53: Kill Your Darlings

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"In the topsy-turvy world of videogame logic, if a half-dead baby kitten weakly slapped Mike Tyson on the knees two dozen times, he'd eventually fall down. This was acceptable once upon a time." Gearoid Ready explains why sometimes you have to let go of the past to move forward into the future in Kill Your Darlings.

Kill Your Darlings

I'd love to see an RPG without the ability to save. Or only save on exit. It'd handle death by not dying (You know, like Mad Max, or any Bruce Willis movie). You get ganked by a bunch of cyber trolls in the woods, and when you try to defend yourself with an unloaded weapon, they beat the crap out of you and the screen goes dark. You 'wake up' later in a ditch somewhere with no equipment and a rash. Continue playing. I think that'd be a neat way to mix it up.

Most MUDs are just like that, as I'm sure you're well aware. Achaea is a prime example: everything that you do or say has a permanent consequence. In fact, Achaea is probably the most realistic virtual environment I've ever inhabited, and I think that a lot of developers dismiss the valuable lessons that can be learnt from MUDs simply because of their non-graphical nature.

Mount & Blade has that exact system, Jon. When you get beat in an encounter, you lose some of your money, some of your equipment, and all of your retinue (since they die defending you). It's quite a setback, but you get to keep the skills you've learned at least.

Saves anywhere, and saving is only used for restoring upon returning to the game - like Nethack, come to think of it.

I was playing Tribes: Vengeance two nights ago ... lovely game, but no autosaves whatsoever. It took me somewhat aback as I realized, upon dying in the middle of a longish mission that I'd have to start at the beginning... I guess it's IronMan mode by default ;)

Completely agree with this system, thats what makes Grand Theft Auto so fun.

And as for arguing realism of such a system, anyone who is playing a game should be aware : They've never game-overed in life (died) and had to reload, since they are obviously still alive if they're capable of playing games. A commonality of all people alive is that they have lived through everything life has thrown at them so far, so you'd think games would reflect this already (I'm guessing the reason they haven't is due to limited imagination).

To be fair, Wickedshot, it's not like we're the ones tasked with defending the world from the Ultimate Evil. I'd imagine that Savior of the Universe carries with it a significantly higher mortality rate than, say, Barista at Starbucks.

I'd say it makes more sense that the one tasked with defending the world from the ultimate evil is more likely to survive (given its likely mandated by heaven and all we've got in real life is our will to press on).

But my point is more that gamers are living beings, and living beings have not experienced the end of life, so a game that goes on and on regardless of a players action is going to seem more right.

There are respawns because the show must go on.

PC games'd be the answer then. Where the magazines are saying how save anywhere and quicksaves are bad!!!

The grass is greener on the other side eh?

I agree with the PC games save anywhere approach. It's my game, I'll stop when I like. I also don't like challenge games and bosses etc. where the game controls you. Easier games are more popular anyway, e.g. Hl2. An easy game, even on hard everyone could complete it eventually, and no-one complained about difficulty. Far Cry, a different story.

And I disagree about overhead maps. Fallout did well with them. It'd be dull to walk through endless screens of wasteland.
If you are doing a rural/wasteland game you need them.

However maybe it'd be better if games were set more in realistically sprawling urban areas. It's rubbish to go to the capital in an RPG with 3 streets. Proper cities with interesting stuff about'd be better.

Die/Reload is a wearisome mechanic -- slightly less annoying and unnecessary than the obsession with keeping numbers in front of the player.

On the tabletop, abstraction saves time because humans tend to be slow with complex math. We show and teach players to manipulate the numbers game so we can run combat resolution in parallel as much as possible. All this is designed solely to speed up the process of getting everyone back to the good stuff; making the interesting decisions.

So why -- with a computer running the show -- are we still asking the players to muddle through lame math? When we aren't merely exposing the min/max adventure on a character screen, we're innundating the player with minutia whenever the player hits 'level up' or finds a sword in a pile of treasure.

Why not make a system that functions intuitively and consistently, with true depth and breadth of play, and keep the math under the hood?

It seems pretty clear that heavy armor offers more protection at the expense of mobility. Do we really need to show the player how many armor points and energy points are at stake? For that matter, is some abstract 'armor' value, really the best way to resolve combat at this point?

Why is it such a treat, to find a game that simulates the advantages of higher ground, cover, reach weapons, particular weapons vs armor styles or locational damage? Why does no game simulate the problems inherent in a human with an axe, fighting in a dwarf-sized tunnel? Why is combat still predominantly stand-and-deliver, my number versus your number; as opposed to a simulation of the ranging, circling, exciting ebb-and-flow of dramatic combat?

I'd like to concentrate a little more on the good stuff: less time spent deciding if a damage 3, speed 4 sword is better than a damage 4, speed 3 sword; more time spent deciding whether to press my opponent into the corner, or to slowly back up the stair case.

I'd like decisions to be tactical, visceral and emotional; not purely mathematical.
I'm done fighting with my thAC0.

roc ingersol:
Die/Reload is a wearisome mechanic -- slightly less annoying and unnecessary than the obsession with keeping numbers in front of the player.

On the tabletop, abstraction saves time because humans tend to be slow with complex math. We show and teach players to manipulate the numbers game so we can run combat resolution in parallel as much as possible. All this is designed solely to speed up the process of getting everyone back to the good stuff; making the interesting decisions.

So why -- with a computer running the show -- are we still asking the players to muddle through lame math? When we aren't merely exposing the min/max adventure on a character screen, we're innundating the player with minutia whenever the player hits 'level up' or finds a sword in a pile of treasure.

Why not make a system that functions intuitively and consistently, with true depth and breadth of play, and keep the math under the hood?

It seems pretty clear that heavy armor offers more protection at the expense of mobility. Do we really need to show the player how many armor points and energy points are at stake? For that matter, is some abstract 'armor' value, really the best way to resolve combat at this point?

Why is it such a treat, to find a game that simulates the advantages of higher ground, cover, reach weapons, particular weapons vs armor styles or locational damage? Why does no game simulate the problems inherent in a human with an axe, fighting in a dwarf-sized tunnel? Why is combat still predominantly stand-and-deliver, my number versus your number; as opposed to a simulation of the ranging, circling, exciting ebb-and-flow of dramatic combat?

I'd like to concentrate a little more on the good stuff: less time spent deciding if a damage 3, speed 4 sword is better than a damage 4, speed 3 sword; more time spent deciding whether to press my opponent into the corner, or to slowly back up the stair case.

I'd like decisions to be tactical, visceral and emotional; not purely mathematical.
I'm done fighting with my thAC0.

For about ten years, I ran a table top game that had no math. I took care of all the stat's as the DM, I had all their XP, HP, etc on my side of the screen.

I had them come up with a character, without any dice, without any rolling. They based their character off of their history, their experiences. I then rolled the attributes without the players there.

I had four players, two fighters, one thief and a wizard. I gave them all their basic info, how tall they were, body type, weight, right or left handed (Ambidexterous in the rogues case) and their general abilities. "Fairly Strong, having never been sick a day in his life (blank) was the head of his Dojo, however he was never very book smart, but makes up for it with an unusual sense of morality."

These four players played these characters PASSIONATELY. Where some would say "I have a 16 Con, I can make that poison save", these players wagered their characters *lives* on every decision, and thus they moved more realistically. They avoided fights that seemed to slanted against them, they used tactics, strategy and in the end when one of them came close to dying another character pushed that one out of the way and took the blow for them. This is something you don't normally see in Table Top games and something you most DEFINATELY don't see in RPGs on the console or Computer.

There's merit to letting the player see the math, however, as well. It allows for some very refined strategy - something that lots of people really like.

Don't get rid of turn-based control systems, either. I play games to relax, and I don't find it very relaxing if I have a lot of strategic options and I have to choose one now or else the troll is going to kill you OH MY GOD and you'll lose all that gold, you're saving up for the Magic Sword you need to kill the one guy and it'll take you hours to earn it all back. Let me take my time with it. Please. Not everything is made more entertaining by making it realistic.

As for saving: freedom versus consequences is the big issue facing a lot of games. It all depends on what a player is meant to be. Is it about immersion? Then save less frequently. Is it about fun? Then save more often. A suspend mode, however, is very important.

As for static worlds, the big problem there is that the players have been given too much power to logically prevent them from doing anything. The best games, I find, are ones where the player has distinct limits. If you've got the Atomic Ubergun, then you don't have any limits any more. Killing things with it might be fun, but the best uses of that gun are the ones where it doesn't conflict with whether the world is internally consistent. Until it's acceptable to have a budget large enough to make everything destroyable, the best you can do is never give the player so much power that they think it's odd they can't break the glass, or never give them so much mobility that they can even get to the invisible walls. Or, rather, the only time they should have that much power or mobility is when they already know they've broken the game and, accordingly, don't care.

Of course you can do that in one of two ways, whether making the player weaker, or by making the world more detailed. One of them is just much cheaper to do.

Collection frenzies in adventure games are terrible but don't mistake them for honest limits to the game rules. I don't feel cheated because I have to eat every dot to move to the next screen in Pac-Man, because that's what the game is about. I do feel cheated when I need ten stars to fight Bowser, because I can see his door, it's right there. I don't feel cheated when I have to beat a level to move on to the next, because this level is in between the next one. I do feel cheated when I have to beat Story Mode to unlock racers X, Y, and Z, because the game is about racing. I don't feel cheated when I need 100 coins to get a 1up, because a 1up is a rare treat that isn't strictly necessary, and I don't have to go out of my way to get them (there's plenty of coins, after all).

Some games would be improved by fewer limitations. But you can't overlook the fact that in some cases, the fun comes from these limitations themselves. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I think artificial limitations are fun - in puzzle type games.

But when it comes to reality (not always ours, sometimes fantasy realities) simulations I think saves, loads, and death need to be given more thought.

In most MMORPG's you can't 'save' and you can't 'load' but your character and state of the world are always maintained. That's a nice mechanic that would do well in a lot of single player games as well.

Death in MMORPG's is usually laughable. Trade some XP for your life, trade some gold for your life, then be transported to random places. Death (or what should really be called near-death given the lack of any finality in MMO's) should have negative effects, but also be an experience in and of itself (not, you've died, so now you've lost XP progress, and to regain that progress you'll need to kill X more monsters to get it back).
When saves and loads exist, and you die, it means reloading (no option to continue) and redoing what you've already done, but hopefully better this time. I'd much rather play a game where you get beaten to near-death and survive somehow, but worse for wear (maybe you've been mugged, maybe you're woozy, maybe you've been dumped in a river).

An RPG without stats and skill points and visible numbers and so forth will inevitably be considered part of another genre, because genre in games is a very strange thing. What genre a game belongs in is determined by how the player interacts with the game world, and "RPG" has become a catch-all term that means "has a lot of visible numbers and a greater than usual amount of dialogue". When a designer adds stat-based character customization to his or her FPS, people will call it an FPS with RPG elements, even if there's no real characters or story to speak of in the game.

Thief:The Dark Project is the RPG you're looking for. It was intended to bring role-playing to the next level by removing all those numbers and so forth. People don't refer to it as an RPG, though, because the game uses very few of the game mechanics people associate with that genre.

Immersive Story Game (ISG :D) wouldn't cut it for me. An rpg without stats is pretty much a quest game, and when it came down to Kings Quest type games and Ultima (both of which I'd consider as having immersive stories), I was all over Ultima for hours and hours and days and weeks...

Thinking about the main differences in those two games in general: character building. From the ability to choose your gender and name, up to develop your overall characteristics like strength and intelligence, I had a lot more fun being a character who I could adventure with and have effected by those adventures.

The key definately wouldn't be to remove the stats existence, it would be to hide the quantified versions of them in exchange for qualified versions. Like in Grand Theft Auto, there may be a "fat" number, but its qualified as the character getting wider (there's also a bar quantifier, which would be better off gone for immersiveness).

Role Playing Games imply you play a role (by definition) so maybe a game where you decide the characters role and develop it to interact with the enviroment in a manner of your choosing should be called something different (it is more then simply playing a role, you are developping a character in an interactive immersive world [ideally]). Maybe CDG (Character Development Game) would better suit?

I was thinking about how a game with hidden stats would work (so that there are definately a complex set of statistics in the game, just not visible). You'd still want an involved character creation that is going to make your character excel in the areas you like (perhaps you want someone strong, or maybe intelligent, or maybe quick).
For anything physically reflected these could be decided by physical character creation, several sliders for muscle tone around the body (strong leg muscles for faster running, strong arm muscles for stronger weapon attacks or punches), and for fat stores (giving potential energy, allowing characters to easily build muscle from with work, or energy to expend on thought), bone sizes and proportions (perhaps longer arms for better reach, or longer legs for long strides), and then cosmetic changes which allow you to change your character to look more exactly how you want. Starting with a basic average being and having all those changes expend a bar that once fully expended allows no more changes (so on character creation you get to make some speed changes to your character to get it going in the direction you'd like and to personalize it), except through possibly adding to the bar by accepting some negative features (crippling effects, or maybe losing an eye "aarrgggh im a pirate" lol which allows you to make an even stronger character since you gave up a bit of charisma and depth perception).
Then would come the more abstract choices like intelligence. A series of questions like old style Ultimas or Elder Scrolls:Daggerfall.
And then you could start the game and just enjoy yourself and the world.

Once in the world the skills you use a lot would develop and those you don't use would dwindle (and your physical appearance would respond accordingly), so that you could just play your style and become better in that style, and get to interacting with the world and the story.

Sounds good. Oblivion is the closest thing to that only with visible stats and has too much manual levelling where you watch what you train in to not be left behind by scaled monsters.

Your system would probably work better.

Ya, a serious pain in Morrowind and Oblivion is the training watching to get better attribute gains. There's a mod for Morrowind that corrects it by removing levels and making attributes reflective of the skills related to it.

If that system had degrades in and hid the stats it'd be near ideal.. except that there'd be no way of representing your stats (which would definately be needed to be ideal).

Levels and Leveling are really bothering me lately. "Scaled encounters" are bothering me too, it seems like a good idea, but it just means hollow advancement (you advance, enemies advance) with the added drudgery of trivializing what previously would have constituted a challenge (old enemies not worth killing).
In GTA free-roam there's situations that get worse and more difficult, and remains a challenge all throughout the game (admittedly getting a good position and a source of health can give you the ability to survive anything - but theres always risk). The key being no levels and situational difficulty not monster difficulty. Imagine defeating a single goblin, then trying to defeat a band, then having to infiltrate a goblin base, then being ambushed by them occasionally while you're engaging another type of enemy.

In games like Lineage 2, or even table top D&D, strange things end up happening that make no sense due to the leveling system. Somehow a naked level 40 elf of any class can't be hurt by skelletons that would kill a level 1 elf in one hit.

In Ultima 7 I can go anywhere and survive (though most battles against tougher groups of enemies involves losing half my party lol). When I played years ago I remember my only real concern with (and acknowledgement of) leveling being increased strength so I could carry more, never was it a prerequisite to exploring certain areas.

I'm a dissatisfied gamer. Games are getting stagnant. Surprisingly though I couldn't disagree with this article more.

To use an example Will Wright uses when talking about game design, the overt metaphor of 'Sim City' is a city planning simulator but the underlying game is more akin to gardening. The game plays by choosing where to plant your buildings, watching your city grow, and weeding out slums or anything else you don't like. This discrepancy isn't a flaw of 'Sim City', the point being made is that there is a difference between the premise of a game (the overt metaphor) and the gameplay itself (the underlying part of the game). To put it very simply if you remove everything that doesn't affect the mechanical decision making process you are left with the gameplay.

For example it doesn't make much of a difference if Link's sprite is a boy in a green tunic or if the Stafols sprite is a skeleton. You could replace these sprites with grey boxes representing their hit detection and still keep the gameplay intact. Okay I admit that isn't *entirely* accurate for a couple of reasons: simple grey rectangles with name labels are hard to tell apart quickly, plus an object's graphics can be suggestive to gameplay mechanics (like fiery looking enemies being weak to ice). Nevertheless behind the presentation of any game (like the graphics, sound, story, plot and characters) is the functional gameplay. If you prefer, a game's gameplay is the feedback loop of visual/audio output and controller/keyboard/mouse input.

The thing that bothers me reading this article is you can't have a great game without both an overt game and an underlying game. No one would play 'The Legend of Zelda' if there were no characters, no story about some conflict, and grey rectangles for enemies. You also can't have a game which attempts to remove all abstractions. This is what I hear when someone vehemently rejects numbers and healthbars. The healthbar is supposed to be game-y. It helps the player understand the impact of game actions and it helps the player know how successful new strategies are. Figuring out the game and improving your gameplay exercises the same part of your brain you used as an infant when you tried to figure out how your toys worked. Taking the health bar away is murdering the underlying gameplay in order to get a superficial improvement by making the game look more realistic. The value of immersion is misunderstood anyways. While I do get a sense of fun when I pretend I'm actually the main character that illusion is almost entirely due to my imagination - not more realistic appearances - and moreover that sense of fun is *not* a game.

My problem with health bars is the conflict it generates with the images. It says my character is at 1% but she looks the same as when she was 100%.

Stripping away all the character and story from a game would make it into more of a puzzle game I think. The value of good roleplaying games to me has always been a puzzle-like game underlying it, as you've said, which manages to make itself scarce (outside my considerations) so that I may enjoy myself with the characters and stories.
Once the puzzle-game underlying a roleplaying game becomes too evident (through bugs, plotholes, conflicts, and things not being as would make sense) is about the time I begin losing interest.

Games are always going to have that conflict if you intrepet things literally. If a gameplay mechanic uses no iconography then it will frustrate the player if game advancement ever boils down to trying to actually understand the game instead of trying to successfully solve a puzzle or exectue a maneuver. It's like the difference between one player knowing what to do but dying 10 times trying to do it and another player dying 10 times because he doesn't understand how an object works or what a move does. The former can be fun (as long as the difficulty is appropriate), but latter is just aggravating.

I see you are coming from the RPG genre perspective, and that makes me less surprised you want to remove the healthbar. There is rarely any point to thinking about the underlying gameplay in RPG's anymore. Even when the game offers enough depth in the command system the game is still too easy to bother thinking about it (like I said, I'm a pretty dissatisfied gamer). I guess I'd agree that the legacy of healthbars, xp points, damage stats, etc. is overly game-y for accomplishing what is always a simpler idea. I prefer to think of it in reverse though: These games could be more challenging to justify thinking at that level of abstraction.

Definately coming from a RPG perspective, it's my favourite kind. A thing to note about health bars, the idea of displaying them through character is not new. Wolfenstein 3D had your characters face (in the UI, next to the health %) and it got bruised and bloodier the more damage he took.

The idea of showing the characters damage on the character is more for 3rd person games, but even in first person it'd be useful for immersion (enemies/allies would look more damaged instead of having less health on their health bars). Playing a FPS and seeing your enemy limp away bleeding on the ground would be more satisfying I imagine.

there seems to be a lot of talk about immersion in games of late and i just wonder if maybe i missed something in what immersion should be. in my experience of games (RPGs being my favourite) stats and health bars etc werent really detracting from the game or my own immersion in it. they were just displaying information that was required for me to make a descision which in fact immersed me even further in the game.

Also i dont think it would really work to have health or other attributed like strength or speed etc displayed only as physical attributes on the character. I want to know exactly how strong my character is and just looking at his size it would be hard to tell unless there were very easily defined levels where you looked substantially different in each.(thus defeating the purpose of immersion in this way) also it would become, i would think, impossible to display traits like magic defense or vitality purely in a graphic form. What i do like to see is the character displaying their growing strength or diminishing health in parallel with their stats.

I also like in RPGs when i need to decide whether im going to use a sword with attack 4 and speed 2 or attack 2 and speed 4. for me its all about the tactics and the trade offs and the character development that makes an RPG entertaining and this relates back to what dos boot was saying about the actual underlying gameplay. I look at it like chess (dont really play it but its a good analogy) if there were two kingdoms attacking each other its not realistic for example to have cavalry that can only move forward a few spaces and not back(or any of the other arbitrary rules of chess). however the entertainment value in such a classic game as chess isnt in its accurate moddelling of reality but in the descisions made by and interactions betweent each of players. I think that if the descisions that need to be made and the way in which characters interact can stay fresh and exciting then thats when the player becomes immersed in the game.

There's an enormous difference between "immersion" and "interest." Immersion has benefits of its own, but if games are a medium for entertainment then "interest" is really what we ought to be pursuing.

I definately see the enjoyment derived from stats and playing by stats in a logical puzzle type game (typically its a game of 'defeat the game engine'), don't get me wrong, but when it comes to immersion (really getting into the world and story of the game), I think conflictual information does detract.

Health bars in conjunction with a character model that looks perfectly fine all the time is conflictual information.
A max strength character who is capable of carrying 40 sets on armour on their back who appears as thin as a reed is conflictual information.

I would never say all games should be made this way, but for truly immersive games (not games you can stand outside of and methodically plan and orchestrate) there should be as few conflicts of this nature as possible.

Exactly. I'd like an RPG something like Mount and Blade and Oblivion and Fable mixed up.

Only no numbers. And no levelling really. Levelling as a concept is getting boring. I should learn skills to improve combat, and survive more hits by having better armour, and maybe learning to dodge/ move quickly in armour.

You would grow slightly stronger and faster, but in a realistic fashion, which respects the limits of the human body. If you are naturally scrawny you're never going to carry 300kg of equipment.

That would be immersive for me. No more stat-watching and number-obsessions.

I'm with Bob-Arctor here, I want something like that. No Stat's, if I wanted to crunch Stat's I'd DM a D&D Game. I want RPG's to be less about stat choosing, and more about choosing spells/swords/styles/etc

But where is the feedback in the input/output loop? If you hide stats then the gameplay becomes shallow. You say you want to choose spells and swords, but if you know less about that choice then the designer has to make those choices less meaningful; He can't expect you to not make bad choices.


That's not true at all. You can relate with all in-game information, the effects of ones decision. There doesn't need to be stat's to make something strategic. You can get across weaknesses and strengths, approaches and balances by making *In-Game* remarks.

"The school of (Blank) is the most powerful school for damage, but with the long casting times one has to ensure not to be interrupted."


"The lance has a distinct advantage over the sword, but the axe is stronger against the lance due to its heft and ability to cut through the lance instead of being deflected..."

Just because there is a system, doesn't mean we have to come right out and SAY exactly what is going on. You can hint and point and make broad statements without having to take the realism out of it.

The designer's of such games would be creating a world around the system, and a story in said world. As Bob-Arctor said, if you're a scrawny weakling, you're not going to carry 300kg of equipment. But, if you work out often and train yourself up you can see the body mass change and you can start lifting bigger loads. There would be a stress guage, a bar that -- just like an RPM gauge on a car -- would show how much you were straining with a load and you could guage how much more to lift and remove. The more the controller rumbles, the closer you are to your limit.

That's where innovation comes in, instead of making for lazy Designers, it makes for interesting games. Sure, we could stick to the same B.S. with numbers, but if the designers/developers are allowed (and I'm sure most would like too) to get away from the monotonous B.S. of number crunching Min/Maxing gaming... they may really develop something good.

If you can get away with not using numbers - like your examples - then yes that's fine. I openly admit that many RPG's in particular give you numbers that are more precise then you need to know. Like instead of health/damage numbers they could have the character's themselves look beat up and hurt when they get hit.

You can't always do that though. Fire Emblem isn't going to work with graphical damage. It'd inevitably be either too imprecise or too incomprehensible (too many graphics to remember). I could never put up playing an estimation game every time I needed to assess how much damage that enemy deals and how much health this character has left when a pure number is quicker and better.

Is the health bar a knifeblade against the throat of video games? That is what the author's thesis is. Games have to evolve out of these conventions or die. He wants everything to be perfectly immersive and I'm saying it can't be done. Sometimes hiding the gameplay will just frustrate the player (or bore him if you dumb down the game to compensate). And when hiding the underlying gameplay can be done it is not a make or break, live or die improvement. I'm still not going to enjoy Final Fantasy with zero stats if I don't enjoy it with the conventional RPG system.

Some really excellent points here, and I'm glad to see what type of arguments people have for taking the opposing view.

BongoBill's point about artificial limitations is an important one. Artificial limitations are, literally, the very essence of a game. And that's fine in a puzzle, or in Super Mario, or something that's not trying to show a real world.

But the problem I have now is where developers are spending so much effort to create a world that looks, to all extents and purposes, real - but are still using the SAME artificial limitations as they used in games that had no pretense to reality whatsoever. This creates a very strange dichotomy between the expression of reality and the game. Wickedshot's 'conflictual information' was a great way to put it. It's like when you a read a poorly-written book, where the character makes decisions that no real person would make - it suspends your belief in the world that is trying to be created, sucks you right out of it, thus making all the effort to create an immersive, realistic world a complete waste.

About stats: I agree with roc ingersol's post about making us do math. I know a lot of people are still in tabletop, but I think RPGs have to cast off these shackles. The tabletop style of gaming has limitations. Gaming should have none.

The other thing about stats is that they make things too definite. The great thing about, shall we say, boxing in real life is that even though all the odds (or the stats) may be against them, in any given fight the underdog always has a chance. Stats take away this element of chance (of course, there's usually a 'lucky hit' element in most games, but even with this the beginning player will never, ever beat the final boss). In a real-life fight, I don't know if my punch is going to cause 50 HP of damage, or how much protection my trainers will really provide.

avocado's point about chess was interesting as well. RPG battle systems are like chess - except that none of them are even remotely as interesting. Frankly, if I wanted to play a tactical game like chess, well, I'd just play chess. When I sit down to play an RPG, however, what I want is an immersive storyline, a long quest, and generally some interesting puzzles. RPGs which have interesting combat (Zelda, for example) have a definite plus.

Is it about immersion, or is it about fun? Great question. I think that's a question that will be examined in an Escapist a few issues from now. I have to say though that with the right talent, it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.

Mind you on the other hand in a game like Fallout 2 (More so than FO1) with many guns but no visible stats it's a bit harder to judge what is best. On the other hand this is a result perhaps of the already stat loaded gameplay.

Fallout has good ideas though: without knowing your weapon's numbers you chose what is coolest; it shows that what you wear affects you a lot, so that even at a low level the advantage power armour gives you means you can punch through previously hard foes; and the traits system is something that RPGs should have more, giving more personality to a charecter.

With many styles of game it's simply impractical to use graphical indicators to represent damage. People show damage in very subtle ways - bleeding, discoloration, limping. Of these, limping is the only one the player would really notice without paying special attention to it. Consider that in a normal game, if it shows the avatar at all, it shows the back of them as a very small model that the player usually doesn't look at. A different medium of expressing damage is needed, I think, not to simplify the mathematics, but because no computer can reach the level of immersion needed to convey physical pain without some level of abstract symbology, not without some very creative art and sound direction.

I think the next step would be to add changes in models and animation to the existing health-bar setup, and then switch out the health bar to something that represents pain - say the screen flashes red every time the character tries to walk on a broken leg. There's still many limitations to this: how are you going to indicate the pain of a bullet wound? Would you, for example, paint large wounds in a translucent or transparent red directly on the middle of the screen, as a HUD element? (personally I think that would be really cool, somebody go do a game like that)

If it doesn't work on a standard definition 24-inch television several feet away, then it's probably too subtle. Pain isn't subtle, though, so why should the new indicators of damage be subtle?

Not to mention there is still a case to be made for showing all the numbers in a boring and unrealistic manner. In some cases, making the information available to the character more realistic causes the game to become much more complicated. At this point, the numbers stop being a confusing block of intimidating numerals and start becoming relaxing tokens for the player to manipulate.

Gearoid: no strategy system in a video game is as interesting as chess? Well, maybe not in RPGs. RPG strategies are long-term strategies, built around inventory management and planning. If you want a more combat-oriented strategy then you'd need a TRPG. Or an adventure game to take away all the numbers.

My bias may be inapplicable to the real world. Unlike many people I don't find any level of math even remotely intimidating. In every video game I find myself breaking it all down into the math behind it, and I appreciate it when a game presents the numbers for me so I don't have to guess.

I'm considering a game like Oblivion when I think about representing health. Making it really bloody (in a world of greys and browns, bright red sticks out) is one way to go, limb loss too, or painful shrieks. I think it's entirely possible with today's engines.

If you were to try it for say, Ultima Online, it might become difficult, since yes, the character models end up being small and you're very limited in what you can show (that game is still the best MMO ever!). But in GTA or Oblivion types, you can go third person view where your character is capable of displaying a lot.
This level of immersion is definately not suited to all games: a FPS without a health bar is a bad idea since you aren't going to be able to see your character; a spaceship game like EVE is not lacking in immersion when you can see a bar of % shields or the like, since my spaceship better damn well have such or I'd go after the seller for shoddy goods! I'd only ever want this in a third person roleplaying game, or maybe an arcade fighting game.

It's all for the sake of immersion and story based gameplay, there are "roleplaying" games that need numbers to make them interesting (Lineage 2 for example), since greater numbers (more HP, more damage, more PVP wins!!) are the basis of the game and any attachment one has to their character (due to limited options and path controlled advancement). Still good games (I enjoy figuring out formulas and math puzzles, and those games have a lot of variables and interactions), but when I think of real role playing, immersion is key and numbers are distractions.

Why are we only focusing on the avatar taking the damage?

Why not have it be a haze? If we're talking an FPS, or an Action-RPG (A la Oblivion), why not start hazing the screen... Giving a pale white fog to the distance when you're minorly hurt, turn it pinker and pinker until it's red and closing in. When your health is below one quarter the controller can vibrate with your heart-rate and the screen can pulse slightly around the edges.

THAT is not subtle, and if you've ever been in excrucating pain, you know that everything is brighter and more accute, but nothing outside of the direct sphere of influence is noticable. Plus, the pulsing effect is like the "Aural" effect of a migraine. If you keep it to a light pulse, just something one would notice out of the corner of their eye, it would work very well.

I am not intimidated by Math in the least, I run D&D campaigns completely in my head, I've even taken all the Math out of the game for my players and done it myself to allow a completely immersive game for my players...

But, if I am a player, I want to Role Play... Pure and simple, not roll play, I don't want it all to be about Math and figuring out how to get that additional +2 Str. I want to be considering "I have Mastered the Longsword... Thus, I will use this longsword, it is my families longsword." Or "I am learning the Axe, but I'm getting beaten the snot out of by mages, I need to learn a short bow."

"I have never fired a gun before, so I need to practice... I'm going to go shoot at bottles for a short time in game, and it can be training to make my hands (cursor/crosshair) shake less."

I don't think items should have nearly the effect they do in game as they do, I don't think a sword should double the amount of damage you do. But, I'm for more realism, and sure Magic weapons make a game enjoyable, but I'd like to see something more akin to Bushido Blade.

Like you say, I'm far from intimidated by math, in fact my intimacy with (and educated knowledge of) mathematics is my greatest reason for wanting a game that does not display it. In Morrowind/Oblivion I end up figuring out the puzzle of the stats/skills, which then dictates the "best" way for me to play, which consequently is not the fun way to play (but not playing that way is obviously self-limiting). It's almost like unravelling a sweater.

Screen pulses of that nature have been done in a few games. Ultima 7 had the red flashes of the screen (another neat thing about avatar display done in U7: characters had a red outline when they took damage, and a green outline when they were poisoned, and other outlines for spells and such); Ultima Online has the darkened/foggy edges of the screen when you're dead (a spirit); Dungeons & Dragons Online has the darkening/foggy effect when you are semi conscious (0 to -9 hp) that gets worse the closer you get to death, and which turns the world gray and blurry when you're a spirit.
Controller vibrations are nice too, and are done in most consol games that I can think of.

First person can definately have these effects, the reason I'm focusing on avatars is because it seems like developpers have completely forgotten them (where as some games have managed to add effects for first person). The only expression of health in third person besides health bars seems to be alive or dead (a little too binary for me). Another benefit to focusing on third person avatars is the applicability to other characters (like monsters or npcs, even in first person games). I do want to know if my character is hurt/poisoned/maimed/bleeding, but it's also important to immersion to be able to tell if your enemy (or ally) is as well.

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