Two Names for One Stat

(Hey all, sorry for no blog post last week, it was Canada Day and I straight up took the day completely off. This week’s blog post is from Conash, please enjoy! -NM)

Hey everyone! So listen, I know that I still need to detail what all went into the Yamamaya revamp, but I recently got thinking about one of these little game design things that’s crossed my mind and I really wanted to get into it. This time, I want to talk about how easy it is to make Attack and Magic be the same stat, and how some games avoid that.

Now, obviously Attack and Magic aren’t the exact same stat, but when it comes to RPGs it can be very easy to make them to functionally be a universal ‘offense’ stat. Let’s take Harem Collector for example, if let’s say you were fighting an enemy that was designed specifically to reduce your primary attacking stat, it’d look at what character it was focusing on and either inflict ‘Attack down’ or ‘Magic down’ on them based on who it was. Compare this enemy to an enemy that instead of analyzing who it’s targetting instead just inflicts both, and consider what’s different? Well for mages they’ll have their attack stat reduced, for Felix this might pose some notice because you might have just switched to physical attacks instead of magic attacks, but for the other mages your attack stat is already so low that if your magic is reduced to the point that your attack is the better option, you’d rather just use an item to heal, buff your magic, or guard instead of attacking. Now what about your physical fighters? Well Raina and Bronwyn might laugh at this enemy as they have ways to convert their defense or agility into damage respectfully, but only Therese and Doll would really be able to turn to their magic stat for damage in the first case but both of these characters have the option to turn to either tanking or support so even then they’re not facing a huge impact. Functionally speaking, reducing attack and magic is no different than just reducing whichever is more important to any given character except in a few cases (such as after a certain love quest), and because of this a character only ever has ‘one’ offensive stat, even the rare skill that uses both magic and attack splits it’s usage of them to emulate it as if it only used one of the two rather than both.

Contrast this to say defense and resist, these are two different stats that the player will expect both of them to be useful at different times as you’ll be fighting enemies that have physical attacks and enemies that have magic attacks, but your mages only have magic based skills and your fighters only have attack based skills with a few exceptions. If you had the option to trade out any amount of Kyrie’s attack stat for a boost in her magic stat I bet each of you would trade that out whether it was 1:1 or even 50:1 to whatever extent you could. Whenever you’re thinking of designing an RPG though, it can be difficult to see ways to avoid this problem since this is just the nature of having stats that exist only to be ‘offense’, you could make skills that use both but you still have to reign them in to be about as effective as if the player only used one or else you’d break the balance of the game, but I’ve come across a few games that I think do a good job at helping make ‘magic’ and ‘attack’ serve roles to keep them both important to everyone, to one extent or another.

The first example that I want to bring up is Pokemon. After generation 1, the ‘Attack’ and ‘Special Attack’ stats would seem to fall into the problem as I described it, but when you really start getting into the grit and depth of the pokemon combat system it really doesn’t. Now, for those of you who haven’t gotten into it, pokemon actually has a rather complex and nuanced foundation to it’s combat, even if I may have quite a few complaints about it, but the reason that Attack and Special Attack are functionally different is that when you start getting into challenge runs of pokemon you’ll find that targetting the weaker defense of a pokemon can go a very long way, even if the move is resisted and only doing 1/2 damage, when you get to extreme disparities between defense and special defense like say Onix the ability to target the weaker defense is a huge game-changer, on top of that with the huge variety of moves that every pokemon can theoretically learn (which is made manageable by the limit of moves they can actually know) there’s almost never a pokemon who can never make use of either their attack or special attack, though there are some cases where one of these stats is so low it’s basically non-existent. The freedom to mobilize both of these stats with a variety of moves combined with how at times a pokemon’s defense may be 4x or more than their special defense creates opportunities where, at least in certain challenge runs, being able to make use of your weaker ‘offensive’ stat opens up entirely new strategies and considerations, and a skill that reduced or raised the attack and special attack stat of a pokemon by two stages would be pretty busted, even when there already exist stats which can raise one of those two by two stages or can raise both of them by one already.

Another example of a game that helps keep both the ‘Attack’ and ‘Magic Attack’ stats from effectively becoming a single ‘Offense’ stat would be the ‘Tales of’ series, though I’m going to be talking about ‘Tales of Symphonia’ specifically here. See, this is another example that at first glance would appear similar to Harem Collector, as your ‘Attack’ and ‘Intelligence’ are seperate stats, Lloyd for example doesn’t have any spells and if you plan to fight only Melee as Genis you’re in for a bad time, but both of these stats are still useful to both of them. See, something the game doesn’t explain is that your ‘Intelligence’ serves a double purpose as both your magic attack and your magic defense in this game (much like generation 1 pokemon, but this causes huge balance issues there which is why I didn’t want to focus on it), and while you can help make up for his lower magic defense both by getting equipment that resists the elements you’ll face or by buffing his sizable HP pool so that he can take a hit, you’re going to be hit by spells at all but the highest level of play, which is a big reason I really like the ‘Boorish General’ title for Lloyd as one of the only ways to boost his Intelligence even if it’s not by a lot (at least until I get the ‘Berserker’ Title that gives comparatively huge HP and Attack boosts), because even if he has no way to use his intelligence to inflict damage it still helps keep him alive. As for why attack is useful for Genis, this comes into play in two parts, firstly if you don’t rely heavily on your item bag you’re going to need to use physical attacks to regain TP to use for spells at time which means that you can reasonably expect to get some use out of your attack, but the bigger use it has plays into staying alive. See, one of the best ways to avoid staying alive when you do challenge runs in any ‘Tales of’ game is that you need to keep the enemy staggered, when they’re staggered you’re doing damage and they can’t attack back, and while there are a lot of nuances to this system there are at least some ‘Tales of’ games that make enemies immune to staggers from physical hits unless you do enough damage, meaning that if your attack stat is so low that you’re only doing 1 damage then you can never stagger an enemy, allowing them to attack you in the middle of a combo with impunity, when you combine these two facts together it means that if your attack stat is ‘1’ on a pure mage if you ever try to use physical attacks to regain TP you might as well be standing in front of them doing nothing because they can basically kill you with a combo or two before you can get enough TP for a spell. There are other things that also play into this balance too though, such as magic instantly cancelling the guard of the target stopping enemies from guarding infinitely until you’re vulnerable, you can get out many physical attacks in the time it takes to get off one spell allowing you to prevent your enemies from doing more damage with physical attacks, magic attacks can hit bigger areas to hit multiple enemies, while physical attacks have an easier time pushing enemies into the position you want them to be at. All of these things play together to create a situation where not only do all party members benefit from both ‘Attack’ and ‘Intelligence’ (though most characters benefit more from one than the other) but also a situation where you almost never want to only have physical attackers or only have mages as these stats feel like they fill distinct purposes.

So yeah, sorry if this got rather long, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as if I think that Harem Collector does a ‘bad’ job with core gameplay, take this as just some analysis of fun ‘quirks’ that I noticed with how the math, gameplay design, and player behavior all mix together to create situations where in some games inflicting an attack and magic attack debuff feels no different than if you only had one inflicted based off of some huge process where the game goes in and determines which is more important and only inflicts that one. One more thing to also point out I guess is that even when in say ‘Tales of Symphonia’ where you get characters like Kratos who can make good use out of both spells and physical skills, allowing such characters to have attack similar to Lloyd and Intelligence similar to Genis isn’t always a bad thing, because they can only ever invest any given second or point of TP into one or the other, effectively making the other stat ‘useless’ for that given resource analysis, the limitations then should be about how the value of being able to go from 2 melee units and 2 casters to 1 melee unit and 3 casters in the middle of the battle influences how likely you are to bring them over a character who can only fill one role, if when they do can only do half as much damage as Lloyd or Genis chances are the players will instead pass them up to take a character who is always at 100% instead of always at 50%.

Welcome to My World

Hey everyone, Conash here! With the recent public release of Harem Collector v0.46, I thought now might be a good opportunity to talk about the new modding feature we have! Though this is more going to be a, “How we added it” sorta blog post rather than “How to make them”, for that information I would advise checking out the mod section of our forums (found here) or to join our discord via the link under the ‘Follow Us’ section to find advice or ask questions. Now then, on with the show!

To begin with, it’d probably be good to start with what prompted me to want to get into this. I was already pretty familiar with a lot of the way that RPG Maker stores it’s data files. Heck, the fact that we have the lite releases is because there’s only one file that you have to change to update the game, and we’ve already had a few fans modding their own games with stuff like Cazador’s oldschool Faceset mod, Romeo and Moonblack’s Cerulean+Wiki tan mod, or Omegon’s Extra Hard Mode mod. What really got the ball rolling is I was chatting with a good friend of mine who was thinking of trying their hand at making a mod that would add in an often requested sex scene of that we aren’t planning to add in ourselves. I was inspired to give fans the means not only to make thier own mods but for other players to install them, as a legitimate option in the game.

Any of you who’ve worked with RPG Maker probably have a bit of an idea as to how this wasn’t exactly going to be an easy road, especially those of you who have made scripts in Ruby before. The original plan that I had wasn’t too hard to implement after I did some digging, cross referencing the ‘Index’ they include with the software alongside some scripts we have and a few google searches to learn a few of the various command options you have with the ‘File’ class, but I found what I needed. You see, RPG Maker has a custom made ‘Load Data’ function built into it, based off of some pre-existing functions in Ruby that accomplish something similar. This not only allows it to read data from it’s specially encrypted data, but prioritizes it. This is all well and good for standard play, but I need it so that even when players have an encrypted data set it will sometimes load non-encrypted data stored elsewhere. Not wanting to really divide too deep into how the ‘load_data’ function worked, I instead opted to create a function that would have it so that anytime it tried to load, say, ‘Data/Map003.rvdata2’ it’d first add ‘Mods/’ to the start of it, so if it found a file at ‘Mods/Data/Map003.rvdata2’ it’d load that one instead. This method would work great for Cazador’s mod since that’s exactly what was needed for a graphical mod, and it’s work fine for Romeo and Moonblack’s mod as it was basically built to function this way, but since our game is still in development this function alone wouldn’t be enough.

See, if we take Omegon’s Extra Hard Mode as an example, that mod works by changing how the invisible Hard Mode status works, but with every release of the game we usually add in more status effects so if the game was set to load his file instead of the in-game file it’d risk breaking the game for every release after the mod was made. The same thing would happen for Common Event data, Enemy data, Item data, various things like that, something with a bit more nuance was needed. Now, I’ve got a bit of experience not only working with third party scripts but also making some third party scripts of my own for other games, and for those of you unaware we generally try to setup our codes to make use of ‘tags’. ‘Tags’ are various unique text that you add to something that will create a special interaction with the code we made that way the game developer doesn’t need to have their own resident Conash to custom build every little programming thing, so I decided the best way to go about this was to integrate that into here. This is easy enough for Items, Enemies, Actors, and most of the databases, the modder in question will add a ‘<Modded>’ tag into the ‘note’ section (one of the few times that I will praise Enterbrain for their forward thinking as that section is a godsend for us third party programmers), I then setup my code so that when it’s loading in these databases it will check for a ‘Mods/Data/Enemies/’ folder, create an array of all the files in there, load them up one by one so long as they have ‘.rvdata2’ in their name, and check every entry, if it includes the ‘<Modded>’ tag then it’s to replace the base database, determined by the above paragraph, then it replaces the base database’s entry with this ‘<Modded>’ version. I did worry this might cause some slowdown, but it only runs this once when it starts the game and it should only cause slow down if you’ve got a lot of mods installed. There was however a bit of a snag with this problem, see there are three databases which don’t have a note section. The Animation database, the Troop database, and the Common Events database. Eventually I settled on a way to add tags to these anyways, by either including ‘<Modded>’ in the name of the animation, or by going to the common event/first page of the Troop in question and making the first line of it be a comment that only says ‘<Modded>’. Not the prettiest or most intuitive methods but it functionally accomplishes the same thing. One nice advantage of this more complex modding method though is that it’s also future proofing itself a bit, while I worry that some modders may find it cumbersome to create mods that go into the ‘Mods/Data/CommonEvents/’ folder, this method allows my code to know what the data is to be used for based on the folder it’s in while also allowing the modder to name it say ‘ChimeiTranslated’ or something both so that it doesn’t overwrite their ‘3DSexScene’ Common event data and so that if they ever want to uninstall the mod they know exactly what file does what. This method took me awhile longer to figure out since I had to get all the pieces moving right, but I am happy with how it came out.

Another little modding issue that came up, Maps. See, because of the nature of how the data in RPG Maker maps are stored you can’t exactly just add ‘<Modded>’ and expect it to translate nicely, there’s so many different types of data stored in Maps that I was left with leaving them with the more simple modding that I described before, but that wasn’t exactly going to be satisfactory because several players had expressed interest in making their own custom maps that weren’t in the game already. One noteable example of this is HorseHater who’s working on a custom dungeon where you bring all of the Iron Waifu champions and get to interact with them, I’ve gotten to see a bit of it and highly recommend you keep an eye out for it in the forums! Getting back on track though, there are two major issues that arise with this in that you’d have to coordinate with others what map data you’d be replacing as to not make two mods that try to use say Map950 to store their custom data, but also RPG Maker offloads a lot of the data for all maps into the ‘MapInfo’ file, which means you’d run into the exact same issue that Omegon was having if you want your map to be functional. This is where Map Packs come into play. See, I had this idea where I’d allow the game to store a string that it’d then use to intercept the process of grabbing map data, this would allow modders to say edit an existing map to have a specific script call to load in the name of their map pack, and then transfer the player to one of the maps in it, and then give them a way to return to the base game when done. As long as the player included all the relevant map files and the MapInfo file from when they made the maps this would all be simple right? Well, the first problem is setting up a way for players to enter your Map Pack. They could edit an existing map but that would pose some risks of stepping on the toes of other modders, needing to update their chosen map if we change it later, or various other things, so I wanted to have a way to work into the base game a way to access these Map Packs so that the modder wouldn’t be required to create their own front-door if you would. That’s when I remembered the code machine. You see, when you enter a name into the code machine, with how we have it working it stores whatever you enter as a string, with that knowledge I set it up so that if you entered ‘Map Pack’ as a code, it then asks for a second code, using this it will load the player into Map001 inside the folder of whatever map pack you entered there! I also set it up so that the player will be blind, in the event the modder needed to move you somewhere else or they didn’t like my little back-door entrance so they wanted to send you back for you to enter some other way.

Everything is good with map packs now right? Not exactly, the next issue would be Self switches. Self switches are used a lot in RPG Maker, and are a fundamental tool used for controlling event data to make sure things work properly. See, if I left things at this stage it would open a lot of potential bugs with self switches. How you might be asking? Well, even though it looks like self switches are connected to the events that reference them, they aren’t, at least not directly. Self Switches are all stored independently in the game data, the game just stores each switch in a unique location based on the ID of the map that called for it, the Event it’s associated with, and if it’s switch A, B, C, or D. The thing with Map Packs is they would allow a theoretical infinite number of events that are on different maps sharing the same Map ID and have the same event ID, making it so that if you got unlucky these map packs could start stepping on either one another’s toes or worry about conflicts with the base game. The fix to this one however was easy, I added it in so that if the string where it stores your Map Pack ID has a string in it, that’s also used to determine where it stores the Self Switch, now you’d not only need to have the same Map ID, Event ID, but also the same folder name for the Map Pack, but by that point one set of MapInfo data is already going to have to overwrite the other so I think we’re safe at this point. I have also additionally added in the ability to include ‘Enemy’ data inside Map Packs, this is so that you can have unique enemies for a custom made dungeon that only appear inside the map pack. We ran into a few issues with that though, namely since we used the Yanfly Battle system it turns out that there was some code there that added in extra enemy data that’s not in a base file whenever you loaded the game, and this extra data was required to not crash the game whenever the enemies attacked. The fix to that issue was to just load in this extra data both when loading in the new enemy data, and when returning to the old enemy data when the player returns to the base game. Man, if you ever try to add modding into your own RPG Maker VX Ace game for some reason, if you hit this point you’ll probably find that the most important command throughout all of this is the ‘File.file?’ command to make sure that there’s a file at the location you’re looking at before you try to load in data that doesn’t exist.

This may all seem fairly comprehensive to all of you, but there was one last point that I sorta glossed over throughout all of this, script modding. Script modding is a bit different, see while most files in the ‘Data’ folder are handled by the ‘DataManager’, the ‘DataManger’ itself is apart of the script data. What actually determines the script data being loaded is a combination of the .ini file and some of the secret code Enterbrain doesn’t let us see, heck viewing said secret code would even break the Terms of Service so I don’t advice any of you go looking for it either. Still, this leaves me in a bit of a bind because script are a huge part of how the game runs, and not allowing modding in for them would close off a large segment of options to modders. For now though, I’ve managed to get it into the 0.46.4 release so that if you include either some ‘.rvdata2’ or even a ‘.txt’ file inside the ‘Mods/Data/Scripts/’ folder that the game will run it both when you start a new game and when you load an existing game, this won’t be able to replace any existing script data sadly, as it seems to either hold that data on a higher level or constantly reads it in again overwriting any changes you tried to make. I have also talked with Romeo some more, and I’ve got another addition, ‘Map Scripts’ as I like to call them which will basically serve the same role only they’ll be loaded in every time you change to a different screen in RPG Maker (this distinction is mainly to handle load times while still giving people who like to mess with this stuff a wide range of options), which will help open a few more doors, but sadly I’m afraid that at this time I’m unable to add in the full functionality that script modding would need. I’ll keep looking for how to add in the few bits of script based functionality that are missing in, but I wouldn’t hold your breathe since I’ve hit multiple dead ends on this matter.

But yeah, hope that my rambling didn’t devolve into incoherent nonsense and that a few of you at least enjoyed listening to me gush about programming and how I am totally super smart. Either way, I’ll see you all later (hopefully when I actually get to detailing out what the Yamamaya redesign entailed >.<).

Adding momentum to the Momentum economy

Hey people! Been awhile since I’ve done a blog post, going to try to get better about getting these out again every so often. Best place to start will be focusing on all the various character revamps that I’ve already gotten into the game, since I do put a fair bit of thought into them, and well I like the sound of my own voice… Or at least the clacking of my keyboard when I get typing. Anyways, for backers this will only really discuss the ‘why’ behind all those various changes you might have noticed on the change log, but for you public users this will be a bit of a sneak peek into what’s to come!

So, to begin with I should probably explain why I chose to go with revamping the momentum economy this release instead of down the line with some other changes… well the reason is, Chimei. While most mages aren’t really on my list of ‘characters to revamp’ as they’re usually pretty solid, Chimei was on there because of the general difficulty there is to using her effectively. Between NoMoshing making evocations immune to deafen/censure and evocations getting to ignore the AoE revamp, Chimei’s skills and stats weren’t really a problem (aside from a few select cases I’ll talk about), but rather the difficulty was getting to use her effectively and this all comes down to how the momentum economy favored tanks and especially shunned mages. Given how she got her love quest this update, it felt fitting to address this issue.

If you’ve played Harem Collector quite a bit you’ve probably noticed that it’s almost impossible to get mages to ever use their ‘Focus’ skill to regain MP. Meanwhile Therese, Doll, and Raina will usually end up with more momentum than they know what to do with in any fight that poses a serious risk. This is because in base RPG Maker the math will work out that you gain momentum the fastest by taking damage, which favors tanks a lot, but squishier characters (which mages tend to be) will then suffer. Characters that rely on physical attacks will also typically won’t struggle too much with momentum as they will still use attack often and can usually take a few hits. Even if they drop by 50% of their max health (which would give them 25 momentum directly), they generally have the stats to take a hit or two before you heal them up, allowing you to play it a bit riskier with giving them higher threat values. Mages however have such weak attack values that they never use the standard attack, and their defences usually aren’t good enough to keep them alive if they drop to low health.

With that all in mind, you can begin to see why Chimei would feel pretty difficult to use. Even if you did know how to use her it took a fair bit of effort, because at the end of the day Chimei had the stats of a mage, and she can’t compete using evocations when she can only reliably get 2% momentum per turn. So the goal of the momentum revamp was to tackle how lopsided and slow the momentum economy was.

One of my first tasks was to make it so that using magic would still give you some momentum. After all, casting a spell is to a mage what a physical attack is to a melee character. The rate for this has been set to be 1/5th of the mana spent so that it’ll cap out at 8 momentum per turn, just as much as physical attacks will now give. This will help momentum be sped up more for physical attackers as well! The momentum from taking damage was reduced to be about 4/5ths of what it was before as well, to help even out the momentum gain while still keeping tanks relatively sustainable.

This goes a long way to help players get more use out of ‘Focus’ and physical attackers to be able to use their skills more often, but some of you who dive deeper into this sort of math might realize this would do very little to help Chimei specifically. Sure, she’ll be refunded 1/5th of the momentum she spent when using evocations, but evocations are a momentum glutton in order to have her stay competitive with typical mages, and if she can’t do that then you’ll just pick an actual mage. To address this problem Chimei was given two changes to improve her personal momentum growth. When you get Chimei she will gain momentum at a rate of 150%. Her relationship up bonus has also changed, before you would get 2 momentum per turn from her, but instead it now increases the rate she gains momentum even further, bringing her up to 200% the normal rate, so once you have that not only will she now be refunded 2/5ths of the momentum from using evocations, but Transfer Essence will also be twice as effective!

Speaking of that particular skill, before it just straight up gave Chimei momentum at the cost of MP and a turn, the problem however was that it was basically constant turn cost as she’d have to use it every other turn just to keep herself going. Now what Transfer Essence does is it gives you ‘Momentum Regeneration’, which means for 4 turns you’ll gain 8 momentum per turn, which will then be further multiplied by Chimei’s increased momentum generation effect. Now you effectively spend 1 “dead” turn to have 4 turns where you can use her easily, especially with the refund on momentum you use. Nerys was also given a slight momentum generation increase, since she falls in the same boat of being a momentum glutton with mage stats/skills, but the in-lore justification for Nerys is different than the one for Chimei. If you want to know what these are, well, ask me over in the backer’s lounge!

Now then, that’s a whole lot of talk about the upwards momentum, so now let’s talk about the downwards momentum. See, one thing that’s irritated me for awhile is how when you’re up against a boss that’s very momentum based, your best options to deal with them are to daze them to reduce their ability to hit you and get momentum off of attacks, slow down your damage so that they spend their momentum on lower cost skills that aren’t as dangerous, or kill them before they can do anything dangerous. NoMoshing gave Chimei a skill awhile ago, ‘Enervating Bolt’ that is designed to drain momentum, however he was limited by the base RPG Maker editor and using this skill had a good chance of giving the enemy more momentum with the damage they take than it reduced their momentum at the end of the turn. He’s also put in a few statuses that reduce it, but none of what he did just had the sort of oomph needed to counter a momentum heavy boss, so I decided to add in more ways to attack enemy momentum!

So the first thing that I did to fix the momentum damage options players had was I worked on fixing Enervating bolt, first by doing some scripting magic so that certain skills like Enervating bolt will not give enemies momentum when they do damage, and second I changed it so that it will directly drain their momentum by 80% instead of about 5. Now you might have noticed, that’s a pretty big difference, and that’s because of the basic RPG Maker editor, where it’s impossible to multiply Momentum specifically by a fraction, unlike every other stat. Now, if they’ve got 100 momentum it’ll be -80, but if they’ve only got 10? Well then it’ll be -8, by setting it this way we can high values like 80% to keep it significant while also not just always bringing them to 0 making shut down all skills instead of just stopping the big scary ones.

Since that gave Chimei a good option to countering high amounts of momentum, I also wanted good options for dealing with low amounts, and the ‘Stagger’ status seemed the best way to do this. Stagger already had a -2 momentum per turn effect to it. I bumped it up to -10 per turn to help make it be better for draining that last bit of momentum and helped give Therese a few more unique options compared to Doll and Raina. Then came the question of slowing down momentum gain as a whole to add in more strategic control over enemy momentum, so I gave the Nausea status an additional effect where it reduces your momentum gain to 50% of what it’d be otherwise, so now on top of all those stat downs your skills will also suffer if you’ve got it! Though, players have been able to inflict this status through stink bombs for awhile but not many people use those, so I decided that Bronwyn, since her basis is ‘an option for every situation’ (more on this when I talk about her revamp) seemed like she should also get some ways to deal momentum damage. Add in a new type of arrow equipment with a skill that can inflict nausea and do some momentum damage like Chimei’s thing, then move the arrows she can equip to be her ‘off-hand’ instead of accessory since now there’s multiple.

Now for the biggest problem that existed with the momentum system before, starting momentum! While all these ideas will go very far in helping momentum go up and down a lot more, a big problem can be that if you start a battle with 0 momentum it can really feel like a punishment for bringing a momentum heavy character as you can’t really use them. Conversely NoMoshing has made clear that stuff like carrying momentum from one fight to another (something RPG Maker allows by default) would run completely counter to the intention of how momentum vs mana is supposed to balance out. I had to think about this long and hard, but I believe I came up with a fair compromise. I chose to tie starting Momentum to your character level.

Levels may be an arbitrary gameplay mechanic, as Hero described, but they do represent the abstract idea of your characters getting stronger, which is why they learn new moves and have an easier time with old enemies. With this in mind, it struck me as odd that a level 50 character has the same chance as being caught completely unprepared for a fight as a level 1 character, which 0 momentum would represent. Under the new momentum revamp, the minimum amount of momentum you can start with will increase by 1 for every 3 levels, up until level 45 where you cap out at a 15 minimum. The maximum value that you can begin a battle with will always be 25, but this helps present each character’s growing familiarity with the challenges they face, it also goes a long way in also keeping it so that while you can always get 25, by the time that you’re level 15 and have a minimum of 5 that 5 momentum still won’t let you spam your best moves out the gate. This serves to ensure there’s always a chance to be caught relatively ‘unprepared’, but that your characters are learning and growing from their encounters along the way.

And there you have it! We’ve got a far more robust set of options here, both for your own growth and to counter enemy growth! There also might be one or two other surprises that I put in for the momentum revamp, but they aren’t exactly game changers, and it’s all probably not quite done yet as it was pointed out to me that since players have no real idea how much momentum enemies have or how much their moves cost it’s going to be very difficult for players to make perfect use of the various options, but I can always fix that down the line. Hope you all enjoyed my rambling!

Conash things in 0.44

Hey people, Conash here! Today I thought I’d talk about my contributions in the 0.44 release since I haven’t quite gotten my thoughts organized for one of my little mechanical analysis posts… Also because I haven’t quite talked about this yet!

So to start off with, I think that I should note there won’t be any major scripting changes. Between the holidays, family, a bunch of different games that I’ve got to play with different groups of people, but most importantly it taking about 2 weeks after the 0.43 release to finally narrow down what was causing all those game crashes in the Golden Tomb I didn’t quite have enough time to handle any big coding project, just a bunch of little ones added in over the course of this release. Always sad to not get to have a ton of fun with that, but it is what it is, let’s move onto the stuff that I did get in!

The first major thing that I got into was working on the reward for Gargan’s upcoming quest. Backers may already be aware as to what this new quest will unlock to some extent or another, and having been privileged to such information back when NoMoshing was talking about it on old backer streams (well before I was on the team), when NM outlined what quests we were handling this update it became my first priority to figure out a way to implement it in… Right, heck I think that I might have even made a blog post analyzing the sorts of things that I was worried about when designing it, but despite my concerns the solution came relatively quickly, and after some back and forth with testers I more or less knew everything that I needed for it before the 0.43.3 release (though none of it is in the base game yet, lots of little scripting things that I was worried about that may have caused problems). I’m also currently working on the enemies for Gargan’s quest, I’ve talked with NM and I know the theme of the enemies, I’ve theorized a few things that I think will be important for the boss battle, and gotten some feedback from fans about some of what they’re hoping the enemies bring to the table, but it’s still in the planning stages and subject to change so I’d rather not make promises that I have to go back on.

Next up, Kevin’s respect quest! This one I’m actually a lot farther along as once I was done with the reward for Gargan, I went immediately into trying to setup Kevin ‘right’. See I try to put in the time and effort to try to keep the ludo-narrative together when I can, and I’ll probably talk about this in more detail later but suffice to say there’s a reason why Nerys doesn’t leave you feeling like you want her as a permanent party member, and Kevin won’t give you that feeling either. With Kevin though, I wanted to capture more of a ‘random Joe’ feeling as I haven’t quite hit that with the more civilians that used magic like Nerys or Professor Ambitis (yet at least), so I had to very carefully craft both his stats, his growth, give him a custom exp curve, and create enemies specifically designed in a way to capture this feeling. Kevin inherently couldn’t be designed without also designing at least half of the enemies on his quest alongside him, so his quest ended up with it’s enemies done first. I still need to go back in and add the finishing touches to the boss, not to mention adjust some of the fights to have different enemy combinations now that I don’t need to test anymore, but based on the feedback I got from testers I’m very happy with how all the Kevin stuff turned out.

Now, with those big things out of the way, I mentioned that back in December I spent a lot of time working on fixing the crashes in the golden tomb, well I didn’t want that to be the only thing that I got done in December so I sat down for a bit and realized that I was in a good position to add in the 4th bonus boss into the game! It took some discussing with NM as my inherent focus on mechanics left quite a few holes that he ended up having to figure out how to resolve (resulting in more work for him than I had intended during a release that he was already facing a time crunch on >.>), we managed to get it in! I also decided to reach out to the fans for some suggestions for the reward here as I noticed that the other Bonus Bosses all had rather varied rewards. I’m quite happy with how both the boss and the reward turned out, so look forward to that!

The last thing that I’ve really got planned for this release I honestly didn’t think I’d have time for, yet another revamp! Originally I thought that between Gargan’s reward and making Kevin from scratch, there wouldn’t be any room in my head left to revamp a character, but after I had figured out what I wanted from Kevin and had finished testing Gargan’s reward I ended up getting into a discussion with some users about how the Damage over Time statuses aren’t very rewarding as you usually kill common enemies in 1-3 turns, so doing 1/20th of their HP per turn (at best) for 3 turns isn’t worth inflicting the status on those enemies, which is a fair assessment as when you have to fight 100 common enemies, spending an entire action to inflict 1/20th their health just isn’t worth it unless you’re in a challenge run. This got me thinking about what I could do to make poison and bleed fit in better against common enemies specifically, without making them over-powered against bosses, and well, by the time I had that figured out, I was basically half-way done to figuring out how to revamp Bronwyn, so look forward to a Bronwyn revamp in the 0.44 release! I’ve already got my ideas for it ready, but if I end up running short on time I may have to push this one back a bit.

And that’s about it for the 0.44 release. I could go into more detail about the Bronwyn revamp, but I don’t like talking about stuff that I haven’t gotten feedback from the testers yet. While I do generally trust my ability to play with numbers and take approaches that seem to typically be close to what we end up with, I just don’t like the idea that I might give you guys the wrong idea if I change gears, so maybe I’ll talk about it in more detail after the backer release is out! Bye!

The Value of an Action

Welcome back, Conash here to give another big talk about whatever game design thing has been on my mind lately! This one may seem a bit out of the blue to many of you, but I’m sure that both testers and time travels will probably have an idea about why this is on my mind recently. For the rest of you all I have to say is you might have something to look forward to in the 0.44 release in a couple of months!

So, I hope that most of you here are familiar enough with turn based RPGs like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, or this really obscure game called ‘Collect Harems’ or something to be able to understand the idea of having a certain number of things you can do in the time that enemies get their own limit of things they can do. Now I may only have personal experience to go off of, but I wanted to talk about the value of ‘actions’ as a whole, and what you have to be careful about when you ‘give’ an action and when you ‘take away’ an action as well as why not all actions are equal.

To start with, I think it’s important to mention that to me there seems to be 3 types of actions which a player can take while in ‘combat’ of some form, actions which influence ‘Damage Output’ like doing damage or buffing themselves to do more damage, ‘Damage Mitigation’ either by reducing total damage taken or making sure the damage/status effects are inflicted in a way that’s less detrimental to you, or ‘Recovery’ which is putting in effort to actively undo either damage or some other detrimental effect on you. While I can certainly see arguments that these might seem rather arbitrary, this distinction typically gets at the heart of the philosophy behind things as while choosing to have Therese use Martydom then guard is different than having Meline try to daze all your enemies both of these actions are done because you expect the damage that they’ll prevent to outweigh the damage you could have done instead if you brought Kyrie or Yamamaya instead, as you value the chance of wasting time and resources that have the fight be longer that is unneeded to prevent having to put in the resource investment that ‘Recovering’ from what might have happened would have been. Understanding this decision making process and what goes into it is fundamental when trying to give players options as if you make an easy to use ‘Recovery’ option that’s more potent than a ‘Mitigation’ option, then people will never use the ‘Mitigation’ option as it’s unsure if it’ll be useful but you do know that you can output more damage which is progress and if the bad thing happens anyways you can recovery for a similar price.

On a related note, I do believe that this decision making process applies to all games, as say a racing game would exchange the ‘Damage Output’ with instead getting farther in the race, maybe when you stay in last place until the end to have the computers rubber-band in your favor before you overtake them to ‘Mitigate’ the damage they’d do if you were in 1st the whole way through. Granted some game types don’t always have an in-built way to ‘recover’ but every game calls for the players to make decisions and take actions and the player will have to constantly assess their situation and come to a decision one way or another, regardless as to if the game waits for them or not. Though it is important to remember human limitations, even if players are entirely familiar with the situation the speed at which they have to understand their situation, remember their options, and come to a conclusion plays a big role in how much you can ‘expect’ from them, but turn-based games give players a lot of room to make decisions should they choose to make use of it, but enough of this little tangent!

Right, back to the original topic, the value of an action. The value of a single action is going to be relative to any given situation, for example if both the player and enemy has 2 actions per turn and you take away 1 of them you’ve removed 50% of the damage/healing/mitigation that either side can do, but when there’s 4 actions per turn and you take one away you remove 25% of what they can accomplish per turn. That bit is pretty simple (and deals a lot with why I’m not the biggest fan of how we have several accessories that give extra actions as those are numerically the strongest accessories in the game, giving 25-50% more damage/healing/mitigation), but it’s also important to remember that two actions even if similar aren’t always the same as I briefly touched on earlier. See if you have two identical characters except one has a 10% higher chance of getting a critical hit (which in Harem Collector means x3 damage), then that person’s attacks are on average 20% more valuable than the other character (because 10% of the time you will do 300% damage instead of 100%, meaning +200% damage every 1/10 attacks), anyone who’s overcome the third bonus boss should be familiar with this sort of concept as I went out of my way to make sure that you could not win if all your actions only had an ‘average’ output. Honestly a lot of this stuff just really gets down to math at the end of the day.

See, you may not realize it but just about everyone is crunching a lot of internal math when they play HC. I for example may go on a whole lot about how bringing Meline to inflict daze (a -60% hit chance on physical attacks that lasts for 3 turns, an average of -60% physical damage for up to 3 turns per use) helps a lot more than using Magic Missile at least early game (a 30% chance to deny the enemy 1 turn, an average of -30% damage every turn it’s used), and I came to realize this not just through theoretical number crunching but from experience when I noticed how often I didn’t get hit by an enemy that was dazed. That said, players who aren’t as interested in these numbers are usually more focused on how they only have 4 party members so bringing Meline would limit their options for the party as a whole. The players who spam attack to win? They’ve determined the time and effort to think of more complex tactics doesn’t have enough of a reward to it. This might not seem like quite as relevant, but it is actually very important when evaluating the worth of any given action, the perceived value a player’s options are.

Let’s have a little thought experiment here. Let’s say that you had a character with 2 spells that cost the same amount of MP, the first spell does twice as much damage as the second one in all cases except one fight near the end, where the second is 4x as effective. If you don’t go out of your way to hit your players over the head with this knowledge, they will expect that one fight to follow the unspoken ‘rule’ you had for the rest of the game where the first spell is stronger, and so most of them will have a harder time with the fight. See, players learn to associate a value with all their various options as they see how effective guarding is when they’re hit by a powerful attack, vs how effective it is when the attack targets someone else, or how much consistently enemies get deafened when you use sonic magic and so they decide how often to use it. You’ve gotta keep this in mind when you introduce new options to players because if you give them a new option that seems weaker, or the same but more expensive, if it doesn’t give them the same rewarding feeling as their existing set of skills then they won’t choose it even when it’s 10% better than their existing options because it’s not worth the brain power to access that memory, to make that connection, you’re exhausted from your jackass boss chewing you out for their mistake so who cares if you are only reaching 91% of your potential in this video game, you’re still stopping the evil overlord! Make sure to keep that in mind as you try to give players more ‘options’ so that they can make each action more distinct, if you give them too many choices or they aren’t as good as others they’ll probably forget them.

That’s about it… Sorry if things weren’t very clear, I’ve been having a hard time trying to string all the ideas in my head in a way that flows together for these more introspective blog posts. Hopefully there was enough meat to each of these ideas here that even if some of the connections about them are more vague or missing you can still make sense of this week’s bunch of nonsense!

Updates with Conash!

Hey everyone! Next week is going to be the start of Tester’s Week for the upcoming PRINCESS update, and since I’m more or less entering the home stretch with what I’m doing I thought that I’d get you all up to date on the various things that I’ve either been working on or keeping my eye on.

First and most importantly, I’ll have to tip my hat to RomeoPapa, lostone, and everyone else who’s been helping out with the new wiki (found here)! It was really disheartening when we were given the two week notice of being shut down, but thanks to their efforts the new wiki had finished a complete transfer with about a week to spare! Which we promptly decided to get it taken down early it seems.

See, turns out that even if you move somewhere new you’re not allowed to turn any pages (especially the main one) into just redirect links to the new wiki over at Fandom, so they weren’t too happy to wake up one day and find out that the entire wiki was replaced with redirect pages. I have no regrets, as there were still a few people visiting the old wiki and making changes or leaving comments even after there was nothing but redirect links left, so I think that even though it hastened the deletion of the old wiki, it was important to try to get as many people over to the new wiki that we could.

By the way, feel free to let us know what you think of it over there or in the discord, and if you’ve got some new things you’d like see added we might be able to accommodate since we now have full control over it!

Now in terms of game development stuff, let’s have a little talk about a new feature I’m excited to add- dual-elements! You see, there’s been several issues in Harem Collector that have irked the mini-perfectionist in me ranging from how the mages with various ‘Anti-‘ elements on their weapons had no effective use for that element to being able to being able to equip a demon slaying charge and all of a sudden even though you’re attacking an enemy with a shield, their piercing resistance isn’t reducing the damage on your arrows! Not to mention with how useless using magic with the Newts is due to how they only have good damage thanks to their unique ‘Newt’ element….

So, that’s why I thought to basically take our current ‘one element’ system, and turn it into a ‘dual-element’ system, where not only attacks but even magic can have both a ‘physical’ element and a ‘racial’ element. It’d work basically how the current system works, but if you say give Felix the Necronomicon and Manhunter Poison, his attacks will do both necrotic and anti-human damage, multiplying the effectiveness of both (so still be careful of immunities). I’m even going through and making a lot of attacks like Therese’s Smite with a hardset ‘physical’ element still able to take into account whatever her current ‘anti-‘ element would be!

As for the magic end of this system, it will only consider the element of your weapon, so even if you throw Manhunter Poison or the Beastslayer Ring on someone their magic will not gain the ‘Anti-human’ or ‘Anti-beast’ properties, and I think this is fair because if your mages didn’t use their weapons to help channel their magic in some way, then they wouldn’t have a reason to hold a weapon in their hand instead of a buckler or something and mechanically speaking this helps create a bit more uniqueness as now you can use, say, Chimei’s Anti-Demon element to it’s full effect! Newts during the ‘Send Newts’ quest will have their unique Newt element moved over to their weapons so that spell-casting newts can benefit from this too.

Oh, this will only apply to magic that targets enemies though, so you won’t be able to use Yeon’s Anti-Mage element to boost her healing!

Next, let’s see… Well we’re working on getting the 4th solo tournament into this release! The enemies are coming along quite nicely, and I’d like to take a moment to thank our testers for putting up with my nonsense with all the test releases I’ve been putting out this past month, hope you all have been enjoying it!

Oh, players should also expect hard mode in this release, the only real update that’s been made to it is that now when you are in the save menu, your save files will now put a bronze star on any saves in Easy Mode, silver for Normal Mode, and gold for Hard Mode, to help keep track of what mode each save file is in. Oh! Easy Mode! I’ve also added in a new item so that if you’re in Easy Mode you can change your party anywhere while you’re outside of battle! Don’t worry about starting a new game to get it, when you load your save file the game will automatically detect if you’re on Easy Mode and don’t have the item, and if that’s the case one will just show up in your item list!

Hmm… The only other thing that I really have to talk about would be the Yamamaya revamp, and while everything is looking good so far, I’d rather wait a few weeks and then give that it’s own blog post, no matter how much I like to talk I do like to keep secrets sometimes! So I’ll wrap things up here, see you all later!

Let’s talk Hard Mode

Conash again! This time I’m here to talk about a new feature I plan to introduce in the 0.43 release that I’ve been talking about for awhile, hard mode! So for anyone who’s interested in hearing about it, and why it’s coming up so suddenly, this is the post for you!

So to start this off with I would like to give a bit of a brief (hopefully) background to why Harem Collector will be getting a hard mode. The short of it is, that the difficulty of Harem Collector has been very important to me. See, while I’ve got nothing against the people who don’t care to sit down and potentially spend hours focusing on how to make a perfect route or setup your equipment or whatever, with how my brain is I regularly get this kind of ‘build up’ of mental energy that if I don’t get regular outlets for actually brings me pain, and well the best that doctors and therapists have been able to figure out thus far is that it’s the result of my ADHD.

Normally I can deal with this sort of constant mental energy with like puzzles, or listening to podcasts while I play games, but when it starts to get really bad I feel that I need huge problems to solve that require me to consider variables from all directions that play into one another, and well, Harem Collector was one of the few games that could accomplish this to make it so that I wouldn’t end up in pain from not having something to thing about. Just planning routes to find the optimal route for collecting the girls while getting all love quests (not really the biggest concern with how many days there are), managing all the grinding spots in order to maximize my money and experience keeping in mind that if I killed a bear too early that many of the girls would miss out on some experience (though now they respawn every day), figuring out good ways to handle some of the higher level quests early on with weaker teams that way I could get Gargan, Yeon, and Kyrie earlier to begin working on them sooner, along with figuring out the optimal way to invest my money and save some sil here or there with the items you could get.

It was great, though I don’t need that anymore since I can also deal with the issue now by just working on more complex scripting projects or enemy designs for HC, but given the dozens of times that HC served effectively as medication for me I can’t help but look back on those challenges I had to overcome fondly, several of which have become non-issues as the game has progressed. That’s why ever since NoMoshing added in Easy Mode, I’ve wanted to make my own Hard Mode, to capture all of those challenges for anyone who wished to experience them without putting a burden on players who don’t want to put in that much time and effort.

Now, I’ve been talking about Hard Mode for awhile, but I kept putting it onto the back burner until I could implement the entire thing… Except it’s been a few years and so far it’s all concepts. It’s been eating at me to tell some of the people who’ve been looking forward to Hard Mode that it’s coming soon(tm), so a couple weeks ago I said fuck it, let’s put in what I can and expand it as we go. Worst case scenario? Some people might avoid playing it until it’s more fleshed out.

So what does this Hard Mode skeleton entail? Mostly combat stuff, like for starters all those dungeons that you can clear out every day for more experience and loot? First priority was to go back to the original system where if you kill them once they’re dead forever as that was a part of balancing experience that has since been lost even in the challenge runs that some people who share in my insanity engage in. If you’re worried about having no options if you don’t have enough experience, I did make sure to leave the daily dungeons and vacations untouched by this, as I felt that the unique equipment from the daily dungeons was too important to cut out, and you should be allowed to trade money for experience in the form of vacations.

Next on the plate? Well that’d be the main problem with challenge modes, the fact that with how much experience HC gives you that once you complete one challenge, you’re usually too high level find anything of similar ‘difficulty’ challenging so you’d have to start a new playthrough to be challenged by everything, so to fix that I cut down all experience gained in Hard Mode by 30% (so enemies give 70% of their normal experience). You can potentially still end up a bit on the higher end of levels with this, but thanks to extensive testing from RomeoPapa I can safely say that unless you get a lot of vacations you won’t be getting much higher than the level recommendation for quests in general.

Finally, a common thing that I’ve found based on the information from the players who do seek out combat difficulty from Harem Collector is that you can just about do any quest safely at 5 levels below the recommended level, and the ‘challenge’ comes from pushing things lower, so in order to try to turn this into the ‘standard’ difficulty without further reducing experience (and thus risking players not having the skills needed to win some quests), I opted to give all enemies a passive +20% to all their stats, we have also made sure that the most challenging tests did not reach a point where this felt unreasonable. So yeah, players looking for a combat based challenge look forward to all of that!

That said, I don’t intend to stop there but it may be awhile before I come back and touch up on Hard Mode again. See, one of my biggest priorities when I revisit and touch it up some more is that I plan to add some more skills for bosses or changes to the fight or something so that when you’re in hard mode every fight feels a bit more unique (to an extent the boss fight at the end of “Princess Bride” has gotten this, but it’s more that the boss was taking too long which slipped past our testing due to a bug, as such the length of the fight will be shorter in normal mode, and even shorter in easy mode, while Hard Mode will retain the original length), because while giving the enemies a statistical advantage will require that you think on your feet if that’s the only difference then each quest is going to eventually end up feeling the same. Adding in some new moves, new mechanics, changing up the existing mechanics to better reflect ‘hard mode’ for the bosses will help shake things up and add in a more nuanced difficulty that I know I at least appreciate.

Another thing that I want to add into hard mode down the line is changing up the day end process, see one of the important things about the old HC meta is that you had to plan out your days very meticulously in order to make sure that you got all the character’s love quests at the right time, but with all the content Harem Collector has now, planning such things out is a bit silly, so once I’ve got a firm grasp on how many days will be possible along with all pitfalls that a player may run into, I’m going to want to change things up so that instead of the day passing as often as it does currently that you’ll need to finish anywhere from 3-5 quests to get a proper day end in it, thus helping bring back yet another element that was critical to the former meta but has long since been made irrelevant.

The final thing that will be important for me to consider ties a bit into the last one, see a big reason that I’m not yet comfortable lowering how often a day ‘ends’ in Hard Mode is because if you only got your daily income at 20-33% of the time as before it’d harshly impact the economy as you go through items and get new ways to spend your money without getting the same amount of money as before, but as things stand I don’t have a comfortable grasp over the HC economy, and with every quest we add into the game my grasp gets looser. Currently we do have plans to revamp the HC economy down the line, and well I’d like to go through the numbers for that and get some play-testing on how it works out before I make any big changes to the economy in Hard-Mode, though I do have a few ideas for what I might do like either stopping the loan or changing it along with making a few of the special vendors not buy your vendor trash.

That said, I may also try finding a way to have more customizable difficulty, such as if I can think of a menu or something for determining difficulty, I might allow players to be able to create experiences where the combat is the same as normal mode, but they get the economy of Easy Mode (like those gold and silver bars), and the time passage of Hard Mode, or something like that so that players who enjoy combat challenges don’t feel like they must decide if they want the stress of a more challenging economy or give up on their dreams of taking on Slenderman at his strongest… Hmm… You know a menu system does sound a bit fun…

Anyways, that’s more or less all that I’ve got to say on hard mode. Squires, look forward to the mini-release next week, we’ve got several things in the words other than just the bare bones Hard Mode that I put together! For those of you who are looking forward to it though, please send a Thanks to RomeoPapa for all his hard work going through the entire game in a week and giving me the feedback I needed to fine-tune the experience! If you’ve got any comments, questions, or concerns feel free to contact me, I’m most active over on the BKG discord found here: https://discord.gg/3eEnXpT

Character Revamps

Conash here to once again ramble on about mechanical design stuff as I understand it. For those of you who haven’t been keeping a close eye in the BKG discord, the 0.42 release includes a revamp to a lot of Gargan’s skills, and I’m hoping to give Yamamaya a revamp for 0.43, so I thought that I’d take the time to try to dissect the mindset that’s gone into all of this, maybe it’ll be useful for some of you!

So let’s start with Gargan, the intention behind Gargan’s moveset is to mimic that of the Arkham games, aim for trying to manage and switching between enemies but getting in big damage in-between. If you examine Gargan’s original move set you can really see this in play, cape-stun to setup an enemy for a lot of damage, the ability to counter incoming physical attacks, and an ability that has a chance to stun two enemies at once. The problem with these skills however comes down to cost vs pay-off, consider for a moment using cape-stun followed by Stun-break which should be Gargan’s bread and butter at lower levels, originally you had to spend 5 momentum to use cape-stun and then 10 momentum to use stun-break which removes the stun status and does about twice as much damage as a regular attack. This means that you first have to build up 15 momentum with 3 attacks first, then you spend 2 turns to do the same damage as two attacks? From a damage point of view it’s not worth it, now stunning the enemy could be worth it on it’s own but then you have to consider that stun-break ends it at least one turn, if not two, earlier than it would otherwise be so if you just want to stun the enemy you’re better off just using cape-stun. Later on though Gargan gets ‘Throw’ which has a smaller chance of stun but hits two enemies and does 2 attacks worth of damage in one action, even if you don’t get the stuns you it’s worth it to use two attacks instead of one, the 20 momentum cost makes it not that great but as long as you don’t use momentum for 4 cape-stuns you’ll get there. Coup De Grace on the other hand cost 30 momentum, did about as much damage as 2 attacks if the target was knocked over, oh and it also removed stun, when you compare these skills side by side and consider how players can typically rely on 5 momentum per turn and you win battles by doing damage, it’s no wonder that Throw was Gargan’s only offensive move that got used consistently. Cape-stun was nice for stuns but when players could bring Raina to use her knockdowns instead while still doing good damage even if a lower chance of knockdown it’s easy to see why Gargan wasn’t considered as stun king/queen in parties. Counter wasn’t a ton better, as it cost 15 momentum (so 3 turns work to build up to it) and only lasted until Gargan’s next action, which meant that if you didn’t have a good way to guarantee an attack by Gargan’s next action you could easily feel you wasted that momentum, and in many cases you may only get 1 free counter attack from Gargan meaning you spent 15 momentum to negate damage from 1 attack. Back to Back, the unity force skill, was very useful with it’s 5 momentum cost and 3 turn duration on top of hitting both Gargan and Hero, but it required Unity Force so it’s not something players could rely on in battle. You may have noticed that I was trying to compare things to using a regular attack, and that’s important because that’s your bread and butter, if the skills aren’t more valuable than a regular attack or aren’t worth the time it takes to get enough momentum to use them, then there’s no reason for players to think about the skill rather than use an attack, whether players actively think about it or not they notice how these numbers turn out and it impacts their decision making.

So then the question becomes how do you fix these issues if most of Gargan’s skills aren’t worth the time it takes to attack? Well, since it’s important to make sure that you stay creatively in line with what’s intended you want to take your time and examine how to approach things. For Cape Stun, the problem is largely that it’s the first move in one of Gargan’s two combos but it makes the total combo more expensive while not doing damage, not to mention it runs the traditional risks of hit rage, evasion chance, or even enemy counters. To combat the problem of it making combos more expensive I took some inspiration from Raina, players who use her a lot never have a problem with using Phalanx because even though it doesn’t do damage and only lasts one turn, it gives Raina momentum just like if she used guard allowing players to feel comfortable using it as a bread and butter instead of regular attacks, as the utility it brings (not to mention increases damage on some of her skills) outweighs the marginal damage you’d get from a regular attack, so if Cape-stun was set to generate more momentum than it required it would help further set players up for a combo by making it easier to continue the combo afterwards instead of having to work have the entire combo ready up front. On top of that, I remembered that common enemies were basically unable to do anything about your cape stun in the Arkham games, so in addition I gave it some utility that would allow it to be competitive with ‘Throw’ by making it so that enemy evasion, taunts, counters, or reduced player accuracy wouldn’t impact it by turning it instead into a certain hit instead of a physical hit, allowing it to always have a place in the player’s arsenal even if they are able to inflict stun through other means. Stun-break got some changes to the damage formula to make it more rewarding, but the biggest problem it had was that it removed stun, making it so that a lot of times players would rather not use it to keep the enemy stunned, this however was fixed by giving it a base 100% knockdown chance if the enemy you hit was stunned, now you’re just trading Stun for Knockdown while doing better than 2 attacks worth of damage, it still has the 10 momentum cost to it but when combined with Cape Stun giving you more momentum this combo is very easy to pull off, making it worth the net loss of momentum (which prevents you from using other skills). For Coup De Grace I could have done the same thing as Stun Break, but I instead thought to handle one thing that felt kinda funny with Gargan, see Gargan is based largely on inflicting stuns then doing big damage off of stunned enemy, but every other character with similar abilities use knockdown, and well it just feels odd that Gargan can benefit from stunned enemies but not enemies on the ground, this left Gargan feeling like Gargan’s core loop existed on another planet and couldn’t synergize with other party members, so for this I took more inspiration from DnD and Pathfinder, instead making Coup De Grace be based off of ‘helpless’ enemies in the sense that they had the ‘knockdown’ status and gave it a 60% crit chance on top of Gargan’s base crit chance, along with some tweaking of the numbers here and there and now Gargan has a fantastic 1-2-3 combo, it’s hard to maintain the full combo but if you wanted to jump around from enemy to enemy with a 1-2 combo or just cape-stun everyone, well, that bit is very easy. Counter was also retouched to last 2 actions instead of 1, so it’s still not as good as ‘Back to Back’ but many players are reporting that it still lasts long enough to more than justify it especially as it allows Gargan to do some pseudo-tanking.

Well, I probably got a bit ahead of myself there going into the specifics, but general point is that when you want to give players abilities you should try to keep in mind first what is their bread and butter, what does it give them, how does it contribute to the ‘win’ condition, and then any special ability needs to be able to have a reason to use it instead of that bread and butter. If an enemy is knocked down and Gargan has 60 momentum, sure you could use a regular attack, but Coup De Grace will probably do 6-10x the damage so unless you’re saving up momentum to use throw 4 times in a row when some more enemies show up, there’s no reason not to. Sure players could just leave an enemy stunned and go for a regular attack that gives them 5 more momentum, but Stun-break will probably do 2-4x as much damage and set them up for Coup De Grace, that 5 momentum won’t help me win the battle unless I use it to do more damage but that’s exactly what Stun-break is for. Players may not be aware of the the details or heck they may even come to wrong conclusions, but when they’re looking at 400 damage for a regular attack and 800 damage for stun-break, they know which one will win the fight faster.

Yamamaya’s issues however are a bit different, see many players already know how to get damage out of Yamamaya to keep her competitive, and while some of her skills also need to be made worth the cost (like Shockwave) I strongly believe that her biggest problem is that her skills are competing with each other to be the ‘best’ skill instead of working together to give her a good ‘arsenal’. Now, not everyone should be based around setting up a 1-2-3 combo or anything, but with Yamamaya you’re looking at using Strong Attack, Mountain Lion Rage, or Polar Bear rage, not all three. The nature of the rages are going to make them be competing with one another as she won’t ever be able to use more than one at a time just like Diadira with her songs, but well, we’ve got some plans to help her Techniques stand out as a lot more valuable than they currently are so that they don’t need to be better than Yamamaya’s best rage. We’ve also talked with fans some and liked some of the ideas that we got, so do expect to see Yamamaya’s rages changing up once her revamp is done. I can’t promise that Mountain Lion rage is going to be as good as it currently is, but my main intention is to try to make her other rages feel a lot more useful and like there is the right place and time for them, even if it doesn’t come up too often. It may get a bit tricky at times since ‘Mountain Lion Rage’ makes Yama do a lot more damage which contributes directly to winning a fight so other rages like ‘Polar Bear Rage’ may struggle to find as much usage, but we’ve got idea and I trust in the tester’s we have to give me effective feedback on how well we hit things like this! So you have that to look forward to!

I hope that my talk this time was useful to some of you! My intention here was to try to explain the process of how you figure out what to do, identify problems and try to solve them, though looking back I think that’s going to be a bit hard for me since my process is largely finding new ideas and connecting them together, but you never know when talking about your own problems and solutions may end up giving someone else the idea they needed to solve their own! Feel free to ask any questions or share your comments wherever you find me!

Influencing players with mechanics and you!

Hey everyone, it’s Conash again giving you another blog post so that NoMoshing doesn’t have as much on his shoulders today, and oh boy has this development cycle not been kind to us. To start off with, we had a malware issue come up on our forums today so if you have have visited the forums in the past 48 hours it’s recommended you run a scan on your computer, then afterwards change your forum password just in case. Next, I am sorry to say but the new backer release will be delayed until Friday. We will continue working on it and bring a complete backer’s release to you all ASAP, but as of right now there are significant portions of the new content unfinished- too much for us to be comfortable making a release right now.

Now onto the actual topic for today, how game designers can manipulate players by using the dreaded magic known as math! Now, you may not have noticed it, but a lot of games are designed in a way to deliver various emotional experiences and can even sorta ‘convince’ you how you should behave. Sometimes this is more obvious than other times, for example when you’re playing HC and you get your first dual-element spell you’ll basically never use anything except it, because it does twice as much damage as anything that mage has, not only that it does both status effects, so of course you’re going to use Revelation instead of Crystal Rays! Now theoretically the MP cost may be a reason to avoid using it, but by the time you get access to it getting 2 actions at once is just so much more valuable than the additional MP you lose if they’re weak to radiant but only neutral to fire, this however is pretty obvious to anyone who plays HC.

Games however can get similar results in more subtle manners. Let’s take Sengoku Rance, since the official release came out recently. I have almost never used the option to increase my battlefield preparedness before a battle, on top of that I’ve read many guides, talked with many players, and at the end of the day I’ve never seen anyone recommend you do this over the course of a normal game, and when you break it down you can generally see why. First of all, in the game you are very limited in the number of actions you can make per turn, at the start you can only do 2 per turn, but you eventually get to 3-4 actions per turn, meanwhile you have to invest roughly 3-4 actions to capture any given territory assuming every attack you make is successful and the enemy never successfully defends. Meanwhile, you have a lot of other events going on, ranging from ranking up your troops, exploring dungeons, getting new sex scenes, recruiting new units, you name it, which you also have to balance with your war path and so taking the time to get an extra +10% battlefield preparedness for [b]one[/b] fight just doesn’t feel that good, you’re looking at spending 1 action to turn your next attack to be worth 1.1 attacks. I can, conversely, choose to scout before the fight, which usually has a lower check, and get +6% battlefield preparedness without using a separate action for it, and comparatively the return on investment just isn’t worth it. This creates a situation where if I could choose one of my units to get +1 more to their scouting or the max level of construction (9), I would choose the +1 to scouting every time, and despite encountering numerous play styles that I’ve seen and talked with people about I don’t know of a lot of people who wouldn’t value scouting at least twice as much as construction, because whether we realize it or not the game is designed in a way that additional points in scouting (which is needed for a couple of story events, on top of being a barrier that a lot of the best items in the game are hidden behind) will feel rewarding to players, while smart gameplay can render the construction stat useless.

So now that I’ve talked a lot about various examples as to how game mechanics can influence gameplay, and maybe you’re not quite sure about things, so let me work to get to my point of all of this. When it comes to designing a game you should keep this idea in mind as it is what some people would refer to as the ‘tactile feel’ or the ‘game feel’, because (while it can be hard to describe) they’re basically referring to how you feel good when you make a smart play (such as choosing the spell that does two spells at the same time) and how you feel bad when you realize you made an inefficient or detrimental play (ie, the battlefield preparation action). A lot of this stuff comes down to investments and pay-offs, if you invest time into something you want the game to say “You did good!” with progress towards something, when you invest thought into your armor choices you want to see you getting hurt less or not having to worry about status effects the ruined your run. Conversely though, you can discourage players from doing those actions by going in the reverse, which is a big way of how games that let you buy a premium currency work to get you to spend money. They use various methods to increase the time to earn the free money so that even if you do earn that one item you need to proceed, you’ll look back at all that time and energy investment and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it deep down. It’s not something that I like, and I do my best to try to play around with this idea a lot in HC, I try to use enemy weaknesses and strengths to encourage players to use more effective strategies, or I’ll try to adjust the difficulty to feel if the testers come back and tell me that they have to invest so much time and effort into fighting the common enemies that the quest as a whole just causes too much stress. Granted, my enemies are still known to cause stress even after this, but based on the feedback I typically get it seems that players generally never feel that it’s unfair, which is a very important part of things.

You can even do this in more creative ways. An example would be in one of the new quests we’re adding in this release, because of what’s going on with the story I decided that I wanted to add in a boss that feels like you’re leading a siege, and if I didn’t get it into this quest then that’s one possible boss idea that I don’t think I’d be able to fit anywhere else into HC, so I sat down and tried to think what does a siege feel like. To me, I’d imagine that a siege is slow as they can take days, it’s also huge as the between the armies, the weaponry, and the target you’re looking at big attacks or lots of small attacks. Throwing in stuff like ladders to get up the wall, arrows, boiling oil, and battering rams would help add a lot in really setting the scene and help bring the scene to life! I spent a lot of time thinking how to work in elements like this, and eventually game to the conclusion that to do it perfectly I’d have to basically invent a second combat system (something akin to the various giant battles they eventually added in the Mario and Luigi saga) just for a single fight.

Now, we might get a bit bloated in scope and features, but even I have my limits on how off the rails I’ll get with development, so I decided to scale back and create a boss where it’d feel like you’re sorta breaking down the walls of a castle while it defends itself, so that means a very slow fight where the boss occasionally attacks but can do a lot of damage. Then after realizing that didn’t feel quite like a ‘boss’ in design, I managed to work in a few other things to be able to help make sure that the quest wouldn’t finish off with one giant slog of a fight that doesn’t feel rewarding at the end, including a way to get some support, like getting a battering ram that does good damage! I’m pretty happy with the results as I do think that boss will feel very unique, but conversely I’ve also given players the tools so that if they don’t want to deal with something that’s basically antithetical to engagement like that then they’ve got some options to undercut it while still feeling thematically appropriate. It’s kinda hard to really quantify how any given aspect of things ‘feel’, a lot of it just sorta comes down to figuring out how would things feel relative to you. One example from ‘Hell to Pay’, “So I want to make a boss that players actively want to avoid hurting what would I do? Well firstly they should be immune to traditional death, otherwise players with ‘enough’ damage will just kill them off. Next players need to be punished, so I’ll have they inflict increase as they take damage, and I’ll hide high-powered skills behind high momentum costs so if you hurt them a lot they’ll be able to hurt you a lot for a limited time period. Players aren’t psychic however, so we’ll need to make sure that they get the idea to use alternative methods on this boss somewhere… and well, I imagine most of you who have completed that quest can see a lot of what all went into that enemy. Now a lot of this stuff typically requires a firm understanding of how the combat works, what is effective and what’s not, so my time as a fan who used to min-max HC has helped me a lot in understanding how various systems fit together, but it’s been quite awhile since I’ve done that so I’m very reliant on both tester and player feedback in general to refine things. So yeah…

Haha, I guess that was a pretty big ramble. Hope that was at least semi-coherent to some of you, and useful in exploring the idea of what ‘game feel’ is, and how it influences player behavior. I’m probably not the best person to be able to explain it, but I know that when I see big numbers I’m happy, and even more so when I win. I know that when put a lot of time thinking up a complicated strategy, getting to pull it off and having it be successful makes me feel smart, and if when I go to face a boss that I’m left feeling like the game thought I was having too much fun and makes all enemies immune to my strategy two bosses later. Balance can be a hard thing to maintain, but sometimes it’s not about making something ‘balanced’ and more about making it feeling ‘rewarding’.

How I became a Unicorn

Hello there! Conash here, and today I thought I’d talk about my experience with Monster Hunter games, and why it is that I enjoy them and keep referencing it in various discussions, and I promise you that my click-bait title will be explained beyond me finding it amusing.

So, my history with Monster Hunter began with Tri, I had heard good things about the series so when hunting for a new game I decided to pick it up. My older brother loved it, he made some long-time friends playing it and really got into the series, I on the other hand appreciated it for being a well made game but just hated the controls. It felt sluggish, and the only weapon that I was comfortable with took a long time to kill the monsters, and I just could never really understand it. Now, I did have some experience with action RPG games before like Kingdom Hearts, Tales of games, and a few of the Final Fantasy spin-offs, but Monster Hunter Tri while I enjoyed sitting down and figuring out what armor or weapons to get in order to prepare for the monsters, actually fighting them felt a bit like a chore to me so I wrote off the series as not for me at that point.

Then Monster Hunter 4U came out, and one of my closest friends was going on about it and was looking forward to it, my older brother was also talking about how he was planning on getting it and how I would enjoy it. I was a bit doubtful at first, but when I looked into it I saw that they were bringing back some weapons that were cut from Tri, so I thought that I’d pick it up and give ‘Dual Blades’ a go because I was convinced it’d fix my issues, and it definitely did. See, in Monster Hunter every weapon is very different, they’ve got unique strengths and weaknesses and feels to them, a ‘Sword and Shield’ feels very different from ‘Dual Blades’, and well without having a good weapon that really clicked with me trying to get familiar with Monster Hunter’s unique systems just wasn’t fun, but that little slide when you’re in demon mode? Perfection. It was quick, effective, responsive, and allowed me to work on learning the monsters, as if I messed up and went in for an attack at the wrong time I had a way to quickly escape. Eventually though, I started to get bored with them as the core loop became pretty repetitive, so I tried out Hunting Horn and it opened up a whole new world to me. My movement options did become more limited without the slide, but I still had good base movement and the ability to constantly have a ‘puzzle’ in figuring out what songs to queue up, paying attention to their duration, preparing horns with different setups to cover different situations? It brought a whole new depth to the game that I still enjoy, to the point that I don’t ever want to play another weapon. I’ll still pull out DBs against some monsters that HH is a really bad matchup against, but well, being basically one of the 5ish people playing Hunting Horn I’ve come to embrace my inner unicorn (you can find run into people who use it in the right circles, but good luck running into them randomly online).

Now, that’s my experience with Monster Hunter more or less, but probably the more important question here is why do I enjoy it? Well, I do enjoy these sorts of Action RPG games like TWEWY, Crystal Chronicles, Tales of, or Kingdom Hearts, so Monster Hunter does fit right nicely alongside those games, but you don’t see me trying to push NM to dress up an HC character in say a Sheena costume or something, so I should probably explain what it is that Monster Hunter offers over many of those other games. One of the big things I did sorta get into while talking about my history with Monster Hunter is the vast variety of options, see in Kingdom Hearts you may be able to change your keyblade and skills to get some different combos, but you will always have the same basic options available to you, you will typically have similar timing to your attacks and defense, and you’re always ultimately playing the same character. In Monster Hunter however each of the weapons are so unique that their play styles greatly differ from one another, the philosophy behind the weapon changes entirely, the difference between a ‘charge blade’ (a giant sword and shield that lets you put the shield onto the sword to become an even bigger axe) and ‘sword and shield’ isn’t as simple as one is bigger and stronger while the other is faster and can use items all the time, when it comes to sword and shield you are paying attention to when to get in mounting damage, KO damage, what element sword you want to use, when to throw a flash pod, when your teammates need a life powder, what have you, while with a Charge Blade you’re paying attention to charging up your vials, you’re paying attention to how long your shield buff is active, you need to be aware of when to guard vs when to dodge, not to mention when to throw out your ultimate attacks or assess if you will have a big enough opening for your next attack, it’s a fundamentally different mindset and while the enemies and a lot of the core systems are still the same it’s feels more like comparing a rogue to a magus rather than a warrior with a sword to a warrior with a bigger sword, and because of this variety you’ll almost always be able to find a weapon that matches your play-style, and all of them are good weapons, even the ‘worst’ weapon generally will really only see any significant difference if you’re competing for world records (and even then the biggest difference comes not from the weapon but how people who compete for that stuff will gravitate to the weapon with ~5% higher DPS in optimal circumstances). Giving players a nice variety of choices that all feel so vastly different while still being competitive makes a huge difference in just keeping the game accessible in general to people like me who get tired of say just following the same pattern, to me the Hunting Horn offers a constant barrage of mini-puzzles where I have to pay attention to the team’s buffs, the duration on the buffs, what we need for this enemy and what we don’t, and what would be the best way to work in those songs given the enemy we have to fight and I just love having to constantly juggle all of these ever changing variables in my head, while other weapons are far more straight forward. Each weapon is incredibly distinct from one another and there aren’t any ‘bad’ weapons, just ‘bad for you’ weapons.

That said, variety alone isn’t the only thing that sets Monster Hunter apart, after all I use Hunting Horn as much as I can, so that doesn’t explain why I will gravitate towards pulling out Monster Hunter for some fun fights instead of Kingdom Hearts or some other game that I’m comfortable with, and to that end I’d honestly say that probably the biggest difference is the interactions between the players and the monsters. See, in the Tales of series one of the key things that you need to pay attention to (on the harder difficulties) is knowing when you can safely attack and when you can’t, knowing not only how but when to stagger an enemy to stop their attacks, and in some rare cases knowing the attacks in question to respond in kind, but a big problem is that with how fast the attacks are rarely ample to respond to specific attacks and have to just drill into yourself reflexes on how to respond when ‘this’ enemy guards, when ‘that’ enemy is staggered, and it just makes the challenge of the fights generally boil down to muscle memory rather than any real thoughtful exchange between you an the enemies. Kingdom Hearts goes a bit above this by having a lot of the enemies telegraph their actions more, or visually display when they’re immune to attacks from the front or when they’re weak to the fire element, but even then it absolutely pales in comparison to the level of detail that you find in the interactions in Monster Hunter. See, Capcom has just put so much detail into the monsters AI, their movements, their movesets, all of it, that in some cases when you see them shifting their weight to their back legs you know they’re going in for a pounce, so if you’re a Lance user you might need to guard to avoid taking the hit, or maybe you need to dodge out of the way. Did Teostra just suddenly jump into the air and you hear that sound effect for him gathering in power? Well then you need to decide right then and there if you’re going to run, block, or throw a flash pod to not only interupt his super-nova but also knock him out of the sky so that everyone can get some free hits on him. See, Monster Hunter telegraphs the enemies movements well in advance that you can respond with the options that you have, but you need to pay attention to how they shift their weight, the sound effects around you, the attacks they did recently, the distance between you and them, and then it comes down to your ability to respond quickly. In Tales of Symphonia, it’s incredibly frustrating when I made a guess to back-step from an enemy to dodge their attack but they were quicker than me so I should have guarded instead because I had no way of knowing which attack the enemy would use in advance, in Monster Hunter when I get hit it is always my fault, maybe I got overeager and I dodged too soon, maybe I got greedy and was attacking the monster when it wasn’t safe, maybe I thought that I was out of reach of it’s attack but I was in reach (though Lunastra’s tail swipe should get it’s hitbox checked). Heck, I’m looking forward to the Iceborne expansion coming up where they’re going to bring back a monster who was infamous for having an attack that hit roughly 80% of the screen you were on for massive damage, because even if that one attack could easily fail you the mission if 3 of your teammates didn’t know how to survive it, learning how to deal with that massive attack (which had a big wind-up to it) was a lot of fun in of itself, and when you managed to learn how to dodge it? It felt amazing to walk up to this monster and know you would be walking out with some new boots that boost your handicraft (assuming RNG provided), because winning is never about RNG, it’s never about ‘guessing’ if you’re safe or not, you know when you are safe once you learn to read the monster. Sometimes hitboxes are a little wonky, sometimes damage is bullshit, but the game always tells you what to expect, and whether your response is to have the Insect Glaive user get onto the monster or your SnS player to drop a pitfall trap in the middle of battle, there are always tools at your disposal to respond, and that level of telegraphing goes a huge way in making sure the game always feels fair. This plays a big part into why I try to make sure that players are always given information to respond with, why I try to make sure if a huge attack is incoming that the enemy is ‘focused’ first, or why when I got the go-ahead to put in a Monster Hunter based enemy I went out of my way to make sure they only ever got 1 attack but the end of the turn you’d get a message telling you what they did so that you could respond to it in kind (granted I need to add in more ways for players to respond to these telegraphed attacks), because that’s the biggest advantage Monster Hunter has over it’s competition if you ask me.

Well I also really enjoy sitting down and planning out new armor sets, figuring out how to get really good skills that take advantage of what I want, that sort of puzzle solving is a really big draw of Monster Hunter to me, but the core gameplay loop focuses on ‘Hunting’ the monster more than anything else! Hope all of you were able to get something out of this ramble, whether it was maybe getting an idea if you want to try out Monster Hunter sometime (I’d suggest getting Iceborne if you’re interested, World is a lot friendlier to new players but the lack of monsters can really hurt it after awhile) or if you might be able to take a few of the things that I talked about and bring them to projects you may work on!