Montag, 22. Februar 2010

Alchemical Invulnerability

Imagine the following situation: You're fighting a relatively tough enemy and have lost most of your health. If he lands another hit, you're dead. You've managed to get down his health too, though, and you also need just one hit to finish him.
Now, in a turn-based RPG this would lead to a very tense moment of choosing the attack type with the highest to-hit-chance and lots of praying. In an action-RPG, it will lead to very exciting button-mashing while you try to avoid the enemy blows and land your own deadly strike.

At least, it theoretically would lead to a very exciting and tense moment. In most RPGs, the player will just drink a potion that instantly restores his health and then he'll finish off the battered enemy without any problem whatsoever.

Most games make it much too easy to gulp down dozens of potions in the middle of combat. In Morrowind, for example, you just open your inventory, which pauses the game and gives you time to drink an infinite amount of potions. This means that the combat loses most of its challenge as long as you take enough of those magical insta-heal potions with you. It's just the same in the Fallout games, only there you have stimpacks instead of potions. But drinking lots of potions in the middle of a battle is neither realistic nor challenging.

Some games, though, do it right. The Gothic games and also Risen make it almost impossible to drink a potion in the middle of combat. Well, you can try to drink one, but you have to be far away from the enemy because you're completely vulnerable while you drink, since you have to put your weapons away and watch a drinking animation. When fighting multiple enemies in a narrow dungeon, drinking a potion is usually suicide.

Another great example is Jagged Alliance 2. Yes, there are no magical potions since it's a modern real-world setting, but there are first aid kits. And while those usually restore health in other games, in JA2 they just bandage your wounds so you don't bleed to death. If you get hit, you lose health, and you won't be able to heal this wound until the end of the battle. This makes the whole thing a lot more tactical and interesting. Using cover and avoiding to get hit is essential to winning the battle.

Another problem with the use of potions is that usually, enemies don't use them. Fallout is a nice example for a game where enemies do use stimpacks if they have them in their inventory, but other than that I don't know of many other games that have this feature.

Generally, I'd like to see more games where the use of potions during combat is either restricted (maybe by restricting access to your inventory and only allowing you to use items strapped to your belt) or where there aren't any insta-heal potions at all. It would make most combat encounters a lot more challenging and interesting.

Freitag, 1. Januar 2010

Realism vs Fun

Your mighty hero has journeyd through dungeons for days, found countless treasures and fought a powerful dragon at the end of the dungeon for about 2 hours straight. But now he feels a certain pressure at the end of his bowels and craps his pants. Understandable, he hasn't been to a toilet for more than two days now.
This is not what happens in most CRPGs. Yet it is what would realistically happen.
But would it be fun? Having to go to the toilet regularly to prevent your hero from pooping/peeing his pants? No. Not really.

This is a very popular argument among people who don't like too much realism like having to eat and drink. They say "so you want the game to be realistic? Then you would also like the necessity of going to the toilet and that's just tedious and not fun."
Well yeah, it's not if all these necessities boil down to Ultima 7's character feeding. "Avatar, I am hungry!", say your companions and you have to go to the inventory, select an item of food and feed it to the hungry character. I've also tried an Oblivion mod that does the same, but it's just as tedious. You hear your character's stomach grumble, then you have to select an item of food from the inventory and eat it. So what's the problem about those two systems? They require manual labour. I call it labour because it's not fun, just a tedious element of gameplay that doesn't really add anything. Another problem is that your character(s) get hungry too quickly so you have to repeat clicking on food all the time.

Now, roguelikes usually have hunger as an element, too. But it's no that bad in those games. You always have a "hunger" stat that is easy to check (like in ADOM, where your current hunger level is at the bottom of the game window) and satisfying your hunger takes two keystrokes at most. Press E, then pick an item of food. And since in roguelikes, food is scarce and you travel through a dangerous environment, it actually adds a layer of survival to the game. In Ultima 7 you could buy food in almost every town, it was relatively cheap and you could fill your backpack with it. It's very unlikely for you to ever run out of food since there's always enough of it around. That's why the hunger element doesn't add anything to the gameplay in Ultima 7, while in roguelikes it does.

Another great example is Realms of Arkania. You could catch diseases easily and had to eat, but not while in a dungeon or town. The survival elements were mostly restricted to traveling. Your rangers could go search for food in the wilderness. It was all about strategic planning: bring enough food and warm clothes with you so you don't starve/get sick, or have a character with you who can provide food when in the wilderness. It wasn't about tedious micromanagement but about planning, which made it fun.

As you can see, realism doesn't necessarily mean tedium. If done well, it can add a lot to the game. But the need to feed isn't the only element of realism you can add to RPGs. What about combat? Hitpoints are sure unrealistic! Well, you can use a wound-system or put more emphasis on (destructible) armour. There are always ways to add more realism to a game without making it non-fun. Most people say "If you want realistic combat you'd die in 5 seconds!!" but no, it's possible to design more realistic combat without making it too unforgiving and non-fun. Jagged Alliance 2, while still hitpoint-based, did it pretty well in my opinion. Getting wounded means you'll lose hitpoints each round until you bandage the wound, which makes it important to have a character who knows how to use a medkit. Not being able to regenerate lost HP during combat makes tactical decisions more important and doesn't let the player abuse health potions/stimpacks/medkits.

As you can see, realism can also be implemented in a fun way. I, for one, am in favour of more realism as long as it's done well. I don't like having to micro-manage feeding my party members when they're hungry because they can't do it by themselves, but I do like having to pack enough provisions for a long travel. Realism can be fun and add some complexity to a game, and I'd really love seeing more RPGs implementing realistic features in a good way.