很多动作RPG设置了随机战利品以取代固定的道具。设计师为这些战利品的生成设定了相关模式。以《暗黑破坏神2》为例，游戏中的每个道具都拥有特定的属性或奖励，并伴随着 一定的前缀/后缀，如“燃烧的”或“尖锐的”。这些用于定义奖励类型的形容词始终附着游戏道具，如此便可能出现更多不同种类的武器。这就意味着我的“冰火斧”可能与你的 “冰火斧”并不相同。同时这些道具还会按照稀有程度进行划分。如此玩家便可以根据这些形容词更快速地判断哪些设备更强大并且能够带来更多奖励。《暗黑破坏神2》的战利品 列表中拥有各种变量，能够生成更多不同战利品，因此属于最优秀的战利品设计类型。
首先，这么做会破坏游戏的进程。厉害的敌人有可能在一般道具周围出现，这就意味着如果该地区最厉害的盔甲只能够抵挡3点破坏力，那么就不该让敌人的每次攻击力超过30个破 坏点。如果战利品列表不能够合理地平衡战利品与敌人的威力，这会将玩家引向或许能够破坏所有内容，或许难以求得生存这两种极端。除此之外，这也让设计师难以判断该在什 么区域引入新敌人或者加强现有敌人的力量。
如果你有幸能够在游戏早期获得金色装备，那么在较长时间内你便不会再去找其它替代道具（例如在第4阶层或者在第5阶层，甚至更高阶层）。同样的，如果你拥有蓝色或绿色道 具，你将不断寻找更多这类道具，但是你却不知道它们是否比你所拥有的道具强大。因为找到蓝色道具的比例较低（只有找到并打败某些独特的怪物才能获得），如此便大大降低 了绿色道具在游戏其他阶层所呈现出的价值。
《火炬之光》所面临的另一个问题便是——战利品的数量远远高于其质量，也就是在相同级别范围内，任何特殊的敌人或箱子带给玩家的可能是一些相同类型的装备，玩家在找到 新道具时会发现自己已经有了这种东西。有时候玩家会发现一些比自己现有道具更强大的装备，但是有时候也会找到一些相同的道具，或者比之更没用的战利品。例如，我在第11 级打败敌人后获得的战利品却远远不及我在第8级所获得的。如果游戏能够提升战利品的质量，那么这些问题也许就能够一一解决了。
而《暗黑破坏神2》则拥有以下类别（不包括标准或低质量道具）：高质量，魔法，稀有，集合和独特。它比《火炬之光》拥有更多类别，这意味着玩家能够更容易找到道具。在《 火炬之光》中，我几乎不可能找到一个独特道具去取代原来的稀有道具；但是在《暗黑破坏神2》，我却能够轻松地获取更厉害的道具以取代高质量的道具。并且游戏的战利品质量 升级较快，这能够进一步推动玩家去追求更多强大的战利品。
《恶魔之魂》和《黑暗灵魂》都使用了等比例提升的机制，但执行方式并不相同。在这两款游戏中，各种不同的武器都拥有可逐渐提升的属性（游戏邦注：例如，魔法棒代表智慧 ，弓代表敏捷）。而各自的属性也将根据F至S不同规模等级进行划分。等级越高，该武器所具有的破坏性就越大，并且能够为玩家争取到更棒的奖励。同时我们还必须注意，在这 两款游戏中，到达50个点数左右，等比例提升机制就会失去效力。这可能是游戏想以此阻止玩家想通过升级而增强威力的欲望吧。
现在我们来关注一下某些动作RPG中使用的升级模式。从最受欢迎的《暗黑破坏神2》说起。在这款游戏中，每一种职业的角色都拥有3个完全不同的线性技能树，而每棵树上根据从 上至下或者从下至上的排列方式罗列不同技能。最后的技能将出现在第30级别，而玩家在完成了这个级别后仍然能够继续挑战接下来的级别。每次升级能够让玩家获得5个属性点以 及1个技能点。并且玩家可以通过各种方式多次完善自己的技能。
《暗黑破坏神2》的游戏进程中需要解决的一大问题便是如何解琐各种技能。除了要求玩家达到一定级别之外，每个技能都要求玩家必须获得之前游戏中的某种特殊技能。如此设置 就导致游戏中很多技能都只是玩家为获得更好技能的踏板。例如，巫师拥有两个能够迷惑敌人的技能。第一个技能是诱导敌人攻打其他敌人，而另一个则是陷害一个敌人成为附近 所有敌人的攻击目标。如果从可用性来看，后者的优势明显大于前者，但是为了获得这一技能，玩家就必须先获得第一种技能。
而可产生破坏性的技能在这一点上的问题更为严重。为什么当玩家进入骨精灵（第30级）时仍然还要使用骨牙技能（即死灵法师在第1级别中的攻击法术）？暴雪尝试在游戏后来的 更新内容中添加协同奖励去解决这一问题。一般来说，如果玩家能够使用一些技能去争取更多奖励并获得更强大的技能，他们就会更愿意使用厉害的技能吧。尽管这么做具有一定 的功效，但是这一问题却仍然是《暗黑破坏神2》所面临的少数问题之一。
《丁神的诅咒》的间歇期设计显得很独特。与多数ARPG不同的是，玩家在城镇中时并非完全安全。对于那些对游戏不熟悉的玩家来说，他们需要从一个城镇移动到另一个城镇，由 此来体验所有随机出现的地下城。每个地下城中都有个BOSS，只要BOSS还存活，游戏就会随机为城镇制造难题，比如食物供应被劫持或有大批怪物轮番攻城。玩家必须平衡自己打 通地下城和执行任务来帮助城镇的时间。你不会想要在城镇中休整过多时间，因为你在那里待的时间越长，意味着你在地下城中毫无进展。
间歇期的另一个层面是充当金钱消耗的角色。游戏中的东西要有价值，就必须有一定的用处。多数RPG游戏中会出现一种情况，货币的数量超过玩家的消耗力。ARPG中这个问题尤其 严重，因为道具的种类比较少，所以这种情况会更早出现。这便是金钱消耗出现的缘由，这种机制的目标就是让游戏中的金钱发挥作用。重要的是要先澄清，购买补充生命值或魔 法值道具的行为不属于这个类别。原因在于，无论玩家处于何种游戏状态下，都需要购买这类道具。
最常见的消极金钱消耗是耐久度，装备的耐久度会随玩家的使用而逐渐减少。当装备的耐久度减少到一定数值以下时，道具的属性就会受到影响。通常情况下，当游戏中装备耐久 度为0时，道具会失去其全部作用。含有耐久度的多数游戏需要玩家回到城镇花费金钱来修理道具。耐久度还是种对技能较差的玩家的惩罚和鞭策，因为玩家每次死亡都会导致装备 耐久度减少。
The Devil Is in the Details of Action RPGs – Part One: The Logistics of Loot
While the title may suggest otherwise, I am not in the Diablo 3 beta. As I’ve been counting the minutes for either Diablo 3 or Torchlight 2 to be released, I ran through Torchlight 1. Playing it, I noticed several things that didn’t seem right with the mechanics that I wanted to take a closer look at.
When it comes to the action RPG genre, any fan knows about the cycle: you fight enemies to get loot to help you level up and repeat. In other words, the magic phrase is: Fight, Loot, and Level. If any of those three are not represented correctly, it can bring the experience down. We’re going to ignore “Fight” for this post, as everyone should know what is good or bad about it.
Loot is the big one, and is one of the main draws of any action RPG. With loot, there are two schools of design: set or random. Set loot, means that the designers hard coded every item, piece of equipment and weapon in the entire game. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are currently the best examples of this practice.
The advantage of set design is that by knowing every piece of gear in the game, it gives the designers freedom to get creative. In Dark Souls, each weapon type is unique in its feel and utility. This also allowed the designers to easily set up a general pace of getting equipment and balancing it out with enemy encounters.
There are two disadvantages to set loot design. First is that it has a cap, there is such a thing as the “best sword in the game” or “best piece of armor ”. Meaning, that eventually the drive for better loot disappears, which is one third of the pull of playing action RPGs. Playing Demon’s Souls; I lose a lot of the motivation to continue playing new game +s as there is no new equipment to find.
The other has to do with PvP; set loot largely turns PvP into a race to get the best loot before anyone else. When I played PvP in Dark Souls, no matter how great I was at avoiding damage, all it took was one hit from someone’s high level weapon to kill me instantly. This forced me out of PvP until I could grab better weapons which would take awhile.
Randomized loot design which is used in most action RPGs, is that instead of defining set pieces of gear in the game. The designers set up algorithms for loot generations. If you look at Diablo 2, every item that has unique stats or bonuses comes with a prefix/suffix or prefixes, such as “burning” or “spiked”. These adjectives defined what kinds of bonuses are attached to the gear and from there the weapon is given the amount of that type. That means that my “freezing, burning axe” could be different from your “freezing burning axe”. Items are also graded in terms of rarity. This allowed the player to quickly see what equipment is more powerful and affects the bonuses from the adjectives. Diablo 2′s loot table is still one of the best of the genre with all the variables that go into generating loot.
Obviously the big advantage of randomized loot is replay ability. You never know if that chest or enemy will drop some super piece of gear. New gear provides both a visual boost (better gear = shiner avatar) and of course the stat boost. With Diablo 2, the harder the difficulty level, the chance of finding rarer gear is increased further encouraging play.
The problems with random loot and where Torchlight fits into this post, is that there is more to it than just creating random gear. In order for loot to motivate people, there must be an ascending trend of power over time. Meaning the further the player gets, the better the loot they find.
In Torchlight the loot table is not as refined as Diablo 2 was. For example while playing on hardcore mode; I used a chest armor I found within the first 5 floors of the game, as my only piece of chest armor for the entire game. While the idea of being able to find any equipment anywhere in the game sounds good on paper, it does cause two problems.
First is that it breaks the flow of the game. Enemies are designed around the generalized loot in the area. Meaning, if the best armor in the area can only block 3 points of damage, then enemies shouldn’t be set at dealing 30 damage per hit. If the loot table isn’t balanced with the enemies it can lead to the player either demolishing everything, or barely able to survive. Not properly balancing loot and enemies also makes it difficult to determine where to introduce new enemies or strengthen existing ones.
That leads to problem two, having the randomized element of the game work against the player. In Torchlight, my first character on very hard difficulty did not get lucky finding new pistols and armor to use. I went 5 floors using the same gun and armor. When I arrived in a new area, I could barely kill anything and enemies were nearly killing me with each hit.
The problem with Torchlight is that the loot table is not ascending as much as Diablo 2. If I find a rare item on floor 3 in Torchlight and another on floor 5, there is a good chance the former is as powerful or stronger then the later. However in Diablo 2, finding a rare sword at the beginning of an act and at the end, you are practically guaranteed that the latter is stronger than the former.
Looking deeper at Torchlight one of the problem areas I saw has to do with the types of rarity. Ignoring normal or white weapons Torchlight has the following categories: green for magical, blue for rare, gold for unique, and purple for set items (items that go together.) The problem with this is that with only a few categories, it makes it harder to find better gear.
If you get lucky and get gold equipment early on, chances are you won’t find anything to replace it for a long time (such as 4 or 5 floors or more). Likewise if you are stuck with a blue or green item, you’re going to find plenty of them which may or may not be better then what you have. Due to the rate of finding blue items which most unique monsters drop, it lowers the value of green items outside of the very beginning of the game.
Another issue with Torchlight is that there is more quantity then quality with loot, some unique enemies and chests drop multiple pieces of the same equipment type all within the same level range. This makes it a crap shoot when it comes to getting new gear. Sometimes you’ll find something that is miles above what you have, and other times you’ll find 2 or more pieces of equipment equal to or worse then what you have. As an example while fighting level 11 enemies, I saw loot as low as level 8 dropping. If the quality of loot increased at a faster rate, that would elevate some of the issues.
Going back to Diablo 2 it had the following categories (not counting normal or low quality): high quality, magical, rare, set and unique. That’s 5 to Torchlight’s 4, meaning there is a greater spread of items to find. In Torchlight my chance of getting a unique item to replace a rare is low. However in Diablo 2, I have a much greater chance of replacing my high quality item with something better. Combine that with the quality of loot rising at a fast pace, makes the hunt for loot an enjoyable one and not an act of necessity.
The challenge of using loot as a motivator is that the player shouldn’t be surviving from one piece to another, and at the same time, going hours using the same gear also doesn’t work. That does it for part one, in part two we’ll take a look at leveling and see if Diablo 2 still stands as the best in this areaIn the last part, I talked about the importance of loot as a motivator and game mechanic in action rpgs. The other half of the equation when it comes to character progression is leveling up. Improving characters through leveling has not changed all that much over the years. Probably because many designers copied Diablo 2′s style, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the de facto best way.
The challenge with the leveling up mechanic is how much should it affect the gameplay? Most action rpgs on level up, allow the player to improve their character’s attributes and unlock/improve a skill. The attributes won’t affect the gameplay but have an effect on what equipment is available. Skills are a big deal, as they affect the utility the player has.
One of the issues with designing skills is with the issue of scaling: where players will run through the game multiple times with stronger enemies. If a character has skills that do flat damage such as: “20-30 fire damage,” those skills become noticeably weaker on repeat plays. In Diablo 2, each higher difficulty boosts the stats of all enemies which made set damage skills a waste.
To combat this, the most popular way is to implement skills that scale. Many action RPGs have skills that do: “X % of weapon DPS,” where DPS stands for damage per second. Scaling allows skills to keep their viability and feeds back into loot as a motivator as now better equipment also equals more powerful skills.
Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls also had scaling but it was done differently. In both titles, various weapons had an attribute that it would scale to. For example: magic wands with intelligence, or bows with dexterity. The respective attribute would also be graded on a scale of F to S if I remember right. The better the grade the more of a bonus that attribute would apply to damage. It’s important to note that in both titles, there is a dropping off point of around 50 where the scaling will stop being as useful. This was probably done to prevent players from just power leveling through the game.
With that said, we can turn our attention to a few of the leveling formats used in action RPGs. Starting off with the most well known which is Diablo 2. Here, each character class has 3 completely unique linear skill trees. Each tree has the skills in order from top to bottom, or from lowest level to highest. While the final skill unlocks at level 30, players can continue leveling much further than that. Leveling up gives players 5 attribute points to distribute and one skill point. Skills can be improved multiple times with different boosts based on the skill.
The problem with Diablo 2′s progression comes at how the skills are unlocked. Besides having a level requirement, each skill requires a point in a previous skill on the specific tree to use. Because of that, it led to a lot of skills that are more or less a stepping stone for a better skill. For example, the Necromancer class has two skills relating to confusing enemies. The first one will cause one enemy to attack other enemies. The second one makes one enemy the target of all nearby enemies. Now in terms of utility, the latter is miles above the former, but you still need to waste a point in the former to get it.
This issue is even worse for the damage causing skills. Why would anyone use the bone teeth skill (level one necro attack spell) once they get access to bone spirit (level 30)? Interesting enough, Blizzard tried to fix this issue with a later patch that added synergy bonuses. Basically, some skills would provide bonuses to more powerful skills giving the player a reason to pump them up. While it helps, this issue is still one of the few problems with Diablo 2.
Torchlight, which was talked about in part one, fared better in terms of progression. Like Diablo 2, each character had 3 skill trees and received attribute and skill points on level up. However unlike Diablo 2, there were no prerequisite skills, instead only the player’s level was the factor. This meant that as a player, you would not need to take any skills that you didn’t want to in order to progress through the game.
There were still some skills that were better than lower level skills, but there was more utility offered compared to Diablo 2. What also helped was that many skills were built around scaling with fewer exceptions. The only real knock I have with Torchlight’s progression is that several skills are shared between the three classes, which do cut into some of the diversity.
Our last example for this post and my personal favorite progression system comes from Din’s Curse. The game begins differently in terms of character development compared to other ARPGs. At the start you can choose from either a predefined class or create a hybrid one. The difference is that a pre-made class comes with 3 skill trees, while the hybrid lets you choose any two that you want. So if you ever wanted to be an archer necromancer, this was your chance.
Each skill tree had two different types of skills. The first are proficiencies, which determine what equipment your character can wear, along with any special bonuses. Second are the actual skills you can learn over the curse of your game. Like previous ARPGs the skills are arranged in order from top to bottom going from least expensive to most. The big difference is that there are no level requirements for skills, only money and skill points which are earned at level up.
Without any level requirements, it gave the player complete freedom in defining their character. Allowing them to either get several cheap skills starting out, or save up for an expensive skill. By not having to set strict limits on acquiring skills, gave the designers the option of creating more utility skills to make characters personalized. Some players may not even get the most expensive skill on their tree and instead favor improving skills from each skill tree.
Providing meaningful choices in leveling up is an important part of any good ARPG. For the next part I’ll be examining downtime in ARPGs and money sinks.
Downtime is an important part of any game and helps with pacing. Games that have constant action, will lead to the player becoming bored. While not having anything happen for hours on end will produce a similar result. When it comes to Action RPGs, downtime serves several purposes.
First is simply a respite from the combat. Most ARPGs feature some kind of town or quest hub that the player starts in on loading a game. By starting in these safe areas, the player doesn’t have to worry about being jumped the second they load up and can take time to prepare for action. Options like stores or item repair are usually placed here to keep things centralized.
Another use of save zones is that they are the perfect places for players to take a closer look at their character. In both Demon’s and Dark Souls, the game is never paused which makes it impossible to do any kind of inventory management during combat. Speaking about Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, both titles have a different mechanic involving downtime.
In Demon’s Souls, the nexus acts as the game’s hub and home base. NPCs that offer spells and item storage are situated here. New NPCs will show up here after certain actions are done in the levels of the game. The player can only level up and assign spells in the nexus. What this does is give the player a clear understanding of “home base” and combat or safety and danger.
Contrast to Dark Souls, where the concept of a home base has changed. Since the game is open world instead of level oriented, bonfires spread throughout act as safe points in the game. Stopping at a bonfire will revive all normal enemies in the game and is where the player can change spells and level up.
There is only one area in the game that technically acts as a home-base: firelink shrine, however without spoiling it, the shrine won’t remain a home-base for the entire game. Unlike Demon’s Souls, item storage is unneeded as only worn equipment will factor into the character’s weight limit.
Between the two, I prefer having the centralized location of the Nexus as opposed to checkpoints in the form of bonfires. The reason is that I like having all the downtime options featured in one area as opposed to having to find them in the world. This also has to do with pacing, I’d rather do everything that involves downtime in one area as opposed to having to stop and start while in the world.
Another game that had a different view of downtime was Din’s Curse. Unlike most ARPGs, the player is not truly safe while their in town. For those not familiar with the game, the player travels from town to town clearing out the randomized dungeon underneath it. Each dungeon has a boss and while the boss is alive, the game will randomly create problems for the town. Such as a missing food supply, or raids by monsters. Players have to balance between making
headway in the dungeon while performing quests to help the town. You don’t want to be resting in town, as the longer you’re there, means that you’re not making progress in the dungeon.
The other aspect of downtime has to do with money sinks. In order for something to have value in a game, there must be a use for it. Currency in most RPGs will always reach a point where the player has more money then they know what to do with. ARPGs in particular with how rarer items sell for more money, reach that point quickly. That’s where money sinks come into play: a mechanic whose purpose is to give money a use. Now it’s important to make the distinction
that buying supplies like health or mana potions are not a part of this. The reason is that they retain a use no matter what point of the game the player is at.
There are two kinds of money sinks: positive and negative. A positive sink is something the player can do to make their character or equipment better. While a negative sink is something used to basically punish the player for messing up. Now before we get to some examples, it’s important to note that the two categories are not mutually exclusive as we’re about to see.
The most common negative money sink is durability: where equipment will slowly degrade with use. When an item’s durability drops below a certain threshold, the item will take a stat penalty. Most often if durability hits zero, the item will lose all or most of its value. Most games that feature durability require the player to return to town to repair (at a cost of course.) Durability also acts as a slap on the wrist for lower skilled players, as the player’s equipment usually degrades each time the player dies.
Interestingly enough, durability acts as a scaling money sink, as better gear requires more money to repair. However the problem with durability as the main money sink, is that it’s only for less experienced players. Once you’ve gotten good enough at the game, you will rarely die and durability degrades very slowly through normal use. This reduces the money sink considerably among expert players.
An example of a positive sink is from Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Both games allow the player to upgrade their equipment at the blacksmith. Upgrades require a prerequisite amount of materials along with souls. Upgrading a weapon will boost the base attack damage. Players can also add unique upgrades to weapons based on the current upgrade path of the weapon. For example: adding mana recovery or lightning damage.
This is an example of a pure positive sink, as there is no downside to making your weapon better. The only real catch is that you won’t know what the upgrade paths are without spending money and resources going down each one (unless you have a guide handy.) Because there is no downside to making your equipment better, the designer placed two caps on the system.
First is that the material to max out an upgrade chain, is very rare and may only spawn once or twice in a play-through. Second is that there is a hard limit on how far you can upgrade pieces of equipment. That means that eventually the scaling effect (which was talked about in part 2,) will be your only source of improving your damage output.Before we move on it’s important to mention that the Souls games don’t have the same problem with currency as other ARPGs. Since enemy souls count for both money and experience, there is always a viable use. This area is where I prefer Dark Souls, as leveling up will improve your character’s base defenses.
Whereas in Demon’s Souls, you have to increase specific attributes to improve your defenses.
Some ARPGs and many MMOs feature a crafting system, which acts as a scaling positive money sink. Crafting requires the player to spend money and resources to create equipment or items. Most often there is a way to upgrade the quality level of equipment produced. Some games require the player to spend money for experience, while others just require the player to constantly create items. The players who stick with it to the high levels will usually be rewarded with
very powerful crafting formulas.
The more interesting money sinks are both positive and negative. Many ARPGs feature a “gambler” NPC. How it works is that the player can view the type of equipment the gambler has and a price. The price is usually more expensive then buying the same equipment from a shop. The player however won’t know the rarity of the item until they bought it. That sword could be an ultra rare weapon, or a piece of crap and you’ll never know until you put your money down.
Torchlight featured a different kind of money sink in the form of the enchanter. The enchanter works by being able to enhance any piece of equipment you give him. The enhancement could be a new property on the equipment or added slots. The price for enchanting scales with how many times you use it successfully on the same piece of equipment, and the base level of the item. However there is a catch, there is a chance that the enchanter will wipe all properties off the
equipment leaving it with its base stats. That chance also scales up with each successful enchant.
Downtime is a must for any ARPG, allowing players to relax while looking at the other gameplay systems. At this point, the end of the series is up in the air and if anyone has suggestions for topics by all means post. For part 4, I’m going to talk about a certain game that started this examination in the first place.