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Josh Sawyer: Balance and Utility

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#21
Dream

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That's essentially what I was referring to though (what is a game if not a giant just-for-fun mechanic anyway). Every class would be able to accomplish things in unique and fun ways, but no situation would call for any single class. Now I grant that this could lead to a rather bland game, but then the obvious solution would be to design encounters with multiple ways to approach them (each way unique to a certain class).


I understand that a video game is essentially just-for-fun, but it is not a single mechanic. I only meant that a mechanic, within a game, that must interact with and make sense in the midst of a field of other mechanics, needs to contribute more than pleasantry in its existence. Also, that, by designing a game that doesn't figuratively put class-specific obstacles in your way (completely optional stuff like locked chests with 50 gold and a potion in them, aside), you have to address the fact that those class-specific abilities have been drastically reduced in purpose. Otherwise, it's sort of like taking a headphone jack off of an MP3 player, but keeping the headphones. You can still put them in your ears, if you just like headphones, but they don't really serve a function within the system anymore.

In other words, if you remove the necessity for dedicated healing to remove the restriction of party builds to need one, then, by definition, you're no longer taking more damage in any single battle in the entire game than is able to be managed by a party simply relying on their base health pools and other combat abilities. Therefore, if you take THAT scenario, and toss in a healer, everyone's immortal. So, you'd have to address the healing skills in some way, or remove it as well. You couldn't just leave healing exactly how it was when the game was designed around fights needing healers or you'd have a problem on your hands.

That's all I was getting at. You take a weight off of one side of the scale, and the other side moves as well.

There is always that, but the impression I got from "huge full plate fighter" was the kind of archetype that stands there and soaks up damage (while getting topped off by healers) while the glass cannon rogues and mages do their business. In that situation the group's longevity is limited to that fighter taking 4x (or whatever they settle for the final ratio being) his health in stamina damage before they're forced to rest, and realistically that point would come much sooner to avoid the risk of the fighter getting smoked mid battle.


It's understandable that you thought of that scenario, specifically, because that's how it's been in so many games. But that was Josh was trying to point out, I think. That, you can still have a heavily-armored tank who soaks up damage without relying upon a healer for the damage mitigation. Having heals reverse incoming damage is only one way of mitigating damage.

I'm not even saying get rid of heals (which, I know that's been talked about, but I honestly don't know if they just mean Health, or if they mean for Stamina, too) completely. But, like you said, design that eliminates unnecessary class restrictions is a good thing, and eliminating those restrictions requires touching up related mechanics. But, healing isn't the only thing that can allow a full-plate knight to survive a battle. We're just in the habit of relying on it, thanks to long-standing RPG design.


It seems we're pretty much in agreement; I guess at this point it's just a question of how much faith one has in Obsidian to deliver on their lofty goals.

Maybe my problem is I'm just too pessimistic.

Edited by Dream, 13 December 2012 - 10:14 PM.


#22
Ieo

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While concerns are understandable, toward the unknowns of what the developers are attempting . . . I find something else to be concerned about. It's not what Obsidian are doing that I find of concern, it's the fan views of every last thing they're doing. The amount of negativity toward almost every single aspect, toward almost every single decision, is going beyond simply questioning. Questioning would be fine. It's this outright certainty some people have that one aspect, another, several or all of P:E is inherently wrong or flawed or what have you that's starting to get on my nerves.


Spot on. I agree that there should be discussion--in the realm of finessing and asking for clarification around specific cases and whatnot, but there's a particularly vocal group that can end up damaging PE in terms of viral hearsay and wild assumptions leading to (wrong) conclusions based on absolutely nothing. Hysteria in a vacuum bottle. Inability to see things from the perspective of a developer and a gamer (or refusal to even accept the developer side of things). The last thing we need is a chilling effect on either end...

I'll start with my own thoughts: at first I was extremely skeptical about the implementation of this design choice, as I thought it was moving too far away from the IE spirit and just basic D&D cRPGs. But, after thinking about this a little more rationally, I think that this doesn't bode too badly if implemented correctly.

I've said before that Josh is good at finding problems inherent in the previous games and trying to come up with innovative solutions to them. My main concern is that too much innovation, that hasn't been proved by many years of gameplay, can seem interesting at first, but is also highly risky because of the many unknown variables. When theorizing solutions, there will always be aspects of the design that the designer will never see that the users can/will exploit.

Ultimately, this can lead to less interesting gameplay (or it could lead to more interesting gameplay), but it's a risky decision to make. Too much innovation in solving old problems can come back and change the experience to something that smells nothing like the old one.


But what, really, is the IE "spirit"? Was it really D&D rules and Vancian magic for most players? When it comes right down to it, the Kickstarter page itself bears repeating: Project Eternity will take the central hero, memorable companions and the epic exploration of Baldur’s Gate, add in the fun, intense combat and dungeon diving of Icewind Dale, and tie it all together with the emotional writing and mature thematic exploration of Planescape: Torment. (With several other known details thrown in, like isometric party-based RTWP.)

You're looking at this through the narrow lens of not only a pure consumer, but a reactionary consumer of a traditional game product that has already reached market and was not developed in public. Truly, what other Kickstarter games have you been involved in from the very beginning, as an actively conversational observer, including alpha and beta stages, where too much innovation in 1-2 years of publicized development ultimately came back and killed the game experience out the gate?

What you're exhibiting isn't a mere concern about game development approach but a basal unawareness of the current preproduction process. It doesn't make sense to be overly cautious at this stage; of course there are unknown variables--Obsidian has a $4.1 mil blank slate. We have a year of public vetting and tuning, possibly more.

This isn't a private Bioware venture that wasn't thoroughly market tested (e.g. SWTOR). This isn't a typical game development cycle by a long shot where players get no say at all besides bug reporting and stress testing in a late week-long beta after all mechanics and content are already set in stone.

Obsidian will most likely have testers before the $25 betas, so worrying about nebulous exploit potential at this preproduction stage where many mechanics aren't even proposed yet is futile. They have been and will continue to publicize systems and such until whenever these things are solidified sometime in 2013. As we get towards the finer points, if something doesn't appear to work after scenarios and scenarios are posed, and the forums are set afire in unanimous distaste, then I doubt Obsidian would go forward with something--certainly not as-is without other mechanics (because, as we all know, you can't pick at a single mechanic without considering its purpose in relation to all other mechanics in the system and in tandem with player behavior and expectation).


So there's a healthier version of skepticism: Ask specific questions or pose specific scenarios and try to be mindful of exactly what assumptions you're inserting. As an example.

I like the proposed back-loaded objective-based xp mechanic. Its purpose is quite clear and should serve to flexibly reward multiple playstyles, increasing replayability and roleplay/consequential opportunities. There is a real concern that world exploration with epic monster battles would suffer due to lack of concrete incentive: The counter in the proposed objective-based xp mechanic is that world monsters would basically not reward xp. Assumption: experience for killing world monsters has been a staple reward for the epic exploration we'd expect in the likes of Baldur's Gate.

So I'll ask Josh--
How will he handle the player desire to be rewarded for world exploration and epic battles? What about world exploration battle fodder, like a random village of xvarts in BG1? Players probably want to see both types of encounters during exploration and be duly rewarded somehow.

I can think of a few possibilities:
* Loot only
* Tiers of monster types (e.g. objective-based enemies that give no xp versus epic enemies that do)
* Tie all epic enemies to loosely structured "quest objectives" (e.g. a mere rumor could be mechanically flagged as a quest)

Or maybe Josh has an interesting idea out of left field, like tier cooldowns+grimoires, that players would have never guessed.


P.S.: "Every first-time player?" **** that, I always multi-classed when possible. My first character in BG1 was a Fighter/mage/thief, and I think I had 6 hit points. My favorite through BG2 was the nonsensical cleric/thief (how do you backstab with a mace?).
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#23
Sacred_Path

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My opinion: http://forums.obsidi...-balance-in-pe/

#24
IndiraLightfoot

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I just wanted to pop in and underline the importance of Ieo's thread. Those are valid points that apply to a lot of discussions going on right now, and I think we'll just have to wait. Soon enough, this forum will bustle with more tangible suggestions and issues based on at least the rudiments of a game, and soon alpha and beta phases of it.

#25
Infinitron

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Looking back at that question, you're completely right. Why would someone automatically assume that freedom will lead to poorly balanced game? I mean look at Alpha Protocol. You could go completely nuts in how you developed your character, wear any equipment you could afford, and go through any encounter (Except some boss jerks) in however you'd Like. Its the exact same thing with Dishonored, Dark Souls, and Dues ex again, and none of those games were unbalanced.


That's a contentious statement.

The fact is, the more constrained a system is, the easier it is to provide balanced challenges for that system. Because the designer has a better idea of what sort of characters the player will have at any point.

The reason I'm optimistic is because even D&D 3E already had a very large amount of freedom, what with its multiclassing and the ability to take the default feats of other classes, and yet IWD2 was still fairly challenging.

But like I said, other people are going to take some convincing.

Edited by Infinitron, 14 December 2012 - 01:47 AM.


#26
Elerond

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I think that if all options are valid better it is for the game as it usually means more different play troughs.

Of course some options could and should be better or worse for you chosen play style or goals that you want achieve in the game.

So if there is no optimal character build or party composition, better player can usually play game so as s/he wants.

Therefore Sawyer's opinions how game should be balanced sound very good for me.

#27
PrimeJunta

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IMO what JES is saying is pretty much common sense. Of course there's a risk of "overbalancing" to the point that all classes end up in the same place (e.g. a rogue is just a wizard who throws grenades instead of fireballs, and a wizard is just a rogue who uses Knock and Find Traps spells instead of Open Locks and Search skills), but I think he and the rest of the P:E gang are smart, experienced, and self-aware enough to be able to avoid this pitfall. If the game has a viable path for any relatively sane character and party build, and different character and party builds produce materially different but interesting experiences, it will have been a success.

I mean seriously, why would you even want to implement riding if there are no horses in the game? [Yes, I know this has been done. And it is puzzling to me.]
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#28
Wirdjos

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Thanks for posting this, Horm. I wouldn't have ever seen it otherwise.

While the constant reminders that posters need to relax and not be too negative are getting old, I certainly prefer it to a developer backlash followed by silence. It would be great if we could just point to things like the OP to calm people instead. Nothing inspires more confidence in me than an eleven minute video from a lead developer answering a random question by a random poster.

As for the content, I really like the direction Sawyer's proposing. I can see a system in which all classes have the ability to do important things like heal but do them in vastly different ways creating a different experience. All I know is that I am sick of having to have a thief in my BG party or accepting that traps are just going to blow up in my face.

#29
Jobby

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All I know is that I am sick of having to have a thief in my BG party or accepting that traps are just going to blow up in my face.


I can see what you mean and how that would be frustrating for many players but i kinda liked the tradeoffs that would imply, i.e. if i want to avoid trap damage i need to have a weak utility character in my party when instead i could've had a fighter tank who could soak up the damage, or another healer to fix the damage etc.. Of course this did become a bit irrelevent with the swashbuckler class and then the TOB "equip anything" skill, which basically turned thiefs into killing machines.

But in the end as long as there are distinctly different classes, races and playstyles and not just 6 different ways of doing the exact same thing then i'll be happy, personally despite being a cynic at heart i genuinely believe Obsidian are devoting the time and effort to make this a unique and enjoyable system.
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#30
PrimeJunta

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I can see what you mean and how that would be frustrating for many players but i kinda liked the tradeoffs that would imply, i.e. if i want to avoid trap damage i need to have a weak utility character in my party when instead i could've had a fighter tank who could soak up the damage, or another healer to fix the damage etc.


Or a wizard who can summon goblins you can send into the trapfield to set them off. Or a ranger who can tame sheep that can be used as living minesweepers. The possibilities are endless.
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#31
Adhin

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As far as im concerned, most of the stuff he said is basically what 3E was trying to do and a LOT of that comes down to less about the classes but about what the classes physically go up against. You can make a 3.5 party with nooo priests and still manage just fine. Probably use more potions but you don't really need a healer. That and healers in DnD have, more often then not, been about 'after the fight' then the MMO style of 'during the fight' where that's all the priest does.

Also a group of all clerics is freakishly dominating in 3E heh. Full Plate, good with a morning star, tower shield, summons, dmg spells, powerful buffs. Not really the point though, or maybe it is to some extent.

Anyway I agree with what hes said, its been done before, it's not a new idea, and it usually works out pretty well but requires the encounters (both combat and otherwise) take into account all the available options. His ranger example was good, why would you ever take Halfling as a favored enemy in NWN? You don't ever 'fight' them but its an option? The hell? Granted they had all the options in NWN due to the custom modules and whatnot but with in their own campain, never used in any real capacity. Should of had the ability to turn certain things on and off on a per module basis to avoid that kind of stuff but doesn't matter to much... and wont apply like that to PE, but simply not having the option in PE will fix it.
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#32
Malekith

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From a post i made elsewere:
Sawyer's approach make sense under a sertain light. Maybe all this class "overlap" really means that it is his way to intoduse multiclassing without naming it so.For examble,you start with a mage and over the course of the game you can leave him a traditional mage, or make him an assasin-mage, or mage with armor and two handed sword, or pistols. If that is the case it seems to me he tries to conbine the class system of IE games with the developing freedom of,lets say Arcanum. I think it has potential if they can pull it of.Don't forget, that Sawyer is not alone.Tim Cain is also on board as a senior designer.

Edited by Malekith, 14 December 2012 - 08:50 AM.

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#33
Maltry

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I think it might be worth noting that as general as any class in PE might have the potential to be, in character development there should (and we can assume will be) a balance within each individual class. Especially in party based games that tradeoff is usually intended to be between damage, mitigation, healing, and utility. Now, this doesn't always pan out in practice, but if we look at it from that perspective making classes more well rounded is no less balanced that making them focused. Each individual character will still need to choose how much they focus on any one area. In the example of a group in which all characters are able to tank with a single healer, it would follow that while that party might be feasible it would minimize damage output and thus discourage many players from such one-sided and focused parties.

And before it comes up, yes I know that 'healing' as we know it in previous games has been altered, but there have been clear indications of stamina healing during fights and no indication that there will not be damage mitigating abilities that can be applied to others, which would also constitute 'healing' in this context.

When you get right down to it, the system that's being proposed need not be that much different than previous games. Take a bunch of multi-classed characters, or take a bunch of single-class and single-purpose characters. It only increases our ability to prioritize the RP parts of character creation and selection. Of *course* this assumes that the devs work out the balance as well as possible, but doesn't the gameplay of every game we ever see produced?

#34
Somna

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From a post i made elsewere:
Sawyer's approach make sense under a sertain light. Maybe all this class "overlap" really means that it is his way to intoduse multiclassing without naming it so.For examble,you start with a mage and over the course of the game you can leave him a traditional mage, or make him an assasin-mage, or mage with armor and two handed sword, or pistols. If that is the case it seems to me he tries to conbine the class system of IE games with the developing freedom of,lets say Arcanum. I think it has potential if they can pull it of.Don't forget, that Sawyer is not alone.Tim Cain is also on board as a senior designer.

To be honest, you could do this in 3rd and 3.5 Edition D&D as well. It's just so feat intensive that it was clearly not optimal.

#35
AGX-17

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I'm all for everything he said, though I admit I might just be hypnotized by the early success of his development beard.


It's a seasonal winter cycling beard, not development-related.


(Like bottlenecks at doors)


How is using a choke point to your advantage an exploit/metagaming? In any other game (or reality) it would be considered sound tactical reasoning. Choke points are natural defensive positions in any combat scenario, be it reality or strategy game or first-person-shooter. It would be folly not to take advantage.

#36
PB_Popeye

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Really wish I could catch some of these great threads before they became so long winded. Overall I'm very optimistic with what Sawyer is presenting us with in this case. It will be refreshing to see a game that not only provides you with options for your characters, but also opportunity for all of those options to be utilized. It's an attempt at more diverse paths/solutions rather than more streamlined/generic linearity.

#37
Sacred_Path

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How is using a choke point to your advantage an exploit/metagaming? In any other game (or reality) it would be considered sound tactical reasoning. Choke points are natural defensive positions in any combat scenario, be it reality or strategy game or first-person-shooter. It would be folly not to take advantage.


Humanoid enemies should switch to ranged attacks to dislodge you from your position. So it would still be a choice to hole yourself up somewhere, but only if you want to avoid melee.

#38
Quadrone

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A: Yes, they should still care because if there are weird imbalances in the party that are assumed to be solved with a "correct" party composition, that implicitly suggests "incorrect" party compositions. It's pretty common in D&D groups to "need" a healer.

Arguably in BG2 there are places where you absolutely need an arcane spellcaster. I think that limits potential party compositions and is not a benefit to the player.

I think we should move away from class designs that shove classes into a niche that have little/no overlap with other classes and then make content that effectively demands you have a character of class x/y/z to move forward.


While I'm not really all too worried, this particular answer has me a bit sceptical.
Won't such a design, where no need for a specific set of abilities/skills/characters exists ultimately lead to an overall more bland and simple game?
I could potentially see this negatively affecting the sense of challenge both in and out of combat.

If I get this right any party composition should be able to solve any "problem" just the same as another one. (Oversimplification incoming, but I don't want to write a novel of finer examples) So a party of just fighters/barbarians could just bash open a lock without needing a rogue. There would be no way for a mage to protect himself from melee attacks 100% since this melee oriented party still should be able to kill him. Likewise healing items or some sort of healing ability has to be readily available so such a party can heal itself after a battle.
If that would come true that would be kinda awful imho.
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#39
aluminiumtrioxid

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So a party of just fighters/barbarians could just bash open a lock without needing a rogue. There would be no way for a mage to protect himself from melee attacks 100% since this melee oriented party still should be able to kill him.


Or you would need to equip firearms on your fighters and barbarians to kill mages. I believe they will accomplish their goal by offering a multitude of possible builds, thus making every class able to tackle any challenge, if they're specialized correctly. It doesn't mean every class will be automatically able to do everything, nor that certain classes won't be generally more effective at certain tasks.
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#40
Adhin

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@Quadrone: No, see DnD 3E, 3.5E or Pathfinder variations past that point. 3E set out to do 'exactly' what Sawyer mentioned, and for the most part it did a good job at that. Ultimately what hes been getting at, and to use DnD as an example again, it depends on what the DM does in relation to the players. If you take a skill, or a feat that's only good at 1-2 things, and the DM just decides that, tough luck, they don't want to include a means for you to utilize your lore in ancient magic blah blah whatevers then... to bad.

Thing is, this is a computer game, any skill or feat or whatever they call there whatevers... they can directly link that to gameplay. They know whats in the game, they know how those skills will interact with all of it. That's all it comes down to.

If you compare 2nd Edition to 3rd you should, hopefully, see what im talking about. 2E, need a Thief, why? Cause they're the ones that can pick locks and disarm traps. 3E? ANYONE can, doesn't matter what class or class combo you are, you can pick a lock, and you can use special tools/potions to enhance your skill if you so need. Now a Rogue is the 'best' at it and DC checks up a certain point (extremely high) 'require' a Rogue (kinda like needing a specialist for a safe) but a few points in said skill and anyone can deal with a good number of locks. Which makes the high DC the outlayer, the thing a DM can easily take into consideration, something he could whip an NPC together for, something in a cRPG would be 1-2 rare, well hidden chests only a 'Rogue' could get.

As for healing, the stamina system covers the DnD style of 'requiring a healer' (if you ignore potions/other methods). It basically gives you an artifical 4 times normal health for the sake of extending rest times. 'Healers' or self abilities will help bolster moments directly in fights to keep a character from passing out or maybe getting them back on there feet. But beyond that it's all non-combat and combat related stuff and, 3E or PE - it's all what brand of combat flavor you prefer in the end... it's RP stuff. All they got to do is make them interesting and feel different from each other with out making one of them a living nuke and it'll all be gravy. And, frankly, no forced 'Thief is the only one who can pick locks' role is going to make that any better.

Also 2E had 'class kits' to get around a lot of there own pole-up-ass restrictions (and alternate rules).
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