Tag Archives: Brainstorming

Role-Playing Games and Leveling Up

With no motivation to work on Marpeg forthcoming, have a brainstorming/design post instead.

Playing Skyrim (And Games in General) to Learn
I was playing Skyrim yesterday, revisiting old mods and things. While playing I was once again struck by the feeling that the game suffers from the same issue as most any RPG. A character at “Level 1” is pretty weak. For example, let’s assume I’ve made a Nord character. He’s male, nearly six feet tall and full of da mussels. His name is Grognak the Barbarian. Despite that fact that he is completely ripped, he can barely take care of himself in a fight without guzzling down one more magic potion. Now, there are mods that adjust the character’s weight based on how much combat he takes part in, effectively giving the player the ability to build muscle over time. He’s still weak in the beginning though. For me, it doesn’t stand to reason that someone as muscled as these characters, in his (or her) mid-twenties, living in a land as harsh as Skyrim hasn’t already learned the skills he (or she) needs to take care of business.

That’s always been the thing about RPGs that has bothered me. The level scale ranges from “Weak and just scraping by” to “Legendary motherfucker”, without any real reason to have the scale starting so low. Part of the issue arises from the fact that if your “Sword Swinging Number” isn’t high enough, a three foot razor-sharp piece of iron doesn’t hurt your enemies. The way damage is calculated and applied in Skyrim is pretty esoteric. We haven’t seen too many major innovations in the combat in RPGs for a long time.

Now, for PC players, mods are a fantastic way to tailor your experience and for me they’ve been my avenue of approach for correcting these issues. I got so fed up with Skyrim’s lack luster mechanics, I even tried my hand at learning in-depth modding for it, but didn’t get very far. There were so many issues I had with Skyrim, ranging from large mechanic ones to small, but important details, that I found it best to just start planning my own games instead.

A Word on The Value and Sharing of Ideas
Many young developers are pretty loath to share their game ideas and concepts, for fear that someone will steal them. David Rosen makes a pretty good point over on the Wolfire blog, I’d really recommend giving it a look. Little bit of detour here, but reading is good for you anyways. Onward to idea sharing!

Ideas!
So, how can we maybe fix these problems? There are as many possibilities as developers can dream up, but here are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

First off, let’s address the largest problem I’ve seen in the leveling imbalance. My initial thought is that everyone can relate to the trials, joys and experiences of growing up. We all know how it feels to be young, naive and an open book, searching for knowledge and skill. Or something like that. My initial solution to the imbalance would be to start the game out with the player taking the role of a young child, around five or six years old. The player is presented with choices, situations and challenges that will build their character’s knowledge and skill base. For example, the player begins the game and his father takes the family cart to the market to sell some extra crop. When he comes back, he’s brought home a small bow for you! You can decide to accept it or ask for something else. Maybe your father can’t provide a toy sword for you, but he leaves the bow in your room, just in case. Either way, should the player take the bow out and try to use it, he’ll find that he has no arrows. This brings us to the next idea.

Let’s address the disconnect between the player’s desires and making a strong impact when it comes to story and situations. Most players want to be an epic badass who kills everyone and shit generally goes to their favour. We’ve seen it. A lot. Bethesda tends to pander to this, allowing the player to freely disregard consequences in many cases.
When things don’t go quite as planned, we’re able to revert the game to a checkpoint of quicksave to try again until we get what we want. But why not present the player with less-than-desireable circumstances? These tend to make the most memorable scenes in games, usually leading to inclusion in “Top 10 Saddest Moments in Gaming” videos on Youtube. But they don’t all have to be massive, traumatic things.
Let’s get back to our example, to demonstrate the small things that aren’t perfect. So, the player has a small bow their father brought back, whether they actually wanted it or not. Their father can’t get them something else, so they’ll have to make due. They go outside to play, but realize they have no arrows. Damn. They can go to father for help, or try to be independent.

So, let’s assume the player doesn’t know what to do and goes to ask Dad for help. Dad says he can’t buy any, but his father, your ole grandpappy, taught him how to make them. He’d be proud to pass the knowledge on to you. So, the player gets a little experience in the speech skill. In order to keep the game immersive and fluid, we won’t show the player this skill’s proficiency. They’ll just have to find out how well their character can interact with others by trying stuff out. So, game-father grabs his knife and takes you outside. He grabs some feathers from the coop and some wood. He shows you how to carve the shaft straight, tie the feathers to it and how to sharpen the tip.

In this process, the player has learned a new game mechanic: Crafting! The option was never truly locked to them. If they’d figured out that they needed a knife, some wood and feathers, they could have done this on their own, but we can still reward them for asking for their father’s help. Another, unquantifiable factor, is that they’ve been taught something by this character, which is going to help in building an emotional attachment to him. You can’t put a number on moral choices or emotional attachment and these factors have to be left up to the feel of them.

The flip side to this is that they already know what it takes to make an arrow, whether from real life experience or from having played the game before. So, they bypass father and just take his knife outside to make some arrows. Let’s give them a little experience in stealth or theft, since they didn’t even ask to borrow the knife. They’ve made some arrows and are well on their way to becoming a mighty archer.
What do you guys think? Does this sound like something you’d enjoy playing? Anything you can think of that might improve these ideas?

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