Prelude to Mathematical Saturation   Leave a comment

Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  For those following along, last post covered character concepting, and how it ties in with both the plot and gameplay aspects of a RPG.  This was followed up with an overview of seven of the eight planned PCs, or Player Characters, to feature in my game.  If you’ve been following along, you have most likely come up with your own roster, be it similar in size, smaller, or larger.  Now, however, we will cover an aspect of RPGs left neglected until now–the gameplay.

When you think of the gameplay in a JRPG, chances are you are going to think of two things above anything else: the battle system, and any collection of special features pertaining to character customization.  This is the standard assumption of gameplay in a RPG, but the truth is that while those comprise a large portion of gameplay, they are not the entirety, and even then it is a much more nuanced thing than it would appear at first glance.  A large number of these will be covered when applicable, with general trends, RPG Maker VX Ace’s defaults, and the specific choices I made for my game, along with the rationale for them, starting from what is arguably the broadest choice, something I would like to refer to as “scope of challenge”.

Scope of challenge, in essence, is the expected span within a game the player is to go through the game’s challenges without a chance to restore their resources or create a hard save of their progress.  In line with this are the expected difficulty as well as the expected loss–how hard the segment is expected to be, and how much the player ultimately loses if they fail the challenge.  These three concepts intertwine to ultimately dictate a game’s general difficulty.  Of the possible variations on this, there are five general categories:

  • Total: The player is expected to play through the entire game in one go, with no way of creating a hard save.  This is the domain of Roguelikes, ultimately.
  • Between Towns: Towns, cities, and villages are your only savepoints in this scope.  Challenge in this exists from the moment your player character steps onto the overworld to the point where they enter a new town.  Examples of this can largely be found in the more oldschool games; early Dragon Quest games are the primary example here.
  • Dungeon-Wide: The player is free to save whenever in a town or on the world map, but dungeons are endurance rounds of a sort, where you can’t save and frequently are left to your own resources once you enter.  Phantasy Star 4 is a notable example of this, though i believe the first Final Fantasy is somewhat like this via consumable Houses.
  • Between Savepoints: The method most games use, and sometimes combined with the above. When merged as such, savepoints act as if they were checkpoints in dungeons, allowing one to save and quit–usually placed either at a halfway point, right before the boss, or both.  Examples of this method can largely be found in Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Wild ARMs, Tales, and countless other series.
  • By Encounter: This method is one that is less than common in non-strategy RPGs, but has gained popularity in some places.  It frequently stems from negating resource loss on the player’s part or negating the entire price of failure and essentially allowing the player to retry any battle they are on with no penalty until they get it right.  Example games of this include Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Wild ARMs 4, Final Fantasy 13, and varied Strategy RPGs.

Related with this, the expected difficulty is based on a combination of factors, including resource attrition, quantity and type of resources, and general encounter threat–a lot of Squaresoft games are low on the difficulty due to the between-savepoint difficulty being mitigated by the presence of savepoint-usable restorative items that restore not only health, but other resources, on top of purchasable resource-restoring items.

redflag

See enough of these for the party, or a multitarget version?  Kiss at least one bossfight goodbye.  Purchasable?  Rest of the game.

As for expected loss, there are four categories that games fall into: Total, Segment, Partial Segment, and Negligible.  Total loss is once again the province of Roguelikes, whereupon your character is deleted upon death and you need to make a new one.  Segment loss is the most traditional, and the one supported by VX Ace by default; party gets wiped, suffer a game over and lose progress after your last save.  Partial Segment loss is where you go back to a previous area upon a party wipe, possibly with a resource penalty–Dragon Quest and early Shining games preferred this type, often with a monetary penalty.  Last, Negligible loss is where the player can opt to restart the battle at no penalty–in a sense, rendering a loss almost meaningless.  This category is inhabited largely by the non-strategy-RPG inhabitants of by-encounter difficulty; Final Fantasy 13, Wild ARMs 4, and so on.

As for the game I am currently designing, I am settling on something between Dungeon Wide and Between Savepoints for scope of challenge; while overworld segments can be a challenge in and of themselves, I want the dungeons in my game to be the real difficulty.  This is patterned after Phantasy Star 4, which has influenced my views on JRPGs noticeably, but I am tempted to include savepoints for notably long dungeons.  Similarly, I’d be interested in a higher amount of difficulty, and failure to result in Segment Loss–I’m used to loss being meaningful, and being able to restart any encounter at no loss whatsoever feels like it cheapens the win to me.  Your opinion may differ, but keep in mind that RMVXA generally supports Segment Loss without notable eventing, and is not able to support Total loss.

While speaking of resources, it would be relevant to move onto the next matter of course, base stats.  Not of a given character, or even the starting bases, but just what the stats are going to be and what they’ll do.  This will in turn lead to determining damage formulas, statistical distributions by character based on their descriptions, and so on.  RPG Maker VX Ace assumes nine stats for any PC, most of which are self-explanatory: HP, MP, TP, Attack, Defense, Magic Attack, Magic Defense, Agility (Determines turn order), and Luck (has a negligible effect on status odds).  I feel these aren’t satisfactory, though, and decide on my own set of nine stats in turn.  These are: Health(HP), Stamina(ST), Exceed(EX), Power(POW), Armor(ARM), Penetration(PEN), Mental power(MNT) (handles status application), Focus(FOC) (determines turn order), and Willpower(WIL)(handles status resistance).  While these may seem to be largely meaningless cosmetic changes in a vacuum, this is decided in tandem with other factors, some of which will be covered in a later post.

Another factor to consider is standard damage equations.  With RPG Maker VX Ace, you may now determine damage equations on an attack-by-attack basis.  Each skill may have its own unique damage formula if you so desire.  However, you still want a consistent damage equation for standard skills and attacks.  Having a consistent equation means you can plan around knowing how the numbers will turn up.  Furthermore, it will inform what numeric values you want to utilize, desired growths for those values, and many other matters, since not all equations are good for all values of numbers.  Take, for example, the default RMVXA formula: C+A*a.ATK-B*d.DEF.  This is the formula used for everything without fail by the default there, a basic subtractive formula.  Keeping in mind that A is usually twice B at minimum, so barring massive discrepancies between attacker offense and defender defense, the attacker will do fairly consistent damage.  Subtractive formulas of this sort allow for high variance in defensive stats without breaking the formula.

By contrast, an example of a division-based formula can be found in the free Flash RPG by Matt Roszak (also known as Kupo707), Epic Battle Fantasy 4.  The formula is purely multiplication and division, being skill power*skill stat/defense stat.  The intricacies of division-based defense become readily apparent once you look at the range of enemy defensive values: The final boss of the game has a defense value of 12 against both types, and that’s the highest it gets.  The final enemies only go up to 9.  This is due to the fact that a single point of defense in this game on the enemies’ end will cut thousands of points of damage off by the final dungeon–division-based formulas swing wildly with points one way or another, and work with drastically lower values of defense than would be viable in a subtractive formula.

This brings me to my formulas.  Assuming C1 and C2 are constants specific to the skill in question, and the stats I have already decided on, they will be as follows:

  • Physical: POW*(PEN-ARM)
  • Magical: MNT*((FOC*C1)+C2-WIL)

In essence, this is a modification on subtractive damage formulas, one that can allow for tighter control of defensive stats while maintaining damage escalation over the span of the game.  Keeping the in-parentheses stats small means that enough of a swing can result in damage nulling if you tweak for defense enough, but at the same time keeps damage at appreciable levels despite the small difference that would normally be problematic in a subtractive system.  Also of note are the constants in the magic formula that are largely missing in the physical formula; this serves two purposes.  First is actually to limit the influence of FOC, since most of the time C1 will be a non-integer decimal value between 1 and 0–FOC already influences turn order, so this keeps the stat in line from doing too much.  The second is to allow spells to be differentiated from one another via base power.  I may play more freely with equations in the future, but for the time being this is a fairly good standard to hold onto.  Of course, the equations won’t be the only thing modifying damage here.

On the subject of battling, it would be worth it to mention action management.  In a RPG, one usually has multiple characters fighting on both sides of a battle, and this needs to be monitored somehow.  Fortunately, there are several possible measures for dealing with this, most being a matter of turn management.  The first is the most associated with older RPGs such as the Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star, and NES Final Fantasy games, simply referred to by most as “Turn-based combat”.  This emulates initiative handling of tabletop gaming, with each combatant taking one turn in a round–though I suppose it would be more intuitive to refer to this as a Round-based system, as the primary element of time in this is a round.  This is the system that RMVXA takes as default, and what I shall be using for this game particularly out of ease.  Other turn management routines include phase-based, where one side goes before the other, frequently seen in Strategy RPGs; Active Time, where enemies don’t wait for the player to act first and take turns when they come up, and “CTB”–clocktick based–which is basically Active Time management with pauses to select actions.  Additionally, there is real-time battling, but that is solely the domain of Action-RPGs.  Selection of an action management system should be done early, and then planned around; a well-done round-based game is going to be better than a CTB game where said CTB was slapped on due to a belief that said management is overall superior regardless of the game, but that is the truth to all game design matters.  Work something in, as opposed to throwing it on.

Elements are something that most RPGs have made at least token use of.  And as usual, a large number of choices are available.  So why choose now when characters haven’t been given skillsets yet?  The truth of the matter is that the element set should be decided on in advance, and kept in mind for skillset creation.  If this isn’t done, chances are you will end up with one of two problems: Elements only really applying for one character, who has most or all of the elemental skills, or character ability derailing to fill what feels like an arbitrary quota.  And keeping in mind this matter, you want what makes sense for the character while adding variety.  For the sake of brevity, however, since there are at least as many element sets in RPGs as there are named characters in a Fire Emblem game, I will only be addressing RMVXA’s default element set.

RPG Maker VX Ace’s “default” set of elements is such: Physical, Absorb(Draining attacks), Fire, Ice, Thunder, Water, Earth, Wind, Holy, and Dark.  I feel that that is a bit more than I’d want for my game, so I looked around for alternate sets.  I didn’t want Holy or Darkness as elements, largely because I wasn’t interested in there being some sort of absolute good or evil as the presence of such elements tends to suggest.On top of that, when water and ice are both in a game, water tends to get neglected.  Furthermore, RMVXA doesn’t provide as many animations for it as it does ice anyway, so I’d be struggling with it.  Same with wind and earth.  As such, I found myself looking about for element sets and settled on one I liked: the Chinese Wu Xing

WX Basic

Crash course: Blue arrows are synergistic, Red arrows destructive.  In short, blue doesn’t hurt, red hurts more.

Aside from being a set not frequently seen in RPGs at all, it also comes with its own built-in set of strengths and weaknesses.  The point is that for functional elements, my game now only has five: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.  It sounds restrictive, but most of these elements cover multiple forms of attack, so it’s not nearly as bad as one would expect.  Additionally, if I need a “sixth” element, there’s also Void–though it is noted that Void in this would function more akin to Shin Megami Tensei’s “Almighty” element in this case–an elemental marker to denote a non-elemental attack.

The last thing to be covered tonight is equipment, or to be more precise, its handling.  Repeating a point stated prior in Nick Palmer’s RMVXA tutorial, equipment covers two purposes for characters.  The first is advancement.  The second is customization.  It is notable, however, that in general, most games will feature a mix of the two nowadays–weapons and armor for both, and then accessories for pure customization.  It is notable that weapons as customization does not necessarily mean using multiple weapon types, as a side.  While the limitation to single weapon types is largely a product of games from the PSX era onwards, with limited space for character models and motions, the only requisite for equipment as customization is that there are two or more pieces of equipment usable by a character, with equally viable reasons to use either at any one given time.  As for my game, I’m going for all equipment as at least partially customization; it’s a personal point of interest.

Delving any further into equipment specifics, however, will result in returning to the characters.  As such, I feel this is a good place to end for this week, and start next week on integrating the stats to the characters, as well as going into equipment and resources in further detail, and how they integrate with the current cast.  Until then, this is Epic Alphonse, signing out.

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Posted May 20, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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