A Question of Teamwork   Leave a comment

Welcome to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last post, we finished up the concerns of skillsets, developing the majority of the innate character skillsets and covering the issues of stalling in preproduction.  This time, however, we will be covering an aspect of development that isn’t directly related, but comes up more than often enough that it is worth mentioning.  Typically, a RPG Maker project will be assumed to be a one-man effort.  However, there are cases where multiple people will team up to work on a game.  These production teams are the subject of today’s post.

To start, a well-coordinated team with members in roles they are each strong in can create a far superior game to one person in the same amount of time.  Two people–say, a writer and a developer–can possibly more than double the production rate of a single person.  To clarify, the simple act of asking somebody not directly involved in your project for feedback does not count as teamwork.  By teamwork, I mean two or more people in dedicated roles in the development of a game.  So while asking a friend for feedback would not be teamwork, having a member dedicated to giving feedback and an outside look, or to be more precise, “quality assurance,” would.  And when one looks at the number of roles in the development of a game, it clearly becomes evident how much work can be split up.

Assuming one is using RPG Maker VX Ace, one can expect the following roles to show up in a team situation.  The director or team lead generally organizes the project and keeps everyone working.  Writers have already been discussed, and can be specialized to writers for the large-scale plot (the “scenario writer”, if I am not mistaken in terminology) and small-scale matters such as narration and dialogue.  Similarly, mechanical development can be split up into core mechanics, conceptual mechanics, and hard mechanics.  On top of that, event handling is its own concern, and fine-tuning the numbers for battles another.  If the team is unwilling to use custom scripting, art, or music assets that are freely available, they will have to find the programmers, artists, and musicians to create those.  (As a sidenote, I have nothing but disdain for those who use assets without permission.  Respect the people who put out resources for use, credit them, and do not break their terms of use.)  Mappers are important, responsible not only for the effective use of art assets but the flow within a game.  Testers and general Quality Assurance are another important part of a team, and it is ideal that they are not in a position that they are giving feedback on.  And lastly, if you have enough members working on one aspect, such as writing, there may be a lead to manage that team so the director may delegate and manage work more efficiently.  All in all, this is a large number of available roles, so creating a team to divide the labor may very well be beneficial.

Just as a team may help in game development, it may also come with its own problems.  The first of these problems may come into play when attempting to create one’s own team–getting people to join to begin with.  One is not going to get a team together from people you don’t know if one cannot prove they cannot complete a project on their own.  As such, one will need networking, willing friends, or at least one good completed game on their record to recruit a good group.  This leads to the opposite problem–acquiring people who are unwilling to follow through.  Going through an interview process to get to know people who are interested in joining should help filter out the people who may not be committed or not fit the sort of game you were intending.

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Nothing kills a project faster than poor communication within a large team of people.  And tire swings.

Other issues with group formation may come up if one is joining a group another person is forming.  To be precise, this occurs when the person setting themselves up as director does so in an attempt to get other people to make a game for them.  The solution, thankfully, is comparably simple: leave.  There is nothing good that can come from working under a leader who has no intent to get involved in a game beyond being credited for it, and they deserve exactly zero people under them.  To digress once more, I would have an image.ready for this, but the site that had it no longer exists.  It was a comic making fun of this sort of would-be leader.  But sadly, no image.  Rest in peace, RPG Maker Rage Comics.

While in a group, there is one additional task that is equally important to all of the direct game-development tasks one may already have: communication.  In fact, it may very well be more important.  Friction between members of a group who are normally friends outside of said team are frequently a result of a breakdown in communication or tastes at some point.  Open, clear, and honest communication is the most valuable resource in a development team, lest you have cases of one team member disliking and resenting a decision made by another, or team members not knowing a vital part of an intended design for months on end.  Once more, the importance of communication cannot be overstated.  A team that communicates poorly will be a team that breaks up in no short amount of time, possibly with damaged friendships in the process.

On the subject of communication, one matter that must be addressed early and often is cross-division creative influence.  While it is typically understood that the director has the last word on matters, sometimes a writer has an idea that they want to tie the gameplay into their story concept, or one of the mechanical developers wants to introduce a character or boss that utilizes a certain mechanic.  The question of how much cross-role input is given should be answered decisively and early by the person in charge–often the team lead.  This ties back in with the previously stated rule of clear communication.  If this must be changed for some reason, it is vastly recommended that this change (or any sudden change in policy, for that matter) be extremely well-explained.  Simply put, the less explanation and empathy used on the side of directors, the worse everyone else will take it.

As mentioned before, it is ideal to pick people who fit the kind of game you want to make.  If you want horror, pick people who have a good idea of how to write and design horror, et cetera.  And as is typical, you do not want the person who finds the difficulty level of the Shin Megami Tensei games to be ideal if you are aiming for something more on par with SNES-era Final Fantasy games.  This is common sense.  What you want to avoid, however, is the phenomenon known as groupthink.

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How dare he have a different opinion!  Burn him!

Groupthink is a phenomenon that happens more frequently than one would assume.  This is because it is difficult to notice groupthink until one is attempting to fight it from the outside, more often than not.  In a typical case of groupthink, the majority of a team will come to an almost unanimous decision, with the few members on the outside having their ideas fall flat in a scene reminiscient of most 1980s saturday morning cartoons.  This leads to two problems.  The first resultant issue is that the minority party may feel alienated, especially if these sort of decisions have recently occurred in rapid succession.  The second problem is that groupthink will often lead to the group possibly neglecting extremely important factors, which can turn into problems well down the line if the original decision was enforced early and not examined for a long period of time.  The best remedy for groupthink I can think of from a director’s end, working alone aside, is to take any legitimate divergent opinion into notable consideration.

Another major issue for working in groups is one that is hopefully amazingly rare, is intra-group hostility, or in simple terms, “people not liking each other.”  This can come from one of many reasons, so listing the reasons would take up more time than necessary.  The solutions are all around the same from a director’s standpoint anyway: either find and resolve the issue causing hostility to begin with, pull rank if you absolutely must and force them to work together as much as they need to, or as an absolute last resort in this situation, eject the more troublesome of the parties from the team.  This last one is not recommended under most circumstances due to the fact that unless the team is large enough to have more than one of position X, you will have to find a new person to fit position X.

The last major problem that may arise in a team project is one that is familiar to people with experience in software development: version control.  There are version control programs out there, but in honesty I am not certain if it is advisable to use them with RPG Maker.  In such a case, it is more than worth it to keep a master document and master version of the program, clearly marked for easy reference in the light of multiple current builds.  Otherwise you will end up spending your time trying to remember what was done in what last, only to realize that your last edit mistakenly caused a specific bug and now you are trying to figure out the listed order of formulas in a custom script.  Ultimately, consistent version control is vastly beneficial for time management of the project and the sanity of everybody involved.

I could go on for days about unique problems that assembling a team gives, but the point is simply that once you get on a team the added challenge of interpersonal logistics will more than make up for the diffusion of workload.  It is most definitely enough for many to answer when asked for advice on working on teams with “don’t.”  This is not to say that groups cannot work, but they require far more work than anybody would expect otherwise.  With that, this is Epic Alphonse, signing out until next time.

Posted July 29, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part Final)   Leave a comment

Welcome to yet another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last post, we covered the intricacies of equipment design–laying out the baselines for the varied pieces of equipment our cast would be acquiring and using.  At this point, the only major part of pre-production left before initial character implementation to perform is the development of skillsets.  Not the common pool of template skillsets, but the character-specific non-template skillsets.  This post will be a bit different from the rest, as I actually do not have much to go into on theory that hasn’t been covered already for the most part–and as such, the majority of the post will be dedicated to outlining the character-specific skills, with my rationale for initially designing them this way.

But first, an explanation as to why I covered the generic template spells first.  A good number of people would have designed the unique abilities first, and then left the template abilities for later.  The rationale I had for this was simple: the generic spells would be the baseline–and the general set that every enemy would use.  By setting the baseline as that, and keeping them comparably simple, I could in turn more easily make the character skills stand out more, in a direct contrast with how some half-template games allowed the template skills to overshadow the non-template abilities.  This, in turn, would both make characters more distinct and prevent marginalization of their abilities.

Furthermore, an important point is that while there may be cases of creators who literally fine-tune their games until completion (the most well-known case of this in indie gaming is likely Daisuke Amaya, better known as Pixel, the creator of the very popular Cave Story, who was quoting on saying the game was finished when it was finished), this is not an excuse to postpone a game in pre-production forever with skillset creation and tweaking.  New abilities can be easily enough added after the game is in production, and there is a point where further wait in a pre-production state will hurt a game more than help it–doubly so when it starts causing a degree of fatigue in the creator with a semblance of little to no visible progress.  This can be hard to swallow, especially for perfectionist types who want to get every single thing correct prior to production (I should know, I’m one of them), but it’s advisable if you have a significant amount already set in place to begin production.  Don’t worry, the rest can be added and tuned as need be.

With that out of the way, I’ll be covering abilities by character.  This list, as is usual with my lists, is tentative and subject to change for whatever reason I decide–usually pertaining to balance or fun.  It is also about as complete as I will be attempting to make it for the time being, so do not be surprised if additional abilities show up later on that aren’t on the current list.

Leo

Believe it or not, Leo was one of the hardest ones to devise a skillset for.  Mains without magic in a standard RPG are honestly tricky to work with, especially when you want to emphasize something as action-y as speed-based without a multihit focus.  Leo’s abilities are largely single-hit physical, with most being single-target and a few multitarget cases.  His “shock” skills, however, are a form of pseudomagic, running off of FOC and POW.  Insert your Majinken/Kuuhazan references here, and so on.  Some of these skills are extraordinarily powerful for what they do, but compensate by giving him a unique “Recovering” status that takes him out of action for the next turn–so you have to balance his ability or need to take an action next turn versus getting the extra damage now.  Abilities as follows:

  • Flash Cutter: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, has initiative over most skills.
  • Overextension Break: Offense–Single-target high physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, inflicts Recovering status on user.
  • Battalion Cutter: Offense–Multi-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.
  • [Undetermined Offense Skill–inflicts Recovering status on user]
  • [Undetermined Support Skill]
  • Blade Shock: Offense–Single-target magical damage skill.  Metal-element, runs off of POW and FOC against ARM.
  • Burst Shock: Offense–Single-target to multi-target multiphase damage skill.  Metal-element, runs off of POW and FOC against ARM, inflicts Recovering status on user
  • Trinity Shock: Offense–3x Random-target damage skill.  Metal-element, runs off of POW and FOC against ARM, inflicts Recovering status on user.
  • Stun Smash: Exceed/Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, has initiative over most skills.  Inflicts Stun status on target.
  • Zeal: Exceed/Support–Self-targeting skill, renders user immune to Recovering status for 3 turns, current included.  Instant-cast.
  • Resolve: Exceed/Support–Self-targeting skill, renders user immune to death from all sources (status and damage) for 3 turns.  Instant-cast.

Friederich

Friederich is an interesting experiment on my part: try to create a character who is largely reliant on basic attacks for damage while leaving him interesting.  Did I succeed?  That question is still up for grabs.  Friederich, in a sense, is a living example of how when you master something, you ultimately become known for doing something basic very well.  This is not to say that he lacks a skillset.  Friederich possesses two alternate attacks that are more notable for their side-effects than their damage, a small addition of Exceed abilities, and a large variety of stances which allow him to change up his abilities as needed.  Combined with being one of the most durable characters in the game, and he hopefully will be seen as potentially useful.

Note: Friederich may only use one stance per turn.

  • Sunder Weapon: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, reduces target PEN in addition to damage.
  • Sunder Armor: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, reduces target ARM in addition to damage.
  • [Undetermined Offense skill?]
  • Guard Command: Support–single-ally targeting support skill.  Puts target into “defending” state.  Has initiative over other skills.
  • Vanguard Stance: Support–self-targeting support skill.  Raises ARM and WIL, reduces EVA and MEV, raises chances of being targeted.  Cancels other stances.  Instant-cast.
  • Steadfast Stance: Support–self-targeting support skill.  Grants regeneration to user and nulls criticals, but greatly reduces FOC and reduces status resistance.  Raises chances of being targeted.  Cancels other stances.  Instant-cast.
  • Frenzied Stance: Support–self-targeting support skill.  Increases swingcount by 1, reduces critical chance to 0 and reduces PEN.  Cancels other stances.  Instant-cast.
  • Tactician’s Stance: Support–self-targeting support skill.  Increases MNT and Counter rate, but lowers POW.  Cancels other stances.  Instant-cast.
  • Berserker’s Stance: Support–self-targeting support skill.  Increases POW and Critical rate, but lowers accuracy, ARM, and WIL.  Cancels other stances.  Instant-cast.
  • Decisive Edge: Exceed/Offense–Single target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, increased damage.
  • Guard Order: Exceed/Support–Party-target support skill.  Puts entire party into “defending” state.  Has initiative over other skills.
  • Absolute Sunder: Exceed/Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, reduces target POW, PEN, ARM, FOC, EVA, and AFR.

Renaud

Renaud has had, to say the least, an interesting development period.  While I originally intended him to be status-oriented, he developed in his own way into something that could be described as an unorthodox utility fighter.  Aside from possessing the best attack for applying weapon status to multiple enemies, he possesses a variety of unusual attacks, including one that’s not dissimilar from SaGa Frontier’s Pain Doubler and an anti-armor attack.  And of course a number of status options.  Can’t be a thief without status options–well, okay, you can, but you’ll be boring beyond belief in most JRPGs’ interpretations of thieves.

  • Absolute Shot: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, ignores AFR, cannot be evaded or countered.
  • Burst Fan: Offense–Multi-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, attacks all enemies three times.
  • Insult: Offense–status skill.  Inflicts Enrage on target, increases user’s chances of being targeted
  • Scapegoat: Support?–status skill.  Raises one ally’s chances of being targeted.  Removes target rate boosting on self
  • Repossession: Miscellaneous–acquisition skill.  Steals an item from an enemy.
  • Venom Fang: Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Wood-element, may inflict Poison.
  • Viral Fang: Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Wood-element, may inflict Sickened
  • Concussive Shot: Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Weapon-element, may inflict Sleep.
  • Dust Throw: Offense–Single-target status.  Inflicts Blind on the target.
  • Aggravation Shot: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element, damage equals the difference between target’s maximum HP and current HP.  Poor accuracy and ineffective against bosses.
  • Rare Hunter: Exceed/Miscellaneous–acquisition skill.  Steals a rare item from an enemy.
  • Silencer: Exceed/Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Weapon-element, may instantly kill the target.
  • Overdrive: Exceed/Support–Self-target enhancement skill.  Grants user +4 actions next turn.

Alexis

Alexis is, simply put, a mage, and as such I’ve had to tweak some of his abilities accordingly to go with some ideas I’ve had for him.  Unlike most of the cast, he is going to have a smaller skillset–but compensate for this with ready access to higher-level abilities in Sigil Crests than other characters.  This ability, known as “High Arcana”, is innate to only two characters–Alexis and Azalea.  Outside of that, Alexis is a lot more focused on multitarget abilities than other characters, which gives him some notable utility in spite of his poor durability and mostly straightforward (nevermind hyperfocused) options.

  • Upheaval: Offense–Multi-target magical damage skill.  Earth-element.
  • [Undetermined offensive spell]
  • Crush: Offense–Single-target magical damage skill.  Deals percentile damage to target’s HP.
  • Recovery: Recovery–Multi-target recovery skill.  Heals all allies’ HP.
  • Reinforce: Support–Multi-target support skill.  Improves all allies’ AFR.
  • [Undetermined support spell]
  • Stabilize: Recovery–Multi-target recovery skill.  Cures all allies of physical conditions.
  • Expel: Recovery–Multi-target recovery skill.  Cures all allies of mental conditions.
  • Efficiency: Exceed/Support–Self-target support skill.  Halves cost of all ST-consuming abilities for 3 turns.  Instant-cast.
  • Chaincast: Exceed/Support–Self-target support skill.  Disables non-spellcasting/exceed abilities but grants +1 action/turn for the next three turns.
  • High Arcana: Character is able to use High Arcana spells and High Unleashes from Sigil Crests.

Valeska

Valeska was one of the two easier characters to devise a skillset for.  Her statistical spread can be described as “high-risk, high reward”, sporting the highest PEN of the characters, the second highest POW, and less than optimal defensive parameters.  Her skills accentuate this more, with several lowering her defenses until her next action.  Her focus is singular–killing enemies; and the tougher they are, the better she is at destroying them.  And pity the poor fool who attacks her while she’s using Charge Breaker.

  • Scale Cleaver: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.  Ignores target ARM stat.  Reduces user defenses until next action.
  • Charge Breaker: Support–Self-targeting support skill.  Gives user 100% Critical and Counter rate for the turn.  3-turn cooldown.  Has initiative.
  • Vital Crush: Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Weapon-element.  Reduces target Critical Resistance.
  • Avoidance: Support–Self-targeting support skill.  Greatly raises user’s Magic Evade for the turn.
  • Finishing Strike: Offense–Single-target physical damage/status skill.  Weapon-element.  Damage raises the closer the enemy is to death.
  • Rage Focus: Support–Self-targeting support skill.  Raises user’s PEN for next attack.
  • Death or Glory: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.  High damage.  Reduces user defenses until next action.
  • Overpenetration: Offense–Sequential-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.  Target ARM partially applies.  Followup attack on random target.  Reduces user defenses until next action.
  • Killing Drive: Exceed/Support–Self-targeting support skill.  Greatly raises user’s Critical rate for the next attack.  Instant cast.
  • Coordination: Exceed/Support–Multi-target support skill.  Raises all allies’ Critical rate for the next three turns.
  • Revenger: Exceed/Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.  Damage increases proportionally with user HP loss.

Kiri

Kiri was the first character I finished skills for, and probably the one I had the first clear idea of.  She’s a heavy fighter/mage, with a bit of an uncontrollable streak.  This is reflected in her abilities, most of which focus on random or multiple target attacks.  Her accuracy and control are bad, but she more than makes up for it in power.  And if you can set up your party to survive it, she has one of the strongest spells in the game in the form of Megido Cluster.  That is a big if, however.

  • Wild Swing: Offense–Single-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.  High variance.
  • Mad Thrash: Offense–4x Random-target physical damage skill.  Weapon-element.
  • Flare Double: Offense–2x Random-target physical damage skill.  Fire-element.  Combines POW and MNT for damage.
  • Detonation Cutter: Offense–Sequential attack skill.  Single-target physical damage followed by Multi-target magic damage.  Physical component is Weapon-element, magic component is Fire-element.
  • Berserker Roar: Offense–Multi-target status skill.  Reduces all enemies’ damage output, may force some enemies to escape.
  • Burn Raze: Offense–Multi-target magical damage skill.  Fire-element.  High base power and poor accuracy.
  • Pandemonium Firecracker: Offense–8x Random-target magical damage skill.  Fire-element.  Bad accuracy.
  • Megido Cluster: Offense–Field-target magical damage skill.  Fire-element.  Cannot be evaded or reflected.  Not subject to MFR.  Targets all except user.
  • Channeling: Exceed/Recovery–Self-targeting recovery skill.  Restores ST.
  • Berserk: Exceed/Support–Self-targeting support skill.  Inflicts Enraged (lasts until dead or dispelled), increases offensive parameters (contiguous with Enraged status)
  • Ascension: Exceed/Support/Recovery–Self-targeting support/recovery skill.  Fully heals user and inflicts transformation status upon user for five turns.  Once fifth turn has ended, transformation ends and ST is reduced to zero.

Caecilia

The other major support-oriented character, Caecilia has a problem with being almost entirely single-target with everything.  She makes up for it with power, however–she has some of the strongest healing spells, and has spells that heal and restore status at the same time.  Adding to this a small selection of support and offensive skills, and she’s a healer that I might enjoy.  The fact that she has the option of using non-staff weapons and not being terrible at it probably does not hurt.

  • Recuperation: Recovery–Single-target recovery skill.  Restores HP and cures physical status from one ally.
  • Catharsis: Recovery–Single-target recovery skill.  Restores HP and cures mental status from one ally.
  • Purge: Recovery–Single-target recovery skill.  Restores all status from one ally.
  • Restoration: Recovery–Sequential recovery skill.  Heavily restores HP to one ally, and lightly restores HP to the rest of the party.
  • Resurrection: Recovery–Single-target recovery skill.  Revives one ally and restores a large amount of HP.
  • Valiant Arms: Support–Single-target support skill.  Raises one ally’s POW and PEN.
  • Alacrity: Support–Single-target support skill.  Raises one ally’s FOC and EVA.
  • Pierce: Offense–Single-target offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Attacks enemy with increased PEN and zero variance.
  • Flurry: Offense–Single-target offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Attacks enemy with increased swingcount.
  • Thrust: Exceed/Offense–Single-target offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Instant-cast.
  • Riposte: Exceed/Support–Self-target support skill.  Greatly increases user Counter rate for three turns.
  • Assault Phalanx: Exceed/Offense–Single-target offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Modifies damage by the difference between user and enemy FOC.  Not subject to evasion, counter rate, or AFR.

Azalea

Azalea is the last character I designed, and perhaps the most difficult to work with.  In particular, I wanted to emphasize how “different” she was from the others through the most distinctive feature of PCs in a JRPG: the skillset.  As such, the best way to describe her is that a lot of her skills are put on backwards, and result in some strange usage situations for her in general.  This may make her less user-friendly, but I find it an entertaining change anyway.  She is nevertheless effective, with her Exceed abilities providing Exceed drain for enemies and a means by which to burn ST for damage–beware this if you’re uncertain about your ability to finish a fight with one character completely out of ST.  For the player wanting something more straightforward, she can also use High Arcana.

  • Fatal Strings: Offense–Multiphase physical offense skill.  Water-element.  Multitarget attack followed by 4x random attack.  Damage is based off of MNT and FOC.
  • Originator’s Regal: Offense–Single-target magical offense skill.  Water-element.  Damage is based off of POW, MNT, PEN, and FOC.
  • Nostalgic Pain: Offense–Single-target magical offense/status skill.  Weapon-element.  Damage is based off of POW and PEN.  May inflict Curse (enemy takes backlash damage) upon the target.
  • Innocent Clockworks: Support–Multi-target support skill.  Improves all allies’ MFR.
  • Scare Swallow: Offense–Single-target magical offense skill.  Wood-element.  Damage is taken against ARM.  [Additional effect pending]
  • Bondage Divider: Offense/Miscellaneous–Single-target magical offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Damage is based off of POW and PEN.  May steal an item.
  • Under The Silence: Offense–Single-target physical offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Damage is taken against WIL.  May inflict Seal.
  • Strange Moon: Offense/Recovery–Single-target physical offense skill.  Wood-element.  Damage is based off of MNT and FOC.  Recovers damage done as healing
  • Inversal Baptism: Exceed/Offense–Single-target physical offense skill.  Weapon-element.  Reduces target’s EX by 25 and blocks EX gain for their turn.  Uses POW, MNT, PEN, and FOC for damage.
  • Desperate Annullus: Exceed/Offense–Multi-target magical offense skill.  No element.  Not subject to magic evasion, reflect rate, or MFR.  Damage based on MP possessed upon casting.  Drains all of user’s MP upon use.
  • High Arcana: Character is able to use High Arcana spells and High Unleashes from Sigil Crests.

Notably, some of these skills were not on the original database, but came into being as I was listing them out.  This is a further reason why one should not spend their entire time in pre-production: sometimes one’s thought processes work better once they have been shifted over to a production mindset.  Nevertheless, as you can tell, designing the skills for these characters was a very in-depth and thorough process.  Now that the majority of basic design has been complete, it’s time to go back to writing out plot–and getting outside opinions involved.  That will come once I am done writing, but I will continue to post weekly regardless.  Until then, this is Epic Alphonse, signing out.

Posted July 24, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part 3)   Leave a comment

Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last post, we covered stats, growths, and the agonizing process of placing numbers for PCs in a JRPG, including performing the process for the current game in production.  This post, we’re going to cover the other half of raw stats, those derived from equipment.

Before we go ahead and start throwing numbers out for equipment in this game, the matter of equipment stats will be discussed.  As stated before multiple times, equipment exists for numerical advancement and customization.  Regardless of the purpose, one thing that must be kept in line is the magnitude of the equipment numbers.  Equipment stats can be guessed around, but they cannot be decided before the character stats can.  Exceptions exist to this, of course, but the truth of the matter is that exact numbers on equipment must wait until the baseline equations and numbers for a game have been determined in order to ensure that equipment will neither dominate nor be meaningless in the context of everything else in the game.

One has likely already seen a game where equipment completely outstrips a character in terms of statistical significance.  The character’s own innate attributes pale before that of their weapon, armor, and accessories of choice, and will be dependent on those to the point of being a JRPG Iron Man.  A few examples include the Disgaea series of games, many Tri-Ace games, and the Blizzard MMO, World of Warcraft.  The lattermost is more notable than the former two since this comes into effect well around the 2/3 point in the game, as opposed to the postgame–and in fact shows an exponential growth in the values in every expansion, to the point that the optimal equipment (and thus the effort to get it) in the previous expansion gets obsoleted so early as the beginning of the new expansion.

This is not to say that the benefits from equipment should be negligible in relation to innate statistics.  That would simply result in the opposite problem–pointless equipment, or at least nearly-so.  This is not as common as the other extreme, but it does occur.  Take, for example, an anecdote from D&D–fourth edition to be precise.  A case of a character who, for levels seven through seventeen, did not need an upgrade in body armor at all.  He did perfectly fine, and I in fact question how useful the armor would have been in light of his performance.  And this is indeed more of a specific incidence, but some upgrades are in fact that negligible–other examples include some low- and mid-grade armor during Dragon Quest 1 where the cost is not worth the change in statistics.  (Apologies in order once more: NES game images do not seem to get along well with WordPress.  If this is a problem then click to get the full picture.)

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Our intrepid hero, along his way to Brecconary, decides he will skip buying the bamboo stick, instead purchasing a club and saving his money for better armor down the road.

As the last segment indicated, the efficacy in equipment doesn’t only matter in its bases, but in how the equipment scales.  Oftentimes the cause of an equipment imbalance is not how the equipment starts out, but how it scales up.  This is frequently out of a desire for flashiness; the creator thinks it would be awesome to have a certain item in there and drastically raises its power to show off how great it is, the developers have an expansion that they wish to sell to players and use the power creep in an attempt to do so, the developer wants quick lategame statistical escalation and decides to use equipment modifiers as opposed to , or there’s an optional superboss that the developer wants a more usable bragging right reward for.  All of these are possible causes of lategame equipment scaling going well out of control and dominating the character stats in turn.

This is simply assuming upgrades, of course.  Equally important to upgrade scaling for equipment is sidescaling–that is, providing one or more alternate choices in equipment for a given point in time.  While having access to multiple viable classes of armor or choices in accessories at one time is an example of this, the most frequently-assumed case of sidegrading comes in weapons.  To be precise, while mainline upgrade weapons tend to increase in statistical magnitude, sidegrade weapons sacrifice some of this in favor of adding a nonstandard property for its type–this is the typical pattern of sidegrade equipment.  It goes without saying that the magnitude of a drop in effectiveness must be weighed against the efficacy of the nonstandard benefit.

The matter of full equipment design in a game cannot be completely managed until the game’s course has been fully pathed, a general level scale has been placed, and every status implemented.  This is necessary to ensure a proper rate of upgrade acquisition, the placement of this acquisition, the needed variety, and the desired level of utility.  Ultimately, it is impossible to manage a full coverage of the variety of equipment available in this post, at this point in the development of the game.  However, it is more than sufficient at this point to cover theoretical baseline forms of equipment.  Given the current setup for this game in particular, one does not have access to all forms of equipment at every point of the game, thus making actual baselines of every form of equipment pointless.  However, the existence of a theoretical baseline does allow equipment to be kept roughly in line throughout the game, scaling up even when not every store or chest gives every variety of weapon and armor possible.  Therefore, actual availability will remain pointless for the purposes of baseline equipment development.

The most distinctive point to start on equipment is going to undoubtedly be weapons.  Weapons are the means through which PCs have a form of offense, thus allowing the player to kill enemies and win fights.  It is notable that not all games start with the PCs having weapons.  Final Fantasy 1 and Dragon Quest both start with equipment-less PCs, as does the first Baldur’s Gate.  The Etrian Odyssey games also work this way, though that is excused by the characters being created on the spot, to prevent an infinite money oversight.  For this game, however, it will be assumed that characters will start with their own weapons.

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The laws in Alefgaard were a lot less strict–our intrepid hero left Tantegel Castle with nothing more than some money.  Not even clothes–you have to buy those in the shops at the nearby town.

For equipment that provides different levels of a given statistic within subtypes of its type, it is a viable option to rank them along the statistics where they match.  For this game, this includes Power bonuses, Penetration bonuses, and Swing count.  These are not the only benefits of any given weapon, but they are the universal benefits. Power and Penetration have been previously explained in this game’s design, but swing count is new.  Taking an element from the Lunar games, swing count only applies to basic attacks–each swing in a basic attack only has roughly a third of the power stated in the original physical formula, which makes them practical against evasive opponents to a degree, but particularly unreliable for damage.  They aren’t designed for that purpose anyway, however–they exist primarily as a way to quickly build EX while conserving resources.  This can be explained later, but the general point is that the higher the swing count, the more EX is generated on average per basic attack.

  • Listing of weapons: Knives, Light Swords, Heavy Swords, Spears, Axes, Staves, Bows
  • Ranking by Power: Knives < Staves <= Light Swords < Bows < Spears <= Heavy Swords < Axes
  • Ranking by Penetration: Knives < Staves < Heavy Swords <= Bows < Axes <= Light Swords < Spears
  • Ranking by Swing Count: Spears = Axes < Light Swords = Heavy Swords = Staves = Bows < Knives

With that rough approximation in mind, the matter of keeping statistical boosts relevant, and the average ranges of relevant stats (23.5 and 27.5 for power and penetration respectively), this is an easy starting point.  Following this for each, I decide a maximum bonus of 5 and 6 for baseline power and penetration are viable respectively, and 4 for swing count.  Working down from there, I decide a minimum of 1 for power and 2 for penetration are viable.  Keeping the orders in mind and adding in their relevant bonuses, we get the resultant values:

  • Knives: Power 1, Penetration 2, Swing Count 4, Critical Rate +5%.  Knives are first and foremost best for Exceed-building, though sufficient physical optimization on them may result in them being particularly effective.  Crits are never a nice thing either.
  • Light Swords: Power 2, Penetration 5, Swing Count 3, Enables use of Off-Hand Daggers.  Light swords are notably good at penetrating enemy armor, and enable the use of off-hand knives, which have their own boosting properties.  As can be seen, though, their availability is anything but early, and it is questionable how common they’ll be in general.
  • Heavy Swords: Power 4, Penetration 4, Swing Count 3.  Above-average in power but only average in penetration, Heavy Swords earn the distinction of being the strongest weapon that allows the use of a shield.
  • Spears: Power 4, Penetration 6, Swing Count 2.  Spears are in the category of the weapons that “really, really hurt.”  The lowered swing count does hurt resourceless EX building, however, and they’re two-handed.
  • Axes/Hammers: Power 5, Penetration 5, Swing Count 2, Critical +5%.  Axes are the other weapon that hurts badly, more notably for the less-armored enemies.  They suffer from similar issues to spears, but can be particularly effective when they land a critical.
  • Staves: Power 2, Penetration 3, Swing Count 3, Evasion Rate +10%.  Staves are a defensive weapon first and foremost, and it shows.  Many of them allow for evasion, though a scant few might also boost magical ability.  The majority of those boosts go to foci, however–which can’t be used with staves because staves are two-handed.
  • Bows: Power 3, Penetration 4, Swing Count 3, Enables use of Arrows.  Bows are dead average compared to the other weapons, but don’t focus on direct offense so much as indirect via status-inflicting arrows.

Armor, for both body and head armor, is a different matter altogether.  Each form of armor offers a different benefit, which will have to be balanced against one another for effectiveness.  The general rule for body armor is that heavy armor blocks light hits, medium armor tends to absorb heavier hits, and light armor is focused more on dodging hits, with the occasional magic defense option.  For headgear, helmets(heavy) still increases ARM, hats(medium) are more focused on protecting against status, and circlets(light) focus more on boosting WIL and FOC, or applying elemental properties.  For baseline properties, however, I feel the following values are acceptables:

  • Heavy Armor: Armor 4.  Armor is all about taking hits, and against low-penetration or properly inhibited opponents this can get particularly effective.
  • Medium Armor: Armor 1, AFR 90.  Medium armor is less about absorbing hits and more about mitigating them.  In essence, medium armor serves better against single large hits than heavy armor does, but heavy armor can null smaller hits much more effectively. (Edit: For clarification, AFR, or Armor Factor, is directly multiplied to the damage for every source of it as a percentage modifier.  There is a magical equivalent of this known as MFR, or Magic Factor.  These too are based on innate functions of RPG Maker VX Ace)
  • Light Armor: Evasion +10%.  Light armor, coincidentally, is much more effective for the purposes of just not getting hit.  It’ll definitely hurt more when you do, but hopefully you won’t get hit at all.
  • Helmets: Armor 2.  Helmets are basically Armor: The Sequel.  Not much new to write home about.
  • Hats: AFR 97.  Hats…don’t exist for much in the way of damage mitigation.  The big thing is that a majority of them will offer protection against status effects in one way or another.  Don’t expect a Vigil Hat anywhere, though.
  • Circlets: WIL 2, FOC 2.  While initially seeming like a magic-user specific option, don’t forget that both of these are useful for physical combatants as well.  Some circlets also apply elemental properties, giving a tradeoff of one resistance for one weakness.

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Alright, guessing period is over.  The significance of this picture is that I ended up making a setup not unlike RoF’s target hardness with the differing armor types and defensive setup.  You’re welcome.

Off-hand equipment is closer to accessories in one respect: it’s a grab-bag.  However, some of them do have baseline properties, as can be seen here:

  • Shields: Armor 1, Evasion +5%.  As you can tell, shields are a defensive option, offering more evasion and a slight bit more armor for the man who wants to take damage from nothing.  Some of these provide extra defensive benefits on the side, such as having resistances to elements.
  • Gauntlets: Armor 1, other effects vary.  Gauntlets are where effects start to matter more than baseline stats.  While they provide a small bonus to ARM, you are usually going to want one less for that and more for the other benefits.
  • Foci: Mental 1, other effects vary.  The mage’s equivalent of Gauntlets, though a bit more desirable on the basis that MNT is not a common stat to find boosts for.
  • Off-Hand Daggers, Arrows: Effects vary.  Both of these are purely for effect choice, where you will frequently get effects well outside most mainline accessories.

Other than that, Sigil Crests were already detailed and Accessories are a grab-bag like the daggers and arrows.  As noted, I have not detailed how upgrades and sidegrades will matter with these items, but needless to say I’m not ready to detail them just yet.  And with that, I’m ready to cover the last part of things that have to be implemented before my game has all of its characters implemented: non-template skills.  This is Epic Alphonse, signing out until next post.

Posted July 17, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part 2)   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  Last time we covered the wide world of skillsets, and what they cover.  Furthermore, we revealed the majority of the Sigil Crest attached template skillset involved in the game.  This post, however, we are going to take a break from this to finally start adding some numbers to the cast.  It’s something that has to be done sooner or later, and it goes into the current subject of finally implementing the player characters that is the ultimate goal of this multi-parter.

The implementation of statistical values in a JRPG is a more precise science than many failed amateur attempts at games would be.  And not only is not paying attention to this potentially murderous to anything resembling game balance, but it’s one of the most common problems.  Admittedly, however, it wasn’t the easiest to avoid back in the early days of RPG Maker.  It wasn’t until RMVX that we got particularly clear documentation on the system’s damage algorithms (RMXP had documentation, but it feels particularly unclear, and pre-XP RMs had zero documentation on how it calculated damage at all).  Naturally, with zero direction for how to get the numbers to do what you want them to do, your only option for getting solid balance was the hard one: Test and repeat until satisfactory.  And needless to say, this process could be described by some as “hell”.

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And it is full of unclear algorithms and repeated testing against too-hard and too-easy enemies over and over.  And that’s before you learn that your stats will contribute only one sixteenth of themselves to a skill at most!

Needless to say, the clarity of algorithms is a large part of why I supported RPG Maker VX over XP and previous.  And it’s even easier with VX Ace–where they cut out the background algorithm (If you really wanted to change it in VX, you can reach into the code to swap it, but you only get two formulas to work with) and simply let the end-user determine damage calculations on an ability-by-ability basis, clear as day.  Why am I going over the differences between previous and current RPG Maker damage algorithms again, you ask?  Because with the added transparency for the end-user, we now have no excuse for not making a more statistically precise game.  We had it back in 2K where stats contributed amazingly little to performance.  But in VX and VX Ace, that problem and that excuse is gone, meaning that if we have a case of a generic enemy who is stronger than the final boss, or a boss who crumples in a basic physical from the mage, it is all our fault.

This is why careful consideration of what numbers we implement is so important.  The tools are there, and it’s made certain that we can use them with a notable degree of accuracy, so we should give them the respect they deserve and do so.  And as such, one would then ask where would it be the best to start?  This is perhaps the most important question to ask ourselves with regard to stats.  Not “how high do I want them to be at endgame when fighting the Great Elder God Flumfphlogloth,” but “how high do I want them to start?”  After all, before a game has an end, it has to have a beginning.  The answer to this, however, is simultaneously far more simple and complex than we’d like.

Technically, we have entire ranges of numbers that could work for our purposes.  Barring the damage formulas being extraordinarily specific and covering an identifiable and very narrow range, it will be notably difficult to estimate what is a “right” value in a vacuum.  In fact, the answer is going to frequently be that there simply is no one correct value, which will frustrate anyone looking for the one perfect answer.  This includes a very large number of people, myself included, who were hoping there would be a way to divine this set of values.  However, this does not mean that one cannot determine what are optimal statistical values in relation to one another for the purposes of your game.  This is difficult to explain, but as an example–if your Attack and Magic Attack formulas are similar to identical, you will likely want the offensive stats involved to generally be in proportion to one another for equivalent levels on characters.  However, sadly, number determination for a game is never going to be an exact science, and the best advice I am ultimately going to have is simply to eyeball the numbers.

Eyeballing the numbers, however, means trying to get a rough estimate of where they should be.  It is not, however, an excuse to pull off one of the bigger mistakes made by amateur game designers: making the numbers extraordinarily high for the sake of having big numbers show up everywhere.  The novelty of this likely has started with three games in particular: late-SNES/early-PSX Final Fantasy, Valkyrie Profile, and Disgaea–the lattermost of which still markets its huge numbers in its commercials, despite these values being irrelevant outside of postgame content.  Big numbers can wow some people, but ultimately will be harder to tighten a game around on for one, and can in fact be seen as a cheap trick to try and make something look more impressive than it is, like spinning rims on a cheaply-made car.  This is not to say that large numbers are bad, so much as that putting thought into one’s chosen numbers is well worth the effort.

Another two facets of selecting numbers for stats are much easier once one has the base value to work around down: spread and scaling.  Spread can be described as the differences in statistics between different characters at the same level, while scaling is the statistical change within a character over the course of the game.  With spread, the general idea is that you want to find a sort of happy medium based on what sort of game you are making.  The higher the statistics are, the wider the spread will need to be for the individual characters to be statistically distinct.  Too wide of a spread, however, can result in some characters being overly effective or ineffective in some capacity.  These tolerances may differ based on the game type one is making, however–an Action-RPG is more tolerant of narrow spreads due to the fact that one is always controlling one character.  A RPG with a notably large cast, or a Strategy RPG with heavy unit specialization is frequently more tolerant of wider spreads than normal, however.

Scaling can be handled in several ways, but can be summed up in a couple of ways–magnitude and pattern.  Magnitude is simply how much the character’s stats are expected to improve–assuming natural improvement through leveling, not equipment or statistic-boosting upgrades.  Pattern determines the distribution of the magnitude, which can have some interesting applications–and comes in three basic forms: linear, sublinear, and superlinear.  Most Final Fantasy games take a superlinear high-magnitude approach to statistic scaling (Final Fantasy 5 is a good example–start in double-digit HP, end in the 2000s), for example.  Similarly, one should not mistake linear growth with constant growth–which is a form of sublinear.  Linear in this context means that assuming a starting statistic is at value X, that character will gain X in that stat every Y levels.  Constant means that for a fixed value C, that character will gain C in that stat every level, regardless of the initial stats.  And notably enough, scaling interacts with spread in a few ways.  Generally speaking, for a given magnitude within reasonable bounds, a linear pattern will maintain spread, a sublinear pattern will narrow spread, and a superlinear pattern will expand spread.  Once the magnitude exceeds a given bound (this bound depends on the game’s equations and the original statistical spread), even linear patterns will start to functionally expand a spread.  Scaling also affects return difficulty–a high-magnitude scale can have enemies cease to be effective as soon as the end of the dungeon you use them in, while low-magnitude ones may have even the earlygame enemies a legitimate threat so much as halfway into the game or later, before factoring in equipment advancement, of course.  This is an important decision on how fast you want advancement to go, but it is important to keep in mind.

With these in mind, the question is easily “Where to start?” in regards to the current game.  Keeping in mind the general equations I have come up with prior:

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

the first reaction would be to keep the numbers as low as possible.  This isn’t a problem, I could easily run these with any number from the high singles on up as a starting point, but I don’t want the numbers getting too big.  However, I have difficulty deciding on a singular number until I look once again at the Sigil Crest statistical mods: they’re all in 5% increments.  With some quick testing in the RPG Maker VX Ace framework, I determine that it does not, in fact, round fractional statistical modifiers when applying separate percentile-based modifiers–simply truncating them for effect-related use.  In effect, the magic number here is the minimum possible value for these effects to be applicable as early as possible: 20.  This is as low as the current setup allows me to go.  While this is the bare minimum, there are indeed values I want to be higher than others–if I wish to include a Confuse or Charm effect, for example, or something equally insidious, I want to ensure that self-harm is indeed a threat rather than an annoyance.  As such, Focus and Penetration will have to be higher in the end–the deviation from base will have to be eyeballed in this situation, largely to factor for equipment–while not all armor provides ARM (in fact, it is largely the heavier armors that do this), all weapons provide a degree of PEN, and some items might increase one’s FOC.  Comparably, however, this allows ARM and WIL to have a minimum of 20.  Since MNT directly opposes WIL on status checks, it also needs to stay on the same scale.  Given that they’re similar in the equations, POW similarly has to stay on the same scale, though weapons may have a minor effect on it–a decision I’ll elaborate on a bit later.

Minimums for the non-HP/ST stats will tentatively be as follows:

  • Power: 20
  • Armor: 20
  • Penetration: 24
  • Mental: 20
  • Will: 20
  • Focus: 24

Now, with those, we can determine the minimum possible stats for the characters with a “1” in their slots.  Experimentation with formulas here points out that against a placeholder enemy defense value, single-point variance between ranks (20-25/24-29) at this point will be considerably negligible.  Looking at this, the initial instinct is to go with two-point variance between ranks (20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30/24-34), but I am finding more appeal in proceeding with a 1.5 point variance set (20, 21, 23, 24, 26, 27/24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 31).  It’s an uneven progression, but furthermore allows some interesting calculations with scaling at level if I leave the decimal in for the initial math.

The question before full statistical mapping remains, however: what about HP and ST?  At first we can consider this to be an arbitrary value–especially ST, given that it factors into costs more than anything–until you remember that Wrack, a general spell described last post, targets ST specifically, giving the possibility for ST damage.  This means that ST still needs to remain proportional to HP, regardless of everything else.  Costs can be adjusted, but damage is going to be proportional in some manner to HP–which leaves HP remaining.  This at first would appear arbitrary–and in a game without anything resembling Confusion or Charm type control status, it in fact is, since enemy stats are based entirely on what effect you want them to get out of the player.  However, once the potential for self-damage via status or ability comes up, then it will need to be thought of in terms of roughly how much the player would be taking from that.  Eyeballing it (just an estimate), I’ll be taking the HP spread at 32-point differences, largely because I like non-round numbers..  ST will be half of those values.  Thus for HP and ST, we will have spreads of: (422, 454, 486, 518, 550, 582) and (211, 227, 243, 259, 275, 291) respectively.  With these numbers in place, we can finally get hard statistical starting values for each of our PCs.  But before I go ahead and list those, I would like to cover how growth goes for stats across the board.

In RPG Maker VX Ace, and in fact in every RPG Maker, growth is implemented the same three ways: either you decide on a letter ranking and get a random set, set values for levels 1 and 99 before setting a curve type, or manually set each value for every single level.  With scripts, you can also manage equation-based and constant-based statistical growths with little trouble.  If you are angling towards a linear growth setup, then you can easily use the second method with little trouble–the maker will easily handle the setup.  If you want a superlinear patter, however, it would be wise to use a script to your advantage instead–manually handling 8 sets of (designated max level) stats for each PC you make is not only needlessly impractical, but mind-numbing and torturous on par with being reminded to put covers on your TPS reports every so often.

Lumbergh

Yeeeah, sorry, but I’ll have to have you come in on Saturday.  …Oh yeah, and you’ll need to come into work on Sunday, too.

With that in mind, in part because linear patterns are easier to think about and easier to handle without extra scripts, I intend to have a linear growth pattern.  And as for magnitude, I’m not exactly certain on how high-level characters will be at endgame, but I feel the base stats quadrupling at level 99 (estimating endgame to be around the 40-60 range) would be functional enough for this game.  It will inform my enemy design in the future should I choose this route and a fast or slow enough experience curve.  But with this, I finally have hard numbers for each of my characters, as seen below, introduced in order of being usable for the first time, with level 1 and level 99 values listed, tweaked to eliminate identical curves as much as possible:

Leo:

  • HP: 518->2064
  • ST: 243->972
  • POW: 24->96
  • ARM: 24->96
  • PEN: 27->110
  • MNT: 21->84
  • WIL: 23->94
  • FOC: 30->120

Friedrich:

  • HP: 550->2200
  • ST: 235->940
  • POW: 23->94
  • ARM: 27->108
  • PEN: 28->112
  • MNT: 20->80
  • WIL: 24->98
  • FOC: 20->80

Renaud:

  • HP: 534->2136
  • ST: 275->1100
  • POW: 22->90
  • ARM: 21->86
  • PEN: 27->108
  • MNT: 23->92
  • WIL: 20->80
  • FOC: 31->124

Alexis:

  • HP: 470->1880
  • ST: 291->1164
  • POW: 21->84
  • ARM: 21->84
  • PEN: 25->100
  • MNT: 27->108
  • WIL: 26->104
  • FOC: 27->108

Azalea:

  • HP: 422->1688
  • ST: 259->1036
  • POW: 23->92
  • ARM: 22->90
  • PEN: 30->120
  • MNT: 24->98
  • WIL: 23->92
  • FOC: 30->122

Valeska:

  • HP: 486->1944
  • ST: 251->1004
  • POW: 26->104
  • ARM: 23->94
  • PEN: 31->124
  • MNT: 21->86
  • WIL: 21->84
  • FOC: 25->102

Kiri:

  • HP: 582->2328
  • ST: 211->844
  • POW: 27->108
  • ARM: 24->98
  • PEN: 26->106
  • MNT: 26->104
  • WIL: 24->96
  • FOC: 25->100
  • Special: MFR 200

Caecilia:

  • HP: 454->1816
  • ST: 227->908
  • POW: 21->86
  • ARM: 23->92
  • PEN: 30->122
  • MNT: 24->96
  • WIL: 27->108
  • FOC: 28->112

And with that entire set, I feel this post is complete.  Next time on Gratuitous JRPG, we will be filling out general equipment sets statistically, and discussing equipment stats more now that we have base statistics laid down more.  Until then, this is Epic Alphonse, signing off.

Posted July 9, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

Skills and Stats: Some Assembly Required (Part 1)   2 comments

Welcome to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last time, we covered a large deal about world creation, and the principles of flavor, pathing, and gating.  In addition, the game in production was given another layer of fleshing out with a bit of worldbuilding and history.  This week, however, we are covering another multipart topic, and beginning to assemble the mechanical parts that will comprise the game’s base, starting with the very important matter of skillsets.

It is notable that a large number of RPG characters are very well-defined in what they can do.  In technicality, however, a RPG does not necessarily need its characters to have any skillset.  Fire Emblem is a very notable case of a series that has largely gone that route with some notable exceptions(Nailah from FE10 has a petrification ability, and Laguz from the Tellius set with their transformations count overall for active skillsets).  However, it is worth remembering that the Fire Emblem games are Strategy RPGs, and can largely get away with that simplification more than others due to the increased number of variables.  Most other games are going to want proper skillsets for their characters, however, and this is where skill building will come in.

To best understand skillset building, it would be prudent first to cover the varied types of skills out there.  The majority of these skills fall into one of a few categories: Offense, Recovery, and Support.  These supercategories can be further broken up, but it is more notable that all three of these categories have overlap with one another, and in theory it is possible for a skill to cover all three of these.  However, in most games, a majority of these abilities will fall under one of these categories, rather than two or three of them, with one or two exceptions.  Such an example is the classic lifedrain spell, which is combination offense/recovery–damage to the target, and healing to the user.  However, to clarify what I essentially mean here, I will be going into each category below.

Offense, the first category, can be defined as “skills that inflict a negative effect upon the enemy”.  This has five subtypes that can be mixed and matched as need be.  The first is the most obvious: Direct damage.  Your basic attack will do direct damage.  The commonly-recognized offensive spells will do direct damage.  Direct damage is the most recognizable because it is what the player will traditionally associate with offense–directly subtracting from the enemy’s HP until they are dead.  It’s also the most basic form of offense, frequently running off of your offensive stats and defended against by the enemy’s defensive stats–though exceptions are plentiful to say the least.  The second type of offense is negative status, which can be broken down into its components mentioned earlier–incapacitating, restricting, control, and debilitating, though special mention must go to permanently incapacitating status (Instant Death and/or Petrify in most games) and damage-over-time status (poison) as they have an argument for their own niches within this.  The third type is resource damage, and is frequently derided by players in numerous games, regarded as an annoyance at most and useless at the least.  This has a twofold cause–popular RPGs frequently making resource recovery readily available (see, again, Final Fantasy and Ethers, Elixirs, and Tents) making it an annoyance at most on the enemy end, and a low frequency of resources as an enemy concern making it seem useless on the player end barring a resource absorption ability.  The fourth subtype is negative statistical modifiers–weakening the enemy to allow a better strength , so to speak.  Last covered on this is dispelling effects, removing positive effects from an enemy–while this is normally not seen as offense, it serves a similar purpose and fits under here more than anywhere else.

Recovery, the second category, can be defined as “skills that remove a negative effect from oneself”.  Similar to offense, this has multiple subtypes within it, largely a mirror of Offense in this case.  The first subtype of recovery is direct healing–again, the traditionally-seen version of this.  It removes damage (the negative effect) by restoring HP to a target.  Similarly, resource healing–a category normally seen only with items–is present, and typically taken for granted due to availability.  Revival is a special case of restoration, as a permanently incapacitated (usually dead, though sometimes petrified) character usually exists outside of status and healing, requiring special means to recover from.  Notably, some games do avert this (SaGa series games are notable in this–all healing doubles as revival).  This is typically separate from the fourth category, status recovery.  Once more glossed over due to an abundance of readily-available blanket status cures (or less than effective status) in many cases.  The last category of recovery is statistical modifier recovery–the removal of negative statistical modifiers from oneself or allies.  While status and statistical modifiers can be lumped together, they are frequently enough handled differently that they deserve to be treated separately in this case.

The last major category, the Support category, can be defined as “skills that bestow a positive effect upon oneself”.  A much narrower category than the rest, this can be easily divided into two subtypes: positive status and positive statistical modifiers.  The former may notably cross over into the recovery category in two common cases, however–regenration and auto-revival statuses.  Both of these are status that give a healing effect, and so may be tempting to place into the Recovery category, but since they are placed ahead of time and considered a beneficial effect as opposed to directly removing a negative effect, they fall into the rest of the Support statuses.

Lastly, there are miscellaneous abilities, which can in turn be grouped into three general types.  The first are acquisition abilities, such as stealing.  This often spends one or more turns’ worth of time to acquire more money and item resources, some of which may in fact be equipment.  These tend to get a bad reputation, once again, due to the popular examples being particularly ineffective outside of acquisition, more often than not.  (Examples include many thief characters, including Locke in FF6, Shilka/Shir in Phantasy Star 2, and the Thief jobs in FF5 and FFT).  The second are transportation abilities, exemplified in Phantasy Star’s Hinas and Ryuka techniques–the former teleports you outside of the dungeon you are in, the latter teleports you to your choice of town.  These are often for player convenience–except when they are out of resources to begin with, though this often comes in item form.  Lastly comes utility abilities–these abilities sometimes have use in combat, but frequently exist for out-of-combat uses instead.  The best example of this is the set of HM abilities in Pokemon, being usable in combat but more notable for their out-of-combat benefits of unlocking tool gates, but most of these only serve as the aforementioned tools for unlocking said gates and nothing more (Music in Phantasy Star 2).

Now, of all the skill categories, a good number of games will dip into the first three large categories, and if desired possibly into the fourth.  Within these, however, most of the offense and recovery abilities will be of the direct variety, with some allowance for the rest.  More poorly-designed JRPGs (not accounting for SRPGs because a good deal of those factor in matters such as area of effect, range, and the like) will have its only notably effective options be direct damage and direct healing.  How one goes about selecting their abilities for their game depends, but the lazy option of going largely on damage and healing is not a recommended one.

Before covering my own game, I would like to take a second to go into the matter of the choice of player-usable skill names.  While this may appear to be a purely aesthetic choice, the reality is that this will elicit some reactions from your playerbase in one manner or another, and affect opinions slightly.  Names themselves largely come in five varieties–the first being what I would call full utilitarian.  Anyone who has seen early Final Fantasy games with spell selections of “Fire, Fire 2, Fire 3” knows what I’m talking about–no explanation required..  In fact, the default spells work this way as well.  The problem with this method is that many will find it boring, and some will be drawn towards the few attacks and spells that don’t have this sort of naming because they’re that different.  And to the ten-year-old in us that played Final Fantasy 7 for the first time, we all know that Contain had to be an awesome materia because its spells did not fit the pattern of the rest of the game’s attack spells.  Same for Shadow Flare, and so on.  The Wild ARMs series among others does it less blandly to a degree, with only two “levels”, the second being prefixed with ‘Hi-‘ than suffixed with a number, though “Cremate” is more evocative than “Fire”.  Rule of thumb, utilitarian numbers in ability names are boring.

The second variety of ability names can be described as flavored utilitarian.  The primary difference between this and full utilitarian is that you largely do not use a number or flat power descriptor to denote a higher-rank spell in sequence, but instead some variation in the name, usually with higher-level spells denoted by more impressive-sounding names.  For example, one would imply that “Crematorium” is a higher-level, more powerful skill than “Flame Shot”–both being possessed by Lemina in the Saturn and PSX remakes of Lunar:Eternal Blue.  This is perhaps one of the more frequently-appearing skill naming conventions in JRPGs.

The third type of ability names, heavily flavored, tend to be a type used more frequently in Western RPGs than eastern games.  This is differentiated from flavored utilitarian in that it will frequently incorporate names of places, characters (old, dead ones, frequently), and in-setting divinity.  Naturally, this one needs to be used with care since overuse will only result in the name-dropping looking silly at best, and overly self-indulgent on the creator’s part in the worst cases.  There is also the risk that the flavor can obscure exactly what the ability was meant to do, though one can usually discern the very general purposes of it–I recommend if anyone goes this route that they start investing in good tooltips.

The fourth ability name type is what I’d call a patterned esoteric naming convention.  This is to say, that the ability names just sound out there and don’t indicate anything on their own, but there is a pattern frequently used to denote higher-rank abilities and the like.  This is most evident in both Phantasy Star and the Shin Megami Tensei series (for PS, it’s all in prefixes.  Gi- is a level 2 spell, Na- is a level 3 spell, and Sa- indicates multitarget.  SMT instead uses suffixes for level and prefixes for targeting, with the Level 2 suffix depending on the element (or -On for light/dark), -Dyne for Level 3 of standard elements, ma- as a prefix for multitarget, and several other quirks).  Some people level complaints at how it’s not readily apparent what does what, though patterns are frequently learned faster than its detractors would state.  It might be effective still to invest in good tooltips at this point if you do not want to require experimentation.

PS4Rune

This is a large set of techniques.  And he’s still got two more to learn.  Keep in mind that PS4 had to work around a five-character limit for techniques, eight for skills, and four for character names.

The last ability naming convention is full esoteric, or what some would call non-indicative.  This overlaps with the third type in places, except some names you cannot discern any use from without tooltips and it typically does not need to reference the in-universe lore.  While this may occur more frequently in boss attack names (where bosses do not need to know what the attack does to use it, obviously), the other game it appears frequently in is Labyrinth of Touhou, which…let’s just let the picture speak for itself.  The game gets by on this by having effective tooltips, as an aside, and that the spells frequently reference spellcards in the Touhou games themselves.

LoTMinoriko

One of these four spells is a heal, another is a defensive buff, and the other two are damage spells.  Damnit Minoriko.

Ability naming conventions aside, I feel it’s now time to start taking a look at the skillsets for my own game.  As stated before, I’m using a half-template system, and to follow my own advice from earlier about not making the template skills overshadow the non-template skills (that which isn’t unique versus what is), I feel it would be best to cover the Sigil Crest skills–the template portion–first.  For how Sigil Crests work in-game, they are items that each PC can equip two of that give minor statistical boosts and a small selection of spells.  For now, I’m just going to cover the three basic spells anyone gets when using one–Exceed skills and High Arcana can be covered a bit later, as those are more in-depth and special.  There are sixteen Sigil Crests, three for each element and one non-elemental (or “Void”) one, and each has its own set of spells.  Statistical buffing spells happen along the crest’s own element, while debuffs happen along the destructive cycle.  Keeping this in mind, and that numbers haven’t been placed yet, the set of Sigil Crest general spells is as such:

  • Glorious Blaze [Fire, +5% POW/WIL]: Empower (Support: boosts single ally’s Power), Ignis Blaster (Offense: single-target fire attack spell), Ignis Saber (Support: Imbue[Fire] to one ally.)
  • Consuming Wildfire [Fire, +5% POW/Critical rate]: Ignis Blaze (Offense: random-target fire attack spell), Armor Ruin (Offense: lowers single target’s ARM), Charge (Support: boosts self POW for next attack)
  • Burning Resolve [Fire, +5% WIL/Critical Rate]: Willpower (Support, boosts one ally’s WIL), Weapon Ruin (Offense: lowers single target’s PEN), Revive (Recovery, revives an incapacitated target with a small amount of health)
  • Tranquil Sea [Water, +5% Max Stamina/Magic Evade]: Aqua Pressure (Offense: single-target water-element attack spell, hits target PDEF instead of MDEF), Seal (Offense: inflicts Sealed on one enemy), Acuity (Support: boosts one ally’s MNT)
  • Winter’s Stasis [Water, +5% Max Stamina/MNT]: Chill (Offense: reduces target’s POW), Freeze Crack (Offense: single-target water-element attack spell), Freeze Saber (Support: Imbue[Water] to one ally)
  • Eternal Rainfall [Water, +5% Magic Evade/MNT]: Erosion (Offense: reduces target’s WIL), Cleanse (Recovery: cures physical status), Haze (Support: raises target magic evade)
  • Fleeting Breeze [Wood, Counter rate+5%, Evasion+5%]: Gust Cutter (Offense: single-target Wood-element attack spell, low penetration), Turbulence (Support: raises ally EVA], Unburden (Recovery: removes negative statistical modifiers from the target, also removes Imbue)
  • Thunder Flash [Wood, Counter rate+5%, FOC+5%]: Spark Burst (Offense, single-target Wood-element attack spell, high penetration), Flash (Support: raises ally FOC), Soul Breaker (Offense: raises(worsens) target Magic Armor Factor)
  • Verdant Growth [Wood, Evasion+5%, FOC+5%]: Regenerator (Support: adds Regeneration status to an ally), Venom Saber (Support: Imbue[Wood] to one ally), Soma Breaker (Offense: raises(worsens) target Armor Factor)
  • Unstoppable Blade [Metal, PEN+5%, ARM+5%]: Sharpen (Support: raises target PEN), Iron Saber (Support: Imbue[Metal] to one ally), Clarify (Recovery: cures mental status)
  • Unyielding Steel [Metal, ARM+5%, 5% Reflect rate]: Reinforce (Support: raises target ARM), Hold (Offense: lowers target evasion), Bind (Offense: inflicts “Disabled” status to one target)
  • Silver Mirror [Metal, PEN+5%, 5% Reflect rate]: Lucent Lance (Offense: single-target Metal-element attack spell, cannot be reflected or dodged and not subject to Magic Armor Factor), Dazzle (Offense: lowers target FOC), Reflector (Support: raises target Reflect rate)
  • Flowing Sand [Earth, Magic Armor Factor 95, Max HP+5%]: Wrack (Offense: single-target Earth-element attack spell, deals ST damage instead of HP), Lock (Offense: lowers target Magic Evade), Daunt (Offense: lowers target MNT)
  • Immovable Mountain [Earth, Armor Factor 95, Magic Armor Factor 95]: Soma Guard (Support: lowers(improves) target Armor Factor), Soul Guard (Support: lowers(improves) target Magic Armor Factor), Obscure (Offense: inflicts Blind to one enemy)
  • Grand Earth [Earth, Armor Factor 95, Max HP+5%]: Restore (Recovery: HP healing to a single target), Shockwave (Offense: single-target Earth element attack spell, subject to Evade and Armor Factor instead of Magic Evade and Magic Armor Factor, cannot be reflected but can be countered), Stone Saber (Support: Imbue[Earth] to one ally)
  • Ephemeron [Void, no bonuses]: Disintegrate (Offense: non-elemental attack spell, ignores target WIL), Vanisher (Support: greatly reduces caster’s chances of being targeted by single-target attacks), Emptiness (Offense: dispels positive effects from enemy)

As you can see, skillsets in games can easily get massive, and simply with the spells anyone can get from Sigil Crests, there is already a large amount of variety.  Furthermore, these spells can be used as a generic “common pool” for enemies, reducing the need for effort in the future when it comes down to enemy skillset construction.  But that is a later point for a later time.  As for now, this concludes Part One of this extended entry.  This is Epic Alphonse, signing out.

Posted July 1, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Going Round and Round the World (and Round and Round Again)   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  On our last (very late) post, we covered the varied plot types of RPGs and how to factor the genre’s elements into the writing.   In addition, I did an overview of the first third or so of the game in progress.  But as observed then, there were a few snags in the plot development due to an undefined world.  Building a world, and conversely an extremely rough world map, are the subjects on which this week’s post will focus.

Every game needs a world.  After all, it’s where the game takes place.  A character is essentially unable to go from A through B to C if anywhere on or between that set of points is undefined, and it’s even worse if it’s given minimal definition.  Players are not going to want to wander through a featureless expanse that bears very few features save the ones that the player absolutely must interact with, after all.  At the same time, however, these world features are not going to be appreciated if the player happens to throw them out haphazardly with all of the tact, care, and attention to detail of a nine-year-old on a sugar high.  So there will have to be some semblance of rhyme and reason to this.  But the real question lies–where to start?

World creation in a JRPG can be said to have three elements to it overall: flavor, pathing, and gating.  Flavor will be the first part of this covered, and this goes back into the plot writing.  Flavor itself can be said to have two parts for this purpose–the past and the present.  Both are important for establishing a world, but at the same time it must be stressed that it takes a lot less than one would imagine to give a sufficient idea for a world.  One does not need to define every single position in the presidential cabinet if, for example, none of the people in them are even appearing in a game.  But what is meant by past and present in regards to setting?

When I say the past, I mean the world’s history as is relevant to the game’s story and current world.  This does not mean, again, that a comprehensive history of the world must be drafted, edited, rewritten, and finally be put into canon after a review by several certified experts on fantasy worlds that are similar to the one you are creating for your game.  This is one of the shortcuts: you don’t need to cover every little detail.  Just the ones that inform the present-day setting and the plot.  As for the scale of this writing, it can vary depending on the subject of the written history.  An example using the current in-development game would be as follows:

  • Roughly 150 years ago, the Isuria Empire attempted a global takeover in a crusade on behalf of their leader, who was believed to be of divine heritage.  This was ultimately stopped by a group of five heroes each wielding a relic of immense power who stormed the capital and killed the “Holy Empress”.  This, combined with the resultant fighting outside wiped out a majority of Isuria’s population, and the empire, now without a symbol, leader, or much of a populace remaining, simply could not hold the ground it could.  Its territory contracted massively.
  • After the war, the five weapons were given to five dragons–“those who could live to remember the past when man couldn’t”–to be sealed away as best decided by them.  Their locations continue to be largely hidden to this day.
  • While normally the coalition of nations would have attempted to take over the lands given and press the offensive to take over Isuria, they were hurting from the world-wide conflict as well.  Aivarel–directly on the landmass with Isuria and the first nation targeted by its crusade–was no longer a nation as stood; they had been crushed in the war.  Zeisrell, Vaskel, and Leissia were left standing, but between the fact that they were a continent away and reeling from the war themselves kept them from setting up long-term occupation.
  • Over the years, things changed.  Aivarel was nonexistent, though any who went there in the following years seemed to never return.  The kingdom of Vaskel entered a decline, with each successive ruler even more depraved, deranged, and terrible than the last.  Leissia fared even worse, suffering a widescale social breakdown.  Zeisrell established its knighthood not long after the war, and started its traditions from there–and happened to be the only nation of the three on the eastern continent to enjoy a degree of prosperity, but even it is far from perfect…

And there we have a very basic cover of the five nations that show up in the game.  There are two other regions that aren’t defined there, but this is the past.  The history.  Those two “undefined” regions aren’t known in-game for what they were as much as what they are.  And that brings us to the present.  If the past is the world’s “backstory”, the present is simply the current state of things.  Once more, this need not be exhaustive, simply relevant.  For an example below:

  • Two major continents currently exist on this world–the western and eastern continents.  The western continent has what remains of Isuria and Aivarel, but is now largely empty.  Isuria, to the north, has lost a large number of its cities and remains largely isolated, while Aivarel’s land in the south has largely become overgrown–and if the statements that people who enter never come back are to be believed, potentially quite dangerous.
  • Meanwhile on the eastern continent, there is Zeisrell to the southeast–currently the most prosperous nation in the world, if only on the basis that they’re the only nation prospering–though there is some resentment among members of the knighthood about current political affairs.  Vaskel to the east has gone to hell by comparison–its most recent kings have been more of a threat to their own kingdom than any possible outside threat, and the people of the country suffer for it.  Leissia, on the southwest and west ends of the continent, has had its own problems–the country has turned isolationist and unfriendly after its republic collapsed, got overthrown, and was replaced by an autocratic ruler–who still only has loose control over the country. (okay, not sure on this one, revise in the future).  The north and northeast have largely been an uninhabitable tundra–though that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
  • Lastly, there is a small island chain in between the two. continents.  Most of these islands are largely empty or have a cave or two, but one in particular has a set of ruins that nobody seems to have been able to get into.

This is a decent layout of the world setup.  So for the story so far (last post), it has largely covered portions of Zeisrell and Leissia.  I want the rest of the world to be explored at some point in this game, so i will have to keep this in mind for the rest of the plot.  In the meantime, however, this brings me to the next aspect of world creation–pathing.  Pathing, in this case, is simply determining how the player explores the world.  Every game has a way to get from beginning to end, after all, and just like plot structures, there are a few variants.  (Edit: WordPress is being fussy about images again.  Click to get the full picture.)

dq1image

Our intrepid hero wishes he could simply cross that body of water straight away–his destination is right there.

The first variant is the open-world setup, where free roaming is king.  You may be given instructions by the plot to go to one place, but you can just as easily ignore the plot and go do your own thing, like running around and fighting monsters, visiting way out of the way towns, or simply getting up to that obnoxious mountain peak that taunts you.  This does happen to have its downsides, however.  Since gating is more difficult the less linear a game gets, and this is about as far from linear as most can and will go, such a task will be amazingly hard to manage gracefully, to say the least.  Furthermore, this requires a lot of effort to make sure there’s things worth exploring for–an open world format is a waste if there’s little to actually see and do in said world, after all.  This format is most often seen with WRPGs (every Elder Scrolls game is like this) and persistent-world MMORPGs for…fairly obvious reasons.

The next variant, going from most to least open, is a branching setup.  This kind of pathing is largely ubiquitous to Metroidvania games and the Legend of Zelda series, but a number of RPGs do it too.  The basic conceit is this–you typically start with a single pathway while the others are gated off.  Eventually, you accomplish something that unlocks some of the gates–be it finding a new item or completing part of the plot.  This leads to other pathways, some of which have gated pathways in turn on them, and one or more of them having a way to open some other gates.  Rinse and repeat until you reach the end.  This has its benefits, in fact, insofar that it rewards backtracking once you have some gates open, but proper implementation of gating is a must for this to work well.  If not, you will simply have a consequence of either sequence breaking (improper gating, to be covered later in the post), getting lost (usually occurs when there isn’t enough information about where the next plot-relevant branch is), or a failure in design intent (not enough gates).  The first Dragon Quest is actually an example of this, as is the fourth Epic Battle Fantasy game.  Crystalis is a case of a game with arguably not enough branches, on the other hand.

The third variant of pathing is the linear setup.  Players are most familiar with this, and while the name implies it’s the most linear, it actually happens to be middle-of-the-road as far as linearity goes.  While there may be a divergence or two along the line, the majority of the game takes place along a, however curved, linear path.  Gates block progress until opened, upon which progress along the line once again resumes.  Oversights in gating, however, will lead to some notable sequence breaking and the linearity will elicit complaints from some JRPG players.  Furthermore, bad implementation of the linearity and failing to hide it will make the game feel mistakable for the next two formats.  Final Fantasy games frequently love this sort of pathing, to note, and one of the most famous FFs of all time, FF7, is notable for this.

The next type of pathing, I would call the fragmented setup.  In this, the world map stops existing, and areas are frequently accessed from a representative map or a simple list.  This is the point where gating largely stops being relevant, as the main way by which to gate the player in this format is simply to not let them have access to the areas the designer does not want them to have access to at this point of time, by making the area not show up on the map or list.  Out of games, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was the first notable JRPG to do this, though FF10, the Digital Devil Saga games, and Epic Battle Fantasy 3 have also done this notably, though Strategy RPGs that allow battle replays (Disgaea) also use this format.

Lastly is the sequential format.  This is as linear as one can get for pathing, as it takes the fragmented setup one step further.  No sidepaths, no world map, and no backtracking, instead progressing through areas as if stages from a platformer game.  This may allow for a degree of fine-tuning, but it is a very divisive route to take for a more standard RPG based on how Final Fantasy 13 was received.  It did, after all, gain the derogatory nickname “Final Fight 13” for a reason, after all.  Other than that, this is a more accepted format for Strategy RPGs such as Fire Emblem and Super Robot Wars

Lastly today, we will cover gating.  I’ve mentioned it several times before in this post, and it sounds self-explanatory, but it has some nuances that may be passed over.  Gating, to put simply, is keeping the player from going where they shouldn’t until they’ve completed a required achievement in the game, such as acquiring an item, defeating a boss, or advancing the plot in some manner.  This may be more familiar to some pen and paper gamers as “Railroading”.  Now, to people who like their sandbox tabletop gaming, keep in mind that railroading is not bad.  Sequence breaking–getting to places you’re not supposed to–can hurt your game just as bad as badly-done gating can.  And of course, the forms of gating are about as varied as the forms of pathing, as follows.

train

There’s no getting off of this train once it’s started.  Be prepared for a ride on the rails.

Gating by difficulty, frequently known as using a “Beef Gate” in tropespeak, is the least recognizable as a proper gate, and it’s the most reviled for a very good reason.  The concept is simple–you’re not actually cut off in the world by anything other than much harder encounters that you have to be numerically powerful enough to beat.  This requires equipment boosts or the most hated thing: experience grinding.  This is most evident in the game that this form of gating is the most egregious in: Dragon Quest 1.  For the first 90 or so minutes of the game if you grind, you will be staying on one continent, not daring at all to cross any of those dreaded bridges.  And then at the beginning of the lategame, you will hit a wall where you can’t mitigate enemies through purchasable equipment anymore.  To properly execute this, you will need to get an extremely fine-tuned experience curve, and test it thoroughly.  But in general, this was abandoned by game design for a reason.

dq1image

Our intrepid takes one look across the river, and finds himself glad he’s not over there with his clothes and bamboo stick.

The next form of gating is gating by tools.  This form is most frequently seen in metroidvanias and their ilk, once more, but it sometimes shows up in RPGs.  Most typically, this an item or ability that has a secondary function of some sort–Crystalis is possibly the earliest RPG example of this by comparison, as illustrated with its swords’ level 2 abilities: the Swords of Wind and Fire can break rock and ice walls respectively, and the Sword of Water can create ice bridges over  shallow water.  The Float, Barrier, Paralysis, and Telepathy spells become this as well, though possibly sometimes not enough.  In essence, acquiring these tools allows you to open new pathways elsewhere.  Other games that facilitate this include Lufia 2 and the Wild ARMs series.

Somewhat related to this is gating by puzzle.  Frequently in dungeons, this form of gating is based explicitly on the player’s ability to complete one or more puzzles.  These puzzles may range from sliding block puzzles (a rather infamous configuration now frequently lampooned) to acquiring or piecing together a code, to a myriad of things.  Sometimes this involves tool use for a combination of this and tool-based gating.  While every dungeon has a few puzzles, Wild ARMs and Lufia 2 are probably the most famous for this form as well.

The most common form of gating, is gating by event.  That is to say, one or more areas are blocked off until a plot switch is triggered by completing more of the story.  The most famous examples of these are the Broken Bridge and the Bouncer.  The Broken Bridge is where there’s a terrain feature that can’t be fixed until you advance the plot enough (which often does not have to do at all with directly fixing the bridge), and the Bouncer involves one or more NPCs who stand in one place and block your progress until a future event.  In reality, this is almost universal to JRPGs, and will frequently occur in practically every RPG that is pathed less strictly than sequential (Fragmented-path games use area availability as a form of event-gating) and more than open-world.  In short, if you’re making a JRPG, you will almost invariably use this method at one point or another.

The last form of gating, made popular by the first Final Fantasy, is gating by transportation.  Similar to gating by tools, this is changed by receiving an item in question.  As opposed to that, however, the item is specifically a vehicle.  This form of gating was largely started in JRPGs by Final Fantasy (Ship, Canoe, Airship) and Dragon Quest 3 (a giant bird), but has become notably influential with how many games eventually get sea or air transportation.  Of course, placement of areas on the world to prevent this transportation from allowing sequence-breaking is vital to making this form of gating work.

As can be seen, creating a world in which a JRPG takes place is a more complicated matter than most.  Between breathing life into the world with history and present conditions, setting out a path for the player to take, and blocking off paths that you do not intend the player to go down until later, any game creator will have no small amount of work on their hands.  And with that, I feel this concludes this week’s post of Gratuitous JRPG,  Hopefully back on its weekly update schedule.

Posted June 23, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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The Structural Architecture of JRPG plot   Leave a comment

Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  I would like to first give an apology to everyone for this post being four days late; Issues at home aside, I have been distracted by this year’s Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta charity run ( http://www.letsplaying.com/FF5FF/ ).  If you have some free time and a way to play FF5, I encourage you to join in.  You do not need to make a pledge to play, simply sign up for the challenge and try your best to complete it.  It’s great fun and helps out a good cause.  With that out of the way, last week we covered the wide, wide world of status effects, picked apart the RMVXA default effects and enumerated some of our own.  And now, my game design thoughts have gone back to the angle of plot, and with it, the common patterns of plot in JRPGs.

As has been stated previously, plot is a constant in RPGs.  It’s what largely drives the characters to action.  However, what form this plot takes can and may vary, and even without accounting for this variance, will typically allow for more fights to be covered than a standard novel or show–as to facilitate mechanical character growth, and in turn the acquisition of new abilities and equipment.  It similarly has to facilitate the gameflow of the particular game, be it the town-to-overworld-to-dungeon-to-overworld-to-town cycle, the much more linear pattern that a lot of Final Fantasy 13 likes to take, the open-world format of WRPGs, or anything in between.  But this facilitation can come in one of many forms.

The first, and simplest form of this are what I like to call Objective-Based Plots, and what some may call “Excuse Plots”.  These are the oldest form of RPG plots, belonging to such titles as the first Dragon Warrior.  While each game has an objective, these games have the plot literally be the objective.  The plot is there, but it’s laid out at the beginning, often with little character interaction or the like (because frequently they are single-character RPGs!).  This is the RPG equivalent of prefacing your game with “The president has been kidnapped by ninjas!  Are you a bad enough dude to save the President?”  Aside from older games (Dragon Warrior, Shining in the Darkness), the only games to pull this plot now are dungeon-crawlers and roguelikes.

WhatPlot

The Evil Emperor has kidnapped the chancellor!  Are you a bad enough knight to save him?

The next form of plot for RPGs is a World-Based Plot, which is a whole different beast from the other plot types.  World-based plots are largely more episodic in nature, with the PCs acting more in the capacity of wandering heroes going from town to town, running into the local problem of the village and solving it, before moving on.  What drives them to wander from town to town might be present, but the formula is present.  Usually around the end, a major plot arc will spring up to try and retroactively tie the matters together, but a majority of the game is built around the episodic format.  This does nicely fit the town-overworld-dungeon-overworld-town pattern, but can result in things feeling disconnected. Games involving this sort of plot aren’t common to my knowledge, though I have heard a number of the Dragon Quest games among others use this sort of plot structure.

WorldBased

Tune in next episode!  Same JRPG time, same JRPG day!

Following that is the basic arc-styled format, what I simply call a Single-Arc Plot.  The plot stays about the same arc and topic the entire time, though it may have its twists and turns involved.  In general, no new major enemies will show up, there will be no “Man behind the man”, and so on.  As a result of this, these tend to belong to shorter games, as it is much more difficult to keep a plot focused on a single arc in a longer-running game.  An example of this includes Shining Force 1; you’re constantly fighting the forces of Runefaust, and by extension Darksol, with no real change from this focus.

SingleArc

Pretty much the simplest possible.  Don’t expect too many surprises here.

The first of the more complicated common formats is the Switching-Arc Plot–defined by having the arc switch heavily based on events.  The simplest variance of this is the Man Behind the Man scenario, or for those not fluent in tropespeak, setting up one character as the primary villain before eventually revealing that there is yet another higher villain controlling that villain’s actions.  This is frequently done as a means by which to extend games, so it is advisable to be careful when attempting to write with this plot structure.  Furthermore, for this to have a worthwhile effect, it has to be executed roughly around the normal arc’s height.  A large number of games decide to pull this more as a means by which to have a more graphically impressive final battle, however.  For examples of this, look no farther than Final Fantasy 4.  Looking right at you, Zemus.

SwitchingArcOkay DamnitZemus

On the left: the flow of a more well-pulled-off change-up flow.  On the right…oh damnit Zemus, what the hell are you doing here?

The last major formula that will be given a look-over is the Compound-Arc Plot.  This is another tricky form of plot that requires a notable use of introductions and foreshadowing.  What typically goes on here is that sometime in the middle of the initial plot, there will be the hints of a second plot arc coming to rise, often with a part that previews the focus of that.  As the first arc starts to come to a conclusion, the second arc overtakes it and continues the action of the plot.  This is unlike the switching-arc plot insofar that the first arc is not suddenly invalidated by this, as much as gets overtaken in its resolution.  This is frequently done with starter villain arcs, such as in Tales of Graces F–halfway through the second to last dungeon in the first major arc, hints at the second arc start showing up more and more–albeit as a result of events in the first arc.  Of the arcs here, this takes the most pre-planning to work into the story without it feeling like two separate plots, so care is needed once more.  Of course, this also happens to be the plot format I’m using.

CompoundArc

They’re totally not seeing the second one coming (okay, they are.  Foreshadowing and the feeling the game is way too short otherwise.)

With the basic plot formats out of the way, it would be nice to take a look at what matter of plot structure is largely needed for a JRPG.  The most important factor of plot is that it has to tie in any towns, dungeons, and possible overworld segments to the world.  As such, when developing a plot skeleton, you are going to need to place room for several kinds of genre features as follows:

  • Dungeons: Every RPG’s going to have at least one area that can be qualified as a “dungeon” of some sort.  By dungeon, I mean a defined area in the game that typically has a desired endpoint to access, more difficult enemies than anything in the surrounding overworld, an inability to save, and must be completed to progress through the game.  These areas do not have to be literal dungeons, of course, but the point is that you will need a few of these for your game assuming it is not a Strategy RPG, and it would be best to account for them in your writing along the way.
  • Bosses: Any story with fighting will need its climactic battles.  And being a video game, your bosses are going to need to be an entertaining fight.  While gameplay supporting plot is helpful, in this case it would be better to work around the other way, have plot support gameplay.  A sidenote at this point, is that while it may be realistic for some bossfights to take little longer than normal fights (particularly against human enemies), but for the sake of a more interesting battle, it’s encouraged to segregate plot from the gameplay for the sake of a more entertaining conflict.
  • Towns: Towns, cities, castles, and the like are the typical safe points in RPGs.  They’re usually the checkpoints along the plot, where you can stop, restore your characters, take a break from the game (assuming this is a game without fixed randoms, limited randoms, or a save-anywhere feature).  However, towns are a bit of a tricky matter to handle, since it is perfectly within reason to have one or two out-of-the-way towns that have no plot relevance whatsoever.  Typically these are going to be either a base for an optional dungeon, or a place at which the player can obtain things they normally would not be able to at the first point they can access it.  The ones that aren’t irrelevant, however, are good places to set up plot direction and chances to interact with NPCs outside of plot cutscenes.
  • Shops: While it normally comes with towns, it’s worth noting that your plot should account for the ability to go to the side and buy things from shops.  And even a game where every playable part is linear like Final Fantasy 13 found a way to integrate shops.  The main point is that it is generally desirable to have a way to upgrade equipment, buy items, or otherwise have a way to manually advance your character outside of leveling from combat.
  • Exploration: This one is optional for some formats (IE: those doing a more superlinear or “streamlined” game), but this is more an advisement for those who are using a more traditional format to have room for out-of-the-way stuff.  By which I mean optional dungeons, out-of-the-way towns, and the like.  They don’t need to be covered by plot, but offer something for going off the beaten path on the overworld.

Keeping this in mind, I feel it is about time to start with the formation of my own game’s plot as I have it so far into a more proper plot “skeleton”.  This is only going to be partly finished, of course, but the point is to illustrate how plot should be organized alongside gameflow.  So without further ado:

  • GAME START — because the game has to start somewhere.
  • Story starts with Leo and Friederich arriving at a village under attack by a gang of bandits.  Knights were called for to help out here, and Friederich was the nearest one there so he got sent.  And so we start with an intro [Dungeon].  I was tempted to have it start at Zeisrell’s capital, but then decided that’d be a bit too slow and I wanted to plunge the player right into the action.  It worked for more than a few games already, it works here, and Zeisrell’s capital’s going to be visitable soon enough anyway.
  • Halfway through or so, we’ll have a [Midboss] of sorts–probably some bandit lieutenant with some non-trivial backup.  Once he’s beaten he’ll set off a bomb to blast down something (either a building, rock, or a tree.  It’s big and path-blocking), separating Leo from Friederich.  He’ll be on his own until he runs into Renaud, here in part because the village hired him, and in part because he’s certain he can loot something from the bandits he takes down.
  • Continue dungeon until meeting the bandit gang’s leader, our first [Boss].  Upon beating him, Renaud notices the knights are coming and flees–noting that any loot not taken directly from the village that belonged to the bandits will be claimed as the kingdom’s money.  Not wanting to go to jail, he exits stage left.  Leaving Leo there alone, and the impression that he beat down the bandit leader solo.  Surprised (albeit a bit suspicious), Friederich decides this at least looks worthy of promotion from squire to knight–be it he got some help from presumably a nearby guard or not.
  • Cut to Zeisrell Castle, at the end of the knighting ceremony.  At this point, Leo is on his own and can freely explore the castle and attached city.  He can’t leave yet but he can talk to varied NPCs (worldbuilding funtimes).  When he walks into the knight commander’s office, though, he gets his first mission, complete with “Good timing, we need you for something.”
  • The Southwestern Archives have been under attack by an unknown person, and the local forces haven’t been able to get to them.  However, since Leo has little in the way of magical ability or knowledge himself and the Archives are loaded with spelltraps and wards and the like, the captain requisitioned someone from the Zeisrell Magic College to come along–and enter Alexis, who was unanimously volunteered.  And totally not picked as an excuse to get him out of there and stop being such an insufferable nuisance.  Introduce Sigil Crests and how to use them here, by the way.
  • With Alexis having joined up, the two may leave the castle and city.  If the player wishes to go out of the way, they may return to the village they saved earlier [Town], or head out directly for the Archives.  Entering the Archives, it’s another [Dungeon].  Halfway through the two encounter someone else–the eighth PC who I’ve decided to name Azalea, who has gone in on her own for reason she refuses to disclose.  She’ll be covered in a bit after this.
  • Further traveling into the dungeon with Azalea in tow, they eventually run into the actual culprit (note to self, flesh this guy out later), who fights the party briefly before bringing in a golem to act as a distraction as he leaves [Bosses.  Well, sequential boss].  As he leaves, he takes a tome with him–one that’s valuable historically (and kept there), but not well-understood by anyone who was on-site.  Azalea leaves, to track down the thief as the other two head out to report their failure.
  • Upon their return, however, it seems like their report is delayed in the light of a tournament of arms starting up–with the rewards of a “great quest” and the Princess’ hand in marriage pending on the success of said quest.  Impulsively, choosing to prove he’s as awesome as he thinks he is alongside wanting to accomplish that heroic fantasy in his head.
  • Following the announcement at the tournament’s commencement, cut to a scene where the princess, Caecilia, is raising her objections to her ill and bedridden father–who brings up that one of the kingdom’s generals came up with the idea to begin with.  (note to self, name and come up with a profile for this guy as well).  She goes off to contest the matter with said general.
  • Back to Leo, he gets to have his own nice little Tournament Arc while Alexis is off explaining the failed mission with the commander.  Not quite a dungeon, but it’s a chain of fights.  Regardless, plot requires him to win this set, though he can restore his HP (not his ST) between fights easily enough.
  • With the tournament finished, Leo gets his new assignment–trek far northwest to find the dragon’s lair containing [artifact, need to name this], and return said artifact.  Alexis voices his doubts–they’d be crossing Zeisrell borders into another country–but the general quashes those doubts.  Once Alexis and Leo leave the capital again, they’re accosted by Renaud–who overheard statements of a quest to kill a dragon and take its hoard.  Which, of course, can be sold for a big profit.  Awesome profit.  He joins up, and our party is back up to three.
  • Traveling northwest, it’s pointed out that the border crossing is…difficult to say the least, since [other country] isn’t too accomodating to outsiders.  Renaud points out a way past the border, though it’s via a dangerous mountain pass. [Dungeon].
  • Moving west and exiting the pass, the three move out into the open again.  [reserve some of southwest overworld for later.]  When they head north, they’ll happen upon a mining [Town] situated in front of the northern mountain path.
  • Turns out the path is the only way to get up to the desired location, but it’s been closed off because of a notably bad drake problem.  And naturally, pulling status won’t work, there’s nowhere to sneak by.  With this, the party may then head to the bar to discuss the situation.  Overhearing the discussion there is Valeska, who is about to go on the drake-slaying herself.  Overhearing the discussion, she eventually cuts a deal; she’ll help clear out the drakes, but in exchange, she gets to go along on the dragonslaying job and gets first pick of the hoard if it remains.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  And heaven help them if they try to ditch her on the job.
  • And so the four go into the mines to try and deal with the drake problem [Dungeon].  While this may look like a filler dungeon, it’s actually a way to help introduce Valeska–typically each character is going to get a dungeon to showcase their abilities in one way or another, and this one is no exception.  Some discussion about in-universe stuff happens as well (differences between dragons and drakes, for example), and eventually the party comes upon the drake broodmother, which has made the mines its nest.  [Boss] time!
  • Clearing out the mines, the party then gets to finally move north.  Some side-areas are available here, but going straight up will lead to a climb up another mountain trail [Dungeon].  Coming up to the peak, they finally find what they’ve been looking for for the time–the stated dragon’s lair.  Inside, the party ends up meeting with the owner of the lair–Kiri(she doesn’t give her name yet, of course).  In her high-energy form, and none-too-pleased with what she suspects is another group of people trying to steal what is hers–and after some exchange of words (Alexis attempts to be the voice of reason, but between Leo’s hotheadedness, Renaud’s greed, Valeska’s particular hate for dragons, and Kiri’s own possessiveness, he gets nowhere, fast) the two parties fight. [Major Boss].
  • The fight itself looks to be going to a draw when suddenly a massive surge of magical energy blasts into the room–knocking everyone out and nearly killing Leo and Kiri.  When they come to, Renaud is missing, Kiri in particular notices a few things: she’s in her low-energy (humanoid) form, she feels weak as hell, the artifact that she kept was missing, and her hoard got completely disenchanted.  Naturally, she is furious.  Alexis reveals that to save them both–largely out of panic–he tried using some locked-away magic he studied a bit of when he was at the magic college, binding their lives together.  It saved them–but with the side-effect that if one of them dies, the other does too–and it consumed the charge in all of her hoard in the process.  Kiri ends up butting heads with everyone present, before heading off on her own while the remainder of the party present follows–Leo so he makes sure she doesn’t die (so he doesn’t die), Alexis to continue making sense of things (and because he’s still following Leo), and Valeska so that once this spell gets lifted, she can resume her fight with Kiri.
  • Meanwhile, at the Zeisrell capital, the king’s state has taken a massive turn for the worse, as he lays in bed dying.  Caecilia is by his side, as are Friederich, the general from earlier, another knight (tempted to have had this guy also show up at the tournament earlier for earlier introductions), and several others present.  He gives his last words, intending to give his official endorsement of Caecilia’s rise as queen, but dies before it can be said.  The situation gets harsh as tensions rise between her and the general, before the latter leaves for the time being, and Caecilia orders everyone else out of the room to be alone…

And that’s all I have so far.  Gameplaywise, following that would obviously be another dungeon of some sort to introduce Kiri’s gameplay, and the start of a few plot threads from there.  I feel I’ve only got about the first…third or so of the game done, and there’s already been this much.  There’s already been five dungeons, four bosses (five if you count the tournament sequence as one), and six out of eight PCs introduced so far.  Writing plot out for a RPG can get tough–especially given that I admit I got a bit carried away and wrote more plot than just skeleton form.  It, however, does fit around the varied genre conceits.  I will be honest–plots can get quite long here.

Lastly, since Azalea, who was formerly the Mystery Eighth PC, was revealed, I feel it’s only fitting to use a bit of this post to introduce her character block, both in profile and statistically.  Because this post wasn’t long enough.

Azalea – She’s not giving away who she actually is or where she came from, but what is known about her is that she serves someone she just refers to as her boss.  Her behavior is…unprofessional to say the least, often provoking allies and her employer for the sake of deriving some amusement–something her boss finds themselves notably exasperated about.  Despite this, she displays a surprising amount of competence, when she feels like it at least.

Azalea’s fighting style is different to say the least, gracefully combining her knowledge of swordplay and archery with her magical talents in a manner that is notably similar to but far, far more refined than Kiri’s brute-force approach to fighting.  However, she also does not stake much on taking hits, with her preferred defenses to be either to not get hit at all, or to leave a corpse where an enemy stood.  Her skillset reflects this, with a large variety of physical/magical composite attacks backed up by a selection of spells for when the combined arts don’t work out.

  • HP 1, ST 4, POW 3, ARM 3, PEN 5, MNT 4, WIL 3, FOC 5
  • Equipment: Light Swords, Bows, Light Armor, Hats, Circlets, Foci, Off-hand Daggers, Arrows

And…that’s it.  Next post will be covering the important aspects of worldbuilding and world design with it.  Hopefully on time.  Until then, Epic Alphonse out.

Posted June 20, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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