Of Combat and Character Systems

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Lakstoties
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Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 2nd, 2017, 7:58 am

Replaying through Wasteland 2: Director's Cut... The one thing that constantly puts me off... Is the combat/character system.

Mind you, there's a lot of to love and the core concept is fine. Turned-based, action point economy, grid moment, and so forth. But, the details are what is so detracting. And not only detracting, it breaks immersion, the sense of "fair play", and belief suspension. The crux of the problem seems to stem from completely arbitrary magic numbers used to in an attempt "balance" and "provide challenge." Trouble is that most of the time it only serves to create rage inducing WTF moments and nasty arms races that the player can barely ever to keep up with... and often gets painfully informed that they are not winning.

I've forgotten the number of times where I'm in an encounter, my crew has the best equipment I've been able to find, and I carefully initiate the combat. I've looked at enemies and made initial an analysis.

"Cyborgs with pistols and blades. Okay, I've fought robots, so they'll probably be fairly resistant to most weapons, but they've got blades and regular pistols. Cool. So pistols will be annoying, but concentrate fire upon the melee monkeys. Let's do this... ... ... ... THE FUCK?! How the hell does a PISTOL do more damage that my best 7.62mm rifle?! How does a blade do more damage that a rocket launcher?! HOW MANY ACTIONS POINTS DO THEY GET?! HEADSHOTS AND THAT LITTLE DAMAGE?!?!?"

I'm all for challenge, but DAMN I'd like to think my player characters are playing the same game along with the rest the game. It's like everything else in the game can do whatever it wants, but anything the player touches is limited horribly. Not a great feeling. And it really doesn't help with feeling you having some kind of mastery of understanding how the game works. It also doesn't help with the cohesion of the world and make it feel solidly built. Most of the time with combat in the later game, it just feels like I'm having to go up against an angry tabletop game master that is just making stats up just to fuck over the players. And this bleeds over into many non-combat elements, too.

Many elements of the game system are affected by a whole host of arbitrary, swingy, and magic numbers to tweak everything in place. Which works within a certain scope, but is DEVASTATING when it falls outside the scope or there's a mismatch. I mean, seriously, a synth pistol (regular pistol... not an energy weapon or gauss pistol or something like that) user that does 250 damage a shot at max range to someone wearing power armor behind cover? There's rude awakenings and then there's moments that question whether I want to continue playing the game fair anymore or open up the save game editor. I mean, if the game ain't going to play fair... Why should I? (And really, there's nothing far more rage inducing than finally killing the monster and... you can't get that weapon from him. So no reward...)

So... In summary. I think one thing that would be a HUGE benefit to Wasteland 3 is for EVERYTHING to stick to same consistent character build rules. Magic numbers, arbitrary tweaks, and other bits need to be squashed. If something is kicking my ass, I'd like to be able to look at it's character sheet and think: "OH! That's why! That actually makes some sense then. He's just an optimized build with some experience behind him. Fair enough."

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Gizmo » August 2nd, 2017, 10:37 am

Lakstoties wrote:
August 2nd, 2017, 7:58 am
How the hell does a PISTOL do more damage that my best 7.62mm rifle?! How does a blade do more damage that a rocket launcher?! HOW MANY ACTIONS POINTS DO THEY GET?! HEADSHOTS AND THAT LITTLE DAMAGE?!?!?"
While I'm not familiar with the technical reasons of the engine... The RPG-Mechanical reason is usually that the NPC is very skilled, and as such their weapon is more damaging for their more accurate hitting of sensitive targets. A frontal headshot to the bridge of the nose, and another that only nicks ear cartilage...are both successful headshots that hit the head. That's what a random damage spread always represents. It's why a sword that does 3D6 damage might do 3 to 18 on a successful hit—in various RPGs. It's situational variance.

As for 'so little (return) damage', this plays equally in reverse. Hitpoints are reflective of life and life experience. Part body, part mental attitude —but entirely symbolic. It's why a 220 pound recruit can have the same hitpoints as a 175 pound Sargent—but not for the same reasons. In combat, in all likelihood, the recruit is going to get the more damaging injuries due to inexperience and carelessness, while the Sargent (probably) takes less damage for intentionally behaving more difficult to shoot at. (But it shouldn't be over scrutinized, or taken literally. It just implies behavior under stress; letting one start with novice PCs, and eventually playing characters like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee.)
___

I think RPGs could get interesting when they start supporting the PC intentionally hitting the ear—for lesser damage, but for very high intimidation.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 2nd, 2017, 12:32 pm

I understand the dynamics of RPG mechanics, played around with designing a few myself. (Shameless Mention)

The trouble I have is that Wasteland 2 used A LOT of magical numbers and oddball tweaks to increase difficulty, but at the expense of perceived feasibility and inconsistent scaling. Instead of skill and experience driving the damage output, equipment with WEIRD numbers and manually assigned overrides drove it. It creates this weird perception that somehow the same weapon, making the same shot somehow does more damage in the hands of the enemy... for "reasons". Verisimilitude aside, you'd think the same weapon in different hands should have roughly similar damage no matter who holds it. Now, there may be bonuses as such from perks and other elements, but a plain old shot should be roughly the same statistically. But often in Wasteland 2, I'm using the same weaponry and on the same targets, and there is no consistency.

Now, it does accomplish the goal of providing difficulty, but with a huge heaping load of frustration (and plenty of reloading when you get completely wiped out). It also creates this "magical equipment" phenomena where X is SIGNIFICANTLY better than Y... because... it is... even though... X is very derivative of Y. And there's the "F U, that's why!" from enemies just having ridiculously jacked stats that are on a whole different scale that anything else the player has experienced. World feasibility and suspension of disbelief suffers greatly with stuff like this. Many times, I feel like I'm fighting a very, very angry tabletop game master who's just fudging the stats of enemies in sheer spite when playing Wasteland 2. I want to the game world to play by the same rules I have to. I want honest challenge, not just surprise cup-checking difficulty that just leaves you sore and resentful afterwards. And that can be done without magical numbers, override tweaks, and rule inconsistencies.

If I see a bunch of cyborgs using regular gunpowder weapons, I would expect the guns to work the same as mine and the cyborgs to be tougher than regular humans but not quite as ridiculous as a straight metal behemoths. So, when their guns do an INSANE amount damage to my fully armored crew and my guns do FAR LESS than what they did to previous metal behemoths... It's just fucking insulting and offensive to your perception of the world. Instead of thinking, "These are tough dudes and I need to approach them carefully in the future", I'm cursing the screen yelling, "The fuck is this shit?! What moron designed these enemies and put them to spawn HERE?! Dammit? Is there some secret place I need to go to get uber equipment to fight these things? Is power armor not enough?! Do I have to be level 50 before even coming to this place?!" I expect things to be tough, but when you get shut down and flattened out of the blue in an area you believed you should have been after careful leveling... You just feel robbed. I mean, what else is a player suppose to feel when an enemy gets practically two turns before you and drops two 200 HP characters with a SINGLE PISTOL shot each... Before you even get a chance to act?

I'm just asking for feasible consistency from the perspective of the player without these random "Gotcha!" bits.

EDIT:

Quick analogy summary.

When I open the closet door in a foreboding house:

A. A rad-zombie/cyborg/robot monster grabs the guy that opens the door and beats the hell out of them. Reaction: "Damn, rough neighborhood. I'm shooting open doors from now on."

B. A stealth rocket-propelled steam-roller explodes through the closet back wall and flattens the entire team in the first round. Reaction: "... ... ... *reload* Fuck you game. You don't get that. That was bullshit. I'm not fucking with this area. They could have lovingly crafted the best quest in the game, but I don't want to see it now."

Wasteland 2 has A LOT of B type of moments.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 2nd, 2017, 3:50 pm

And since I'm right at it with my current playthrough... A prime example of magic numbers and other "difficulty" tweaks gone bad... The Culver City Brothel. Average Party level 27 (I've been taking my time to do every quest imaginable). Kevlar suits and Power Armor. Augs, .45's, Ion Beamers, and Brawlers. Ready to fight...?

Inside. People in religious wear with at least 325 HP, 8 Armor, Pistols that do at least 66 damage, Shotguns that do at least 100, and god knows how much armor penetration. All get a turn after the first shot from me before I get a get to act again.

I mean? Is the average party level suppose to be level 50 before approaching this place?

To me, this just showcases what happens when you aren't consistent with your enemy building overall in comparison to player characters and get into an arms race between all the combat statistics that has no bounding. It's very similar to the To Hit Bonus and AC arms race of 3rd Edition DnD at higher levels. These are major design flaws and just creates a very tiring, troublesome, and trying experience that just shatters your immersion into the world.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by undecaf » August 3rd, 2017, 12:05 pm

The damage/HP curve did really go overboard at certain point. Something should propably be done to the HP and damage bloats and put more focus on evasion, to-hit chance and armor penetration. With a bit more sensible HP progression (at least for humans and humanoids). Increased lethality might not be a bad idea -- in that even a low level character might be able to cause some serious damage (he's just less accurate, probably less armored, and less able to evade).

Less focus on attrition and more on attempting to do the tactically "right thing" (right weapon, right target, right bodypart, right movement...etc).

For example, you aren't going to do much with low caliber weapons against heavily armored targets (possible gauss weaponry and such aside), but with called shots and high enough awareness and/or combat shooting (or what ever) you might detect hard to hit weak spots between the armor, hitting which migh not always be killshots or damage dealers, but might still provide a useful disorienting/debilitating/demoralizing status effects and allow the heavier weapons an easier time to bring the enemy down.

That, and increase the range of the skills (to something like 20 per skill) so that skillpoint hoarding isn't a thing already at halfpoint in the game, that there are reasons to invest those points on the spot and not bank them to later buy yourself out from a problem.
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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 4th, 2017, 6:27 am

HP and Damage bloat across the board is usually a sign of bad design with how the game system is handling increasing power levels. It creates a very artificial feeling of "challenge" via sheer attrition rather than making use of the game elements.

Unfortunately, the combat system of Wasteland 2 was at its limits well into the mid point of the game. The skill system, action point economy, and damage/armor systems just started to fall apart.

The attribute and skills work decently at low power levels, but start to fight each other in mid and high power levels. You start to focus on combat skills exclusively just to make sure every shot counts, since you just can't even afford to miss one shot in combat. Trouble is that now you desperately need skill points... but those are dependent on Intelligence... that a character that needs to shoot a bunch probably doesn't have because they need action points. So, you can't get skill points fast enough... while at the same time the non-combat skills and information skills are more demanding than ever and you lose opportunities to get key equipment to keep competitive in the HP/Damage arms race. And, without non-combat skills... you can't get the extra XP needed to level to get skill points... ... ..

After a certain point, you have to stop caring about the content of the game, because you need to focus on improving your combat ability... so you can even get a chance to experience the content of the game. Yes, it's a damn nasty Catch 22.

The Wasteland 2 character system works, so long as nothing in the world goes past an effective level 10 - 15. Otherwise, it grinds against itself and shakes itself apart.

How to fix it? Hard limits on the little things. For example, a 7.62mm based weapon can only ever produce so much base damage. Special abilities can only ever help increase the chance to hit and tweak the critical chance. Enemies and NPCs must be built using the same rules as the player characters. Setting viable ranges on the small things help prevent chain reactions that lead to huge balancing problems.

As for skill point hoarding... The only way to combat that is to fix the skill system to something that doesn't punish the player for using the skills points in a sensible way at previous point in the game. The Wasteland 2 skill system with how Wasteland 2 is structured punishes you for not using skill points only when you need them. And if you start a skill, you are punished you ever attempt to regear a character to anything else.

How to fix it? I'd suggest a skill tree with specialization and fallback, and a rework of how skill challenges are handled.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by undecaf » August 4th, 2017, 7:59 am

Lakstoties wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 6:27 am
How to fix it? I'd suggest a skill tree with specialization and fallback, and a rework of how skill challenges are handled.
Fallback as in "unlearn"? I hope not.

The simplest mean to fix it - from my point of view - would be to increase the range of the skills so that a single point implies less effect (i.e. needing more points become effective) and - aside from to-hit-chances in combat - hiding the difficulty and crit.fail indicators from all but the experts at the task (who might - for example - get the similiar colour coded pointer prompt WL2 had but without the % indicators; Very hard, hard, normal, easy, very easy or something).
"A human being in his last extremity IS a bag of shit."

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 4th, 2017, 8:07 am

undecaf wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 7:59 am
Fallback as in "unlearn"? I hope not.
Nah. A branching skill tree where if you don't have the exact specialization, you fall back down the branching until you hit a spot that does. Something I explored in a system I made. So, if you have a skill tree branch that's Ranged -> Firearms -> Rifles, you are specialized in Rifles. But if you pick up a pistol, you fallback to the Firearms skill rather than having no skill in shooting the pistol. If you pick up a Crossbow, you'll at least have Ranged. So you never are completely at a loss if you need to use another weapon in the same rough category.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Grohal » August 4th, 2017, 1:42 pm

Lakstoties wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 8:07 am
undecaf wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 7:59 am
Fallback as in "unlearn"? I hope not.
Nah. A branching skill tree where if you don't have the exact specialization, you fall back down the branching until you hit a spot that does. Something I explored in a system I made. So, if you have a skill tree branch that's Ranged -> Firearms -> Rifles, you are specialized in Rifles. But if you pick up a pistol, you fallback to the Firearms skill rather than having no skill in shooting the pistol. If you pick up a Crossbow, you'll at least have Ranged. So you never are completely at a loss if you need to use another weapon in the same rough category.
That's pretty what some wanted: more "impact" of skills to other related skills. Also more impact of attributes on skills (for example: if you are clumsy as fuck you won't hit as well as some nimble person - no matter how long you train).
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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » August 4th, 2017, 2:06 pm

Grohal wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 1:42 pm
That's pretty what some wanted: more "impact" of skills to other related skills. Also more impact of attributes on skills (for example: if you are clumsy as fuck you won't hit as well as some nimble person - no matter how long you train).
Played around with a concept like that. Your "base" proficiency is determined directly from your attributes. You can train up, but you'll have a hard time catching up with someone with the right attributes for that skill.

Ripping an example from one of my sources...

"Ranged" is a base skill that pulls from three attributes: AGility, FOcus, PErception.

Sharpshooter Bob: AG 10, FO 10, and PE 10
Average Duder: AG 5, FO 5, and PE 5
Klutz McGee: AG 1, FO 1, and PE 1

The base proficiency is figured out by picking two attributes to double (these are the primary contributors) and summing all three attributes. So for the Ranged base skill...

Sharpshooter Bob: 50
Average Duder: 25
Klutz McGee: 5

So someone with the natural attributes will have a significant advantage over someone who doesn't. Even if Klutz McGee branches out and specializes carefully, Sharpshooter Bob will maintain a pretty significant advantage.

This advantage increases more when you lock down how new skill point are gotten. If you have to buy skill points to use within a base skill and branches, you can do something to where you purchase a "pack" of skill points to a base skill tree and you get the total of the two primary contributor stats you chose. So, not only does Sharpshooter Bob have a significant advantage naturally, he gets more points to use for those skills per purchase over everyone else. (Sharpshooter Bob 20, Average Duder 10, Klutz McGee 2) This also detaches skill points from Intelligence, which helps balances things out and doesn't hinder characters from developing their skills in a sensible manner.

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by grammarsalad » September 17th, 2017, 10:09 am

Lakstoties wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 2:06 pm
Grohal wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 1:42 pm
That's pretty what some wanted: more "impact" of skills to other related skills. Also more impact of attributes on skills (for example: if you are clumsy as fuck you won't hit as well as some nimble person - no matter how long you train).
Played around with a concept like that. Your "base" proficiency is determined directly from your attributes. You can train up, but you'll have a hard time catching up with someone with the right attributes for that skill.

Ripping an example from one of my sources...

"Ranged" is a base skill that pulls from three attributes: AGility, FOcus, PErception.

Sharpshooter Bob: AG 10, FO 10, and PE 10
Average Duder: AG 5, FO 5, and PE 5
Klutz McGee: AG 1, FO 1, and PE 1

The base proficiency is figured out by picking two attributes to double (these are the primary contributors) and summing all three attributes. So for the Ranged base skill...

Sharpshooter Bob: 50
Average Duder: 25
Klutz McGee: 5

So someone with the natural attributes will have a significant advantage over someone who doesn't. Even if Klutz McGee branches out and specializes carefully, Sharpshooter Bob will maintain a pretty significant advantage.

This advantage increases more when you lock down how new skill point are gotten. If you have to buy skill points to use within a base skill and branches, you can do something to where you purchase a "pack" of skill points to a base skill tree and you get the total of the two primary contributor stats you chose. So, not only does Sharpshooter Bob have a significant advantage naturally, he gets more points to use for those skills per purchase over everyone else. (Sharpshooter Bob 20, Average Duder 10, Klutz McGee 2) This also detaches skill points from Intelligence, which helps balances things out and doesn't hinder characters from developing their skills in a sensible manner.
This is great! I registered just to say that, so...ummm, that's it

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Re: Of Combat and Character Systems

Post by Lakstoties » September 18th, 2017, 11:28 am

grammarsalad wrote:
September 17th, 2017, 10:09 am
Lakstoties wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 2:06 pm
Grohal wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 1:42 pm
That's pretty what some wanted: more "impact" of skills to other related skills. Also more impact of attributes on skills (for example: if you are clumsy as fuck you won't hit as well as some nimble person - no matter how long you train).
Played around with a concept like that. Your "base" proficiency is determined directly from your attributes. You can train up, but you'll have a hard time catching up with someone with the right attributes for that skill.

...
This is great! I registered just to say that, so...ummm, that's it
Well, if you are interested in more, it's all from a tabletop RPG system I've on and off developed. Here it is: D10/0 System. It's been awhile since I've touched it, so it probably needs another revision pass. But, there may be a few more bits in there you may like. And, honestly, there's a few bits I think could work nicely in Wasteland 3, but I'm biased.

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