Opinion

Game Design: Not just another stat roll

So, you’re designing a game too, aren’t you? Congrats! It is, in my opinion, the most fun aspect of game development. Brainstorming ideas for new monsters, items, etc, isn’t it so much fun? And we’re getting paid to do that. And it’s so easy, right? Right?

Wrong!

Game Design is hard work

Or I should say: “Good” game design is hard work. How do you make a game that’s entertaining from start to finish? How do you balance the game so that it’s not too easy or too hard? How do you introduce new items and monsters that feel new and exciting? There’s no easy answer! Heck, it really changes on a project by project basis. I’m not even going to try to answer that question in this post, or probably any post for that matter.

Am I, however, going to tell you one important thing I’ve learned over the years as an RPG game designer. The concept should apply for most types of games. Here it is in all its glory:

Don’t design your game content around stat differences.

What’s the different between a weapon that does 2 damage and one that does 5? 3. Freaking boring!

Now, what’s the difference between a weapon that has its power increased by another main stat, like agility or intelligence, and a weapon that deals more damage to enemies in the back row? The way you use it! Both are good, but it depends on the circumstances. If your agility or intelligence is high, the first weapon could be really strong, but sometimes you gotta kill the enemies in the back first, so the second one might be better. As a player, finding a good strategy around content feels great.

Some of Soul Reaper’s unique legendary attributes

Some of Soul Reaper’s unique legendary attributes

The same goes for monster design. What’s the difference between a monster that does 2 damage and one that does 5? 3. Freaking boring! Now, what’s the difference between a monster that does fire damage vs one that does water damage? The way you protect against them. If you’re in a section where you know there’s a lot of fire monsters, you may want to equip an item with more fire protection, even if it’s other stats might not be very high. Try to have each of your monsters have their own special thing, not just another palette swap with different stats. The way you fight each enemy should be different. Players will feel good about themselves when they discover ways to defeat or survive against monsters.

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In Soul Reaper, there’s going to be between 80–100 monsters, each of them with their own unique ability. If you try to apply the same strategy to defeat all monsters, you’re not very likely to succeed, or even have fun doing it.

Conclusion

Think about that concept when designing your game. It applies to any genre and content. Make your game fun by designing not around numbers, but around diversity and new experiences. Make sure your next item or monster is not just another stat roll!

What do you think?

How do you design your game content? Any strategies you used that worked really well?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/game-design-not-just-another-stat-roll-c3026761428d

Opinion: How important is the story in RPGs?

A lot of my personal favourite RPGs of all times have seriously good gameplay, but is sometimes lacking an enticing story to go along with it, or doesn’t provide a movie-quality plot. I sunk a lot of time playing Nippon Ichi games like Disgaea or Phantom Brave. For me, these games are incredibly fun. I very much enjoy the min/maxing aspect of it, trying to perfect your stats in every way. These games, however, don’t have the most incredible stories.

Gameplay matters more?

When we started designing Soul Reaper, we focused on gameplay first. Re-creating similar moments like when moving around in The Legend of Zelda, fighting monsters in Final Fantasy, getting epic loot in Diablo, collecting souls in Castlevania Aria/Dawn of Sorrow and catching pokemons in Pokemon.

Because of that, the story was always some kind of afterthought, which we realize might be a mistake now. Heck, just looking at our early gameplay teaser, you can see that story is almost absent:

People want an enticing backstory. At least. We do have a backstory, but it doesn’t reveal much of the plot at all. See the story section of our Square Enix Collective campaign: https://collective.square-enix.com/projects/377/soul-reaper/.

[…]the story was always some kind of afterthought, which we realize might be a mistake now.

Serious vs Not Serious Story?

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

Soul Reaper’s current story is inspired by Nippon Ichi games and iconic Marvel Characters like Deadpool. Needless to say, it’s not the most serious of stories. Like it’s inspirations, it has a more serious backstory, but is delivered in a comedic way.

Like it’s inspirations, it has a more serious backstory, but is delivered in a comedic way.

We decided on that tone because it seemed that most stories featuring the grim reaper depict him as an evil being set for destruction. We thought showing “him” in a different light might be refreshing.

We still stand by that, however we’re second-guessing if it has its place in an RPG like Soul Reaper. Looking back at most of the highly acclaimed RPGs (like here for example: http://ca.ign.com/lists/top-100-rpg), not many of them are comedic.

We want your opinion!

What’s more important in a good RPG? Story? Gameplay? Visuals? Something else?

What makes a good RPG story? The characters? The setting? The tone? The dialogues? The backstory? Something else?

Serious vs not serious?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/opinion-how-important-is-the-story-in-rpgs-e0f2c2a68db0

Opinion: Are procedurally generated levels all that great?

Reading other game descriptions, either from Soul Reaper’s competitors or other game developers, and especially indie developers, it seems like procedurally generated levels is the de-facto solution for content creation.

I get it personally. As an indie game developer, it’s very hard to produce good content on a tight budget. Creating an engine that will generate content that’s different every time makes your game more re-playable and potentially more interesting.

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The problem

It’s very hard to create original and interesting content that’s procedurally generated.

When we got started on Soul Reaper, we set out to do fast prototyping of different features that may or may not make it in the final game. The vault dungeon floor generator was one of the things we prototyped. Our system worked well enough: it would generate coherent rooms and place objects in logical locations. But the more we played, the more we thought it was repetitive and boring. If we wanted our game to be “infinitely re-playable” like some games advertise (and nothing against these games by the way), then I qualified our attempt as a failure. To be infinitely re-playable, it needs to be FUN!

We advertise Soul Reaper as being inspired by games such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Castlevania. All GREAT examples of carefully crafted levels. I don’t want to lie to our players: if we’re going to publicly say that our game is inspired by such great games, it has to deliver! And procedurally generated levels just didn’t cut it for us. Do you think Zelda, Final Fantasy and Castlevania would be as great if the levels were procedurally generated? I don’t.

Do you think Zelda, Final Fantasy and Castlevania would be as great if the levels were procedurally generated? I don’t.

So Danny, what did you guys do then?

We decided to manually craft every level in the game.

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BUT, we wanted the benefits of procedurally generated levels: the feeling of new every time. At the time of this writing, we are aiming to have 80–100 floors in the game (depends on funding we get through Kickstarter later). Imagine going down the same floors over and over again… BORING! We agree.

So we added randomness.

Every set of 20 floors leads to a different theme, like lava cave, snow mountains, etc. For every set of 20 floors, we’re crafting between 100 and 200 floor plans/layouts. When the player goes down a floor, a layout if selected pseudo-randomly. So the chance of you seeing the same layout multiple times in a 2 hour session is low.

But that’s not all! Each layout has sub-sections that may or may not show up. Or be blocked by obstacles. Some of which you can deal with from the start, but for some, you need Zelda/Metroidvania-style tools to remove. A grappling hook for example.

Enemy and other object placement is also pseudo-random. When crafting the levels, we specify where (groups of) objects can show up and at what percentage. The group selection is also random. Let’s say we have two groups: #1: a set of 3 treasure chests; and #2: a fire pit. Sometimes, for the same layout, the player will see the chests, and other times the fire pit. Chances are players will never notice that it’s the same layout anyway!

So, does it work?

We think it does. Hard to tell… We have not created enough layouts yet to fully test our assumptions. One thing I can say is that the levels are definitely more interesting. Will it help with re-playability? That I can’t say yet. More on that in a future post!

Any other ideas on how to improve your solution?

Actually, yes. It may be too far-fetched and too difficult to implement, but we think that we could add some machine learning to the mix. Told you it was far-fetched! The levels were create generate valuable information on how to build a good level. If we have enough data, we think we can train a model that can generate a good enough level, which we could improve manually afterwards, dramatically cutting down the time it takes to create.

We think that we could add some machine learning to the mix

What about you?

What’s your experience with procedurally generated levels? Does it work for you? Have you found alternatives that work better? Let us know here, by email, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook!

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/opinion-are-procedurally-generated-levels-all-that-great-44a787bf1fd0