Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Bushwhacking Your Players Is a Bad Idea

When I started writing role-playing games for a living, I had a lot of ideas for how an RPG should be. Many of those ideas were good. And quite a few were stupid. This post (like a similar post a few weeks ago) is about one of the errors I've made in the past. And error I've made again and again, with increasing energy, until I finally went way too far in Avernum 6 and made a resolution to never, ever to do it again.

It's like this. I have long thought it was cool to, in any given area in a game, place one encounter that was far harder than the stuff around it. It would be some special named or boss with tougher abilities and better loot. These little nuggets of toughness were always optional and always had special text warning the player that there was a really nasty foe here.

The basic idea behind this was that it gave the player a challenge. A place to stretch his or her abilities. Something to come back and try later to test your strength and see how much power you have gained. Sure, it'll slaughter you the first couple of times you run across it, but it will give you the motivation to work harder and prevail! It's a hardcore gamer way of thinking. This sort of thing is something I think is neat and has a place, if you're very, very careful about it.

But in Avernum 6, I went way, WAY too far with this. There were way too many encounters that were rough and meant to be returned to later. I actually had one bandit dungeon where the boss was super-tough. "Ah," I thought, in a moment of exhaustion and idiocy. "This will be cool. The player will kill the early bandits, get some lewt, and then see that the final boss is an entirely different sort of character and back off and come back later."

How sadistic and stupid is that? To let the player fight through a dungeon and not give the satisfaction of finishing it off. To add one more item to an ever-increasing list of things to remember to return to. To doom most players to several attempts to kill the boss and getting slaughtered before they figure out that they have to return later, wasting their time and goodwill.

I just patched Avernum 6 and removed a bunch of those dumb encounters, but the structure of the game means there are a few that have to stay. That really aggravates me. But, at last, after fifteen years, I think I have finally learned the main lesson:

Difficulty In a Game Should Have a Curve With As Few Bumps As Possible

When you are supposed to enter an area, you should be able to handle all of the encounters and quests in that area. Want to put in something tough? Save it for the next area. Seriously.

There is no way around this. If you put in a little nugget of difficulty, most players will still try to take it on. And they will fail and be frustrated and hate you and not play your next game.

When you suddenly make the game's difficulty jump without warning, you aren't playing fair with the player. And if you give a warning, most players will ignore it. I swear, I put in "OMG this room ahead is megahard guys srsly!!!" warnings all the time, and nobody ever listens to them. Nor should they. Characters in games tell them how lethal the territory ahead is all the time, and then they enter it and prevail. No reason to think things should be different here.

If there's an unexplored area, people will enter it. And, if they get killed, they won't remember that they were warned. They'll just hate you.

Also, making players go back to already-explored areas is bad form. People have enough to worry about in their lives as it is without remembering where they left behind some giant they need to go back and kill. Some games pad out their length by making you paw over old dungeons looking for secret goodies (and Batman: Arkham Asylum and Shadow Complex do manage to make this fun), but, unless you handle it really well, most of the time it's best to just let the player go on to cool new stuff.

Of Course, There Are Exceptions

There's no need to be absolute about it. Putting one or two badasses in your game can be all right, if they're cool. A perfect example is in Dragon Age: Origins. There's this valley with a dragon in it. When you enter, you see the dragon sleeping there. Then you find a gong. And, if you ring the gong, the dragon wakes up, flies over, and hands out the pwnage. You can beat it, but it's really tough.

This is a perfect example of how to handle a difficulty spike. Totally optional. Very clear that it's there. And, if you get yourself killed, you totally know you deserved it. And it's the ONLY encounter like that. So that's OK.

But outside that? Players hate to lose. You're in the Adolescent Power Fantasy business, after all. If the player has every reason to expect that they should be winning, you should let them win. Or, at least, have a very good chance of not dying.

60 comments:

  1. I actually like that bumpy curve -- though it took a little while to adjust to the idea. My only suggestions would be: (1) Autosave at a non-frustrating place just prior to the boss, for those who don't compulsively save every 2 seconds; (2) add all bosses as quests, so it's easy to remember which you've not done.

    Guess I shan't be installing the patch...

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  2. Oh man... after reading the first 5 paragraphs, I was like "Avernum 6 is gonna be totally baller!! BOUGHT!!" :D I know what you're saying though, that can be pretty rough on most players. *I* don't like having to go and backtrack to clear old stuff, *I* like beating my head up against the wall trying to defeat a super encounter about 20 levels too early!! I usually succeed! Eventually...

    - "OMG this room ahead is megahard guys srsly!!!"

    I literally laughed out loud at that! If I actually saw that exact quote in a game, I would totally fall out of my chair, paralyzed with laughter for 10-15 minutes!!! *hint hint, wink wink*

    One way you could get some uber-toughguy-pwnage action going is to have a couple bosses that are only accessible either AT the end of the game, or AFTER the end of the game. Now, by the time a player gets through the whole game, they've prolly got a pretty killer party (or singleton) going, and think they're pretty tough. Now is the time for humbling! Make a couple of optional bosses or boss-ish encounters that are just insane hard and/or require very careful strategy to overcome. The Emerald and Ruby Weapons from Final Fantasy VII come to mind...

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  3. Why on earth can't people understand the concept of just not doing something if it's too hard. You are right the main game advancing fights should be easy, everything else doesn't matter. I think you're in danger of making your games so vanilla and easy that people might stop playing them.

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  4. For people a challenge, I like hidden shortcuts that lead into seriously dangerous territory where your team has a really bad time even taking out the grunts, but where you can improve tremendously if you actually manage to win a few encounters.

    Sudden spikes in lethality is not very fun. But to explore a "forbidden" area (forbidden because it should have been out of reach for your explorers because of its dangers), is exciting and fun since you expect to lose and if you suddenly should win you feel you really achieved something extraordinary.

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  5. To me the problem isn't so much the difficulty spike, which as you say can give players a great sense of achievement. The problem is even discovering that an area is too difficult is filled with frustration. Your only way to measure your ability relative to a given encounter is to die trying.

    I have wondered about a game mechanic where an in game skill is self-assessment, perhaps with a fear meter. If fear gets too high the characters automatically flee before getting into trouble (maybe with a degree of player tuning so better players can be bolder). Part of the challenge then becomes developing characters that know really what they can handle.

    I think such a mechanic could really help story telling in an RPG. Your party gets drunk and can get into serious trouble or certain races are more reckless or you need to overcome an irrational fear of spiders etc. etc.

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  6. Ohhhh... I did wonder why that pit of lizards, artillas, and nephil archers was there in the demo. Now it all makes sense!

    (btw, I burned through half my magic items and got nearly wiped out five or six times killing them all. We really do have a single-minded "explore/kill-everything-NOW-or-die" mentality. )

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  7. I agree with @Alex above. The problem is not the spike in difficulty, the problem is not being able to tell how challenging it is _before_ you wipe out.

    And warning the player does no good, because most gamers have been trained (by previous games) to ignore those warnings.

    But there are ways to work around this. A mini-boss can smash your characters to within a point or two of their lives, then stomp away, snorting "You're not worth my time!" The mini-boss can reappear later when you're at the right level to take him down. Record the encounter in your quest log and move on.

    A scenario like this lets the player know they weren't _meant_ to finish that encounter. It's okay; it's just a preview of the type of baddies to expect later on.

    So it's a worthwhile mechanic, it just needs very careful handling.

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  8. FF VII handled this in an excellent way.

    There was a section early in the game with something like a big swamp with a badass serpent-monster inside.
    You were supposed to get over that section skipping the monster; you couldn't do that on foot: you had to find a chocobo mount to do that.
    If you went on foot anyway, the monster catched you, and insta-killed you.

    People "accepted" this monster because it wasn't supposed to be an encounter, it was supposed to be a blocking wall: I must find a way to skip it. How lucky, there's a chocobo farm just right here!
    Then, if you remembered about this later in the game, you could actually come back and pwn the monster.

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  9. Hey Jeff, you're wrong!

    What you've said is true of your more linear games; Avernum 4-6, the early stages of 2... but one of the reasons the original Exile was such a cut above the competition was because it was so open. It felt like a real world rather than a game because you had to work out what to do for yourself. It was awesome because you had to wander off in entirely the wrong direction and get slaughtered every now and again. And then when you got a boat, you had to revisit everywhere. And then when you could fly, you had to revisit everywhere.

    The more you challenge people, the more they respect and value the game.

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  10. I actually really enjoy that sort of thing. I love going back to an old area and finally crossing it off on my game to-do list but I'm not surprised to hear other players dislike it- it's becoming more and more obvious I'm an old gamer with old ideas and habits. I grew up playing western RPGs but these days I play more Japanse RGPs because they're compatible with my single player complete-ist way of gaming. Damn kids on my lawn with their open ended multiplayer thingamajigs...

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  11. @Lo'oris: except it was actually possible to kill that monster, though iirc it required a lot of grinding.

    Mario & Luigi, Bowser's Inside Story handled the challenge mode by simply telling you what level you should be before you try to take on the challenge. It was very direct and very helpful.

    I remember this problem outlined above in Kingdom of Loathing. In an early dungeon you were supposed to do random encounters in the first area until you found the correct disguise. But I didn't realize that, so I proceeded to the dungeon below that area, which had mega-monsters that were way above my level. Absolutely no warning except that the game got impossibly hard, and very frustrating.

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  12. I'm totally with you. I hate accumulating the endless to-do lists, which always happens when I play your games on a hard difficulty. I hate having to remember where stuff is, and go back every now and then to see if I'm strong enough to beat it, etc.

    This is especially true since my schedule tends to force me to spread out my gaming, so that it might be a couple of weeks before I come back to a game; having to think about a dozen different plotlines that I haven't finished yet sucks.

    Since some people seem to be devoted to these sorts of encounters, here's a couple of ways you might build them in without pissing off players like me:

    1) Allow some in-game to-do-list-keeping beyond the quest list -- ideally, this should allow you to tie to-dos to locations, so you can remember where they are.

    2) Players do get used to the meaningless warnings that what's coming up is hard. But if you build in in-game warnings that sometimes you have to come back to things, that's not something we've been desensitized to.

    3) Never let me invest in something that's going to be too hard. If the boss is hard, make the gatekeepers hard too, so that I can say, "OK, I guess this dungeon's too hard for now." Players are really not used to the idea that sometimes you have to _partially_ complete a quest.

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  13. One big problem is that there isn't a way to REALLY tell how something is without actually fighting it. Maybe there could be a skill or something that could rate foes (a few paper RPGs have something like this).

    There's also no way in most games to scout an area without "triggering" the bad guys. This is really frustrating in some games. Your invisible, magically silenced scout is sneaking along and BOOM the "boss" of the area triggers. WTH?

    The latter leads to something I really hate but you pretty much have to do. Move a little way, save, move a little way, save, move a little way, BOOM DIE, reload, buff up, move a little way, slaughter guys that previously owned you, save, (repeat). BG2 was notoriously bad in that way for instance.

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  14. Personally, I've always enjoyed this in the Avernum series... although it is possible to go overboard. (I haven't played 6 yet, so I can't say one way or the other.)

    I agree with the earlier comment about making it a quest, so you can find it marked in your journal.

    I note that earlier Spiderweb games often handled the problem by having physical obstacles you couldn't overcome unless you were advanced enough (which usually meant "tough enough"). Force walls were the most common example, but doors that are locked if you don't have enough skill were good, too. I remember the original Nethergate had an impossible drop that you needed to navigate around (was there a Feather Fall-type spell?), which lead to a very difficult dungeon. That was fun.

    But if there were too many of those in the original version, then I agree toning it down might be for the best.

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  15. Oh, that explains it! All this time I thought I was doing really poorly in your games. As it turns out you were successfully drilling me from behind all these years.

    What a relief!

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  16. Maybe I'm hardcore, but I'm not sure I completely agree. Some of my most memorable moments in RPGs have involved trying to sneak into the tough areas and take on badass monsters that should be above my abilities. One often has hilarious "run away, run away" moments that arise out of these encounters. Also, in the rare cases where one is successful, this can often lead to cool loot, which makes it possible to go back and stomp on wimpy early encounters. I also like going back to old dungeons and looking for secret doors and other bonus nuggets.

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  17. I'm not sure where I stand on this subject... A few specific encounters come to mind (some of which, to my dismay, I never came back to). When I come upon such encounters I usually try to change strategy 2 or 3 times, then turn away thinking "once I get that awesome artifact from the next quest, I can take this dungeon on" which was sometimes right. However, there were a few instances where I couldn't fathom ever getting past a baddie, especially if it's quite near the beginning of the game, and had to wait 2/3rds of the game to even comprehend it.

    In response to some of the comments above, I actually quite dislike it when the game turns you around (especially when your character "flees"), and sometimes I take it to mean that it's a dead end which will forever taunt you. A slight exception to this is when there is a locked door or magical barrier, as mentioned above, in which case I feel I can level up enough to overcome it at some point, although I still feel a little pissed.

    In the end there are people who downright hate it, and those that don't hate it will not boycott your games if you discontinue the bumps.

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  18. The posters are giving some good suggestions here. I really like the idea of the boss who disappears behind a gate and says something along the lines of "come back when you grow a pair". That works really well.

    User-controlled map flagging is also a great idea. Simply knowing where to backtrack to is a big improvement.

    The "fork in the road" is also good. One way takes more grinding and is at the normal curve for the game. The other way is shorter. You either survive and move on quickly--or it's a short-cut to death.

    My suggestions is big dialog boxes which pop up, based on your physical progress towards imminent danger. Force someone to read them by using one of those EULA tricks. You know, required scrolling or a check box, or a default button that won't make the box go away. This solves the "I don't read dialog" problem.

    The remote quests for legendary weapons were a favorite part of the old Exile games. Sure, you could get that Black Halberd of Almighty Death. You just had to talk to a string of people in four different towns, find a horse, find a boat, hike for hours, bump into the correct wall and, oh yeah, survive the death dungeon. Now, that will keep the low level party out!

    Kudos on A6. I rank it as your second-best game ever. First place is a topic for another thread.

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  19. I do actually appreciate the nuggets of harder encounters in easier areas, especially when it comes to something like the aformentioned bandit boss. The issue is not having bumps in the difficulty curve, the issue is not making those bumps too steep. Ideally, someone should hit the bump and even if they are defeated in the attempt, they should at lease be able to come close to beating it. If the boss one-shot half (or all) of the party in the first round, then it is clear that bump is far too difficult for the player, and if that bump happens in the middle of a lower-level area, then that feels unfair and frustrating.

    However, when the player can almost-but-not-quite beat the bump, that is not frustrating. Rather, that is encouraging. A player hits that and thinks, "Okay, I can do this. I just need to gain a few more levels and carefully consider my abilities." It gives the player a clear and present goal to reach for, and an incentive for doing so. A bump that a player has to come back to late in the game is a bump a player will have forgotten about. But a bump that the player can come back to in an hour or two is a bump that a player will be eager to get back to.

    For my part, I tend to think of the bumps as being a litmus test of my party's ability to survive. If I can beat a difficult bump in one area, it gives me the confidence to move onto other areas, certain that I can handle them. And when used for that purpose, I think that those bumps work rather well. Being difficult and being "impossible" are two different things.

    But hey, that is what balance-testing is for. :)

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  20. I agree that I find having to remember to go back to an old area is my main point of frustration with some games. I like to look at RPG's as a novel you get to play, but that view sometimes forces the desire to have a rail game with a clear path. That can be epically bad and boring, but when done right, it works well. I find this to be the primary reason I like walkthroughs. I'll get stuck due to a tricky problem and get distracted taking a break from it. By the time I return, I forget where I've been and feel more like starting over.

    Quest lists to refer to help immeasurably to remember what to do, but if it says, "visit this place" and you don't have a map to reference, you're back to the question of where do I go and what little hut or room do I need to find again?

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  21. I agree with many others. Those hard/impossible encounters serve two purposes: 1) They make me push my character(s) to the limit and think of new ways to kill monsters, 2) They keep the game real - especially in wide area RPG's. There would be monsters too tough to kill when starting out. Leave them in - but yeah don't make the end boss of a long dungeon too hard to kill, that's brutal.

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  22. Perhaps you could make these "nuggets of toughness" scale differently on the difficulty scale than the run-of-the-mill baddies. That is, make the difficulty curve smooth on easy or normal difficulty but noticeably bumpy on hard and really bumpy on torment. I imagine that the people who play on torment tend to have a lot of overlap with the people who like to have these extra challenges.

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  23. Good post. Completely agreed. Using super-mega-hard bosses should always be optional (and are a great way to whip up a quick sidequest ;)). FF VII handled that pretty well too.

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  24. I always liked the way you handled the difficulty problem in III - if you wander into an area that's above your skills, you'll know it soon enough by the spawn, and if you persist and die, you've only got yourself to blame. It had the best of both worlds here, and it's something that was kind of missing from the more linear later games.

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  25. I always liked your bumpy curves, at least in previous games. But, then, even in my youth I never approached them as power fantasies. I liked the idea of playing as a band of dusty adventurers who didn't always succeed and may not always place the utopian interests of the public above their own. The minute I'm handed power that I didn't earn tooth and nail the minute my fantasy goes bust.

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  26. A good example I can think of here is the Fel Reaver in WoW: Burning Crusade. (For that matter, a whole lot of content in Burning Crusade falls under this category). You meet the Fel Reaver right at the beginning of outland. When you do, the whole ground shakes, you hear an ear piercing roar, and then you probably die. You can form a raid to kill it or you can wait till you're high enough to solo it. And WoW is set up to make you revisit areas anyway, which gets a lot easier once you can fly.

    In the Fel Reaver's case, the only issue is the payoff, which is something like 18 silver. Obviously they can't make it something genuinely valuable because high levels would kill it all the time, but a single Unique "This item begins a quest" would have been really cool for that.

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  27. Personally, I don't mind coming back later to an encounter that is too hard initially.
    It's only a perceived "problem" in linear games, and unfortunately the Avernum games have become more and more linear. I'm playing the community patched version of Gothic 3 now, and part of the fun is that you can go anywhere from the beginning, but of course get killed even by wild animals (unless you outrun them to town). Also, in the old Might&Magic games, it was sometimes possible to enter an andvanced dungeon, steal a cool weapon or item from a chest, and run or teleport back out before the monsters killed you.

    Here's what I find much more annoying (since Avernum 4 approximately): I never have enough gold to buy all spells, trainings, etc. I understand that it's meant to be limited. But hey, I kill and loot everything along the way. I basically own all treasures that can be found in the caves. I should be able to afford almost anything. In Exile III (maybe even Avernum 3), it was possible to make infinite amounts of money by doing stupid errands. Guess what. I did them. A lot. Just to buy a special item at the junk shop.

    So, please, leave those encounters in the games, but also give those monsters a ridiculous amount of gold, so I can feel all-powerful.

    Tbanks.

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  28. I'm somewhere in between the powergamers and the noobs. I actually like having the game be just hard enough that once in a while I have to go running to a message board to compare notes.

    The most satisfying moments for me playing Avernum 6 were the times when a fight ended and I had one character still conscious, standing there all dazed and blinking like Daffy Duck covered in soot after blowing himself up.

    On the other hand, I believe you when you say you took it up a big notch for Avernum 6. I have been around since the Exile series and managed to finish every game except the latest without even beginning to develop curiosity about, say, whether Parry or Riposte was a better skill to buy today.

    This suggestion is probably a non-starter, but for your next series I would pay extra (say $38 instead of $28) for a game that had more difficult quests than the easy version that aims for mass casual acceptance. For example, what if the Gladwell and Lark type quests only appeared in a special edition, but also led to a different and more difficult final chapter?

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  29. this post reminds me of another request/suggestion: i wish that in general there was a lot more in game support for keeping track of stuff. quests descriptions that remind you EVERYthing, for those of us who play a few days at a time but then come back a couple weeks later: where in the world map it was given to you, where in the city it was given to you, where in the world map the destination is, etc. some degree of user control for 'come back later' moments could be nice, but mostly i want the game to handle this for me as much as possible. if it would do that, then i really wouldn't mind getting beaten down and having to return later, as others have said, that does increase the satisfaction.

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  30. Quoting Mammalman: " i wish that in general there was a lot more in game support for keeping track of stuff."

    I agree - this goes for all RPGs. Despite the endless "journals" and so forth, I'm always having to make manual notes. It's also so easy to forget where you got to and what you were planning to do next in the big console RPGs. Don't play Fallout for a few days and you totally forget which quest you had decided to do, and what your next skill upgrade was going to be.

    With Spiderweb games I end up making notes about unopenable doors, chests and barriers. Then I can revisit them a few levels later, with higher Tool Use, and get the loot. I also don't like to use up all my Piercing Crystals early on, I prefer to wait until I've got the spell to open optional ones, so I can save Piercing Crystals for the more important/quest related areas.

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  31. That dragon encounter in Dragon Age was interesting for me. When I entered the area and saw the auto-save marker, I KNEW it was going to get.. interesting. So I thought, let me manually save NOW, hit the gong and see what happens.

    Got ROASTED, my party did and it wasn't pretty. RELOAD. After that, I went past the combat area into the dungeon ahead and leveled up quite a bit, then on the way back hit the gong again. This time I did it, but man, was that fight brutal.

    I also ran into my first Drake in the game through a random map encounter a few hours earlier. THAT caught me off guard because my team was at a relatively low level and I was surprised at how big the thing was. Amusingly enough, the map has a huge dead tree on it my party got caught behind, so I had to pretty much do all the work.

    Only spells from my two magic users got through the tree while my fighter was running in place and occasionally getting knocked back by a fire blast. Oops... but it was a pretty short fight and I scored my first Drake Scale, which opened that armor side quest...

    I like the idea of tough enemies roaming or placed in certain areas, provided there's some sort of warning, either obvious (some sort of sign) or placed within the plot (an NPC or three who tells you "Oh, you don't want to go there..." while another says "There's great goodies in that cave!" or something).

    Might and Magic: Gates to Another World is a classic example of "Let's KILL the player that wants to explore!" Early on, you can't go far in the first town or without turning a certain corner or opening a door and dying if you're unprepared. Once outside the gates, things get crazier. Between the infamous (and hilarious) Orc Convention, packs of enemies lying in wait the moment you step off the main road, Cuisinarts popping up when you don't need them to (and so forth and so on), the game is just plain mean to new players.

    I'm one of those old fogey types that's played too many RPGs and I actually appreciate the challenge of having to come back to ana area to beat up on the big Foozle that was chewing on my leg about ten hours earlier.

    On the other hand, I hate the generic JRPG encounters where your character or party runs into the big boss with the power of six suns under his belt that proceeds to either knock your party out or kill them outright in a forced battle. Then you get a black screen and wake up in some sunny village and have 98 more levels to gain before you can get "revenge"... BORING!

    As for journals, I have a great memory, but modern RPGs need to at least give you an update when you boot them up about what you're doing and where you need to go. Dragon Age does this on its loading screens when you revisit the game, but the actual journal system in the game could have been tweaked a little to be a bit more efficient.

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  32. Another problem with bosses you have to come back to is they break the narrative. You kill all the creatures in the wizard's mountain, from the orcs on the gate to the acolytes in the anteroom outside the lab, and then come back later to knock off the old guy in the hat and he doesn't seem to have noticed that nobody's delivered the newt tongues in a month.

    A particularly clever way the Dragon Age dragon works is that it's fairly plausible the creature could hang out on its perch and not care much about the quest you've been finishing down below. You could come back and ring the gong whenever, and it still works in the context of the story.

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  33. Exactly! When i saw the dragon in the cut scene, i said "Ruh-Roh!", but upon entering the area, I soon realized that it was kind of optional and that bell was teasing me to ring it (which I did).

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  34. I do hope you change your mind about these very hard monsters. For me, they turn what may've been viewed as an otherwise-dull part of a game into something memorable. In my favourite of your games, Nethergate, for instance, the drake at the bottom of the mine near SVF and the Fomorian toll bridge made those places stand out as some of my favourites, and it's not just because of the great loot behind the dragon's door, either...

    It's because I lost! Because I, who had been doing so well through this entire dungeon and figured I had it in the bag, was beaten, my characters' corpses left to rot in some dark, rat-infested corner of the world, my illusions of being great and powerful shattered, my ego humbled. Then, later, "I wonder if I can beat that guy now. Boy will that be a challenge! Let's go back and find out..." (repeat after every major power upgrade until it works)

    While I've not played your Avernum 6 yet (awaiting Winblows version), overall I think you ought to keep your proportion of those encounters similar to that of Nethergate, if not slightly higher. If you're really dead set against it, make an additional difficulty mode of the game after the hardest which, while not increasing standard enemies' power further, adds a bunch of neat encounters in.

    I've really enjoyed those games of yours which I've played, and I really do hope your works have yet to reach their peak, but with this announcement my hopes are challenged.

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  35. Saw this foxtrot comic series this week and made me think of your post

    http://www.gocomics.com/foxtrotclassics/2010/02/01/

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  36. This is the very reason I bookmark your blog and check up on it every once in a while. There's these bits of wisdom that everyone should realize, but don't.

    I'm a semi-hardcore gamer, in that I love a challenge. I will spend hours trying to find the best tactics/skillset to do it. But I hate torture. I don't mind trying to beat a tough boss.. if he is beatable. I certainly don't like backtracking! Forcing the player to go back and forth is just horrible design.

    I do love hard monsters, just like everyone else, especially when they come with suitable loot. I had a lot of fun trying to kill the dragons, or rob the palace... and the best reward is just some message along the lies of "Hey, I didn't expect you to kill the king! You better load your save game now because you destroyed the world"

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  37. I fullheartedly second the person before me that stated that they enjoyed Exile because it was open and wonderful in its ruthlessness. This is the reason why Exile, Baldur's Gate and Fallout 1-2 are my favourite series in RPG. Exactly the opposite goes for why Dragon Age, Fallout 3 and Oblivion did NOT make my top list.

    Full scaling of game difficulty doesn't keep the player on his toes and smack them in the face enough. What results is something that you click through and it was pretty and it was cool. But it's not something that makes you feel like you put your time to good use and made the leveling of the characters feel purposeful.

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  38. These sorts of encounters really ought to be optional. That said, I like trying risky tactics to take down monsters that I wouldn't normally be able to manage at my current power level, like a lot of people here. I have fond memories, for example, of tackling the Black Troll in Gothic II in Chapter 1. One or two hits would kill me, but it was just possible to keep behind it while whittling that health bar down. And once it died, whoo, what a rush.

    I think as long as they're either stuck in out of the way places, not immediately hostile, or have a noncombat way to bypass them, you're good. So, for example, the cryodrayk in Geneforge 2 that you can meet in the first third of the game or so. Nonhostile, rather chatty, and a bit out of the way...but if you want his loot, feel free to attack. And, at first encounter, die in about three seconds!

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  39. The Ring of Magery and the Black Halberd. Epic artifacts that had ridiculously hard, amazing dungeons in Exile 3. As a 12-year old in 1997, I ran around my house cheering for about 15 minutes when I finally got each of them - small milestones in my path to becoming the a hardcore RPG'er, which I think most of today's Avernum players also are.

    Or a better example of a non-optional "bushwhacking": the dreaded, ridiculously intricate and deadly Golem Factory in Exile 3. I hated and cursed it while I was slogging through it, but grew to love it as a satisfying challenge when I finally overcame it.

    The bigger picture is, most of the players of Jeff's games today are not impatient, twitchy-fingered 12-year olds who can't handle a bumpy learning curve (admittedly I was a rather neurotic 12-year old, but I also come from an earlier epoch in game graphics). Avernum 6, after all, released in a year where "RPG's" like Diablo 3 or Mass Effect 2 will probably be the top selling game of the wider genre. Likely gamers who would buy a turn-based, "stat-heavy" RPG like Avernum today are hardcore RPGers like me, who would rather have the surprising challenges than a smooth ride to victory.

    I'd personally petition for the food requirements, weighted ammo, and the 100+ spells of the olden days (Capture Soul! Epic area-of-effect Divine Thud!) to come back in some future game. And after I'm done with Avernum 5, I plan on trying to Torment myself in 6 and dig some serious ruts in the smoothed difficulty curve (Anama here I come!).

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