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Old January 16, 2013, 16:50   #1
Derakon
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Depth vs. Complexity

I just watched this episode of Extra Credits, which talks about the relationship between depth and complexity in videogames. I recommend taking a look, but it can be readily summarized:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Summary
Good games have simple rulesets (little complexity), but get a lot out of those rules (high depth).
Complexity turns away players, especially if the rules aren't well-explained or if the player needs to know all of the rules before they can really start playing the game. So even if your complex game is very deep, you'll be limiting your audience to those players that are willing to come to grips with the complex system. This may not be a problem depending on your goals as a developer, but it's worth keeping in mind when you decide how your systems should work.

Now to turn this towards Angband: Angband could be a much more simple game than it is. There's lots of weird little gotchas in the rulesets that create complexity without really increasing depth. What can we get rid of to make the game more accessible / streamlined without losing depth? What can we do with our existing rules to increase depth without increasing complexity? Some brainstorming:
  • Unify the element damage system. Make all resists behave the same way, make all elements have the same damage cap, remove the temporary/permanent stacking system (or make all resists stack, regardless of type). Keep different elements interesting by regulating access to their resistances and how severe their side-effects are. For example, attacks using the "basic four" elements are very common, so their resistances are comparatively valuable -- so you make sure that gear that is generated with those resistances is rare and/or not usually paired with other useful abilities.
  • Simplify the combat system. There's a number of valid possible formulae to use, but the bottom line is that the player ought to be able to reasonably predict how changes in gear will affect their performance. The way that gear relates to the numbers shown in the 'I' screen (in Vanilla) is very opaque.
  • Relatedly, decide on a basic formula for stat checks and use it the same way everywhere. Searching, using magic devices, being stealthy, resisting spells, hitting opponents, etc. should all use the same system.
  • Add a unified-use key. Do we seriously still not have one? Sure the specific-item-type keys are useful (especially for keymaps), but there's no need to front-load that complexity; let the player learn the basic use-item key at the start and then they can learn about 'a'im wand etc. when they need to.
  • Linearize the stat system (so that raising a given stat by +1 always has the same effect, whether it's from 8-9 or 39 to 40). Of course this will have far-reaching ramifications for the player power curve, but the current system of accelerating returns at the very top is really weird. Surely there are better ways to encourage a strong focus in a specific stat.
  • While we're at it, get rid of the 18/X syntax. This is added complexity for zero gain in depth!

I believe Sil has already done many of these.
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Old January 16, 2013, 18:08   #2
fizzix
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derakon View Post
I believe Sil has already done many of these.
Seriously, while there are problems with the sil system it's a great starting point. I would seriously consider scrapping the V combat system in pyrel and building off of Sil's system.

Linearizing gains with stats is a big issue and certainly one that we can certainly do irrelevant of the rest. Note that you can get higher order polynomial functions from combining several linear stats. For example, with HP if you have a linear scaling with level and CON, you get a quadratic relation. If you add in damage reduction from armor (effectively raising HP), you get a cubic relation. If you want to recreate V with linear systems you could do it but you'd rescale the CON to extend to higher values and make the high end armor have large CON bonuses (end level rings would be something like +20 CON because instead of going from 18-150 to 18-200 it needs to go from 40-60 for the equivalent HP gain). In other words, there's no reason that gear bonuses can't be non-linear, but stats -> effects should be linear if possible.

However, this is a massive rescaling effort and we need to pick our start and endpoints at the beginning and then base everything off of that. Do we want player HP to start at 10 and max at 100, 500, 1000? What about enemy HP. Right now the game is very asymmetric, should we keep it that way, or should monsters have roughly the same HP as players? We should decide these things first and then figure out what the scales should be for everything.

I'm personally a fan of striving for symmetry, because it's silly to have a difference between the way a player deals damage and the way a monster deals damage (as is currently the case.) This means removing multiple blows entirely and rethinking how monsters attack. Again, another big change. Make sure the points at the beginning and the end match up and then fill in everything in the middle. It would also mean scrapping all the hard work Derakon and Magnate have done in v4 combat, so it's hard for me to push for it too much.

Parity in stats is also important. That doesn't exist now at all, and it should. I really would like to either adopt Sil's 4 point system with Grace replaced by Magic, or a 5 point system where you separate out magic power from spell points into different stats and ignore the priest-mage divide where one uses WIS and one uses INT.

Then we need to think hard about how we deal with things like stat-potions and the like. These are notoriously difficult to balance. Maybe stat-potions give N points and the player gets to choose where they go. Maybe you get them from special drop items from bosses, or on level ups (i'm actually a big fan of stat-gain on level up).

As an aside here are a list of simple concepts that we can base a full game off of.
  • Hit points
  • Spell points
  • Strength (controls how much damage you do with a weapon)
  • Dexterity (controls how easy it is for you to hit with a weapon/avoid a hit)
  • Magic power (controls how much damage you do with spells and devices)
  • Saving throws (controls how likely it is for you to resist an effect.*)
  • Weapon damage
  • Armor damage reduction
  • Armor evasion increase
  • Elemental resistances (I prefer damage amounts over percentages.)

* I think saving throws should work as follows, the effect rolls a die and if it's higher than your saving throw, you succumb. if it's lower, you do not. High enough saving throw = immunity from weaker effects. I think this is superior to either competing dice rolls or having the player roll against a static value.

Anyway, that's probably enough for now.
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Old January 16, 2013, 18:30   #3
Scatha
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Nice post. I think this is a useful language, and you do a great job of identifying changes to consider.

You're right that Sil has done pretty much all of these; this is because keeping complexity under control was a big part of the development aim. (The ideal is to find mechanics which are both simple and deep, and I think we often achieved that, but we have some tradeoffs where there is more complexity than we'd like, and some where we rejected an otherwise better rule on simplicity grounds.)

I think it's obvious that everything in your list should be done. What's not obvious is the best way to do each one (and you may want to defer doing them until you've worked that out). We made decisions about these in Sil, but there are lots of good possible solutions for most of them.

Edit: I'm just slow posting. This crossed with fizzix.
Edit2: Almost everything fizzix said sounds sensible to me! Getting to choose where to allocate points from stat potions stands out as a relatively dubious idea (in terms of complexity cost) in a field of excellent ones.

Last edited by Scatha; January 16, 2013 at 19:00.
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Old January 16, 2013, 18:50   #4
Mikko Lehtinen
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For Halls of Mist, I'm striving for asymmetric simplicity, where the player is very different from the monsters.

In my vision, the player is a complicated object with 15 skills with percentage scores. Monsters are much simpler, but many have special abilities that don't have to fit the mold.

I can afford to make the player much more complicated because the UI is designed to show all that info easily.

For monsters I prefer binary abilities like armored/not armored. Binary stats are easy to memorize. Having to 'l'ook at monsters all the time is boring.

If you are supposed to make constant combat decisions based on things like monster's evasion and armor rating, those scores should be visible all the time. That's a serious UI design challenge. I prefer to keep things asymmetric instead.
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Old January 16, 2013, 18:58   #5
Derakon
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Regarding the v4 combat system, I think that it could still be used if we're willing to sacrifice some degree of granularity. For example:

Each weapon is classed into one of three categories: light/medium/heavy. Light weapons are finesse weapons; heavy weapons are prowess weapons, and medium are balanced. All weapons roll 1 die on hit (e.g. 1d4, 1d12, 1d20).

For each point of DEX, you get one additional blow with a light weapon, .5 additional with a medium weapon, and 0 with a heavy weapon. For each point of STR, you get an extra die roll with a heavy weapon, .5 extra rolls with a medium, and 0 with a light. Round down.

Thus a rogue with a 1d6 rapier and 4 DEX would get 4x 1d6 blows; a paladin with a 1d6 hammer and 4 STR would get a 4d6 blow; a warrior with a 1d6 shortsword, 2 DEX and 3 STR would get 2x 2d6 blows.

Slays would be like guaranteed STR bonuses. I think it'd also be interesting to have weapons that don't do extra damage against a given "race", but do give other bonuses, like never missing or causing the race to take a penalty on skill checks (e.g. orcs being afraid of Orcrist). I'm not sure what to do about crits.

Enemy "weapons" would work similarly, but they might have multiple weapons to choose from. For example, a dragon's claw attack could be a light-weight weapon while its bite would be heavy, so if it chooses to bite you, you have to take one big blow, while the claws would be two lesser blows. Of course different effects might be attached to those blows as well. You'd show the monster memory as e.g.

Code:
Mature Red Dragon ('d')
STR: 4
DEX: 2
CON: 3
INT: 3
WIS: 4
Bite (heavy, burn) 1d8
Claw (light) 1d6
Of course, I expect that any changes along these lines would quickly be rejected by the player base as straying too far from Vanilla.
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Old January 16, 2013, 19:21   #6
Scatha
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derakon View Post
Of course, I expect that any changes along these lines would quickly be rejected by the player base as straying too far from Vanilla.
I don't know what to say to this. Status quo bias is well documented, so it's likely some people will always be change averse, and I'm sure that a small fraction of the player base would reject it for this (however old versions will still exist). If it genuinely makes the game better, however, I'd be pretty confident it would increase the size of the player base in the long run, from a combination of increased retention of new and existing players, increasing recommendations, and perhaps enticing back players who tried the game and rejected it.
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Old January 16, 2013, 19:21   #7
Mikko Lehtinen
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I really like that simplified combat system, Derakon.
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Old January 16, 2013, 20:03   #8
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It's hard not to agree with everything everyone's said in this thread. But I'm going to try.

I think that for some people the opacity and complexity is the attraction. The whole thing is not just a game. It's a puzzle to solve, and an unfolding mystery. And I'm not talking about mystery in the pretend-there's-a-Santa-Claus fake-retention-of-innocence sense; it's more like there's so much complexity you can't get your head around it all. For these people, it's the mastery of all that that is the challenge, not getting individual game wins.

For those of us posting in this thread that mystery is well and truly gone, but should we take it away for new players?

(Note: That last is not rhetorical - I am undecided)
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Old January 16, 2013, 20:23   #9
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I actually object to the original thesis, on the grounds that I've always had more fun playing ToME and other zany variants than Vanilla Angband.

Don't get me wrong, I think V's simplicity is in some ways a strong point (e.g. no wilderness = more focus on gameplay). But I've felt for a while that V suffers from a serious Lack Of Interesting Stuff. I want a game that's complicated and crazy and self-contradictory. I want to play weird classes with weird capabilities. I want more monsters, more item types, and more spell effects than I can shake a stick at. Simple games can be habit-forming, but it's hard to make them involving.

In other words... YMMV.

Edit: to be a bit clearer, I would say I prefer complexity and depth not just to simplicity and shallowness, but also to simplicity and depth. I like games where I can't keep all the rules in my head at the same time.
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Old January 16, 2013, 20:25   #10
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Originally Posted by Derakon View Post
Of course, I expect that any changes along these lines would quickly be rejected by the player base as straying too far from Vanilla.
Honestly this doesn't bother me at all for pyrel. The bigger question is whether the people working on the code can come into agreement and make a finished game together (perhaps very different from V) or whether we'll split off and make our own games individually once the base is complete.

The biggest question I have with combat is how to handle multiple blows for both players and monsters. Right now the player gets X multiple blows for one turn of combat and a monster gets N (possibly) different blows. I don't like this for a lot of reasons. Mainly, I don't like multiple blows and shots because if there's one thing that very quickly becomes complex (and life or death crucial) it's trying to evaluate complicated fractional action speeds. In other words, for simplicity all actions including attacks should take the same amount of time. Later we can talk about increasing only movement speed, but I think global speed increases, as occurs in V, is absolutely out of the question if simplicity is desired.

I do think it's worth it to set out some basic guidelines for ranges of hit points and damage amounts. Then we can figure out what we need for granularity. Perhaps the Sil folks can give guidance?

(I'm going to drop all discussion of stat potions, we can have that talk in another thread.)

edit: @Therem: At the end this comes down to a design choice. For ToME (i'm talking about DarkGod's tome here, not sure if you are also) I find that the skills and abilities that have a clear and obvious effect are good, and the ones that have an obscure mechanic (i.e. spell crit %) are bad. There's obviously a balance here, but if I had my druthers, I would start with a simple system that gets progressively more complex as the game or player's abilities progress. So you start with a simplified dungeon game and then you go to a variant/campaign with more abilities. You make sure that the simple game is a complete experience.

Last edited by fizzix; January 16, 2013 at 20:31.
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