15 July 2009

Open questions

In the course of things, I am distracted by various thoughts. They start from anywhere. As they progress, I wonder about power inflation. Do things scale properly? How does this affect player options? Perhaps inspired by a depiction of a lone caster facing the lord of the molten depths in all his anger and power, I wonder about past stories and a player attempting to solo Maws, the tiny minnow who held part of the key to an ancient mystery. Any game should allow at least as dramatic a depiction as the one by Betrayal, a player, of the battles against Maws and Eranikus. But how is it really, to experience such a thing? How much of it is just presentation and editing? For a single player to attempt the same thing would be unrealistic as seen in a game. Is there any way to show any amount of drama when the minnow is faced by a single opponent? How much of this can be done with the game, and how much would need to be done by camera and editing?

Removing the traditional form of power inflation would make this impossible. Is there any downside to the situation of not being able to do this? Scaling problems are a core issue in a game based around progression of power, and bad mechanics will throw off balance. It is apparent from the design of some games that certain classes were more 'dependent' on their gear than others, especially for damage. Is it possible to have balance... or you might say, "balance-preserving transformations"... when the size of resource pools, and thus the length of fights change?

Obviously, one way of avoiding this is by not having classes for whom upgrades are a necessity, and specifically weapon upgrades. How is the situation tho when classes are dependent in this way, or in some cases as they have become this way? For which classes are options present, and for which do scaling mechanics restrict what they are able to do? Under which scenarios -- such as character level or gear depth -- do these restrictions exist, and how would you create a character to preserve as many options as possible so you could have fun...? But at some point there is a limit to these questions and their relevance.

This somehow, led me to wonder why I consider the possibility of group combat more exciting than solo combat, and why I would choose options that emphasize group support in addition to solo viability in most cases. Why would I not speculate about group offensive viability as well. One way or another this led me back to names; after spending much time thinking about the very simple situation, 'Use an offensive ability that blows up multiple enemies next to you, and everyone's name pops up briefly to let you know whom you damaged', I think it isn't possible. There's too much about ranged aoe attacks, and periodic aoe damage, and single-target aoe damage, and names as letting you know who you have damaged compared to names letting you know what creatures you have accidentally damaged that will now try to attack you, and showing friendly names when you are healed by one out of a large number of playeres compared to showing friendly names when you are healed by a dedicated healer in a small number of players you are working closely with at a certain time. Too difficult to separate times when names would be appropriate vs when they would not.

This asks, when is showing multiple names needed? It would be when you have just caused a significant change, either in their own health or in their perception of you, in several entities and don't have time to select each individually to see their names; but also when you are faced with multiple entities and need to target one of many of them, and your decision is dependent on the identities involved. In this second case, names-on-damage would not help, and not all characters would have access to area-of-effect abilities anyway. These other flaws in implementing make it less likely that this function would work smoothly.

However, many target selection difficulties would be somewhat alleviated by more area-of-effect possibilities by abilities, as well as other ninja law mechanics to help a player attacked by multiple opponents. Knowledge stress is based on the penalty for not using that information, and by lowering the immediate intensity of a conflict where information is hard to quickly obtain the knowledge stress is reduced.

It is important not to forget the stylistic approach, where less information is more helpful when taking all factors into account.

Also, 'tab select' shouldn't go thru walls. And there's lots of stuff you could say about using story ('quests') as incentive instead of power-based items, with story also actually including character expression and differentiation. A 'quest' would change your character's expression, as it is only done once. Defeating a known figure in a story tableau would only change your status within a certain context, those in the world who care about the story as portrayed within the larger story of the game and maybe other players who care about for this specific aspect of your character. However the gear questions that lead to this diversion are not new.

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