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Author Topic: Things players think are bad but really aren't  (Read 1159 times)
Prime Mover
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« on: August 08, 2013, 05:00:48 PM »

I was thinking about something while I was writing my post about "points of no return" in games, and how they can be a positive thing. I've noticed that there are a number of former conventions in games that players felt were bad in theory, but when they were changed/removed, actually don't make the games better, maybe not even for the players that spoke out against them. As the old adage says, "Be careful what you wish for." Many of the things I'm referring to deal with increased sense of freedom and control, either in the gameworld or the meta-gaming experience. There are many conventions that when defined, almost universally sound negative, and pretty much everyone would ask for their removal, but when they are removed, unbalance the experience in some way. Here are some of the items:

- Points of no return / permanent changes to the gameworld/characters
- Save points
- Overworld maps
- Random (unavoidable) battles

All of these things, if you had asked people back in the 90s whether they were good, would have gotten a universal "NO", but now that we've all experienced games without them, what do we really think about them?

- Points of no return look bad on paper because they take away something from the player... indeed, they may end up making the game stifled, and that certainly isn't good. But it also keeps settings from getting old, and really makes the earlier sections of the game special and not simply a "more constricted version of the endgame", it makes players want to come back and replay the game, because the beginning areas are lost to them.

- Save points, instead of "save anywhere", certainly look terrible on paper. I was among the many who thought they should be abandoned and never look back. In fact, I still have a love/hate relationship with save points, and think a hybrid system would be nice. They force the players to play each section in one sitting and make the players have to replay more when they die. But some of these negatives also have their positives: they give specific goals to work toward and increase the thrill of the experience. They also provide distinct structure to a dungeon/section and act as checkpoints along the way. And as much as I hate to admit it, the threat of having to replay a section keeps you on your toes more than "oh, I can just reset and do this again". I remember having to play a section of Metroid Prime a number of times, getting farther every time... the thrill of finally getting through it was wondrous! I still think there are ways of splitting the difference. Save anywhere systems that have "refresh points" that refresh HP and MP still provide the checkpoint effect. A few games have "Save points" but with temporary "Save Anywhere" systems where if you have to stop playing the game, you can stop there, but not use it as a crutch for getting through a difficult section, I've always found this to have ALL the positives of the "save point" system, plus the ability to stop playing. But sometimes a good old "save anywhere" is fine, depending upon the user experience the developers are going for.

- Overworld Maps. From the beginning, I've always liked them, and I've found their detractors to be completely theoretical and never bad in practice. There are two alternatives which provide opposite but worse problems. The dot map is one alternative, allowing the player to hop back and forth, completely avoiding the in-between sections. Some say this "cuts out the fat," and concentrates the player on only the important locales. But interest is all relative. If you have ONLY interesting or exciting locales, then everything becomes kind of bland. It also destroys spacial continuity, as the player doesn't really get the feeling of going from one place to another, just hopping around. The other alternative is the polar opposite: make the player walk everywhere! Aside from "cutting out the fat", it fills the game with endless amounts of boring forests and plains fields. Certainly the developers aren't going to put much effort into it, so they rarely provide any real interest, and you're always left wishing you could just skip it. The argument for this is that it really gives the player a sense of the journey and the relative distance between locales. But it causes so many problems. Either it makes the world feel incredibly small and ridiculous (you can walk from one town to the other in 2 minutes at normal scale... Star Ocean 3, you can literally see the entrance of one town from the next), adds a whole lot of long boring walking that no one enjoys, or when too realistic it just stifles the setting and makes everything homogenous, "You couldn't possibly walk from a desert to a rain forest, so we'll just not have a rain forest area in this game." It's strange that we live in an era of these two extremes, where the good old Overworld provides a happy medium. You spend some time experiencing the journey between locales, but it's greatly sped up, and allows for large distances to be covered quickly. I worry that the biggest argument against the overworld is, "Boo! It's not to scale! The character is 1000 feet high!" which is a ridiculously small price to pay for the benefits it provides.

- Random Battles. Wow, was I against these. When I first saw some games with on-screen enemies, I immediately thought, "never again". But you know what? There's even some downsides to on-screen enemies. I think the biggest one is the feeling of guilt that builds up from constant avoidance, or the OCD feeling of having to do each one (depending upon what mood you're in). I find it very hard to pace myself with how many to engage and how many to avoid. If I feel like "I don't want to battle right now", and avoid all of them I feel like I'm being a coward and I worry that I should be getting more experience. But when I feel like I have to fight them all, I get bored and the game grinds to a halt. At least with random battles, you're not left feeling guilty or OCD, you never finish a dungeon feeling like you've cheated your way through it. But on the flip side, I love puzzle dungeons and navigational puzzles, and I HATE having random battles pop up in the middle, so I'm not a huge fan of random battles either. I really don't know what the solution is, but on-screen enemies certainly haven't solved the basic problem: that players hate battling enemies. Funny since the whole concept of a video game is based around battling enemies. I think the only real solution is to make the battle system as engaging and non-repetitive as possible, while keeping the endless cinematics and power moves to an absolute minimum. Whether the battle initiation is random or up to the player, the feeling should be one of "Alright, here we go!" not "I guess I have to... here we go again". It's possible to create a game with random battles that is engaging and interesting. But also, if you make the battle system interesting enough, players will actively seek out on-screen battles and not feel guilty for avoiding them, too. So the key is just really interesting battles. Very very few games achieve this. I think the other thing that games don't tend to do well is change the frequency of battles depending upon the interest of the dungeon. If it's a puzzle or maze dungeon, or something that's just really cool to explore, battles just get in the way. If it's a boring dungeon, battles can become more frequent. I think the only time I think this was dealt with was Skies of Arcadia, in which puzzle ROOMS were suddenly void of random battles (ironic for a game whose biggest detractor is its ridiculously high frequency of random battles).

Anyway, just food for thought on those concepts that may look good on paper, but have their problems in practice. Maybe the most unfortunate thing is the whole scale change and abandonment of various practices all at the same time. Suddenly world maps were completely gone from games, suddenly all games had on-screen enemies, suddenly points of no return were evil. I understand that any arts/entertainment medium has it's phases, but its a shame that everyone seems to always go the same direction. Maybe the key with these elements is to mix them up, instead of developers deciding "We don't do overworlds anymore" (Square-Enix), approach every game as a unique experience with its own unique set of elements. Instead of always thinking of the current game as "Everything the previous game(s) was and then some!" Realize that every title is a unique experience and not just an upgrade. For instance, I don't think anyone would look at the history of Final Fantasy and say that it's been a "general improvement throughout the years". There are all different kinds of experiences in a series or genre, some are better, some are worse, and everyone's going to feel differently.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 05:04:19 PM by Prime Mover » Logged


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« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2013, 05:22:02 PM »

I think a lot of things we think are "bad" are merely just mishandled.  It's like food.  Some people hate brussel sprouts, but if they're picked fresh and/or prepared right, they don't have that nasty bitter taste.

I think that breakable equipment is an absolute pain in the neck.  However, it was actually palatable in Hexyz Force.

And I often mention Lufia: Ruins of Lore as one game where the visible encounters were so poorly done that I WANTED random encounters.  Sometimes random encounters are a good thing if you need to quickly grind for levels or money. 

We all complain about tropey characters, but we all resonate with particular tropes for a reason.  It's just that some characters are written and scripted better than others. 

As for save points, I liked how the "anywhere saving" was done in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment where Maya's "spidey sense" would tingle if a boss was nearby, so that way I knew to save just in case the boss decimated me and I wouldn't lose all my hard earned progress.  I know other games do that too; they allow anywhere saving, but have restore points or checkpoint markers to remind you to save. 

Then you have the opposite "too much of a good thing."  Like when players first heard the opening vocal theme in the Japanese Super Famicom cartridge of Tales of Phantasia or the vocal themes in Lunar, I'm sure everyone wanted a vocal theme to accompany their RPGs.  Nowadays, it's fairly uncommon for JRPGs NOT to have vocal themes and quite frankly, a lot of them are bad and I sometimes think, "man, really?  Another cookie-cutter vocal theme?  A nice rousing instrumental piece would have sufficed nicely." 
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« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2013, 06:30:04 PM »

@Prime Mover: Well, the only Overworld map I remember enjoying was the one in Dragon Quest VIII. I think Ni no Kuni for the little I've seen of it takes what DQ VIII did and expands more on what Level-5 did in that game back in the day. But I haven't played Ni no Kuni so I have no idea.

Also Type-0 has an Overworld map but... you know, it got stuck in Japan. And I wonder how the world in Final Fantasy XV is gonna be presented since it said you can travel freely in vehicles and what not.

I don't think anyone would look at the history of Final Fantasy and say that it's been a "general improvement throughout the years".

Up to a point it was but for a long time they play around with ideas and see what they can do with that.
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« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2013, 06:49:18 PM »

Quote
They force the players to play each section in one sitting and make the players have to replay more when they die.

I don't have the time or patience for that. If I have to replay more than like 20 minutes of gameplay as a result of dying, I'm not playing the game anymore.
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« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2013, 07:15:58 PM »

Agreed, for the most part. Once in a while its actually good, but yeah, having to backtrack over and over really sucks. But at the same time, I do remember the days of old where you were sitting on pins and needles because if you died you knew you were going to have to do everything again, it made the game that much more satisfying to complete. But I hated it too, because it was frustrating. I don't know what to think.
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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2013, 10:09:43 PM »

Well, the only Overworld map I remember enjoying was the one in Dragon Quest VIII. I think Ni no Kuni for the little I've seen of it takes what DQ VIII did and expands more on what Level-5 did in that game back in the day. But I haven't played Ni no Kuni so I have no idea.

PSN has a free demo of it, download it, pick the ding dong dell quest, and exit the woods.
It's actually a pretty traditional world map, unlike the one in DQ8 that was to scale.
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« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2013, 10:47:25 PM »

- Points of no return look bad on paper because they take away something from the player... indeed, they may end up making the game stifled, and that certainly isn't good. But it also keeps settings from getting old, and really makes the earlier sections of the game special and not simply a "more constricted version of the endgame", it makes players want to come back and replay the game, because the beginning areas are lost to them.

I'm down with no-returning. If done well, like FF6, it adds a great effect to the story. I'm personally not a huge fan of games that backtrack a lot anyway, which is why I could never finish a Devil May Cry game, or Paper Mario: TTYD. You have a good point in that it adds re-playability. Maybe you missed a kick ass weapon or other item somewhere, that could have changed the tide, or outcome, of the game.

-  A few games have "Save points" but with temporary "Save Anywhere" systems where if you have to stop playing the game, you can stop there, but not use it as a crutch for getting through a difficult section, I've always found this to have ALL the positives of the "save point" system, plus the ability to stop playing. But sometimes a good old "save anywhere" is fine, depending upon the user experience the developers are going for.

I agree with you on the selective save anywhere system. It doesn't let you cheapen the experience, but it's good to be able to put a game down when you want to. However, for the older players, when you have a very busy family life, save anywhere, anytime systems are a freakin' god send.

- Overworld Maps.

I've always enjoyed them, too. Especially when the environment changes in a realistic flow to the journey. Makes you feel like you really have traveled far and wide, if that's your thing (for me, it obviously is). It's even more delicious when those changing environments can have an active effect on battles.

- Random Battles.

Personally, I've been mostly indifferent to random and selective battles. They both have their pros and cons, as far as I am concerned. Random battles would probably seem tedious to a lot of today's younger players, but if there is a good variety of enemies, and it's not happening every 5 steps, it can make the game more challenging in a good way. You can look back after the journey and know you really fought hard to get there.
Some games give you the ability to see enemies, and very little room to maneuver at all. To me, that's not much different than random battles.

Particularly, I've always liked games that let you "clear" a dungeon after a certain amount of fights, or defeating all of the enemies you can see, but they re-spawn only when you exit and re-enter the actual entrance to the dungeon. Gives you the power of choice (to a degree), but doesn't cheapen it, in my opinion.

« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 10:49:45 PM by natros » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2013, 11:28:03 PM »

Quicktime events, when done right and not overused.

God of War did these both right and wrong. I prefer them when they're special (and often finishing) attacks executed on specific types of enemies. Like when you grab medusas (or were they gorgons)? while they're stunned to snap their neck, or when you GET grabbed by something and have to wriggle free. But they piss me off when they a) require ridiculous timing (see the end of the Zeus boss fight in 2) or b) just don't make any fucking sense  - ie. when you essentially curbstomp Poseidon to death in 3, you get a GAME OVER if you miss the prompt. The fuck? That, of all instances, shouldn't result in a game over screen.

Metal Gear Rising also used QTEs a lot, but I thought they did it better for the most part. They were also used as enemy and boss finishers (the latter right before you ripped the boss to shreds in blade mode...), but not against Mistral, where there should have been one. I really don't mind these because even though they could simply automatically let the player-character do the finishing moves him or herself - and many games to - at least the QTE lets me have a hand in it, since I AM controlling the character after all.

(But that blade mode QTE when the final boss throws debris at you? That you have to do FOUR TIMES if you want all that nanopaste? Yeah, fuck that one.)
« Last Edit: August 08, 2013, 11:52:17 PM by kyuusei » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2013, 12:23:34 AM »

^I had problems with that too because at first my muscle memory I think didn't made the connection of moving both analog sticks in that sequence to control Blade Mode. With a bit of practice though that part is fairly easy.

What's hard in MGR is doing all the VR missions perfectly or parrying all the attacks of all the bosses in harder difficulty.

About QTEs in MGR I feel that it pull it off better than Bayonetta. Though, MGR is much closer to Vanquish in the sense of giving QTEs context to elevate the scenes and actions the player wants to do or must do in X situation.

PSN has a free demo of it, download it, pick the ding dong dell quest, and exit the woods.
It's actually a pretty traditional world map, unlike the one in DQ8 that was to scale.

I see.

To explain better of why I like how the exploration was handled in DQ VIII was because I enjoyed how they still have the traditional view of the Overworld map when you were traveling around the world in flight or on a boat, but on foot you have an expansive terrain to explore by yourself. It get rid of my annoyance of seeing the character I'm in control running around a map from others RPGs and that was something I really appreciated from DQ VIII.
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« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2013, 12:30:02 AM »

Yeah, I didn't practice blade mode either there or on the Sundowner fight. So, I never got better in that regard. Still, the left stick lets you aim elsewhere so I don't know how you managed without using it? But parrying, I managed to pick up in my 2nd or 3rd run. Monsoon's a good boss to really practice parrying against, as you have to be fast and do it over and over and over in a very short time frame. I was pretty good against him in Very Hard but.. talk to me again after I've done Revengeance mode. I foresee that being a giant bowl of suck. ;)

(I've also done all the VR missions and a bunch of them with the best score, but some are REALLY hard...)

I guess 'being in context' was what I was trying to explain when I prefer QTEs to actually exist. MGR is a great example since you do some really insane shit in that game. (Who the fuck jumps from missile to missile? Raiden, apparently.)
« Last Edit: August 09, 2013, 01:06:18 AM by kyuusei » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2013, 05:11:43 AM »

- Points of no return / permanent changes to the gameworld/characters
- Save points
- Overworld maps
- Random (unavoidable) battles

All of these things, if you had asked people back in the 90s whether they were good, would have gotten a universal "NO", but now that we've all experienced games without them, what do we really think about them?

- Points of no return look bad on paper because they take away something from the player... indeed, they may end up making the game stifled, and that certainly isn't good. But it also keeps settings from getting old, and really makes the earlier sections of the game special and not simply a "more constricted version of the endgame", it makes players want to come back and replay the game, because the beginning areas are lost to them.

The thing about points of no return are that they're a method in which an RPG can demonstrate the progression of time. The problem though is that RPGs suck at incorporating the element of time into a game, mostly because of the fact that grinding is a core element of RPGs and that takes time and introduces a shit-ton of variables such as the rate of growth compared to the number of battles fought, the luck of the player in terms of proccing lucky item drops or recruiting monsters or even the more lucrative fights in a given area versus the less so, and the skill of the player in terms of being able to finish fights quicker than others or managing to powerlevel utilizing shit like peninsulas of power or daring to cross over the bridge into higher encounter territory earlier than expected or making a beeline to the abilities that improve the rate at which you grow over other abilities first and so on.

In any case, RPGs have only explored about four different methods of incorporating time into their game and all of them have their issues.

-First is to either limit the number of battles one can fight or base your progression on said number. The SaGa series is infamous for using this method by incorporating an Enemy Rank system where increasing the rank improves enemies but its also determines which quests and events are open and which should close. One problem though is that accidentally fighting one too many enemies can set you over the limit of potentially important quests or even the quest you're on thus booting you out and only telling you to have a nice day. Another problem is that you're stuck having to fight only more valuable enemies as lesser ones only exist to waste your time. And finally there's the problem of keeping the player up to scale with enemies if level ups are to bad to use to keep up with enemies.

-Second is to passively imply it. Dragon Quest V did this with its story by carefully pacing towns and dungeons in such a manner that by visiting the next town, you would hear someone talking about the time of year or you'd see your wife collapse near the end of a dungeon leading to the next kingdom where you learn that she's not only pregnant but nine months pregnant when you just got married two major towns ago. Probably the least intrusive means of incorporating the element of time but its also probably the easiest to screw up. For instance if you don't properly pace the changes in time leading to situations where upon the player passing through a doorway can go from hearing about a couple that's soon to be married to a couple that have broken up because their marriage just wasn't working out. Likewise if you're careless about updating the commentary leading to people in the first town still talking about you having to prove yourself in the local "Be a man" trial even though you're decked out in Legendary Hero equipment, found out that you're the long lost Prince, and are a dungeon away from saving the world. Or you could run into the other extreme where its only been a week since you started your journey even though your account history shows that you've spent a cool million on Inn expenditures having stayed over for 90 or so times (to be fair to the account history most of that million is due to the typical adventure based inflation jacking up the prices of later Inns to well over 5000g a night).

-Third is to actually use time to determine the time with an ingame clock or something to that effect. Majora's Mask, FFIX, and Suikoden II are examples of games that track the passage of time for events and quests. The main problem with this that it adds a sense of pressure that most RPG players do not want to deal with, especially when they're talking about having to restart a 50 hour JRPG from the beginning in order to see/do everything. Even in games like Majora's Mask, which provides many outs and shortcuts to make resuming progress fairly easy, many players just simply cannot deal with the thought of having to restart, because they will either A) not know about them, or B) fail to plan ahead and enter into a dungeon with about 6 hours of ingame time left on the clock. And even if you don't set a hard time limit to get things done in, if you're a minute late at starting a side quest you'll either have to either wait for the clock to roll over or reload to the last save, depending on the situation. Although if you find that your save file no longer has the time left to make it before the deadline then there's a good chance that you're fucked and have to restart from scratch. Moreover if the time limit is too strict you're probably playing by guide and constantly watching the clock in the hopes of getting enough experience, currency, loot, and quests done before you have to move on, often times just straight up speed running to make it to the next save point in the least amount of time, all the while hoping that you don't cut too many corners and wind up in an unwinnable situation where the only solution is to go over the allotted time to grind up and dash your current chances at making it under the limit.

-And fourth is with dramatic changes that might as well be called points of no return. Timeskips, exploding cities, merging worlds, reaching the cutscene at the end of the current hallway, exploding continents, exploding nukes, massive earthquakes, massive floods, drifting on ship wreckage, changing disks, and so on. The most common narrative device used to advance the game is the dreaded point of no return. Often times there will be a sequence that ends with a massive change that alters everything (or at least your current location) and everything from before is lost and gone for-until you restart the game. Unfortunately, said sequences tend to not announce themselves until they're well underway and you can't back out of them. Other times, you find there's something else that needs to be done that can only be done before the skip, and its a royal pain in the ass to do. In some games, like FFs X and XIII, your view of the world is so narrow and focused that, even if the sky cracks and falls onto the ground like shards of glass, you'd only see the effects of this for about one area at most if at all. The biggest problem though comes from how far into the game it occurs at and how much does it close off. The longer the game waits, the more the game can potentially say no means no. In games like FFV and VI you can revisit many of the towns and cities from before the cut off point, and in fact, get to do more in some of them than before. And in games like Illusion of Gaia you lose over half the game to cut off points but aside from missed Red Jewels and Herbs you aren't missing much (Freeja and the first two Mystic Statue dungeons are the only big losses). But in games like FFVIII and FFIX, you lose access to almost everything aside from the final dungeon, a couple of side quest areas, and an extra couple of endgame sidequests added upon hitting disk 4.

The tl;dr is that conventional RPGs have a hard time incorporating the element of time in them and the current options available to fixing the problem are complicated and imperfect at best.
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« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2013, 07:33:31 AM »

Time is so rarely referred to in games, that it's really WEIRD when it finally is. Tales of the Abyss was probably the one that threw me the most. The game says almost nothing about the passage of time, but then there is one sequence where NPCs have to fly one of the aircraft from continent, and refer to the flight taking 3 days! That blew my mind, just because I'd made that flight and others dozens of times, and it suddenly put a value on how long I was taking, in-game.

I noticed that most modern jRPGs that have Inns have sneakily renamed the "sleep" option to "rest", so as to be very ambiguous as to the passage of time. So I guess staying at an Inn now means paying a few bucks, going up to a bed and taking a cat nap. Fine with me. After all, Inns are by-in-large a completely utilitarian gaming convention, like taking a potion or buying a weapon.
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« Reply #12 on: August 12, 2013, 11:46:34 PM »

There was a time I used to shout righteous indignation regarding "chainmail bikinis" and other such impractically skimpy armor for female characters.  Okay, I still shake my head at a lack of armored coverage on heroines and praise the games that actually clothe women sensibly (i.e. Maya in Septerra Core), but I've toned down my righteous indignation and just kinda go along for the ride these days.  There are more pressing feminist battles in this world (i.e. begotten unwanted daughters in poor countries being sold into sex slavery because the law of the land still favors old-school patriarchy) to fight than chainmail bikinis in comic books and video games.   

I look at a game like Code of Princess.  Princess Solange wears less than a bikini (though she insists it's a designer royal gown), but there's a running gag throughout the game where
Code:
people either think she's a hoochie streetwalker or they admonish her to put on some clothes.  So at least it poked fun at the trope.
 

And then we have Tifa.  Underneath the booty shorts and basketball boobs is an amazing character.  I mentioned this elsewhere on the forums:
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Tifa kept the 24-7 vigil with Cloud while he was a vegetable in the hospital after his mako poisoning.  She was probably helping feed him, bathe him, change his bedpan (or diapers), and all of that.
And she did it without complaint, because she loved him.  That a girl will stand by a guy during something like that shows intense dedication and Tifa's strength of character.  She's not a "fair weather" girlfriend who'd run when things get tough.  And that she's willing to work on a relationship with a headcase like Cloud- most women would run away screaming from a guy with that many psychological and emotional problems.  Tifa didn't.  That's love.  That's dedication.  That's strength.   
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2013, 01:44:46 AM »

My dream with random battles:

So a game has random battles.  With a different suite of enemies for each zone, naturally.  Why can't a player adjust the rate of random battles occurring?  Maybe using a slider in an options menu that's clearly indicated early in the game?  Players could ratchet the encounter rate really high when they want to grind (whether for experience or drops or what have you) and then turn it way down or off completely when they just want to go through an area without interruption.  Boss encounters wouldn't change, serving as major combat obstacles that players would have to either grind a bit or execute some killer strategies in order to overcome.  

Now, of course the downside is that it would reduce challenge by a massive amount.  Players that control encounters would have enormously reduced risk when it comes to surviving dungeon runs or similar tasks.  But an adjustable random encounter rate would make an RPG more conducive to things like low-level games and speed runs, and designers could use tricky boss encounters as benchmarks to establish the game's pace of combat and character customization.  Maybe make the encounter rate non-adjustable for things like a post-game super-dungeon for an additional challenge.  I think it could work.  

TL;DR I think that random encounters aren't worthless, but they're antiquated and need adjustment.  They're why I don't want to replay Skies of Arcadia, and that makes me a little sad....
« Last Edit: August 13, 2013, 01:47:19 AM by Monsoon » Logged

ultra7k
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« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2013, 04:33:52 PM »

To be fair most games with random encounters usually have some sort of item that ward off enemies for a set time...unless I'm just drawing from a super small sample size haha.

Yeah they are annoying to activate every few minutes, and it becomes a bit of a cash dump, but that's usually enough to traverse the zone isn't it? I for one don't really mind random battles.
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