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Old January 29, 2013, 17:22   #1
Derakon
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Random brainstorming

Don't mind me, just thinking out loud.

As I've mentioned in the past, one of my favorite RPG combat systems is the Grandia II system, where each actor in the battle is placed on a "timeline" broken into sections: WAIT -> DECIDE -> CHARGE -> ACT. In WAIT, the actor waits to accumulate enough energy to take an action (rate of accumulation depends on actor's initiative). At DECIDE, they select an action and its target(s). In CHARGE, they wait to accumulate energy again (rate depends on the action, the actor's stats, etc.). At ACT, the action occurs.

Additionally, some actions can move actors about on the timeline. The most obvious of this is that attacks with the "Cancel" attribute will move the target back into the WAIT phase when they land, potentially wasting the target's turn (depending on how well the Cancel attack was timed).

One tricky thing about Grandia II is that it almost entirely abstracts away movement. While positioning on the battlefield is important (most spells hit an area of effect), typically the player does not spend much of any time thinking about where they are on the battlefield. Movement is bundled into the "attack" command (so when you attack, first you automatically run up to the target, then you attack, then you automatically retreat to a random location). Likewise, targets are always actors on the battlefield, not positions on it. Such "smart targeting" simplifies the player's life -- they don't have to try to time a movement command to land them next to an enemy so that they can then, some time later, use an attack command. But it means that area-of-attack abilities tend to have massive areas so that they have a reasonable chance of hitting multiple opponents. And of course defensive positioning is almost entirely nonexistent.

One possible fix for this would be to bundle movement into every action, but make it have an associated cost assessed after the action is completed (by pushing the actor further back along the WAIT line). So you reach ACT, decide to Attack, go through CHARGE, and then you can do some amount of movement combined with the Attack at some point. Then you're pushed back into WAIT, with the distance being (cost of Attack command) + (number of steps taken) * (cost of Move command). Of course, you can assess different costs for moving in different circumstances (terrain, or through enemy-controlled territory, or with different [de]buffs in effect, etc.), and there'd be a cap on just how badly you can send yourself into debt.

Another thing I'd like to see with this kind of system is the ability to spend actions to set up downstream effects. I saw something like this in the Atelier series of JRPGs (well, I watched a few combat videos; I haven't played any of the games myself). In those games actors can take actions that cause several events to happen downstream. For example, you cast a spell, and it occurs once immediately, and then four more times at set intervals in the future. Or you lay a bomb which explodes after a set amount of time.

The overall goal in a roguelike-style game would be to encourage the player to try to predict what will happen in the future. The better they are at this, the more advantageously they can position themselves to avoid taking damage while effectively dispatching their opponents. For example:

1) Enemy starts charging a slow but powerful attack targeted at the player's position.
2) Player hits DECIDE phase; wants to cast a time-delayed fireball, but needs to be out of the enemy attack's area of effect when it goes off.
3) Player does some mental estimates, decides he probably has enough time. Readies spell, targets it where he thinks enemy orc group will be when it goes off.
4) Player's spell finishes CHARGE phase and is emplaced; player gets to move.
5) Enemy charged attack goes off.

Ideally the timings for this will be loose in the early game. Actors would be well-separated into distinct "turns", there'd be relatively few effects that are themselves time-delayed, and the only effects that move actors along the timeline would be Cancel attacks. This gives the player time to get used to the system. The timings should get progressively tighter as the game goes on, so that by endgame, miscalculating things by a single step should be the difference between being hit and not (which in turn could be the difference between success and failure). Likewise, the most powerful effects should all have time-delays on them, so that the player is rewarded for accurately judging what the battlefield will look like in the future.
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Old January 29, 2013, 20:22   #2
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Hmm, this system actually reminds me of Final Fantasy IV's Active Time Battle system - you have a wait time dependent on your character's speed, then you decide what action to take (say, cast Firaga), then you wait again as your character prepares to cast Firaga (which takes FOREVER), then KABOOM!
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Old January 29, 2013, 20:30   #3
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It has some similarities, but there are also crucial differences between this system and ATB:

* As soon as an actor hits the DECIDE phase, every other actor can see what they plan on doing and where it will be targeted (so actors still in the WAIT phase have a chance to react).
* Several common abilities relate to manipulating actors' positioning and "speed" on the timeline.
* Positioning on the battlefield matters for many attacks / spells.

The first one is really huge. One of my common complaints with most JRPGs (and with Angband too, for that matter) is that in order for them to be difficult, you pretty much have to know what you're getting into before the fight even starts, because by the time you figure out what the enemy does that makes the fight difficult, you've already suffered its effects. So the game can either be balanced for a first playthrough (in which you can prepare generally but not in specific, and must muddle through each fight as best you can), or for a second playthrough (in which you must know what's coming up and prepare yourself ahead of time). In the former case, replayability is harmed because the game becomes easy if you can pick and choose gear to specifically counter the enemy; in the latter case, you end up having to do each fight twice because the first time, with no foreknowledge, you have no hope of winning.

But if the player has a chance to see effects coming before they impact, then they can react and proactively defend themselves.
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Old January 30, 2013, 17:53   #4
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Ooh, that's cool... kind of like "Magus is preparing his most powerful spell..." except you get to see what the spell is?
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Old January 30, 2013, 18:29   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ekolis View Post
Ooh, that's cool... kind of like "Magus is preparing his most powerful spell..." except you get to see what the spell is?
Right, and you can see it for every enemy. So if you're in a fight with a squad of orcs, you can see that one of them is preparing to fire an arrow at you, and another is walking up with intent to bash you over the head; now might be a good time to focus on defense. Or if a dragon is preparing to breathe fire at your area, then you can see the area of effect, take a look at his healthbar, and try to decide if you're better off moving or staying put.
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Old January 30, 2013, 22:41   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derakon View Post
Right, and you can see it for every enemy. So if you're in a fight with a squad of orcs, you can see that one of them is preparing to fire an arrow at you, and another is walking up with intent to bash you over the head; now might be a good time to focus on defense. Or if a dragon is preparing to breathe fire at your area, then you can see the area of effect, take a look at his healthbar, and try to decide if you're better off moving or staying put.
This is basically turning a tactical combat game into a wargame and removing the last vestiges of RPG. In a proper wargame there are lots of rationalisations for knowing the stats and capabilities of enemy units, and potential intelligence/espionage/fog-of-war minigames related to that. But knowing exactly what every enemy is about to do in an RPG? That blows any suspension of disbelief out of the water.

(IMHO.)
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Old January 30, 2013, 22:56   #7
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I guess that means that I find wargame combat to be more interesting than RPG combat.

But seriously, it's more like a tactical RPG system in which every action has some amount of charge time. I believe that the Final Fantasy Tactics series has broadly similar mechanics, for example (though I've not played them myself). Just because you know what the enemy is planning doesn't mean you have perfect information:

* You aren't told where enemies are going to move as part of their actions (which in turn can screw up your own actions as your movement gets blocked or an enemy ends up too far away)
* Actions could happen from outside LOS, surprising you (you don't get told that a dragon's going to breathe fire on you unless you can see the dragon)
* You don't know exactly how much damage a given attack will do -- if it will be dodged, or be a critical hit
* You don't know what enemies will decide to do after you hit DECIDE but before you hit ACT (they may choose actions with shorter charge times allowing them to hit ACT before you do)

Additionally, in the analog world of Grandia games it can be hard to gauge exactly how much time you have before a given attack goes off, as well as how long it will take you to run up to an enemy to smack them in the face (and prevent their attack from going off). I don't know how well that would transition to a roguelike framework though, which is necessarily far more quantized.

But never fear, this is not intended to be a sterile game of numbers.
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