Monday, 5 January 2015

How to be a Game Designer Part 2: Mechanics and World Building

Mechanics for gameplay is one of the most important things in a game, not only can it affect how your players interact with the world, but it can also be woven into the story itself, helping tell your story through the gameplay, not just info dumps and cutscenes. However, it is something I see new developers fail to do which can be really infuriating. There's a lot to cover with mechanics but for now I'm just going to focus on its World Building potential, with Zeta as my example.

So what are the mechanics of Pokemon? For its combat alone...

  • Turn based combat
  • The priority of moves can affect who attacks first
  • The Speed of the Pokemon can affect who attacks first
  • Abilities can affect the battle depending on the specific ability
  • The Status condition of the Pokemon can affect who attacks first
  • Each Pokemon move is assigned a type, this type can either be strong against or weak against the defending Pokemon
  • Moves have a chance of negative repocussions depending on the strength of the move (low hit rate, inflicting confusion, skip next turn ect)
  • Each pokemon has an experience bar that can be filled to earn a new level, granting stronger stats
  • The amount of experience can be affected by items (Lucky egg boosts, EXP Share (prior to gen VI) would split the XP by a varying degree)
  • The higher the level and the stronger the Pokemon's species Base stats are, the more experience required to level up
That's just on the surface, I'm not going to cover EV's for this example. Why does this need to be known for World Building? Because of the implementation of Trainers. If done well, if you were making a game using similar mechanics, you can use the Trainers as a way to measure how the player is progressing through the game, this is where solid play testing comes into the development phase. With a strong play testing team, you can measure how long it takes for a player to get through the route, the AI level in comparison to the players and many more to judge the difficulty and level out difficulty spikes if needed.

Lets look at an example from Zeta, the Delta Temple Look here for official information. Based on what we know.
  1. It is a late game dungeon, meant for Level Grinding before the final boss
  2. If the player is going into it, chances are they have several, if not their entire team needing to be leveled up to the games new cap of Level 120 (which the final boss has a full team of Max Level Pokemon)
  3. The Dungeon is split into types (Grass, Fire, Water, Psychic, and Steel) allowing for great level grinding potential for Flying, Poison, Bug, Ice, Fire, Ground, Rock, Water, Grass, Electric, Ghost, Dark, and Fighting
  4. Thanks to the Wiki, we know Odin has a Jolteon, Divaevus, Shaymin, Salamence, Escavalier and Mega Gengar at level 120 each

    Their strongest weaknesses are
    Jolteon: Weak to Ground
    Divaevus: Weak to Fighting
    Shaymin: Weak to Fire
    Salamence: Weak to Ice
    Escavalier: Weak to Fire
    Mega Gengar: Weak to Dark
So the dungeon does indeed cover all the types, which is good. However, Odin's not the only fight you have. You've also got to deal with Cyrus, N and Red, meaning that there are Curve balls here. The Temple itself leads to several problems however.
  1. Because almost all the trainers are mandatory to complete the dungeon, the player is going to have a large stockpile of money and as the expansion, items going into not only the Odin battle, but the Aroma Region
  2. To conserve as much money as possible, players are going to use the nearby Pokemon Center to heal their pokemon, which it a tedious process to complete
  3. As a designer, you DON'T want your player to look up guides unless they have to, its better to keep a surprise, as such you can't expect them to know what's ahead, which leads to
  4. If the player has raised the wrong Pokemon, you're forcing them into a wall with these three trainer battles, meaning that they may need to raise a brand new team, which at that point in the game isn't a practical solution. You're building it up as the end of the game and if the player has to stop and Level Grind even more, they may go "I'm not playing this anymore" and stop completely.
This is just an example, you can decide if Delta Temple was well made or poorly made. But lets look at an example of an expanded mechanic now, Shadow Pokemon. For those who never played the Gamecube Pokemon Games, Shadow Pokemon are "corrupted Pokemon". They're only weakness is Shadow moves, which are Super Effective on all types, at random points, they will enter Hyper Mode and every turn, they will do damage to themselves. They do not Level Up or obtain EV's until they are purified. In Zeta, one thing I found was the closer the Pokemon got to purification, the weaker the Shadow moves became. So what could make this mechanic a problem?
  1.  The percentage of Hyper Mode: In Zeta, the percentage of status conditions are drastically different (from personal experience) then the main games. Confusion, to me, felt like it was a 90% chance of hitting myself, Paralyzed triggered more often,  Sleep was longer ect. If my theory is correct, Hyper Mode in the code is also affected by those changes. There were several times where I had just gotten them out of Hyper Mode, only for them to return to it that same turn.
  2. The requirements for Purification: There are a lot of trainers to battle before you can purify a Shadow Pokemon and with the nature of Shadow Pokemon in Zeta, it seems to be an impossible challenge to complete the Aroma Region with only Shadow Pokemon because again, they can't level up and the region feels like it was made with level grinding in mind so if you can't level grind, you're once again forcing the player into a brick wall
This is a (much more definitive) example of the mechanics trying to be built around the world. This doesn't work, no matter what way you look at it.

With that, look into other games, see how the Mechanics have been integrated into the world. Next time, difficulty and how to adjust for skill.

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