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It's been a while since I played NV, but if memory serves, you could treat getting to Benny as a killfest, just murdering everyone in the Casino. I'm sure some players played it that way. Obsidian has a history of making climax parts of their games dialogue heavy instead of combat heavy - you can see that in Alpha Protocol, KOTOR2, etc.

 

It's true that smart design can overcome the combat grind, but smart design cannot be easily made algorithmic. If something isn't algorithmic out of the gate, then you're basically asking designers to make multiple scenarios possible for every theoretical conflict. This is very tricky and expensive to do, in terms of time. You need to carefully balance the game as well, because if the option fo avoiding combat is too expensive, players will feel they are "forced" to always fight. If the means of avoiding combat is too easy, you've also trivialized a large part of the game.

 

I think what you want is just basically... non-linearity. Non-linearity is expensive. Dynamic non-linearity is not something I have ever seen a game do (but I believe it can be done). My own personal idea for dynamic non-linearity just uses a basic tree structure, where each conflict is a node on a tree. An algorithim adds branches to a conflict as it sees fit. But really, any attempt at generated non-linearity is going to feel a little stilted - notably because computers don't understand English too well. At the end of the day, designers still need to provide the game program with hard coded responses of some kind. You just can't generate genuinely human responses to in-game actions to actions you perform on NPCs. They have to all be accounted for and programmed - Dwarf Fortress is sort of doing this.

 

I think it's better designers hand-build non-linearity. This means there WILL be some sections in a game where you'll have to fight, because fighting is the easiest kind of resolution to default to. It's also the most time-consuming, so it "feels impactful" to a majority of players. As long as critical parts of the game are non-linear, I think it's fine if there is inconsequential combat in other parts.

 

In real life, outside of full-blown war, physical conflict is a rather dangerous and last-resort solution. Even the most skilled or powerful person runs the chance of dying when they try to resolve an issue with a gun or a knife. I think we've had enough games with tense combat to know that it's fun when a game is sparsely decorated with actual fighting, just that, it's hard to make combat sparse and keep a game's length and content strong. What do you expect players to do? Is the kind of thing a developer is thinking - there's only so many dialogue trees you can throw at a player before they feel like they're in a bloody visual novel. I don't think everyone looking forward to PE is expecting a Choose Your Own Adventure - not in the strictest sense. I think we all want a blend of these ideas, tactical RPG gameplay with some writing-heavy bits and some choice-heavy bits; finding a balance.

 

If PE were a first person game, where you had no party, I'd say, maybe some non-violent conflict could be about exploration. You need to get to Kirkwall, or whatever, but it's behind a giant mountain. I haven't seen too many games take clmibing/hiking/swimming as serious challenges, but something visceral like that could be a good substitute for conflict... but it doesn't really make sense in a party-based game, or in an engine which can't provide players a lot of flexibility. Suppose getting to Kirkwall requires you to climb a mountain with a party of adventurers - yet half of them have horrible climbing skills. The engine would have to allow you to move forward in some capacity? Can you pull them up? Can they use ropes to climb up? Maybe you have to leave them behind? But then, you need to balance combat for a situation like that?

 

Pen and paper games can allow for a massive amount of flexibility in conflict, because you can easily abstract it as a series of dice rolls against various skills and between all that you fill in the content with a story teller's words. A computer simply cannot do this algorithmically. We need actually intelligent AI to do this (and there's nothing to suggest it's coming soon, I personally think anything close to resembling real intelligence (capable of speech and thought) is organic and can't be simulated with binary logic). 

 

tl;dr? Allowing for a 100% pacifist route in a cRPG is a massive undertaking. I'm not sure if resources can allow for it. Maybe if we had NV's budget at stake, but we have a budget 1/10th as much here. Best to allow for players to skip a large percent of combat if they're clever, or implement cheap (but balanced?) solutions for players to avoid combat.

Edited by anubite

I made a 2 hour rant video about dragon age 2. It's not the greatest... but if you want to watch it, here ya go:

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I think the definition of 'game' is appropriate to discuss here - the physical product of a game and what it means for a player and the people who made it.

 

An RPG - one in which players sit around a table and the interaction is entirely amongst human beings - is a flexible system.  The DM is a person, and so they can adapt to player choices and mold the narrative accordingly.  If I say I want my character to eat something he/she found on the ground, there's someone who we, as a group, have agreed is an authority on what that experience will be like.  Everyone is playing the game, but the DM is telling the story.  His audience is there, right in front of him, and has the opportunity to respond.

 

A CRPG, JRPG, or any 'game' in which the player is not in direct, present communication with the people who created it, must be created at one particular moment, and played at another later (usually much later) time.  As such, this system has far less flexibility when it comes to offering the players multiple narrative choices.  Life is full of questions, games are games because they set up a structure in which the questions are extremely specific, and the answers (unlike in real life) have a quantifiable result that contributes towards 'winning' or 'losing.'  

 

A video game takes a tremendous amount of human effort to produce - more than could even be conceived by most of us (myself included).  For each 'choice' that the player is offered, the developers have to do exponentially more work in order to create a response.  Let's say you were a DM in a game of dungeons and dragons, making up a story on the spot.  As a player, I sit there and say 'Then what happens?  Then what happens?  Then what happens?  etc..."  How long could you keep things interesting?  How much work would you need to do beforehand to keep me from getting bored?  What would you do if I simply refused to do what you, the DM, expected me to?  Now, let's say for every potential narrative tangent that exists, you have to have a team of professionals animate characters, create backdrops, write dialog, record speech, code the scene, ensure the fight is "fair," and on and on.  The sort of causal density you're hoping for is just unfeasible for a narrative form that requires so much investment in the physical product.  It's easy to describe the consequences, but it's far more complicated to create them.  In the end, after all that work, you're not even really offering the player that many choices - maybe three or four, but certainly not enough to even approach real-life decision making.

 

Maybe to make things a little clearer: An RPG is generally two separate parts, woven together.  There is the story, which is the narrative that is told to you.  This is the part of the game that could be transposed to another medium - a movie or a book or a comic, for example.  Then there is the game - which is the part that you play, the interactive element to the experience, and the primary content of what you are buying.  Story and Game certainly influence one another in terms of texture and tone, but generally there is a clear dividing line that can be drawn between the two.  Gamers often have a warped view of narrative, in that they believe that being given 'more choices' will lead to 'a better story.'  This is sort of a misunderstanding of the very idea of a narrative; generally a story is told to you - you don't get to decide what happens.  The reason stories are rewarding is because they fulfill a sense of causality that we, as people, hunger after, and they show us the consequences of actions that we couldn't have predicted, but nonetheless are able to believe.  Furthermore, to give the player an illusion of choice could be seen on one level as socially irresponsible (that's a loaded statement and you should probably just ignore it).  A story also takes a lot of work to flesh out, and to dilute that effort by offering the player a choice that doesn't actually contribute to the narrative as a whole actually detracts from the making of a story that has an impactful ending.  A great book is the product of a series of incredibly considered events - there has been no Great American Choose Your Own Adventure Novel (maybe some day).  You wouldn't read one book and wish for it to be three other books at the same time - you'd just go and read three more books.  Stories in games often work the same way.

 

This, of course, doesn't necessarily completely answer your complaint about bad guys with no context in video games.  Sure, in most games you are descended upon by a horde of nameless, faceless baddies that exist only to chop you to pieces.  Consider that the gameplay in almost every RPG is based around combat mechanics.  The combat system is actually the 'game' that you are playing (plus a lot of walking around, and maybe some menus).  The more the developer can encourage the player to participate in that system, the more mileage they get out of the game (not the story) they've made.  If the game is fun, then there's no problem - the player won't stop to question the inanity of the story (Mario is one example, but this applies to pretty much every game ever made).  If the game isn't engaging enough to occupy the player's whole attention, they (you) will get bored and wonder why they're wasting their time.  They'll see through the lack of options in the gameplay and attribute their dissatisfaction to a lack of options in the story.  But the game is what the player purchased.  There are hundreds of fantastic genre books/short stories published every year, dozens of great movies, and many compelling television programs, and they all explore the choices you can imagine and beyond.  From the standpoint of the game designer - why would I want to bother writing a bunch of inconsequential decisions into the story I'm trying to tell?

 

Many good games include generic bad guys with the proper context.  And one should keep in mind that some guys are just plain bad.  Why would a bandit want to talk to you?  He kills people on the road for a living - that's his job.  What's the point of a monster, other than to eat unlucky travelers?  Of course, some games are just plain bad - and it's your responsibility as a consumer not to play them.  

 

One game that touches on these issues, if you haven't played it before, is Shadow of the Colossus.  I'd highly recommend it, in that it plays a lot like a console RPG with all those filler elements (random battles, pointless items) emptied out.  It's sort of billed as a game that's 'all bosses' - but that doesn't really capture what it's all about.  It's a commentary on game design in addition to being a meditation on the notion of predestiny and player motivation in games.  It might soothe the hurt of having to mow down all those bandits in a future life.

 

i am pretty sure you have only played AAA titles if you think this, in fact it is the main reason why i started playing indie games.  you should try walking dead and minecraft, two very different games, both excellent.  walking dead has is almost all dialog and narrative, but allows choices that change what happens in the game, kinda like the ever fabled epic choose your own adventure.  minecraft has no story, no set rules about what you are supposed to do, it is complete freedom in a sandbox environment.

 

I think you've been playing too much Dragon Age. In Baldur's Gate, intelligent enemies suffered morale failure, and in scripted instances, they could even surrender.

 

Dragon Age, of course! Now I remember those random encounters, and yes they were very annoying. I think most of them were tied into the main story, however.

 

But yup, other than Dragon Age, I can't remember any RPG that had this specific problem. There are other reasons why I don't like combat in most RPGs. For example the discrepancy between being the hero and murdering hundreds of creatures because the game left me no other choice, then getting berated for this type of gameplay I didn't enjoy in the first place by games such as Shadow of the Colossus (or Spec Ops The Line).

 

I'd love to see a game where the number of enemies I face is realistic and where I don't kill all of them. I'd love to see an RPG that was 90% dialogue. Won't ever happen, though. :/

 

walking dead, king of dragon pass, there are others, but ya no AAA titles.

 

I've got to agree this form of quite blunt protagonist empowerment is becoming a little distasteful. Personally I found it refreshing to play Thief on the highest difficulties where killing is seen as sloppy, the mark of an amateur and automatically fails the mission. Or Alpha Protocol where the mission stat summation include a tally of the orphans you have created, which brings home that however justified the slaughter, it is still not right.

 

Worse is the fact that our use of violence is so often clumsy and reactive, if we need to achieve an objective of elimination, why are we always tasked with trawling through endless waves of similar mooks guarding that objective. Why can we not plan, infiltrate, evade and eliminate without the inevitable mass murder. An anti material rifle from half a mile away, poisons, manipulation of dangerous individuals, exerting leverage through blackmail etcetera. We are almost always portrayed as hardly capable, and certainly not innovative.

 

There is a place for violence, and massively over the top bullet ballets as we see in the first two Max Payne games, and they are without a doubt satisfying and distinctive. Deus Ex Human Revolution missed out to my mind in only offering a smart player one path to gain the optimal amount of xp, that of non violence, when it was viable to play Jensen as an embittered and on the edge individual who was struggling with a life he neither asked for or wanted. Severance: Blade of Darkness gave us the best combat ever brought to computer games, but there was never actually that much of it, facing two or more foes was a rare thing and extremely dangerous. Which leads me to think that to make the combat more acceptable it needs to be rationed and improved, made dangerous and have far greater consequences in and of itself.

 

Vast masses of foes, all generic and basically lining up to be slaughtered one after the other by the self appointed messianic deliverer of justice just seems clumsy and nasty to me, whether it's in a shooter, hack and slash or rpg. I'd rather my opponent be humans just like myself, equally dangerous and equally interested in staying alive, life shouldn't be cheap.

 

There also has to be far more effective forms of protagonist empowerment, whether that be the perks of Alpha Protocol, the feats of New Vegas or the consequences being shown in the narrative. I sometimes don't mind playing as an idiot barbarian, in fact I enjoy it, but give me the option to play intelligently and with some degree of morality. If for no other reason than it would make a change.

 

As Kreia says: "Direct action is not always the best way. It is a far greater victory to make another see through your eyes than to close theirs forever."

 

Too long, didn't read: Make combat meaningful, reactive and dangerous. Obviously there are bad examples such as the endless waves of slaughter in Dragon Age 2, but there are also good examples such as Fallout: New Vegas and Torment. I'd rather have the latter than abandon the feature entirely, too much of that and we have a graphical picture book not a game.

way of the samurai was pretty good with its combat as far as numbers and such.  the weakest enemy in the game could come at you in 4s and you would be hard pressed to survive if you just stood your ground and was a total badass.  two if you were pretty built up was a good amount to match you, and combat didn't drag on unless it was fairly evenly matched, in which case it could be over quickly if either side made a mistake.  running away was alway an option, and a lot of times avoiding it was too (either through physically avoiding the fight, or by dialog).  the best ending to the game didn't have you beating everyone, just fighting hard enough for people to escape getting two smaller powers to fight the good fight.  it was fairly short, but you could replay it to build up your character to make him stronger (sort of, you would build up your swords).  back in the day during the AAA era (after studios were big, and before the 'indie' games) it was a real gem.

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It's a bit early to expect a computer to be capable of the same level of intelligence as the human brain such that it could spontaneously generate new scenarios with any reliability.

At least without inevitably producing a scenario that involves the death/subjugation of all human life. :)

Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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tl;dr? Allowing for a 100% pacifist route in a cRPG is a massive undertaking. I'm not sure if resources can allow for it. Maybe if we had NV's budget at stake, but we have a budget 1/10th as much here. Best to allow for players to skip a large percent of combat if they're clever, or implement cheap (but balanced?) solutions for players to avoid combat.

I doubt a budget has anything to do with clever writing.  Torment: TIdes of Numerna is being design were you can pretty much play the game as a pacifist (to mirror itself close to Planescape Torment), and it has around the same budget as Project Eternity.

 

If this is a spiritual successor to BG games though, then expect a lot of combat outside and in dungeons.

Edited by bonarbill
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For a relatively simplistic Android RPG, Tales of Illyria had a pretty satisfying treatment of bandits/patrols (you're a fugitive from certain governments). Often (potentially based on perception-based skills) you would be aware of these groups in advance, and might have the option of trying to set an ambush, sniping from afar, intimidating or otherwise persuading them to leave peacefully, or simply strolling out and slaughtering them.

 

It still made random encounters a potential hindrance (combat is forgettable and a bit tedious), but it was a neat showcase of your expanding impact on the world -- having wiped out scores of bandits, by the game's end, you could just say to highwaymen, "do you know how many bandits I've now killed?", and they might say "uh yeah, we heard... bye now". This was probably given a bit more attention because the game is mostly a travel simulation, but if we're exploring the world of PE, completely uninhabited roads would be pretty unrealistic.

 

To only get "You have been waylaid by enemies and must defend yourself" type encounters would also be silly, especially at higher levels when you have something of a reputation and/or are more formidable. Perhaps one would start out being seen as potential prey, but later on brigands would try to persuade you to let them be (if you're a templar type, you might mercilessly cut them down anyway). Or a darker character could demand "protection money" and even be offered it with the right reputation.

 

For a step up, have geographically-relevant encounters (assuming we're crossing borders and entering the demesnes of different cultures and racial groups) and have friendly encounters as well (all of which might vary depending on how you've developed your character & party). Really use the spawns to make the world alive, rather than just throwing up obstacles of varying difficulty. Receiving the occasional acknowledgement from merchant caravans about how much safer you've made the roads would be a pleasant bonus, particularly if you're in the late game, and your priorities have shifted beyond hunting down petty criminals.

 

That said, I agree with the OP that this sort of thing should take a backseat to the plot -- any time the pace of the narrative quickens, forget the interjections (they'd stop pretty naturally if there's an extended dungeon crawl or sequence in a city or large location). But if I'm running around exploring or FedExing (hopefully not too much of the latter), a random encounter or two per session could keep things alive.

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