A sort of RPG?

I’m working on my first game, and I’m looking to provide different ways to solve the various problems. Rather than solving each problem in one defined order, there will be multiple solutions (within programmed limits of course).

My idea was the player could steal, bribe, use diplomacy, violence or simply think her way through. Obviously there is a story and a goal to be achieved, but I was trying to avoid a simple linear “find sword to kill troll to cross bridge to get jewel” type thing.

thinking further along these lines, the idea of getting better at particular “skills” the more they are done comes to mind. The more times the player opts to steal things, the easier it is to keep stealing, the more she talks to people diplomatically, the more persuasive she becomes etc.

But then, aren’t there a limited number of “skills” one can have? If the player becomes an excellent thief, won’t they be a worse diplomat? There are a limited number of puzzles, and if one is solved in a particular way, that would add to the “count”; IE if there are 4 puzzles and the player completes all of them by stealing, they have 4 “thief” points but 0 “diplomat” points, so the 5th puzzle is much easier to thieve their way out of, instead of talking.

This strikes me as a kind of basic RPG, with different “classes” one can choose, not necessarily at the start of the game, but cumulatively by the players actions.

My problem is this: doesn’t that become very limiting? Does it mean that the game will play out a certain way, because the player becomes locked into their “class”? They have more “killer” points than “talker” points, so they are less persuasive, so the next problem is best solved by killing, and so on and so on. Does this limit how I can program the game? If I lead a player down a particular path, mightn’t I paint myself into a corner? Or I would I have to program all the possibilities, making things possibly more interesting for the player, but a complete PITA for me, the novice writer?

I hope I’ve explained what’s on my mind :question: I’m not so much worried about the technicalities, just looking for opinions etc. :slight_smile:

I understand what you’re saying and I think you get the consequences of that kind of system.

However – I think it can still work, though in a slightly different way. If a player solves puzzles in a stealthy way, rather than making the character better at stealth, present more opportunities for the player to use stealth in later puzzles. A player interested in a class/role gets the same benefits without the game suffering the drawbacks that you describe (i.e. a victory spiral or a narrowing options path).

Of course this is different from a typical RPG. If you want to make a RPG I’d say just go for it, and make the successive challenges more difficult like you usually do in those games.

Maybe this is the kind of thing that calls for a tiny practice program. When I first put my hands on Inform7, I made a 4-room game in which the goal is to gather supplies and make a margarita. It was a valuable experience.

So maybe you could have a teensy 4-puzzle game. In the first puzzle, you can either club a guy, talk to him, etc., and no matter what you do you end up with the treasure, but your diplomacy score rises or falls and so forth. Then the elements appear for the second puzzle and so on. Just to see what happens.

I think you do have to program 4 possibilities for every puzzle that moves the plot forward or increases score. But maybe it wouldn’t have to be the same puzzle? In other words, in the second puzzle, to get the second treasure or plot device, you can either talk to a good guy or club a different bad guy.

Just my initial thoughts.

Incidentally I think this sounds like a very cool idea. And yes, ambitious.

I like this.

But I don’t like this.

If the story’s interaction comes from such circumnavigations, then blocking off those methods to all but ones the PC has practiced a lot at – either due to practice or due to not-specialized-yet – artificially dilutes the interactivity you just programmed into it.

Rather, if you want to accrue “flavored points”, use those points as a kind of reputation among NPCs. I.e., use them to have NPCs mention the PC’s character obliquely. For example, practiced at stealth could have NPCs jumping out of their socks when the PC talks to them. “OH jeez! You surprised me. Um, yes, I think he’s over by the fountain talking to Biggs.” That sort of thing.

I really like this idea. It would be an actual RPG where you get to choose what you do, not just get set a predefined set of actions you have to do. That works fine in a shooter, but in an RPG, I think it should be more free-form, as the method you have suggested implies.

However, the dilemma you have presented is a hard one. I think the way most RPGs where you develop your own class rather than picking a predefined one, is where you pick a few different skill points at the start. For example, if I had 4 skill points to allocate at the start, I might decide to opt for 1 archery, 2 thievery, and 1 diplomacy. Then I would probably work within those boundaries in the game, as I had chosen them earlier.

I think it might be fruitful to take a look at which kind of role playing you’re focusing on.

There’s the cRPG convention, exemplified by games like Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, or, if you’ll go back a bit, Quest for Glory. Its underpinnings rest on simulating the action resolution of table-top role playing games. It does not focus on simulating the playing of a role to any perceptible degree.

Then we have the narrative games. A lot of new wave tabletop RPGs contain rules that aim for a rough-but-serviceable illusion of plausibility; this differs from the first lot in that the focus is not on displaying numbers, of on making the rules resemble the earliest war-gaming derivates. Instead, the rules of narrative games tend to be a lot slimmer, and focus on presenting narratively significant choices and outcomes. A good example of the same thinking is Emily Short’s Glass.

Then there’s a third type of game, in which RPG means and adventure (often with anime flavour) in which a protagonist and several side characters fight monsters, gather items, and solve problems. During the course of the game, they grow in stature and improve in various ways as they pursue a larger-scale quest, one that finally culminates in a climactic end battle.

(Note: Tired as I am, I’m aware that this is a gross simplification of RPG theory. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and have purposefully avoided mentioning a number of variant classifications. But I’ll try to keep this brief and relatively focused.)

That said, some concessions have to be made at the outset. The first is, I’m afraid, the old and tired adage of computers being inferior to fleshy humans. Sadly it is in this instance mostly true - a computer game master will never be as flexible or innovative as a human would be. Those free choices will have to be hard-coded. In some games, that has been shown to work perfectly well.

Secondly, there must be some appeal to displaying the rules for their own sakes, or the D&D derivates would never have exposed the numbers so deliberately in all those PC titles. If that is what you want, then I believe you too should do it deliberately and without apology. If it is not what you want, however, then the numbers or pointless terminology might only hurt the story, and be no more useful than would have a health bar floating over the heads of the main cast would have been in the Lord of the Rings movies.

As a broad generalization, I think I agree with (my interpretation of) Graham Nelson and Emily Short’s point regarding the benefits of a stripped-down library. The temptation with a large library lies in using them as-is, because they do work, and may provide useful and complex behaviour. It may just be behaviour that doesn’t quite mesh with the vision you had, or does not support the tenor and mood of the story, or which subtly flavours the setting in ways you don’t expect. And the choice then becomes to either work with the existing behaviour (easy) or override it (in some cases quite ambitious).

Inform 7 (as I understand it) requires you to build that toolbox yourself. That means it’s not going to have all that lovely functionality at the outset. But conversely, the behaviour you do put in will be judged in terms of what you want the game to be. Now, this is not the I7 forum, and the principle surely applies to other languages as well (I cannot tell, as I’m only familiar with Inform 7, and barely at that).

In short, you have to decide on the effect you want. Many titles excel because they take a conventional concept, isolate the parts of it that promote their goal, and strip away the rest. That may be useful for, among other things, honing in on exactly what it is that you want, and despite what it may look like, such stripping rarely hurts the game. Generally, it’s easier to add non-vital texture afterward, anyway.

Good luck.

To expound on my earlier theme - because somehow I wasn’t quite pompous enough the first time :slight_smile: - the danger of thinking in these terms is that you’re back in the mire of “numbers = role playing”. One could just as easily - and far more lucidly - represent such role-playing decisions as precisely that: choices, taken by the player on behalf of the character (the role) s/he plays.

It does not have to be skillsets. We could, for instance, simply put it down as aspects (or “feats”, I suppose, in the D&D parlance) of a kind, so that “Lady Protector of the Lofty Demesne” is the aspect of the character that you achieved during the course of one particular playthrough, while in the next game you instead gain the aspect “Feared Thief and Filcher of Things Unfilchable”, gaining the appropriate abilities as a flat bonus. Other methods (again, see Glass) involve creative use of relations, by which you might for instance “traverse” from one ability to the next, or from a weaker ability to a stronger ability, or from obscurity toward fame…

As you may notice (assuming I’m even being clear, here), there are endless possibilities. Most, to my admittedly biased mind, offer more promise as parts of a game than would another Final Fantasy derivate (although those, too, can be great fun).

Everyone else made some good comments here, and thinking about what has already been said should be very helpful as you organize your ideas for your game. Rather than offer any particular suggestions I’d like to just provide some food for thought that you may find useful as you think about what you’d like to do.

An important practical point to keep in mind is what ShaeSays wrote:

in the context of Eleas’ comment:

Implementing the ideas you proposed in your original post will require some complex programming, and time spent exploring simpler ideas in order to thoroughly learn the ins and outs of Inform 7 (or whatever language you’ll be using) will have a large payoff later as you begin to implement more complex ideas.

Two things that you may find useful as you think about what you’d like to do are:

  1. Find and play the old IF game called The Hound of Shadow. Although the gameplay and plot isn’t that great in this title, the game mechanics used are in my opinion fascinating and very inspiring for a person interested in making rpg-style IF games; in fact this game is the best attempt at an rpg-style IF game I have ever seen. Although the game content barely scratches the surface of the possibilities presented by its own game system, thinking about The Hound of Shadow system provides one with a cornucopia of great ideas.

  2. Read this good article on the idea of emergent game design in an IF context. In general you’ll likely want to frame your thinking about your game in terms of this concept.

I think most of the “RP” in “CRPG” must be provided by the player’s imagination; in this context the job of the game designer is to provide possibilities, and try to design in such a way that the player will be entertained regardless of the details of any particular style of play.

I think this issue is less important than one may initially think. For a player who brings their own imagination to a role-playing game, choices made by the player may to a large extent be taken as indications of the sort of game the player wishes to experience. On the other hand while this concept of autocatalysis may partially underlie the ideals of “class” or “profession” based rpg systems, all such systems are in my opinion grossly inferior to “skill point” based rpg systems because the latter greatly enhance player freedom. A look at the free GURPS Lite ruleset may be helpful in thinking about general ways to organize how your game will work.

In general, then, I think that providing a system that enables the player great freedom of choice also entails that the player take responsibility for his own role in shaping the gameplay experience. If I consistently choose to play a diplomat character over time, I won’t be surprised when my character isn’t invited to join the Barbarian Horde SWAT Team; in fact as a player I’m probably not interested in doing that even if presented with such an option under such circumstances.

Excellent points, these. One small niggle, though:

I don’t see skill-based vs class-based as a given dichotomy. In many cases, the distinction blurs or evaporates entirely.

On a personal note, I’d stay away from GURPS Lite for the purposes of crpg design. For one, it’s not very mathematically solid; for another, while it uses a great many computations and a high resolution for input it does not offer a corresponding level of meaningful output, or even close to that. Success or failure is a binary proposition, with the critical success being delegated solely to combat. But then again, while I love some of its supplements, I’ve never found it in me to like GURPS itself - your mileage may vary.

Personally, I’d much rather go with something a bit more FUDGE-like (also free), which would confer an additional benefit in that it’s more flexible and teaches you to think in terms of words and qualities, as opposed to numbers. If it was very computation-heavy and you have the cash, I’d take a long hard look at Twilight 2013, which must rank among the most efficiently powerful rule systems I have ever seen (when your first nitpick is “hey, these nutrition values look a bit wrong to me” in a game focused on detailed high-resolution combat, that says something to me). Some lighter variants of Unisystem (Witchcraft is free, but not what I’d recommend) are pure awesome. And so on.

Of course, I do recognize that everyone has their own preferred system. As a suggestion, GURPS Lite isn’t bad by itself. In the context of this thread, though, it seemed to continue the theme of unstated but unnecessary conventions, so I wanted to shake things up a bit, and ask questions like “are dice necessary,” “why divide skills and abilities,” or, in the case of GURPS, “what benefit does this great web of interdependent skills confer in practice?”

EDIT: To expound on this - because I love writing long, incoherent manifestos :slight_smile: - I’ll attempt to explain how different systems can be, and why these differences suit different atmospheres and styles of play.

Let’s say you want a game set in Byzantium. It’s going to be heavy on intrigue: poisoning, knives in the night, persuasion, seduction, and false smiles. In this game, you decide, you’d like some amount of simulated emergent behaviour (in other words, you don’t want to script everything, because then, we wouldn’t need to use any RPG system at all, yes?).

Given all that, what are the actual rules of the drama? We can make a few guesses.

  • Since assassination is central, we may want it to present a real threat - to anyone. Thus, we must have a lethal system. Strike D&D or any class-based system where sheer experience would let a mild-mannered academic shrug off repeated blows from a two-handed sword; just remember that some other class-based systems do quite well on this score.
  • Heavy emphasis on social manoeuvring. Thus, if there is to be high resolution (i.e. a lot of different ways to be good at something), we may want to place it here, and fork the social skills into a lot of different areas - some games have skills as narrow as “innocent remark” or “innuendo”. Looking at GURPS, we can see both good and bad things. Good, in that there are quite a lot of skills there; bad, because they depend on one another, and removing a large portion messes up its balance, which is shaky to begin with. Here, you may wish to look into a system that hinges on placing “bets” socially, so that you “gamble” with some sort of social “capital”, risking a loss of influence or humiliation if the gamble does not succeed.
  • Social position may be important. Thus, we’ll need a system (vanilla or modified) that lets us track how the player is viewed by society at large, and perhaps also how other people are.

And so on. When this is done, we can pick any (free) system that does the job, or appears to do the job. There are many such systems out there, some of which require assembly to start with.

Then again, of course, you may just want to create a bloody RPG and ignore my high-falutin contrarian ramblings. :stuck_out_tongue:

Wow! Such a lot of replies here with so many good ideas! :slight_smile: Thank you all very much for taking the time!

There ain’t 'alf a lot of smart people around here :sunglasses:

You’ve given me some serious food for thought. Most seriously how I want the game to play, but also how the game might be played, which is probably not the same thing.

I must admit the divergent endings of Glass is one of the things that influenced me, but also presents it’s own problems (for me). Glass is played to >an< ending. then it stops. I want to kind of build on that PC to NPC interaction as the game goes along. Obviously not in anywhere near as great a depth, but just to add more interest. EG how much do you need to talk to a barman? But if you talk to him more, does he help more? If you say the /wrong/ thing, does he clam up or attack you or…?

Then, if the player gets into the habit of talking to people (or stabbing them, or just basically interacting with them) do I then need to code responses for every damn NPC we come across and modify those responses based on previous interactions? Am I making a very deep game or simply a very deep pit for myself?

Hmm, thinking on this and Ron’s point, could one code a table of “stock” responses for unimportant NPCs? Maybe the orange seller just says “eek you’re scary” or “gosh you’re quiet” as appropriate, and other avenues of interaction are blocked off? You go to stab any of these cardboard cutout people and you get carted off to prison. You try to rob them, you fail. And so on.

Then, how does the player figure out who >I< (the programmer) felt was important enough to bother with? There’d need to be some ‘trick’ in the description I spose? Or they’d get quite annoyed…

There are a number of “choke points” in my initial game plan; crossing deserts, rivers, etc. The gamer needs to progress from one point to another, but there are limited ways of doing this otherwise I’d get too bogged down. It’s like, multiple paths leading to one junction, then branching off from there, joining back up at the next spot, if that makes sense?

Cheers again all :smiley:

I was thinking of just spicing up the NPC’s only response to something for one or two attributes at a time, such as, “[if the player is stealthy]Oh jeez! You scared me. [end if]Yeah I think he’s over by the fountain.” As opposed to making four completely distinct responses for every response they’d have had initially. I think it’s enough to just decorate a response here for stealth, a response there for strength, etc.

That would also work if you allowed the PC any two traits out of a pool of five or so.