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Games Entertainment

Defining Progression Within Games 55

GameSetWatch is running a piece discussing some of the ways in which gameplay can progress from simple to complex. The author talks about how acquiring items, new abilities, or just increasing the player's overall effectiveness can make it difficult for game designers to keep their content balanced and interesting. Quoting: "What do I mean by progression? There are at least two distinct types of progression in computer games, which I'll label player progression, and character progression (narrative progression is arguably a third). Player progression is the increasing aptitude of the player in mastering the game: whether through learning and understanding the technical rules of the game (surface play) or the implications of those rules (deep play). ... Character progression is the unlocking of additional rules of play, or altering the existing rules, by choices or actions within the game."
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Defining Progression Within Games

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  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @07:38PM (#25406969) Journal
    D&D was the one of the first RPGS and one of the biggest. So it can be excused if it has balance flaws. Fighters only had a certain limited styles of attacks, but mages would get like 10 new types of spells each level. Simply by giving a cornucopia of abilities, a few of them have to be overpowered. The further a mage progressed, the more spells they get, which makes them even more powerful! They just said that mages at the beginning are weak, but towards the end they get strong. That holds up in dated RPGS, but not for MMORPGS where many players judge your game by end game balance because that is where PVP goes on.
    • by Mad Merlin ( 837387 ) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:05PM (#25407177) Homepage

      As someone who's actually made a game (Game! - The Witty Online RPG []) I'd say that balance is very tricky to maintain, probably even the hardest aspect of designing a game, but yet extremely central to having a fun and challenging game. You can plan out a scale of progression initially, but unless you plan out everything in advance (which is basically impossible), you'll still end up with things that are tricky to effectively balance later on.

      You mentioned the idea of giving particular classes more abilities than others, and just by chance at least some of those will be overpowered, making the character overpowered. That's true, but you also have to consider the interaction between different abilities, and with more abilities, the number of combinations grows exponentially.

      Starcraft is a great example of balance done correctly, and I think that's the main reason it's still popular today. Speaking of Starcraft, I doubt Blizzard anticipated that people would become so adept at microing just about everything (try watching a game between two good players these days!), and that changes the balance of the game a lot too.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Yep, Macroing was the secret to me SC awesomeness back in the day. I won a lot. But the time to reward factor starts getting skewed and it wasn't worth it to me to start doing global tournies; which were just starting in a serious way.

        I wonder if thy made macroing allow more complex macros in SCII?

        • I was always a Total Annihilation guy. Whenever I played Starcraft, I thought the whole game layout was just dumb.

          In TA, if I want to build a hundred rocket kbots, I hold shift and click on it 20 times (shift increments +5). Then I wait a bit, and they're done and hanging around. In Starcraft, nope. You cant. If I want a hundred zerg, I need to babysit the hive they come out of and keep the damned clicking. ANNOYING.

          In TA, if I can afford it, I can have 100 nuke facilities each building 10 nukes. No limits

      • I spend a lot of time replaying old console RPGs from the Nintendo and Playstation era.

        I wish they had additional levels like "Easy" where are the monsters points are cut in half, for when I feel like a quick walkthrough of the game, or "Hard" where the points are doubled for additional challenge. Squaresoft provided Easy and Hard levels for Final Fantasy 6, which was a good idea, but sadly never caught on.

    • SIgh, it wasa ctually better balanced then people think.
      First mages 'shoot there wad' pretty quickly
      Second - You were supposed to be a group of about the same experience points, not the same level.
      Third, hardly anyone actually played with the encumbrance rules.
      Forth, They are squishy, even at high levels.

      The were design to be glass cannons.

  • I think my Frustration Trivia game has done a pretty good job of defining levels... it rewards with a slightly harder question for each one answered right, and throws you back to the bottom of the tower when you get one wrong.
    • And I wont play it because it's yet another site to demand a login to a game.

      No reason why it cant be anon in exception to those that want to brag.

  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @07:45PM (#25407025)

    Interesting comment, asking whether or not rewarding players is because there isn't enough in the gameplay or story to keep them playing.

    Also interesting was the question about a level 50 warrior's gleaming sword being nothing really more changing than a level 1 character stabbing at a giant rat. This is something that I have felt often in games - as you progress, nothing changes much except the prowess of your enemies. This requires some interesting story mechanics - why didn't the level 35 people just come down and kill you right off the bat if you were so important? Some stories can overcome this difficulty because the story is otherwise so good (e.g., Baldur's Gate, a personal favourite).

    I have also tended to think of what would happen if instead of you and enemies becoming so ultra-powerful that you could essentially wipe out an entire town in on spell, would there be a way to instead have your power come from being able to deal more quickly/efficiently with multiple enemies at once? Let's face it, you can train all you want, but it still takes only a few slashes with a sword to kill you. Battle skill comes in killing the other person before he can kill you. The better you are, the faster you can do that while taking fewer hits.

    With this approach, "tanks" would not really be in existence anymore; battles would be seen more as a part of a larger scale battle, not you+4 verses 60, and you just have "that much health." Magic, unfortunately, throws a wrench into the equation.

    Another interesting RPG comment, this time by me - I have always felt that the most pleasing RPG experiences, with regard to story and gameplay, are those in which I was part of a larger battle, not fighting on my own. Example would be in Baldur's Gate II when you defend your "keep" (Nalia's family's castle). You defend it along with the keep's guards. Seemed much more realistic.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mackil ( 668039 )
      I agree completely actually. My own experience was fighting with all my "old friends" I had encountered in Oblivion, charging forward into the last battle.

      We won, and I received the special Imperial armor. Fame, fortune etc etc... only to not be treated any different by the shop keepers or highway men on the road. It was very disappointing, and it really takes you out of the world you're supposed to be immersed in.
      • I remember it as well. Oblivion had more moments of "fighting with others" than most RPG's that I have played, anyways, at least offhand. However, the lack of change that occurs was dissapointing, and the game was primarily "solo." Those rare group moments were far more exhilarating though - perhaps it is because there seems to be more at stake than just you reloading if you have to... :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      IIRC, Baldur's Gate only took you to level 6 or so. It's a decent way of dealing with the progression issue... Never let them become extremely powerful, and then you don't have to make up stories about why they're fighting ancient demons in one-on-one combat.
      • Baldur's Gare II and its expansion, Throne of Bhaal, expanded considerably upon the first BG's adventure by letting the protagonist reach (respectively) level 20 and 40, and finally giving him a chance at ascending to Godhood...and the problem of balance reared its ugly head.

        There is simply no way a level 40 Fighter can compare to a 25/25 Fighter/Mage hybrid who will benefit from the High-Level Abilities (basically, Epic-level pen&paper feats) of BOTH their classes - at these levels, anything th

      • I believe you got a few levels higher. Interestingly, I enjoyed Baldur's Gate I far more than any of the second ones. Partly because you really DO feel like you're starting out at "nothing" ... and getting *gasp* TWO Magic Missiles when you cast it is amazing.

        Plus, the story was enticing. You had no idea what was happening... at least I didn't (and it was the first RPG I'd ever played).

        Now, it seems like having a "weak" character makes a "boring" game to most people.

    • That's what made me stop playing Two Worlds. At the beginning of the game, even a couple of wolves are a real danger (but that's OK because you can always resurect not to far away), resources are scarce and every level up is really good news so it is really intense, but a dozen hours later, when I first encountered a dragon, I first panicked, ran away, cast all my strongest power up and invocation spells and took my chance, only to be disapointed after almost oneshoting it. Globaly, all the second half of t

    • by Saint Fnordius ( 456567 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @05:06AM (#25409801) Homepage Journal

      I think it's a problem with a lot of games, that the more powerful you become the less of a challenge the game becomes. Get Fuzzy brought it to a point when Rob was playing a Rugby video game, trying to unlock the best team. "So to get the team that lets you beat all other teams, you have to first beat all the other teams and prove you don't need them?"

      I personally think the Bigger Guns With Experience metaphor is slightly broken. You don't reward the Good Stuff after you finish the adventure, really. The best reward is unlocking a new part of the game, or other sorts of information. Complete the level to get the next mission, collect the bits you need to get the McGuffin and so on. Characters levelling up may be fun in, say, Diablo, but it's not realistic. Years of training are compressed into a single night (or a few days in the sequel).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zehaeva ( 1136559 )

        I personally think the Bigger Guns With Experience metaphor is slightly broken. You don't reward the Good Stuff after you finish the adventure, really.

        I can agree with this. For instance take WoW's Arena. The higher your ranking the better you are as a player and the better gear you get to give you a game advantage over other players. This doesn't quite seem right. If we all are to have fun why are you giving the biggest guns to the guys who have already proven that they are the best in terms of skill on a semi even playing field?

        All you are doing, in at least the instance of WoW Arena, is making it easier for those at the top to stay there. While they s

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by somersault ( 912633 )

          That's why I've never been as interested in RPGs as everyone else seems to be. Spend enough time and you will generally be able to get better equipment or more experience points and whatnot. Better players may be able to level up more quickly, but given enough time anyone can get to level 70 and get decent equipment by doing raids with their clanmates or whatever. I prefer games like FPSes where the characters are all equal and the difference is all about player skill (or very slightly by equipment you know

        • There's actually quite a simple solution to the "rich get richer" problem, but I've rarely seen it implemented: give rewards to players who voluntarily handicap themselves. In WoW terms, consider PVP where you could get increased rewards by restricting yourself to green gear. Maybe give out rewards of crafting materials, honour or something other than new gear since giving a reward of something you deliberately don't use is a bit perverse. Good players could gimp themselves as low as they like in exchange f
          • Voluntary handicaps would be a very interesting thing to see. Arena really should be a place for skill, maybe give every player a set of standard arena gear so that everyone is in comparable gear.

            There are a dozen ways you could fix just that one instance of pvp play.

            I have noticed in many rpg's there are some inconstancies in the variables of power. Most notably in Oblivion. The guards are always stronger than you. all the monsters level up to your level. Bandits in the country side level up with you. If e

    • Let's face it, you can train all you want, but it still takes only a few slashes with a sword to kill you. Battle skill comes in killing the other person before he can kill you. The better you are, the faster you can do that while taking fewer hits.

      Within the realm of Pen and Paper RPGs, this is something I've always liked about shadowrun (3rd ed at least). You have a fixed sized life pool, and nothing changes that. You do become tougher, but that only means that you shrug off some of the impact. The system is based on exponentially raising difficulties for rolls, though, so the increase in deadliness from a pistol to a shotgun makes a tough character be able to be almost unfazed by the handgun, but still get pulverized by the shotgun unless he's wear

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      Another interesting RPG comment, this time by me - I have always felt that the most pleasing RPG experiences, with regard to story and gameplay, are those in which I was part of a larger battle, not fighting on my own.

      I've been playing in the FFXI "Wings of the Goddess" expansion areas lately. This is basically a FvF environment, with the Bad Guys faction being all AI. You don't even get drops, other than an award of XP and some scrip at the end of a battle. But the style of play is completely different from the rest of FFXI. And people get killed regularly, so when you're in FvF mode, you don't lose XP for dying. While you can form parties, the only reason is for party-effect spells and party chat.

      And while it's normal

  • Easy, Cake! (Score:2, Funny)

    by mackil ( 668039 )
    Cake, perfect sign of progression
  • by butalearner ( 1235200 ) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:28PM (#25407319)
    The author of the article is the developer of Unangband, and it's officially part of his "Designing a Magic System" series, part 12 []. It doesn't really fit in with the rest, but it's still an interesting read. I recommend checking out his blog, as he's got several other very interesting articles for game devs, such as 20 Underused Game Mechanics [] and earlier parts of his magic system series.
  • by Cheetahfeathers ( 93473 ) on Thursday October 16, 2008 @08:48PM (#25407477)

    This is why I don't enjoy computer RPGs, only a subset of tabletop ones. Computers can do RPGs, sure, but not the type that I like.

    RPGs can mean a variety of different things. The character that you take on the role of overcoming challenges that come before them (the most classic of which is the dungeon crawl), exploring the world and content of the game (Morrowind or Oblivion would be examples that are decent at this), or playing a story that your character is the protagonist in.

    Since it is flatly contradictory for one person (say a game developer or GM) to author a story, and another person to determine the actions of their protagonist in any meaningful way, this leaves the player of the protagonist to author the story. The GM exists to facilitate this story. Computer games can't react to the limitless potential of human authorship without having a true AI. At best such a game run by a game designer (such as in a CPRG) can only railroad a story (be it a multi-track railroad, a very well disguised railroad with the illusion of choice, etc... but railroad none the less).

    Progress in types of games I enjoy would mean conflicts that either introduce complications to the story, events which get the protagonist closer to their goals, conflicts that illuminate the thematic content of the game, or similar story oriented events.

    Not even the most open and flexible of computer RPGs even start to cover this style of RPG. Final Fantasy series is often the classic held up for story telling CRPG. It's railroaded as far as the story is concerned. The content is there to provide challenges and to explore the world the game designers built. You can't play out the protagonists story, because your choices don't affect the story in a meaningful way.

    So called open ended games like Morrowind are similar. You can't affect things in a meaningful way... you can just go on one of several pre-selected railroad tracks the game designers built into the game, so far as the story is concerned.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter