Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Design Musings and Inquiries...Mostly Musing

Right, so...

I haven't been able to work on this as much as I'd like due to everything life has had to throw at me. But all the time, I've been thinking about where to go next with the project. The story itself is all decided, so I'm not at any sort of conundrum there. The problem lies in the gameplay design itself.

Which brings me here, writing a meandering blog entry about it.

Battle Accessibility

First and foremost; the issue of battle accessibility. According to multiple accounts, the battle system is too confusing, having everything piled on all at once. I tried to remedy this initially by locking out certain battle features till certain points, such as the first boss battle, or the beginning of the second dungeon. But there needs to be more done on that account.

Which is why I've devised my next solution; The Vanguard Handbook.

It's essentially a custom menu filled with image tutorials that the player can access explaining all the tiny, basic nuances of the battle system all the way up to key features such as Chains, Burst, Spells, Command Skills, Link Arts, etc. It sounds simple in theory, but I'm actually kind of dreading it due to the volume of information and imagery that needs to be divided up into sections to be explained.

But the alternative is even worse; and that's no one understanding the system. I don't plan to hold people's hands and tell them everything they need to do. But at the very least, people need to know what they're doing at the basic level, right?


Besides, if people can understand games like Mana Khemia and Record of Agarest War 2, then there's no reason why SEM would be any different. But it's my job to explain the basics, again.

Does this sort of thing sound like it would work? I'm not going to force players into elaborate tutorials, but let them know that they can access more in depth information later on.

Okay, moving on.

Field Interaction 

I'm going to be frank; I'm thinking about making dungeons walkable areas again instead of the pseudo-tabletop system it happens to be right now. But that's about as far as it goes.

The Symbol Map system was an amalgamation of ideas derived from Riviera: The Promised Land, and Record of Agarest War 2. You progress through a grid of nodes corresponding to battle, traps, rewards, and events. And all the while, the player spent TP in order to make it easier to progress at the their leisure.

This system also existed for one express purpose; to circumvent mapping. Not because I'm bad at mapping, I'm no faroz_flare, but I think I can manage to make areas look interesting enough. But rather; because I don't think I can make areas mechanically engaging. What's the point of walking through a 'dungeon' where the only obstacle is choosing the right way to go? Sounds pretty boring, right?

Well couple that with my meager puzzle design capabilities, and you can see why I chose the Symbol Map system.

But again; I am considering reverting for a few reasons and with a few catches. Reasons being that Symbol Maps simply aren't mechanically engaging. I personally think they're just engaging enough, but apparently I'm the minority. But I don't want SEM to be boring in an important aspect such as field interaction; which is my conundrum.

Now, catches to reverting back to maps would be that dungeons simply would not be as large as they were in my previous efforts where they spanned 40+ winding maps. Instead, that number would be cut by at least half or more. Secondly, I wouldn't be trying to wrack my brain trying to come up with obstacles on the level of Golden Sun. Because I just can't do that. I have dreams, but I know my limits as well. Of course there would be simple roadblocks to contend with, but nothing crazy like refracting light off of mirrors or something equally as absurd.

Basically it will all be scaled down to a point where it's manageable. But I worry dungeons would be shorter for it. Which brings things right back around to map numbers.

Okay I'm just rambling incoherently now, so I'll leave this section as it is and end with a question.

How do you feel about the Symbol Map System? Does it work? Is it acceptable? Or would walkable dungeons be better, despite the intended downsizing of scale?

Other Stuff 

Beware technical jargon rambling ahead.

Currently there are eight playable characters. That number won't change and I still need to complete work on the 8th. But while that work is stalled, I've been thinking about how to better balance the battle system and change the damage emphasis between various mechanics.

As it is right now, Chains are the weakest skills, Ether Spells are next in level of strength, and then Burst skills are the highest. Now logically the progression of usage should go Chains/Ether Spells --> Burst Skill when available. However I've noticed that in most playthroughs I've seen, it's been Chains --> Chains --> Chains --> Occasional Ether Spell.

This is kind of off putting really as players are wasting their time using the weakest forms of damage available to them over and over. Why is this the case? The cynical part of me simply wants to say that it's the case because 'Chains look cool!', but there must be a deeper reasoning that even the player doesn't seem to realize. Eventually I did come to a reasonable and logical conclusion. And a simple one.

The Combo Chain count.

This system rewards building large combos by adding the hit count of the combo directly to the damage being done. Thus, damage escalates rather quickly, especially when characters act back to back. This system also applies to Ether and Burst skills, but it's more readily accessible if one simply uses Chains back to back.

So I thought of a solution to this issue; amend the combo chain system to boost the reward of using Ether and Burst skills in relation to Chains. How to do that? Simple. When using an Ether or Burst skill, take a percentage of the total damage count of the current combo and add it to the damage of the skill being used. For Ether Spells, it's 25%. For Burst Skills, it's 50%, and for EX Limits, Link Arts, SW, it'll be 100%.

I think this is a pretty logical evolution to the system and one that rewards timing and planning your actions rather than acting all willy nilly, only to find yourself interrupted by the enemy and your combo count lost.

And that's about all I have to say on this front.

...Wow. Look at all that rambling. Better leave off with a visual to make up for it.

Have this. It's a design for Patchoulli that I drew long after SEM got well underway. Safe to say it won't be used in this project.

And that's it from me. Till next time.

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