Article - Party vs. Designer

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Party vs. Designer
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Scenarios no longer function like Vogel's works. Whereas Vogel offered the party a slew of sidequests and the ability to roam about as one pleased, there are works that are more constricting, including A Perfect Forest, Canopy and (especially) Emerald Mountain. Where is the line to be drawn, then? Just how much control can and should a designer have on her/his party? This topic cannot be handled holistically; one must investigate the means of controlling a party, their impeti, and their implications. Therefore, I will outline some of the more common means of control as follows:

- Locked Doors / Gates

We have all seen, perhaps a million times before, the good old "Pull the lever" or "Get the key" routine. If all else fails, a door set to 200 difficulty or a pesky portcullis can always guarantee that the party will stay on-track. This is a common sight in dungeons, and is perhaps the first and most common means of defense against an oncoming party. The downside to this, though, is that it is very cliched, and repeated uses will make the party feel meaningless. Plus, God parties can circumvent doors pretty easilly, since they have +200 strength and level 10+ Unlock Doors. One lever or key (or both!) is usually okay, but the more you stress this, the more the party becomes nothing more than a means to pull said lever or open said door.

- Terrain Obstructions

Another common barrier is a cliff, rock or other such object that cannot be removed or walked around. It's very easy to force the party to jump down a cliff to enter a dungeon, leaving said party there to walk through whatever gauntlet awaits. This gimmick makes sense in certain environments- forests, ruins and caves are common examples. The downside is, this rarely works in civilized environments; a City will rarely have free-standing obstacles therein. This obstacle does not become redundant as soon as others, and can be used (or abused) more freely, but remember- excess can be lethal, since one of the most innocuous and meaningless puzzles in BoA is a maze.

- Gauntlets

No, not gloves. A gauntlet is a one-way path. When you are walking down a really long hallway in an Imperial installment or meandering through a cave, that's a gauntlet. It's a good way to force a party into a bottleneck, allowing for interesting tactical challenges or other such conveniences. Unfortunately, few dungeons/towns/etc will be simply gauntlets, and those which are tend to be boring, although there are exceptions. This is the easiest method to use and can be used very often, but has to be justified and used responsibly.

- Monsters

Monsters too can be used to control the party. For example, a level 99 Templar Guard is a good way to protect the holy shrine from intrepid level 1 adventurers. The monster plagues in Exile are an example of this on the macro level; roughly, the quests are completed in order because of increasing monster difficulty. This can be used very often and in every imaginable situation, but has its own nuances. For instance, it can almost always be circumvented: In Nethergate, attacking the Lower Fomorians' queen is entirely possible, even if the game tells you that you will be killed. Heck, I've even heard rumors that somebody successfully killed Emerald Mountain's Lyfan. Furthermore, monsters who are consistently invulnerable or are purposefully designed to be above the party's level is considered to be bad form. Added to that is the fact that monsters can also be walked around by intrepid and legitimate parties of higher levels due to invulnerability potions or Arcane Shield. And finally, do not use this trick all of the time unless you want to create a scenario that defines hopelessness (or stresses non-combat solutions).

- Block Entry

The block_entry(1); call can be used to force the party out of many areas. It happens to be the favorite method of control used in EM. This can keep parties in an "invisible gauntlet" of sorts, and can be very effective. On the other hand, many players will HATE you for this. And I do not mean dislike- I mean HATE. While it does enforce the motives of whatever party you are trying to use, it also denies the motives of the player. Usually, the motive of the player is to kill stuff and get loot, so keeping them in line like this isn't inherently a bad thing, but you will be hated nevertheless. And the more you use this, the more you will be detested for it.

- Cutscenes

If you REALLY want to control the party's movement and actions, you can move the party yourself. This is 100% effective (and is growing more common), but has its downside. Namely, the party at least wants to MOVE themselves. Cutscenes have to be defined by at least one of the following: Dialogue between three or more people, Action or Simulated Movement. (The first two are self-explanatory, but the third involves moving the party deus-ex-machina style: Making them leap over tables and such.) Unless you have one of those three, do NOT use Cutscenes. There are less obtuse ways of getting your point across, and a whole article can be written on the harms of cutscene abuse. To put it gently- BoA being as linear as a movie is fine, but do not put the player to sleep. One violation of this which is long enough can gouge the quality of your work.

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IN GENERAL, control may or may not be a good thing. It is a designer's choice. On the one hand, control allows for an immediately fast paced scenario which can and must put its best foot forward when leading the party. On the other hand, when a scenario gets linear, some more "old school" players will hate you for it. Pick your poisons wisely and design the scenario you want to, but try not to be too obnoxious in doing so.

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Small point, but impetus was a fourth declension u-stem, not a normal second declension, so the plural was made by lengthening the final u, not by changing the ending to -i. That is, the only reasonable English plural is impetuses.

I also really disagree about the dangers of cutscenes, but the article only briefly references that, so it's probably not a big deal.

What might help is to be more positive: rather than "[x] can be a problem if done poorly," something like "This is how to do [x] well."

[ Thursday, February 24, 2005 06:45: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

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Control exists for getting a party to reach a specific objective. If it is focused and clear what will happen is not as much of an issue.

Linear focus is not an issue if it is clear from the beginning they are going from a to b to c in a clear cut fashion. Initially, you are supposed to take the princess to the temple where she is supposed to perform the ritual. Then you are take her to the palace unharmed. Princess gets kidnapped. You must rescue her and get her to the temple in time to perform the ritual. Lost Bahssikava is a good example of control.

However, if the player is suddenly taken control of and forced to do something which they do not like it ceases being fun to play. This happened in Canopy at times and could be annoying. A little forewarning can take care of this problem.

A scenario which is completely controlled can be no fun sometimes. At least some sidequests, or decisions should be available which can change the ending. I think there should be a great deal of freedom for the player in sidequests.

At some point there should be a pivotal decision which determines what is going to happen or the scenarios get boring. one of Emerald Mountains and Canopy's failings was that there was no optional ending.

Plot is essentially about character development-- for most character development to occur the character at some point in a novel (not necessarily a scenario) a character has to make an essential decision which will determine the outcome of the novel.

Join the rebels, or join the empire. Learn the Slith language or ignore it. Acknowledge Legare or pretend he does not exist. (Even in a controlled scenario-- there should be some pivotal decision that effects the ending.)

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Kel- Yes, actually, cutscenes can be that dangerous. I plan on writing an article to exemplify this in the near future.

quote:
Originally written by Toasted Marshmallows:

However, if the player is suddenly taken control of and forced to do something which they do not like it ceases being fun to play. This happened in Canopy at times and could be annoying. A little forewarning can take care of this problem.
It's called forcing you to play the character, and it's a design choice that makes the party an entity without giving them choice. I'm not the first one to do this, and I won't be the last. Scenarios- the best of which, even- put words in the mouths of the players. Others literally move the party via their own feet (which is a task in BoE, let me tell you). There shouldn't have to be a "forewarning." The forewarning is that the party is defined as something other than random adventurers- that fact alone says that the scenario has jurisdiction over their motives.

quote:
A scenario which is completely controlled can be no fun sometimes. At least some sidequests, or decisions should be available which can change the ending. I think there should be a great deal of freedom for the player in sidequests.
But if a scenario is supposed to tell a story- especially one with allegorical overtones, but even one without- how can it NOT define things, least of which the ending? If you want to have "multiple endings," so be it- but at that point, it becomes three different scenarios. A scenario is not required and dare I say must not be required to have variable endings. Some stories only have one way to unfold- for instance, what alternate ending would you have for Canopy?

quote:
At some point there should be a pivotal decision which determines what is going to happen or the scenarios get boring. one of Emerald Mountains and Canopy's failings was that there was no optional ending.
1. Why? In Canopy you are in a military structure with the orders set out for you- the only time you're given a choice is near the end (since it's the only time when it would be feasible for you to make such a choice), and by then, it's moot anyway. In RoR, you have a choice of leaving. Other than that, you're trapped against two vampires bereft of reason.
2. Emerald Mountain did, in fact, have two endings.

quote:
Plot is essentially about character development-- for most character development to occur the character at some point in a novel (not necessarily a scenario) a character has to make an essential decision which will determine the outcome of the novel.
What about character stagnancy, then? Surely there's a place for that. And stagnancy too does not indicate inactivity- for instance, nobody in Canopy changes (except for maybe the Specialists- see the section before on reserving motives of the party), but they all lead quite action-filled lives.

Trust your designers and give up control. You'll find that some designers are better storytellers when you yourself aren't trying to write everything on your own.

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Very interesting topic for an article, though I would have prefered to see more on the Why and When rather than How.

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1) Character stagnancy is not a good idea in my opinion. If everything is the same you get a technical puzzle not a scenario. It is like a tour bus trip where you look at things but do not go anywhere on foot in the city. This can be fine for a while, but then you want to get off the bus and decide what sights you want to see.

2)The problem with very controlled scenarios is that they lose my sense of suspension of disbelief (immersion) because in a way I am not a direct participant. Everything follows a set rigid pattern led by a totalitarian hand that never makes mistakes. Giving a breaking point where a decision can be made -- reconnects the story and allows the party to get back on the bus.

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While the article itself is, like most of what TM writes IMO, a good and interesting read, I find myself agreeing with Toasted Marshmallows.

I absolutely DETEST linearity, even though I recognise that it is, to a certain degree, unavoidable. I think that anytime a designer imposes severe restrictions on the party or tries to usurp the party(putting words into their mouths and motivations into their adventuring etc.) this is just plain egotism. Rather than writing a book where he is free and expected to create all the characters, the plot, the dialogue etc. and decide what devices are employed to tell his story, he tries to force his grand creative vision into what SHOULD be an interactive venture.

My characters, in ANY decent RPG, should be generated by ME and I should decide if they have some particular motivation or personality quirks or philosophical leanings.

Computer RPGs, moreso than P&P RPGs, are tactical simulators. The goal is to improve your character(s) by overcoming obstacles. Plot CAN be an incidental bonus to a scenario or CRPG, as can well developed NPCs and such but it is not integral to a good scenario no matter what the poetry-reading, new-age spirtualist-intellectuals will try and tell you.

These are GAMES. You take the "GAME" out of "Role Playing Game" and you are left with drama club or improvisational storytelling(which are NOT role playing GAMES).

RPGs are, like it or not, primarily number-crunching, die-rolling, character-building(and character-challenging if you are a scenario designer) affairs. I, and I suspect just about everyone who plays CRPGs, enjoy the thrill of bypassing that "first level dungeon" of goblins and heading right for that orc Chieftain's cave(which I am not supposed to be able to do until AFTER defeating the goblins), figuring out a legal way to beat that dungeon and then reaping the rewards of my unorthodox decision.

To play a scenario that forces a player along a narrow path of 1)Defeat lowest level pests 2)Sit through 5 - 10 minute cutscene that demonstrates the designers intricate mastery of the scripting language and little else 3)defeat more dangerous pests 4) More cutscenes(and a plot twist you cannot help but see coming) 5) More pests...and so on until you face(and hopefully defeat) all three phases/versions of the big foozle is not necessarily bad(after all, when RPGs are good they are GREAT and when they are bad...they are (usually) still pretty good!) but I will take a well designed "monster plague" scenarior over that any day.

That's the reason I cannot stand "Final Fantasy" and any otehr console styled CRPGs. They feel more like watching a bad movie than enjoying a good game.

[ Friday, February 25, 2005 09:38: Message edited by: SkeleTony ]

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EDIT: Nah, never mind.

[ Friday, February 25, 2005 12:03: Message edited by: Kelandon ]

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I have to strongly agrgee with SkeleTony here and expand on what he said.

These are games, and the whole point is to give the players as much control as possible and for them to have fun, not for you to tell a story. Every cut scene, locked door, restricted geography, unavoidable encounter, forced decision and so forth is tearing down a piece of the interactivity that makes a game a good game.

The question is how to balance it. You can take some control away, as long as you don't take away the illusion of control. Some people don't even try, and those people are bad scenario designers. They may be good pixellated movie directors (not even that from what I've seen though), but they are just plain awful game designers.

The "You'll find that some designers are better storytellers when you yourself aren't trying to write everything on your own." comment is especially ridiculous. If you want to tell a story, write a book or go to film school and assault people there with your grand ideas. Don't pull the poor players by their nose hairs through tedious testaments to your ego and L33t programming skills.

The "Party vs. Designer" debate is no contest: Party, or else you shouldn't even bother.

Now if someone wants to make a Drive in Movie series where people can download files and sit in their virtual cars and watch events the creator envisioned unfold with minimal input, hey, great. That's fine as long as you advertise it as such and don't go around claiming to be a game designer.
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quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

Let me guess: you're the one going by "Not registered" at the Lyceum.

That, I think, explains a lot.

I visit the Lyceum regularly to read BoE reviews but I could not tell you what my handle is there(I AM registered threre though as far as I can rememebr).

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By the way, why are these articles posted to the Blades of Avernum folder and not the Blades of Avernum Editor folder?
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quote:
I absolutely DETEST linearity, even though I recognise that it is, to a certain degree, unavoidable. I think that anytime a designer imposes severe restrictions on the party or tries to usurp the party(putting words into their mouths and motivations into their adventuring etc.) this is just plain egotism. Rather than writing a book where he is free and expected to create all the characters, the plot, the dialogue etc. and decide what devices are employed to tell his story, he tries to force his grand creative vision into what SHOULD be an interactive venture.
It's necessary for the designer to give the party some backstory, if only in order to get them into a situation where they'd be able to take part in the events of the scenario in the first place. This can be as simple as "You heard about someone hiring people for a mission and decided to go there and see what it was about", or as complicated as the party being the last survivors of an attack on a fort by enemy forces. Regardless of the details, the scenario has to begin somewhere, and the events occurring before the scenario begins have to be assumed in part by the designer. If you don't see your party as one that could get into the scenario's initial situation in the first place, you have the choice to not play the scenario.

quote:
Computer RPGs, moreso than P&P RPGs, are tactical simulators. The goal is to improve your character(s) by overcoming obstacles.
There's a problem with this that BoE players are very familiar with. After 200 different scenarios, ordinary BoE combat just isn't new or interesting any more. Either a designer has to do something very original and clever in combat (in which case he's at risk of being pilloried for it by new or occasional players who claim the designer is cheating), or he has to make the scenario interesting in ways other than through combat (in which case he's at risk of being pilloried by new or occasional players who only play for combat). In a few years we'll be in a similar situation with BoA scenarios.

quote:
Plot CAN be an incidental bonus to a scenario or CRPG, as can well developed NPCs and such but it is not integral to a good scenario no matter what the poetry-reading, new-age spirtualist-intellectuals will try and tell you.
I'd argue that no single element is integral to a good scenario. There have been a few highly-regarded BoE scenarios with little or no combat.

quote:
These are GAMES. You take the "GAME" out of "Role Playing Game" and you are left with drama club or improvisational storytelling(which are NOT role playing GAMES).
Technically, they're called scenarios. :P

Interactivity and choice are generally good things, but they're not the only way to add interest to a scenario.

quote:
RPGs are, like it or not, primarily number-crunching, die-rolling, character-building(and character-challenging if you are a scenario designer) affairs. I, and I suspect just about everyone who plays CRPGs, enjoy the thrill of bypassing that "first level dungeon" of goblins and heading right for that orc Chieftain's cave(which I am not supposed to be able to do until AFTER defeating the goblins), figuring out a legal way to beat that dungeon and then reaping the rewards of my unorthodox decision.
BoE players have well and truly been there and done that dozens of times before. The basic engine is so well-understood that most experienced players know exactly what the optimal strategies are for every kind of combat (to the point where some players habitually take level-1 parties into level-20 scenarios). BoA will be in the same situation before long.

[ Friday, February 25, 2005 12:44: Message edited by: Thuryl ]

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I have a certain amount of respect for what DreamGuy, SkeleTony and Toasty are saying. At the same time, I disagree with it utterly.

There is a great scope for creativity in design. There is no One Way to make a scenario and there is no One Essential Ingredient. Sometimes you might like to create your own characters and let 'em lose in a scenario, and some will go to great lengths to allow you to play any sort of person you want. Others will give you an interesting character and invite you to step into his shoes for a few hours. You may like one or the other more. I prefer the latter.

That said, I do believe that confusion over the relationship between player and party is a common thing, and usually pretty detrimental. I think a designer should make it clear what the party is, in his eyes. Players can then take it or leave it, but it's part of the designer's vision, and should be regarded as such, rather than as a design error.

I think our new BoA players are used to feeling like they are in control when they play, and the simple fact that they are not irks them. But that's the way it is. Even if you feel like you are, it's an illusion created by the designer. The mindset of a player should be to approach the designer with trust, accept his rules, and allow him to take you into his world.

But just to repeat what I said before, I think it's the designer's responsibility to make clear what his rules and his terms are, and to stick to them.

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If you hate linearity, play GF, not BoA. I'll admit that having the designer control the party can be annoying if the party is induced into saying stupid things, but plot linearity can be necessary and beneficial: Bahssikava is extremeley linear, and I honestly don't think it could have been made any other way.

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How would one create the illusion of control in a linear scenario? I think it is with simple breaks in play where minor decisions can be made that may or may not effect the outcome of the whole scenario. This satisfies me that I have some direction in the game.

Do I pull the red lever or the green lever? Do I decide to learn a bit of Vahnati Lore or destroy the Vahnati tome?

One of the problems of pure linearity is that it assumes that there is no unpredictability in what is happening to the characters--

One maxim of the military is that "NO BATTLE PLAN SURVIVES CONTACT WITH THE ENEMY" -- there should be instances where decisions need to be made by the characters which are not completely foreseen.

In a totalitarian setting it would be part of the characters job to sweep these things under the rug and deny them as a way to protect themselves. The characters are essentially problem solvers in Avernum.

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quote:
Originally written by Toasted Marshmallows:

The characters are essentially problem solvers in Avernum.
That depends on which scenario you're playing.

Your post is a pretty good one, and it's definitely a way to do things. However, it's far from being the only way or even the best way.

Personally, I don't see how giving the player inconsequential choices helps anything, except possibly realism.

[ Friday, February 25, 2005 22:42: Message edited by: Ash Lael ]

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quote:
Originally written by Thuryl:

quote:
I absolutely DETEST linearity, even though I recognise that it is, to a certain degree, unavoidable. I think that anytime a designer imposes severe restrictions on the party ...
It's necessary for the designer to give the party some backstory, if only in order to get them into a situation where they'd be able to take part in the events of the scenario in the first place. This can be as simple as "You heard about someone hiring people for a mission and decided to go there and see what it was about", or as complicated as the party being the last survivors of an attack on a fort by enemy forces.

Agreed. I think you are misreading me here. I have no problem with such background details as "Your merry band decided to take a break from adventuring. A small vacation in the province of Suchandsuch when something strange happens..." or whatever. What turns ME off, and this is purely a matter of personal taste, is stuff along the lines of "This scenario is not only designed for singletons but SPECIFICALLY for the singleton I have crerated and included in the zip file as a saved game." or Cut scenes that feeature my party in a 10 minute discussion with some Nietzche-clone in which they are trying to convince him that radical skepticism(bordering on solopsism) is the ONLY rational way to view life or somesuch nonsense.

quote:

quote:
Computer RPGs, moreso than P&P RPGs, are tactical simulators. The goal is to improve your character(s) by overcoming obstacles.
There's a problem with this that BoE players are very familiar with. After 200 different scenarios, ordinary BoE combat just isn't new or interesting any more. Either a designer has to do something very original and clever in combat (in which case he's at risk of being pilloried for it by new or occasional players who claim the designer is cheating), or he has to make the scenario interesting in ways other than through combat (in which case he's at risk of being pilloried by new or occasional players who only play for combat). In a few years we'll be in a similar situation with BoA scenarios.

I have been with BoE from the beginning(or damned near. I have been playing Spiderweb games since around Exile II) and have played probably 30 - 50 of the scenarios available. I did not bother with ones so obviously bad(ala "Lost King" scenarios) according to the CSR or scenarios which were designed with pregen's or Singletons in mind(no matter how good they probably were, judging by the reviews(such as "Election") because of my personal tastes. I tend to get bored with any game, no matter how good after playing it for several hours a day for a month or two straight, including BoE but this temporary boredom is not due to the combat being too boring or because I did not play enough linear, story-heavy scenarios.

Tom Proudfoot's games(Natuk, PoWS, Nalakh) have combat mechanics that put Spiderweb's games to complete shame(except for the "Spell use drains your muscles" snafu) and I get bored with those just as well. Jagged Alliance 2 the same.

Speaking only for myself, I don't think there is much ANY scenario designer could do to keep me interested in BoE, BoA or any other CRPG construction kit or modded game beyond myone or two month threshold.

quote:
quote:
Plot CAN be an incidental bonus to a scenario or CRPG, as can well developed NPCs and such but it is not integral to a good scenario no matter what the poetry-reading, new-age spirtualist-intellectuals will try and tell you.
I'd argue that no single element is integral to a good scenario. There have been a few highly-regarded BoE scenarios with little or no combat.

I was not arguing that there was a single element that was universally integral to some objective standard of "good" scenario design. SOme people like puzzles. I cannot even feign slight interest in them anymore. After 4 Monkey Island games, countless King's Quest, Discworld, Tex Murphy, Maniac Mansion/DoTT, all the Zorks and many other Infocom games, The Ultimas, the Wizardrys, the Might & Magics, and so on over my 20 something year career of playing video/computer games, I simply cannot stomache another puzzle.

Some people seem to have a similar distaste for "hack and slash"/combat but not me *shrug*. I am with Vogel in thinking that "Roleplaying is overated." only I also tend to feel that puzzle-solving and 'storytelling' is also overated.

I have never finished any of my own BoE scenarios so I cannot really comment on how exhaustive designers' attempts to make combat interesting have been. I know that if Jeff had included some means to directly design the layout of the battlefield(i.e. placing obstructions, placing monsters in specific spots etc.) it would have helped.

quote:
quote:
These are GAMES. You take the "GAME" out of "Role Playing Game" and you are left with drama club or improvisational storytelling(which are NOT role playing GAMES).
Technically, they're called scenarios. :P

Was talking about CRPGs in general, be it BoE/BoA scenarios, RuneSword "tomes", Exile III, Avernum IV, Wizardry 8 or what have you.


quote:
Interactivity and choice are generally good things, but they're not the only way to add interest to a scenario.
Agreed.

quote:
BoE players have well and truly been there and done that dozens of times before.[/qb]
Yes...WE have and it never gets old :D (unlike linear, being led by the nose through someone's creative vision type scenarios).

quote:
The basic engine is so well-understood that most experienced players know exactly what the optimal strategies are for every kind of combat (to the point where some players habitually take level-1 parties into level-20 scenarios). BoA will be in the same situation before long.
While I agree with you about the weakness of the BoE engine in this regard(but fail to see how this refutes my points!?), I am not so sure that BoA will become old-hat as quickly. It seems that BoA is capable of about 20 times what BoE was capable of but maybe I am wrong(I have only really been glossing over the Avernumscript stuff).

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quote:
Agreed. I think you are misreading me here. I have no problem with such background details as "Your merry band decided to take a break from adventuring. A small vacation in the province of Suchandsuch when something strange happens..." or whatever. What turns ME off, and this is purely a matter of personal taste, is stuff along the lines of "This scenario is not only designed for singletons but SPECIFICALLY for the singleton I have crerated and included in the zip file as a saved game." or Cut scenes that feeature my party in a 10 minute discussion with some Nietzche-clone in which they are trying to convince him that radical skepticism(bordering on solopsism) is the ONLY rational way to view life or somesuch nonsense.
I understand what you're saying; I'm just making the point that in practice the amount of control given to the player in the party's actions, both past and future, falls along a continuum, and the best point on that continuum will differ depending on the scenario (and, for that matter, on the player.) It's often a very good thing to give the player choices, but choice shouldn't come at the expense of having a coherent plot.

I'll skip over the next couple of paragraphs, because I don't really have any major points of disagreement with them.

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BoE players have well and truly been there and done that dozens of times before.
Yes...WE have and it never gets old :D (unlike linear, being led by the nose through someone's creative vision type scenarios).
If you're talking about TM's work here, do keep in mind that the first advice most players will give you regarding a TM scenario is to ignore the plot. :P

He's popular as a designer mainly because he has a knack for presenting interesting tactical challenges. It seems to me that the main difference between his scenarios and the kind of is that TM's scenarios present a mostly linear series of self-contained tactical challenges, whereas you seem to prefer to be able to view the scenario as a whole as a single, all-encompassing tactical challenge.

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The basic engine is so well-understood that most experienced players know exactly what the optimal strategies are for every kind of combat (to the point where some players habitually take level-1 parties into level-20 scenarios). BoA will be in the same situation before long.
While I agree with you about the weakness of the BoE engine in this regard(but fail to see how this refutes my points!?),
Well, my point was that "conventional" BoE combat (i.e. lots of monsters with few fancy tricks) rarely provides a challenge. Standards of "conventional" BoA combat and corresponding strategies are likewise beginning to form. And whatever you may think of TM's plots (and frankly, as far as I'm concerned, the less one thinks about them the better), it's innovators like TM who are able to look past those standards and provide new and interesting challenges.

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I am not so sure that BoA will become old-hat as quickly. It seems that BoA is capable of about 20 times what BoE was capable of but maybe I am wrong(I have only really been glossing over the Avernumscript stuff).
BoA's certainly capable of a lot if designers continue to innovate, and there's no reason to suppose they won't.

But the thing is, the people in this community who innovate the most also tend to be the ones who have grand artistic visions to take us through. Fairly often, the two are inseparable; a particular combat works and makes sense because of the way the plot's progressed. (Besides, plot generally makes combat feel more unique and important; as one community member once said when betatesting my scenario, "I like to kill people with personalities".)

[ Saturday, February 26, 2005 00:26: Message edited by: Thuryl ]

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The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
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Profile #18
quote:
Originally written by Ash Lael:

I have a certain amount of respect for what DreamGuy, SkeleTony and Toasty are saying. At the same time, I disagree with it utterly.

There is a great scope for creativity in design. There is no One Way to make a scenario and there is no One Essential Ingredient. Sometimes you might like to create your own characters and let 'em lose in a scenario, and some will go to great lengths to allow you to play any sort of person you want. Others will give you an interesting character and invite you to step into his shoes for a few hours. You may like one or the other more. I prefer the latter.

That said, I do believe that confusion over the relationship between player and party is a common thing, and usually pretty detrimental. I think a designer should make it clear what the party is, in his eyes. Players can then take it or leave it, but it's part of the designer's vision, and should be regarded as such, rather than as a design error.

But it comes DAMNED CLOSE to being a "design error" in a roleplaying GAME. We are not talking about a writer's novel or a screenplay. RPGs are interactive affairs by definition. You take away the player's interaction and what you have left is a designer who may or may not be a brilliant storyteller, shoving a chair under the player's ass and having him watch his masterpiece unfold.
Some people undoubtedly enjoy this sort of thing. I may not understand why but I do not hold it against them.
I just think that I am not alone in wanting the interactive part to remain a standby of RPG/scenario design. The most important player interaction that occurs is in character/party creation, not in deciding whether to taste the chef's cookies or kick his ass(though these choices are a bonus as well)!

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I think our new BoA players are used to feeling like they are in control when they play, and the simple fact that they are not irks them.
Aren't ALL BoA players relatively "new" since the game has barely existed long enough to see 7 or 8 scenarios released(most of themn very short)?

Besides that, it is not about BoA players used to feeling like they are in (complete) control adn being angry that we/they are not. It is about (C)RPG veterans, like myself, used to having some interaction with our CRPGs...being able to create our OWN characters according to OUR tastes adn taking them on wonderful adventures designed by others.
I played TM's Emerald Mountain AND Stareye's Perfect Forest(in addition to VoTD, ASM, etc.) and thought they were absolutely terrific! Both were pretty linear but EM was so short that it would be foolish to expect anything else and APF at least preserved the illusion of my party's decision-making being of some consequence(at least for most of the scenario I did not feel like I was being artificially bottlenecked).

But as much as I liked EM I was turned off a bit that so much work went into the technical aspects(cutscenes) which did little for me, while the 'meat' of the scenario consisted of a single mini-dungeon and a couple other fights(don't want to be too spoily here).

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But that's the way it is. Even if you feel like you are, it's an illusion created by the designer. The mindset of a player should be to approach the designer with trust, accept his rules, and allow him to take you into his world.
Nah. Got no problem with the designer taking me into his world. What I don't want is for him to handcuff me to a railcar bound for "Big fight with end boss". It is not about "trust" either. I am not seeking therapy when I play someone's scenario. I just want to enjoy a game the same way I enjoy a game of chess(only different). It's me against whatever crafty conundrum the designer has dreamed up and whatever nasty baddies he has stocked his scenarios with.

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"I am in a very peculiar business. I travel all over the world telling people what they should already know." - James Randi
Posts: 219 | Registered: Saturday, October 13 2001 07:00
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Profile Homepage #19
quote:
I just think that I am not alone in wanting the interactive part to remain a standby of RPG/scenario design. The most important player interaction that occurs is in character/party creation, not in deciding whether to taste the chef's cookies or kick his ass(though these choices are a bonus as well)!
Ah, I think here's our main point of disagreement. Basically, most of us do have our own parties that we're used to, and we keep those around and use them most of the time. But for that very reason, it's nice to see the occasional scenario that requires the use of a completely different party that fits in specifically with that scenario, but that we wouldn't normally choose to use. Furthermore, when the designer knows what party the player is using, he can tailor the scenario's challenges to the party in a much more precise way.

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Besides that, it is not about BoA players used to feeling like they are in (complete) control adn being angry that we/they are not. It is about (C)RPG veterans, like myself, used to having some interaction with our CRPGs...being able to create our OWN characters according to OUR tastes adn taking them on wonderful adventures designed by others.
And in the majority of scenarios, you can do just that. It's just that some of us sometimes think it's nice to have a party that's more than just an anonymous extension of the player's will.

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But as much as I liked EM I was turned off a bit that so much work went into the technical aspects(cutscenes) which did little for me, while the 'meat' of the scenario consisted of a single mini-dungeon and a couple other fights(don't want to be too spoily here).
Most of us have limited free time. If a fight isn't new and different from what we've seen before, many of us would rather see it left out for the sake of keeping the scenario moving.

Basically, designers are favoured most when they keep to the maxim "if it isn't up to the standard of your best work, either fix it or leave it out entirely". And before you ask, yes, I agree that could probably be applied to cutscenes just as readily as to fights.

[ Saturday, February 26, 2005 00:56: Message edited by: Thuryl ]

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The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
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Member # 156
Profile #20
quote:
Originally written by Thuryl:


quote:
Yes...WE have and it never gets old :D (unlike linear, being led by the nose through someone's creative vision type scenarios).
If you're talking about TM's work here, do keep in mind that the first advice most players will give you regarding a TM scenario is to ignore the plot. :P

Actually, I was NOT talking about TM's work. I am the last person to critique someone's work on how nifty the plot is(I don't personally care about plot beyond it being at least somewhat cosistent). I was speaking generally about adventure/scenario designers who sometimes fall into the 'console trap' of emulating Final Fantasy type games(I see some of this in TM's stuff but so far I have not been too put off by him) where the PCs are lead from point 'A' to cutscene 'A' to point 'B' to cutscene 'B', etc. and the player cannot deviate from this path by ANY means.

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He's popular as a designer mainly because he has a knack for presenting interesting tactical challenges. It seems to me that the main difference between his scenarios and the kind of is that TM's scenarios present a mostly linear series of self-contained tactical challenges, whereas you seem to prefer to be able to view the scenario as a whole as a single, all-encompassing tactical challenge.
Actually, I prefer a series of tactical challenges of varying difficulties. I just don't want to be FORCED to go from *this* fight to *that* puzzle then to *the next* fight etc. If my first level party stumbles into the dragon cave and gets toasted, I can figure out for myself when I want to try that again and how I will go about beating it.

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Well, my point was that "conventional" BoE combat (i.e. lots of monsters with few fancy tricks) rarely provides a challenge. Standards of "conventional" BoA combat and corresponding strategies are likewise beginning to form. And whatever you may think of TM's plots (and frankly, as far as I'm concerned, the less one thinks about them the better), it's innovators like TM who are able to look past those standards and provide new and interesting challenges.
No argument there. Don't get me wrong...even if I play, for example, a scenario by TM in the future that is entirely linear(and way longer than EM) does not mean I am going to trash it at CSR or something(in fact I doubt my own reviews would be below the average). If one looks for what is good about a scenario, one will find it. I would reserve outright bad reviews for outright bad scenarios(regardless of linearity). If a scenario is designed for pregens or somesuch, I simply won't play(or review) it due to my personal tastes being what they are. I have never played many BoE scenarios such as Nebulous Times Hence, Emulations, Election and one or two of Alcitris' because of this very reason but not because I thought they were objectively "bad".


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But the thing is, the people in this community who innovate the most also tend to be the ones who have grand artistic visions to take us through. Fairly often, the two are inseparable; a particular combat works and makes sense because of the way the plot's progressed. (Besides, plot generally makes combat feel more unique and important; as one community member once said when betatesting my scenario, "I like to kill people with personalities".)
Maybe right. It's kind of a weird thing because BoA's combat is actually, from a tactical perspective, in many ways inferior to BoE. It's little things like taking dual-weilding(two weapon) combat out and replacing Fireball with "Fireblast". Robs the game of a whole lot of tactical considerations.

Anyways, it's early still and I should be through Canopy and Bhassikava(I know I spelled that wrong) within a few days and might even trek over to CSR adn give my thoughts on what I have played thus far. Time will tell exactly how intertwined egotis...er, 'Creative vision' is with tactically satisfying scenario design.

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"I am in a very peculiar business. I travel all over the world telling people what they should already know." - James Randi
Posts: 219 | Registered: Saturday, October 13 2001 07:00
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Well, as I've said, you're free not to play scenarios if you're pretty sure you won't enjoy them. Just keep in mind that designers generally don't make major structural decisions in their scenarios for frivolous reasons. Plot may not be of supreme importance to players, but 99% of the time it's the main thing motivating designers to finish their work. If the plot requires restricting the player's control or using certain features of the game in unusual ways, so be it.

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The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
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I am of the opinion that I would rather have TM being egotistical than pandering to the player's egotism. Personally, I very much like TM's scenarios, especially their linearity. They don't feel like preaching or flimsily justified strings of interesting combats. Rather, they create a sense of the party's residence in a world bigger than itself and its experiences, caught up in a swirl of events of a similar scale.

For instance, in EM, the party has its problems with the Aquos gem, etc., but there are problems that it cannot solve (i.e. Lyfan). In Canopy, there is no way to actually win, nor can you ever get to visit Ygdrassil. These touches, IMO, do more to give the player the impression that his party inhabits an actual world than an enormous collection of generic quests and scenery like A3. I think that this is a truer form of role-playing than giving the player complete control over everything and letting him visit everything within the scenario and solve every problem.

In conclusion, keep up the good work, TM, and nice article.

[ Saturday, February 26, 2005 06:11: Message edited by: PoD person ]
Posts: 293 | Registered: Saturday, May 29 2004 07:00
Off With Their Heads
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Profile Homepage #23
I just had an interesting discussion with someone over e-mail about Bahs, someone who really disliked the scenario and felt that I was dictating too much to the player.

I realized after a certain point that this person simply conceived of scenarios in a different way than I do, and I think SkeleTony does, as well. I've always found the objections to a pre-made party to be a bit strange, since I rather like them -- Election is one of my favorite scenarios, and so is Emulations, and NTH is not too shabby either -- but there are a substantial number of people who find needing to use a particular party to be irritating.

I also don't quite understand why designing a scenario the way that the designer likes scenarios to be is egotistical or self-absorbed in any way.

Ultimately I've found that certain people just don't like the same things as I do in scenarios -- the chitrachs? I thought the chitrachs in Bahs were a funny little distraction, and I have no idea why anyone thought they were a new and interesting challenge, but I enjoyed the N-K fight quite a bit.

I don't know. This bears more thinking about.

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Arancaytar: Every time you ask people to compare TM and Kel, you endanger the poor, fluffy kittens.
Smoo: Get ready to face the walls!
Ephesos: In conclusion, yarr.

Kelandon's Pink and Pretty Page!!: the authorized location for all things by me
The Archive of all released BoE scenarios ever
Posts: 7968 | Registered: Saturday, February 28 2004 08:00
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quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

I just had an interesting discussion with someone over e-mail about Bahs, someone who really disliked the scenario and felt that I was dictating too much to the player.

Basically, your scenario consisted of 3 dungeons. One forked to the other two. Or didn't fork, because you had to do west/south before north. The question in my mind vis a vis this this article, then, is: would it really have hurt to allow the player to go either south or north once they got to the guardpost?
perhaps a scout who went south/west (sneaking through magical routes like ithik and phaedra did up north) tells the players there's a demon threat to the south/west... so if they clear the north side first you can say "well, you could go on to the slith city, but there's demons coming up behind you unless you finish them off".

now it's "less linear". not that I found linearity a problem in your scenario - it was one quest, afterall. complaint that your quest is linear is like complaining that any of the 3 end-quests to Avernum was linear once you started down them. you just had a third of the number of end-quests and no long "build your party up" section before hand.
Posts: 206 | Registered: Thursday, April 18 2002 07:00

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