Official RPG Codex Discord Server

  1. Welcome to rpgcodex.net, a site dedicated to discussing computer based role-playing games in a free and open fashion. We're less strict than other forums, but please refer to the rules.

    "This message is awaiting moderator approval": All new users must pass through our moderation queue before they will be able to post normally. Until your account has "passed" your posts will only be visible to yourself (and moderators) until they are approved. Give us a week to get around to approving / deleting / ignoring your mundane opinion on crap before hassling us about it. Once you have passed the moderation period (think of it as a test), you will be able to post normally, just like all the other retards.
    Dismiss Notice

Encounter design is king

Discussion in 'General RPG Discussion' started by Zanzoken, May 10, 2016.

  1. Zanzoken Arcane

    Zanzoken
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2014
    Messages:
    2,116
    I don't mind smashing a few trash mobs here and there. Easy fights do have their applications... like in the early game when you are just learning the systems, after your characters get new abilities, or when new enemy types are introduced.

    Probably the more salient point, though, is that modern RPGs just have too much combat. Kill things, kill things, maybe pass a skill check or something, kill things. That's what the genre has devolved into and by the way, each playthrough takes 100 hours so it's not humanly possible for even a simple majority of that to be meaningful.

    Anyway, not trying to rant but anybody remember Ocarina of Time on the N64? Think of all the shit you could do in that game that didn't involve fighting. You could explore secret passages, catch fish, collect masks, do a shooting gallery, plant sprouts and then ride around on magic leaves later. Dungeons were a mix of combat and puzzles -- hard enough to challenge you for a bit, but not a slog. Boss battles were tough and took skill to beat without resorting to HP bloat and all the gimmicks we see nowadays.

    There was even that quest to construct the Biggoron's sword that had like a dozen steps and could almost be considered an easter egg. Forget quest markers, I don't think there were even any instructions period -- you just had to figure it out on your own.

    So I'm not saying RPGs should mimic Zelda -- in fact, I wouldn't even call it an RPG series -- but do you see the point? In many ways, Ocarina has better role-playing elements than modern "legit" RPGs like Pillars or even D:OS. They didn't have to pad the game with tons of excess fighting because there's a lot of other shit in the world that is genuinely interesting and fun to explore. It shows that a game can be centrally and fundamentally about conflict, without being consumed by it.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 3
    ^ Top  
  2. Lilura RPG Codex Dragon Lady

    Self-Ejected
    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2013
    Messages:
    5,274
    What are you talking about? If you impose rest restrictions then it isn't "full spellbook or no spellbook" (aka binary): it's a gradual depletion of your spellbook as you take on the dungeon. That's the whole point, to have an overall strategy rather than just fight-by-fight tactics. Scouting ahead, seeing what's in store. Planning.

    To give Vancian builds staying power, that's where itemization comes into play: wands, scrolls, limited charge items.

    Those who like BG's non-existent rest restrictions are those who like binary game-play: hero to zero, rest rinse repeat. That is awful design that is embedded into 99% of RPGs.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    • Shit Shit x 1
    ^ Top  
  3. ZagorTeNej Arcane

    ZagorTeNej
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Messages:
    1,965
    Sure, trash mobs can be used for pacing, as a sort of a downtime between challenging set-piece encounters. I prefer that sort of design approach (as long as set-piece encounters are indeed interesting and challenging) compared to an incremental increase in both enemy and player's power where you have this flat line of challenge i.e. every encounter is designed to hit that middle ground (taking into account player's power level at that specific point of time) where no fight is a complete breeze but it won't strain your faculties either (which I've found to be a pretty common design approach in modern gaming).

    If we're talking about semi-open RPGs with a lot of side content and/or choice on which piece of main path you're gonna tackle first I'd say trash mobs or just significantly weaker NPCs (whether they're friendly, neutral or hostile) are an integral part of making the world feel more organic, of course the same goes for creatures or organizations that are vastly more powerful than you. Too often designers opt for player's comfort/hand-holding (especially today) instead of actual world building (where gameplay is coherent with the setting/story) so we end up with nonsense like powerful enemies acting retarded or being underpowered in some manner and trash mobs being scaled to player's level if met at a later point in the game with little to no in-game explanation.

    What I also think helps indirectly with encounter design is having alternatives to straight combat (diplomacy, bribe, running away, hiring help etc.) as that allows the designer to make the potential fights on the main path actually challenging instead of balancing it/compromising for players who go straight for the main storyline and do very little side-content.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 4
    ^ Top  
  4. Lilura RPG Codex Dragon Lady

    Self-Ejected
    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2013
    Messages:
    5,274
    JA2 shares a similar prob: the dungeons/sectors are not deep enough to pose threat of sector reprisal, the itemization is too generous (C-7s, FN-FALs, Steyr Augs, 5.56 and 7.62 ammo thrown about like confetti), and the player has too much time to rinse repeat between taking sectors (i.e, mechanics fixing the gear and remounting gun barrel extenders, medics healing mercs etc.)

    Fatigue was rarely a factor with good planning (e.g, not encumbering your mercs), and ppl generally don't take a fatigued squad into a sector because they can't hit the broad side of a barn. This is vanilla, though. 1.13 config XML lets you turn JA2 into a TRU challenge, for sure.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 1
    • Shit Shit x 1
    ^ Top  
  5. Lilura RPG Codex Dragon Lady

    Self-Ejected
    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2013
    Messages:
    5,274
    By trashmobs I normally mean things not worth swinging a sword at; therefore, I'm against them entirely. But I know what you mean, giving the player a break by spawning an EZer encounter after a series of grueling segments, is a good thing. It lets them feel their power progression and gives them a sense of accomplishment.

    Swordflight is masterful in this: yes, orc packs can generally be sliced n diced without depleting consumables, but they still demand a certain healthy respect because of their AI and elemental projectiles. In the NWN OC I lured two-score-and-ten muggers into a clump and immolated them with a single Fireball. Combat falls apart at that moment.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    • Shit Shit x 1
    ^ Top  
  6. vivec Self-Ejected

    Self-Ejected
    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2014
    Messages:
    1,149
    Looks like we do not agree on some points. I can see why someone might like IWD1. But I still can't see how:

    Diablo 1 has good encounter design. It has a few well placed encounters, yes, but for the most part is the prototypical hack and slash. It's a game that I could never play for long.
     
    ^ Top  
  7. Perkel Arcane

    Perkel
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2014
    Messages:
    12,878
    But that is the thing with it.

    PoE system simply plays safe. You can't really get rekt because anything in game is safe to use and play. You can't get hyped about fight with big ogre because you know exactly how it will work before you even let the first hit sink in.

    IMO PoE system feels like it was designed for MMORPG as MMORPG system don't allow for any kind of player hindrace. No stop times, no making someone into stone indefinetely, no permament polynorphism because on other end of cable there will be a player that will complain "this is bullshit"

    Which is why in case of PoE combat design fuels its system and they both complement each other in being mediacore.


    On other part of spectrum you have Divinity Original Sin. People loved it because system it used simply allowed for mentioned things above to happen. Insta kills, hard counters and so on provided much needed hard obstacles to fights that player had to overcome instead of doing whatever he done last time because instead of "you can't use ice here" is "ice attacks are 5% less effective"

    In other words DOS encounter design wasn't that special in therm of who you fight but because system worked like this every encounter was tactical fun to figure it out.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  8. Mustawd Arcane

    Mustawd
    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    12,246
    This trope needs to die. Seriously. What is the fucking point of making something 100 hours when you want to claw your eyes out after 60 hours?
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 5
    ^ Top  
  9. mondblut Arcane

    mondblut
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2005
    Messages:
    18,485
    Location:
    Ingrija
    :nocountryforshitposters:

    Newfags :roll:
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 4
    ^ Top  
  10. valcik Arcane

    valcik
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2013
    Messages:
    1,864,690
    Location:
    SVK
    This is where The Age of Decadence really shines bros! Great encounter variety, you can hardly find two identical fights in this game. Amount of your opponents, their skills, equipment, everything batched very carefully in order to make distinctive and interesting encounters. UnderRail cannot match AoD in this regard.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 4
    ^ Top  
  11. Lhynn Arcane

    Lhynn
    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2013
    Messages:
    8,987
    Theres no real encounter design in diablo 1, its all RNG based. Thats not what i called you on for a page back. You said in diablo 1 "you fought the same exact enemies every encounter".
    Which isnt isnt true, in any given floor you may have fought the same encounter 3-4 times, but the RNG and the game mechanics did such a great job, that it was usually a challenging encounter, especially in the later floors, and it was rarely if ever the same encounter on different floors. Still, if you cannot into diablos atmosphere i can see why you would find it boring, its not a very complex game in itself, and most of the challenge consists on positioning.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 1
    ^ Top  
  12. vivec Self-Ejected

    Self-Ejected
    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2014
    Messages:
    1,149
    Check the video I posted. It was the first hit I had on youtube. So I did not bias it in any way. There you see what I meant by the same exact enemies. Every floor has the same "encounter design" if we decide to call it that.
     
    ^ Top  
  13. DosBuster Arcane Patron The Real Fanboy

    DosBuster
    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2013
    Messages:
    1,861
    Location:
    God's Dumpster
    Codex USB, 2014
    In order to have good encounter design, you need good combat in the first place.

    For the sake of it, I despise trash mobs, Wasteland 2's random encounter system forced me into a cycle of constantly quicksaving/quickload while on the map due to its banality.

    Pacing is a very important factor to consider, if we have either a bored or very frustrated player walk into a battle filled with either trash mobs (a problem with fallout 1's slow combat system) or a whole bunch of enemeies that are at the correct difficulty level where the fight is possible to easily win but will take a long time to slog through and will leave the player with low health/whatever. Those situations should be avoided entirely.

    The Environment itself is another major factor: Look at Wasteland 2's Endgame area, its big, most of it is empty and its designed to constraine the player into a chokehold point to force a type of "final stand" like feeling. Again, your combat system will influence how you lay out your environments, but in a perfect world I'd think of each encounter as a type of puzzle that has a variety of different solutions for different build types. I believe encounter environments should be kept to a small, intimate size (unless the game design calls for something different) so that you can iterate on the gameplay & visual aspect of the encounter making it a pleasing gameplay experience.

    Now that I think about it I noticed with Pillars of Eternity I often felt powerful when my party just blasted through trash mobs in the dungeons, but when I faced a challenging fight I often felt annoyed instead of challenged (I mean, I felt challenged in a negative way) I'm guessing that's a difficulty curve issue.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  14. Lhynn Arcane

    Lhynn
    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2013
    Messages:
    8,987
    First level on normal difficulty isnt what i would call representative of any game. Also notice that he could have gone down the stairs in like the first minute of the video, to find new, more aggressive enemies and better rewards.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 1
    ^ Top  
  15. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,604
    Location:
    The Crystal Mist Mountains
    Three forms of encounter design that I appreciate are:

    Party vs. enemy Party, facing an equal number of foes with PC classes
    Party vs. a single overwhelming monster such as a dragon, demon or other challenging opponent
    Party vs. a horde of enemies, being greatly outnumbered and facing long odds for survival

    Another thing I've said about encounter design, it is a two way street, a collaborative effort with the developer. The other half of the equation is what the player brings to the table in terms of party composition and individual character builds. The variables a player can introduce to any given combat scenario can make the intended effect swing from memorable and worthwhile, to completely forgettable. The best hand-crafted encounters won't matter if the player's characters are over-leveled.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 7
    ^ Top  
  16. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    octavius
    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2007
    Messages:
    15,545
    Location:
    Bjørgvin
    Unfortunately the first one is very rare.
    The second one usually means extreme HP bloat.
    The last one is even rarer than the first one. Instead designers prefer to send six orcs at you 10 times, instead of the full contingent of 60 Orcs.

    BG1 and escpecially 2 did the first two very well, certainly much better than any other CRPGs I've played.
    Pool of Radiance is the only one I can think of that did the third right (like Doom among FPS games). Wizard's Crown and Nahlahk too had armies of enemies, but it's not so clever when it's the norm, instead of an exception.

    What most games lack is variation between the three.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
    • Brofist Brofist x 9
    ^ Top  
  17. Mustawd Arcane

    Mustawd
    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    12,246
    You do realize I meant when after 40 hours the devs have run out of good ideas and it's just filler at 60 hours right? How is that a good thing?
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 5
    ^ Top  
  18. Perkel Arcane

    Perkel
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2014
    Messages:
    12,878
    I think best fight for me was that fight with while enemy camp 1 vs like 20 people (before that secluded temple). My reason skills failed (i kicked their leader from clif xD). I said ok... probably will reload things now. Either way i sticked to it and by the gods i fucked every single motherfucked out there using everytrick in the book to fuck them like they never were fucked before.

    In the end i murdered everybody because i used tactically distance, weapons, tools (like nets) and not just numbers. I had to shelter myself from arrows, properly handle shield guys and so on.

    edit: other highlight of the game was attack on frontier garnison when i joined red team. 5 guys vs like 20-30 and this encounter showed difference between tactic and skill vs just numbers.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  19. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,604
    Location:
    The Crystal Mist Mountains
    I do think the Infinity Engine is where enemy parties most shined. But there were still some pretty large scale battles, from what I recall. Maybe not armies, but definitely 2- 1 advantage in some encounters? Regarding the second example, fighting one solitary monster, I had in mind going back to the classics, Crimdrac and Tyranthraxxus from the Gold Box games. Or even taking on the Ancient Dragon in MMII. The one encounter design I did not include was throwing multiple waves of forces at the party, without a break in between. It can be thrilling to run through such a gauntlet, but still not a favorite of mine.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  20. Zanzoken Arcane

    Zanzoken
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2014
    Messages:
    2,116
    I agree with this characterization, and if done right then your party composition will dictate which encounters you are good at and which ones you will struggle with.

    For instance, a party with lots of AoE damage potential should blast through a horde of mooks, but will have trouble with a single powerful enemy. On the flipside, a party focused on healing, buffs, and debuffs will have a much easier time taking down the monster, but without good crowd control abilities they run the risk of getting overwhelmed by the horde. Etc etc.

    Of course, most players will tend to favor a balanced party, so they have versatility for all situations. That's probably the party you need to design and balance for, and in doing so you can hopefully hit an appropriate difficulty level for the other groups.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  21. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    octavius
    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2007
    Messages:
    15,545
    Location:
    Bjørgvin
    Which games did you have in mind, then? There was a memorable battle in Wizardry 1, and lots in Wiz 4, but I can't think of any others at the moment (I haven't played any of the new stuff, though).
    EDIT: misread.

    Yes, but not like PoR (or MM2) where you face virtual armies.
    EDIT: Icewind Dale has some huge battles, though, especially in The Severed Hand, fighting armies of shadowed (?) Elves and Orcs.

    Yes, they were memorable; especially Crimdrac was one scary beast. 1000 Eyes and "Mighty Mouse" from Wiz 7 even more for me, but the Dragons and Liches in BG2 were still much more challenging due to their abilites and not much HP bloat.

    Again, Pool of Radiance. The three part battle in the Kobold Caves is one of my all time CRPG battles.

    Why didn't more game, including the very Gold Box themselves, learn from PoR? What an extreme difference between PoR and ultra boring (except for the final battles) Gateway to the Savage Frontier!
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
    • Brofist Brofist x 2
    ^ Top  
  22. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,604
    Location:
    The Crystal Mist Mountains
    I meant that I agree with you, the IE games are the ones that showcased party v. party the best.

    Generally, I'm more forgiving about RTw/P than others around here, but Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale would have been so much better as turn-based. Makes it difficult for me to praise their respective combat.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 3
    ^ Top  
  23. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    octavius
    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2007
    Messages:
    15,545
    Location:
    Bjørgvin
    Heh, I misread.
     
    ^ Top  
  24. orcinator Liturgist

    orcinator
    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2016
    Messages:
    1,141
    Location:
    Republic of Kongou
    The fight against the mongolish horde?I thought that was one of the absolute worst parts of the game, having to watch 20 dudes take their turn before you could do anything and how the difficulty of the fight was even more dependent on RNG since archers could get a crit streak on you or one of the more powerful allies and turn it into a game over in the first few turns or the Romans could get RNGses on their side and win the fight without your help.

    It's just a great example of trying to do an "Epic" encounter and the system (and TB combat in general) absolutely not being designed for such a thing.

    also it crashed like twice once I finished it.
     
    ^ Top  
  25. Zanzoken Arcane

    Zanzoken
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2014
    Messages:
    2,116
    In fairness, AoD goes to great lengths NOT to make the player feel like a special snowflake who the entire world revolves around. It's a major design goal of the game.

    You are not the Chosen One -- you're just one guy fighting among a dozen others, all of whom are trained soldiers just like you. Should your sole ability to swing a sword or shoot a bow dictate the outcome of the entire battle? Not really, and yet as RPG players that is what we've been conditioned to expect -- we're used to having everything in our control at all times. But part of the AoD experience is relinquishing that control and accepting that, ya know, sometimes shit just goes its own way and there isn't much you can do about it.

    That's why I think it's a good encounter -- because it is consistent with the game's design goals. Your opinion might be that those goals are shit, and you are welcome to it. But I think the objective way to evaluate design is against its own intent, not personal taste.
     
    • Brofist Brofist x 3
    ^ Top  

As an Amazon Associate, rpgcodex.net earns from qualifying purchases.