Most of the games I’m working on (I’m foolishly working on more than one project, but many of them are just test ideas to try out design concepts) use what I think of as BBBen’s formula. I beleieve this boils down to a few key points:
1: The player has a set number of ‘turns’, even if it is not defined as such. For example, in PAC there are roughly 23 turns where the player decides what to do from multiple options and once he chooses the game advances.
2: The primary choice is to ‘train’ one of three stats.
3: How the player trains the stats determines the overall result of the game (primarily who the player ends up with and what sex scenes occur).
4: There are some other factors, such as a ‘shop’ and money that add a side resource for the player to consider, but I would not say they are *primary* to the game.
5: Many of the ‘traditional’ AIF elements are absent, finding the right object, ‘guessing the verb’, are either not present or not required. Searching drawers, cabinets, or asking the right questions is not required to advance the game.
Overall it is a very simple design. I suppose a player might find it arbitrary and that there is nothing for a player to ‘figure’ out in the long run as he can just play the game multiple times hitting the various tracks to see everything as opposed to figuring out a riddle or finding a hidden object. I find the concept elegantly beautiful in eliminating many of annoyances I have with other AIFs and it is a design I’ve been trying to emulate and improve upon.
It is the improvements I’ve been trying to do that add a lot of work. Below are the ‘features’ I have either tried to add or think could be added to the design.
More stats: This is the most obvious improvement; add more than three basic stats. In my design for my X-Men game, Marvel makes this easy by having six defined skills in their universe (intelligence, strength, speed, energy projection, durability, fighting skills). In addition, I’ve wanted to have skills for ‘classwork’ performance (English/Math) so the player is not totally dedicated to just combat but has some other focuses as well.
More skills means more work on the programming end, which I’m sure is a surprise to no one. It also adds a lot to the balancing of the game. How relevant is the ability to hit something compared to how hard you hit it?
I think more skills is worth it though as it adds up more player options, not just for combat, but to pursue other paths as well.
Different stat ranges: Along with multiple stats, I’ve been trying to add in different ranges for the values. In PAC there are three stats all of which max at twelve. I’m looking to have some ‘minor’ stats that would have a much smaller range. For example: strength might have a range of 1-7, while ‘mechanics’ could have a range of ‘0-2’; it wouldn’t take long to learn, but it would likely only come up a few times during the game.
Multiple Training Forms: Along with multiple skills I’ve tried to implement multiple methods of training. For example swimming would increase strength and endurance, while weight lifting would also increase strength and endurance, but in different increments, while boxing could improve endurance and fighting skills.
Having the stats improved in different increments is what makes this difficult. If weight lifting gets a lot of strength and a little endurance, and swimming gets the opposite, it doesn’t make sense to use ‘1’ as the base statistic for every training action. Thus for programming the base has to change to something like ‘5’, so that weight lifting would get 5 strength and 2 endurance, while swimming would get 5 endurance and 2 strength.
While adding a lot of complexity to the balance issue, it opens up a lot of choice for the player and allows player to develop their character in many different fashions.
Declining Returns: Something I thought was going to be easy, then turned out to be hard, before going back to easy once I got a handle on it, is declining returns. As far as I’m aware, PAF used a linear progression with each point netting the same level of improvement (For example, a stat point in a health related skill gives +5 HP every time one is assigned). I’m looking to gear the system so that rewards for pursuing the same stat declines over time (I originally wanted slow growth, then for a sweet spot to be hit with maximum return, followed by declining returns, but I’m looking at just the last one at the moment).
Originally this was hard because there was no clear way to do the math required. My idea going in was to put in multiplying factors. For example, If strength was between 1-3 it would count as just its number, if it was between 4-6 it would be (((Value-3)*0.6)+3), 7-9 would be (((Value-6)*0.5)+5) and so on. There are a couple of problems. The first is that Adrift does not like decimals as results and rounds everything up, but that can be gotten around by thinking with a base ten (or hundred) instead of one. The second is that it requires a lot of writing of math down and into the program, especially if you want to have more than just 1v1 fights.
How it got easy is when I started thinking in terms of groups. Characters have two strength totals; overall strength and strength level. A character starts at 1 overall strength and 1 strength level. When a character ‘trains’ strength it goes to overall. When he exceeds a threshold it raises the strength level.
1-3 overall strength = level 1 strength
4-9 overall strength = level 2 strength
10-17 overall strength = level 3 strength
The declining returns come from the need to put more time into attaining each additional level.
The downside to this system is that there are clear ‘break’ points and until the character reaches the next ‘point’ there is no benefit. This actually fits the Marvel system, where characters are rated on a 1-7 scale, but wouldn’t be ideal for another game type, but it is a workable option.
Time Use: The most important part of the system is having a balance of how many turns the player has vs. the amount of things to execute. Some choice has to be created, while there shouldn’t be so many options that it becomes possible the player accomplishes nothing. Instead of just improving stats, I would like to add a few other options a player might pursue during a ‘turn’.
Currently, I’m trying to add work, relationship building, and plot progression to things that take a ‘turn’. Work, making money, gets forced in PAC, and it may be the best option as items are kind of a side factor to the game, not the main feature, but I’m trying to balance it in such a way that it could be relevant. Relationship building was already done in PAF, so I’m not touching on any new ground there, but trying to think of ways to expand the option. Adding in plot points as time consumers is the tricky part and requires (I think) a more non-linear game and for the player to get ‘rewards’ from the plot so it feels worthwhile.
As an example, in PAF monsters attack the station at set intervals. I’m trying more for a system where the player elects to go out and fight the monsters (or not). However, wait too long and they might disappear, or maybe you’ll miss out on certain rewards, or some other effect to differentiate when things are done. Alternatively, the game could be designed in such a way that multiple paths allow the character to never engage certain plot lines, in this instance maybe there would be a way in PAF to never even engage the monsters.
Overall: I think of PAC and PAF more as ‘games’ then ‘stories’ (especially PAF with the combat) and it is the game elements I’m trying to discuss. I think the current system that has been used works quite well, that there is a lot room for improvement, but I’m sure many of the improvement ideas I’ve discussed will actually over complicate matters and worsen the game, so I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts on what improvements they think can be made to the design.