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Thoughts on party size

Posted: Thu May 24, 2007 7:30 pm
by Jetryl
:huh: On a purely hypothetical level; was there any _hard_ reason for having a limit of four active characters, besides the issue of fitting them on the screen? Like I said, I'm just prognosticating, here - I'm not actually suggesting overhauling anything.

One problem with having multiple characters would be that as you got more characters, you would get linearly more powerful; and you would gradually just overpower any monsters that you'd encounter. Having a limit of four allows you to become more powerful in response to monsters, and yet caps the player's potential power.

It is, however, a rather hard cap; and in any games I've played, it really grates against me for how artificial it is. There is no plausible explanation I've ever found that wasn't a cheap excuse for "the game design and/or game engine can't support it".

So I'm musing about ways to handle the issue of having a potentially unlimited party. Some, preferably logical penalty needs to come of having a large party. I could see the following being logical:
- Large parties are much more visible, and much more readily attract monsters.
- Large parties are much louder, and more or less ruin attempts at stealth.
- Large parties weigh more, etc, and have trouble with certain puzzles.
- Large parties require more resources, which are sometimes in short supply.

Starting with a tacit assumption that the party would never increase much beyond the maximum number of actual characters in the game, we can make a safe guess that it wouldn't exceed around 20 or so; probably no more than 8-12. With this, we could probably tackle the monster issue by having the number of monsters scale with the player, but scale at a lower rate; such that when you have 12 characters, you have a ... 40% easier time in combat than when you had 4 characters. Enough that it would be worth the bonus of having more characters, but not so much that the game wouldn't be a challenge at all, anymore. Boss battles, I think, would probably scale to not be much easier with more characters - a little bit, though. I'd probably make most late-game boss battles unfeasible to take on without more than a few characters.

For the second issue, players would be able to take major shortcuts through dungeons, if they took a few passes at the dungeon with less than the normal amount of characters. Here, we're assuming that players could leave characters at a tavern in the local town, and then take on the dungeon with less than the usual group.

By doing so, they could possibly sneak past guards, and perhaps open a gate, making it easier for a second pass at the same dungeon, wherein they could take the shortcut that they'd earned by approaching the dungeon with stealth.

Posted: Thu May 24, 2007 11:58 pm
by AaronA
Skimming through your post, I think a small problem with larger parties would be the party menu, and of course overpowering beasts as you've mentioned. Although, I'm curious that you didn't mention the Diablo II feature, where the larger the party, the stronger the monsters, which would be a great deal less complex to implement than several setbacks. :P

Just my two cents on the subject.

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 3:07 am
by MrDowntempo
Making the monsters harder for larger parties would still be an artificial limit.

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 3:32 am
by rujasu
I like the concept, but I question the feasibility... not only do we have to balance the game for whatever one-to-four person party the player has at a given time, we also have to account for any number of characters the player has in the party? I think that would require more creativity and manpower than we have here, not to mention that we'd have to rewrite considerable portions of the game... :eyespin:

I'd rather we dedicate our efforts to making the game a deep, challenging game for the four-person party and have plenty of possible characters in that party, each with their own unique strengths and abilities.

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 4:52 am
by Rain
I agree with Rujasu, for now. The larger the parties become, the more complex balancing issues will need to be sorted out. This is a complexity we can ill afford, at least at the moment.

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 5:15 am
by Jetryl
me wrote: On a purely hypothetical level

Like I said, I'm just prognosticating, here - I'm not actually suggesting overhauling anything.

Ignore what we're actually working on, and please comment on general thoughts of game design; we're not even necessarily talking about allacrost here, just general FF-style RPGs.

Our exercise here is not to shoot down "large party sizes" - it's "Find a way to make large party sizes work".

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 2:36 pm
by Roots
I've given some deep thought to this, as it has come up before in the past. First of all: Allacrost will not have large party sizes, period, unless we completely re-do our entire battle design from scratch. The problem with large parties is not necessarily menus or map exploration or anything else for that matter; it all boils down to the battles. We have a turn-based system going on right now with a stamina bar. Image a party of 4 fighting 4 enemies. That's pretty manageable. Now imagine if you have 12 characters in that same battle. Not only do you have to find a way to "scale" the vision of the battlefield so you can view all actors, you now have to repeatedly enter commands for characters at 3x the frequency as 4 characters (ie, you have to say: attack, attack, defend, heal, attack, attack, defend, defend, heal, support, item, attack just to have each character take one action! That's absurd). So I don't think Allacrost will be the game to incorporate large character parties in RPG battles.


Now putting Allacrost aside, here's my thoughts on how to implement this if I was designing a different game from scratch. The bottleneck here is not the game or the design, its the player. We have one human controlling all the party members in battle (in a single player RPG). Think for a moment about games where you control one to a small number of actors (FPS, RPG), and games where you control a large number of actors (RTS). Generally speaking, the more actors that the player has to manage, the more automated those characters are. In a FPS you control every single last aspect of your character: movement, weapon choice, strategy, everything. In a typical Allacrost-like RPG, you give a small number of characters specific commands like "attack with sword", but you don't actually control the sword attack execution yourself; you just give the command to do it. Now in a RTS, you typically assign actions to groups of actors, and they act according (think about "attack movement", where you tell a group of actors to move to a location, and attack anything that comes in their way. So you see the more actors there are, the less the player is required to micromanage characters.

Now with those points that I made in mind, my implementation of a RPG with large character parties possible in battle is not really a RPG at all. It is a RPG/RTS hybrid. Specifically: the battles play out like a RTS, but everything else is like a RPG. There is no seperate battle screen to go to like Allacrost, but rather the characters fight on the maps that they are exploring (aka Secret of Mana). But the characters and enemies automatically engage each other with their "base" attack, and the player can oversee the battle and strategically re-assign characters to attack enemy x instead of y, cast certain spells, etc. So imagine a Chrono Trigger like game when you're in town, where the characters are all visible and walk around with you, as you interact with NPCs, shop, etc. And then out in the dungeons, imagine a Starcraft-like play where enemy units keep assailing you and you have to push forward, and know how to best defeat the group of enemies that you're dealing with.

Actually upon thinking of such a hybrid, I almost wet myself with excitement. I think this might be the best game design idea I ever had. But I need to work on finishing Allacrost first before I can get something started with this. ;)

Posted: Fri May 25, 2007 2:40 pm
by Jetryl
Roots wrote:Actually upon thinking of such a hybrid, I almost wet myself with excitement.

:cry: Me too. :heh:

Ultima 7 style parties

Posted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 6:48 am
by Jastiv
Ultima 7 had gameplay very much like that, party of up to eight people, and real time combat. The npcs in the party were controled by an AI that had options such as attack nearest, attack strongest, defend other party member etc. They all carried weapons that you equiped on them before the battle. The avatar was the only one who could cast spells and you could pause at anytime by opening a paper doll. The AI in that game was amazing, and I have seen little like it before or since. The npcs went about daily routines where they would show up in different areas such as, get up in the morning, go to the shop, go to the tavern in the evening, etc. It did however get annoying when you wanted to buy something at 3:00 am and found out that no shops were open.

I would hardly call Ultima 7 FF like though, it was more like Secret of Mana or games of that sort.

There is a free-software reimplimentation of the code called exult, however, it still uses the proprietary data files from the orginal game. Somehow, the original source code to the game got lost. Apparently, people had not heard of things such as backups and cvs back then.
The limitations of exult made me decide that it would be better to use even the crossfire/client server game to make a new rpg.

Posted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 9:25 pm
by MrDowntempo
Chrono Trigger had a maximum of 3 party members active at a time. Their explaination of only 3 people being able to travel through time at once fit the story, solved their problems, and was only slightly arbitrary. I always thought it was kinda strange and otherwise contradictory that you could travel to the end of time at any moment just to switch party members even if you didn't have the gate key or weren't even at a time gate.

It is not a solution that would work in Allacrost, or any other (hypothetical) game. It is interesting though that they were able to find a explaination that for the most part worked in the unique context of the game's world.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:14 pm
by Orymus
Large parties mean a lot of micro-management, thus, longer average fights. If you are to work with larger parties, you need to make each battle "more memorable" which means you need to have positive elements in battle that can occur only if there are more party members. Otherwise, it will just feel like more battling time for nearly nothing more. AKA, why not just one uber character or 3 super characters instead of a horde of small characters?
Do you really need to be 8 to kill that boss, or just 3 memorable ones.
The thing is, the smaller the party, the more the player becomes attached to the characters. This is how Chrono did it, also how ff did it (with 4 instead of 3 though). More party will mean more "realism". People need to become memorable in another way, because in combat, they are more part of an army than a party.
If you can work this out, a large party size will probably not hinder in any way.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Mon Jan 25, 2010 12:05 am
by rujasu
To be clear, in Allacrost there is an "active party size" of four characters. Other members can swap in and out as needed. We haven't decided fully on the mechanics of how this will work, as only four characters have been developed at this point.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:28 am
by Orymus
I particularly enjoy this, as it makes the user grow attached to his own choices. Likewise, I find it interesting when some kind of reason is invoked in-game as to the limitation itself (even if it doesnt make much sense). It has rarely been seen explained, but in chrono trigger, it is stated once that only 3 people may cross the barrier of time at once because it is so fragile (of course, the others could just cross afterwards, and magus did cross at one point, but eh, they made an effort at least).
I think it is a good effort design-wise and it is enjoyable to the player. Of course, not every game may have that form of explanation, and I think RPGs are generally accepted as is.

I do seem to fancy games with no "real-time swapping". Real-time swapping is simply an incoherence of choice. The idea of characters "waiting" in the airship is kinda better than that. It is still not the best, but then again, perhaps there is a way to explain why they all hang at a specific place or different places. Be careful however, as scattering them too much would make it boring for no reason. Also, I seem to think there is a balance between "natural swapping" and "choices".
By natural swapping I mean how people come and go in the party based on their own personal reasons. Some guy joins in for revenge and helps you out to kill someone, but then, another leaves because he has personal stuff to attend to (who knows, that personal stuff may become relevant to the whole party later). This helps story move, but it cuts on player choice.
Player choice, on the other hand, is good in that it lets the player choose of his own strategy beforehand, based on the specific attributes of each hero.
Balancing both would result in a great game. I found it particularly awesome in chrono trigger when Chrono became ungreyed after his own death, because he no longer was necessary to the immediate plot. The same could be said of most of ff6 although it has been applied better in other games...

On the other hand, it is still possible to craft a great game around 4 protagonists. FFV was a great game, although perhaps, its heroes were a bit blank and dull.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2010 6:03 am
by Roots
Orymus wrote:On the other hand, it is still possible to craft a great game around 4 protagonists. FFV was a great game, although perhaps, its heroes were a bit blank and dull.

To be clear, no one said that there were only going to be four playable characters in the game. Four characters is the number that we have designed already, and I assure you there will be many more to follow. As the story writer, I'm shooting for something on the order of 12-20 protagonist characters that will be playable in the game. Not all of them will remain in the party the entire game. Some will come for a while, leave, and never join the party again. Think of a mix of the character balance between FFIV and FFVI. That's what I'm going for. The max number of characters in the party at any given time I think we should limit to 12-16. Technically the game can support a maximum of 32 characters (because we use bit masking for certain tasks like determining if a character can use a weapon or armor).

As for addressing the artificial limitation of only four characters in game, I really don't think we need to. The limit is there because it makes the game more fun (managing more characters in-battle is more difficult) and due to technical limits like screen space. A while ago I did have an idea for how to do multiple characters in a RPG battle and wrote out my idea over on the GameDev forums. Basically the idea is to have battles be more of a RTS nature like Starcraft without bases, resources, etc.

Also when rujasu talks about swapping, we have an (unimplemented) battle swap feature where you can swap characters while in battle. Its similar to FFX, but different in that you can't swap whenever you want to (you have to wait a certain amount of time to swap) and there are other measures to prevent the player from abusing the system (which was all too easy to do in FFX). We've also talked about having multi-party battles in the game for certain scenes. Remember those times in FFVI where you had three parties of characters and could switch between them to protect something from an oncoming horde of enemies or to solve puzzles? That's the idea. But only time will tell if we do end up doing something like that.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2010 6:23 am
by Orymus
So it is a bit of crossover with tactics-ff then?

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2010 6:58 am
by Roots
No, my multi-character battles idea I had thought of being in real time, not a turn-based system like tactics. Think mouse control + Starcraft strategy and that's closer to what I had envisioned. Of course this is all completely irrelevant to Allacrost and there's no way in hell I'm even remotely suggesting we should implement such a system. Its just an idea I had wanted to share for a possible future game.

Re: Thoughts on party size

Posted: Tue Jan 26, 2010 3:00 pm
by chehob
Roots wrote:No, my multi-character battles idea I had thought of being in real time, not a turn-based system like tactics. Think mouse control + Starcraft strategy and that's closer to what I had envisioned. Of course this is all completely irrelevant to Allacrost and there's no way in hell I'm even remotely suggesting we should implement such a system. Its just an idea I had wanted to share for a possible future game.

That is an mmorpg battle mechanics we see nowadays everywhere - replace each player-controllable character with AI and you'll get the same multi-character combat for single-player.
On the other hand, in case of controlling each party member the problem is in micro-management. Example: Warcraft III. Imagine you have three heroes, each having 4 unique spells/abilities. Try to control each hero, use all their spells effectively, try to keep them alive and all this in real-time combat - it is not easy as it might seem. This is a very simple example, where hero has only 4 abilities, however in case of real RPG, character usually has a big set of skills/spells and it takes time to get accustomed controling one character in real-time. The starcraft units haven't much skills, that's why it seems easy to control 10 marines, 2 tanks and 1 battleship - each of these have only one active ability. There is one workaround about this - make the combat not intense, where received hits are not so critical and cannot decide who will win, rather than overall strategy like using certain spells on certain targets or maybe something else, but I can hardly imagine such design :shrug:

I was thinking of the main reason having large party and one is a boss fight.
The fact I don't like the boss monsters in classic rpgs - most of them are not challenging at all - it just takes 2-5 more blows to defeat the boss. Imagine hero going through dungeon filled with puzzles - sometimes it may take much time to solve what you should do and in the end what do you receive? A short two-minute battle with so-called "boss". What part of this dungeon was more challenging you ask. :huh:
In case of mmorpg boss monsters are very tough usually:
They have far greater health than any common mobs or any player and deal huge amount of damage. Example: Ragnarok Online. 99 lvl player's hp ranges from 8k to 20k. 99 lvl boss monster can have hp from 1.5m to 5m, while dealing 2,500 ~ 6,500 raw damage per hit. There are also some uber skills used by boss monsters like Earthquake - the effect of this skill is the following - deals huge amount of damage which is split between every enemy on the screen. On one person the damage may come to 200k, which is an obvious death, while party of 12 person (max. for RO) may share this damage and have each player receive the damage of 15k - this is still a big number though, but it can be battled and also encourages players to gather full-party. Also, there may be some effects that can be triggered under some circumstances - like you're battling a boss, everything is ordinary - "tank" characters absorb damage, healers heals them and the damage dealers, duh, deal damage. Nothing unusual happens until the boss reaches some limit like having only 40% hp left or something - that is when the hell starts like continuously spawning slave monsters, spamming offensive skills, going power-up'ed (+300% damage) or cast invisibility and healing self at the same time, which makes the fight more challenging, therefore more interesting. Of course, this must be balanced carefully, because monster that cannot be killed at all is nothing more than frustration.
I was also liking the idea of boss monster in Resident Evil 3, though it's not an rpg actually. There is nearly one boss character which chases after the player through the whole game till the end. No matter how many times you kill him - he comes after you at the next alley or something like that.