RPG-Flavoured Parser Thing - A Penny For Your Thoughts

I’ve had an idea bubbling away in my brain-parts for some time for a parser game incorporating a balance of traditional IF puzzling and light RPG elements (turn-based battles, hit points etc). It will very much be a narrative-based game rather than a hardcore dungeon-crawly statfest. I would like to know…

Whether this is something that interests you, and if not what turns you off about this kind of game.

What other games have already attempted this (Kerkerkruip and Wumpus 2000 are on my list to check out so far), and in what respects you personally feel they succeeded or failed for you as the player (or author!).

Any other game design features (or anything else) that you feel would be important to consider.

I’d like an general and open discussion / debate, hence not providing much detail about my game at this stage, but I’ll filter some in and ask more specific questions as we go along, and when relevant.

Thanks for reading.

Edited to add a disclaimer for Marshal’s benefit: The penny referred to in the post title is purely symbolic and holds no cash value. :smiley:

I’d be into it. But I’d try anything at least once. . .

now where’s my penny? :imp:

Well, as far as combat is concerned - which is I think the major difference between (adventure-game-flavored) IF and (tactical-combat-flavored) RPG, - I’d say keep it short, but make each decision-making stage of it important. Maybe some scarcity would come in handy too. What, you have 5 special attacks and 10 magic items? Tough luck, you can use one special attack and one magic item per battle. Or simply make them expensive to use instead of declaring limits outright.

But yeah, what I’d do with battle in a text-game would be to keep it short and well-described, with some interesting stuff to attempt beforehand maybe and some interesting consequences in the middle and after it’s done; it would bore me to tears otherwise. Oh, and I would stay the hell away from random encounter-y trash mobs, it doesn’t play well in text I think.

Lots and lots of people want to do this, and there have been very few even partial successes.

Robb Sherwin has been doing this since way back in the day (A Crimson Spring, Fallacy of Dawn, Necrotic Drift, Cryptozookeeper), with decidedly mixed success. Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom is more successful, I think, though that’s largely because it really embraces its pulp-fantasy, big-dumb-guy-who-solves-his-problems-with-violence roots.

Some things that are troublesome about IF RPGs:

  • IF is not great about describing things involving relative positioning and other inexact physical relationships; indeed, it doesn’t have an awesome track record with action scenes generally. (Some people are really good at them. But it’s not the medium’s natural strength.)
  • Slugfest combat is really boring. If combat is just variations of >ATTACK ORC and doesn’t end within a handful of turns, the player’s going to lose interest fast; you need to offer the player significant, interesting choices.
  • Combat you can’t lose isn’t exciting; combat you [i]can[i] lose encourages heavy abuse of UNDO or strategic saves; banning UNDO makes your game cruel. There are solutions to this, but none of them are perfect.
  • Getting the texture of combat to merge with the texture of your other writing is not simple. If you’re writing awesome prose, and fights are important to your story, there should still be awesome prose in the fights. (But it should also be terse and efficient at delivering information and not too repetitive. Getting lots of things right all at once is difficult.)
  • Heavy use of a combat engine tends to push you into genre assumptions about violence being more controllable, less random, less traumatic and damaging than it actually is. A combat engine that’s actually fun to play inevitably restricts you to a more cartoony kind of story. (This is fine if you already want to do that, but it’s a limitation to keep in mind.)

I’d definitely read Victor’s development blog for Kerkerkruip, also.

(This is absolutely not a ‘don’t do it’, fwiw; it’s a ‘lots of people are interested in this: it may be more challenging work than it initially appears, but if you get it right a lot of people will be very pleased.’)

I would avoid hit-point-based or dice-based mechanics as much as possible in this format, personally – unless you’re prepared to commit lots of time to balance issues. Probability does funny things.

Additive armor (+5% per bonus) gives multiplicative bonuses to survival. Consider:

  • if you are hit on a roll of 16 out of 20, then a +5% armor bonus (to 17) means you take -25% damage over time.
  • if you are hit on a roll of 17 out of 20, then a +5% armor bonus (to 18) means you take -33% damage over time.
  • if you are hit on a roll of 18 out of 20, then a +5% armor bonus (to 19) means you take -50% damage over time.

Armor of 19 is twice as strong as armor of 18. Counterintuitive but true, in this case.

Also consider battle scaling:
If damage and hit points go up for the player every level, and tougher enemies have more damage and hp too, then every combat will last about as long as every other. Harder monsters won’t seem harder. There’s no way to make an exciting end game with a long combat, and frankly why would you? HP attrition isn’t all that interesting by itself. Giving the player interesting new tactics is what will keep the game exciting.

I’m investigating ways to make conversation nodes into combat nodes. Everything could be prewritten; short, brutal combats can be written so; daring combats (on the ledge of a cliff, in the rigging of a pirate ship) can be written as needed.

Emily has mentioned the possibility of using Versu’s conversation engine for non-conversation situations (anything, roughly, where there are many many possible things to do, but only a few of them are contextually appropriate or likely at any given time, and that context is always changing; combat and sex are among the more obvious possibilities.) Of course, you’d have to wait for the author tools to become available first.

I’ve already made modifications to Inform’s Simple Chat. I only have to test it.

But enough about me. Like you, maga, I’m not saying “don’t do combat mechanics.” I’m saying they’re difficult for a number reasons, some more obvious than others.

Just to add to the names thrown around, “Beyond Zork” is an important name, and “Advanced Xoru” a curious one.

Personally, the idea of an RPG in an IF environment, rather like “Xoru”, is music to my ears. Dunno why. My idea of an incredibly cool game would be a Kerkerkruip where, amidst all the tactical considerations, you also had puzzles to solve. I believe “Xoru” was rather like that.

…well, not like that in comparison to “Kerkerkruip”, obviously. :stuck_out_tongue: Just a curious cross of both with more of an RPG feel (or maybe I mean CRPG?) than an IF feel (which is more Beyond-Zork-Y, or Robb Sherwin-Y).

I would love a well-done stat-based IF, but when they are made I often worry that all the complexity will go into creating number boosting items and whatnot, and mathematical power-ups aren’t that interesting to me, although building up a character’s skill with practice IS interesting to me. Basically, I worry that the design heavy lifting has gone into the wrong thing: which I consider to be having me collect charms and trinkets rather than focusing on climbing a solid and interestingly arranged skill tree. But that’s just a suspicion and a fear: it certainly doesn’t mean a combat/stat IF must necessarily require a lot of otherwise useless grinding just to squeeze an extra +1 out of some random drop item, along with weak story, and key-in-lock puzzle design. This is just the combination I fear when a game goes in this direction. (I have not yet played any of the more recent stat-based IF, though, so let this not be seen as a judgement on them.)

As to implementation style, I prefer not to see the stats myself; I prefer to see text descriptions that represent the different levels of skill or of damage. (i.e. I prefer to ‘You are lightly wounded’ instead of seeing ‘you lost 2 hit points’ – and ‘You are supremely skilled with a sword’ rather than ‘you have 20 skill with a sword’ – but that’s just a matter of taste I suppose.)

I’d certainly be interested in checking out a turn based system. In fact, I’ve recently been putting together a turn-based combat system of my own using inform 7.

I agree with Trip about trash enemies. They should be avoided if your game world/combat system can afford to lack them. Meaningful and strategic battles against enemies that matter are much more preferred even if that means fewer instances of combat overall. Having a ton of “anonymous” disposable monsters littering the world tends to get repetitious even with an exciting graphical combat system. This becomes especially troublesome when the player becomes too powerful for them to pose even a minimal challenge.

For a parser-based game, definitely make an effort to provide command abbreviations. This will save a tremendous amount of time and typing for the player especially if battles become long and/or frequent. For any kind of control interface, other kinds of convenience features are also welcome. We never want the player feel like they are struggling with the interface itself, so streamlining and automation of some behaviors is a good thing. Of course, you don’t want the game to play itself either, so don’t go overboard.

What Laroquod said about the numbers is also a good point. Shielding the combat system’s numbers by way of providing more subtle textual/graphical hints can make the combat seem more organic and less computational. An example of this lies in some of the Might and Magic series. In games 3, 4 and 5, you did not directly see damage numbers in combat. Attacks against enemies were expressed by blood splatter graphics or elemental effects that increased in size to imply bigger damage.

You should look at 'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus too. It’s short, but integrates both combat and conversation into one tense situation.

I also want to combine ATTACK and Threaded Conversation, but haven’t yet. If you’re up for a challenge, that might get you somewhere quite awesome.

See this IFDB poll too.

First, this kind of game always interests me :slight_smile:

Do you know about Eamon, mostly useless? This is an engine designed to mix RPG stats and text adventuring. It started on the Apple II circa 1980. The engine concentrated mostly on the RPG side, and due to memory restrictions, there wasn’t a lot of room left for people to work in puzzles in general. Some games were all combat, some mixed combat and puzzles, and a few gutted the combat programming to make room for puzzles. Though there was a hub (The Main Hall) and you could take your character from one adventure to another (impressive in 1980), every adventure was user written, resulting in no cross-adventure balance and general massive erratic-ness. That said, it was lots of fun and often wacky. With at least 260 adventures written for it over more than a decade (type ‘Eamon’ in IFDB), I imagine it remains the most developed for text-RPG hybrid that has existed.

To help folks play Eamons easily today, Frank Black has created Eamon Deluxe, an all-in-one MS-DOS port of the Apple II Eamon system for the emulator averse. Whether on Mac or Windows, you just double click the app to run it. It comes with the Ultima graphics style Main Hall hub plus hundreds of the original games. This is the best and easiest way to play Eamons today.

This is basically an informational post by me. Your game already sounds like it wants to be more in-combat tactical than Eamons have ever been able to, even with little combat.

I feel with making a combat game today, en masse you’re up against the highest number of prejudices that text gamers can bring to bear :slight_smile: A lot of the player’s bill of rights stuff is inherently anti-combat. Learning from dying. Some people don’t want a dieroll to determine anything. UNDO is combat’s enemy, etc. I think maga already summed up the challenges pretty well in this topic.

I notice the tactics thing in boardgame culture, too. I grew up with Talisman, Dungeon, lots of Games Workshop games. If you read a lot of reviews of Talisman written by younger boardgamers playing it today, they’re always complaining about how random it is. I never even thought of it that way. All I can say is I’m personally fine with chance that’s well-incorporated into the overall design, but I think I’m now part of a minority in this respect.

I released my own text, combat and puzzles game Leadlight in 2010. It’s based on the Eamon engine (but a significantly modified version of it). There are definitely a lot of puzzles in it, as evinced by the size of the cluesheet. And as much combat. Based on survival horror console ideas, the strategies for combat are based on what you do outside of combat - building your character’s equipment, finding and rationing sources of health, picking your fight order. It is definitely about learning from dying and optimising your play. It was in IFComp where I now know people don’t have time to contemplate as much strangeness as the game already presented in that context (being on the Apple II, in an emulator, with combat) and also replay a game during comp time. That said, a lot of people managed to barrel through with brute-force saving and reloading within combat!

I doubt you’ll want to emulate it, but I obviously invite you to play it. Except if you wait a little bit, a new version of it will be coming out. So don’t play it yet :slight_smile:

  • Wade

If I had the skills, I myself would go in a different direction for IF combat, more along the lines of Ace of Aces.
There would be a number of postures, and moves from one posture to another. Both sides attempt a move, and the result is determined by the combination (and somewhat randomised by stats: are you proficient in that move, are you wounded, tired, …)
A huge table would provide gripping text for all the possible combinations, maybe even various text options, or text that takes history in account, so that the story of the battle becomes an epos with little or no repetition.

Starting from a small number of possible moves, this could be gradually built up by adding moves, positions, and interactions, with text varying through variant descriptions, stat dependencies, history dependencies, enemy dependencies, … until combat descriptions would have lost their repetitiveness and gained a story line.

If I had the skill…

Firstly, I am astonished (as always) by the abundance of helpfulness on intfiction.org! Thanks to everyone for their thoughts. I have drawn up a list of all the points mentioned here so far, and each and every one will be carefully considered during the design process of my game.

It’s great to see that people do (still) want to play this kind of thing. It’s also great that I agree with pretty much everything you’ve all said! Of course, you can’t please everyone all of the time, but it seems we’re on the same page, so that’s good. Now, I’m not going to start rambling on about my plans in detail as I don’t want to skew the helpfully open discussion. However, I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on the following…

Biep, that game sounds awesome. And with the grandness scaled down many times it’s not a million miles away from what I’d like to do…

I think an extremely simple-for-the-player combat system with a huge amount of variation could be fun. Rather than having legions of weapons, spells etc to keep track of, the PC will choose whether to attack, use a special ability or defend the team, and the other characters’ actions will be randomly determined - each will either attempt an attack or a special move. Each character will behave differently depending on the type of location and what/who they are fighting, and there will be LOTS of random text substitutions to keep things interesting / non-repetitive. Actions can fail with humorous results, occasionally a move will be ultra-effective, and so on. This will keep the fighting short and snappy and mean each round of a battle can be described in a single prosey paragraph with plenty of variation.

It’s also worth noting that I dislike permanent death in general, and I’m far more likely to go with the Final Fantasy-type waking up in an inn when everyone dies rather than “Hey, start all over again!” Oh, and yes, I agree that levelling up is really quite pointless, though I might have certain character’s abilities enhance in stages.

From the start I’ve been determined to keep stats to a minimum, but until Laraquod’s post I hadn’t considered avoiding numbers altogether. I like the idea of pure text personally, but would getting rid of number stats completely put some people off, or spoil the fun of stats?

Wade, I’ve read about Eamon, and it sounds fun, but as I’ve already wrapped my head around (a very small part of) Inform 7 I think I can achieve what I want to there (no doubt with plenty of help from the forum). Leadlight sounds great, so let me know when the new version’s ready!

I haven’t responded to all the points I’d like to, but I really don’t want to ramble on too much just yet. Thanks again, everyone!

Aesthetically I’m in the no-visible-stats camp. From actual play reports, though, I think it’s worth bearing this in mind: if stats are tactically important, players are really going to want direct access to them, and will be frustrated by authorial attempts to obscure them.

Say, for instance, you have a hidden Fightiness score of 1 to 10, but you describe this with just three descriptions: feeble, capable and mighty. Under the hood, though, the difference between 1 (feeble) and 3 (feeble) is non-trivial. That’s information that the player could use; they’ll be weaker tacticians for not knowing it; and they’ll want access to it. (In Olivia’s Orphanorium I aimed to keep the real stats somewhat obscured from the player, on the basis that this wasn’t meant to be a min-maxing kind of sim. Lots of players were confused by that; those who understood it generally didn’t like it.)

So I think in that situation, it’s ideal to either give the player access to the stat (maybe not obviously, but where they can find it if they go looking) or simplify the combat system so that Fightiness only has a range of 1 to 3, matching the descriptions one-to-one. The other option is to make stats not tactically important - adding flavour, but not really having much effect on success - but that kind of diminishes the point of having stats in the first place.

The final option - which is perhaps the hardest - is to make the combat system so pleasant, straightforward and smooth-playing that the player never wonders about their underlying stats. (Good luck with that with IF players. Bunch of take-shit-apart-to-see-how-it-works folks around here, let me tell ya.)

Many good points there, and yeah, you can’t trust players as far as you can throw 'em. Well, I certainly don’t want pointless stats… I think I’m going to go with a VERBOSE type thing, where the player chooses between no stats, a bit of stats, or full on stattage. The numbers, when preferred, will be slotted into the prose. That way (hopefully) everyone’s happy!

On the subject of whether players will be put off by non-stat roleplaying, I have a quick n dirty system I use for rolling dice. The core philosophy of the system is that +1s just don’t matter. Neither do +2s really. With one exception (that being armour) the difficulty only ever gets shifted by increments of d6es. I’ve played improv BarPG with friends with this system plenty of times and no one was ever put off by not being told the difficulties in number form, even when I rolled the dice in secret.

It’s mostly pretty familiar, a skill-based system in which you roll under your skill on a d20, and add or subtract d6s from the roll like so…

d20 - 4d6 … Tremendously Easy TE
d20 - 3d6 … Extremely Easy XE
d20 - 2d6 … Very Easy VE
d20 - 1d6 … Easy E
d20 …Average A
d20 + 1d6 … Hard H
d20 + 2d6 … Very Hard VH
d20 + 3d6 … Extremely Hard XH

Because this system is used ubiquitously, people get very used to it and we can just talk about things in terms of how much Easier or Harder they are (i.e. how many d6 to add or subtract).

Feel free to steal this or adapt it, I’ll even link you to the design document for the whole system if you’re interested. I release everything into the Public Domain, anyway.

Link away, by all means. I can’t promise I’ll use (or even understand) it, as my knowledge of table-top (or drinking den) roleplaying is, well, zero, but I’d be very interested in taking a look.