Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Perfect CRPG: Difficulty

You can encounter these guys on Level 1...for about a second.

This is the first of a series of postings in which I want to discuss the various elements that make up my GIMLET. Not just the 10 categories that make up the GIMLET, mind you, but each of the individual elements among the categories. I want to milk this for a while.

Today's topic concerns the difficulty of the game, one of the elements I include in my final "Gameplay" category. Like many of the elements, it often feels like this factor ought to have a category of its own. A game that's too hard or too easy can ruin many of its other positive elements. But character development throws a complicated factor into the issue of difficulty: how do you make the player feel that the characters are growing more powerful without making the game too easy?

There are, to my mind, two ways to handle this paradox:

1. Make a very wide range of difficulty immediately available to the player at the beginning of the game. As the characters grow, they are able to explore areas where they had their asses handed to them a few levels ago.

2. Keep the difficulty essentially static but introduce new options (perks, skills, feats, tactics, spells) as a reward for leveling. The game never gets easier but it gets more fun as you explore these new tactical options.

A game can have both, of course, and most of them do. But usually one of them is the primary mechanism.

I prefer games that handle difficulty primarily via the first option. In my limited experience, the best exemplar of such games is the Might & Magic series (I haven't played IV or V yet, but I assume they're similar in this to I, II, VI, VII, and VIII). The moment you start the game (or shortly thereafter), you can travel to all of the game's maps. In VI, you can challenge yourself by exploring Gharik's Forge or Castle Darkmoor early in your career, or you can play it safe and come back on a higher level. Just as notable, you can return to the New Sorpigal map when you're Level 50 and wipe out an entire map's worth of goblins in about three minutes (in my recollection, all maps re-spawn roughly every 6 game months). This allows you to palpably experience the effects of character development while still keeping things difficult as you progress through the plot.

Arch-nemesis at Level 1 becomes an ant to stomp on at Level 20.

The first option is only possible, of course, in games with relatively open worlds. But they need not be sandboxes like Skyrim. Wizardry qualifies. You could charge down to Level 4 immediately upon entering the dungeon if you want, but you'd soon regret it. Earlier levels remain quite available and accessible even as you explore and map new ones. Pool of Radiance restricts you at the outset, but after a few quests, you can explore the entire game world whether you're ready or not.
 
Dragon Age: Origins is a good example of #2. Enemies level with you, there are a fixed number of enemies in the game, nothing respawns, there are no random encounters, and for plot reasons you can't return to many areas after clearing them. The difficulty remains essentially unchanged throughout the game, but to keep up with your enemies, you have to make effective use of the talents you choose as you level up.

I haven't been telling you, but in the midst of all of my other gaming and blogging, I've been continuing to play Skyrim on and off. I finished the main quest a few months ago, and I recently started over with a new character so I could explore the two quest lines I hadn't yet: the Dark Brotherhood, and the war from the point of view of the Stormcloaks. When you think about it, these two quest lines add the most replayability to the game. They are the only ones that offer alternatives that allow you to cut off your ability to access them: the Dark Brotherhood by killing Astrid when she first kidnaps you, and the Stormcloaks by joining the Imperial Legion instead. You're free to ignore the Thieves' Guild, the Companions, and the College of Winterhold, of course, but not if you want to end the game with an empty quest log.

During the last three Elder Scrolls games, we've watched the creators struggle to balance difficulty amidst the openness of the game world. Morrowind, though a great game, is ultimately too easy. Creatures as diverse in strength as mudcrabs and daedroths populate the game world from the outset, and it's fairly easy to wander off on the wrong path and encounter something you're nowhere near ready to face. But because creatures don't level with you, you can kill even the toughest creatures with a couple of hits well before the end of the game, even on the highest difficulty setting.

Oblivion goes too far in the other direction. To keep the player from over-leveling, the creators have nearly every enemy in the game level with you. There is no dungeon that is undefeatable from Level 1 (and indeed some fans like to win the game without leaving Level 1), nor is there any moment that you can just casually brush past goblins or bandits. As you increase in levels, enemies not only also level up but acquire absurdly advanced equipment, and it's not unusual to find some hedge bandit demanding 100 gold pieces from you while displaying enough daedric armor to buy a mansion. To counter this, most players engage in leveling strategies that keep them significantly more powerful than the foes, again rendering the game too easy.

You realize you could buy Skingrad for the price of that armor?

Skyrim, in my opinion, achieves a near-perfect balance. Encounters continue to level with the player, but not all of them do. In a dungeon where you might have found 16 regular draugrs, two "restless draugrs," and a draugr wight "boss" at Level 3, you'll find two regular dragurs, eight draugr wights, and a draugr overlord boss at Level 18. Encounters are context-specific, so a nest of skeevers doesn't suddenly turn into a nest of chauruses at Level 20, and you can enjoy firebombing them all at once. A number of wilderness encounters don't level with you at all, so you feel suitably powerful as your high-level character hacks, slashes, bashes, and shouts his way through a Stormcloak camp or Thalmor entourage. But a Forsworn Briarheart or an Arch Cryomage still might kill that same character in one hit. The game does a great job of giving you plenty of badass moments while still offering a challenge.

I'm at level 50, and these guys still haven't gotten easy.

Encounters are only one aspect of a game's difficulty. There are other two that are worth covering: difficulty settings and frequency of saves. Unfortunately, the trend has been to render both of these factors too simple, requiring some self-imposed (and thus artificial) restrictions on the part of the player.

I admit that beyond Skyrim and Dragon Age, I don't have a good grasp of the current CRPG market, but my impression is that essentially no modern games offer the same save game limitations of early CRPGs. I'm talking about games like Might & Magic, where you can only save upon return to the town, or NetHack, which destroys your saved game upon every re-load, or Wizardry, which immediately writes deaths to your character file. These limitations render even "easy" games somewhat perilous; in NetHack, you can win 98% of your battles and still never get past Level 10. Naturally, the difficulty level of a roguelike is an inseparable part of its challenge, and I wouldn't expect permadeath in Skyrim. Still, the ability to save at any point does remove a significant part of the challenge. Death should have consequences in a CRPG--it should make you fear it, and scream in frustration when it happens--and forcing the player to replay a significant part of the game is a fair consequence.

I therefore prefer the only-save-in-towns approach to Might & Magic, but I concede that this feature has been essentially lost forever. The only way to approximate it is to force yourself to only save every X minutes, or to only allow reloads from the last autosave, which is the approach I've taken since Baldur's Gate.

I may be wrong, but I don't think I've encountered a game with a "difficulty slider" on this blog. I've encountered them in the Black Isle/Bioware/Interplay D&D games (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale), Dragon Age, and the last three Elder Scrolls games, and I've only ever used them in the latter. Typically, all they adjust are aspects relating to hit points: how many your foe has, how much damage he does, and how much damage you do to him. I wish they adjusted more, like the types of foes you encounter, the likelihood of succeeding at certain tasks and, most importantly, enemy AI. I've never played a game in which the difficulty slider affected the enemy's intelligence, but it should. Imagine if instead of just giving them more hit points, a "master" setting in Skyrim made bandits chug healing and buffing potions, or made them more likely to flee. Imagine if it made dragons say "screw this" and fly off when they realize you're just going to hide and snipe at them from a tower.

"Insane" level in Baldur's Gate makes monsters do double damage.

I typically find that in games with "closed" combat systems (e.g., the Gold Box games, Dragon Age), adjusting the slider upward is an exercise more in punishment than in challenge. In games in which the combat system is more integrated with the game world--specifically, in games where you can flee, regroup, and return--the difficulty slider is more fun to play with. I've played Skyrim with it set to maximum from the very beginning. In a game that offers so many combat options--sneaking, spells, poison, sword-and-board, summoning allies, getting enemies to fight each other (I love leading dragons to giant camps), luring enemies into traps, shouting them off cliffs--putting the difficulty at max ensures that I explore all of these options.

The problem is that, as with my self-imposed restrictions on saving, I know that a difficult combat can be won by simply ratcheting the difficulty slider back down. When I played Dragon Age with Irene, she was only really interested in the dialogue and story. Because I got sick of dying, I (shamefully) put the slider at "novice" and just blazed my way through the game, missing out on most of the joy associated with mastering tactics and carefully managing inventory. I'd rather I didn't even have that temptation, and I wish games forced you to choose the difficulty at the outset rather than allowing you to continually adjust it. I think maybe one that does is Icewind Dale, where you can permanently lock "heart of fury" mode after winning the game once on a normal difficulty.

In summary, then, the "perfect" CRPG would:

  • Never get so easy you're bored or so hard that you're infuriated.
  • Make enemies of all levels of difficulty available from beginning to end, whether or not the average difficulty "levels" with the player.
  • Force limited saves (or at least allow the player to select an option for this when starting a new game), or employ some other mechanism to assign a "cost" to saving and reloading.
  • Include a difficulty slider that a) remains fixed after beginning the game; b) has more complexity to what it adjusts than simply hit points and damage.

There are plenty of CRPGs that I haven't played, so I ask you: are there any that have all three of these features?


200 comments:

  1. While I do find frequent saving can cheapen the experience, it does mean that I don't have to choose between finishing a combat and losing my last hours worth of progress. This is an important consideration for those of us whom use the same laptop for work or school (Want to save before bed, so I don't have a game open at work, or during class), and whom share a TV with the family (Don't have to leave the xbox wasting electricity when it is time for Dad and my brother to watch some football.

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    1. Fair enough. Here's an alternative: you can save any place you want, but the game quits when you save. This makes saving have a cost to it, as you have to re-launch every time.

      This isn't so different from how it was in the era of the games I'm playing. Ultima IV might allow me to save any place, any time, but back in 1985, "reloading" was a much longer process involving commands and disk-swapping than in 2012 with an emulator.

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    2. There are some console games that have save points, but also allow a save anywhere function called suspend. Using this is much like nethack saving. It's there to quickly save the game when you need to, but can't be abused by removing the difficulty from dungeons. When you load a suspend file, it gets erased.

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    3. Atleast in the case of Final Fanyasy 6 Advance using suspend [quick save] is only recommended if you are the only one playing the game, as loading any other file but suspend will erase it. How does suspend work out for other console RPGs?

      Also, I just read on 1up that Dark Souls is getting a PC port ON STEAM (FROM Software acknowledged that porting to PC was a difficult learning experience, so it will be pretty much the same as on consoles but with all 10 hours of level and boss dlc included free). I thought that it had a pretty hardcore save system: you have to go into a menu- everything around you is still in real-time- in order to save/quit anywhere, so make absolutely sure you are in a safe place before trying. If you die the game will save your game automatically at the last bonfire you visited, which will regenerate all health and regenerative resources for you and every non-special encounter in the entire game (just like every time you come to a bonfire). That game loves to let you know that almost EVERYTHING you do is a potentially big risk. I liked the game enough on a short rental for the 360 that I think I will get this (gotta try to keep what's left of the gamer in me alive!).

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    4. Zenic: Yeah, I think Suspend is a great option. Also: For RPGs with separate combat-world screens Suspend in Combat is needed. There are so many games where I have to leave it running, as I know this combat will take another hour, but I need to go somewhere *now*.

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  2. Im playing Bards Tale and I have to admit that only saving at Inns is fun. I dont think I have ever played an RPG with all three features.

    In might and magic 6 it would autosave every time I entered a building which did save me a lot of time as I didnt save as much as I should have.

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  3. For some reason I was hoping that I'd finish reading the rest of the blog entries before you posted another one. But at least I'm not far off.

    I'm not gonna bs you by saying the time I've spent reading your blog these last few weeks was... errr... time well spent, but it was very entertaining. Cheers for that!

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  4. I don't recall playing any modern RPGs with these three features. Oddly, I think the closest games with something like this are MMOs now.

    1) They have full worlds complete with hard zones that you can walk into (and die horribly in) right off the bat.
    2) There's no saving to do in the sense of save and reload - but deaths generally don't result in game over either.
    3) The only types of difficult changing is that some games like the newer patches in World of Warcraft let you run dungeons in harder modes to try and get better loot out of them, but the overall game world cannot be changed.

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  5. Might and Magic 2 had a difficulty slider, but it was called something strange like "Stance". If you cranked it up, the game would throw more enemies at you per combat. I think I rolled 99 Cuisinarts in the final dungeon once.
    Pretty sure they annihilated me.

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    1. Good call. I didn't realize it also adjusted the number of enemies per combat; I thought it was just about the number of random encounters you faced. I might have cranked it up if I'd known better.

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  6. PetrusOctavianusJuly 22, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    Didn't Pool or Radiance have five difficulty levels? Or was it only later Gold Box games that had this feature (that I've never used since it only adjusts HP)?

    One thing I love about the Infinity Engine games is that all enemies can be given scripts that make them smarter, which is a much better solution than makinn enemies more numerous or give them more HP. Vanilla BG1 is too easy and the AI too exploitable, but with the Sword Coast Stratagems mod enemies (especially mages) can be very challenging indeed.

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    1. No, POR didn't have any difficulty settings. I think maybe they first appear in Curse of the Azure Bonds.

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  7. I think you will like Knights of the Chalice, which you should be able to reach in about 20 years. :)

    It does not fit all of your criteria, but I think it will scratch your itch:

    1. There is an open world that you can explore -- a few sections are closed off until you get some items, but for the most part you can explore areas and there are places you have to level-up for before you can deal with them.

    2. You can only save at campfires that are located in strategic places. There are dungeons that purposefully close off your exit, and you must deal with a string of encounters before you can find a campfire. Because it follows D&D 3.5 rules, you have to conserve your memorized spells.

    3. There is no difficulty slider, but this is because the game is designed to default to "Very Hard." The very first battle pits your 1st-level party and some fairly-useless NPCs against about 15 orcs and gnolls. And you're forced to improvise new tactics or use your inventory strategically as the game goes on. The enemies are smart: using spells, targeting your mage, etc. (If I have a problem with the game, it's that even less-intelligent monsters seem to be "smart" and attack your mage.)

    You have the option of playing "Ironman" (no reloading), or to tweak other settings, but that's pretty much it.

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    1. I'll look forward to it. Is "Ironmn" something you can toggle on and off, or is it something you choose at the beginning of a new game and it's fixed after that?

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    2. Ironman settings, if implemented in a game and not just decided upon by the player, lock you into Ironman. No going back once you start that setting.

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    3. With KOTC you can choose whether you want "Ironman," but once you do it's irreversible.

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    4. You are wrong about point number 2. You can save and reload anywhere outside of combat. You can only rest and thus regain your spells at campfires.

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    5. I stand corrected. (Whoops!)

      It still has a big gameplay effect though, where you might save right before a big battle but are unable to replenish your resources because the exit has been blocked off.

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  8. Wizardry 8 has the first two features (and I'm sure there are many others), but I can't think of any game that fulfulls #3 b).

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    1. You beat me to it! I chime in with Wizardry 8 also, for the first two criteria.

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  9. IIRC the difficulty slider in Oblivion affects AI, i.e. on lesser difficulties monsters wouldn't see you so easily for example.

    Nowadays the trend is towards online games where your character is saved on the server rather than the client. Death is back! But the penalty tends to be relatively small.

    Just a note with regard to MM4 and MM5: yes, they do follow the typical M&M principles, but they are linked together into a single game in which you can travel freely between the MM4 and MM5 areas. Since MM4 is quite small, you can trivialise it by levelling up in both simultaneously. But of course nobody is obliged to do that.

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  10. I can't think of any game that fits the criteria you've listed.

    Personally I don't really care for games that enforce save limits or permadeath on me. I've always thought that these are things that should be left to player choice. A game that doesn't really have save limits still allows you to choose to save once every three hours, use only one save slot or anything along those lines if that's your style or preferred difficulty. The opposite however is not true. It's one of the reasons why I'll never play some games.

    Then again I'm not the kind of gamer that likes to do the same thing over and over - like a whole set of quests or related actions - just because I messed up somewhere near the end. I guess that's why I like having liberal use of saving: if I keep messing up somewhere I like to be able to save before so I only have to repeat that one thing and if I feel comfortable with the difficulty I won't save too often anyway.

    As for having a fixed difficulty after beginning the game, I think that reduces the flexibility of the game, just like the limited states. No one forces you to change the difficulty level once you've started the game, but some might miss this option in games that don't have it.

    I do agree that games should have at least a certain amount of enemies that don't scale to your level. I love games where certain areas aren't really accessible until you're strong enough to venture there and where you can return later on and breeze through an area that used to give you a headache. At the end of the scale it's completely absurd and it ruins game immersion when you encounter highwaymen wearing high end armor like in Oblivion.

    More complexity in managing game difficulty is also a great feature to have; and ultimately it's far more interesting to have increased difficulty because the enemies are smarter, rather than having their HP doubled or your own damage reduced. Of course programming a scalable AI is more difficult than simply adjusting some stats and it's also easier to screw up.

    Ultimately the perfect CRPG for me would also be extremely flexible and customisable in terms of difficulty:
    - enemies of all levels exist in the game at all times, but their proportion can be modified;
    - enemies' AI can be scaled, not only their inventory or statistics;
    - save limitations can be implemented;
    - the player can choose if the game will allow him/her to change these settings once he/she has started a game.

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    1. Yes, your last sentence is exactly what I was trying to get at. I don't mind if the game gives the user the choice, but give the user the option to REMOVE the choice once the game starts--to take away the temptation, if you will.

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    2. My big problem with difficulty only being adjustable at the start is that many games have issues with difficulty spikes. If I'm unable to tackle that spike on a given difficulty, even if I may have been fully comfortable with it up to that point, then in a game with fixed difficulty levels, I am forced to restart the game from scratch. Unless that difficulty spike is very early, I am far more likely to simply chuck the game across the room in disgust and never play it again.

      I do feel like a good compromise might be the system some games have - you can start the game on any difficulty you like, and then you can lower it at any time. But -only- lower it, never raise it again. Or, if it's a mission-based structure, allow difficulty adjustment between missions, but you can only progress from a mission on the difficulty you were at on that mission or lower. So if you beat missions 1 and 2 on hard and then drop down to normal for mission 3, you can only tackle mission 4 on normal or lower, but you could always go back and retry 3 on hard if you wanted.

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    3. Not an RPG, but God of War gives you the option to lower your difficulty if you die in the same place 5(?) times in a row, but doesn't give you an option to raise it.

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    4. I don't like this at all, as I almost never lower the difficulty slider. Usually if a game is too hard, it gets too hard near the start, so I can just restart. However, once I get good at a game, you know, 100 hours into Skryim or Fallout 3, I want to pump the difficulty up. I don't want to have to replay 100 hours of game play so that I can start finding things challenging again. Heck, after 100 hours of game play to get back to where I was, I'd probably need to increase the difficulty again!

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  11. Hmmm... That's a tough one.

    If you're willing to allow some creativity in the approach, I would say that challenge runs on old NES RPGs like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior would be your best bet.

    They pretty much don't have auto-levelling or the ability to clear out a map, so you can fight Imps or Slimes at level 99 if you want to.

    Limited saves are the norm, not the exception.

    Difficulty sliders are absent, but in the case of Final Fantasy 1, the party you choose at the start massively affects your gameplay experience.

    And if you elect to do a self-imposed challenge (a solo run in Final Fantasy, or a mage-only party in Dragon Warrior 4, or whatever) you really have an absurd amount of available difficulties to pick through.

    For instance, Final Fantasy with only Fighters and Red Mages is trivially easy. Solo Lowest-level-possible Red Mage requires knowing every single gameplay wrinkles, including bugs.

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    1. I think you meant DW3. DW4 has fixed characters, but having not played it, for all I know you can play as your Hero class plus 3 mage characters for most of if not all the final chapter.

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    2. There's no monster- or item-scaling in Final Fantasy, but the game does begin in a linear fashion before opening up, with monsters becoming more difficult in each new region. Still, if you know what you're doing, you can get the airship earlier than intended, and the airship makes the entire map reachable.

      It is good at never being too easy (past the very beginning) or too difficult, and also at requiring the player to finish each dungeon without saving (or resting!). And the variable party composition allows for both variety and a change in difficulty when starting a new game.

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  12. Realms of Arkania 1 Blade of Destiny is the best I can think of.

    1. It has an open world, you can go anywhere you want. Some locations are of course tough, but you can try them early if you want.

    2. You can save in a temple for free. Or you can save anywhere but you have to pay 50 XP. Since nobody wants to lose XP, you rather take the risk and try to get to a temple.

    3. Now this is a bit different. Every time you start the game you choose the difficulty level. I think it only affects the stats you see. Because the game has such a huge amount of skills and spells, it hides this complexity on the "Novice" mode and gives you the full micromanagement on "Advanced".

    Great game BTW.

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    1. The XP cost is an good alternative to "limited" saves, and I modified my posting a bit accordingly. As long as saving has some kind of "cost" associated with it, it's a good system.

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    2. I like the idea of an XP cost to save a game outside the freezones. Better than having to pay gold as in Ishar 1. Or perhaps you could sacrifice an item or whatever to some deity to be able to save or even have to cast a spell ?

      I don´t want to have the option of saving anywhere removed but I could accept a cost of some sort for saving too often.

      Saintus from http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.com/

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    3. Saintus: "Better than having to pay gold as in Ishar 1"

      Haha, I remember that one. You had to pay a thousand gold to save your progress. You started with about 200 and the enemies (at the start) dropped something like 15 gold pieces, so it took ages before you were able to save the game even once, and even then it meant you wouldn't be able to buy semi-decent starting equipment, food (which was expensive as hell, 300 gold for a piece of bread), etc. It was such an absurd, demoralizing punishment right out of the gate that I never got further than about fifteen minutes into that game. Apparently a common tactic to get around that was to recruit NPCs from taverns, pocket their 200 starting gold, let the monsters kill them and repeat. Hilariously terrible design.

      Addict: "I'd rather I didn't even have that temptation, and I wish games forced you to choose the difficulty at the outset rather than allowing you to continually adjust it."

      But then realizing that you're playing the game on a too hard or too easy difficulty level meant that you'd have to start the whole game over.

      Et al: I personally consider any attempt to put a "self-balancing" (level-scaling) difficulty level into an RPG a design flaw. Not all of them are as terribly game-ruining as Oblivion's, but all of them are attempts to put something in the game that it already has (players in any non-linear RPG are able to "choose their own difficulty level" in-game by simply going to easier or harder areas), and ultimately ends up acting counterwise to what it was intended to accomplish. Being able to be over- or underleveled for an area is a feature, not a bug! You should allow it! It's one of the unique charms of the genre. There's nothing more rewarding than visiting the starting areas at level five hundred and bringing fiery death to the previously challenging monsters and their flimsy homes.

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    4. "It's one of the unique charms of the genre." It is one of the fastest ways to get an anti-climatic endgame, when I decide to explore every region then get board of the game as I am walking through every fight, hoping that the enemy difficulty catches up to me soon. Then I stop playing and never finish the game, or suffer a horribly anti-climactic boss fight where I never use 90% of my abilities or any items.

      Offenders: Skies of Arcadia Legends (GBC): Encourages you to find hidden 'discoveries' which involves lots of searching, and thus random encounters. Game ends at the final boss fight. I walked through it so easily that looking through the cupboard years later, I couldn't remember if I'd beaten the game. Beat it again with 0 difficultly, despite not having played it in several years, so I'd forgotten any strategy and tactics I knew.

      Baldur's Gate was also kind of bad for this; Such cool hidden wilderness areas, but I was walking through the fights when I finally got to Baldur's Gate.

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    5. " Since nobody wants to lose XP, you rather take the risk and try to get to a temple." It also blatantly punishes those of us who can't always choose when we end; Oh, someone else needs to use the TV? Kiss that last half-hour of levelling goodbye.

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    6. To me, leveling has begun to look like a game design flaw. Just by playing some aspects of the game become easier. Most endgames in RPGs are exponentially easier than the beginnings. Nowadays, XP and level-ups are everywhere! In the old days, when a lot of action games were pure sidescrolling platformers with a few powerups here and there, the only reason to repeat content was not because "you're just not good enough, yet" but because "you haven't beaten this challenge, yet... better get to doing that." (I like Dark Souls so much because although you could probably place it in either category, emphasis is on the second)

      For players who really like XP and level-ups, this is their idea of captivating gameplay (I shared in this, too, from around 2005 to early 2011, but the gamer within me is sadly on the way out), so I can not really complain about lofty game design concepts when there is a loyal market for these gameplay elements.

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    7. "Most endgames in RPGs are exponentially easier than the beginnings."

      If the player hundred-percent runs the default game, then the endgame oughta be pretty easy. A player that wants more challenge should be permitted to access the endgame, and other challenging zones, earlier, possibly given access to an optional challenge mode like Heart of Winter. The variable difficulty is key: you don't need to offer the exact same experience to every player. That only leads to Cowa Dooty design.

      Often RPG bosses are disappointing, but surely that's an individual issue and not a flaw in the entire game genre. I can list plenty of RPG finales that put up a good fight.

      Baldur's Gate's difficulty curve is kind of wonky because the hardest part of the game is the middle. The random encounters in Cloakwood area (which can include things like multiple wyverns, or up to ten spiders of various sorts with ettercap backup and web traps surrounding your party) can be a total party wipeout. Winning those fights is near impossible, your only option is to run and hope they don't gib any of your characters.

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    8. See, I think there should be a way of making it harder. In Skyrim I've been turning the difficulty slider up (Something people say should be banned!) and it is making the game a lot more fun again. As a mage I can't always get to my giant pile of healing potions in time, which keeps me always at risk and interested in the game.

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    9. "To me, leveling has begun to look like a game design flaw."

      I've been wondering if you could have a game where you level, but don't get much more specialized.

      Take D&D and most traditional games; When your fighter goes up a level, he becomes a better fighter, when your mage goes up a level she gets more spells.

      I've been playing Call of Cthulhu lately. One of the cool things about it is that you start with about 300 skill points. Every skill goes from X-99 (Where X is normally between 5 and 25). So it is pretty easy to raise a skill to near perfect at character creation.
      Then when you level each skill you used has a chance of going up, inversely proportional to how good you are at it. So a) Characters naturally get better at what they do in game over time, and b) Characters tend not to get a lot better at the skills they start with, but other skills do go up, making characters more well rounded over time.

      I think it would be an interesting game where each character starts at near-best at their main shtick, then diversifies over time.

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  13. Awesome post Chet! I can't think of any games worth mentioning, but thoroughly enjoyed reading and thinking about it.

    I have to admit that I tend to stick to the "normal" difficulty when playing RPGs. I always intend to play on "hard" settings when I play a game through a second time, but I think I could count the amount of RPGs I've played multiple times on one hand.

    I do hate it when every creature levels with me though, and I also hate it when monsters constantly respawn every time I revisit an area. Both of these are very unrealistic and constantly remind me that I'm playing a game, not experiencing a real world.

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    1. I must say, I don't like it when there isn't a point to levelling as every monster levels up with you, but I also find it really annoying when I accidentally overlevel and walk through every fight, or have to spend an hour grinding due to a 'you must be this tall to ride' restriction on a dungeon.

      Delete
  14. For some reasons I always play CRPGs on default difficulty, but I usually up the difficulty for FPSes and max out difficulty for strategy games.

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    1. I tend to up the difficulty a notch on CRPGs (but not to max), but I leave FPS's at normal. Like you, I max it out for most strategy games.

      Depends what you're good at, maybe.

      Delete
  15. "You realize you could buy Skingrad for the price of that armor?"

    I'm almost tempted to make a mod* for Oblivion where you can tell the Highwaykhajit that if he just waits until the next time I come around he will have grown Daedric armour and selling it will earn him enough money to buy Skingrad and still have enough left for a life time of Skooma abuse.

    * Not compatible with overhaul mods.

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  16. MM1 and 2 come close to the "perfect game".

    In both games you can go anywhere. MM1 has no level scaling, only area scaling. MM2 is a mix of both.

    Both can only be saved at Inns.

    MM2 has a difficulty slider of sorts, that determines the frequency of random encounters.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Chris mentioned the MM2 slider above and suggests that it also controls the number of foes in your encounters. I didn't know that.

      I don't consider MM2 the "perfect" game in this category, but it does seem to meet all three of the points I made at the end. I guess the problem is that the OVERALL difficulty is nonetheless too easy, especially where it allows you to significantly over-level against cuisinarts. I just modified the post a bit to add a fourth criteria.

      Delete
    2. The not-too-hard-or-too-easy (condition 1) is a tough one to meet when the difficulty level is fixed at the beginning (condition 4). How does the player know where to set the difficulty?

      Maybe the condition should be it is possible to put the difficulty up but not down during the game?

      Delete
  17. Dark Souls (which you'll get to in a long time from now) is the fairest rpg I've played in how it handles saving, character death and difficulty.

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    1. The thing with Dark and Demon's Souls games is that they're action RPGs with an emphasis on the action part. The difficulty in them is more a factor of how good you are at dodge-rolling around rather than how optimally you have raised your numbers. It's kind of like Dungeon Master and its ilk in that regard - stats do affect things, and you want them to be higher, but you will always die in very few hits anyway and ability to reflex-dodge attacks is much more important than what specific level you are.

      Delete
  18. I agree with most of this post.

    But the issue of save games is a pretty serious one and I think you are treating the possibility of "replay a significant part of the game is a fair consequence." too casually.

    I'm not at all interested in experiencing the same content over and over and over again, especially if it was because of a mistake like a mis-click. I don't think its any better to force someone to replay an entire level because they lost one fight than it is to just have the player re-play the one fight. You already proved you can complete the content that led up to the fight so what is the sense in making you re-play it?

    All this has ever added to gameplay for me is frustration.

    Lets imagine Baldur's gate with a save in town restriction. So you cleared 90% of a section and find yourself up against one last mob. If following the convention of the second bullet point, having higher difficulty monsters available you all the sudden run into one of these without time to prepare. So instead of the opportunity to use one of the 8 million buff scrolls or potions your party finds itself dead. Congratulations you get to play 30 minutes over again just to load up some resistances for a fight. I don't think its possible to have your second bullet point with a save in town system and still adhere to the first point of not infuriating the player on a regular basis.

    This gets even more true if combat has some element of randomness to it. Congratulations you just got hit with a 1% critical hit chance and lost. Your character was good enough to beat this fight but the dice said no.

    As for your second bullet point, no one does this better than Piranha Bytes. I think this and your 4th point are ideally where difficulty comes from.

    I'm not opposed to having a cost of death unrelated to saves, but it can't be XP. The balance issues would be a nightmare in most RPGS now as they don't have the opportunity for grinding.

    Though on the 4th point a player probably needs to be some way to find out exactly what the sliders do to the game before they are locked in.

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  19. Let's watch out for Dark Souls. Coming to PC in a Prepare to Die Edition ;) soon.

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  20. I'm currently playing Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter on my PS2, which is dated 2003.
    In the game, you can only save when reaching a telecorder (specific save point), and you only have a limited number of save token (10 at the start of the game). You can find additional save tokens during the course of the game (about every 2 hours...).
    The game is hard. You can abandon the game and do it again from the start while keeping XP and gold, but the fights, if easier, certainly do not enter the "barreling everything" realm.
    The game is semi linear; Enemies do not respawn and some areas aren't available at the start, or can't be accessed again, but there are very powerful enemies as well as midgets everywhere. If you get off the beaten path, you'll be rewarded, but you'll be bloodied too.
    Finally, the game has an "I win" option available in that the character changes into a powerhouse for a limited time, able to kill bosses in 2 swipes. Problem: this makes a counter go up. if it reaches 100%, game over, you lose...

    I really love the game, but find it hard to find 2h30 of free tim to play a session :/

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    1. And that is why saving shouldn't be limited by ingame constraints, a point I strongly disagree with Chet on. Not being able to save at any points assumes the game is the most important thing in my life, and that I won't want to stop to watch TV, take a break when my hands get tired, goto bed, hang out with friends, etc. It basically says "This game is the most important thing you will do for the next X hours, and as such gameplay concerns about fun mean we can tell you when you can and cannot stop.

      Delete
  21. Torchlight is an "action RPG" that runs kind of like that.

    You don't save the game at all. Everything that happens stays happened. Including selling the wrong piece of gear or trying to enchant something and having it blow up. Death costs some fame and money if you want to start over right where you are, some money if you want to start at the beginning of that level of the dungeon, or is free if you want to start back in town. I think the first option is 1/4th of your gold, and the second is 1/6th maybe.

    But, it's pretty linear, it's a dungeon going down level by level. You can buy maps to other dungeons, and those can be well above your level, or below, and I suppose you could run by everything and get to the stairs down, which would be kind of silly. You can out level areas so that an aura or pet will insta kill everything though, which can be fun every once in a while.

    It's not really an RPG as far as making choices goes though. NPC interaction is take the quest or don't. And if you don't take the quest I'm not sure why you are doing this.

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    1. It's maps are very, very linear. I bought it two summers ago and had fun for a bit, then got bored and wandered off to play other games. Last week I tried to get back into it, and discovered how boring it was now. Walk through dungeon collecting loot, summon monsters, send pet back to town with loot, then read a book for 2 min while I wait for it to get back. Not pay attention and die, then chose the 'lost a bit of gold' option and have to walk back over half the level, since I don't want to respawn where I was, since that would basically waste the whole freaking level.

      So yeah, I don't think that is a good save mechanic for dying; Boredom is not a good way of punishing the player.

      Delete
    2. I paid $5 for it. I am getting my money's worth I guess.

      Actually though, wasting your time is a good mechanic. Damn, I can't die, I'll have to walk all the way over there again.

      I'm playing it through the second time now and I'm playing the fighter instead of the summoner, and it's a lot more difficult, since my pets don't insta gib everything.

      Delete
    3. See, I just stop playing after I die a couple of times and have to walk back. I have lots of games that *don't* make me bored.

      Another pet peeve; Games I can't alt-tab on to browse the web while waiting for something to happen. Also games without autopause. BG aced this, with customizable autopause.

      Delete
  22. Demon's Souls and Dark Souls have strict saving limitations. They're also phenomenal. However, they're console games, although Dark Souls is coming to PC.

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  23. It's funny that you posted this now. I just downloaded Resident Evil 1. You can only save at a typewriter, and it costs you an ink ribbon to do so. So there's a sense of, "Do I use up one of my saves here? Or have I accomplished little enough that I can afford to replay it if I screw up around the next corner?"

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  24. RPGs these days are easier than the older ones, but I think that also helps bring in new players like your wife. Self imposing limitations to saving is a nice way for players to make a game harder. I'm not one of them I hate when I forget to save, and as others have said repeat a portion of the game.

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  25. As a matter of fact, I am playing Wizardry 6 - Bane of the cosmic forge to test these very prescriptions. Unfortunately, you can save at any point, but the different levels of the castle I am in have different levels of challenge. So if you are bored with one level you can try another, or scuttle back if its too daunting. One level, for example, has rats, bats and creeping vines. The one below has rogues and pirates.

    I will report back when I know more. For now I have imposed one rule on myself. I will not reload in case of party death.

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  26. The LucasArts Star Wars simulations did contain a difficulty setting. It did not necessarily change damage, but it changed two things:

    the kind of turns the opponents flew and
    the distance from you they started shooting at you.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Those games came the closest to perfect of any games ever, but aren't RPGs.

      Tie Fighter and X-Wing were landmark games that seem to get little credit sometimes because of the tie-in.

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    2. I played those soooo much when I was a kid. Haven't thought about them in years.

      Delete
    3. Man, I loved those games as a kid. Back when flight sims were king, instead of FPSes.

      Delete
  27. That was me by the way. No, they are not RPGs in the least.
    But the AI setting was at least something more than "less damage" or "more health".

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  28. I don't think there is any shame in setting the Difficulty to Novice in Dragon Age. Honestly, the combat and "tactics" weren't interesting enough to warrant higher difficulties, when it was VERY office the focus of the game was roleplaying and making different choices to see different outcomes. The combat was just a buffer zone in-between all the "real" content.

    I love RPGs and difficult combat, but the combat in the first Dragon Age was nothing more than padding. I played the game first on Hard Difficulty and breezed through most combats with only the occasional reload. The only combat I couldn't beat was the final boss - so I lowered the difficulty. For each play through afterward I just set the difficulty to Novice and got the combat out of the way to get to the meat of the game - the NPC interactions and choices.

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  29. Here's one for you to try out. Yep its on Kickstarter and looks to have a very old school RPG feel. I want to see this succeed in a big way. Also he just released a new alpha you can try before you commit. He mentions this will have permadeath. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2142391904/legacy-of-the-last-refuge-revenge-of-the-old-schoo

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  30. first off: Morrowind (however cleverly disguised it may seem) does have leveled creatures;

    http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Leveled_Creatures_%28Morrowind%29

    secondly, there is one cRPG which encompasses most of the features in terms of difficulty, that you are asking for:

    Gothic 3

    do note, that Gothic 3, in and by itself is a broken game - not completely unplayable, *but* to the extent that it is not worth your time, until you apply the "Community Patch" (AKA Gothic 3 Enhanced Edition)

    this adds various difficulty options, in terms of A.I. and how many creatures/NPC's that can attack you at once, as well as just about every other aspect you could want a difficulty-slider to change - also this is permanent, when you choose it at the start of a new game, it will continue staying that way, here's a link:

    http://www.madvulture.de/wp/archives/440#comment-274

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  31. I´m a bit surprised that nobody mentions Eschalon and how the developers tried to build a variable difficulty with a lot of different choices and parameters that they got from the community during the development of the second game

    I liked it
    M

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    1. forgot to include the url for eschalon
      http://basiliskgames.com/

      Delete
    2. That game had a very balanced difficulty in my view. I played both Eschalon 1 and 2 and are now looking forward to the third.

      Delete
  32. ...and by the way I never had any problem with gothic 3 technical, bugs etc.. (with the lackluster content some) but it seems like I´m the only one

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  33. "I admit that beyond Skyrim and Dragon Age, I don't have a good grasp of the current CRPG market, but my impression is that essentially no modern games offer the same save game limitations of early CRPGs."

    The masterpieces of ALL TIME when it comes to game design and difficulty are Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. The game designer is a genius and there are so many small things that contribute to what is essentially "perfect game design", in the FACE of the inward involution that hit the western RPGs and games in general.

    I've simply not seen something so brilliant and flawless in gaming in the last 10 years. The game does everything you suggest in the article, and a lot more.

    Hopefully (but unlikely) the PC port isn't shit. But these games are really worth buying a PS3.

    Btw, there's no difficulty option in Dark Souls, but plenty of player's options that affect it (gameplay options).

    Somewhere else I wrote:
    - You die a lot, but this also forced you having patterns imprinted in your soul by repeating the routes. You are essentially forced to get better and you will.
    - Repetition also usually leads to collect more equipment, items and souls. This creates a mitigating mechanic on the difficulty since your character continues improving even after failure, giving you more options.
    - The real roadblocks and difficulty spikes are never mandatory. For example the demon knight in 1.2 is a tough encounter, but it's also an optional one since you can always visit the other worlds first, and get better before you try again. So you effectively decide how high to set the bar.

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    1. "there's no difficulty option in Dark Souls"

      NG++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      Delete
    2. Also, whether or not you are allowing for "multi-player." Though I suppose it's more of an X-factor as you could find someone who might give you some help in a difficult fight or get shanked when you least expect it.

      Delete
  34. No one gets to complain about having to restart an area from a 30 min old save until you get in your time machine, travel back to 1988 and load up almost any rpg of that era.
    Then play a while on Ultima or Wrath of Denethenor or Legacy of the Ancients on the Commodore 64 or whatever, die, then wait for the next 10 min while your clunky but beautiful 1541 reads 2 or 3 disks just to put you back where you were. Even when you HAD just saved it, it was a PITA.
    But I do get time restraints (as a kid we (brother and I) were only allowed 1 hr at a time on the shared comp) so i do sympathize. But, and this is a big badonkadonk butt, what fun is it, or rather where is the challenge in, beating a a game if you don't have expectations of even having a semi-major setback such as this? Back in the day taking 2 or 3 months to beat a game was normal, perhaps even quick. Nowadays people want to be able to do it in a week or less so they can move on to all the other games being put out. I'd rather see fewer game titles and better quality in the ones that do appear.

    As for difficulty I am reminded of a argument I had with my father while I was playing Final Fantasy 3 on the Super Nintendo and he was playing something like Ultima or the like on his computer.
    He said something like "All your doing is killing everything in area A, going to B, buying the one new weapon they sell there and proceeding to beat up everything at the same rate and difficulty as I did in area A. Then move on and do the same with C, D , and so on." Stats seemed unimportant and mobs never SEEMED to get any harder.
    In a large way he was right even though it was a bit over-simplified. (still love FF though)

    I'm about to install Might and Magic 6. They were one of my fathers favorite series. I, however, have never played any of them. Any non-spoiler hints are welcome :)

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    1. If I die in a fight I want to redo the fight. Not the 7 fights before it that I walked through. That is rather boring, since you know, I've done them already. I've already proven I can beat those fights, why should I have to redo them?

      Delete
    2. Extremely flawed but loved (by me) Final Fantasy 13 says "Hi."

      Delete
    3. The challenge is not whether you can win each fight individually. Its closer to can you beat this series of encounters and stay alive. If the 7th encounter beat you then you should have not used so many sp or skills etc on the last 6.

      But, everyone enjoys something different so its all subjective. They can not cater to the taste of every last subset of gamers. I can see how it would be frustrating trying to run through a game and get killed on one of those crit hit chance < 1%. But, these things kinda define the RPG. Shit happens, even a little blind goblin finds a nut occasionally. :)

      Now, do these things make the game more fun? That's subjectively reflected by the level of your own desire for realism. (realism in a fantasy setting sounds absurd but you get my drift)

      But, again, I guess you do have a point when it comes to the overall "fun" of the game over the larger base of players.

      Delete
    4. Really this is talking about two kinds of game approaches which are very different.

      In Final Fantasy 13, healing occurs immediately after each fight. It's all about tactics within individual combats, meaning repeating lost fights would truly be meaningless as Canageek says. (For a PC-based example, try Avadon - The Black Fortress.)

      A game on the other extreme -- let's say, Wizardry 1 -- is about use of accumulated resources. Even the final battle isn't particularly noteworthy compared with others, but there is a heavy "should I go on and explore or turn back and recharge my resources" aspect to every step. That, on top of the fact most encounters are random, means "proving you beat the previous fights" doesn't really prove anything.

      Delete
    5. Wow, they really have gone to strange places with the Final Fantasy series. I haven't have the inkling to play one since I tried the first one for the PS1. they moved it to Sony and became more worried about graphics than design. A few playable titles came out since perhaps, but from what I've seen they have moved away from the style of RPG that _I_ appreciate fullest.

      It's a shame too, 2 & 3 were my all time favorites.

      Delete
    6. Ryan: Yeah, I get resource management. The problem is you get into issues where either;
      1) You have to replay a zillion hours of gameplay each time, due to some stupid no-save in between sequence.

      or 2) You save without the resources you need, and can't win the next battle to get more. Battle for Wesnoth suffers from this a lot in some campaigns.

      While I do enjoy this to some extant in D&D, as a general rule I am not a huge fan of this type of limitation, as it typically winds up with me doing each mission a zillion times so I don't use up any items, in case I need them later, then having 99 of each one on the final fight, rendering it far easier then any of the previous ones, since I can go nuclear. This is then rather anticlimactic and disappointing.

      Delete
    7. @Jason: "It's all about tactics within individual combats, meaning repeating lost fights would truly be meaningless as Canageek says."

      Not at all. Some fights I had to try quite a few times before I found out what I was doing wrong. There are lots of little tweaks you can make to your party that make a big difference (I can't remember any specifics, but one fight seemed impossible until I set Hope as my leader and had him be the Medic in one of my pardigms. We ended up holding on to dear life fine.).

      Delete
    8. @Jason: "It's all about tactics within individual combats, meaning repeating lost fights would truly be meaningless as Canageek says."

      Not at all. Some fights I had to try quite a few times before I found out what I was doing wrong. There are lots of little tweaks you can make to your party that make a big difference (I can't remember any specifics, but one fight seemed impossible until I set Hope as my leader and had him be the Medic in one of my pardigms. We ended up holding on to dear life fine.).

      Delete
    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    10. Just to clarify my typo-ness, I meant "previous fights to the one you lost".

      Delete
  35. I'd just like to note that whether Skyrim gets too easy or not at high levels depends on how you build your character.

    Enchanting + Smithing combined is absurdly powerful. My first character was eventually able to destroy an Elder Dragon in 5-10 seconds while suffering only minimal damage himself. That was on average difficulty.

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    1. Fireball mages are pretty powerful against undead and trolls. Still have trouble with bandits from time to time though. Just don't have the HP if they can start hitting me. Enchanting and smithing I do a bit of, so I'm using extra-shiny Ebony armour. I've not but perks into smithing yet; Seems like a lot for Dragonbone.

      Delete
    2. You get maximum protection with 567 Armor Rating, anything more is just wasted. And with Smithing and Enchanting you can get that from Steel Armor so anything beyond Steel Smithing is actually unnecessary. Steel Smithing also alows you to improve Skyforged Steel weapons, which aren't much weaker than Daedric. A fully improved (100 Smithing + 100% Fortify Smithing + relevant perk) Skyforged Steel sword will have 31 base damage while a fully improved Daedric sword will have 34 base damage. So the difference is a mere 9% and hardly worth the 4 perks.

      Another reason why Enchanting is broken is that you can enchant your gear with 100% Fortify Destruction which makes your spells cost no mana. Then you can just spam your strongest spells as much as you want. And as if that wasn't enough, if you have the Impact perk you can "stun lock" even the strongest enemy and kill them without taking any damage at all.

      And these aren't even exploits. It's just using your skills naturally. After all it's completely logical for someone who dabbles in Enchanting and Destruction to make Fortify Destruction enchantments and for someone who dabbles in Enchanting and Smithing to create Fortify Smithing enchantments.

      Sorry, I got a little carried away. I'll stop ranting now. ;)

      Delete
    3. Yeahup, that's an awesome combo, and I like it greatly. One of my biggest peeves with RPGs is when their armour/weapon system continually encourages the player to obtain the next higher tier or be swept away in combat. Especially when the higher tier is dandy glass and over-decorated tin. There's no reason the steel gear shouldn't keep its own.

      My latest character still rocks fur armour with scaled greaves and bracers, and a fancy hat on his head without worry. A good pick of shield/light armour perks and enchanting skill is aces to this guy, and his hand axe too.

      Delete
    4. See, something I've realized; Any game can be broken if you go looking to break it. I use Smithing with skills only, plus potions and items to boost it. I can't forge armour, but I've got some sweet ebony now. I also enchant, but I don't go around making a half-zillion daggers to raise my skills. So I have fast mana regen, and cheap destruction magic, but not 'this game is boring' good gear.

      My only complaint is that it is really rare for me to find any gear worth keeping after this, and I'm only level 30-something. I love searching and finding new, cool items, and Skyrim was pretty good at that for a long time, but is kinda not right now. Does this get better, or not so much?

      Delete
  36. While not a CRPG, per se, one of my favorite games from the DOS era was (and still is) System Shock. Though, instead of one slider bar, it had four so as to truly customize the player's experience and depth of challenge. Puzzles had their own difficulty, as did the plot, the combat, and the virtual reality elements. Combat made enemies tougher (and I think slightly "better" in general), plot would enforce a time limit on the hardest difficulties and some other changes, et cetera. The companion book for the game, titled ICE Breaker fully explains what each difficulty meant for each facet of play.

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  37. One of the oddest but most interesting approaches to difficulty I ever saw is "the world ends with you", on the Nintendo DS.

    Basically there are two difficulty systems you can adjust outside of fights.

    First, there are four difficulty levels from which you can freely choose. Should you die, you can choose to reload from save or replay the last encounter with the difficulty cranked down. The catch is, each difficulty has its own set of item drops, each with its share of exclusive items. Some enemies also only appear in the higher tier difficulties.

    Second, there's a handicap system. Basically you temporarily forfeit levels in exchange of increased drop probabilities, which often is necessary because the higher tier items have near-impossible base probabilities (ie for example you'd decide to play at level 5 when you're really 40 so a 0.5% probability item rises to a more manageable 18%).

    The game mechanics encourage a collectathon mentality (the dropped items are your means of attack, and there's a huge variety to them, not just in power but in how they can change the game mechanics), so if you want to get all the secrets you're forced to explore and master all difficulties against crazy odds, but at the same time a more casual player can very well complete the game pretty fast, at the price of only actually experiencing a subset of it.

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  38. I'm going to have to disagree with you about being able to change difficulty settings in-game.

    In theory, games are perfectly balanced and the first fight in the game is as tough for you at the time (given player skill, items, character, etc), as the last fight in the game.

    In practice this is impossible. Outside of the difficulty of balancing that for any one player, players are different - you might find dragons easy in Skyrim because dodging aerial attacks doesn't bother you, but Draugr get you because your spatial awareness in dungeons is terrible. Or the other way around.

    This means that when you pick your difficulty at the start of the game, you don't know whether it's the right difficulty for you.

    I recently played through Mass Effect 3 on the highest setting and it had very variable difficulty (the final battles were extremely tough for me), but I never would have tried it (and gotten the feeling of accomplishment), if I didn't know I could always lower the difficulty one notch and not have to start the story over.

    On games where I can't change it dynamically I've also picked a difficulty that was too easy and end up frustrated with the game - there was no challenge but I didn't want to start over again just to bump it up - suppose that difficulty was too much?


    Being able to change difficulty isn't always about bumping it down. Sometimes you realize the game is too easy so you bump it up.

    I really like what the XBox achievement system introduced (and PS3 has copied with trophies). Most RPGs have an achievement something like:
    "Beat the game on Hard, without ever changing the difficulty". (Ideally they'd say "Without ever lowering the difficulty below hard, so you could start on Super-Hard and fall back to Hard). You can lower if it you have to, and you'll forfeit the achievement (or drop to the next lower one), but you'll get to finish the story and still have the correct challenge.

    Eschalon: Book 2 (as a poster mentioned above) does this nicely with the challenges - many of which you can give up on any time - is winning without potions too difficult? Drink a potion, lose the challenge, but you don't have to start over.

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    1. Yeah, I'm agree with pretty much everything you say here.

      Delete
  39. It wasn't exactly a slider because hey, keyboard interface, but the adjustable difficulty in Akalabeth worked similar to one.

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    1. I had utterly forgotten about that! The first CRPG actually had a difficulty setting.

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  40. Din's curse is great for customising the difficulty once you get to grips with the basics of the game and you can choose to have permadeath and various other penalties imposed.

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  41. From reading this interview with the designers:
    http://www.rpgcodex.net/content.php?id=8320
    It looks like Dark Heart of Uukrul (coming up in a few games time) might fulfil a lot of your perfect game criteria. I've never played it myself, but I remember seeing it crop up a lot in the computer pages of Dragon Magazine back in the day, and always fancied giving it a go. Be interesting to see what you make of it.

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    1. Uukrul is an excellent game, with both exploration, decent combat, unique magic and holy systems, and good puzzles. I only played it half a year ago, so this is not nostalgia talking.
      It definitely fits criterias 1 and 3. As for 2 I think it's area scaled. And I can't remember if there was different difficulty levels.
      But I'm definitely looking forward to Chet bloging about it.

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    2. Great interview. But a warning to Chester: the interview contains spoilers!

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    3. Great to read this interview about one of my favorite games after all these years. Played it around '96, after picking it from a bargain bin in a local store, and almost immediately fell in love with it because of its eerie atmosphere. It's a shame that the game failed commercially, could have been the start of something big. I've asked myself for quite a while what became of the developers, so it's nice to finally fill this gap. But one mystery remains (at least for me): How exactly are you supposed to pronounce "Uukrul"?

      Delete
  42. This is apropos of nothing, of course, but I have been playing Bloodwych. Well, trying to play- Urgh. Y'all have played this game and had fun? How did that happen?

    The all mouse interface is... irritating, especially since, no matter the resolution of the screen, all the interface items are so small. And touchy. My hand gets sore trying to make sure I have the mouse where it is supposed to be all the time when I click- and BOY do you have to click a lot!

    The system for choosing characters is irritating, the interface for interacting with the characters is irritating, the MAPPING is irritating- GOOD LORD, the maps. And where I am mapping, is apparantly only where all the Good Guys live! Good Lord! My characters are STARVING because the area where all the characters live is HUGE and CONVOLUTED and hard to map. And before you ask, I do the trick of taking in the characters I don't want and taking all their stuff then kicking them out in a small room where I shut the door. And I am STILL starving.

    I want to like this game. I want to try to play this game. But man, the people that made this game did their level best to make sure I would not enjoy a single moment of playing the game.

    Man, I need a proper blog to grumble about this game in, to split me a few infinitives.

    ReplyDelete
  43. It has taken all year, but I've finally caught up! I have been greatly enjoying your blog! You'll have to publish all this as a book some day. (Assuming blogspot doesn't claim copyright?)

    As others have said, I'm living vicariously through you playing these games. I'm an engineer / software programmer by trade; you've been a source of inspiration and ideas for my own CRPG. It's not coming anytime soon though so don't worry about me begging you to play it. :-)

    Posts like this one are perfect for ideas! For my game I'm having the "hero" start out at his/her home out in the country, but the entire map is available for exploration immediately. There will be a few tips though to help stay alive: Roads / plains are relatively safe, don't venture too deeply into forests, and stay away from mountains (until you're ready of course).

    Upon getting "killed", your character doesn't necessarily die. I always thought it was silly that when a rat / similar creature defeats you, you die. I think more likely you'll eventually wake up or another adventurer will run across your dying body and help (and/or loot you of course).

    I haven't decided if there will be permament death or not if you attack something that would kill / eat you (I'm not a Rogue kind of guy). It may just be you come back at the last inn you stayed at. Still working on that one... (Suggestions from anyone are welcome!)

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clint, it's good to have you with us. Your approach to your CRPG sounds like a good one, and I look forward to hearing about its development.

      I want to do a special posting at some point about how different CRPGs deal with death. Some resurrect you, some just force you to restart, and a few do what you suggest.

      Delete
  44. You reached the 60th place on the top 100 list.

    60 4431 Addict-Wiz-Hum-Fem-Cha died in The Dungeons of Doom on level 5. Killed by a jaguar. - [48]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I must be missing something, is he playing nethack on a public server now?

      Delete
    2. No, I made a Wizard named Addict. He did pretty well, 60th place on my top 100. Chet didn't do as well, only 99th place.

      Delete
  45. Mount and Blade allows multiple varieties of difficulty manipulation including Battle AI, Battle Speed, and Enemy/Friendly damage reduction.
    It also gives an indicator of the difficulty represented by a percentage reflecting your choices from the above list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep hearing good things about M&B. I wish I could jump to it and give it a try.

      Delete
  46. Off topic, but I am now playing through Ultima 6 right now and am just AMAZED by the quality of the writing in the NPC interactions. Richard Garriott's earlier Ultima titles definitely had that 'auteur' quality to them.

    Just one more year before we get to 1990! :D

    ReplyDelete
  47. At the current pace, we'll be there in, oh, five years :D

    ReplyDelete
  48. Can't wait to start reading again, CA! See you in four days.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Good to see you back- was beginning to wonder if you were, in fact, dead. A mere lifeless corpse, discarded casually by the side of the road somewhere and left to rot in the sun. Good to know this is not the case! But it makes me wonder who this poor soul IS.

    Anyway, you say Bloodwych is kicking your behind, to paraphrase poorly? Is it because it is a hard game, or is it because of the reasons that I had stated in my previous comment higher up on this very page? Yes, you have to go back and read it, I cannot paraphrase it and do justice to it. But basically I am wondering if the game is kicking you from here to over there, or if the game's interface is doing the kicking. Curious to see if you mislike the interface as much as I do. I figure I will have to restart the game at least 4 times, from scratch, just to map the good-guy area and choose my 4 characters. This is WAY too much.

    Anyway, glad to see you back. Is good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. William, I'm getting used to it, but I can't say I'm a real fan so far.

      Delete
  50. I liked Bloodwych in the day and I can't remember any interface difficulties. Maybe the Amiga version was better than DOS, I dunno. Screen resolution is inevitably low due to the split screen. I mapped it on graph paper and it was no worse than Dungeon Master as I recall. (And certainly not as hard as Chaos Strikes Back!)

    Then again, I loved Dungeon Master and the Addict didn't, so I'm not surprised if he doesn't like Bloodwych all that much either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's a little unfair. I didn't think it was the greatest game EVER or anything, but I didn't dislike it. It's in the top 30% of my list, I think.

      Delete
  51. It was the constant clicks for every thing, every action, and no keyboard usage at all- and the interface icons were so small, and very particular- hit it exactly or no go. For me, constant clicking in such a small area made my hand very sore- I'm used to broader movements. So the process of click-click to highlight the new guy, move-click to open the inventory, move-click to get his food into the 'transfer slot' of his inventory, move-click-click to highlight my main guy, move-click to open the inventory, move-click to transfer the item into the 'transfer slot' to my inventory... My hand said 'ow' after a fairly short time of this activity.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I like games where you can do either better or worse, depending on how well you play. Perhaps the game could be easy enough to allow most players to beat it, but if you play really good you get a better ending. Perhaps there could be a range of outcomes, ranging from utter defeat to superb victory, that way the game would never really be "too hard" or "too easy", only that you could always do better no matter what you did. In Civil War Generals 2 you can try to get better weapons, I managed to get the entire Union army to surrender multiple times, that way my troops can have expensive and fancy weapons with all the modern bells and whistles of top notch state of the art 1850ies technology. I could probably still beat the game without doing that, but I beat the game so much more, it feels better somehow, and worth the effort. Another game that has multiple outcomes that all feel different is Civilization. In my latest let's play of Civilization on youtube (innategamer on youtube here) I manage to get Robotics before 1AD on emperor+2. That gives me something to be proud about, accomplishment (unemployed in real life here). Anyway, this extra accomplishment can always be outdone by playing better, if I'm unsatisfied with Robotics before 1AD and I start thinking that was easy (which it wasn't, it was by far the best I managed since I started playing the game about 19 years ago, and I did it on camera, as it were), anyway if I started thinking that was easy I could always try to get future tech before 1AD on emperor+2. Unless you cheat too much that won't be easy, even if you did cheat it wouldn't be easy.

    So let's say that there's a game that's way to easy (*cough, cough, Civilization, cough, cough*), well at least that game can offer me the joy of not only beating it, but owning it! Sim City is a game that doesn't even have defeat in it, at least normally, but you can always try to get more people. Then there are games like Ocarina of Time, you can try to beat the game with only 3 hearts. If a game is too easy, at least make owning it an enjoyable experience! I'm not sure if there are any rpgs that are fun to own, since an rpg seems to be tied to closely to it's story, and maybe if manage to own an rpg game it would feel like you broke the game. That's my five cents.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Where is the update?

    The crpgaddictaddict. :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. Dead. He's dead, so he can't update. Ipso facto, do si do.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Seriously, though, is this blog over?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I what William said was a joke that misfired. He has had long absences in the past so this is not unusual.

      Delete
    2. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (For you youngsters: Yes, that's a movie reference from the prehistoric time before the internet.)

      Delete
  56. People miss deadlines; I wouldn't jump to such conclusions until it's been a few months without news (or Chet specifically says he's done), and he updated just last week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't even worry too much when Chet says he's done ; )

      Delete
  57. Speaking of the periods where our dear addict is to busy to post. Has anybody noticed that they tend occur during our politically active times.

    Mr addict sir, does your work often involve the politicos? It would explain why you think people in your field would look down on you for your hobby. As the politicians and talking heads are the only groups who are still backwards enough to make a practice of looking down or being exclusionary to a "gamer"


    Either that or he is planning on announcing his book at gencon this weekend. If so I will be there with a gimlet in hand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just realized, that if this is the case, well we are in an election year and I'm thinking, isn't that like political xmas or something? There would hardly be any time for anything else in an election year if you worked in politics, I imagine.

      Delete
  58. Woke up to another day of no new post from the Addict. I was hoping it would be a good day......

    ReplyDelete
  59. Wow, my 2 page examination on how Mount and Blade: Warband fits every one of your criteria was just wiped by the over heated laptop gods. So instead I'll just state it as fact and defend it if necessary.

    Too bad it won't pop up here for another 5 years or so.

    ReplyDelete
  60. I think we should start a pool on when he gets back. Each person picks a day, if your day passes without him coming back, you can pick again.

    I'm willing to bet a postcard that he comes back on August 22nd. That is, I will mail the winner a handwritten postcard or letter if they guess the right date. Anywhere in the world, it is only $2 for international postage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By coming back do you mean a new post or updating that little thing at the top?

      Delete
    2. Canageek, no offense, but by your rules, one should always pick "today.". If not correct, the pick "today" again the next day...etc.

      Delete
    3. Good point; No picking the current date, no picking a day someone else has choosen.

      Only the next full post counts, though you get a kudos if you pick the right date for a update at the top.

      Also everyone else has forgotten to post what they are going to do for the winner when they get it right. I'm going to mail a postcard; What are the rest of you going to do?

      Delete
    4. No actual date, but I would guess Labor Weekend as the next long weekend. I can name a character after the winner on my next game (Final Fantasy; limit of 4 letters).

      Delete
    5. You would guess Labor Day weekend? That would be getting two extra days than everyone else.

      Well, I'm guessing the 20th. Sometimes CRPG-A posts late at night. What is the official timezone?

      For what I could offer to the winner:

      1) A shout-out in my next Let's Play first episode video (there are always more views early on). I could also plug your blog, website, project, etc., with a link, and/or include a little message from you. Might be fun!

      2) Name a character after you in the next game in which I am able to do so.

      3) Attempt a Let's Play of the game of your choice, perhaps? It would depend on what game, and if I'm able to afford or otherwise acquire it at the time.

      Thanks for the fun idea, Canageek!

      Delete
    6. Whatever one the blog uses. It'll be whatever the timestamp says on the bottom.

      Delete
    7. Well, I'll just go with September 1st for now, although history suggests he may post the Friday before.

      Delete
    8. Okay, I'll guess 8/31, and for the winner I could send a print of my of my picture of the year photos.

      Delete
    9. Y'all lot got up to some weird stuff while I was gone.

      Delete
  61. My guess is Aug. 24

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You need to offer a reward with that.

      Delete
  62. I'm going with August 25th. Hell, I just updated my blog after over a month. Who knew a newborn would impact a Let's Play so much?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You need to offer a reward with that.

      Delete
    2. Hmm...how about two late eighties issues of Computer Shopper?

      Delete
    3. I'm changing my reward to a silver-plated mouse, PS/2 connector. Haven't been able to sell it on eBay.

      Delete
    4. .......Damn. That sounds wicked.

      Delete
  63. My guess is Aug 18th

    Lord Hienmitey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welp, you don't win. Care to guess again with an award?

      Delete
  64. Put me down for August 21. I just want a PC in one of the next upcoming games named after me. Wherever Zink went I just wanted to say I have harbored a jealousy of his being the name of Chet's trusty club in Beyond Zork way back at 'The Dawning.' Even still I wax nostalgic for the old names in the comments. Where did they all go?

    ReplyDelete
  65. Put me down for August 21. I just want a PC named Giauz in an upcoming game. Wherever Zink went I want to say I have harbored a jealousy of his being the name of Chet's trusty club in Beyond Zork way back in the early times. Wherever they went I wish a lot of those old names would become frequent posters again (Zink, Calibrator, Andy Panthro, Georges, etc. wherever did you go?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This blog used to be my Home page in Google Chrome, now I check it once a week. They might have simply gotten bored.

      Delete
    2. Ok, August 21 it is, now what are you wagering?

      Delete
    3. I wager that you can say "you lose! So sad!" if I am wrong. My integrity is about as much as I'm worth right now.

      Delete
    4. Giauz: Mmmm, not doing it enough for me. How about you do a stupid dance? I'm willing to accept that you did it on the honour system though.

      Delete
    5. That'll have to do. I don't even have a webcam :(

      Delete
    6. Giauz, I think you're going to win unless something horrible happens to me in the next few hours. Also, you're going to be a character in The Magic Candle. I've had that note in there for like two years.

      Delete
    7. You don't create characters in MC, you recruit them. Even the main character is pregenerated, but him (there are only males in MC) you can rename to Giauz. And in MC2 you can decide that Giauz was really a girl in disguise. ;-)

      Delete
    8. If I have to name my main character Giauz, Giauz is going to have to pop in here and tell us how to pronounce it.

      Delete
    9. Pop! AWESOME! Glad you're back and still alive CA!

      I pronounce my pseudonym '(little)g (big)E and oz like Wizard of Oz. To reitterate: 'g- E- oz.'

      Delete
    10. Though I suppose I am good with 'guy- oz' if you prefer.

      Delete
    11. I just always assumed it was "Go."

      Delete
  66. How about a second pool, instead of guessing which date the crpgaddict returns, you get to guess how many comments there will be to this blog post before he returns. The number of comments there were the moment right before the crpgaddict makes a comment is the number that counts. No prices, just cudos for picking the right number. How right you were if you happen to make the right prediction will be divided by the number of guesses you made and multiplied with how many comments in advance you picked the right comment amount. I go first:

    This is my first (1) guess and I'm guessing 180 comments, and I'm typing this comment when 136 comments have already been made (not counting this comment). If I am right, before having made other guesses, that means that the crpgaddict's comment will be comment #181, then I will get (180-136)/1=44 cudos!

    ReplyDelete
  67. I go with Canageek... He'll come back 22 August (cause that day is my birthday, hahahaha).

    ReplyDelete
  68. Oops... can't pick the same day as him. 23rd then!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alrighty, glad to see you agree with me: Now what are you going to wager?

      Delete
  69. Replies
    1. Canageek: "You need to offer a reward with that."

      Delete
    2. And you must gather your party before venturing forth

      Delete
    3. You don't need to offer a reward if you don't want to, I think it's just interesting to see who will be right and the rewards are just a hassle. Btw, how many comments do you guess this blog post will have before he returns?

      Delete
    4. I'm defaulting all awards to doing a stupid dance. Youtube optional but encouraged.

      I'm going with 134 (133.7 rounded up)

      Delete
    5. Why would you want anyone to do a stupid dance? It isn't necessary to gamble about everything. We'll just see who gets to be right.

      Delete
  70. Since Our Fair Chet (OFC) is clearly very busy, I'm going to post a general question out of genuine curiosity: Does anyone else here roleplay non-RPG games?

    I recently purchased College Hoops 2K8 (the last college basketball game made, due to licensing costs), and discovered to my glee that you can create a player (and a school, if you wish!) and completely design them from the ground up, assign them to the school of your choice, and hit the court.

    So I designed a 300-year-old evil wizard from a Lovecraft story (Joseph Curwen, of course) whose love of resurrecting dead bodies gave way to the love of University of Maryland college basketball. He became a Terp walk-on, and quickly dominated the national scoring charts using hexes, incantations, and other arcane techniques. Yet because of his age, and lack of access to his Providence, RI laboratory, his joints ache from time to time and so he's not so good at passing or steals. A limited type of wizardry.

    Still, I've had more fun role-playing a modern basketball game than I have most ACTUAL RPGs in the last 5 or so years.

    Anyone else hijack another genre like that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I was younger I'd play the Nintendo 64 wrestling games like that with a custom wrestler. Also Microsoft Flight Simulator 98.

      Delete
    2. I try to create a "story" when I play strategy games, inventing characters in my mid and placing them (mentally) amidst the otherwise indistinguishable units.

      Just saw your profile on Trickster's blog. I can't get with the love everyone seems to have for Citizen Kane. Even though it's a technically impressive (and groundbreaking) film, I don't find the story compelling or the acting very good. Have you seen Touch of Evil? Much better, and underrated, Welles film, in my opinion.

      Delete
    3. I did that with WWE 2K16 recently using a customized wrestler as well.

      Freaking hilarious to see a paladin getting his nuts kicked by Edge.

      Delete
  71. You know what would make me lol? If Chet himself entered the pool and picked a date! That would be like being besides yourself, or whatever that's called. Or unaware of yourself, there's an expression I'm fishing for here, forgot what it's called.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or maybe he just scrolls down on the comments page and sees a lot of people mentioning random dates, and then picks his own random date just for the heck of it!

      Delete
  72. This is kind of hilarious, in that I just recently caught up to his live postings. For about 2 months, I reveled in reading (in order) all of his past postings and enjoying them tremendously. As someone who never really got a chance to play these games (either because I'm too young or we just didn't have a computer in time), it has been great reading all of this. I really hope he comes back soon, but understand that his life is likely quite busy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to have you with me, Sean. Rest assured, I'll be posting again soon.

      Delete
  73. Woohoo!!! The crpgaddict is back! And what do I see? I see 180 comments, well I see some of them are old, but as far as I'm concerned I kinda deserve my 44 cudos!!! It was 180 when I checked to see how many.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I give all cudos I have to you fine sir.

      Delete
  74. I have to agree with the commenter far above and from more than one year ago...the MMORPGS don't do bad here. Different modes, unadjustable without losing progress, fixed levels in certain areas. MMORPGS and CRPGs could learn some things from each other.
    Mass Effect 3 gave you an achievement if you played on hard difficulty all the time, and never changed once. It's at least something....
    I do think that the saving options should reflect the challenges you face. If there is a string of 3 encounters that were meant to be fought in one piece, then there should be no option to save within that encounter. You should be forced to beat the challenge as it was meant to be. Sometimes you can trick probability by saving. However you should still be able to save freely outside of combat, so you don't end up in a battle you can't win (yet).

    ReplyDelete
  75. One interesting thing the difficulty setting doe sin dragon age, is that it enables/scales friendly fire, in the easiest difficulty, area spells do not damage allies, a bit Harder and allies take half damage, increase the difficulty again and allies take full damage.

    I know you didn´t liek the combat in DA:O, but I honestly believe that is because you played the X-Box version. Played on a PC using the Active pause system it is an experience much closer to tactical, turn-based combat.

    I hope you get to play the PC version.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're probably right in your assessment of why I didn't like DA:O combat.

      It's nice to see a difficulty slider that does something more than just adjust enemy hit point and damage, Still, I feel like a lot more could be done with the difficult options, such as restricting the frequency of saves, improving enemy AI, or even changing the type of enemy that you face. That way, replays at higher difficulty levels would feel like slightly different games rather than just harder games.

      Delete
  76. "Pool of Radiance restricts you at the outset, but after a few quests, you can explore the entire game world whether you're ready or not."

    You have to clear Sokol Keep if you want to use a boat for faster travelling, but you can go everywhere by land as soon as you start.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How? I don't feel like fiddling with the codewheel again, but to the best of my recollection, there's no exit to the land from the civilized area until you get the boat. If you mean that you can walk from the civilized area through the slums, Kuto's well, and Podol Plaza, and exit there, well yes, that's true, but a low-level party would have trouble surviving the trip, and it's pretty far--well within a reasonable interpretation of "restricts you at the outset."

      Delete
    2. Yes, I meant this way through the uncivilized area. "Pretty far" is quite normal with PoR, where you walk through half of the city, make some fights and go back for training and shopping.

      "Trouble Surving"? The chances to leave the city alive are much higher than surviving any random encounter once you get outside. (You can rest on your way in the outer area of the library.)

      Delete
  77. I'm not sure I'd agree with the notion of limited saves and locked difficulty. Their primary function seems to be psychological: a safeguard against the player's own, potentially game-deteriorating, tendencies. The downside is that they'd make the game less flexible and frustrating in case the player made the wrong choice in difficulty not apparent right at the start, or the player needed to exit the game then and there and couldn't save. They'd also serve no positive purpose for players who can keep themselves in check.

    I'm in favor of having tick boxes that can permanently lock some settings upon starting a new game, but otherwise it's just better design to not punish the player for unforeseeable mistakes or real-life occurrences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This wasn't the best-thought argument in my post. I had in mind games for which I ALREADY knew the difficulty, but obviously, until you play a game for the first time, you don't know how easy or hard it's going to be.

      Delete
  78. I don't think any crpg should have or even need a difficulty slider, because there's an option right in the genre which allows the player to set difficulty by himself: grinding.

    In a perfectly balanced RPG, if you just walk though, it's very hard, but still (somehow) doable. But if you manage to find some areas to grind out some experience, you gain more and more option to win fights, which makes the game easier. But this comes at a price: the time of the player. If you don't get how to solve a quest in your current state, you are forced to waste some time killing trash mobs.

    The placement of grind spots is also important, they shouldn't be too obvious, so finding one is actually a reward. Also they should scale with progress in the game - at the start, you can grind some easy goblins and the opportunity to level very high is only theoretical, while you can lateron grind stronger opponents. Dungeon Master did this very well, with 3 grind spots in the dungeon (screamer room after the worm level, rat room at the end of the rat level and the single black flame you can access from the knight level).

    Grinding can be either for XP or for ressources (maybe you could solve some quest if you had another 50 healing potions...), so it depends on a good economy the same as on good character development.

    Levelling monster contradict that and also rob you of the opportunity to slaughter some starter mobs with a endgame character and actually experience your character growth. "Strategies" like staying at certain level (like level 1) just show how awfully balanced a game is and how the devs missed making a coherent story to follow.


    Another option to balance difficulty are secrets and optional quests. You can leave them out and simply walk up the endboss (more or less), but doing them rewards you in making the further game easier.


    Permadeath and limited saves are very poor and artificial ways to balance a game. Very few games (mainly roguelikes) manage to make the constant replay of basically the same content interesting. Games without random content can barely pull that off.
    The difficulty should be in a way that save-scumming doesn't work. Either you do it right and win or you do it wrong, lose and learn something. Losing should be part of the game, but not as harsh penalty, but as a way to learn something, improve your strategy and make it better next time.


    NPCs and lore can help you making strategies, for example by telling you vulnerabilities and blind spots of certain foes. This way, a game can directly reward a player for taking his time to talk to commoners and experience the game lore.


    Of course, a crpg needs to allow a lot of different strategies by offering many spells, items and a tactical combat to make all of this work. But only a game which properly challenges a player on his wits and persistance can reward you accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's another thing. Citing this JRPG called Final Fantasy 7; a console game that spans over 3 CDs, a feat that was record breaking back then: many players boasted about reaching Level 99 (the greatest amount of levels a character may achieve).

      Because of the strange length of gameplay on each disc (almost 2/3rd is on Disc 1, 1/4 on Disc 2 and remaining on Disc 3), I reached AND won the game with characters at levels 36-38.

      Does that mean I'm better? If I am, why are those guys with level 99 characters chortling about how l33t their characters are? It's pretty weird when I'm actively strategizing, planning while performing countermeasures on the fly with limited resources and somehow being considered a lesser when compared to these incessant grinders.

      Delete
    2. Well, that at least shows that two very different kind of players could both have their fun with the game!

      Grinding is also a skill, even though it's rather challenging your endurance and patience than your mind. It looks like the grind oppurtunities were a bit overdone if you could have more than twice the level (and thus power?) you actually need to finish the game. A level cap of 50 or 60 might have been enough, so at least a bit of strategic challenge remains, no matter how much you grind.

      I personally like grinding, but I try not to overdo it. Otherwise I feel like I rob myself of any sense of progress during the game. The story alone is rarely enough to motivate me through a game - especially because it loses the point when the villians are laughable weak compared to you.

      Delete
    3. I don't think grinding should be an acceptable substitute for good game balance. I stop playing a lot of games as I get bored with the combat system while grinding. If the combat system will hold your attention for X amount of time, and the game is X long, things are good. If you then add Y extra grinding to it, by the end I just want it to be over.

      Now, you can help this by adding extra dungeons or goals (Find discoveries [Skies of Arcadia], make new cards [Baton Katos]), for example, but that doesn't help the getting burned out on the game problem.

      Delete
  79. Chet, how do you feel about the combat difficulty in New Vegas?

    I found the fights either trivial, because my companions calmly executed all aggressors, or absolutely lethal, because the aggressors could kill my companions.

    I found very few combats occupied a pleasing middle ground when using companions

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    Replies
    1. My experience was similar to yours.

      Companions offer such an enormous combat advantage that I think they should have balanced it by not awarding experience for NPC companion kills. This also would have mitigated how easy it is to reach max level long before the end of the game. That annoyed me more than anything. I maxed with 1/4 of the game and an entire expansion still to go.

      Delete

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