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Game News Druidstone goes full deterministic

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Tags: Ctrl Alt Ninja; Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest

Druidstone started out as a procedurally generated game, but in a new update published today Ctrl Alt Ninja reveal that even its combat mechanics are now fully deterministic. The goal is to make each encounter feel like a mini-puzzle. Enemy decision-making will be the only random element in Druidstone's combat, although right now even that is deterministic. The update explains:

Ok, that thing sorted out, let’s talk about today’s subject, which is randomness as a game design concept and how it affects Druidstone. Randomness can be found in many places and in many forms in a game. For example, are levels fixed or randomly generated (tried that, didn’t work for us)? Are combat values such as hit chance, damage, damage reduction and so on random numbers or fixed? Are enemies in levels randomized? What about loot drops and items? Is enemy AI based on random behavior or do they follow strict deterministic rules? Each of these questions can be answered independently, so you end up with a design space with a large number of different combinations, each with their own feel and effect on gameplay.

Even if it would be feasible to test every possible combination (it’s NOT), it’s not clear cut which particular combition is the best. So at this point it’s the job of the game developer to put the game designer hat on and apply some good game design principles… which usually really means making “intelligent guesses” based on the game designer’s preferences and experiences!

One interesting thought experiment is how far can you push on the extremes. What if everything was purely random? That would probably be a very chaotic experience, and a poor match for our goal of making a deeply tactical game. A more appropriate question in our case would be: what would a game without any random factors be like, where everything except the players input is basically predetermined? On the surface several games seem to be like that. For example, games like Into the Breach (an absolute masterpiece btw!), chess and Solitaire seem to have no randomness. But looking deeper even these games have randomness. In Into the Breach enemy moves seem to be randomly determined, which leads to surprising moments. In chess the decisions of the opponent, how he or she moves the pieces, while not necessary determined by a random process, provide unpredictability for the other player. In Solitaire the deck of cards is in a random order. The point of randomness in games is to produce unexpected events because unpredictability and being surprised is fun. I believe all games have some sort of randomness built in. If they don’t they cease to be games and become pure puzzles. In fact, a definition of a puzzle could be “a game without random elements” (this definition is problematic though: defining a game is even harder problem).

Ok, what does this all got to do with Druidstone? Hold on, we are getting there! For Druidstone the most important design decisions we have to make regarding randomness are:

1. Are the levels fixed or randomly generated?
2. Combat values (hit chance, damage, etc.): fixed or not?
3. Fixed or random loot?
4. Should enemies follow strict rules or be based on random numbers?

There are others but I think these are the most important ones, which have the biggest impact on gameplay.

Random level generation we have already scrapped and this has been covered in previous blog posts.

For the combat rules, we have actually tried both random and fixed variations. The initial design, following our initial gut feeling, was to make combat values, like damage and to-hit, randomly varying like in most RPGs. But once we tried constant values and set hit chance to always be 100%, the nature of the combat changed. Most importantly combat without random modifiers support planning and tactics better and using hero abilities in combos is more practical because you know the outcome of your actions. Druidstone does not have an initiative system, so you can activate your heroes in any order and interleave actions of your heroes any way you want. This combined with the no random numbers approach to combat rules turns the battles into sort of mini-puzzles, which we find more interesting than statistical approach. Using your limited resources and abilities becomes an integral part of solving these puzzles. For example, the thought process while playing could be “Ok, gee, there’s no way I can defeat that Dark Knight with high armor value… Hmm… maybe if Leonhard first charges and pushes him to Oiko’s range, then Oiko can teleport the Dark Knight on that trap, which explodes at the end of heroes round. But wait! To do that Aava needs to clear these critters first because they are blocking Oiko…” And so on. Written like this it may sound complicated, but with aids such as visualizing the outcome of attacks, enemy statistics being open information and being able to see enemy reaches, it becomes intuitive and natural.

I’ll leave the question on “fixed or random loot” for another blog post because explaining the design process of the items warrants a blog post of its own.

Finally should enemy behavior be deterministic or random? Currently enemy behavior in Druidstone is pretty much deterministic, because of the way how the AI is currently structured. And I actually think this is not ideal and we made a wrong decision somewhere along the way when designing enemy AI. Enemies should do unexpected things (the enemies are monsters, not robots following directives!) and ideally you’d have to react to and change your tactics based on what the enemies do. So this is something we are still going to fix. Fortunately the fix isn’t necessary that involved — adding randomness here and there to the decision making should do wonders. We look at board games for inspiration (more than computer games actually), and many co-op board games use cards to implement their enemy AI. So what we’re currently thinking is a system with a small random deck of monster actions per monster type. Each turn the enemy AI would draw a card for each monster and use that action or tactic this turn. Essentially we already have all those actions, it’s just a matter of making changes to the high level system which chooses when to use these actions. This could be the right ingredient we are missing to make the enemies even more interesting and varied.

This brings me to another great design tool for randomness: cards vs. pure random numbers. Both can be used to generate random values. A random number generator is pretty much like a die: every time you roll the die you get an independent random value. But a deck of cards has memory: as you draw cards the options will be gone until all the cards have been drawn, at which point you shuffle the cards to form a new deck. Most often this is exactly how you’d like randomness in games to work: you don’t want a long stream of misses or a long stream of hits, after all. For this reason, Druidstone is using virtual ‘card decks’ internally for many things.
Good stuff. All they have to do now is announce that loot is fixed and this will be lukaszek's game of the decade.
 

Durandal

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Shit, I recall suggesting somewhere here in the past about how you can keep everything deterministic while keeping AI decision-making random to prevent everything from turning into a puzzle.
I'd even apply that line of thinking to enemy behavior outside combat, with enemy squads patrolling a dungeon along pseudo-random routes and being able to chance into a fight you're already busy dealing with, adding to the shit on your plate because you didn't gather enough information about enemy whereabouts.
 

CRD

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Divinity: Original Sin 2
If I want to play combat puzzles, I will boot a zachtronics game not an rpg.

jokes apart, that's how a lot of turn based games combat works. Probably cheaper and less time consuming in design for an indie dev.

the game still looks fun
 

Farewell into the night

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I wonder what this game will be like in 5 years from now
 

samuraigaiden

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It sounds like a cop-out. Balancing turn-based tactical combat is hard, plus literally every game with that style of combat that comes out inevitably gets hundreds of negative user reviews that boil down to "the game said I had 90% hit chance and I missed, so fuck RNG". By removing RNG, they are catering to complete idiots.

Since so many people are morons and don't seem to understand how numbers and percentages work, I think a better solution would be to hide the numbers, at least in the beginning of the game. For example, after the player got through 30% of the game the character gets a perk that allows him to see the chance to hit. Before that the player only sees a message that says "easy to hit" or "hard to hit", or something to that effect. Maybe a color grade, which historically has been proven to work for toddlers.
 

Darth Roxor

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Using your limited resources and abilities becomes an integral part of solving these puzzles. For example, the thought process while playing could be “Ok, gee, there’s no way I can defeat that Dark Knight with high armor value… Hmm… maybe if Leonhard first charges and pushes him to Oiko’s range, then Oiko can teleport the Dark Knight on that trap, which explodes at the end of heroes round. But wait! To do that Aava needs to clear these critters first because they are blocking Oiko…” And so on.

oh yeah i loved the hell out of that in original sin 2

 

BEvers

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Most people already know the advantages of determinism, and the objections stated here seem to amount to trolling and disinformation from the usual suspects disgorging their musings on games they haven't even finished. D:OS2's battles are neither deterministic nor are they particularly puzzle-like - in fact, in my experience they were more randomized than in most other games, with party members randomly running into environmental hazards and jogging halfway across the screen at the start of battle to assume their own personal idea of a "formation", enemies suddenly acting like morons or randomly choosing to skip their turns (apparently a new bug added in a recent patch to the Definitive Edition), party members randomly joining a battle a millisecond later than the rest of the party and getting booted to the end of the queue as punishment, and an endgame enemy either insta-wiping my whole party or getting CC-locked after her first turn, depending on whether her opening attack was a crit or a regular hit. The battlefields and enemy positioning are certainly not tightly controlled in the way the Druidstone devs are describing.

If we ignore those random elements that make me wonder "did the system just cheat itself to hand me the victory?" or "did I just get screwed by my own party AI?", what remains is simply a luck factor that means you can perform every single action perfectly and still see the game over screen due to factors completely out of your control. I don't see how that's a useful feature in a game where a battle can take half an hour and the only possible outcomes are either victory or quickload.
 
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Determinism is better for strategy games--especially real-time. Determinism in a turn-based games can quickly become glorified puzzles without a human opponent or superb AI.

RPGs are better of with statistical systems because RPGs are simulations of approximate ability in uncertain scenarios. While they don't provide the soothing comfort of a known outcome, they provide the thrill of chance and the unknown. As I will often say, the problem with many dice systems is that they are linear. These systems are going to have major scaling problems either on their high or low ends, and sometimes both. They need to become more quadratic. We don't need less dice, we need more. For example, instead of 1d20, roll 3d6.

Here is an excellent read from a guy that made a tool I use extensively.

https://anydice.com/articles/three-basic-distributions/
 

FeelTheRads

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If we ignore those random elements that make me wonder "did the system just cheat itself to hand me the victory?" or "did I just get screwed by my own party AI?", what remains is simply a luck factor that means you can perform every single action perfectly and still see the game over screen due to factors completely out of your control. I don't see how that's a useful feature in a game where a battle can take half an hour and the only possible outcomes are either victory or quickload.

Wait, so if we ignore the random elements, it's still based on luck?

Most people already know the advantages of determinism

Yeah? Like what?
Oh right, the outcome is always in your control and somehow you don't need to reload.
Except when you don't really do the correct choice halfway through that half and hour combat and then you do have to reload. Wow, what an advantage.

and the objections stated here seem to amount to trolling and disinformation

Myeah, kinda like determinism fags who somehow always equate dice rolls to 50/50 chances and are clueless about about most RPGs before Obshitian, like say Infinitron or Roguey. Or newfag retards like Sigourn, who started playing RPGs like 1 year ago but already knows so much to decide that all RPGs did it wrong. Indeed, determinism fags are so enlightened.
 

Roguey

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Myeah, kinda like determinism fags who somehow always equate dice rolls to 50/50 chances and are clueless about about most RPGs before Obshitian, like say Infinitron or Roguey.
Since when have I ever expressed support for fully deterministic combat in the context of a party based RPG?
 

Fairfax

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RPG = dice rolls.

No dice rolls, not an RPG.

RPG without dice rolls = story time with puzzles.
Correct. +M
Gary Gygax said:
“Storytelling” games are not RPGs. Neither are “diceless” games.
Gary Gygax said:
As in real life, chance and random occurrences must be a part of an RPG adventure. As a matter of fact you and I do not know what will happen in the next minute. As is oft quoted, “There’s many a slip between cup and lip.” To ignore random events, not allow chance into play, is to consign the game to predestination.
 

Bara

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Dev tweets suggest that they're not going full deterministic in design. Just mostly in terms of damage and hit?


 

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Dev tweets suggest that they're not going full deterministic in design. Just mostly in terms of damage and hit?

As the newspost says:

Enemy decision-making will be the only random element in Druidstone's combat

But the behind-the-scenes implementation of enemy AI isn't something people usually count when they analyze a game's mechanics and whether they're deterministic or not. It's sort of a black box/ghost-in-the-machine kind of thing.
 

HoboForEternity

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i like hits being deterministic. damage tho, including crits or graze if they have something like that, should be influenced by a little RNG.

it seems that AI's movement and actions are not deterministic, so the whole game's variety, replayability etc rest on how good the AI are. if they are retarded, then the whole game will be at best cheesable or at worst a boring repetitive slog.

if the AI is actually good (like how they react, counter player's actions, positioning, status effects, spells, etc) then i will be pretty good i guess.
 

samuraigaiden

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Sounds like what they are making is a fantasy themed chess game.
 

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