Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Two Gaming Pet Peeves For the Day

Our newest game, Avernum: Escape From the Pit, has reached Release Candidate status. This means that we've made a version that seems complete and ready to sell, and we are touching it as little as possible while beta testers spend one more week trying to break it.

This means that I have a very, very important job: Doing nothing. Don't touch the app. Hands off. Anything I change has a chance of breaking something. So I'm spending this week catching up on my game-playing.

(I also made a really spiffy trailer for Avernum. Turns out, there's this site called YouTube. Who knew?)

This has given me a precious chance to find new pet peeves to complain about. And isn't that what blogs are for?

I Need To Drop Three Pounds Of Gloves So That I Can Walk Again

Of course, like everyone else in the world, our house has Skyrim-fever. As you may have heard, it's a good game.

But, like all RPGs Bethesda makes, you spend sooooo much time sorting through items. Looting the dungeons takes ten times longer than killing the monsters within. And you can only carry so many pounds of treasure. So every item you find requires tiresome "Is this hide shield worth enough money to justify the weight. OK. It weighs eight pounds and is worth 20 coins, or 2.5 coins per pound, so that is an efficient piece of treasure to pick up and ... AHHHH. MY BRAINS!!!!!" And then you pick up one suit of armor too many and you have to drop two pounds of stuff so you go through your pack to find something top drop and ...

Does anyone ever find this fun?

This is one of those things that gets hardcore gamerz mad at me, but screw realism. In my newest games, I give the player a Junk Bag. You can put infinite items in it, their weight isn't counted, and, when you reach a store, you can push a button to sell everything in it.

This is great for people who find even the awesome Dog Takes Your Stuff Back To Town To Sell It system in Torchlight too taxing.

It's the opposite of realism, and I really don't care. When I design a game, the first thing I do is decide what I want the player to spend most of his/her time doing. Hopefully, that part is where the fun is. The second thing I do is minimize time spent doing absolutely everything else.

If I can keep even one player from spending a hour picking through his or her backpack and trying to shed those three extra pounds, I have done my good work as a citizen of the Earth.

I Did Those Jumps In 61 Seconds Instead Of 59, So I Should Totally Be Punished.

In any game with a lot of jumping on platforms, it seems like a legal requirement that there has to be at least one room with a timed sequence. You're at the bottom of some shaft with sheer walls and a tunnel at the top. You push a button. Ledges slide out of the walls. And then you hear that accursed, stress-inducing ticking that lets you know that you have to get to the top quickly, or not at all.

"Tick. Tick. Tick. TICK. TICK. TICK. TICKTICKTICKTICKTICK. [Sound of ledges sliding back into walls.] [Sound of you falling to earth, swearing all the way.]"

Is there anyone, anywhere, who pushes that button, hears the telltale ticking sound, and thinks, "This is so AWESOME!"

This isn't fun. Here is why. Gaining a heroic skill (Fighting. Leaping.) is fun. Using that skill is fun. Perfecting a skill is far less fun. Repeating a series of jumps until you can do them perfectly is even less fun than that.

There. I Feel Better.

Very therapeutic. Now I can finish my game in peace.

Also, I was going to write about how every shooter now has you go down one long corridor with no branches (or alternate paths to victory, or variety), but this design trend is contemptible enough to deserve its own post. I just need time for my blood to get more angry.

36 comments:

  1. I find even the infinite junk bag to be annoying. It just encourages the attitude of if it is not bolted down, steal it so you have enough money to buy everything. It destroys the immersion for me when I have to leave destitute and starving people wherever I go in order to have enough money for training or equipment. I find I get the most enjoyment if by giving myself enough money I never have to think about it. So, whatever you do, please leave money cheats in your game.

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  2. From what I've noticed from watching my friends play it must be a personality thing. There are people who absolutely love micro-managing their inventory and equipment setup, to the point where they seem to prefer that over the exploring and combat, and then there are the players who spend as little time in the menu screens as possible, even if it means they're not as maxed out in stats as they could be.

    I'm the later. If I'm playing a game with lots of loot, I'll keep my current equipment as long as it seems to be doing the job of killing stuff reasonably well, and there isn't an obviously better alternative.

    I know other people who every time they clear a room and get a new pile of items, they have to systematically go through every piece, to see if they can get a +1 increase in their attack speed or something. They get off on being as strong as possible. I'm more like, "ATT 23, ATT 24, the enemies still die in three hits. Who cares?"

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  3. In Jeff's games it was always about having enough gold for the end game. Eventually you couldn't level anymore, so you needed knowledge potions. And that needed money. So you sold everything that was not nailed down to afford every last one.

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  4. 1) The Junk Bag is the best invention since sliced bread. I remember in Geneforge 1-3, when what you carried added to your encumbrance, having piles of loot I'd come back for later. Having to go back and forth between dungeon and town may be realistic, but it's a pain and a waste of time.

    2) I wouldn't mind timed levels if you didn't have to be absolutely perfect in order to pass. Having to do the same level over and over and over until you're perfect is not fun. Maybe if you could get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place and have an award based on how well you did would be better. You can still try to do your best but won't be overly penalized if you don't have awesome reflexes.

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  6. (corrected post) My general attitude is that anything that doesn't make you more powerful shouldn't be micromanaged (and that doesn't mean the reverse is always true, either).

    Yes, having one suit of armor makes you more powerful than having zero, but having twenty is no advantage at all. Going back and forth to town is a tax on time, yet has nothing to do with difficulty or skill. So I can see a reason to have a limit on how many potions (or whatever) you can carry - or at least use/access in a single fight itself- but not things like armor.

    I remember playing a shareware RPG or another where the encumberence was "realistic" - my first fight was with a dozen bandits, and my party couldn't even carry a third of their armor (and could barely walk at that). After about three fights of going through all that stuff, trying to figure out the weight-to-value ratio and discard scores of perfectly good items I quit. It was like being teased.

    As for the other thing, if doing something slowly is fun, I don't see being forced to do it faster is more fun (many people will try to do that anyway, without any prompting). I really can't stand any sort of time limits in games these days.

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  7. My strategy is that I take EVERYTHING for a while. Then, after I buy a house, I only take gold and things that enable leveling. (ingredients, lock-picks, etc...)

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  8. What about timers that really are rather fecetious, in that they provide no real challenge but nonetheless set the mood for RRRUUUNNN!!

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  9. My biggest pet peeve has to be the good ol' "I'm playing a holy paladin of +5 Justice And Eternal Goodness but I still scrounge through the chests in a random humble peasants house to steal their stuff so I can sell it and buy my new sword."

    Seriously. I think I've just come to hate the "loot/scavenge -> sell -> buy" dynamic in all games whatsoever. Let's find more interesting approaches to weapon upgrades like enchantments (that you earn by doing things and which mean you can't get other different enchantments later)

    Hell, we can even keep the weight limits on our equipment. Just don't make me scavenge for shit. (Unless an important part of the game is that I'm a poor, humble scavenger... now THAT might be interesting)

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  10. In Skyrim the phat loot is reasonably few and far between. What'll weigh you down, without you realising it at first, are the ingredients, soul gems and potions. Before you know it those three are taking up half your weight limit.

    I really need a break from Skyrim. I'm spending more time there than at work. Last night I spent a couple of hours killing wildlife so I can maximize enchanting. There isn't a fox for miles around that does not speak my name with dread. The talking foxes, anyway.

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  11. Yes, PLEASE write a rant about rail shooters. _So_ annoying it is that there's never more than one route at any point from the beginning to the end of most (all that I've played) FPS. I mean, I can waste my time looking around random-tiny-dead-end-cavern or what have you, or walking past what's obviously the path I'm supposed to take to see what else there is (nothing interesting), but why when I know I can only go one way?

    'My biggest pet peeve has to be the good ol' "I'm playing a holy paladin of +5 Justice And Eternal Goodness but I still scrounge through the chests in a random humble peasants house to steal their stuff so I can sell it and buy my new sword."'
    Playing the first Neverwinter Nights, it annoyed me that I _couldn't_ do this :P. I got some ding to my alignment (lawful something) when I took something out of an unlocked chest in someone's house :O. But it makes sense. Personally, I like the "NY" system in the Jeff's games; even though it doesn't make as much sense, it's funner. "You're a big scary adventurer, so you can have anything except that needle and thread, which were passed down through my family for generations." It might be useful to have a repeatable, grindless, law-abiding way to get cash in RPGs, but I'm not sure what that would be.

    As for weight/item limit, I often just semi-cheated in Jeff's games :P. Calculate how much all this crap that we won't use is worth, then put a piece of garbage in my inventory and turn it into gemstones worth the same amount, then put all the junk in a chest to get it out of the way. As for things I might use: http://ompldr.org/vYm41aQ (btw, those thorn batons only have thorns in them that I've picked up :). Same for the wands.)

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  12. Jeff,

    re: the state of FPS games and their level design, have you seen this graphic before?

    http://www.halolz.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/halolz-dot-com-fpsmapdesign-1993-2010-doom.gif

    And if you're looking for an alternative, try Serious Sam. :)

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  13. onexused, there's really no reason to do that in MOST games but the lure is always there. Just keep the good/cool/expensive stuff and you'll find the game is a lot more enjoyable and you'll do just as well.

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  14. Amen, Jeff. I was playing Skyrim just yesterday, and said to my roommate, "Man, if there was an NPC in Skyrim who would go through the dungeons after me and loot them for me and split the gold 50/50, I would do it without hesitation."

    For that matter, I would do it if I only got 10%...

    All of which is saying, I hate looting bodies. Except for cool stuff. Lots of trips back and forth looting was acceptable back in pen and paper roleplaying games, as it could basically be hand-waved and glossed over (as fast travel is now).

    The junk bag is a pretty good solution. If anyone thinks it's unrealistic, just hand-wave it as fast travel to and from the dungeon and the shop with all the loot, as many times as it would take.

    P.S. Am I the only one who finds limited shopkeeper gold SUPER ANNOYING? File that one under realistic but no fun too...

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  15. First up, I LOVE the junk bag.

    I still get to mess around putting the right stuff in the right inventory (my ninja can hold weapons for people, my main character holds all the potions so I can distribute them on missions, my mage holds... 20 spare monster arms in case I have to give them to someone as part of a quest later), but I don't have to chase around dropping shit so I'll have room in my bag. I just need to think about not stealing stuff I want to leave for the deserving and getting my fighter's strength up to 14 as soon as possible so he can don some real armour.

    Allow me to make a direct comparison:
    Sacred 2.

    I love this game. I'm playing it right now. I even play it when I could be finishing Avadon (I'm only up to a certain magical tower in Khemeria).

    I also hate how SLOW it is. In Avadon the only time I really stop to think is leveling up. In Sacred 2 I stop to think every time I pick up a shiny new piece of armour. Or a weapon. Or a talisman. Or a combat rune.

    Now, fair's fair - this is entirely my fault. No one's obliging me to be a nit-picking pedantic git. But that said, in trying to increase more than one or two stats (literally more than one or two) I've got some hard choices to make every time something happens. Which is every couple of minutes.

    And don't even get me started on the looting.
    After a while I learned that switching "Pick up all" to "Pick up blue and above" actually makes me more money faster, because I can finish a simple A-to-B quest without heading back to town three times just to sell a dozen pairs of boots worth 17GP.

    So yeah, junk bag for the win.

    Also, love your new trailer. It feels more... alive than the Avadon one.

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  16. Another option is to reduce the amount of treasure enemies drop. For example, you could have only every 10th goblin drop anything at all. Instead of generating money by selling the PCs could generate wealth by being payed by their commanders or whoever has contracted their services.

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  17. I felt one of the great spells from Dungeon Siege was the Transmute spell. It let me convert crap on the ground into gold. Granted, I was taking a loss since it was less gold than what I could get for selling the item outright, but when I'm out of space in my pack I just didn't want to drop the item and leave it without getting anything. That little bit of compensation made it easier.

    I wish that spell had made it into other games.

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  18. Exactly. The last thing I want, at the end of a hard day's work, is more work.

    And if I have five minutes at the end of a hard day's work to have fun, then I want every single second of those five minutes to be fun.

    But the again, how will teh l33t insult teh n00bs without repetitive, tedious and difficult things to do?

    "Pressed the A key one million times over the course of a week to defeat an endless hoard of zombies! Now I'm level 100! Why are you not bowing??"

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  19. I've installed a mod which makes alchemy ingredients and food/drink weightless, it made a surprising difference! I've also got the sign of the steed which increases my weight allowance by 100. Makes things much less of a hassle.

    Daniel.

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  20. Junk bag is a good idea, if I ever finish a game with lots of selling in it I'll steal that idea.

    Some games consider inventory management to be part of the challenge of the game. (Roguelikes do this a lot, nethack and crawl for example).

    But I think at least crawl is considering to remove more and more of this challenge part as it is simply not much fun.

    Of course this inventory challenge isn't that related to weight. As most games still only have burdened or not, instaid of some sort of mechanic where you only move slowly.

    On the new inventory thing, I rather just have a mechanic that tells me if I have not read a scroll/note/book etc or not. Just as games really need to include a note if a corpse/box/chest/etc is empty, and if you already looked inside it once before. Oblivion missed this empty indicator, and it was a bit irritating at times. And while new bethesda games have a empty indicator I still miss some sort of indication that tells me if I already looked into a container before. Especially when the container is a heap of bodyparts :D.

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  21. "What'll weigh you down, without you realising it at first, are the ingredients, soul gems and potions. Before you know it those three are taking up half your weight limit."

    Exactly - this has just happened to me. In general I find the weight limits far too low - Stamina doesn't raise them enough.

    As for realism - who needs it? I'm glad I don't have to eat and sleep and use the bathroom all the time in Skyrim, though the "well-rested" bonus is quite sweet.

    "Am I the only one who finds limited shopkeeper gold SUPER ANNOYING? File that one under realistic but no fun too..."

    No - I hate that too. The levels are so incredibly low. I usually end up doing a wealth transfer: selling them my stuff, buying some expensive but lightweight potions so they have gold again, then selling off the rest of my heavy stuff.

    Just can't wait until I finally decide to do the main quest, release dragons and buy a house, so I can safely dump all the stuff there that I will never actually need, but cannot bear to part with.

    Give me a junk bag any day.

    "On the new inventory thing, I rather just have a mechanic that tells me if I have not read a scroll/note/book etc or not."

    Exactly. And how irritating is it that recipes are listed as "Invisibility recipe" "Resist Fire recipe" rather than "Recipe: [whatever]" as Spell Tomes are, so they group alphabetically?

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  22. Jeff, You comment on timed jumping sections reminded me of Divinity II, as it EXACTLY describes one of the most annoying sequences in that game.

    A totally lousy camera angle (and a brief, needless unskippable cinematic that cuts into the time required to jump to the platforms to throw a switch before they vanish) absolutely stops things cold in this one dungeon. Even when you manage to make the jump to the platform and hit the switch, you STILL need to drop all the way to the bottom of the tall chamber and grab the chest or it disappears, forcing you to waste about ten minutes of platforming again (only to fail flipping the switch in time until you give up in frustration).

    I did this in the original Div II in about ten attempts, but for some reason in Dragon Knight Saga, I had a devil of a time making the same jump and gave up after about three times the tries. Granted, what's in the chest isn't spectacular, but still, it's a total pain in the neck that didn't need to be in an otherwise fun game.

    As for Skyrim's weight problems, a simple warp spell to a town from any dungeon WOULD have helped a lot. I find myself loading up my AI partner to his or her maximum carry weight, running all the way back to the beginning of a dungeon, exiting and warping back to sell off stuff. Yeah, it gets old fast, but I like looting EVERYTHING I can get my grubby paws on.

    As for shopkeeper gold issues, once you buy into a few shops, there should be enough gold to go around unless you're crafting enchanted daggers galore as an exploit. Me, I've always hated most RPG's where even the lowliest shopkeepers have infinite amounts of gold for sold items, but a crappy stock that's useless for the rest of the game once you've cleared the first dungeon.

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  23. great post, There is a big sigh of relief coming out of Europe as Italian and Spanish bond yields decline below the 7% danger level. This occurred after last week’s central bank flood of unlimited liquidity to the European banking system, basically for free. According to the Financial Times, 39 banks obtained $51.3bn in loans so far.

    I ask the question who is buying the bonds? If a soft default of Greek debt with bond holders agreeing under pressure to change the original terms is actually accomplished, then how can they attract buyers of debt leaden sovereign bonds? Particularly as they are putting in austerity measures that inhibit economic growth and therefore hamper the ability to pay these debts even further. I looked and looked and so far could not find the answer to that question, so my guess is the ECB and not private sources are buying the bonds.
    us mint gold coins

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  24. I appreciate your attitude toward the problem, what do I want my players doing? It's easy to follow the template, accepting the trade offs other chose long ago. Afterall is it realistic to find progressively better and better equipment, more and more gold, harder and harder enemies - I digress. The same thought could be used to include a sell button in inventory, and auto-sell features, or just less loot - afterall tons of junk gear is just junk...

    Lots of options, but I like how you're thinking through what players should be using their brain power to do.

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  25. Just a thought:
    Why not simple make one area in menu like "tricks & hacks", with enable Junk Bag or not option in it? After that both side will be happy. Hardcore gamers will switch it off, while lazy people will leave it on (like me).

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  26. I actually like a lot timed sequences, but I'm a fan of Prince of Persia, so that's pretty understandable.

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  27. Awesome blogg as always Jeff :) I too feel the frustration of modern AAA games.. dont get me wrong there are some very good ones..but they are very few and far between imo.. Everything now seems to be heading in a direction thats best for the profits and not the game/gamer..
    After reading http://uk.gamespot.com/news/obsidian-extols-digital-distribution-6347487 made me see that its not just me that feels this way..
    To charge 50-60 quid for a game is 'fair' IF its worth it..too many devs charge top whack for games that are poorly designed/put together, buggy as hell {The whole "its on pc so we can release it early top whack and just patch it later" really annoys me} some games that have been released in the year or so should 'never' have been released imo..
    Games are shorter now than ever before, buggier, more expensive and generally not up to scratch..oh an the whole console port issue annoys the hell outta me Other than your games Jeff, there are very few that I buy at release now because of these exact reasons..
    Asassins Creed: BH + Revelations, DA:O, DA:OA DA2, The Witcher II, Skyrim, Lotr: Witn They are all the games I have bought brand new at release over the last few years.. + Expansion packs for WoW and Lotro Ohh and Rift.. There has been other tiles that I have been excited about, but they just didn't live up to the hype and were flawed..I wouldnt even pay 20 quid for them let alone 50 -60..
    You games are always spot on Jeff.. Other devs should come to you for lessons..xP

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  28. The Junk Bag is a great idea. I was confused at first, since I was used to the standard weight allowance of RPGs, but greatly relieved once I realized it only applied to the armor you wear. I love getting and comparing loot, but I hate inventory management. It's not fun at all. So what if it's not realistic? I'm throwing fireballs at a zombie, or shooting at a super mutant, and you're telling me that a bottomless bag is not realistic?

    I also agree about tightly timed puzzles. I don't mind the ticking, or the timing, I mind the tight timing that requires near perfection. Take, for example, the rooftop race story missions of Assassin's Creed. The game is immersive right up until I fail, and have to repeat, a timed challenge. The more times I have to repeat it, the more frustrated I get. Let me make a few mistakes and still complete the story mission. Save the difficulty for the optional race missions.

    As far as corridor shooters, I disagree there. Yes, there's not much freedom, but the games are basically roller-coaster rides. By restricting where players can go, devs can tailor the roller-coaster experience to be highly polished and exciting. I don't want everyone to follow that style of design, but there's the same place for mindless action and excitement in games as there is in movies. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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  29. ^^^The problem is, games are supposed to be an interactive medium. Why bother wasting time developing an entire game engine and just render it as a first person CG movie? It'd be less tiring than holding down W and rapidly clicking! I don't see why a game needs to be on rails to be highly polished and exciting, especially in this day and age.

    Also, for Skyrim's weight system, it would make more sense to slow your movement speed based on how much you carry, not just suddenly collapse because you hit a certain amount (you're not a camel!) What would be even cooler, is being able to buy a wagon to attach your horse to. You can then park it outside of a dungeon, and easily transport stuff you loot into the wagon, then go back for seconds. Of course, you risk bandits coming by, but that's the tradeoff. ;p

    What I really hate is how games actually encourage you to pick up every random piece of crap then tell you it's too much. The best solution to inventory management is to prevent it from being a problem in the first place.

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  31. I think exactly the same way about boss battles as you about timed sequence. I could not beat a Metroid game since Super Metroid because of these damned final boss battles even though most of the game is a breeze. The game with the most satisfying boss battle must be F.E.A.R: a single bullet to the head and it's over.

    And yet, everybody seems to love them, these boss battles. "They give a sense of accomplishment", "they require the player to use all the skills and knowledge gained during the game" and blahblah. BS, most of the time, they are tediously difficult and artificial (do I really have to kill these guy 3 times in a different way each time?!) and are just an annoying obstacle between me and a well-earned end sequence. Boss battles have to go.

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  33. IF you are playing Skyrim on Xbox, you can't actually mod the carry weights, but you CAN command a follower to pick up any loot/loot containers other than dead bodies/locked containers. Through this they can actually exceed the carry weight. Gotta love Bethesda's endless bugs. Makes ya wonder how Jeff's able to make his games so nicely.
    You should give them a tip or two ;)
    (this works on PC, but it's a bit pointless considering the weight mods on Nexus and SteamWorkshop)

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