Elegance vs. Simplicity

Category: Monsters Den ChroniclesMonsters' Den: Godfall Comments: 31 comments

When I was implementing the (new in Chronicles) “action clock”-driven battle system, I was faced with a problem. In the previous system every character took one turn per round, and so regeneration and skill effect durations were all tied to turns. But now having a higher Quickness stat meant that a character would actually have more turns. On top of the obvious benefits of acting more often, they would regenerate more quickly and effects on them would expire more quickly.

I spent a long time thinking about how to address this. Eventually, I settled on what seemed an elegant solution: since the action clocks filled up in real time, why not use that time to measure effect durations and space out regeneration ticks? It put all characters on a level playing field and helped tie all of those systems together. Unfortunately, what I’ve only come to realize lately is that while I was in love with the elegance of it, from a player’s perspective it is terrible.

Elegant it may have been, but it was also far too complex. To answer a simple question like “will my character get a turn before this effect expires” requires either an intuitive grasp of the timings that a player is not likely to attain, or a large amount of additional user interface. I did my best with the Chronicles interface, but it was already far too crowded and so this kind of vital information was not readily available. That’s bad. It cripples the strategic element of the game when a player doesn’t feel they have the information they need to make the correct decisions. I need to fix it.

So, with Godfall I have a couple of options:

  1. Improve the interface so that the system is more comprehensible to users
  2. Move back to using character turns

I am heavily leaning towards option 2. I’m less convinced now that the variation between characters is a huge problem, and there are ways to partially mitigate it. For instance, regeneration values can be higher on heavier equipment. I’m growing convinced that this is one of the missteps I made in the transition from Book of Dread to Chronicles.



31 comments to Elegance vs. Simplicity

  • TheGreatKhan  says:

    I’m actually very happy to see you considering this, as the new time clock was my least favorite change in Chronicles: while nicer looking and arguably more realistic, it made for a lot of situations where I was watching one of my characters’ action clocks and one of my opponents’ barely time out before the other. That being said, feel free to mention other concepts for combat systems that you’re mulling over (if any), but turn based seems to work nicely enough and while it is simple, variance in abilities and effects/interactions can go a long way to flesh out combat strategy I think. Lovely to have another post and best of luck with your work!

  • garin  says:

    Just to clarify, I’m not scrapping action clocks entirely. They add too much value– skills which modify another character’s clock, skills which vary in effectiveness based on the clock of the target, half actions etc.

    This is just about potentially moving away from using real time to control regeneration and condition duration.

    (Although half actions are the biggest problem with this, really)

    • Jabbaba  says:

      Personally I love the action clock system, but I also hate when I plan something and then it expires before I can make use of it. So I have an Idea:
      n’t like turn ba
      How about you add time remaining numbers to the action clocks, it would then show how much time is remaining till the character gets his turn. The number would of course be modified by quickness buffs and debuffs.

      I would realy hate if you would remove the action clock system, I realy love it. I usually don’t like turn based games, but I like this one because of the action clocks.

      Please try to impliment this idea and please don’t remove the action clocks.

    • rainen  says:

      I got an idea. You have the action clock, but you also have a hidden action clock that always starts the battle empty and fills based on the raw quickness of each fighter. Once all hidden action clocks have filled,the turn counter advances, the hidden action clocks are emptied and all over time abilities advance.

  • waterzx  says:

    To be honest, I’ve never had a problem with the Chronicle’s status duration. As a matter of fact, I LOVE it. Maybe I’m having some exceptional perception of time to help me with that.
    I’m just wondering, since you have added two accuracy systems to Chronicles, why don’t you consider adding two systems for status duration? Given that you’ve already had the Chronicle’s system set up and ready to use.
    BTW, just a random suggestion: would you consider making the whole game truly real time? (i.e. no time stop during menu selection and battle animation)

    • Candelabra  says:

      I actually like this idea a lot (the one about another system). Separate systems for status duration could work well on some skills that dealt damage over time and make those times when you’re about to use a slow character who gets stunned a bit less infuriating, and would still work fine with consideration of the action clocks for skills that effect attacks or actions too.

      Of course, I’m not a programmer, so if making a second system or changing the interface is too complicated to be worth anything, it seems like number 2 is the way to go.

    • garin  says:

      Changing the to-hit calculation is really a matter of changing a single line of code, this would be a lot more complicated. Re-balancing it for each approach would probably be the most arduous part. I think in this instance it’s better to have a single clear rule, “this is how the game works”.

  • WondoBondo  says:

    I felt like Chronicles was more like a button mashing game compared to BoD. In BoD I needed to have certain powers and/or certain stats to win and if I made bad choices I would lose. In Chronicles, it is a super busy nickel and dime game where individual choices have very little meaning and you just need to keep maximizing your over all stats to win. I didn’t play Chronicles too much because all I had to do was ignore most things about the game and focus on one or two critical stats to win EVERY battle. Chronicles had a little bit of an interesting RPG element at first but it wore of quickly. In BoD the choices made were very important and make the difference between life and death. Also in BoD I felt more connected to my group, they felt more tailored to my play style because I had more ability to make a unique group. If Godfall was BoD with more kinds of encounters, more boss mobs, more epic encounters and more player classes it would be my ultimate game. But I will love Godfall as long as it has a good strategy element.

    The more complex these games get the more simple they actually become because individual choices have less meaning. When you have to select between two skills and one precludes the other, then that is a huge strategy choice. When you can mix and match between 100 skills, a little of this and a little of that, then there is almost no meaning to your choices, it is more of a role play situation but no strategy.

    Looking forward to Godfall πŸ™‚

    • garin  says:

      I understand and agree about the importance of meaty decisions, but I don’t really see how it applies to BoD vs. Chronicles. The balance of Book of Dread was notoriously bad. The only missing thing I can think of is that you don’t need to decide when to use your Emporium scrolls. And Chronicles restricts you in other ways, like with skill selection.

      • WondoBondo  says:

        Hi Garin,

        I guess you are right and Chronicles is a challenging strategy game, that is strangely complex and I probably should not even try to compare it to BoD because they are two completely different games. I will stick to the subject about the clocks, but it is also related to other aspects of the game.

        The clocks drove me crazy because it is hard to devise a specific strategy for the battle. In BoD, I would go into the battle and I would have pre-calculated the first 3 turns or so along with the possible variations and contingencies of what I would do if events A, B, or C happened. That was what was fun for me and that is why I like turn based games. In Chronicles, I could not do that as it was too complex (especially with the clocks and the battle order switching around all the time, I like it better when you either loose your turn or not, like from a stun for instance) and the only strategy is just to build up the characters super strong to win all battles. At least that is what it felt like to me.

        In BoD, I used to put the game on extreme level and then pick some random crazy group, like a mage as the tank, with a ranger and a barbarian and a conjurer as support and then play through. It was tuff and sometimes I could not figure out how to win, but it was fun trying and most of the time I would find a way to succeed and I got a good feeling from figuring it out. BoD is like a random puzzle generator with a role play aspect. I love it πŸ™‚

        With Chronicles, I played until my average character level was about level 10 and then the game was too easy and I could not see how playing through again would be more challenging so I felt that I did everything I could do. Chronicles is a good game, nice graphics. I wish there was less inventory though. I don’t really want to have to make a thousand choices per level between nearly identical items such as a (+10 stat A +9 stat B item) and a (+9 stat A +10 stat B item).

        I am looking forward to see how Godfall turns out. I know it is challenging to develop a game and I am behind you no matter what. It looks like there will be a lot of content so I am sure it will be fun to play and a great experience. Thank you for all of your hard work and for letting us give some feedback.

        • waterzx  says:

          I think you are having some misconceptions about Chronicles.
          You said that you liked trying unusual combinations of characters in BoD, you could still do that in Chronicles and it was so much better than in BoD.
          In Chronicles, you can find that each character has some skills that do not fit into their typical class, like healing and support skill for the Captain, high defense passive skill for the Conjurer, etc.
          In addition, each character can use weapons that they normally wouldn’t use, say bow for a assassin, sword for a mage.
          These give a better balance in the game if you want to go with the unusual party. I’ve tried a sword-holding melee-based conjurer, a healing-based Captain replacing the cleric, a spear-based archer, basically everything unusual. This gives me a lot of fun.
          Perhaps the reason you find that there’s no challenge in Chronicles is that everything is so balanced that every possible combination is a (almost) valid combination. And I don’t think you can blame the game for being too balanced.

          • WondoBondo  says:

            I guess everyone has different experiences when they are playing games. Maybe I should give Chronicles a try again because it sounds like I am missing some interesting possibilities πŸ™‚

            It is funny because in Chronicles, I ended up spending most of my time farming for sparks of legend. It seemed like the easiest way to win and I always take the easiest way out or the simplest approach or whatever you want to call it. I would go into the dungeon, explore as much as I could without fighting any battles and get what I could and then leave, rinse and repeat. After you do that for about 2 hours and find about 3 sparks or so and get a ton of cash, you can buy what you want and win any battles. One strategy fits all, wins every time πŸ™‚

            After that, I thought no matter how hard the level or what crazy group I choose, I could always win with that strategy, so I moved on.

          • garin  says:

            WondoBondo’s comment above is interesting to me, because it’s something I’ve been thinking of a lot (and have a half-finished blog post about) – protecting players from themselves.

            Some players will gravitate to what they see as the most effective way to play, even if playing that way means they don’t have any fun. So it becomes the game designer’s responsibility to try to make sure that the optimal way to play is also the fun way to play.

  • rocsage  says:

    nothing wrong with your original design, for 2 reasons.

    1. Yes, questions such as “will I be able to act before a certain effect ends” becomes more complex, but the very nature of those clock shape counters more than adequately address the question (when a counter once behind surpasses another clock in front, you know the former will end first) and the semi-real time mechanism (player gets chance to act and the preponderance itself happens without time elapsing) allows players to make necessary and proper assessments in time.

    2. People plan, and monsters stun or slow or outright kill. The game contains so many surprises that any plan can be foiled by monster instrumentality. As you probably don’t intend to also provide information such as “lich will cast freeze, which, according to the dice roll, will freeze you, in .5 seconds”, not providing players with excessive details is not going to destroy an otherwise perfect information system.

    In the end, if players really get worried about an occurrence with .03 second window of opportunity, they should employ tool assistance.

  • rocsage  says:

    oh, and one more thing?
    the mechanism of stun and its effect on action clock within chronicles is simply beautiful–“almost ready to act? come back in almost 2 full turns.”

  • Euler  says:

    I really liked the action clock, and had little problem getting effects to work as I wanted. The partial clock action, or partial set back added a lot of depth. Also, it incentivized experimenting with lighter armor, as you could get more turns by sacrificing the extra protection. Maybe a lot of this could be fixed by “Effect stays until next action.”

  • Vunar  says:

    I have really enjoyed combat system in Chronicles even tho I’m turn based fanatic. Pure turn based is way to repetitive with preplanned 10 moves. Killing enemies before they can react. Chronicles required more ”on the go” planning. ”will my character get a turn before this effect expires” – could be resolved with simple (or not, I don’t code πŸ™ ) tooltip when hovered over character(or enemy) or his ”clock” showing all of his statuses and when his next turn arrives:
    – stun 10ms
    – action turn 50 ms
    – bless 70 ms
    : in this example you can see your character is stunned for 10ms and his next turn is frozen for that time , then he can take action in next 50ms whilst still enjoying bless from cleric.
    You could do global turn to be 100 ms when hp and power regenerate or regenerate every 10 ms by smaller amount not tied to action turn altogether. Is that what you had in mind ? Then you get some kind of realtime-autopause hybrid game and could make skills tied to time not turns. It brings more choices for skills I think. Skills that are instant or hit after lets say 20ms like warriors brutal strike (will he be still alive before he can execute ? who knows) Buffs and debuff duration can be more flexible. Or I might be wrong

  • Shay  says:

    I actually had no problem with the action clock. I enjoyed both versions of the game very much and didn’t notice, very much, of a change. The thrill of having an action clock however is that things won’t always happen as you had thought or planned and so the game is less predictable and you have to make decisions on the spot. I find this a very unique and amazing part of the game.

  • garin  says:

    Thanks for your feedback, everyone. The Action Clock system itself will definitely not be removed.

  • abcde  says:

    I really like the new quasi-realtime style, because taking care of the characters quickness(Q) is now worth the effort. In the MD:BoD it didnt matter at all, i just ignored it.
    However sometimes i have difficulties finding out who will act next time.
    Many time char at half clock with greater Q acts sooner than a slower one at 80% timer. I can look to the sequence on the left of course but it is tiring a little looking there and back everytime.
    I would rather see a number in the char’s field showing upcoming chars.

    Additional remarks about the game:
    Hit/miss system : It is the most frustrating part of the game. Well, the world is not black and white, please add some transition between 0 and 100%. It is very annoying when three of you characters miss with 98% acc in a row.
    Instead of a binary thing, the efficiency of the action should be reduced based on how far is the generated random number from the acc%.
    So when a char with 80% chance gets a rnd number 81 instead of deleting it completely for example halve it every 20% from the original acc%.
    So an attack with 80%acc (or 90%) will do
    50% damage if the random number is between 80 and 84 (90-92)
    25% between 84 and 88 (92-94)
    12.5% 88-92 (94-96)

    Treasure chest looting:
    It is really so easy to sneak through beside monsters pillaging the level. (specially if you use scroll). You should make the free chests’ loot much weaker than combat reward.

    Health/energy potions and regenerate after battle:
    They dont really make sense since when im about finishing the combat i leave the weakest enemy alive pumping up my chars hp/energy using heal/halt.

    It was overpowered in the BoD too. You just need to mass up much lifesteal (wear items with LS only) and in practise you get your hp refilled after each attack (specially if the attack affects more enemies).
    Only certain items should have the ability to give LS. Like a boot or a helmet never gives it.

    • garin  says:

      For reference, the current implementation of the initiative list looks like this. The upcoming turns of a character “pop out” while you’re moused over the character sprite, and it tells you the time remaining until each turn.

      The accuracy issue is an interesting one. I know it would make a lot of people happier if I took it out entirely, but I like the element of chance it introduces. Otherwise things become very mechanical. There are already a lot of ways to manage your accuracy, like skills that always hit. It’s just one of the tactical considerations you have to make, and I think the battle system would be less rich without it.

      I know it seems like it would help psychologically, but I don’t think trying to soften the result really works. In Dragon Age Journeys monsters could miss, but when players got a miss result we instead gave them a “glancing blow” for reduced damage. People still complained.

      Your other points are good and I have solutions in mind for all of them. I’ll get into it later as I don’t want to use up all of my future blog post material at once.

    • GensuTheWise  says:

      Is Godfall out yet ? If so where can I play it at?

  • emilandres69  says:

    How about the poison clock expires during its caster’s turn. That means if a speedy character takes two to three turn before the caster then he will take more damage from poison or whatever effects.

  • MrDeepBlue  says:

    Hi garin !

    I’m a big fan of all of your games and wanted to congrats you for that ! I was just taking random news when I just stumbled across this game design dilemna.

    I had fun experiencing a change of time design, but think it was not mature in terms of balance in Chronicle. With new speed mechanics, mages and archers were very strong at buying time, and made even stronger when quickened (e.g. dagger mages spamming cold = win). I would say you to be wary that players can’t reach “critical mass” of turn buying which tend to trivialise a lot of fights.

    Disclaimer : i love minimalistic design and would find any argument to sell you a turn/action points based solution (did you even considered ap ? some games do it rather well). You can’t go wrong with any choice as long as you implement it well, though.

  • Squary  says:

    A big reason I dislike the timers compared to the system of BoD is that I like to be able to tell for sure that on the enemies next turn, before he can make a move, will take poison damage, and I can use that information to play my combat strategies. This is something I have found I am unable to do in Chronicles.

  • WondoBondo  says:

    I think I have played other games with action points systems. But I can’t think of any other games with action clocks systems. Has anyone played any other games with action clocks and how would they rate those games?

  • Vcntmnd  says:

    what if you used the current “clock system” but made all effect transitions only occur after that characters turn? So for example said character is hasted/poisoned etc, you know at the very least they will still be under that effect until the end of their next turn. Sort of a combination of the elegance of the clock system plus the player side intuitiveness of the turn system.

  • sullenbread  says:

    I’m not sure if someone suggested something similar to this, but an idea that might work is a clock system similar to that in Megaman X Command Mission, if you’ve ever seen that. If not, essentially, it’s turn based, but each character has a speed stat. As a result, if you took a turn that only took half an action, then your next turn would take half as long to arrive. This also give a boost to faster characters who likely have less power, as you might not dish out as much damage, but your turns would arrive quicker than that of a slower character. Then you can have a list of some sort that updates as you take turns, to give a reactivate, easy to use interface where players could see who’s turn comes when, and the effects of hastening or slowing a character in game.

  • The dictator  says:

    I’m glad to see you decided to not remove the action clocks, because I absolutely love the mechanism (despite the way it breaks once you get the ability and gold to continously buy tonics of quickness, but then, once you get that far, you can/could probably have broken the game some other way(s) already).

    That said, I do agree there could be a better interface for the effective timing of status effects in relation to the turns. I noticed this post a few days ago (yes, I know I’m a few months late, sue me), and while I continuing with my (second) chronicles playthrough, I kept it in the back of my head, trying to think of possible ways to solve it.

    Aside from the change you already seem to have implemented (mouseover to see timing), I also got an idea:
    The biggest problem with those status effects vs action clock is that you want to know where in the turn order an effect will take effect/expire, it doesn’t really matter when exactly it is, it just matters when in relation to the characters turns (and maybe in relation to other status effects, but you can already see that by simply comparing the times shown on mouseover).

    Which brings me to my solution: why not show when an effect expires (in the case of a stat buff/debuff) and/or, when an effect will ‘trigger’ (in the case of poison, burn, bleed, or some other type of multiple instances effect) in relation to the turn order bar: when you mouse over a status effect, you could have a bunch of red/green/blue/gray/purple/whatever lines show up between the characters, maybe with a textual comment like ‘expiration’ attached. This way, you could mouseover a status effect and see exactly what you described: does X get a turn before Y expires/triggers.

    And yes, while it is an additional piece of interface, it isn’t intrusive, and doesn’t take up space (because it would be part of the already existing turn order bar).

    Hmm, as usual I seem to be making a wall of text of a relatively simply idea, but I wanted to make sure it got across correctly.

    • garin  says:

      It’s a good idea.

      I’ve thought about doing something like this before but as you say there are tradeoffs to be made in terms of increasing the complexity of the interface. Showing the condition data only when mousing over the icon might be a good compromise though.

      • linkthebalrogofdoom  says:

        that seems like a great idea you could have it say when it activates and deals damage, or when it deactivates and you lose the buff right underneath the ‘3 seconds remaining” both of course would have to be in relation to the character’s next turn

        the trouble would be figuring out how to plan things like: if Character A applies effect to monster 1 will Character B be able to hit it while the effect is still active? If so will Character C be able to? Or will monster 2 have its turn first and use a healing ability that makes this planing pointless?

        My other problem with the timing system wasn’t with the action clock, it was that often late in the game when 1 second is a long time, that I would be forced to kill an enemy before poison and other damage-over-time effects activate so you to waste a turn dealing 23 damage when they would take 100 damage in half a second from poison anyway, I think it would be nice if the poison effects dealt damage more often like once every 0.5 second

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