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Editorial Colony Ship RPG Update #7: Iron Tower Studio Design Principles

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Jul 19, 2016.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Tags: Colony Ship RPG; Iron Tower Studios; Vault Dweller

    The latest Colony Ship RPG update is an interesting one. It's not just about the game itself, but also about how it exemplifies what has become Iron Tower Studio's signature design "brand" - the core principles that all ITS games will share. There's a lot of stuff here that the Codex will like, but also some contemplation on the complaints people had about The Age of Decadence. It's very long, so I can only post a fraction of it:
    • Stats & Skills Matter not only in combat where they provide various bonuses but outside of combat as well, when exploring or dealing with people. It’s a deceptively simple aspect, so let’s examine it in details.

      What it means in practical terms is that your character would succeed in areas where his/her stats and skills are strong but fail where they are weak. For example, a perceptive person would notice something others won’t; a brute would be able to move a heavy object, etc.

      Obviously, the effect can be minor (i.e. you moved a boulder and found a couple of coins underneath it!), major (you moved a boulder and found a passageway to another area!), or anything in between (you moved a boulder and found a passageway to another area where you found … a couple of coins! T’was a good day for adventuring).

      Usually, stats and skills are checked in the following situations:
      • Multiple solutions (i.e. different ways to arrive to the same destination, everyone’s happy and nobody’s upset)
      • Optional content (limited ways to unlock optional content, aka. “gated” content)

      Multiple solutions are an important gameplay element, which allows you to go through a game in a manner fitting your character, but it is the optional content that truly differentiates one playthrough from another and boosts replayability (because solving the same problems in different ways isn’t enough).

      Naturally, optional content must differ in accessibility. Someone’s old shed should be easy to break into (let’s say everyone with a single point in lockpick, which is 80% of all players). An area that resisted all attempts to get into for decades or centuries like the Abyss should force most people to turn back to preserve the setting’s integrity (let’s say only 10% of players should explore it). The rest of the content would fall somewhere in between.

      This approach greatly upset some players who felt that they were punished “just because they chose the ‘wrong’ stats”. Some RPG players are notoriously obsessive-compulsive and won’t rest until they create a character that can get the maximum amount of content, which does require reading online guides and meta-gaming like there’s no tomorrow – the fastest way to kill all enjoyment and ruin the game. Of course, the counter-argument is that failing repeatedly (considering how easy it is to make a character ill-equipped for what you're trying to do) is an equally fast way to kill the enjoyment.

      I’m not sure there’s a way to “fix it” as those who want to get maximum content in a single playthrough will continue to metagame no matter what. The moment you tell the player "sorry, buddy, you need to be this tall to ride this", some players won't accept the failure and would want to know this kind of info in advance. Not many people see it as "you win some, you lose some" design. Anyway, I'd love to read your thoughts on this matter.
    • Non-Linear & Replayable

      First let’s define what it means. Linear design is easy to understand: you move from A to B to C, always in this order, which takes away the freedom of choice completely. Then we have the “Bioware design”: do 4 locations in any order, which as an illusion of choices, much like dialogues where you get to say the same thing in 4 different ways.

      True non-linearity requires two things:
      • Multiple ways leading toward the endgame location (i.e. branching questlines), so you never have to travel the same path if you replay the game
      • Very few “required” story-telling nodes (locations, conversation, events) the player simply must visit or trigger in order to progress.

      The positives are clear. Now let’s take a look at the negatives:
      • The game will be short because you’re taking all available content and splitting it between multiple paths and filter it down via mutually exclusive decisions. AoD has over 110 quests, which is a lot, but you get no more than 20-25 per playtrhough and that’s if you leave no stone unturned.
      • The game will be even shorter because it’s easy to miss locations and content. Throw in the gated content and non-combat gameplay and it will be even shorter.

      Not surprisingly, "the game is too short" was complaint #3, right after "the game is too hard" (#1) and "too much meta-gaming" (#2).
    Also in the update is a bit of information about the Armory, an important location in the game that the player character will be the first person to access in a very long time. And there's the news that Iron Tower have hired a new 3D modeler to create the art for the game's upgradeable firearms. The update includes images of both of these things, but you'll have to read the full update to see them.
     
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  2. Archibald Arcane

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    So basically they are digging in to serve niche audience instead of trying to hunt for bigger audience with endless streamlining. Personally I like it, I just hope that this niche audience is big enough to sustain them.
     
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  3. Will there be teleportation in this game? It is sci-fi after all.
     
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  4. Sensuki Arcane Cuck

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    Codex 2014 Serpent in the Staglands Shadorwun: Hong Kong A Beautifully Desolate Campaign
    I've only played parts of Teron, but I'd like to see combat involving more tactical decision-making in Iron Tower games the future. My experience with the combat generally boiled down to a largely pre-determined set of actions.
     
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  5. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    What would you suggest?
     
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  6. Sensuki Arcane Cuck

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    Since CSG is going to be a game with guns, I think there's more room for exploration in variance as to what types of actions a character might perform during a turn, and the frequency or order that those actions might be taken.

    AoD generally has small sized battle maps with limited terrain. Some of the time (mostly at the start of combat, pre-positioning before the first swings) there is a viable option to make for terrain that limits the amount of available tiles you can be attacked from in melee range. There's way more potential for exploration with this tactic in CSG depending on map design. If maps are designed with various cover spots and angles, the player (and enemy) could use the terrain to block off line of sight/targeting capability (and/or reduce hit chance) - forcing foes to move around to get a better angle.

    Will there be multiple unit stances? Crouch / prone ?

    How much might units move around?

    Would you consider splitting AP into movement and non-movement pools? (which might offer more freedom in this regard)

    I think the answer partially lies in system design and partially map design - with some thought put into it the answer to "what is the best action to take" could be much more difficult than it is in AoD.
     
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  7. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    @Sensuki

    http://www.irontowerstudio.com/forum/index.php/topic,7187.0.html

     
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  8. Sensuki Arcane Cuck

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    Codex 2014 Serpent in the Staglands Shadorwun: Hong Kong A Beautifully Desolate Campaign
    I remember reading that, but I forgot about the line at the bottom. The change to advancement will also play a part in a different combat feel as well.
     
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  9. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    Hey, Vault Dweller, wait:

    How do you make bad builds in an improve-by-use system? Use a too-broad cross-section of skills in the early game, thus never becoming good enough at any of them?
     
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  10. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    Something like that, yes. Obviously, we can't provide endless opportunities to increase skills a-la TES, so with limited training opportunites, it *might* be easier than ever to fuck up. Then again, maybe the more focused nature of this system would make it harder to spread your 'points' too thin.
     
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  11. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    It's less punishing in some ways, more punishing in others. One can assume that players will typically create characters that specialize in solving problems in a particular way, and will use the corresponding skills whenever they can. So those skills will probably be high enough. The case where players become overspecialized and lose out on skill opportunities later in the game might be more common. Like say, in the early game there might be many opportunities to use skill A or skill B to bypass obstacles, but then later on there's something that you can only pass with skill B. If you're a player who specialized in skill A and didn't diversify, it might feel bad in the sense that it'd seem like you were being punished for doing something that had worked fine up until then. Whereas when you allocate points manually, that's a separate action, a separate decision that was mistaken, so the punishment feels more justifiable.

    How does it work with the game being party-based? Could you screw up by overusing one party member at the expense of others? I'm guessing you're not going to do it like Tyranny seems to be doing, where non-combat skills used in dialogue improve that skill for the entire party.
     
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  12. Jedi Master Radek Arcane

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    Love the principles!
    :love:
     
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  13. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    Definitely not like Tyranny as they seem to be heading in a very different direction.

    It will be possible to overuse one party member at the expense of others, which will make you more dependent on this party members and force you to keep him happy because you can't afford to lose him. So if he's a religious man, you'd have to think twice about acting against the Church. Basically, we want their personalities to influence your options to a certain degree.
     
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  14. Lurker King Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    Nope, class based systems are more restrictive and artificial.

    The problem is that most developers design the locations as opportunities to use skills, while you design the locations according to the setting and common sense. The only way to ensure a middle ground between those extremes is implementing locations that are freely accessible by most players and still fit the setting and common sense. But then again, if every location were accessible to players, you would have to limit the number of skills or throw common sense out of the window. I think you just need to come to terms with the fact that players are spoiled by the egocentric design of most cRPGs. You should use this as an opportunity to educate them properly. On the other hand, some of these complaints reveal some players’ prejudices. The prejudice assumption is that exploration and skill checks are not important. If skill and stat checks are obstacles that can prevent players from keep killing things, is bad design.

    The first sentence sounds like an excuse to please combatfags that have prejudices against your game. The first and the second sentence put together are incoherent. If combat is the main pillar, they shouldn’t be avoidable in most cases.

    So you could only invest in one complex feature and you choose stealth. Is not my cup of tea and I would prefer to see a new dialogue system, but that is your prerogative and will certainly attract more players. I was thinking: Wouldn't be possible to reuse the complex features of each past game in order to make a more complete game later on? For instance, in your next game you could reuse the stealth system of this game and invest into something else.
     
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  15. HoboForEternity Arcane

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    Waot, so the ship's armory will be this game's ziggurat of some sort? As in the whole plot revolve around reaching it?
     
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  16. Elhoim Iron Tower Studio Developer

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    Nope, you will be able to enter it right away. It's like if AoD started with you entering the Ziggurat and the game revolved around the factions fighting for control over it.
     
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  17. HoboForEternity Arcane

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  18. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    The part about dialogue not being a real system compared to combat reminds me of some things Crooked Bee has said (although I'm sure she's not the only one).
     
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  19. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    No. You won't gain access to all levels right away, but the lower levels are a bonus not the final destination.

    I know. I was just being neighborly.

    Had a conversation with this gentleman:
    http://steamcommunity.com/id/jamisonkfox/recommended/230070/

    If we didn't believe that combat is the main pillar, we wouldn't have spent so much time designing the combat system (or we might have skipped it entirely and made a CYOA game in less time). However, just because it's the main pillar doesn't mean that everyone has to fight their way through the game.

    More like complex combat system + complex dialogue system or complex combat system + standard dialogue system + standard stealth system. Basically, either we spent time developing a new dialogue system or we go with what we already have and add another system instead.

    That's the plan.

    She wasn't wrong. Our dialogue system isn't really a system although it does have fairly advanced scripting. The strengths are the writing and choices, being able to influence events, manipulate people, and such. The weakness is that conversations don't feel like real 'battles', the way an attempt to close a deal would feel, for example. You either pass the check because you put enough points in your skills or you don't.
     
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  20. Endlösung Unwanted

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    People did the Abyss quest without meta? I believe it...
    Whats the point of reaching it if you cant activate the machine? 7 CON for a Lore heavy char? Who builds that.

    It might not be obvious but this is why you get teleporting. VD thinks the game is a CYOA and not a power tripping puzzle... Now add learning by doing and voila, Choice of a Spacemarine in 3D is the next game!
     
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  21. Karellen Prestigious Gentleman Prophet

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    This might not be a practical suggestion, but have you ever considered a Fallout-style time limit for the game? With the correct implementation, it might mitigate (certainly not eliminate, but at least slightly reduce) metagaming and empower the player a bit, while still retaining the character build as something that severely constrains what the player can do.

    Metagaming, on the whole, is an issue partly because many people who play RPGs simply have that kind of obsessive-compulsive playstyle, but I think that Age of Decadence also ends up encouraging that kind of approach even more than most RPGs do. When there's a limited amount of experience in the game, it becomes the most valuable commodity in the game; the more you have, the easier things get for you, so obviously, you want to do as much stuff as possible to get as much experience as possible, which in turn allows you to do more things, gaining more experience. That by doing so you get to experience more content is also a draw, but to an extent, maximising the amount of experience you get is arguably the only practical strategic solution a player has for avoiding the death spiral where you lack the correct skills and are unable to do more quests, which would allow you to improve your skills.

    This also means that the player will usually do any dumb thing so long as there's XP to gain from it - what some people here call "XP bribing". It's like the player is some kind of adventuring intern, taking up any job because "he could really use the experience". But why not? The player has infinite time, but a finite number of opportunities. In the real world, though, people don't (on the whole) lack for opportunities to improve their skills; what they lack is time (and in practical terms, will) to do so. Running out of quests or other opportunities to improve skills doesn't make a lot of sense, but running out of time is more reasonable. So if you introduce a time limit, the player is in the position of having to make strategic judgement calls about which quests are worth his time, and (possibly) what kind of resources to expend in them; the player would skip some quests because there are better quests to do. With this kind of scheme, it would also make it possible to implement non-ideal quest solutions (requiring lesser skills) without turning things into a scripting nightmare; a "bad" quest solution can lead to the exact same situation as the good one, except that if the good solution takes (say) two in-game days, the bad one would take five, costing the player that much in future opportunities.

    Of course, time limits in RPGs are usually not well-received, partly because they're almost never well implemented, but also because they interfere with the player's ability to mess around and do everything. But in an ITS game you can't do everything anyway, and I suspect that it might be less frustrating to lose or get a bad ending or whatever due to running out of time than because you ran out of quests to do, because at least the way to play better is more evident: waste less time.
     
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  22. Lurker King Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    This is a pillar of cRPGs only in the cultural sense of the word. The history of the genre is pure combat system with a few moments of something more here and there. It is as if most developers were GMs trying to implement simplistic linear campaigns with pure combat. Saying this shows that cRPGs are mainly about combat is like saying that painting is about representation because the first painters were realists. Is a crude reasoning that doesn’t work in any other medium and it won’t work in cRPGs. The way I see things, this emphasis on combat only shows that we live in the dark ages of cRPG design and that we should try new things, especially regarding the passivity of dialogue systems.

    Regarding metagaming, one thing that always bothered me in AoD is that you don’t know what is the precise number to pass a skill check. That invites metagaming and is completely pointless, because you know players will find the precise number reloading many times or reading on the internet. W2 can be a load of shit, but got this right.
     
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  23. hivemind Arcane

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    meh
    """"""""Meta""""""""-gaming in AoD going on my own experimentation and optimizing builds for maximum content was the part of the game which was most fun for me.
     
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  24. Latelistener Arbiter

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    I think it's okay, if players won't see a large portion of available content in a single walkthrough, but reading AoD forums was like walking through a mine field. It's filled with spoilers so much to the point you shouldn't even ask people to recommend you a good playable build, because they will start telling you how much Con you need to get X ending.

    The explanation I got in the AoD thread here was definitely reasonable, but I'm just saying - maybe there is a better way? Like, for example, tying ending sequences to amount of accomplishments made by players during their play. Some accomplishments could depend on stats, others - on player's proficiency. After all, one of the best examples in the genre became great not because you couldn't get some endings due to character's weight.
     
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  25. Fenix Liturgist Vatnik

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    Agree with time limit mechanic.
    The only thing I want to add is we need limit time limiting mechanic exactly as it was in Fallout - time limit shouldn't cover whole game, just part of it, major or minor it doesn't matter. Player shouldn't feel pressure from the beginning to the end of the game.
     
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