Category Archives: Game Design
November Update

Spankers, Spankees and Switches of All Ages (18 and above),

First weekend of the month, so monthly update. I’ve finished the first draft of the first day of content, as well as most of the tweaks to the engine and to the first dungeon that I want to make at this point. The next step is to update the customization choices at the beginning of the game, then spend about a week ripping my hair out and swearing as the game crashes like a racetrack full of drunk drivers driving monster trucks. Once the game starts crashing like a racetrack with a single drunk driver in a monster truck, I’ll toss it off to my beta testers, and then we’ll get the first day posted.

I was planning on posting the content I had for episode 2 of Potion Wars, but apparently compiling LaTeX into PDF is more complicated than it should be on a Mac. Useability my ass. Anyway, I’ll see if I can get it compiled and posted tomorrow.

For the rest of the post, I’m going to talk some about the structure I have envisioned for this game, particularly the dungeon crawling part. In Potion Wars, I was trying to make each fight fairly challenging (at least until you gained a few stats, and some more health/mana). Basically, at first you needed to run back to the healer after each battle. However, in Crimson Glow health and mana have been merged into a single stat, energy. Furthermore, there aren’t really going to be healers (or potions).As a result, energy is going to become a very limited and precious resource. Finally, the emphasis is going to be on battles with supervillains rather on generic fights, and you should feel like a superhero when fighting generic enemies. So you should be able to mow through lots of generic baddies.

To capture this, dungeons are going to be much more about energy conservation. Generic battles won’t be particularly challenging, but they will wear on the player, and a big part of the strategy will be determining the most energy-efficient means of completing the dungeon, so that you have the energy to defeat the supervillains. Furthermore, generic enemies will be very fragile (i.e. non-super enemies will have 1 energy, with the possible exceptions of the first boss), and they won’t really have any special skills. So you should be able to one-shot them easily. However, there will be a lot of them, and they’ll be strong enough that you can’t just hold down the attack button and blindly mow through them. On top of that, there will be energy attrition. Basically, each round your character will lose some energy (because it takes energy to keep your powers going). The amount you lose depends on the difficulty level:

Hand: You lose no energy each round, and supervillains lose lots of energy each round. Resting also takes no time. This is the difficulty for people who want to breeze through the game and experience the story and spankings without too much challenge.

Strap: You and supervillains lose a roughly equal amount of energy (villains may lose a little bit more, because they didn’t have to slog through a dungeon) each round. Returning to your room and resting takes some time, but you should be able to have enough time to rest once or twice without ignoring too many other responsibilities. This should be a good, reasonable difficulty for people who enjoy RPGs.

Cane: You lose quite a bit of energy each round, and supervillains don’t lose as much. Resting takes a significant amount of time (several hours). This is the difficulty I will be balancing on (mostly because if I’m not careful, this difficulty could be unwinnable), and will (hopefully) require a careful use of skills.

 

Speaking of skills, this is another difference from Potion Wars. In Potion Wars, there were a fair number of stats (six, I believe) and everyone learned the same set of skills, In Crimson Glow, there will be far less emphasis on stats, and far more on skills. There will only be three stats: Strength, Speed, and Willpower. Strength controls how good you are at grappling, Speed controls your regular attack, and Willpower will generally influence how much energy you have, and how strong your skills are (though Strength and Speed will also play a role depending on each skill). However, I plan on there being a lot of skills, and each skill will have multiple levels. Not only will there be skills that are general-purpose (like Crimson Punch), but there will also be skills that are very situational. For example, there might be a supervillain who is a flyer, and really fast, but not very strong. So you can learn a skill that allows you to anchor your opponent to a building, drastically reducing her effectiveness. Of course, anchoring may not be effective against other opponents who are on the ground or something.

Basically, my plan for each supervillain is that you will have two avenues open to defeating them:

  1. Patrol a lot and get high enough stats that you can beat them using just the general-purpose skills. This will be the more challenging route, but it will be necessary if you want to be able to beat supervillains the first time you meet them.
  2. Get your butt spanked the first time (most likely), and then develop a special-purpose skill that neutralizes the supervillain’s strength, or inflates a weakness.

In particular, I want each villain to have their own combat style (as much as they can given the relatively simplistic combat system) with their own unique and powerful skills, and I want the player to be able to develop counters to those skills. It always bugs me when enemies have super-powerful skills, and you have no way of countering them (I’m looking at you Avernum: Escape from the Pit and your stupid acid raining bosses, and utter lack of silence spells, or elemental protection spells or cure-all spells for the entire early game). I just love being able to take an enemy’s strength and turning it into a weakness.

A little sample of some of the skills you’ll be learning:

Crimson Slap: This game’s version of firebolt. Standard single-enemy damage skill. Higher levels make it more powerful, but also cost more.

Crimson Armor/Boots/Eyes: Increase strength/speed/willpower at the expense of the other two.

Crimson Cord: Pull an enemy into a grapple.

Crimson Flare: Blind every enemy in the battle, giving them a significant penalty to speed.

Crimson Bind: Wrap the Crimson Cord around an enemy and essentially paralyze them for a few turns.

Furthermore, different skills will be unlocked based on levels gained in other skills. For example, to unlock Crimson Bind, you need to get three levels in Crimson Cord, and to unlock Crimson Spanking you need to know Crimson Bind and Crimson Slap.

Basically, I want a lot of the depth in the game to come from skills. Which skills should you train? Which ones should you use in this situation or that situation? What kind of character do you want to play?

 

Edited to Add: Furthermore, the nature of this game means it is much more conducive to having help from outside writers. In particular, I’m looking for writers who’d be willing to adopt one of the player’s roommates (there are five. Three have been adopted already). Basically each roommate will be associated with one of the basic choices you can make each day:

  1. Patrol – Taken (by me!)
  2. Work – Taken
  3. Study
  4. Party
  5. Train – Taken

And the events of each activity will further develop that character. For example, one of your roommates will be a colleague at your work, and the work events will feature him/her heavily. My dream is to have someone else working on each of the other activities. That way, I can focus just on writing the Patrol events, on improving the game engine, and merging everything into a coherent episode. If you’re interested, send an e-mail to my google account sprpgs, or contact me on animeotk (my handle is “aka”) and we’ll talk.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Spankers, Spankees, and Switches of All Ages (18 and above),

So I have some bad news. I’ve decided to put Potion Wars in a coma. I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing the second episode, mostly because of massive tone clash. The premise just demands a very dramatic, down to earth tone. Dramatic, down to earth tones really do not mix well with spanking porn. Rape, torture, and incest porn? Sure. Just look at the success of Game of Thrones. But spanking has just too much whimsy to really work well with a story about a drug war being fought along racial lines.

Some of you are probably slapping your forehead and saying “No duh, dumbass!” In my defense, the story kind of got a little bit out of my control. Stories do that sometimes. Note that I’m not doing this lightly, and it’s absolutely not because I got bored and found a new, shiny idea. I love Potion Wars, I love the story that’s taking shape, and I very much want to tell it. This just isn’t the right place.

So the next question is, what now? One option would be to take Potion Wars, rip out all the porn, and release it somewhere as a vanilla game. However, this website is called “spankingrpgs.” Not “baitandswitchrpgs.”  I’m going to write a full-fledged spanking RPG if it kills me. I just need to be careful to select a premise and tone that are conducive to spankings. So here are my constraints:

  1. The game needs to be an adventure tale that is ostensibly dramatic. It does not have to be serious and angsty, but I’m not a comedic writer. The content should be dramatic, even if the tone is not.
  2. The game should have an element of whimsy, silliness and absurdity. Spankings are absurd, and they will fit much better if there are other elements of absurdity already.
  3. There needs to be plenty of natural opportunities for spankings, both top and bottom. Ideally without making the spanker look like a total douchebag (unless the spanker is villainous and they’re supposed to be total douchebags).

After considering these constraints for a while, I decided that one of the genres that best fits is the superhero genre. Particularly, Silver Age superheroes. Silver Age superhero comics were more than a little absurd, but the characters took them more or less seriously (so we get a rather absurd tone, but also some drama). Furthermore, a Spider-Man style superhero (i.e. a part-time superhero whose trying to balance work, life, and superheroing) provides a ton of natural spanking opportunities. First, we get the obvious superhero-supervillain showdowns. You can spank supervillains for trying to take over the world for the umpteenth time, and supervillains can spank you for trying to foil their plans for the umpteenth time. Plus, Silver Age supervillains tended to be ridiculously over the top, and I could totally see a Silver Age style supervillain giving a Silver Age style superhero a sound spanking, and vice versa. Furthermore, there are plenty of opportunities for spankings as the player tries to live a normal life. You stood your boyfriend up, because you were fighting across a bunch of rooftops? That’s a paddling. You slept through class because you were up all night trying to find the villain’s hideout? That’s a paddling. Forgot your mother’s birthday? Paddling.

My basic thoughts are the following, at least for the first season:

Each episode of the first season will have a new villain. You’ll have an initial encounter with the villain, that will be fought either to a draw, or the villain will win. Then, over the course of the episode you’ll need to prepare for the next showdown with the villain. This could be done a variety of ways:

  1. You could patrol a lot. Basically, beat up a bunch of generic criminals to get stronger, and interrogate the underworld about this villain (note that patrols will have some unique content for each day, just like other events. You won’t just be grinding against generic enemies).
  2. Do some research. Maybe the villain is reminiscient of an animal of some kind. So the animal’s weaknesses may be analagous to the villain’s. Or maybe you study news footage of your last battle to better determine what their strengths are, and then develop a new skill to counter them.
  3. Try to learn more about the villain’s personal life. See if maybe you could use a bit of psychological warfare to manipulate them, or lure them into a location where they won’t be as effective (i.e. lure a flying enemy into the sewers).
  4. Some combination of the above three.

Furthermore, you’ll have obligations you need to meet outside of superheroing as well, like homework, family get togethers, a job, etc.

Each episode will be broken into days, and I’ll release content a day at a time. Each day will be a fairly small update, so that we don’t have massive droughts like with Potion Wars. Each episode will have a list of tasks you’ll want to accomplish, perhaps broken into subtasks (i.e. you have a midterm at the end of the week, so each day will have a subtask to study three hours. If you study three hours every day of the episode, you’ll get an A+ on the test). However, you will not have enough time to do all of them. You could do all of them so-so, or a few of them well, but you can’t do all of them completely. Furthermore, you’ll absolutely have to spend a lot of your time preparing for the final fight with the supervillain, because at the climax of the episode you’ll have to defeat them. So if you spend too much time doing personal life stuff, you may find yourself in an unwinnable situation.

Of course, you need to do moderately well at the day-to-day tasks as well. Perhaps if your grades get too low, you’ll have to move back in with your parent (you’re in college, FYI), which will make it harder to patrol and research villains. If you do too poorly at your job, you’ll be forced to spend extra time at work, giving you less time to patrol and research villains.

The supervillain combats will probably be a bit more elaborate than the battles in Potion Wars. Not a whole lot more elaborate (I’ll be using the same game engine, just with a few minor tweaks). But many of the combats will probably be multi-phase. You’ll fight for a while, then there’ll be a cut-scene, and you’ll get options (which options will depend on the choices you made over the course of the episode). The outcome of the options will determine who gets a bonus in the next phase of battle, you or the villain. Obviously there will be a lot of save-games to minimize repetition. There will probably be an auto-save at the end of each phase of battle, and an autosave at the beginning of each day.

Finally, I’ll probably introduce more customizations. In particular, I’ll give players the ability to control the gender of other characters. You’ll have the options of:

  1. Specifying the genders you prefer to see for spankees. This will generally influence the genders of supervillains (since you are required to defeat them at the end of every episode), and perhaps a side-kick if you get one (no promises!). If you turn off the ability for enemies to spank you, then all generic enemies will be this gender.
  2. Specifying the gender you prefer to see for spankers. This will generally influence the gender of authority figures (your boss, your parent, etc). If enemies are allowed to spank you, and both the spankee and spanker gender are the same, then all generic enemies will be the selected gender. Otherwise, the gender of generic enemies will be chosen at random.
  3. Let the game choose at random (or let characters use their preferred genders if they have one).
  4. Pick and choose on a case-by-case basis. This has the downside of interrupting the flow of the story a bit, but gives you more fine-grained control.

Note that this isn’t guaranteed to affect all characters. For example, I plan on pulling Carrie into this game as your best friend, because I just love writing her. She’s going to be female either way, because she will forever be a woman in my head.

The downside to giving players control over the gender of other characters is that there probably won’t be as many sex scenes as I’d planned in Potion Wars (i.e. few to none), because there’d be so many damn combinations to write (male-female, female-male, female-female, male-male).

Furthermore, dialog choices probably won’t have as much of an effect as it did in Potion Wars. This is because I want the various tasks you can choose each day to have significantly different content each day, and I do want to release content at a reasonable pace. I do still want to give you opportunities to influence conversations, and I want characters to remember them, but you probably won’t get as many dialogue choices, and your choices probably won’t have as many and as long-lasting effects as I’d planned for Potion Wars. For example, in most conversations, you’ll probably get one choice at the beginning, in which you’ll have two to three options of various personalities (cooperative, aggressive, bratty perhaps). Then, the rest of the conversation, I’ll put words in your character’s mouth, based on the personality you chose. So if you chose the bratty option, then I’ll give your character bratty dialogue in that scene.

That being said, I do want some activities in earlier episodes to influence later episodes, so I’ll try not to railroad you too hard. As always, it’s a careful balancing act.

Thoughts? In particular, feel free to make costume or supervillain/hero suggestions. Also, if there’s a particular personality you’d like the opportunity to roleplay (an angsty loner hero? A pompous bastard? A cowardly lion?) let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for personality suggestions, and if I’m going to spend time writing dialogue for a particular personality, I want to make sure there’s at least one person that wants to play it!

Thoughts on Stat Gaining Mechanic

Spankers and Spankees,

First, I’ll be spending next week visiting family, so I won’t be on until the last week of May (a little over a week from now).

Second, I spent a few hours last night playing Dark Eye: Blackguards. Haven’t played it much, so I don’t have much of an opinion about it, though it looks like it has potential. There are a few things I don’t like (the heavy emphasis on randomness in combat, especially the high failure rate of spells), but there are also some things I do like (the combat grid is well done, the combat itself is fun despite the heavy random element, and the story has me intrigued, though I’m 99.99999% certain it’s going to fall into the painfully cliche “My old friends are members of an Evil Cult Planning to Unleash the Supreme Evil/Take Over the World/Steal Grandma’s Pacemaker” plot). Actually, that last one sounds like it’d be kind of fun…

One thing that I really really like is the stat gain system: after each fight, your characters gain experience (groundbreaking!). This experience goes into a pool of points that you can then use to level up your skills. So far at least, after every fight I’ve gained enough experience to level up at least one skill, and often more than one. I like this because it gives a sense of gradual improvement. After every fight my characters are slightly better than they were before. I like that. And when I like something, I start thinking about how I could build a similar mechanic…

So here are my thoughts. Currently, every action gives you 3 stat points. Where those points are allocated depends on the action performed. For example, attacking allocates 2 stat points to Dexterity, and 1 stat point to Strength. Every time enemies attack, you gain one stat point, depending on where you got attacked. While I like how organic this approach is, there are a few problems. For one thing, your defense also relies heavily on these stats. Therefore, in order to keep yourself from being one-shotted by a physical attack, your squishy mage will have to waste turns smacking baddies with his staff while your enemies laugh. Similarly, with physical attackers (assuming those attackers even know any spells. If they don’t know any spells, they can only gain those stat points by being zapped by spells). Second, if you decide during the game that you need to pivot (i.e. focus more on magic and less on physical attacks, or vice versa), then you need to waste precious rounds doing something your character sucks at. This will almost certainly be frustrating, especially if I can balance the combats well enough that they’re close. So this is actually a very rigid approach to character improvement, and that’s not good. I don’t like rigid character development, because it punishes experimentation.

So, the first thought is that all stat points go into a pool, which the player is then free to spend to improve stats, health, mana, and learn spells.  This makes character development much more flexible. Are you getting roasted by spellcasters? Spend some points on Talent. Getting one-shotted? Dump a bunch of points into health. This also has a benefit when characters join your party: Rather than giving them pre-allocated stats which may or may not work with your build for for the rest of the party, I can just have the character start with a  pool of stat points that you are free to use however you wish. I could do a similar thing at the beginning of the game, allowing you some control over the starting stats of your character, which spells they know, etc.

Now, here’s the next thought, and the one that gets me really excited: You need to spend a certain number of points in order to improve a stat, and the number of points you need to spend increases as the stat gets higher. So far so standard. However, let’s throw in a little bit of randomness. Just a touch. Imagine if you have a percent chance of gaining the bonus from the next higher stat, depending on how close you are to increasing your stat. So suppose you have 10 Dexterity, it takes 100 points to get 11 Dexterity, and you’ve already spent 90. So you’re 90% of the way there. Imagine if in battle, you have a 90% chance of attacking with 6 Dexterity rather than 5. So maybe there’s a 90% chance that instead of doing say 10 + .4 * 10 = 14 damage  (against an enemy with 3 Dexterity), you do 12 + .5 * 12 + 1 = 19 damage. Meanwhile, if you’ve only spent 50 points on Dexterity, you “only” have a 50% chance of gaining this bonus.

Second, suppose that you don’t gain a fixed number of points every time you attack. Instead, the number of points you get depends on how effective your action is. The less effective your action, the more points you get. So imagine you have 5 Dexterity (so 10 warfare), and your enemy has 5 Dexterity (so 10 warfare). Then, you’ll do 10 damage. Meanwhile, if you have 10 Dexterity (so 20 warfare), and your enemy has 5 Dexterity, you’ll do 20 + .5 * 20 + 15 = 45 damage. So you’ll get significantly fewer action points than if you only have 5 Dexterity. Now obviously, you need to have some caps, so that a tank with 5 Talent doesn’t get 5000 action points for casting Firebolt on an enemy with 95 Talent. Similarly, a character with 95 Talent zapping an enemy with 5 Talent should get at least some action points. The points you’d get would probably be something like max(MIN_POINTS, MAX_POINTS – effectiveness), where “effectiveness” could be something like the damage you do, or the number of turns you start grappling, or the number of turns an enemy is inflicted with a status spell.

These two things provide a whole lot of opportunities for different play styles. Do you spend your action points now, and make the upcoming battles easier, or do you hold off to get as many points as possible but make the upcoming battles much harder? Or do you do something in between? How in between? Only spend enough points to get 10% of the way to the next point? 50%? 90%?

Furthermore, a jack of all trades character has an interesting new twist vs. a specialized character. First, you can have partially developed stats, and still gain some benefit from them. The points put into a partially developed stat start working for you from the beginning. This can make it less painful to spread points around. Also, Jacks tend to have lower stats across the board, but not so low that they can’t be effective in battle. Therefore, regardless of their actions in battle, you can expect them to gain more points, which can again ease the large point burden. I like this. I like this a lot. Specialized characters are valuable because they are very effective in battle against specific classes of enemies, but at the cost of perhaps a small dint in action points. Jacks meanwhile aren’t as effective against any one enemy, but can hold their own against anyone, and tend to gain more action points.

What do you spend points on? Well, you can spend points on any of the stats (Dexterity, Strength ,Willpower, Talent, Alertness). You can also spend points on health and mana (one point corresponds to one point of either), and you can spend points to learn spells.

This again, opens up a huge range of character building options, especially since mana, Talent, Willpower, and spell learning are all decoupled. For example, maybe you want a character who is mostly an armslength fighter, but perhaps has a few of the simpler buff spells, to provide some support. Then you don’t bother putting points into learning new spells, but instead pump Talent, and Dexterity. Maybe you want to build a Grapple-tank, someone who can grapple a spellcaster and shut them down, but you don’t care about necessarily learning spells. Then you can pump Dexterity and Talent (with perhaps some Willpower). Maybe you want a character who knows a wide variety of spells. Then you pump Talent, Willpower, and spells, with some points also thrown into mana. Maybe you want a character whose spells aren’t particularly effective, but he/she can cast a lot of them. Then you pump spells and mana. Similarly, maybe you want a wall, a character whose job is to defend the squishier characters, but not much else. Then maybe you pump their health to absurd levels.

Of course, the tricky part is to balance them all. 😉

Another tricky point is that if I’m not careful it could be very easy to exploit. Just cast one Firebolt at 5 Talent against an enemy with 95 Talent to get the MAX_POINTS, then spend the rest of the combat attacking and pump the points into your Dexterity. Perhaps a character doesn’t gain any points if the stat difference is too large, or takes severe penalties to the number of stat points they get? I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.

Any thoughts? I might spend the next week thinking about it, and potential formulas for generating points, how fast point costs increase, etc. If I do implement this (I may not, this is still very much in the brainstorming phase), it won’t be until after I’ve overhauled the GUI. Allocating points will require significant (and non-trivial) extensions of the GUI, so I don’t want to do anything with that until I’ve built a GUI that can actually be extended with non-trivial things.

Modifying the Stat Gaining Mechanic

Spankers and Spankees,

We’re still cranking away. Bonemouth has gotten most of the text written for the in-combat spanking text of the Episode 1 enemies, and I believe I’ve successfully implemented a simpler, one-round version of the new spanking mechanic (I still have to debug it). In terms of the Episode 1 content, just waiting on Emily (though apparently she’s super busy IRL right now, so bear with us).

I’ve also stolen some time to play Lords of Xulima, an old-school RPG in the style of the old Might and Magic games that came out recently. Good game. I’d highly recommend it if you’re into old-school RPG’s. It’s challenging, but I don’t find it super frustrating either, and it has a lot more convenience features than old RPG’s. I definitely think I’ll add it to my shortlist of potential Let’s Spank games after I’ve finished Etrian Odyssey.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve made a lot of changes to a lot of things in the game. Today, I’m going to go into detail about one of those things: the level-up mechanic.

I’ve been thinking about the level up mechanic lately, as well as people’s early experiences with it in Episode 1, and I’ve grown less and less satisfied with it. In particular, I don’t like the randomness of the whole thing. This leads to several problems. First, the more important randomness is, the less control the player has, the more frustrating it is. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any randomness, but I think that it should be minimal, and there should be ways for the player to rig it (say through spells, or special abilities).

However, the player has very little control over the randomness surrounding stat changes. Yes, the player can improve the chances of increasing a stat by using it often in combat, however the chances of a character gaining a stat resets after each combat. Therefore, the player is encouraged to drag out combat as much as possible (say by spamming status spells, or purposefully using physical attacks on a warrior, and magic attacks on a spellcaster). This is stupid. In actual combat you want to defeat your enemy quickly and decisively. The longer they’re fighting, the more chances they have to defeat you. Any game mechanic that encourages this kind of inanity is a bad mechanic and needs to be fixed.

Second, it’s hard as balls to balance properly. This can be seen in the boss fight at the end of Episode 1. Either the boss goes down easy peasy, it’s a fun, closely-matched fight, or you get steamrolled, all depending on how graceful the RNG god was. Initially I handwaved that away by saying “Meh. The boss fight is optional.” However, getting steamrolled, especially if you want to win, is tremendously frustrating. Meanwhile, steamrolling is equally frustrating if you want to lose. So, the boss battles should be closely fought. First, there’s a lot more uncertainty that way, making it much more fun. Second, a closely fought battle shouldn’t require more than two or three attempts to win (unless you’re really really really unlucky). Third, it’s still easy for you to purposefully lose without breaking character. It’s one thing for a person to make a small mistake that costs the battle. It happens all the time. It’s another to have your party just sit around and wave at their opponent because that’s the only way to lose. With all the randomness, creating those kinds of closely fought battles is nigh impossible. However, if I make things more deterministic, then I have a much better shot.

Third, the randomness encourages grinding. I don’t want to encourage grinding. It should be an option of course. We all have different playstyles. But in my opinion, any time the game forces you to grind, the game has failed. I should never, ever, ever be forced to stop advancing, and fight the same fights over and over again. For any reason. This is a game. It’s supposed to be fun and challenging (and sexy). Not tedious. Never tedious.

However, I don’t want to use levels and experience either. I do still want to maintain the basic “stats improve based on my actions in combat” mechanic. For one thing, it feels more organic to me than leveling. In the real world, if you run long distance you develop a very strong cardiovascular system, strong legs, and thicker bones. However, your muscles don’t grow much. If you swing a baseball bat your shoulder and back muscles develop, but your cardiovascular system does not. So, I think that it makes sense that in a world where fight-or-flight triggers a surge of magic that grants you superhuman strength and speed, then a particular strategy of combat (one based on stabbing someone with a spear, or unleashing hellish fireballs, or grappling and throwing your opponent) would develop your body’s magic system in a way that make you better at those things.

So instead, I’ve implemented a change based on different types of “action points.” Each action in combat nets you some amount of some type of action point. When you achieve enough action points, you gain a stat point. For example:

Suppose you have 5 dexterity. Then, you need to accumulate 10 “dexterity action points” to increase dexterity by one. You get dexterity action points as follows:

1. Attacking with your weapon gives you two dexterity action points.
2. Grappling your opponent gives you one dexterity action point.
3. Throwing your opponent gives you one dexterity action point.
4. Getting attacked by a physical weapon gives you one dexterity action point.

Furthermore, these action points carry over across battles. So if in one battle you attack twice and get attacked once, then at the end you have 5 dexterity action points. In the second battle, suppose you attack three times and get hit in the face with a firebolt twice. Then at the end of the battle you’ve accumulated 11 dexterity action points and two talent action points. Since you have more than 10 dexterity action points, you gain a point in dexterity, and have 1 dexterity action point left over.

Now you have 6 dexterity. So you need 12 dexterity action points to gain a point of dexterity.

I like this for a few reasons. First, because action points carry over from battle to battle, fights that don’t give you stat gains are no longer a waste of time, health and mana, so there’s less incentive to drag out the battle needlessly. You can of course still do so, and there’s nothing stopping you. However, the only way to completely discourage that would be to put restrictions on how many stats you gain per fight. I’m loathe to do that, because that makes it harder to adapt to a new situation. I’d much rather have a system that can be abused, but still allows players to adapt to unforeseen problems, then one that is harder to abuse, but makes it easier for unexpected obstacles to completely screw the player.

Second, your stat points grow more slowly as you get stronger. This is important for both story and gameplay reasons.

1. Story: I may need to be able to explain how your character in the endgame can hold her own against people with much more experience. By having stats grow more slowly as they get higher, it provides some in-world justification for this. Now, the rate of growth in game will probably still be too fast for this to be a perfect justification, but I don’t need total gameplay-story integration. All I need is to keep the gameplay-story separation small enough to stay within people’s willing suspension of disbelief.

2. Gameplay: I want a player who balances their stat gains to gain roughly 3-5 stats per stat per episode. However, the dungeons are going to get longer as we get further. So by slowing stat growth, I can have larger and larger dungeons while maintaining the 3-5 points per episode. This should also (hopefully) keep one-stat specializations from growing out of control, ensuring a jack-of-all-trades route is no more challenging than specializing.

Third, I also plan on removing random encounters, and replacing them with scripted (in the programmer’s sense, not necessarily the story sense) battles, and enemy-spawning squares for people who want to grind (I’ll discuss my rationale behind this in a later post). By having a fixed number of battles, and a fixed gauge for improving stats, stat growth will be much more deterministic. This will make it a lot easier for me to gauge how strong to make the bosses for the kinds of evenly-matched battles that I want.

Of course this leaves two questions:

1. What about health and mana?

2. What about spells?

For the first one, suppose the player has 10 health. Then, in order to gain health, the player needs to lose at least 10 health.  Then the player gains some base amount of health, plus a bonus. However, this is not all at once. For example, suppose in one round of one battle, the player loses 7 health. So, the player casts Heal on the next round to restore all 7 points, then loses another 2 health, then defeats their opponent. So at  the end of this battle, the player has 8 health, but has lost 9 health. Now suppose in the second fight, the player had lost 8 health. Then, the player lost 17 health. Furthermore, suppose (for now) that the player gains a base health of 5 each time their health increases. So, the player gains 5 + 7 = 12 health. The 7 points are because she went 7 points over the minimum needed to gain health.

Now, what should the base health gain be? Obviously it can’t be a fixed number. 5 health is a huge jump in the beginning, but it will be insignificant at the end. So the number needs to scale. I think the base number should be 25% (rounded up to the nearest point) of the player’s current health. So, if the player has 50 health, the player gains 13 points plus overflow the next time their health goes up. If they have 10 health, they gain 3 points plus overflow. That’s enough to be significant, but not so much that a single gain in health will suddenly make your battles easy as pie.

Mana however is a little bit trickier, because the player has control over how much mana they use by casting cheaper or more expensive spells. So if I used the same system as health for mana, then players would be encouraged to only use the most expensive spells, which is stupid. If you’re in a real fight, and you know that you might have to face more fights soon after, you’ll want to try to conserve your energy as much as possible. This also means that the downside of the combat spells (their expense) wouldn’t actually be a downside. Sure they’re more expensive, but a combat spell specialist would have so much more mana than say a status spell specialist that they’d both be able to cast the same number of spells anyway. In fact, the combat specialist would come out ahead, because she could cast more status spells than the status specialist! So clearly we need a different system for mana.

I think the best solution for mana is to tie it to your gains in Talent. Everytime you gain a point in Talent, your mana increases by 150%. So, if you have 50 mana before you gain a point of Talent, then after you gain a point of talent you have 50 * 1.5 = 75 mana.

Now, for gaining spells. Every time you cast a spell you gain spellTier + 1 type points for the spells of that type. So if you cast Firebolt, you gain 0 + 1 = 1 combat points. Meanwhile, it takes (spellTier) * 10 type points to learn a spell of a particular tier and a particular type. The only exception to this are tier 0 spells. Those take 5 points to learn. So Icebolt takes 5 combat points to learn, while Lightning Bolt takes 1 * 10 = 10 combat points.

Learning a spell consumes points. So you can’t learn Lightning Bolt 5 casts after learning Icebolt. You learn it 10 points after learning Icebolt.

And that’s my new level up mechanic in a nutshell. In short, the idea is to create a deterministic system with a clear progression that still has the same feel as the random stat gain mechanic, without the frustrations and wild oscillations in difficulty associated with it.

Spanking Mechanics

Spankers and Spankees,

Since this is the third Sunday of January, as promised here are my thoughts on a more fleshed out spanking mechanic than the silly gimmick we currently have. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Most, but not all, enemies will be spankable. Typically, if you’re facing a non-humanoid enemy (i.e. a dinosaur of some kind or another), then you won’t be able to spank them, and they won’t be able to spank you. Furthermore, if I decide that the spanking your opponent
in mid-fight would ruin the atmosphere of fight, I may disable the spanking option. This will be very, very rare, however. I can only think of one fight against a humanoid opponent where I plan on disabling the Spank option, and that’s not going to be a conventional fight anyway. Furthermore, once I implement an Options menu, there will be an option to either disable in-combat spankings, or use a more simplified version of the mechanic. The first for those of you want a little bit less spanking in your spanking porn, and the second for those of you who don’t want to think too hard when you’ve got one hand down your pants  (nothing wrong with that. I enjoy a bit of mindless masturbation as much as the next guy/gal).

Before we get started, please note that these are preliminary thoughts. I can guarantee that things will probably have to change once the ability is implemented and the beta testers and I start balancing it.

Anyway, on to the highlights:

0.  Spankings will rely primarily on the grapple stat. Willpower will play a role in determining how long the “humiliated” status lingers after a spanking. Willpower also affects the chances of a spankee successfully casting a spell while being spanked.

1. A successful spanking lasts at least 1 turn, but may last more and administers the “humiliated” status. Originally, “humiliated” gave opponents a blanket -1 to all primary stats. However, I’ll be making two changes. First, “humiliated” will only affect your enemy’s
highest primary stat. Second, for every turn that the spanker spends spanking the spankee, the spankee receives another -1 to their highest (before the spanking started) primary stat. When the spanking ends, the spanker and spankee are still grappled (unless someone else successfully broke the grapple). Note that the humiliated status does not stack with itself. You won’t be able to repeatedly spank an opponent until their stats are all -100.

2. There will be three classes of positions: over the knee, the spanker is standing, the spankee is on the ground. The spanker is standing will be relatively easy to pull off, but  relatively hard to maintain. Spankee on the ground positions are relatively hard to pull off, but relatively easy to maintain. OTK is balanced.

4. (Maybe) The player will be able to equip certain spanking implements. When spanking an opponent, the player can then choose to use either that implement or their hand. Implements will have a severity rating and a difficulty rating. The severity rating will give
a boost to how the duration of “humiliation,” while the difficulty of the implement effects how easy it is to successfully administer a spanking. Typically, implements will make it harder to administer a spanking (one of your hands is occupied with the
implement) but will make the effects last longer. They will not have a significant impact on the spanking text.

Now for the details. First, we’ll discuss what impact a spanking has on the flow of battle.

A spanking will tie up both the spanker and the spankee for some number of turns. For every turn that the spanker spends successfully spanking the spankee, the spankee receives an additional -1 to their highest (before the spanking started) primary stat. While the spanking is going on, it is easier for others to hit both the spanker and the spankee. However, if someone successfully physically attacks either the spanker or the spankee, or successfully breaks the grapple, then the spanking is broken.  Some spells may also break the spanking, such as the Spectral Spanking family of spells. The spanker may end the spanking at any time. Note that ending the spanking does NOT take up one turn. The spanker’s commands will look something like this:

(Enter) Spank <SPANKEE NAME>  (A)ttack (C)ast (T)hrow …etc

So if you want to continue spanking away, just hit (Enter). If you want to do something else, select that command. The spanker will end the spanking and administer that command. The spankee does still lose that turn.

The spankee meanwhile will have the commands:

(Enter) Struggle (C)ast (E)ndure

Struggle gives the spankee a chance of breaking free, depending on their grapple skill. Cast allows the spankee to try to cast a spell. However, there is a chance (depending on Willpower) that the casting will fail. Second, any spell that has a chance of breaking a  normal grapple (Spectral Push/Shove, Spectral Spanking/Strapping/Caning) will always break a spanking when successfully cast. Furthermore, the spanker suffers a penalty to her willpower when targeted for a spell, because her attention is on spanking her opponent, not resisting enemy spells. If a character Endures, then they won’t try to break themselves free, but they suffer only half the penalty for that round, rounded down (so a -1.5 penalty is the same as a
-1 penalty). Instead, it’s up to her allies to break her free. Typically, a character with a high grapple (relative to her opponent) will want to struggle. A character with high willpower will want to try to either cast a grapple-breaking spell, or a spell that reduces the spanker’s grapple or willpower.

If a spankee evades a spanking, they will automatically attempt to reverse the spanking. If they successfully reverse the spanking, then the spankee becomes the spanker, and the spanker becomes the spankee.

Pulling someone into a spanking will always be the last thing that happens in the round. There are a few reasons for this.

1. Spankings will become much less useful if your high-grapple character pulls their opponent into a spanking at the beginning, then gets stabbed by someone else, breaking the spanking before it could truly begin.

2. Throwing a firebolt, or stabbing someone with a spear takes a lot less time than wrestling someone over your knee, so it makes sense that the spanking attempt would take longer.

The normal rules of initiative apply if two grapplers are trying to spank each other (note that I will probably be changing the normal rules of initiative as well. But that’s a separate matter).

The stats that affect a spanking are as follows:

1. Grapple affects your chance of successfully administering and evading a spanking, your chance of evading and successfully administering a reversal, and how long the spanking lasts.

2. Willpower affects how long the “humiliated” status lasts after the spanking. The higher the spanker’s Willpower is relative to the spankee, the longer the “humiliated” status will last.

The positions (over the knee, spanker standing, spankee on the ground) are not concrete positions, but rather categories. This is to give the writers freedom to use slightly different positions for different enemies when writing the flavor text. For example, for one enemy, the writer may choose to use over one knee for the OTK position, underarm for the standing, and backwards riding for the on the ground. For a different enemy, the writer may use Japanese style OTK for the OTK position (spanker is sitting on her heels, with spankee across her lap), standing (spanker has grabbed spankee around the arm and is swatting spankee’s bottom while both are standing straight) for the spanker standing, and diaper for spankee on the ground.

However, in both cases the gameplay effect are the same: standing positions are easy to start, but easy to break out of, spankee on the ground are hard to start, but hard to break out of, and OTK is neither easy nor hard to start, and neither easy nor hard to break out of.

And there you have it. This system is actually going to be quite a bit richer than I originally envisioned (the spankings-lasting-multiple-turns thing didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write this). Unfortunately, what that also means is that this will be trickier to implement, and balance than what I’d originally intended. The original plan had just been to give grapplers a way of inflicting a status-ailment in one turn, with the factors behind the potency and duration of the humiliation stat largely behind-the-scenes. However, I think this will make it a lot more fun, and a lot more sexy. So my plans on implementing and releasing this mechanic are as follows:

1. Release the pre-dungeon interactions of episode 2.

2. Release the dungeon, with the auto-map, new stat improvement mechanic, and no random encounters implemented. Make no changes to the spanking mechanic.

3. Implement the system I’d originally envisioned: a one-round spanking with some flavor text, with the positions influencing chances of success, reversal, and potency of humiliation. Have beta testers and
players focus on giving feedback on frequency of successes, failures, and reversals.

4. Add the multi-turn mechanic. This mechanic will also be added to the Spectral Spanking class of spells as well, with rolls depending on the grapple skill depending on the magic skill instead. However, the spells will only administer damage at the end of the spanking,  when the spankee gets flung into the ground.

5. Release the post-dungeon act of Episode 2 (this will probably be relatively short, considering all the crap above).

I probably won’t let you use implements until Episode 3. Those may also undergo some changes as well to make them useful, largely because I’m not sure at this point whether duration of humiliation will be all that important. If you have a fight last 8 rounds, and four of them are spent spanking your opponent, the fact that Humiliation will last seven rounds as opposed to three really doesn’t matter. I’m not going to lie, this is going to take a while, and I’ve got a pretty busy semester coming up. We very well may not have the spanking mechanic implemented until next fall, and it may not be balanced well enough to neither be game breaking nor useless until next winter/spring.

However, I’m also really really excited about this. Not only will this be a fun (and frustrating) mechanic to implement and balance, but once it’s been implemented and the worst of the kinks (there’s a pun in there somewhere, I just know it) worked out, it will be a ton of fun to play. Furthermore, since I’ll be eliminating random encounters, I can make the battles last for more turns, so this kind of mechanic would be more viable. Of course, if I implement longer battles, I’ll probably have to include a way of saving during battle (or periodically auto-saving) at some point. That’ll be a butt. But I could probably put that off to an Episode 3 improvement.

Hell, now that I think about it, it might be kind of interesting to have a small number of marathon battles against generic enemies, rather than a large number of short battles. Especially since the lack of random encounters and instant travel from the beginning to the frontier of the maze means that there’s less incentive to preserve mana from battle to battle. However, if the battle is long, there would be some incentive to preserve magic turn to turn. Hmm…

Etrian Odyssey Episode 2

Holy hell I had 815 downloads for the first version of Etrian Odyssey episode 1 (I can’t really use the numbers for this second version, because I don’t know how many of the new downloads are people re-downloading it, and how many are new). That’s…quite a bit more than I expected. Hope people weren’t too disappointed!

Anyway,on with the post. Episode 2 is uploaded. Get it over at the Etrian Odyssey tab. Next, I have a few logistical things to discuss.

Etrian Odyssey has inspired some careful thought about my own game, and I’d like to write about some of them, because writing about things helps me think. Currently, I don’t post anything on the third week of the month. So I’m thinking that on the third week of each month, I’ll muse about game design. These musings might be features I’d like to implement in Potion Wars, or systems that I’ll consider for a future game. Next week, I’ll discuss my fully fleshed spanking system, and my decision to eliminate random encounters from Potion Wars.

Next, Bonemouth the Boxfish has graciously offered to help write some short, enemy-specific spanking scenes for the combat spankings in episode 2.  Note that I won’t necessarily be releasing a new version of the game just yet. In addition to reintroducing the spanking mechanic, I also want to eliminate the random encounters. I also want to replace the stat gaining mechanic with something more deterministic, rather than the sacrifice-your-dog-to-the-RNG-god mechanic we currently have (I’ll discuss this change in February).So you can expect all of these changes to appear with the pre-dungeon content for episode 2.

Now, back to Etrian Odyssey.

I’ve managed to beat the final boss (not counting postgame, which if it’s anything like the 5th Stratum, I have no interest in). Fortunately, I didn’t need as much grinding as I feared I did. Only one or two more levels, and I was able to beat the final boss. In fact, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected. Hell, if the first time I faced the final boss, it wasn’t 10:00pm after a 12 hour gaming session( it was supposed to be about 4 hours, but the final stratum just refused to end), I probably would have beaten him on the first try. Or gotten close enough that I wouldn’t have thought I needed grinding.

The rest of this post is my musings about the game.

Overall, I enjoyed the game tremendously. It was definitely a dungeon crawl, and a very enjoyable one. Furthermore, looking back, the boss fights weren’t quite as merciless as my rather frustrated previous post made them out to be. With the exception of the first boss on the third Stratum, I really didn’t have that much trouble with any of the bosses. In fact, the first boss on the third Stratum and the final boss were the only bosses that I failed to beat on the first try (well, it took two tries for the first Stratum boss as well, but that’s because I did something stupid, not because the boss was super difficult).

The game actually was quite well balanced. The random encounters were challenging enough to keep things interesting (usually), but also very quick. Most battles lasted 1-3 turns. However, the enemies hit hard enough that I couldn’t just mash the attack button. I had to actually use people’s skills.

The floors themselves weren’t particularly intricate, but exploring them was generally pretty fun.

The game also had much more focus than most rpgs have. I didn’t feel like I was getting bogged down by inane sidequests that had nothing to do with anything. Don’t get me wrong, most of the sidequests were pretty inane (“gather 5 oxnards, 3 poisonberries, and 2 bull testicles”), but it was very easy to complete those quests I could without going out of my way, and ignore the rest. Second, and most importantly, the sidequests work with the narrative. You are adventurers who explore the Labryinth. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that people would hire you to do things in the Labryinth. This is much better than most RPGS, whose sidequests are just random bullshit that accomplish nothing but dragging out the game. It amazes me how RPG developers have somehow managed to convince people that filler is a good thing! Wait. Stop. I won’t rant about the inanity of sidequests. I won’t rant about the inanity of sidequests. I won’t rant about the inanity of sidequests.

Takes a breath. Waits a minute.

Ok. It’s passed. Anyway, EO is all about trying to explore the Labryinth, and it never loses its focus on the Labryinth.

However, Etrian Odyssey does have some issues. One of them, the tendency to encourage one-trick ponies, I addressed in my previous (admittedly rather ranty) blogpost. So I won’t address it again here.

The biggest problem is all the backtracking. You only had a teleporter every 5 levels. Furthermore, each level was quite large, and had a very high encounter rate. As a result, my experiences with the game went something like this:

  First floor of a stratum: This is awesome!

  Second floor of a stratum: This is awesome!

  Third floor: OK, things are starting to get kind of tedious. Whoever decided to space the teleporters so far apart should be face-punched.

  Fourth floor: Gah! I’m so $*&*) bored! If I have to slog through the first level of this wretched Stratum one more time…

  Fifth floor: Finally! Now just to find that stupid boss…Why is this floor so freaking big? No, don’t run out of TP! Bad Alchemist. Now I have to go back to town, then slog through all the previous 4 floors, and half of this one all over again! Maybe I’ll go work on my thesis instead…Can’t be any more boring than this.

Next Stratum: Fuck yeah! Things are fun again…Wait, excuse me Miss Tavern Lady. Are you seriously telling me that I’ve only just now unlocked a bunch of quests that involve the Stratum I just beat, and enemies I’m sick of fighting and who no longer pose a threat? Fuck that noise. I’m heading for the new stratum. You can tell your clients to find some other chump to do their dirty work.

EO has this annoying habit of unlocking the quests for level X once you reach level X+1 i.e. after you’ve already finished exploring level X. Which means you have to wander aimlessly around level X, fighting monsters that you aren’t too worried about, hoping you’ll stumble upon the (unmarked!) square the triggers the quest. This is stupid. The quests for level X should be unlocked when I reach level X. That way, I can complete the quests as I explore, rather than having to backtrack.

And don’t even get me started on the 5th Stratum. It was massive, boring, and despite being full of loopdy-loops, had one lousy shortcut. One! It took me about twelve hours to reach the end of that Stratum, and most of it was spent backtracking because the designers couldn’t be bothered to throw in a few damned secret passageways!

I hate backtracking. It’s filler of the worst sort. My time is precious dammit, and I hate it when a game wastes it like that.

The early wizardry games got around this in two ways. One, the random encounter rate is actually obscenely low. Most of your fights are scripted. Meaning that every time you enter the dungeon, certain squares will always have a fight. Furthermore, these scripted fights were rarely if ever on the path from one stairwell to the next. You also had a much faster movement rate than in Etrian Odyssey. So assuming you had halfway-decent maps, you could get back to the frontier very very quickly, and with only one or two fights, if that. Second, a high-level mage could learn the Malor spell, which allowed him to teleport to any square in the dungeon. Once you learned that spell, it was easy peasy to jump between the frontier and the castle. And conveniently enough, you’d learn that spell right around the time when you were so far into the dungeon that slogging from the castle to the frontier was getting tedious. Sure, Etrian Odyssey has these secret passageways (most of the time…stupid 5th Stratum) to shorten the trip, but the trip was still too damn long, you still usually had to fight a bunch of fights every level (even if you used abilities that reduce the encounter rate), and the walking speed was so damn slow.

In Potion Wars, I’m doing something similar to Wizardry, except removing the random encounters completely. Also, you won’t have a teleport spell, because instantaneous travel has serious implications for the setting and story that I don’t want. While it could be interesting to have a medieval setting whose world is as tightly knit together as the modern world, it’s not what I’m going for.

However, since I’m eliminating random encounters, you’ll never encounter enemies while backtracking. Since backtracking doesn’t introduce any extra challenge, why make the player do it manually? So, I’ll add a “Go” command, where the the player can input the map coordinates of a square they’ve already visited (i.e. stepped on) and be instantly “teleported” there. Of course, there will still have to be an automap, so that the player knows which location they want to go to. So basically, Potion Wars will have the Malor spell, except it won’t cost any spell points, and you won’t be able to teleport into solid rock.

Anyway, back to issues with EO. I was also disappointed by my Hexer. I’m not sure if it’s because Etrian Odyssey didn’t do a good job with making status effect spells useful (they weren’t as useful as they tend to be in western RPGS, but were a hell of a lot more useful than they tend to be in JRPGS) or if it was because my Hexer joined so damn late, and I hate grinding so damn much, that she spent the entire game 10 levels behind everyone else. The more I think about it, the more I think it was the latter. I mean, she wasn’t completely useless or anything, despite being about a full Stratum behind everyone else. Hell, her binding rate was higher than my Dark Huntress. So we’ll have to see. I might have to have a Hexer again in Etrian Odyssey II, and see if she’s any better when she starts with the party from the beginning.

Musings about (statistical) Character Development in an RPG

Spankers and Spankees,

The following post is just some musing about game design. No updates of either the Let’s Spank or Potion Wars. Just some Etrian Odyssey inspired musings about game design. So feel free to ignore this. It’s mostly here for my self 10 years in the future. Hi 10 years older self! Nice to see you’re still developing spanking games. You need a life.

So I’ve almost beaten Etrian Odyssey (just have the final boss left, who like every JRPG final boss ever, is 2 orders of magnitude harder than the rest of the game. I lasted all of 2 rounds the first time we fought, despite obliterating all the FOES and random enemies on the final stratum. So I’m stuck in a tortuously boring grind fest right now. Stupid JRPGS.). And I have been enjoying it, however there are a few things that really piss me off about the game. One of those is the skill system.

In Etrian Odyssey, every time your character gains a level you gain one skill point. You can then put this skill point to improve one thing. Maybe it’s something generic, like how much damage you do with a Whip, or maybe it’s something specific, like improving one of your character’s special abilities.

This kind of system is usually advertised as “Complete control over how your characters develop! Choose any one of dozens of paths to powerful characters!” and yeah sure that’s theoretically true. However in practice it’s bullshit. Why? For a couple of reasons:

0. All paths are not created equal. Admittedly, Etrian Odyssey may be the exception to this (I haven’t tried every path), but I find it highly unlikely. Every game has useless skills, or skills that should be awesome, but are inflicted with so many downsides that they’re not worth it. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which skills are which until you find yourself forty hours in and swearing viciously because your Protector maxed out Provoke only for you to discover that it never triggers fast enough, and your enemies almost always ignore it anyway (I didn’t max out Provoke so I don’t know if that’s true. However, one point of Provoke on floor 1 was pretty useless, so I figure it’s a reasonable hypothesis). Meanwhile, she’s still ten levels away from unlocking Smite, so after she’s invoked Defender, she can’t really do much against the boss.

1. It discourages versatility. Ten skills with 1 point in each are useless. One skill with ten points is godly. So the best way to succeed in this kind of situation is to have 5 one-trick ponies. One-trick ponies are boring to play, and they’re boring to develop. I hate it when games force me to do that.

2. It discourages experimentation. You have no way of knowing if a skill is worth using until you’ve already invested a significant number of precious skill points in that ability. As a case in point, consider my Hexer. A Hexer essentially has three paths: A binding path (binding enemies arms, legs and head to keep them from using special abilities), a crowd control path (sleep, paralyze, curse) and a control path (Evil Eye plus the curses that allow the Hexer to “control” any enemies that have been terrified by Evil Eye). Now of these, the Evil Eye path is very brittle. If your enemy is resistant to Evil Eye, you could find your Hexer contributing nothing to battle. Furthermore, considering the fact that the control curses are guaranteed to effect anyone who is inflicted with Evil Eye, I find it hard to believe that any of the bosses would be susceptible to it. Otherwise, boss fights would be a cakewalk, and game designers don’t like it when boss fights are cakewalks. Evil Eye and its control curses are too prohibitively expensive to use in regular fights, so they’d be the heavy artillery. Heavy artillery that probably doesn’t work, because that’s not how RPGS work in most cases (especially JRPGs). Similar, the crowd control spells while ostensibly useful in regular fights, would probably be pretty useless against bosses for the same reason as the control curses. 99.999% of RPGS make bosses absurdly resistant to paralyze/sleep/etc. However, while crowd control can make regular fights easier, they aren’t necessary. The bosses however are pretty challenging. I can’t afford to have a character whose borderline useless during boss fights. Therefore, I sent my Hexer down the binding path. I knew from experience that bindings are actually pretty useful against all enemies, including bosses, and they’re dirt cheap.

However, all that reasoning about Evil Eye and crowd control? Total speculation. For all I know the final boss’ greatest weakness is Evil Eye, and if I’d invested in Evil Eye I could invoke Evil Eye then tie a rubber band around the Gameboy’s A button and take my dog for a walk. Why? Because I didn’t dare risk investing in Evil Eye only to discover that it’s totally useless. Then I’d have to sacrifice 10 levels just to reorganize my skill points. Ten levels is a lot. After gaining five levels, enemies that were dangerous are a cakewalk. My characters gained a little over 10 levels per Stratum, so resetting my skill points would set my Hexer back almost a full Stratum. The fact that I was forced to add her very late in the game for stupid reasons of stupidity just adds salt to the wound.

All this means that if it’s the first time playing, you’re forced to give all your characters one trick (well, maybe two), all while praying fervently that the trick you choose is actually useful. In other words, most of the strategy in this game is wound up in character development, but you have no way of evaluating your strategy until it’s too late. This ties in to a wonderful blogpost by Spiderweb Software game developer Jeff Vogel. Some of his ideas I don’t agree with (guy puts way too much emphasis on boss fights), but this one I agree with completely: Don’t Ask Questions Until the Player can Answer

At the beginning of the game, Etrian Odyssey asks me the question: How would you like to specialize each character?

However, I’d never played this game before. I had no idea what would be involved, so all I could say was “I dunno. Let me explore alright?”

And now, Etrian Odyssey is going “Hahahah! Fuck you! Now you have to grind because you wasted so many of your skill points actually having fun instead of specializing everyone into one-skill-spammers muahahahah! Well except your Dark Huntress. You got her right at least. Muahahahah!”

Of course all this is exasperated by the heavy emphasis on boss fights, which are battering ram fights in Etrian Odyssey. Etrian Odyssey has six mandatory boss fights (1 per stratum except stratum 3, which had 2). For perspective, Wizardry’s 1 and 5 combined only have 6 boss fights, 4 of which are in Wizardry 5. Furthermore, the Wizardry boss fights really aren’t so much more challenging than the regular battles that you need to worry about optimizing for them. If you’re beating the enemies before the boss fight without much trouble, you shouldn’t have many problems with the bosses. Not so in EO. In EO the boss fights are so much harder than the regular battles that you have to cater your character development to whatever is most likely to be useful against the next one time big battle I’ll never have to fight again but I know nothing about right now, rather than which is going to be the most useful against the monsters I already know about, and that I’m going to be fighting over and over again.

Now, this led to much fuming on my part. I prefer most of my strategy to be wound up in the battles not in trying to prepare my characters for battles I haven’t fought and have no way of knowing anything about. When I have control over how my characters develop, I prefer to acquire/improve skills that will make it easier against enemies I am currently facing. That’s my favorite part about a good RPG. Encountering a new enemy, trying different skills and spells, getting some idea of what works and what doesn’t, then improving those abilities that work against those enemies. In other words, I like catering my characters to deal with the current situation. That’s what makes levelling up exciting: “Alright! Now I can finally learn ice ball and obliterate those fire demons that were giving us so much trouble! Suck ice Satan!”

Then I started thinking about how I would implement a skill system. Because a good game with a horrible development system is a double waste if I can’t learn something from it and become a better game developer myself. I came up with the following system:

On the surface, it’s the same as Etrian Odyssey’s. Each level up you gain some number of skill points, which you can apply to improve your skills. However, there are two key differences:

1. You are free to rearrange your skill points at any time with no penalty.

2. You can save skill point configurations.

So for example, you could have a “dungeon exploration” skill set that focuses on crowd control spells, light spells, secret-detecting spells and the like. Then you could have a “boss fight” skill set that focuses on all of your expensive, heavy hitting skills.

You could have a “balanced” skill set that evenly distributes your skill points across all your abilities (this would be used at the beginning of each floor, when you’re not sure what will work and what wouldn’t). You could have a “fire-focused” skillset that emphasizes the fire spells a given character can learn. Similarly with the other elements. Each time you level up, you’d be able to improve one skill in each set.

This I think would be fun, because it can open the door for all sorts of things. You could have an ice-focused level, or a fire-focused level. You could have a boss fight that is a standard tank and spank, and you could have a boss fight that is nigh impenetrable, but is susceptible to status effects, even instant death attacks! At the beginning of each boss fight, you’d be given the choice to select your desired skill configuration (or tweak one, or create a new one). Then if you die you get the option of starting that fight over again with a different skill set. So each boss fight is a search for the best strategy. Hell, there’s no reason why there would have to be only one best strategy for each fight. So the search would be for the best strategy that you like the most. Maybe a spell-focused tank-and-spank. Or a physical attack focus, or a focus on using spells that reduce stats, or improve your stats. Or skills that fiddle with the game engine (i.e. turn order, combo attacks, number of hits per round, etc.). Or a focus on skills that improve the impacts of your spankings 😛

Meanwhile, when you’re exploring each floor/dungeon, you’re focusing on experimenting with different spells and skills, trying to figure out which ones will work best for the obstacles (monsters and otherwise) on that level. So at first, each floor/dungeon is kicking your ass and it’s a struggle just to stay alive. But then as you get a better handle on your enemy’s weaknesses, you start to breeze through them, without having to grind ten levels.

Thoughts? Does that sound like a good idea? Or does it sound stupid?

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