Article - The Challenge Pits

AuthorTopic: Article - The Challenge Pits
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The Challenge Pits

When designing a scenario, an author will attempt to provide challenges to the player. Effectively challenging him or her is vital to the success of any scenario. These challenges generally take two forms: tactical and logical. Implementing these effectively is a challenge in itself. Doing so is more of an artform than a science, but there are some key pitfalls to avoid.

Tactical Pitfalls

Tactical challenges put the player in difficult combat situations. Many players say they want good challenging combat. Knowing how much (quantity) and what kind (quality) to implement is a difficult judgment and is a balancing game every designer must play.

In terms of the quantity of combat, the designer should try to keep the combat fresh. Fight, after fight, after fight, after fight of hack slash mania gets old very quickly. This is not to say that you should not have some combat, but you need to be careful not to overuse it. If the player just hacked up twenty skeletons, they probably will not need another room full of them. Do something a little different in the next room that may not involve combat at all. The pitfall to avoid is making a dungeon full of monsters and leaving nothing really interesting there in terms of the combat. Smashing up lots of bandits becomes very, very tedious and the player needs another way to satisfy his or her interests.

The other issue with quantity is not how much combat, but how strong the monsters in the combat are. A common mistake of a novice designer is to equate big numbers in the monster stat fields as a challenging, interesting, and fun combat experience. 99% of the time it turns out to be aggravating, mundane, and boring. Raising stats to increase a challenge is fine, but as you increase the stats, the fun factor first increases until some fuzzy point where the combat becomes tedious and then the fun drops like a boulder off a high cliff. To increase the fun factor past this, you need to improve the quality of the combat.

There are many ways to improve the quality of combat. All involve doing something unexpected, out of the ordinary, and hopefully thrilling. BoA offers a powerful scripting tool to work both internally and externally to the monsters involved.

Working internally involves using monster scripts to influence the behavior. The original BoA scenarios are full of little tricks that have a various creature do something unexpected and out of the ordinary whether it be firing a harmful beam, summoning allies, or teleporting PCs. These got a little old after some time and the scripts used there are quite elementary and mundane. For future scenarios, designers will need to come up with new tricks to improve the combat experience. Just remember that harder does not always equal better, creativity does.

External combat effects involve using scripts or effective placement to do something unexpected. An example would be having a big fight and as the party begins to win, several allies bust in and surround the party renewing the challenge. Simple things like having monsters sneak up on the party can be an effective way to improve the challenge and catch the player off guard.

Doing things the player does not expect is key to improving the effect of the combat. Just remember to avoid the key pitfall in combat: more is not always better.

The Logic of Illogic

So now you've just had the combat that made the player's heart race. Now you want to switch gears and do something more cerebral. You want a logical challenge or some kind of puzzle. Well, that's great, but you need to be careful to avoid the pitfalls of logical puzzles.

Logical puzzles should be there to challenge the player, not annoy them. Do not make something so elaborate and complicated, that it would take hours upon hours to complete. Creating the appropriate amount of logical challenge is much more difficult than with tactical challenges because the stats of the party generally do not matter, but the stats of the player (which you have no way to monitor) do. In creating these, make sure you have plenty of clues and explanations of any necessary background information necessary. Mandatory riddles should be avoided since they often assume a cultural or language background the player may not have. The key pitfall to avoid is making invalid assumptions about a player and failing to provide enough necessary background information to him or her.

The common novice mistake is to assume lots and lots of secret passages and levers are a good thing. This is patently untrue. I cannot count the number of novice dungeons I have played that were "puzzle dungeons" of little more than secret passages, pulling levers and switches to open gates, and finding keys to unlock doors or chests. These have been done a bagillion times before and we do not need more of them. It is fine to use these traditional outlets if they make sense. If it makes sense to have a gate or a locked door, feel free to use it. If the secret passage is there for a good reason, use it.

This brings up the point of logical puzzles versus illogical puzzles. The logical challenges you have should be logical and make sense in the context of the dungeon. Having a teleportation maze in a goblin lair is generally not a good idea. Ideally, you want to make the logical challenge blend in with the dungeon. The puzzle is there because it should be there and makes perfect sense. Designers should at least attempt to justify their logic puzzles lest they become pointless illogic puzzles. Even experienced designers fall into the pit of creating a puzzle just for the sake of a puzzle which is not a logic puzzle, but an illogic puzzle and serves to annoy the player rather than impress him or her.

Staying on Level Ground

The main point of this article is convey what to avoid when making combat or logic puzzles. Do not make them too hard or obscure. Do not make them tedious and aggravating. Do not just throw in combat or puzzles for the sake of combat and puzzles, they should make sense. These anti-fun combat or puzzle experiences turn off many players no matter how good or neat the reward is. Remember completing the challenge should be a reward in itself, the item reward should just be a reminder of the experience.

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Your flower power is no match for my glower power!
Posts: 3726 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Warrior
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I am mostly fully agree with this article up to any of its comma.

That wrote, I felt it was sometimes a bit because we share same tastes. And also, there's the "mostly".

Few remarks, quickly done because I don't have much time (could come tomorrow for more).

1 - The very good advice about giving a "story" justification about the presence of a puzzle goes a bit further than the subject of the article.

I point that because I think that a very similar advice could be made for all the fights and in fact for all "gaming" elements.

I have played very few scenario where all the fights had a strong story justification and had a little story build arround them. But since I did, I wish that all scenario make this effort.

2 - About giving sense to a locked door, a secret passage, ...

I'm not sure of its meaning, I see two:
- This will give them a logic and that's the minimal hint they require.
- This will give them a "story" logic/background and this will improve their quality.

I agree on both but I think secrets is something very special. I don't mean required secrets to find. A crazy secret with just a tiny hint that most players won't see is a nice reward for the pure hardcore players. What's great about secrets is that they will hardly frustrate the player if it's not mandatory to find them.

But even for the secrets to "not find", if you add in it a bit of story background instead of just a little bonus, this will strongly improve its fun.

3 - About keys and closed doors

I think they should relate to only three categories otherwise I think that there's no need to keep them:
- Puzzles and then they fit to advices you made about puzzles.
- Part of story, then they need to have a very strong logic in the story.
- Flow management, they could be pratical for that but if they are used only for this reason, you should anyway give them a bit of story logic.

Obviously those three categories could be mixed.

4 - About puzzles

I understand why you advice that none of them should be too difficult and I agree in general.

But I don't think it's that bad to have very few puzzles that are tougher as soon as they aren't mandatory. Unlike very tough secrets, the player will see the puzzle and will see he can't solve it. This involves a bit of frustration.

I saw in few scenario those sort of puzzles and a hint enough clear that there's no need to solve it and that it is very tough. Then frustration is lower a lot and challenge for hardcore players could be a nice reward to them. But having more than one or two of these puzzle in a scenario could irritate.

5 - About the fights again I strongly agree.

But I think that sometimes a difficult fight could be repeat just once. This could be fun particularly when some of its difficulty is based on suprise as you suggest.

The trick is that many players will be surprised and will fail the first fight at least once. The second time, the chalenge is that they detect the repetition and then take care of the possible surprises and take care to apply what they just learned.

That works much better for action games but I think it's perhaps a good idea for BoA.

6 - Tricky fights and learning curve

As you suggest, fights in BoA will need scripts to get a better fun. Then they could imply very special tactics to apply and this could stuck for too long some players.

So instead of lower the challenge of this fight, if it's possible you could make before a fight where you learn more easily some tricks that will be usefull in a next fight more challenging (from tactic point of view).

7 - About designing fights

I'm a bit worry that despite the power of scripts, the BoA engine is a bit too much limited. For example in order to have a unit that resists much more to long range weapons (bows, throwing) than to other sort of weapons.

Perhaps I don't see some possibilities.

[ Thursday, April 29, 2004 18:07: Message edited by: Vent ]
Posts: 175 | Registered: Friday, April 2 2004 08:00
Shock Trooper
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For your point 7, you can come close to "faking" it by only putting (for example) flaming arrows in your scenario (that do most of their damage from fire). Then make the monsters immune to fire damage.

It would have been nice to have damage broken down by piercing/slashing/bashing/etc., and being able to set resistances to each. But the system we have will work, if not as well. :)

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-spyderbytes
Posts: 200 | Registered: Wednesday, March 31 2004 08:00
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Thanks, that's a nice suggestion. But it isn't easy to apply to any scenario:
- Because I think it requires to remove existing ammo and weapons from PC inventory.
- It could be a bit difficult to justify that for any story.

I'm trying to do a scenario (writing phase). I was making a list of the fights and idea of fights. When I tried to match roughly idea of fights with editor possibilities, I didn't saw how I could do some.

I agree the possibilities seems already very good (calls, controls on various characteristics, some ai controls) and I need explore that to see what could be done. But well, I feel it is missing some base elements and some more control on creatures tactics.

Yes, I could not see possibilities because I'm a too newbie for the editor and with scripting real possibilities.

Anyway, here a list of features that I could think of for tactical design of fights. Well, I'm not sure all could be useful for tactic design of a fight:
1 - Having for creatures different damage resistance bewteen long range and close range weapons. Ok your suggestion of fire damages is interesting but has constraints.
2 - Having creature imune to weapons but not to magic, it's by giving them a very high defense that will parry only pure hits?
3 - Having creature imune to magic but not to weapons, it's by giving them a very high magic resistance that will parry all magic attack but not weapon attacks?
4 - The same than the two previous questions but during only a limited time or script/event controlled. For the imunity against weapon, I don't see and for script/event control to stop/start protections, I suppose through scripts but it's not clear.
5 - Having creature immune to damages from spells but not other spell. More generally having them immune against some spells not not other.
6 - Having more spell possibilities like area spells (not a series of targets), spell to immune to damages from spells but not other spell. More generally some spells that immune/protect against some spells not some other. reverse spells to remove protections.
7 - Having sneaking creatures. Well I think it's roughly possible with scripts. But I'd wish also have them to move around and have to manage with obstacles, plus they cannot be hit by weapons but only by spells when they sneak.
8 - Sneaking creature that can hide, hit, then be visible and possibility to skip x round to be invisible again.
9 - In general having possibilities and controls to use invisibility or partial invisibility during fights.
10 - Having 'slippering' creatures, they are hurt normally but when they move they don't receive agaisnt them attack of oportunity.
11 - Having flying creatures that can fly above some obstacles but not other like walls.
12 - Having creatures that can pass through walls. Well it seems probably possible to simulate with scripts.
13 - Possibility to have a creature hide from being hit instead on only flee.
14 - Various possibilities to define a creature possible rounds like in order to define creatures that move to aim, shot, hide again in one round.
15 - Some possibilities to detect spells cast by the party. For example in order to do something special during a fight or for a creature if a precise spell is cast.

[ Friday, April 30, 2004 06:50: Message edited by: Vent ]
Posts: 175 | Registered: Friday, April 2 2004 08:00
Shock Trooper
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2, 3. You can do these right now. You can individually set a monster's resistance to Fire, Cold, Magic, Mental, Poision/Acid, and Melee, anywhere from 0% (no resistance) to 100% (completely immune).
4. I'm sure this can be "faked" somehow, though I haven't given it enough thought to know how. :)
5. No way to do this that I know of. And I agree... it would be nice to have (but unlikely we'll ever see it).
7 - 14. Most of this can be faked with some creative scripting.
15. I would definitely like to see this, too (but doubt that we ever will). I could do some interesting things with it. :)

EDIT: Had a typo :o

[ Friday, April 30, 2004 11:01: Message edited by: spyderbytes ]

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-spyderbytes
Posts: 200 | Registered: Wednesday, March 31 2004 08:00
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A possible solution for #4 would be to change the creature type to a nigh-on identical version, except with different immunities. (Icon shifts could be used in interesting ways here.)

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Posts: 6936 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Triad Mage
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You can see my article on challenging combat for more suggestions.

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"At times discretion should be thrown aside, and with the foolish we should play the fool." - Menander
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Posts: 9436 | Registered: Wednesday, September 19 2001 07:00
Shock Trooper
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^ That, too. :) I knew there was another point I intended to make but forgot. Drakey's article is quite good.

You can also check here for some creature scripts you could use "as is" or as inspiration for things you can do in creating your own monsters. Just don't hold the scripts of mine there against me... I was just learning Avernumscript when I wrote those. I should update them with what I know now, I suppose...

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-spyderbytes
Posts: 200 | Registered: Wednesday, March 31 2004 08:00
Shock Trooper
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from a consumer's point of view or from a novice player - Please refrain from JV's trapped room puzzle (ie orb storing room in AV2). I played AV2 and found this is rather annoying. It was less frustrating for me since I use the walkthrough, but I know I won't have interest to try to solve it on my own. The most I would do is to take damage from whatever traps and just hightail out of there.
Posts: 266 | Registered: Wednesday, November 12 2003 08:00
Warrior
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Thanks for the tips. I agree the Drakefyre is cool with many idea. I'm searching idea to force the player using his different chars in the party and some suggestions you did could be useful.

About the script examples, it's nice have more (than Jeff's scripts) even if not up to date. It doesn't matter, they are useful to have quick examples of what could be done more than to use them directly as a library, at least for me.

About the scripts and the calls, I which to have a more pratical doc like to see lists of method names with parameters and by categories or/and where they can be called. And only if I click, I get a description. That would allow to find faster what's available.
Posts: 175 | Registered: Friday, April 2 2004 08:00
Law Bringer
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*bump* To preserve material
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00