Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

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Ricks
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Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Ricks » December 7th, 2018, 3:14 pm

I have thought a bit about the game's level design and puzzles, and how they could have been implemented in a more natural and user-friendly way... maybe not in this game anymore but possibly in future projects?

Imo an issue in the game is the combination of puzzles and strict labyrinth-like level design: you are forced to follow narrow paths, bit by bit, puzzle by puzzle, paths blocked from each other by invisible walls, no room to avoid opponents. It feels unnatural, makes levels unnecessarily longer, and also confusing. It also kills exploration aspects.

Imo people prefer more "open" environments. It doesn't need to be as open as Skyrim, but I think a "semi-open" environment would be a good compromise. What do I mean by that?
Basically that the various locations in the game (forest, mines, mountains, cities) can still be their own levels, but are "open" within themselves. This means that within a level the player can go in any direction he wants, and most importantly without forced labyrinth paths. Basically 360 degrees of freedom.

Let's take for example the Forest of Inshriach (which is undeniably a giant labyrinth): How would it look like with a semi-open design?
- The forest would still be its own level. A huge forest area. But the player could go freely anywhere in the forest in any direction he wants. Like in an Elder Scrolls Oblivion forest. No forced labyrinth paths. No artificial blockers. He can walk through the woods like he wants. This would also make players want to explore the forest.
- The Fairy Golf Puzzles could have been added into the forest only at specific small places (i.e. 3 corners of the forest), which when solved open a small area or a niche in a cliff giving you the 3 items to open the door to the village - but otherwise not hinder him from exploring the forest. This would have given the player a feeling of "freedom" to go anywhere he wants, and the puzzles a much more distinct and meaningful purpose. It also would not forcefully "rub" the order to do things (forced path) in his face.
- Enemies could have been randomly placed at various points in the forest and camp there or patrol around. Eventually it would have been the player's choice to sneak by the enemies and just do the puzzles, or engage them.

These changes would add a lot to the game. I think some parts of the game were close to that, but unfortunately fell back to a restrictive labyrinth-design soon after. For example the coast of the Island of Stronsea was "semi-open". However when the player moved one level up to the plateau, he was thrown back to a very constrained labyrinth design. It would have been nicer if it stayed semi-open: the whole top area could have been made free to move around, let the player hike through snowfields etc. And enemies could have been put in there randomly.

Labyrinth-like level design makes sense in "closed environments" like crypts or buildings, but not in environments that should be open by default. Talking of that, I recall that Dragon Age Origins was also very restricted and labyrinth-like (even in woods). And it felt totally unnatural and restrictive. But as that was a major critic point, they tried to change it in Dragon Age Inquisition.

Tbh I wished Bard's Tale IV was at least "semi-open" (but it was labyrinth after labyrinth), and so I was a bit disappointed. I don't expect this to be changed anymore, but if there will ever be a Bard's Tale V or a future project with similar combat mechanics, I think going for a more open level design is the better choice.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by thebruce » December 8th, 2018, 12:25 am

By comparison, the wilderness maps in BT3 were all 'semi-open'. But the maps being highly abstracted even when very labyrinth-like didn't make me feel restricted or trapped; probably mainly because I was so focused on mapping :P
For BT4, I haven't got around to feeling out the not-really-semi-open levels, but I think I'd agree with you that contextually, the maziness of the maps should seem a natural fit to the environment, and it's hard to imagine a forest being very restrictive. Heck even a bit of bushwacking and get you through some dense bushes in real life, no hindrance there.
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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Dork Mage » December 8th, 2018, 7:30 pm

IMO, I have no doubts that BT-V will be more open form, with the ultimate goal of The Bard's Tale being as open as The Elder Scrolls and viewed as an alternative to The Elder Scrolls.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Gizmo » December 8th, 2018, 9:04 pm

Ricks wrote:
December 7th, 2018, 3:14 pm
Imo an issue in the game is the combination of puzzles and strict labyrinth-like level design: you are forced to follow narrow paths, bit by bit, puzzle by puzzle, paths blocked from each other by invisible walls,...
That's the idea. :? That's what a Dungeon crawler is. —Not always by invisible walls, but by puzzles and obstacles that must be solved, defeated, or passed... in order [to be allowed] to progress further into the map.
... no room to avoid opponents.
In some dungeon crawlers, this was a deliberate solution to a problem arising from their combat system... A so-called square-dance, where the players would side-step opponents who could not attack diagonally. The player would attack them as they moved into a facing position (to then make an attack)... only the player would side-step them again.

So having tight corridors made exploiting that action far less common.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Gjefflin » December 29th, 2018, 8:47 pm

I love the game. I've been playing computer role playing games since the very first Ultima Underworld that came out in 1990 and this is the first one i've been looking forward to playing in a long time. Here are two things that would've made this game even better imo. At least for me.

1) Easier ways to get around. There is so much back-tracking, it would be nice to be able to have more than just the few standing stones to make getting around the maps much easier.

2) Being able to annotate the map. Many times I would run into something that I knew I would have to come back to, but there was no way to remember every single place. I could only approximate some things on a separate piece of paper and then hope I kinda remember when I get back to the general vicinity later on.

Outside of that, game is awesome!

Tye

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by javimurox » December 31st, 2018, 7:03 am

Hi all!

IMO, I have no doubts that BT-V will be more open form, with the ultimate goal of The Bard's Tale being as open as The Elder Scrolls and viewed as an alternative to The Elder Scrolls.

greetings,

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by wakawaka » January 1st, 2019, 3:06 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head in that the puzzles blocked exploration.

I generally liked the puzzles but in retrospect the game would have been a lot better and gotten better reviews, word of mouth, if the exploration/dungeon crawling was better and the puzzles were there to guard the elven treasures, other guarded items.

The early parts of the game felt more natural, with the two towers in Skara Brae having puzzles, which makes sense because they are mage towers which are guarding the treasures within. But there is a huge design, immersion issue when puzzles are just there to block player progress.

Ultimately it makes the game feel a lot like Myst, which I think a lot of players weren't expecting.

Some parts like the sewers to the castle, or the sewers leading to the final dungeon (that dual moving block puzzle in the sewers....)... it really makes no sense.
On the positive side, I think the fact that they are adding a way to skip the main puzzles is an big acknowledgement of the goof.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Gizmo » January 1st, 2019, 7:52 pm

wakawaka wrote:
January 1st, 2019, 3:06 pm
But there is a huge design, immersion issue when puzzles are just there to block player progress.
...
On the positive side, I think the fact that they are adding a way to skip the main puzzles is an big acknowledgement of the goof.
I don't think so. That's exactly what they are supposed to do. It's —supposed— to be a dungeon crawler, those puzzles are supposed to block and restrict passage in the dungeons; IE. to block player progress. It's not supposed to be an open path, you have to earn your passage through it.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by wakawaka » January 2nd, 2019, 6:33 pm

Gizmo wrote:
January 1st, 2019, 7:52 pm
wakawaka wrote:
January 1st, 2019, 3:06 pm
But there is a huge design, immersion issue when puzzles are just there to block player progress.
...
On the positive side, I think the fact that they are adding a way to skip the main puzzles is an big acknowledgement of the goof.
I don't think so. That's exactly what they are supposed to do. It's —supposed— to be a dungeon crawler, those puzzles are supposed to block and restrict passage in the dungeons; IE. to block player progress. It's not supposed to be an open path, you have to earn your passage through it.
I think if you go back and play the original trilogy and Myst, you will see that BT4 is quite similar to Myst. Everything you enter a new area you need to do puzzles to make any progression what so ever.

Myst RPG is the best term I heard someone use. It's not bad to make a puzzle games with RPG elements, but I think a lot of people weren't expecting it. Thus, it got slaughtered in the reviews, even though the game actually a lot of great elements to it.

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Re: Thoughts about the game's level design... and future suggestion

Post by Gizmo » January 2nd, 2019, 11:24 pm

wakawaka wrote:
January 2nd, 2019, 6:33 pm
I think if you go back and play the original trilogy and Myst, you will see that BT4 is quite similar to Myst.
And isn't that quite the shame too. :|
Myst RPG is the best term I heard someone use. It's not bad to make a puzzle games with RPG elements, but I think a lot of people weren't expecting it. Thus, it got slaughtered in the reviews, even though the game actually a lot of great elements to it.
The dungeon crawler map should hold its own even without the monsters; which are really just an impediment, or the rare exception where the monsters are part of the puzzle; but always there are architectural obstacles in the path. that need to be solved.

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