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No more GM sucker punches, and the gameplay challenges thereof


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So Josh announced that PE won't do GM sucker punches. Meaning, encounters you're only likely to beat the second, third, or fourth time around because beating them requires foreknowledge of what you're going to be facing and how.

 

That is good in my opinion. I always thought this kind of thing was lazy design masquerading as challenge. However, it's not obvious how the game will or should play with this element removed. Something could be lost. In particular, I think preparation is a fairly important gameplay element in the IE games, whether we're talking about spell lists, pre-buffs, or weapon loadouts. I would not like to lose that. Conversely, I also get a kick out of beating an encounter even when I wasn't properly prepared.

 

Some ways things could go:

 

South Park style. All the mechanics are completely transparent. You can see the weaknesses and immunities of every enemy, with crucial defenses like Shielded and Armor visible all the time. This lets you adjust your tactics on the fly, using whatever you happen to have. To keep things even a little interesting, you have limited scope to e.g. switch weapons in combat. Encounters are balanced to be beatable even if you don't have exactly the right attacks and counters, but they will be easier if you do.

 

New Vegas style. The game provides you with information about each enemy type through a variety of mechanisms. If you pay attention you can figure out how to fight them before you have to. If not, you can still play by trial and error. Encounters are balanced to be punishing if you play them wrong.

 

Roguelike style. Encounters are punishing and some can only reasonably be beaten with proper preparation and tactics. They're not telegraphed beforehand. However, retreat is always or almost always possible and the game mechanics don't punish you for it. If an encounter isn't going your way, you can run away, rest to heal up, prepare properly for it, and try again.

 

I'm sure there are others. Of these, I would prefer New Vegas style. South Park style takes preparation out of the equation, and roguelike style only fits comfortably in roguelikes; it also doesn't really work with restricted resting since there will just be lots of trekking back and forth to campsites. Ideally I'd like PE to provide information about the monsters and combat challenges in upcoming areas in in-world ways: people talking about them casually, mentions when quests are given, books, and perhaps specialists you could actively seek out and interview. New Vegas did some of this, but it could be taken a good deal further. Perhaps combine it with a Witcher style bestiary you could fill up not only by killing things but by researching things.

 

 

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For me the most satisfying encounters would be those for which I know some key feature (if there is any) in advance and I can then build on that myself. It provides the feeling that you're fighting something stronger than it is in practice and that you can outsmart it, too. Encounters can also be more difficult, without feeling cheap.

 

The other statistics that you have to adapt to on the fly (armor types, enemy numbers/attacks changing, intentional surprises) should just remain obfuscated.

 

They could also have all of those types but just use them at different times. I think it would be nice if encounter design could also be used to improve atmosphere. It's one thing when you're raiding a bandit camp and another when you're exploring some ancient ruins you know nothing about or entering a dragon's lair.

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You can still have preparation in these new circumstances, I knowing what enemy times you're likely to be up ahead means you need to plan your gear accordingly. (like knowing to stock up on acid and fire damage sources if you're going to go into troll territory)

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For the Ironman mode, I'd actually like to see Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls Hardcore style. It's a bit like what Prime Junta described under Roguelike style, but some of it is even worse. Under unfortunate circumstances, you can get stunlocked by a combo of Elite spells and just perish. A few days ago, Hiro the Protagonist wrote about his pretty incredible feat. He did this new expansion solo, and not with very good gear at that. He had never experienced the content and somehow managed to stay alive and beat the content all the way down to the final big bad boss. Much of this must have been skill. Something similar, I'd love to see for PE's Ironman Mode: It should be possible, but darn hard. :)

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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No Kangaxx?

But... those are memorable fights :(

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^

 

 

I agree that that is such a stupid idiotic pathetic garbage hateful retarded scumbag evil satanic nazi like term ever created. At least top 5.

 

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Would Kangaxx have been less memorable if there had been a possibility to pursue a lore trail of him, which would've turned up clues about his strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps accounts by adventurers who somehow survived an encounter with him? If this lore trail hadn't been forced on you, but had been something someone hinted at and you had to follow yourself?

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As per my example for PE's Ironman mode, a D3 RoS Hardcore style, I reckon that not everything needs lore trails and whatnot. If the encounters are designed well enough, you should be able to survive them by observing what's going on during battle. It's a bit like Darksouls as well, I guess.

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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Not everything does, no. But IMO not everything needs to be survivable solely by adapting your tactics on the fly. I would like to see some encounters that really are so tough you will die if you didn't prepare accordingly – with enough hints available beforehand that you can prepare, without being forced to trial-and-error it.

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Some trial-and-error can be fun, as long as it's optional.

No need to have only one or the other, if you can have a nice mix...

^

 

 

I agree that that is such a stupid idiotic pathetic garbage hateful retarded scumbag evil satanic nazi like term ever created. At least top 5.

 

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A lot of players think that "difficulty" in a CRPG is some hard-to-create formula that requires immense amounts of trickery and complexity.

 

But the truth is, if you want a challenge, you need nothing more than enemies who hit your guys really really hard. It's that simple.

 

There are valid arguments in favour of "GM sucker punches", but don't ever make the mistake of thinking that they're a prerequisite for high difficulty or for a game that isn't "casual".

Edited by Infinitron
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I think The Witcher is a good game to draw from in this aspect. The preparation should be in learning which enemies are weak against which types of damage/spells/etc. The BG series already did this in the manuals to some extent, so it would hardly be blasphemous if PoE were to let you learn in-game that, to use a D&D exampIe, trolls regenerate health and are most likely to be killed using fire and acid attacks.

 

I would like to see it not be as linear as The Witcher in terms of alternate approaches to encounters, though. One of the things that is nice about the way BG did things is that you have so many tactical options in how you approach encounters. Whereas in The Witcher, learning about monsters translated far too often in practice to "Which sword do I use?" and "Which oil does this book say I should use?" Which is fine, but that's the end of the tactical consideration for most fights in that game.

 

Where BG went wrong, I think, is in having too many encounters you could brute force your way through (especially if you had enough buffs stacked before a battle), and in communicating what to do instead in a fight that requires more tactical foresight. Weirdly, both Dragon Ages had this problem, too, though to a far lesser extent. It changes the game flow; instead of every encounter being challenging, you have ten sit-back-and-mow-'em-down encounters followed by one encounter where you have to reload five times to figure out how to solve the murder puzzle. Those end up feeling more like speedbumps than challlenges, because it's Diablo for ten encounters, and then suddenly, jarringly snaps back to a That One F***ing Guy encounter, with no in-between.

 

I've been playing Bravely Default, and although the game has plenty of problems and is a totallly different sort of game, combat has a great flow to it. Regular enemies are brute-forceable, but it's exceedingly rare that you'll find one which doesn't cast some kind of irritating debuff that ends up costing you in the long run. Grinding is never quite snoozeworthy in the game*, because you're always being presented with a different set of long-term problems that make encounters interesting. This then prepares you for the toughest enemies, who often cast multiple debuffs and buff themselves multiple times.

 

* - FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a high tolerance for JRPG grinding.

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I have no superstrong opinion for GM suckerpunches, as long as there are opportunities to walk into things and get steamrolled in the game if you are up to the task of challenging yourself (willingly walk into an area with more challenging encounters).

 

At the same time, I think the suckerpunches can serve as a spice to the gameworld. I kinda like the feeling of not knowing when I'll be hit really hard. I think there *is* something to be said for unleashing/encountering something by accident only to get steamrolled completely. I find that kinda exhilarating in a way, and it makes me "pumped" to try and figure out what I should do to win the fight, or to just think "damn, I'm gonna have to wait a looong time until I can try this."

 

I like the feeling of a dangerous world, never completely sure when you're gonna get hit and hit hard. But eh.

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To be honest there were very few GM sucker punches in the IE games as I remember, Kangaxx I certainly wouldn't count as such, that quest line was signposted so bluntly as being massively dangerous that it would take a distracted Ray Charles looking in the wrong direction to miss it. I would count the Twisted Rune as perhaps being a sucker punch, and also the Lich in the Gate district pub. In general everything else was fairly decently signposted, and if you chose to ignore that, well that is your choice.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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I'm all in favor of being able to prepare for tough battles before hand by keeping track of information provided by NPCs, clues found in the environment, etc. Being the type of game PoE is, I'm guessing that a lot of low-level battles will be winnable by brute force, especially if the classes are as flexible as the designers indend. Only the boss fights might require some special preparation.

 

It seems similar to how CDProject Red is handling monster hunting in Witcher 3 (which also has me giddy). Listening to gossip, finding clues, reading books all in an effort to discover the weaknesses of a potential foe and prepare accordingly.

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YES. This was executed extremely well.

I think The Witcher is a good game to draw from in this aspect. The preparation should be in learning which enemies are weak against which types of damage/spells/etc. 

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A lot of players think that "difficulty" in a CRPG is some hard-to-create formula that requires immense amounts of trickery and complexity.

 

But the truth is, if you want a challenge, you need nothing more than enemies who hit your guys really really hard. It's that simple.

 

There are valid arguments in favour of "GM sucker punches", but don't ever make the mistake of thinking that they're a prerequisite for high difficulty or for a game that isn't "casual".

Why should we care about difficulty as an end goal? Combat being fun to play should be the goal.

 

An encounter with enemies hit really really hard and that's all they do can be really challenging and tactical, while being boring all the same.

 

Difficulty doesn't come into the equation, it's more about how you approach the chalenge, not the level of chalenge. IWD2 is generaly considered more difficult than BG2, but it's difficulty is of an entirely different kind. Which one someone prefers is entirely subjective.

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A lot of players think that "difficulty" in a CRPG is some hard-to-create formula that requires immense amounts of trickery and complexity.

 

But the truth is, if you want a challenge, you need nothing more than enemies who hit your guys really really hard. It's that simple.

 

There are valid arguments in favour of "GM sucker punches", but don't ever make the mistake of thinking that they're a prerequisite for high difficulty or for a game that isn't "casual".

Why should we care about difficulty as an end goal? Combat being fun to play should be the goal.

 

An encounter with enemies hit really really hard and that's all they do can be really challenging and tactical, while being boring all the same.

 

Difficulty doesn't come into the equation, it's more about how you approach the chalenge, not the level of chalenge. IWD2 is generaly considered more difficult than BG2, but it's difficulty is of an entirely different kind. Which one someone prefers is entirely subjective.

 

 

Sure, I'm not arguing otherwise. Although personally I do value (possibly optional) high difficulty as an end goal.

Edited by Infinitron
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@Malekith:

 

I agree, although high difficulty (as defined here: "

") is something I value quite a bit as a player. But I do wish more games would focus on being fun to play first and foremost.

 

@Infinitron:

 

I would agree that guys who hit really hard are a crucial component of difficulty, but if all your game has is guys who hit really hard, you've created what the video above defines as a punishing game, not a difficult one. If the player can both grasp and trust the rules and tools laid out before them, then your game is difficult.

Edited by Ffordesoon
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Why should we care about difficulty as an end goal? Combat being fun to play should be the goal.

 

By that logic, why should we care about combat or any other game mechanic as an end goal? The game being fun should be the goal.

 

Of course we care about difficulty. We care about magic system. We care about lore. We care about attack resolution. We care about classes. And so on.

 

In short: we care about this game.

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Ffordesoon: That video on difficulty was sheer brilliance and very informative. Thank you for posting it! :) And, Ghosts & Goblins, I had almost forgotten about that one. That was pretty fun back in the day.

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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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@ Caerdon; I think the answer to 'why do we care'... is 'because those things *MAKE* the game fun.

 

The game being fun is the goal. Good combat etc. are a goal towards that. Difficulty should be a part of combat to make it fun in the end. It's not an or/or. It's the means to achieve said fun.

 

Aaanyway, I don't think 'hard hitting' is that good. DA:O had that sometimes, where on nightmare, enemies would just beat 50% of your HPs away. That's... not difficulty done right, just really arbitrarily making you keep your HP up since all enemies hit like freaking brickhouses. It made you do cheap 'walk away, shoot, walk away shoot' cheesing rather than being fun or difficult. So IMO a big no-no.

 

The best thing is variety to stop what's mentioned here as stale gameplay. Not one tactic all over, not *this* tactic or *that* tactic, but a variety of all of them. And excluding one out of on purpse, obviously I cannot agree with that, lowering the variety of possible encounters achieved, exactly to lower the staleness of doing the same stuff over and over.

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^

 

 

I agree that that is such a stupid idiotic pathetic garbage hateful retarded scumbag evil satanic nazi like term ever created. At least top 5.

 

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@Infinitron:

 

I would agree that guys who hit really hard are a crucial component of difficulty, but if all your game has is guys who hit really hard, you've created what the video above defines as a punishing game, not a difficult one. If the player can both grasp and trust the rules and tools laid out before them, then your game is difficult.

 

Sure. But if all you have is rules and tools without genuinely dangerous foes that do lots of damage, then what you get is "fake complexity".

 

"Oh look, you can use fireballs to do massive damage against the ice monsters, this game is so sophisticated!" Except it isn't because the ice monsters do piddling damage against you and you could just as easily take them out with standard attacks.

 

This is a major problem with games today.

Edited by Infinitron
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Excellent - great to hear.  Everyone should agree on what a sucker punch is, and if your the kind of person that wants it in your game (where either the player skill, experience, or character skill and experience is ignored for a gotcha GM moment), then god bless you because Obsidian arn't doing that, and maybe you can look forward to it in a mod.  *Salutes everyone*.

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Why should we care about difficulty as an end goal? Combat being fun to play should be the goal.

I get a special kick out of beating a difficult fight. Sure, easy fights can be fun too, but it's a different kind of fun. The IE games had fights that were difficult in a good way (as well as sucker punches).

I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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@Infinitron:

I would agree that guys who hit really hard are a crucial component of difficulty, but if all your game has is guys who hit really hard, you've created what the video above defines as a punishing game, not a difficult one. If the player can both grasp and trust the rules and tools laid out before them, then your game is difficult.

 

 

Sure. But if all you have is rules and tools without genuinely dangerous foes that do lots of damage, then what you get is "fake complexity".

 

"Oh look, you can use fireballs to do massive damage against the ice monsters, this game is so sophisticated!" Except it isn't because the ice monsters do piddling damage against you and you could just as easily take them out with standard attacks.

 

This is a major problem with games today.

Well, sure. Biggest problem with the Bioshock series is that you only need to use all your tools on harder difficulties - and even then, it's sometimes not as efficient. Adversity creates awareness of agency.

 

Hey, that's a nice little aphorism!

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