanical concept to cover the event or at least give direction to a GM who needs to wing it.

I remember playing in a Raven's Bluff: The Living City event in 1992. Tim Beach from TSR was the DM for the round and I was playing my irritating elf burglar/acrobat, Ericalthan. During a fight in a chaotic public space, I wanted to have my character, who was being pursued by a guard, run up a wall, flip backward over the guard, hit him in the back of the head, and kiss a pretty girl who was trying to stay out the way. Mr. Beach had me make three tumbling checks at -6 and a Dex check followed by standard "backstab" attack rolls. I succeed at everything but the attack rolls, which put me in a rather unimpressive state for kissing strange ladies. As a consolation prize, Mr. Beach said that my would-be victim was so amazed by my acrobatics that he stood in amazement for a round until a comrade slammed him into a wall. In other words, he completely pulled a resolution mechanic out of his ass as any good DM should.

If I want to do the same thing in Prince of Persia, I just push toward a wall with the analog stick and press a couple of buttons with proper timing. Except for kissing the girl, or getting a consolation prize if I miss the guy's collision volume with my attack -- both of which would need have been thought of ahead of time and handled in the same sort of "in-world" simulation. I don't really make any character building choices in PoP, but the mechanics are pretty fun anyway. I think Oblivion's general balance of character and player skills is probably the way that most CRPG mechanics are going to work in the future. As long as the mechanics don't require Ninja Gaiden-esque levels of player skill, such systems find a very appealing sweet spot in which character building, immediate player choice, and a shallow learning curve can come together very smoothly.

I would like to see viable "traditional" CRPGs and tactical combat games stay strong in 2007 and beyond, but I know that such superfans are truly in the minority these days. But as long as the player can still make meaningful choices with regards to their character and role in the story, I really can't find too many reasons to protest any given simulation mechanic as long as it is executed well.

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Diogo Ribeiro
Feb 15 2007 12:15 PM
QUOTE(J.E.Sawyer)
Many people (myself included) feel that this is more engaging and generally rewarding than clicking a "stealth" button and letting probability take over as D&D games like the Infinity Engine and NWN titles do.


Except probability will always be a factor wheter we're discussing an abstract or direct control method. There's always a probability that a character will fail his Stealth check in NWN, just as there is the probability that I will fail to properly navigate surroundings and hide the avatar in Thief. Letting a player take over instead of an electronic and limited DM isn't much better when it's also prone to error - if not moreso. Now, I can understand the appeal of immediacy in certain aspects of gameplay; I certainly have a lot more fun sneaking in Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell games than I do in any CRPG. But I'm of the mind that part of this happens not because of the control method and its immediacy, but because the stealth mechanics of these games renders overall stealth in computer role-playing game obsolete.

The CRPG genre is hailed as one of the best-selling genres which rose from basement geekdom to international superstardom, but it's vexing to see how limited it still is. It's being abused by developers and publishers who try to shove all possible technological novelties into it but it's still largely a glorified dungeon crawl. On the other hand, games like the Grand Theft Auto series have probably pushed for more methods of character development and gameworld interactivity than any best selling mainstream CRPG in the last years. I find it's a remarkable and ready-to-use role-playing template with a host of features which are indigineous to the CRPG genre, but is forgotten in favor of an overabundance of licensed titles, generic settings and simplified gameplay which only hurts the genre.

I have no qualms with a more direct method of character control, so as long as player skill and character skill are not concocurrent to the point of deafeating each other. Curiously RPGWatch recently wrote an article about that concern of mine. Since I've already talked about this on Obsidian's forums I won't repeat them here, but I think they apply somewhat to your blog entry so if you're interested you can read them here.

I guess in the end I don't disagree with you. But while I enjoyed your brief foray into that subject I think a more important theme of discussion would be - how do we get there? How do we shift the genre in positive ways while not forgetting the importance and fun that some of the 'traditional' elements still have?

By the way, you definitely should get someone to kiss.
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J.E. Sawyer
Feb 15 2007 12:50 PM
QUOTE(Role-Player @ Feb 15 2007, 12:15 PM)
Except probability will always be a factor wheter we're discussing an abstract or direct control method. There's always a probability that a character will fail his Stealth check in NWN, just as there is the probability that I will fail to properly navigate surroundings and hide the avatar in Thief.
It's the difference between probability as a computed mechanic and probability as an abstraction. You can reduce likelihood in any endeavor down to a statistical analysis of probability, but that's quite different from using as the actual mechanic of determining success or failure.

QUOTE
Letting a player take over instead of an electronic and limited DM isn't much better when it's also prone to error - if not moreso. Now, I can understand the appeal of immediacy in certain aspects of gameplay; I certainly have a lot more fun sneaking in Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell games than I do in any CRPG. But I'm of the mind that part of this happens not because of the control method and its immediacy, but because the stealth mechanics of these games renders overall stealth in computer role-playing game obsolete.

The mechanics are what makes the application of stealth in a level a game as opposed to random trial and error or a flat check to see if you have enough points in a skill. Especially in games where you can reload, trial and error and flat stat checks are pretty lame. The former can often be surmounted by reloading (e.g. trying to disintegrate a dragon) and the latter often cannot be surmounted at all; it's checking against choices you made hours or days ago (how many points you put into X skill) with no recourse.

In a tabletop setting, such mechanics are totally fine. There is a DM present to moderate the situation and (unless you have a memory-eraser) no way to reload.
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Diogo Ribeiro
Feb 15 2007 03:47 PM
But even using it as an actual mechanic eventually becomes less of an issue, no? A player who physically adapts to the environment and grows better has lesser chances of failing, and so does a character whose skill training increasingly reaches a point where a check is easier to succeed. Of course, I see what you mean and don't think you're wrong - simply pointing out that I find there isn't much, at least from a glance, that makes statistical probability worse.

Flat stat checks may be an artifact we can do without but would their removal work in every case? Could we do the same with dialogue to a satisfying degree and let it be based solely around previous interactions with NPCs, as Deus Ex did?
I'm all for player-skill based gameplay if done right. Such a system could easily be integrated into a game in which meaningful choices in interacting with the world and characters can still be of prime importance. Problems can arise when you try to mix player-skill and character-skill in such a way that it becomes an awkward hybrid in which both sides of the coin are relatively shunned. If we look at, say, Bloodlines or Oblivion, the combat mechanics are pretty lackluster. From a player-skill perspective, they're pretty dumbed down and don't really require much skill. From a tactical combat perspective (via using proper character builds and fine-tuning ability selection, etc), it's pretty simplified as well. When such a large part of the gameplay involves combat, that can make a large chunk of the game relatively uninspiring.

The main thing I value from a roleplaying perspective is the ability for said interaction with the world/characters/environment, and applying choices that lead to real consequences in all of those. Whether it's tactical combat or based on player-skill doesn't really mean much for me. I can enjoy an action game based purely on twitch reflexes and love it, and I can enjoy a fairly deep wargame with an overwhelming amount of micromanagement. The essential part is that gameplay has to be compelling. Either test my reflexes or test my wits, but don't make me just click my way through endless hordes of baddies via simplified combat mechanics because it's supposedly the 'best of both worlds'. It's not.

Or if you're going to make a hybrid, erm, make it good. It can work, it just needs solid design. Don't just implement action components because it's the 'in' thing. The traditional fans will shun it, and the action fans will expose it for it being lackluster. Let's use an awkward example in Gears of War, which most people can enjoy. It's essentially an action game, but the devs implemented cover in such a way that the player has to try to 'outthink' the enemy, going for flanking maneuvers, suppression, etc. There's certainly a fair tactical component to the game. The action gamers can appreciate that, since the action component isn't being compromised (such as by making you unable to actually aim proper at your opponent because your skill isn't high enough), and in terms of action requirements, it's fairly easy to just aim at the enemy, so less skilled players can certainly get into it (and even be successful if they implement a good set of tactics). It's pretty solid design.

One can argue that not being to aim properly is a requirement for RPG systems, since the character invested in other types of skills instead. A diplomatic character shouldn't be a good warrior, after all. What I don't like about this particular school of game design is that once you make your character a particular type, you suck at the rest. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, limitations can be good, but the problem arises when (since this ISN'T PnP) the game forces you into a particular set path. You can't make your own, after all, the devs have to design it. If you make a diplomatic character and the game only allows ONE real diplomatic route through the game, you're basically being railroaded. Yes, you chose that path, but you're not really making any more significant choices along the way. I'd much rather have the CHOICE throughout the game to make decisions based on whether those decisions are adequate or not given that particular situation, rather than choosing a particular path because I know my character is 'diplomatic'. Again, the problem wouldn't apply much in PnP, where you would actually *have* that choice, but in current RPG design, the relative lack of choices makes it pretty apparent. This is why I'd rather have a good combat system AND roleplaying system (which, of course, don't have to be mutually exclusive). Another solution could also to invest in actually implementing all those extra choices for each character 'type'.

Go hyperbole.
QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 15 2007, 12:50 PM)
The mechanics are what makes the application of stealth in a level a game as opposed to random trial and error or a flat check to see if you have enough points in a skill. Especially in games where you can reload, trial and error and flat stat checks are pretty lame. The former can often be surmounted by reloading (e.g. trying to disintegrate a dragon) and the latter often cannot be surmounted at all; it's checking against choices you made hours or days ago (how many points you put into X skill) with no recourse.

In a tabletop setting, such mechanics are totally fine. There is a DM present to moderate the situation and (unless you have a memory-eraser) no way to reload.

If tactical games are cleared by simply reloading, it is the problem of balancing - not the game-play itself. Of course, trough trial and error, the players should maximize their tactics like they improve physical manipulation in action games.

In a stat-heavy CRPG with "a bird view," I'd rather want to see more tactical aspect of stealth. For example, the skill would work better in darker places even if character's level is low and the players need to think which is the safer route for their characters. This would make maps and NPCs on them as interactive puzzles. What players need to do is to decide which route their characters should take for the best bet. Of course, the game-play is more of resource management and deployment like in computer tactical simulation games, which is undoubtedly the kin of this type of "RPG". Comparing stealth in this kind of game with that of action stealth game is rather awkward.

As for your argument on Oblivion and other games, you mixed up a lot of aspects ranging from fixed/customizable character, learn-by-doing/experience point, real-time/turn-based and (near) first-person view/a bird view system. For example, even in Oblivion, it is tough to go stealth if you haven't developed your character in that way. Thief? You have already chosen stealth character when you bought the game. If you are found out, you are out - you need reload. This type of stealth heavy action game had difficulty in adding variety of game-plays, which probably lead to the demise of Deadly Shadows. This is why some more popular implementation of stealth action games are more forgiving like Splinter Cell, where you can normally choose assault or stealth anytime when you feel it fits your style. This can only be done well when the developers took balance really carefully. Reading this article, I think at least you need to talk with developers of stealth action games about the mechanism... Of course, (near) first person-view and real-time interaction would be good for immersion and I understand its popularity but why should you mix up things in a so unorganized manner?

Also, I think your logic doesn't hold water about computer vs human GM. It must be much more difficult for computers to replace human GM in NPC reactions rather than in action scene you described. In fact, it was not physical but psychological reaction of the NPC what Mr.Beach did well in his GM session. So, the example is rather weakens your point.

That said, however, I agree with you at that the computer RPG doesn't need follow the mechanic of PnP RPG since a mere physical simulation doesn't make any type of role-playing game. Likewise, even if the physical simulation is replaced by computer-based one, it is still possible to make an RPG. In fact, Fallout is not a mere tactical simulation game but an RPG which enables players to make "meaningful choices with regards to their character and role in the story. For me, it's just a question of if Obsidian could do much better than what Troika did with VtM.

Sorry to post rather critical comment on your brand new blog and good luck on your work.
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nicethugbert
Feb 17 2007 10:28 AM
QUOTE
When one plays Thief, Splinter Cell, or Oblivion, stealth is governed by the player's ability to move from shadow to shadow while avoiding the vision and proximity of bad guys in real time.


Can NWN2 scripting/plugin already do something to incorporate more player skill in stealth? For instance, make patches of ground give negative hide bonus based on the light falling on it, similarly for move silently, and a perception field for spot/listen. Maybe creat a stealth expansion?
I do not quite know why PnP role playing necessarily calls for stricter game mechanics. My experience is that the main issue both in PnP and in computer games which necessitates rules is not world simulation (i.e. interaction between the players and the GM) - rather, it is interaction between players. That is why one-on-one PnP campaigns tend to be very relaxed when it comes to rules: it is usually both in the GM's and in the player's interest to get on with the story (and the player will not have to show off his character's mad skillz to anyone but the guy who actually controls the story). Similarly, WoW, a modern CRPG which dwarfs Oblivion in terms of success, relies on an incredibly rigid rules based approach - and it has to, in order to ensure some kind of balance between players. In such a system, players' rewards are obviously not so much based on personal skill as on prior strategic choices. I would then argue that WoW's success is enough to dismiss the current dogma of CRPGs having to become more "action-oriented" - there appears to be a huge customer base who is entirely happy with classical RPG gratification.

QUOTE(Llyranor @ Feb 16 2007, 06:31 PM)
One can argue that not being to aim properly is a requirement for RPG systems, since the character invested in other types of skills instead. A diplomatic character shouldn't be a good warrior, after all. What I don't like about this particular school of game design is that once you make your character a particular type, you suck at the rest. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, limitations can be good, but the problem arises when (since this ISN'T PnP) the game forces you into a particular set path. You can't make your own, after all, the devs have to design it. If you make a diplomatic character and the game only allows ONE real diplomatic route through the game, you're basically being railroaded.


There is a point to be made for more player control in the case of single PC CRPGs (like the Gothic and the Elder Scrolls series). Gothic 3 combat in particular makes the deficiencies of a "mixed" system apparent. Yes, I can make my PC perform all kinds of fancy attack moves, but what's the use when the difference appears to be marginal? Why do the old infinity engine "lure away and kill" tactics still work in a modern game? etc... However, in a party-based CRPG, I think that a departure from the rules-based approach is much less called for. Tactical micromanagement of party members' actions and skill-based combat are, to a large extent, mutually exclusive. Also, good party-based CPRGs will allow the various PCs to divide up their labour, which might reopen some paths which would have been closed in a game dependent on choices made by the player for one single character. Where many games get it wrong is at the level of interaction with NPCs. Usually, you will have to rely on some kind of lead character to engage in those. If you decide to have your lead character invest in combat skills rather than in diplomacy, tough luck. ToEE did a good job in allowing you to designate who of your party members would engage in conversations, and I do not quite see why this should not be done in a game offering some more meaningful dialogue choices than an old hack and slash DnD module.
This goes to the heart of the role concept.
Most people would agree that it's more rewarding (basically more fun) if in NWN2 you could really 'hide' (move your PC around, putting it behind pleaceables, move from one shadow to another, dropping to the ground if the orc is watching, etc) than just hitting a 'hide mode' button.
The problem is, is it you that's hiding or your character? wouldn't that let a wizard hide as good as a rogue? if you are skilled with your mouse, would you have to make mistakes on porpouse if your character has few points in hiding?

If we go further, and instead of a mouse we use 3D glasses, virtual gloves and all that, could you physically do your blows with the sword instead of throwing dice? would you have to be a matrial art expert and start sweating in your room in order to role a monk?
The funny part of the 'do it yourself' idea conflicts with the basic idea of role-playing a character that it's not you and that has different skills and abilities than you do.
I guess games will fluctuate both sides of the balance between those two playing modes, swinging around the equilibrium point, stretching from player-only skill (counter strike) to character-mostly skill (D&D, besides trying to role-play a very smart PC when you're dumb).
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J.E. Sawyer
Feb 27 2007 10:55 AM
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 16 2007, 10:51 AM)
If tactical games are cleared by simply reloading, it is the problem of balancing - not the game-play itself. Of course, trough trial and error, the players should maximize their tactics like they improve physical manipulation in action games.

They can only maximize their tactics if they have the ability to directly influence the outcome. Most D&D skill checks don't really allow for much of that. Take picking a lock on a door. You can raise your Dex with a potion or spell, or you can use masterwork lockpicks, but there's really nothing else you can do to change the fact that the major component determining success or failure is a randomized number between 1 and 20.

QUOTE
In a stat-heavy CRPG with "a bird view," I'd rather want to see more tactical aspect of stealth. For example, the skill would work better in darker places even if character's level is low and the players need to think which is the safer route for their characters. This would make maps and NPCs on them as interactive puzzles. What players need to do is to decide which route their characters should take for the best bet. Of course, the game-play is more of resource management and deployment like in computer tactical simulation games, which is undoubtedly the kin of this type of "RPG". Comparing stealth in this kind of game with that of action stealth game is rather awkward.

Why? Do you think that the environments in "stealth action" games like Splinter Cell aren't interactive puzzles? There are many levels in Oblivion that are stealth-oriented, but stealth can potentially be used anywhere. It's just that some are set up specifically as a stealth puzzle environment.

QUOTE
As for your argument on Oblivion and other games, you mixed up a lot of aspects ranging from fixed/customizable character, learn-by-doing/experience point, real-time/turn-based and (near) first-person view/a bird view system. For example, even in Oblivion, it is tough to go stealth if you haven't developed your character in that way. Thief? You have already chosen stealth character when you bought the game. If you are found out, you are out - you need reload. This type of stealth heavy action game had difficulty in adding variety of game-plays, which probably lead to the demise of Deadly Shadows. This is why some more popular implementation of stealth action games are more forgiving like Splinter Cell, where you can normally choose assault or stealth anytime when you feel it fits your style. This can only be done well when the developers took balance really carefully. Reading this article, I think at least you need to talk with developers of stealth action games about the mechanism... Of course, (near) first person-view and real-time interaction would be good for immersion and I understand its popularity but why should you mix up things in a so unorganized manner?

You can certainly be discovered and still continue the game in Thief. In fact, you can kill pretty much anyone/everyone in most levels if you want. You can also selectively take people out of you want to. As long as you hide the bodies well, you're good to go. The Thief designers developed an extensive perception system so that AI was not omniscient and did not automatically detect cries for help from allies. And just like Sam Fisher can select his load-out at the beginning of each mission with a stealth or assault load in mind, so too could Garret in the very first Thief.

QUOTE
Also, I think your logic doesn't hold water about computer vs human GM. It must be much more difficult for computers to replace human GM in NPC reactions rather than in action scene you described. In fact, it was not physical but psychological reaction of the NPC what Mr.Beach did well in his GM session. So, the example is rather weakens your point.

My point is that when you have a GM, a GM can adapt to whatever goofy stuff you try to do. This is why tabletop experiences can be fun in spite of the fact that you're just rolling dice to simulate everything. A computer simulates exactly what it is made to simulate. Truly "randomized" simultations that are based on a number give terrible feedback and give the player less control over influencing the outcome of any given contest. For example, Hitman: Contracts used this wavy-gravy mechanic for seeing through disguises where it was "kinda sorta" based on proximity, but sometimes guys would see through your disguise from across the room and other times you could walk right next to them with no problem. It was literally a randomized chance, and the solution wasn't to behave differently, but to reload and try walking past the dude again, which is pretty lame.

In Hitman: Blood Money, there was very clear feedback about what sorts of actions provoked suspicion and could break your disguise. In addition to this, being reckless on previous levels could raise your notoriety. This could cause you to more easily raise suspicion, but it was a multiplier, not some sort of random chance or value. There was a very specific action > response mechanic. If you played like a careless, bloodthirsty psycho, it became very difficult for you to go anywhere without people catching on quickly. If instead it was something like, "There is a 2% chance that every time you come within 10' of a character that he or she will recognize you as the notorious Agent 47!" that would be lame and terrible.
QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 16 2007, 10:51 AM)
If tactical games are cleared by simply reloading, it is the problem of balancing - not the game-play itself. Of course, trough trial and error, the players should maximize their tactics like they improve physical manipulation in action games.

They can only maximize their tactics if they have the ability to directly influence the outcome. Most D&D skill checks don't really allow for much of that. Take picking a lock on a door. You can raise your Dex with a potion or spell, or you can use masterwork lockpicks, but there's really nothing else you can do to change the fact that the major component determining success or failure is a randomized number between 1 and 20.

I am not willing to defend D&D system (You keep talking of D&D but there are various original systems even in tabletop RPG.) but, in general RPG systems, probably the character should be more skilled in different areas, which enables his/her party to deal with the situation, which is, even if you have no single character with a high picking skill in your party. I said resource management but this includes "human"(character?) resource management as well. These are a part of maximizing tactics and game-play in tactical games. Why are tactical RPG players unhappy with restricting control on PC, you think? It robs them of game-play of party management. In tabletop sessions, you are unlikely play as a party (except you are playing for missing members) and CRPG was already developed in a different way.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 16 2007, 10:51 AM)
In a stat-heavy CRPG with "a bird view," I'd rather want to see more tactical aspect of stealth. For example, the skill would work better in darker places even if character's level is low and the players need to think which is the safer route for their characters. This would make maps and NPCs on them as interactive puzzles. What players need to do is to decide which route their characters should take for the best bet. Of course, the game-play is more of resource management and deployment like in computer tactical simulation games, which is undoubtedly the kin of this type of "RPG". Comparing stealth in this kind of game with that of action stealth game is rather awkward.

Why? Do you think that the environments in "stealth action" games like Splinter Cell aren't interactive puzzles?

Yes. I have been talking of differences and not about which is superior to which. They are different types of puzzles from what is expected in party-based "bird view" tactical simulation games. In fact, my criticism on your previous post is about the point where you mixed up essences in different genres (Reading your new post, I've got an impression that you are still comparing party-based tactical simulation games with single-player stealth action games too directly). The puzzles should be different in 1st person action game and 3rd person party-based tactical one. If you played old Comandos, you may well get the idea of possible puzzle essences in bird view tactical games. You use stealth characters to lure/bypass/destruct hostile NPCs and deploy assault characters for backups, where random factors shines. This is the reason why I wrote the maps should be designed as interactive puzzles emphasizing fun factors, which, however, doesn't necessary mean that I think the maps of action games have no puzzle essences.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 16 2007, 10:51 AM)
As for your argument on Oblivion and other games, you mixed up a lot of aspects ranging from fixed/customizable character, learn-by-doing/experience point, real-time/turn-based and (near) first-person view/a bird view system. For example, even in Oblivion, it is tough to go stealth if you haven't developed your character in that way. Thief? You have already chosen stealth character when you bought the game. If you are found out, you are out - you need reload. This type of stealth heavy action game had difficulty in adding variety of game-plays, which probably lead to the demise of Deadly Shadows. This is why some more popular implementation of stealth action games are more forgiving like Splinter Cell, where you can normally choose assault or stealth anytime when you feel it fits your style. This can only be done well when the developers took balance really carefully. Reading this article, I think at least you need to talk with developers of stealth action games about the mechanism... Of course, (near) first person-view and real-time interaction would be good for immersion and I understand its popularity but why should you mix up things in a so unorganized manner?

You can certainly be discovered and still continue the game in Thief. In fact, you can kill pretty much anyone/everyone in most levels if you want. You can also selectively take people out of you want to. As long as you hide the bodies well, you're good to go. The Thief designers developed an extensive perception system so that AI was not omniscient and did not automatically detect cries for help from allies. And just like Sam Fisher can select his load-out at the beginning of each mission with a stealth or assault load in mind, so too could Garret in the very first Thief.

Well, to be honest, that's totally different from my style and probably I missed something. However, there are hostiles which cannot be gotten rid of in Thief series and, generally speaking, Garrett is often described as "puny" when compared with Sam Fisher. There is a more professional analysis on this topic. I wonder if Obsidian hires static analysis company but I think some of bigger companies must be doing something like this. There are too many games to play and they must need more statistical analysis to organize subjective opinions. In any case, if you haven't read this already old article, please read it or, if you have read it, take a look at the figure 3 on page 3, where you see comparison of four stealth games: Splinter Cell, Deus Ex, Metal Gear (Solid and Acid) and Thief. "Attacking" has the lowest score but, at the same time, the differences are relatively small like you wrote. However, rather than backing up my point, I'd rather like to hear your opinion about the analysis.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 16 2007, 10:51 AM)
Also, I think your logic doesn't hold water about computer vs human GM. It must be much more difficult for computers to replace human GM in NPC reactions rather than in action scene you described. In fact, it was not physical but psychological reaction of the NPC what Mr.Beach did well in his GM session. So, the example is rather weakens your point.

My point is that when you have a GM, a GM can adapt to whatever goofy stuff you try to do. This is why tabletop experiences can be fun in spite of the fact that you're just rolling dice to simulate everything. A computer simulates exactly what it is made to simulate. Truly "randomized" simultations that are based on a number give terrible feedback and give the player less control over influencing the outcome of any given contest.

Then, a clearer example would have been an open-dice session. However, computers have reload function if things were messed up only because of the randomization. You say you have less control because of the randomized factor but you have more control on the stats of characters. Some tactical RPG fans are unhappy with real-time micromanagement since they don't regard these physical manipulation as a fun game-play. Simply, they are different types of controls, means, whether you have control on each action of a character or more generalized action and resource management of characters. If you are unhappy with proximity, you could remove all the randomness from "rule-sets" but this would be an unpopular game design decision. Nobody would be happy with total randomization but a spoonful of randomness is a different story. As I wrote in my previous post, this is a game-balance issue rather than a defect in mechanism.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
For example, Hitman: Contracts used this wavy-gravy mechanic for seeing through disguises where it was "kinda sorta" based on proximity, but sometimes guys would see through your disguise from across the room and other times you could walk right next to them with no problem. It was literally a randomized chance, and the solution wasn't to behave differently, but to reload and try walking past the dude again, which is pretty lame.

Haven't you played games outside of action games recently, have you? A part of Oblivion's success is that it gathered people from various genres such as action games, SP/MMORPG and even sims. We know what is fun for ourselves but as a professional game designer, isn't it important for you to know what is/can be fun for other people? Even if you wouldn't like to play other games, you can still listen to other designers and look into statistics. Anyway, you must be talking of the coordination between what offered by modern psychics engines and "rule-set" simulation. Means, what you see and hear can be different from the outputs of "ruleset". Indeed, the difference becomes hardly ignorable in first person view. I haven't played Hitman but I don't know why developer made disguise-check based on "rule-set" while it is a near-first person action game with a predefined character. In fact, many people complained of the believability of stealth in VtM. You probably need someone specialized in the job like Emil Pagilarulo (as you probably know, a Thief II designer hired by Bethesda for Oblivion, in which he designed stealth in general and the series of Dark Brotherhood faction-based scenario.) in order to make stealth believable when making a (near) first person action RPG, where character stats and intuitive believability need to be come together.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
In Hitman: Blood Money, there was very clear feedback about what sorts of actions provoked suspicion and could break your disguise. In addition to this, being reckless on previous levels could raise your notoriety. This could cause you to more easily raise suspicion, but it was a multiplier, not some sort of random chance or value. There was a very specific action > response mechanic. If you played like a careless, bloodthirsty psycho, it became very difficult for you to go anywhere without people catching on quickly. If instead it was something like, "There is a 2% chance that every time you come within 10' of a character that he or she will recognize you as the notorious Agent 47!" that would be lame and terrible.

You know you don't see such kind of information even in Fallout. In fact, NPC interaction showed almost no progress or even digress thinking of Oblivion. BTW, talking of NPC interactions, I heard SC: Double Agent has a newly implemented faction-based reaction system but I don't have time to put my hands on it.
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J.E. Sawyer
Feb 28 2007 10:07 AM
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 28 2007, 05:18 AM)
I am not willing to defend D&D system (You keep talking of D&D but there are various original systems even in tabletop RPG.)

How many of them are relevant to the state of the modern CRPG? And of those, how many of them use something other than randomized numbers + skill bonuses vs. a static difficulty to resolve actions?

QUOTE
but, in general RPG systems, probably the character should be more skilled in different areas, which enables his/her party to deal with the situation, which is, even if you have no single character with a high picking skill in your party. I said resource management but this includes "human"(character?) resource management as well.

It doesn't matter if you have one character or six characters; you're still resolving an action using a randomized number modified by points that you put in your character over a process of hours or even days. There is nothing "in the moment" about the event, no puzzle to solve other than deciding to attempt the task or not.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
I've got an impression that you are still comparing party-based tactical simulation games with single-player stealth action games too directly). The puzzles should be different in 1st person action game and 3rd person party-based tactical one. If you played old Comandos, you may well get the idea of possible puzzle essences in bird view tactical games. You use stealth characters to lure/bypass/destruct hostile NPCs and deploy assault characters for backups, where random factors shines.

Either way, "a" character has to undertake the stealth action. The high-level tactical gameplay involved doesn't give the stealth game aspect a free pass to use a randomized mechanic. And in Commandos, it was a more direct stealth experience. You saw sound ripples from your characters, saw vision cones from the enemies. You had to time your movements and take actions based on these elements. Despite the view, this still has a lot more in common with Splinter Cell and Thief than it does with Baldur's Gate or Fallout, where click button = roll dice to hide.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
In any case, if you haven't read this already old article, please read it or, if you have read it, take a look at the figure 3 on page 3, where you see comparison of four stealth games: Splinter Cell, Deus Ex, Metal Gear (Solid and Acid) and Thief. "Attacking" has the lowest score but, at the same time, the differences are relatively small like you wrote. However, rather than backing up my point, I'd rather like to hear your opinion about the analysis.

Garret is nowhere near as capable of taking out guys once they are alert as Sam Fisher is, but you can still slaughter pretty much anyone and everyone on a level if you use a modicum of planning and attack from stealth. The article itself is interesting, I guess, but they do not illuminate how they arrived at their data. I assume they use data mining software, but exactly what constitues a "unit" of any given action is unclear, as are the composition of the groups they used to derive their results. It's also interesting that although attacking is higher for Splinter Cell than it is for Thief, stealth is higher for Splinter Cell than it is for Thief. I'm also not sure how some of the categories differ from the others. "Attacking" vs. "Use of Weapons" vs. "Warfare". Do these things overlap, or are they exclusive? You use your weapons in Splinter Cell and Thief a lot, but it's often not to attack people. I would assume that "Warfare" means all-out combat against all enemies on a map, which would explain why Splinter Cell has a much higher rating than Thief. Garret usually can't kill three aware guys, but it's not a problem for Sam. In contrast, you can attack unaware individuals and kill them with effectively equal ease in each series.

In any case, Thief is not a game that punishes fighting characters, and you can certainly alert and/or kill characters and continue playing the game. Again, Thief, Splinter Cell, Oblivion, and Commandos all have much more in common in their stealth components than any of them have in common with traditional tabletop RPGs or CRPGs.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
Then, a clearer example would have been an open-dice session. However, computers have reload function if things were messed up only because of the randomization. You say you have less control because of the randomized factor but you have more control on the stats of characters.

You have no control over the stats of the character at the time you encounter any given challenge. By the time you become aware that your characters have insufficient statistics to perform a task, you have no recourse. If it's a flat check, you cannot complete the task. If it's randomized, you just have to keep clicking a button. If it's randomized and you only get one chance, you have to reload and keep clicking a button. In none of these case is fun had at that moment when the event is taking place.

QUOTE
Some tactical RPG fans are unhappy with real-time micromanagement since they don't regard these physical manipulation as a fun game-play. Simply, they are different types of controls, means, whether you have control on each action of a character or more generalized action and resource management of characters. If you are unhappy with proximity, you could remove all the randomness from "rule-sets" but this would be an unpopular game design decision. Nobody would be happy with total randomization but a spoonful of randomness is a different story. As I wrote in my previous post, this is a game-balance issue rather than a defect in mechanism.

I still see absolutely no fun in the action itself. By comparison, games like Oblivion, Bloodlines, or Deus Ex that blend statistical elements on the character with more direct control over the character's participation in the action allow both the character and the player to be involved and relevant when completing the task. One of the key challenges with such systems is finding a good baseline for low skill characters. For example, Bloodlines had pretty infuriating firearms because the character's base skill felt terrible. Oblivion's archery felt decent at low level, and much better as your Marksmanship improved.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
Haven't you played games outside of action games recently, have you? A part of Oblivion's success is that it gathered people from various genres such as action games, SP/MMORPG and even sims. We know what is fun for ourselves but as a professional game designer, isn't it important for you to know what is/can be fun for other people? Even if you wouldn't like to play other games, you can still listen to other designers and look into statistics. Anyway, you must be talking of the coordination between what offered by modern psychics engines and "rule-set" simulation. Means, what you see and hear can be different from the outputs of "ruleset". Indeed, the difference becomes hardly ignorable in first person view. I haven't played Hitman but I don't know why developer made disguise-check based on "rule-set" while it is a near-first person action game with a predefined character. In fact, many people complained of the believability of stealth in VtM. You probably need someone specialized in the job like Emil Pagilarulo (as you probably know, a Thief II designer hired by Bethesda for Oblivion, in which he designed stealth in general and the series of Dark Brotherhood faction-based scenario.) in order to make stealth believable when making a (near) first person action RPG, where character stats and intuitive believability need to be come together.

The main point of my original entry was that RPG titles with mechanics like Oblivion's are probably going to be more common in the future. Yes, I'm paying attention to what people like. Well over a million of them liked Oblivion a lot. That doesn't mean that Oblivion made no mistakes, but they did enough right that a lot of people enjoyed it.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
You know you don't see such kind of information even in Fallout. In fact, NPC interaction showed almost no progress or even digress thinking of Oblivion. BTW, talking of NPC interactions, I heard SC: Double Agent has a newly implemented faction-based reaction system but I don't have time to put my hands on it.

I think Oblivion's lack of character reaction was one of its weakest points, and I very much hope that is changed in Fallout 3. In Fallout, you could see characters react to your reputation pretty easily and you could track regional reputations on your character sheet. It didn't always make a difference, but it made enough of a difference that it was important in the game.
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spacekungfuman
Feb 28 2007 12:35 PM
Josh - I honestly think that you've lost sight of the player/character distinction that is the heart of a game being an RPG vs just a game. Here's what I think an RPG requires: A brain transplant, and a world that's not a vacuum. I've mentioned numerous games as examples to better illustrate what I mean by both of these characteristics.

Part 1: The brain transplant
In an RPG, your character is a person in a world. His characteristics are set out by his statistics, and the way that those statistics impact his interactions with that world's rules of physics, standards of behavior and attractiveness, etc. The player essentially has his brain placed in the character's body, and has to abide by that character's physical abilities. (note, its really more like you become the pilot of his brain. All the data is still filtered through the character's mental statistics, but you give the orders based on that data.)

In a standard game, you just put on a mask. Regardless of how well the character could aim, run jump, dodge, etc, it is meaningless, because the player's ability with a mouse or controller is all that determines how the character fares. This is playing a role in a trivial sense, but all you're really doing is playing yourself, with another person's appearance.

And blended games like Oblivion are not any better when you look at the marginal cases. People tend to focus on the unskilled character who hits based on high player skill, but I think the bigger problem is the high skill character that misses based on low player skill. Many people are forgiving in the former case, because its fun to succeed. But how about in the latter, where a character with a heavy stealth build is always detected because the player (who wants to play as a stealth character) is simply not skilled with a mouse or keyboard. Ironically enough, this type of hybrid game restricts a person's ability to assume the role of a character different from himself, because the player isn't enough like the character that he wants to build. If you insist on taking the main characters in Splinter Cell or Thief as archetypes of the stealth based rpg character, then how can you respond to the Thief player who desperately wants to play the game in a stealthy way, but can't because the character is the only member of the character+player team who knows how to stealth. What I'm basically driving at is these types of games are only fun for people who are good at action games, and there may be little or no overlap between that group and CRPG fans. They're certainly not mutually inclusive, but its equally clear that the class of people who like action games does not include the entire class of CRPG fans.

Part 2: The Vacuum.
Part of being a person is making choices, and part of being a person who does not live in a vacuum is having those choices impact that state of the world. When Fallout 1 and 2, Arcanum, KOTOR 1 and 2, BG 1 and 2, and many other PC RPGs give you choices that impact the content in the game, they effectively tell you that your character is a PERSON, and that as such, he can impact the world, for good or for ill. If you take this away, then the choice that you make (moral or otherwise) in the game are no different in character than facial customization at the start of the game: they're merely aesthetic.

In Fallout, people would react to a child killer by saying "He's a terrible person, and I want nothing to do with him, based on his immorality." Where as In Oblivion (if you could be a child killer, which is impossible) people would say "Oh he's a child killer. Let me treat him like everyone else." To show the absurdity of this, let's consider a parallel reaction, based on your character having a big nose. In Fallout, people would probably say "He has a big nose. Sure he's a little ugly (so I don't want to sleep with him) but I'll treat him like any other human being". In Oblivion it would be "Oh he's got a big nose. Let me treat him like everyone else." In Fallout, choices can actually be moral, because they bear consequences, including social disapproval. In Oblivion, all you can really do is make choices about what type of nose you want to have. The Arena champ's nose. The worst mass murderer in history's nose. All choices that impact you, but only in superficial ways.

What can we conclude from Oblivion's 1) emphasis on player skill, not character skill 2) complete lack of meaningful choices and 3) its huge success in a market populated with players who have probably never even played a PC RPG (xbox 360 owners)? That Oblivion does not represent the evolution of the RPG at all. It represents a successful way to appeal to an action oriented crowd with no experience playing the stat based simulation RPGs. In other words, Oblivion is a great example of how an RPG maker can abandon their genre, for a hollow commercial success. Oblivion is "Selling Out 101."
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J.E. Sawyer
Feb 28 2007 02:39 PM
QUOTE(spacekungfuman @ Feb 28 2007, 12:35 PM)
Josh - I honestly think that you've lost sight of the player/character distinction that is the heart of a game being an RPG vs just a game.

We are not playing a game on a tabletop with a live GM to arbitrate things. That is what I think many "hardcore" RPGers refuse to accept, and why they continue to cling to the idea that all actions must be devoid of player skill for a game to be an RPG. I also think that distinction isn't even really true, as experienced RPGers meta-game constantly, even when their characters "shouldn't" have the ability to analyze or know certain aspects of their statistics, properties of items, aspects of enemies they are dealing with, etc. Player skill is an enormous part of hardcore RPGs, but the skill set required in a D&D CRPG is much different than the skill set required to play Pikmin or Jade Empire or Katamari Damacy.

QUOTE
Part 1: The brain transplant
In an RPG, your character is a person in a world. His characteristics are set out by his statistics, and the way that those statistics impact his interactions with that world's rules of physics, standards of behavior and attractiveness, etc. The player essentially has his brain placed in the character's body, and has to abide by that character's physical abilities. (note, its really more like you become the pilot of his brain. All the data is still filtered through the character's mental statistics, but you give the orders based on that data.)

If all data were filtered through the character's mental statistics, you wouldn't see stats for a quarter of the things you use in RPGs. Spell damage, attacks per round, weapon critical hit multipliers -- all of these things are clearly defined so the player can use his or her skill to direct the actions of the character. With combat, often the "die rolling game" works out reasonably well, especially when controlling a party. The player can make moment to moment choices over the course of a long combat that can "course correct" if he or she gets off to a bad start. With something like stealth or lockpicking, the ability to do that is usually absent. There's no "game" to the action other than the character building aspect and the choice of the player to click a button and watch the results.

QUOTE
And blended games like Oblivion are not any better when you look at the marginal cases. People tend to focus on the unskilled character who hits based on high player skill, but I think the bigger problem is the high skill character that misses based on low player skill. Many people are forgiving in the former case, because its fun to succeed. But how about in the latter, where a character with a heavy stealth build is always detected because the player (who wants to play as a stealth character) is simply not skilled with a mouse or keyboard.

Are you talking about a "theoretical" person, or a real group of people who have honestly complained about this? Because it's pretty damned easy to hide in Oblivion unless you have a nervous disorder and/or the inability to distinguish light from shadow. We're not talking about Ninja Gaiden levels of timing.

QUOTE
Ironically enough, this type of hybrid game restricts a person's ability to assume the role of a character different from himself, because the player isn't enough like the character that he wants to build. If you insist on taking the main characters in Splinter Cell or Thief as archetypes of the stealth based rpg character, then how can you respond to the Thief player who desperately wants to play the game in a stealthy way, but can't because the character is the only member of the character+player team who knows how to stealth. What I'm basically driving at is these types of games are only fun for people who are good at action games, and there may be little or no overlap between that group and CRPG fans. They're certainly not mutually inclusive, but its equally clear that the class of people who like action games does not include the entire class of CRPG fans.

Sure, the mythic Venn diagram of these two groups isn't a picture of two perfectly overlapping circles, but I question the implied assertion that there are a bunch of CRPG fans who enjoy playing a "stats only" stealth character more than a "stats plus action" stealth character. That is, people who say, "Man, I hate having to look at light and darkness and how fast I'm moving when I'm using stealth." Even in a game like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale, I would argue that it would be more enjoyable to use lightmaps (which exist everywhere on the IE maps) to heavily influence your chance of staying in stealth than to rely on the straight stat + die roll system. It gives the player something to interact with in the environment, and turns stealth into a game instead of relegating it to shoving points into a character every hour or two. In such a mythical IE or Neverwinter Engine implementation, what undue demands are placed on the player? You can let them click exactly where he or she wants to click, look at the map from an overhead view, pause the game to issue commands, etc. The resolution is still a blend of character skill and player skill and there's no demand for manual dexterity or crackerjack timing.

QUOTE
In Fallout, people would react to a child killer by saying "He's a terrible person, and I want nothing to do with him, based on his immorality." Where as In Oblivion (if you could be a child killer, which is impossible) people would say "Oh he's a child killer. Let me treat him like everyone else." To show the absurdity of this, let's consider a parallel reaction, based on your character having a big nose. In Fallout, people would probably say "He has a big nose. Sure he's a little ugly (so I don't want to sleep with him) but I'll treat him like any other human being". In Oblivion it would be "Oh he's got a big nose. Let me treat him like everyone else." In Fallout, choices can actually be moral, because they bear consequences, including social disapproval. In Oblivion, all you can really do is make choices about what type of nose you want to have. The Arena champ's nose. The worst mass murderer in history's nose. All choices that impact you, but only in superficial ways.

I've never written that I thought how Oblivion handled character interaction was well done. In this thread specifically, I've stated that I think it was very poorly done and I think that Bethesda should make Fallout 3's character interaction mechanics much better.

QUOTE
What can we conclude from Oblivion's 1) emphasis on player skill, not character skill 2) complete lack of meaningful choices and 3) its huge success in a market populated with players who have probably never even played a PC RPG (xbox 360 owners)? That Oblivion does not represent the evolution of the RPG at all. It represents a successful way to appeal to an action oriented crowd with no experience playing the stat based simulation RPGs. In other words, Oblivion is a great example of how an RPG maker can abandon their genre, for a hollow commercial success. Oblivion is "Selling Out 101."

I play a lot of RPGs, and I thought Oblivion was pretty fun. I don't think they abandoned the genre, but I do think there are things they should do differently to reinforce player choice, specifically when building characters (selecting types of bonuses) and when interacting with the world (checking actions and providing deep feedback). I also think they should examine some of their mechanics for suitability on different platforms. E.g. lockpicking on the PC was a frustrating mechanic regardless of character skill unless you mashed auto-attempt, which was a cop out. I think that any sort of "character and player" blend should be engaging but relatively straightforward on the player side of the equation, which many of Oblivion's mechanics were. For example, melee combat in Oblivion is really basic and doesn't even come close to the complexity or timing demanded by a true action game like DMC, Ninja Gaiden, or God of War.
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spacekungfuman
Feb 28 2007 04:32 PM
First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to discuss this issue with us. As you know very well, hardcore fallout fans spend a LOT of time talking about this very issue, so the chance to talk with the lead Designer of Van Buren about it is pretty incredible.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 28 2007, 05:39 PM)
We are not playing a game on a tabletop with a live GM to arbitrate things. That is what I think many "hardcore" RPGers refuse to accept, and why they continue to cling to the idea that all actions must be devoid of player skill for a game to be an RPG. I also think that distinction isn't even really true, as experienced RPGers meta-game constantly, even when their characters "shouldn't" have the ability to analyze or know certain aspects of their statistics, properties of items, aspects of enemies they are dealing with, etc. Player skill is an enormous part of hardcore RPGs, but the skill set required in a D&D CRPG is much different than the skill set required to play Pikmin or Jade Empire or Katamari Damacy.


I'll grant your metagaming point, but just because we can simulate actions in a different way doesn't mean that we should. You're right to say that hardcore CRPGs require a different skill set than pikmin or Katamai Damacy, but its not coincidental that hardcore CRPG fans all possess the skills to play their chosen games, while only some have the skills to play the latter types. If you have a decision between a system that works for all the genre fans and one which doesn't, then why use the system which doesn't work for all the genre fans? Bungie could make the next Halo a lightgun game, and while that may simulate being master chief as well or better than the old control scheme, that doesn't neccesarily mean that its the right choice for a Halo game.


QUOTE
If all data were filtered through the character's mental statistics, you wouldn't see stats for a quarter of the things you use in RPGs. Spell damage, attacks per round, weapon critical hit multipliers -- all of these things are clearly defined so the player can use his or her skill to direct the actions of the character. With combat, often the "die rolling game" works out reasonably well, especially when controlling a party. The player can make moment to moment choices over the course of a long combat that can "course correct" if he or she gets off to a bad start. With something like stealth or lockpicking, the ability to do that is usually absent. There's no "game" to the action other than the character building aspect and the choice of the player to click a button and watch the results.

Are you talking about a "theoretical" person, or a real group of people who have honestly complained about this? Because it's pretty damned easy to hide in Oblivion unless you have a nervous disorder and/or the inability to distinguish light from shadow. We're not talking about Ninja Gaiden levels of timing.


I guess that's just the point. Stealth in Oblivion isn't challenging in any way, so making it require more effort than the infinity engine's toggle is just a waste of time to many people. And including a challenging stealth game would exclude a lot of traditional rpg fans entirely. There's probably a balance here (which I know if what you're looking for) but it seems to me like its a compromise that doesn't need to be reached, since the stealth toggle was so easy and quick that it didn't need to be fun on its own. It was just unobtrusive, leaving non stealth action fans alone, while keeping stealth action fans from being disappointed by a promising yet over simplified stealth mini game.


QUOTE
Sure, the mythic Venn diagram of these two groups isn't a picture of two perfectly overlapping circles, but I question the implied assertion that there are a bunch of CRPG fans who enjoy playing a "stats only" stealth character more than a "stats plus action" stealth character. That is, people who say, "Man, I hate having to look at light and darkness and how fast I'm moving when I'm using stealth." Even in a game like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale, I would argue that it would be more enjoyable to use lightmaps (which exist everywhere on the IE maps) to heavily influence your chance of staying in stealth than to rely on the straight stat + die roll system. It gives the player something to interact with in the environment, and turns stealth into a game instead of relegating it to shoving points into a character every hour or two. In such a mythical IE or Neverwinter Engine implementation, what undue demands are placed on the player? You can let them click exactly where he or she wants to click, look at the map from an overhead view, pause the game to issue commands, etc. The resolution is still a blend of character skill and player skill and there's no demand for manual dexterity or crackerjack timing.


See, this doesn't implicate any twitch ability, so I agree that noone would find it objectionable. But I can personally say that given the choice of IE stealth or mild twitch based, I'll take the IE toggle. At the worst, its what I (and other CRPG fans) are used to.

QUOTE
I've never written that I thought how Oblivion handled character interaction was well done. In this thread specifically, I've stated that I think it was very poorly done and I think that Bethesda should make Fallout 3's character interaction mechanics much better.


I wasn't accusing you of liking Oblivion's world interaction wink.gif I just wanted to bring it up to show how far Oblivion has strayed from CRPG traditions.

QUOTE
I play a lot of RPGs, and I thought Oblivion was pretty fun. I don't think they abandoned the genre, but I do think there are things they should do differently to reinforce player choice, specifically when building characters (selecting types of bonuses) and when interacting with the world (checking actions and providing deep feedback). I also think they should examine some of their mechanics for suitability on different platforms. E.g. lockpicking on the PC was a frustrating mechanic regardless of character skill unless you mashed auto-attempt, which was a cop out. I think that any sort of "character and player" blend should be engaging but relatively straightforward on the player side of the equation, which many of Oblivion's mechanics were. For example, melee combat in Oblivion is really basic and doesn't even come close to the complexity or timing demanded by a true action game like DMC, Ninja Gaiden, or God of War.


You know I wasn't saying that all RPG fans don't like Oblivion. But I'm sure that you've seen the reaction to Oblivion on RPG enthusiast sites. Fans on RPGCodex, NMA, DAC, hell, even on the fallout 3 and Morrowind boards on Gamefaqs, generally revile the game as being the most watered down and disappointing excuse for a CRPG in years. So I have to admit that its disheartening to see a Black Isle alum like yourself saying Oblivion was a step in the right direction, even if its only in limited ways. Maybe this approach is a good way to grow the market (and I know money is the chief concern here) but it comes at the expense of the hardcore fans. I'm tired of saying all my favorite games are 10 years old. I hope that 10 years in the future, if I say my favorite games are 20 years old, it isn't be default.
First, it seems to me that I have to clear that I don't have clear vision of what CRPG should be different from some people here. However, I don't agree with J.E. Sawyer at the point that strategy or tactical element is not appropriate to computer games since he is definitely ignoring the fact that some of tactical/strategy games are alive and kicking even now. We simply don't see its combination with RPG. I understand it is because of popularity but not because of defects of system itself since it doesn't explain why some strategy titles are still popular.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 28 2007, 10:07 AM)
How many of them are relevant to the state of the modern CRPG?

Learn-by-doing system was originally from Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing system. Also, the multi-cultural backgrounds of Morrowind remind me of old Chaosium settings, where Ken Rolston worked. Especially, "Live Another Life in Another World" motto attracted even sim fans. There are many more factors in tabletop RPGs than what you can see in D&D.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 28 2007, 10:07 AM)
And of those, how many of them use something other than randomized numbers + skill bonuses vs. a static difficulty to resolve actions?

Not so many in that respect, which is why I continued on the argument as "general RPG systems".

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 28 2007, 10:07 AM)
QUOTE(Wombat @ Feb 28 2007, 05:18 AM)

It doesn't matter if you have one character or six characters; you're still resolving an action using a randomized number modified by points that you put in your character over a process of hours or even days. There is nothing "in the moment" about the event, no puzzle to solve other than deciding to attempt the task or not.

The number of character matters. More characters/equipments mean more choices in this kind of game. In fact, in NWN2, I was often frustrated by forgetting to keep a stealth character in the party. My party needed to go back to the bar or the keep to change party members. If the developers allow players to choose characters in each map (or series of maps, if it is the design decision of the designer), then, it would have been more convenient. Since the main game-play in tactical games is resource-management and deciding general actions I would like the designers to maximize the fun elements and reduce the nuisances.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
I've got an impression that you are still comparing party-based tactical simulation games with single-player stealth action games too directly). The puzzles should be different in 1st person action game and 3rd person party-based tactical one. If you played old Comandos, you may well get the idea of possible puzzle essences in bird view tactical games. You use stealth characters to lure/bypass/destruct hostile NPCs and deploy assault characters for backups, where random factors shines.

Either way, "a" character has to undertake the stealth action. The high-level tactical gameplay involved doesn't give the stealth game aspect a free pass to use a randomized mechanic. And in Commandos, it was a more direct stealth experience. You saw sound ripples from your characters, saw vision cones from the enemies. You had to time your movements and take actions based on these elements. Despite the view, this still has a lot more in common with Splinter Cell and Thief than it does with Baldur's Gate or Fallout, where click button = roll dice to hide.

Probably, a better example would have been Silent Storm but the problem here is that I only played the demo. At least, as far as a single character stealth mission goes, I surely find the stealth element is too much on the skill of stealth character and, as you say, "proximity" produced by that: when the concealment is broken, I needed to reload. There is no option for any better risk management. Even worse, if I keep the character in stealth, the chance of being revealed becomes higher as time passes - this makes proximity almost necessity - This is a bad design decision. At least I don't see a point of single character stealth missions. However, if I use stealth characters as a part of team tactics, where I can disperse risks so that I can deal with a few "bad lucks," things worked well. As I wrote before, dealing with "proximity" is a part of the game-play in this kind of tactical games. If the designers don't give players options of maximizing their tactics, (in this case, by limiting controllable character to one character), then, they don't know how things work in this kind of game. This is why I think the problem is rather about implementation than an innate problem of stats-based "proximity".

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
The article itself is interesting, I guess, but they do not illuminate how they arrived at their data.

I understand the frustration - the article doesn't tell much about the definitions. The details seem to be confidential.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
I would assume that "Warfare" means all-out combat against all enemies on a map, which would explain why Splinter Cell has a much higher rating than Thief.

In fact, I think you are comparing Deus Ex column with Thief's one...please check the order. "Warfare" is an easier piece of the puzzle since Deus Ex lets the players use heavy weapons against massive robots, for example.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
Garret usually can't kill three aware guys, but it's not a problem for Sam. In contrast, you can attack unaware individuals and kill them with effectively equal ease in each series.

That is what I meant by "When you are found out, you are out." I think the problem is just about expression here. A miss or a simple bad luck claims more from Garret than Sam. However, I think this kind of "proximity" worked quite well in the series. Of course, this must have been different if there were no reload "function," though.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
In any case, Thief is not a game that punishes fighting characters, and you can certainly alert and/or kill characters and continue playing the game.

Kill or not, in Thief, you are confined into stealth actions, rightfully for that game but it is just an element in RPG.

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
Again, Thief, Splinter Cell, Oblivion, and Commandos all have much more in common in their stealth components than any of them have in common with traditional tabletop RPGs or CRPGs.

I wonder if I need to repeat that I think you are mixing up a lot of elements here.
QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
I still see absolutely no fun in the action itself. By comparison, games like Oblivion, Bloodlines, or Deus Ex that blend statistical elements on the character with more direct control over the character's participation in the action allow both the character and the player to be involved and relevant when completing the task. One of the key challenges with such systems is finding a good baseline for low skill characters. For example, Bloodlines had pretty infuriating firearms because the character's base skill felt terrible. Oblivion's archery felt decent at low level, and much better as your Marksmanship improved.

The difference between firearms in Bloodlines and archery in Oblivion was that Oblivion restricted the skill modification only to the damage to the target. The other difference on this account is more arguable since, in Oblivion, the levels of hostile characters are adjusted to that of the character. This solves the problem for low level characters but lessens the believability of the world and the fun of exploration. This may be acceptable for thief/assassin characters but severely damages ranger experiences by reducing immersion in learning bestiary or general behavior of "animals."

QUOTE(J.E. Sawyer @ Feb 27 2007, 10:55 AM)
The main point of my original entry was that RPG titles with mechanics like Oblivion's are probably going to be more common in the future. Yes, I'm paying attention to what people like. Well over a million of them liked Oblivion a lot. That doesn't mean that Oblivion made no mistakes, but they did enough right that a lot of people enjoyed it.

What I meant is Oblivion earned their audiences by carefully mixing essences from various genres. I've got an impression that Bethesda analyzed the preferences of various game players and hired people suitable for each factor. Also, I think Rolston managed to carry a lot of elements from his experience on tabletop and computer RPG even in that massive project although I wonder how much he was conscious of it. In fact, even I was more happy with Morrowind setting like Rolston himself, I still saw some elements of old tabletop RPG even in Oblivion.
I feel Oblivion gets a lot of undue criticism because of it's hype and fame. I thing Oblivion got a lot of things "right" as far as mixing action and stats. Sure, it's not 100% perfect, but I still feel its a very engaging game, if your into sandbox games.

I will say with "traditional" CRPG games, as long as the game is linear enough, it is pretty easy to balance difficulty. A party of level 5 characters need X level 4-6 monsters.

Oblivion tried having scaled monsters, which broke many players immersion, and leave any feeling of progression almost the window.

I think future action-RPG hybrid games are going to run into this issue, and something never going to be completely solved. How do you balance action mechanics, and enemy difficulty/AI when you have a stat-driven progression. How difficult do you need to make enemies for the player to truly feel challenge?

The DMC series meets a pretty good balance of stats and action. Most the time, you are buying new moves, not more numbers to you existing moves. Every move has pros and cons. Just because you have new moves doesn't mean much without the knowledge of when and where to apply it.

I haven't had a chance to play Dark Messiah, but it looks pretty good on paper. Buy abilities that add to your utility more than just "bigger numbers" all the time.

EVE online also does a great job of balancing combat mechanics and skills. Skill increase your "utility" (being able to equip more >kinds< of weapons) but your damage output is bottlenecked by you ship. A given ship my only be able to have 3 weapons, and carry only so much weight. So having bigger guns will decrease your cargo size/and how many other combat-helping modules you can have on board.

I think that is the best way to handle having Stats/Skills in an action-RPG hybrid. Skills should increase your utility, but your still bottlenecked by your paper doll. Having skills that give different functionality, not just higher numbers.

What I mean (just pulling stuff out of my hat)
A sword skill in most games:
Level 1: crap damage
level 2: moderate damage
level 3: good damage
level 4 great damage

I propose
Level 1: equip a sword
level 2: be able to parry with sword
level 3: be able to disarm opponents
level 4: every attack "bleeds" opponent.

that way, you feel real progression with your skills. Not unlike getting Expert/Master/Grandmaster ranks in the old Might and Magic games.
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spacekungfuman
Mar 04 2007 09:26 AM
QUOTE(Imbrium @ Mar 4 2007, 05:49 AM)
What I mean (just pulling stuff out of my hat)
A sword skill in most games:
Level 1: crap damage
level 2: moderate damage
level 3: good damage
level 4 great damage

I propose
Level 1: equip a sword
level 2: be able to parry with sword
level 3: be able to disarm opponents
level 4: every attack "bleeds" opponent.



But this requires a high degree of player skill, which basically means the game is an action game, not an RPG anymore. At best, its an RPG which excludes RPG fans who aren't into or good at action games.
QUOTE(spacekungfuman @ Mar 4 2007, 09:26 AM)
QUOTE(Imbrium @ Mar 4 2007, 05:49 AM)
What I mean (just pulling stuff out of my hat)
A sword skill in most games:
Level 1: crap damage
level 2: moderate damage
level 3: good damage
level 4 great damage

I propose
Level 1: equip a sword
level 2: be able to parry with sword
level 3: be able to disarm opponents
level 4: every attack "bleeds" opponent.



But this requires a high degree of player skill, which basically means the game is an action game, not an RPG anymore. At best, its an RPG which excludes RPG fans who aren't into or good at action games.


It doesn't require a "high" amount of player skill at all IMO. Just look at Oblivion. I have plenty of friends who aren't action gamers that still play the game obsessively. Another great thing about such a progression is that it slowly introduces the player to the different fighting mechanics while they played, so new players don't get overwhelmed.

It is all about meeting that "balance" point between requiring player skill and character skill.

In my mind, it's more rewarding to feel like I've swung the sword, than just having a dice-roll generator telling me I hit or missed. At that point, I might as well be playing Progress Quest.
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spacekungfuman
Mar 04 2007 01:20 PM
QUOTE(Imbrium @ Mar 4 2007, 02:26 PM)
It doesn't require a "high" amount of player skill at all IMO. Just look at Oblivion. I have plenty of friends who aren't action gamers that still play the game obsessively. Another great thing about such a progression is that it slowly introduces the player to the different fighting mechanics while they played, so new players don't get overwhelmed.

It is all about meeting that "balance" point between requiring player skill and character skill.


But Oblivion does not introduce a series of new moves which the player must make split second decisions regarding. When you move from the simple "one button blocks, one buttons swings" combat of oblivion into parrying, dodging, attacking in different ways, etc, then you've made the game one dependent on a player's "twitch" ability much more so than a fallout of Planescape Torment.


QUOTE
In my mind, it's more rewarding to feel like I've swung the sword, than just having a dice-roll generator telling me I hit or missed. At that point, I might as well be playing Progress Quest.


Well, that's just your opinion. I find it more rewarding to have my characters succeed or fail based on who they are, not how good I am with a mouse. I play action games when that's what I want. But comparing stat resolved combat to Progress quest isn't fair. The outcome of combat in a traditional rpg reflects decisions you made about character build and equipment. Progress quest involves no player choice at all. Incidentally, I actually enjoy progress quest more than the entire TES series combined wink.gif

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