- Most battles lack strategy. It is simply a matter of selecting "Attack" on all your characters until the enemies are dead.
I think we've got this part of the problem covered with our current design. The removal of a generic "attack" option, the multitude of skills, status effects with various degrees of intensity, etc. I think that we have almost all the pieces in place to make battles strategic at this point. We just need to do a good job of designing skills/enemies and balancing the game.
- The player is doing nothing for a significant amount of time during each battle.
They're usually doing nothing because either they're waiting for a character to be available to select an action, or they're watching an action execute (a spell being cast, etc). As of right now, we're doing pitifully poor at eliminating this red mark. Players are doing nothing except when they're selecting an action for a character, and during that time the battle is "paused" until they confirm their selected action and target. I've started calling this "stop-and-go" syndrome.
So point #2 is what I'd really like to address in this thread. How can we make battles more engaging (and therefore, fun) for the player? How can we keep them active during the entire battle? The ideas I put forth in this post are some suggested concepts to meet this end. Before I introduce the ideas though, we need to note a few things. First of all, everyone has a different opinion and preference for RPG gaming. Some folks might really enjoy the current system as-is, because they have as long as they please to decide their action and make a move (a sort of chess-type player if you will). So just keep in mind that nothing we decide here is going to satisfy everyone. Second, some of these ideas you may have heard before in other threads here as we've discussed battle design in the past. I don't believe we ever concluded such discussions or shut down any of these ideas (I skimmed through previous threads but didn't read them entirely). And finally, lets keep in mind these important points from our statement of purpose, which is meant to be our guide to all game design decisions.
- Design the game such that the major focus is on gameplay and story, not advanced 3D graphics and physical simulations.
- As much as possible, remove the tedious, meaningless, and micromanaging aspects of many historical and modern RPGs.
- Require a high level of strategic thinking and planning from the player, and less mindless "button mashing" found in many RPGs.
Alright, now on to the good part. Here are the ideas I have come up with over the past few days after mulling over this issue. Note that I'm not proposing we implement all of them together. Some may work well, others may not. Try to evaluate each idea individually and imagine what combination of ideas would best work in our battle system.
Idea #1: Do not pause the battle during action selection.
We've tossed this around on the forums/IRC lately and I think we're in consensus that we do not want to pause the battle while the player is selecting an action.
This is nothing novel either, as many games have allowed the player to choose between "active" and "wait" modes. I don't want to allow the player to even be allowed to choose a "wait" option though, because there is obviously an advantage to choosing it over "active" (your actions are selected instantly rather than consuming precious seconds). I know when I'm playing a game with the choice, I always select wait if given the option because I know the battles are much more difficult without it, and I don't think these games adjust the speed of the game according to whether wait or active was chosen.
Idea #2: Allow the player to pre-select actions for their characters before those characters are ready to execute their next command.
While the characters are in their idle state, the player can select actions for their characters. This solves the problem of the player having nothing to do when no characters are ready to execute an action. Of course the player can still wait until the stamina bar is full (and the character changes from the idle to the selection state), although there's not really reason to wait, unless the player is delaying the action selection based on the state of the enemies (ie if an enemy is seen charging up for a big attack, the player will want to put their character in a defensive state).
Expanding upon this, we may consider allowing players to build up an action queue for their characters, selecting multiple actions to take. I don't like this approach particular though, so I'm not really considering it.
Idea #3: Allow the player to change pre-selected actions for their characters
This goes along with idea #2. If the player selects an action for a character during the idle state and something happens which makes the player wish to change the action for the character (such as an ally was badly hurt and needs healing immediately), then we would allow the player to do so (but only if the character is still in the idle state, the warm-up state is too late to cancel). This would also apply toward changing the target. With this idea, we have to consider whether there would be any penalty associated with changing an action/target. We could completely reset the stamina bar back to zero and force the character to go through the entire idle state again, or we could apply a less severe penalty such as a 20%-50% reduction of the current idle time that has been met, or there could be no penalty at all. I think I'd rather see a small penalty, because this will cause the player to consider whether or not they want to select an action for their characters as soon as they can (at the 0-time mark in the idle state). But I'm undecided here.
Idea #4: Populate a small action + target hot-key menu to allow the player to quickly execute actions
In our menus, we currently sort actions by category (Attack, Defend, Support, Item) and we have cursor memory implemented as well (the menu remembers the previously selected action and target). But I've been toying with the idea of having a small number (four) of "hotkey" actions and targets for characters. This idea came to me because I realized that you often only want to change between a small number of actions and targets in battle. For instance, one character might be a designated healer, and when there is no healing needed you would instead want that character to "meditate" to regain lost magic points (called skill points in the case of my game), or to attack an enemy if no healing and no SP regeneration is needed. Three actions, and three targets that the player cycles between for this character. Going through the entire action selection menu and target selection menus each time they want to switch between one of these settings is kind of a pain in the ass, so we would have this hot-key command card available for the player to quickly switch between these actions and targets. It could either be auto-generated by the game (ie saves last x number of action + target combinations) or we could allow the player to configure this, either in and out of battle.
I also had thought that maybe we could limit the character's actions to what they could fit in the command card to create an additional depth of strategy for the player, as they would need to select which skills they brought into battle (and couldn't use all the skills they learned). For our purposes though I think this would be a bad idea, because the strategic benefit is outweighed by the negative cost of additional micromanagement needed by the player, plus it could be seen as an annoying limitation for many people (not to mention it doesn't have much of a practical explanation for why skills are limited).
Idea #5: Allow multiple actors (characters or enemies) to execute actions simultaneously
This is another idea to reduce the amount of time that the player is forced to sit and watch. Right now only one actor can execute an action at any time (in this sense the game is turn-based). But what if this was not the case, and we could have multiple characters and enemies all engaging each other at once? Perhaps we can even add a strategic element to this, and say that if two opposing actors engage each other at the same time, the one who strikes first will cancel the other's action completely.
It sounds like a promising idea I think if its implemented well, but I have a couple major concerns with it. First, it could cause battles to become very chaotic with swords and spells flying everywhere (but shouldn't battles be chaotic anyway?). Second, it may be difficult to implement both from a programming and an artistic perspective. And there may be other issues that I haven't thought of yet.
So that's some fodder for discussion I'm sure. I'm expecting some heated discussions in here, so I'm putting on my flame retardant suit prematurely. Of course if you have your own ideas to share, I/we'd love to hear them. Also you may notice that these ideas have pretty significant implications for the battle user interface (e.g. how we are going to allow the player to utilize these features), but lets avoid any interface discussions for the time being and focus on just how we're going to make battles more engaging and active. So which of these ideas do you like? Hate? Which combinations of ideas would you think would work well together, or not? Let the debate begin!