So I bought Borderlands on Friday and then promptly lost my whole weekend to it.
It’s quite an addictive game. Take a first-person shooter, which I love, and glom RPG elements onto it, which I also love. As you defeat enemies and complete quests, you’ll gain XP and level up, giving you more hitpoints and making you more effective with any weapon you use.
But the thing that will really suck you in about Borderlands is the drops.
Borderlands uses the same drop system popularized by World of Warcraft – it even uses the same color-codes for drops, with weapons with white names being standard, green names being good, blue being superior and purple being epic. Every time you open a gun crate, there’s that palpable excitement – will I finally get that sniper rifle that sets people on fire I’ve been wanting? Or will I find a better shield that also heals me over time? Perhaps I’ll find a grenade modification that causes my grenades to simply teleport to their target.
And while I played it occurred to me that single-character RPGs tend to be very combat-heavy, because the single character needs to be able to fairly easily dispatch three, four, five or even more enemies at a time. The main character of Questron would gain a full hundred hitpoints on every level-up; within about ten levels he could walk into a town, kill all the townspeople, steal everything, kill the guards and walk out. JC Denton of Deus Ex routinely engaged multiple enemies, usually by turning invisble, shielding himself, or just popping their heads off with well-placed rifle shots. Your character in Oblivion gains power ridiculously quickly and becomes both the most skilled swordsman and the most skilled magic-user in the land. And don’t even get me started on Diablo.
If Inaria is going to be a single-character RPG (which it probably will be) then I’ll need to do something similar. That’s not the problem.
The problem is drops. Yes or no?
The pros: It’s a tried-and-true way to continually reward players as they play, instead of only rewarding them when they level. And even if they don’t get something they want, they can sell it for much-needed cash…and every once in a while something will pop up that will make the player really happy.
The cons: The drop system is basically tapping into the part of the brain that likes to gamble. That feels kind of weird to me, especially after working on casino games myself. Secondly, it’s…well, it feels too easy. A drop system would be almost trivial to implement. Take a weapon, put random stats on it. If the stats match what the player wants, the player is happy; if not, it’s vendor trash. Plus…it’s not very retro-RPG-ish.
So once again I’m polling the audience. Thoughts?
Hm, apparently the blog move messed up the rss feeds – had to subscribe again.
As to drops or no drops, depends on how random you want things to be. Personally I’d like things to be deterministic, with absolutely zero totally random encounters etc, but that is really just a game design choice issue.
Nethack without randomness would be… odd. Not necessarily bad; just different. A lot more play-tested, honed, tweaked experience, but also a lot less replayable.
When pool of radiance came out, I remember reviewers praising it for the fact that if you kill 10 orcs, you’ll end up with 10 swords, 10 leather armors, 10 daggers, 10 helmets, etc. So, if you see a bad guy with a weapon you want…
Managing all that junk is an user interface issue. And also a game design one. If you have a limited carrying capacity, you’ll have to let the player easily manage what to pick up and what to drop without it becoming tedious. Or turn everything into protoplasm or whatever you did in mass effect 1 =)
I prefer the kill 10 orcs, get 10 sets of what they have. Of course, you can always vary what the orcs have, one of them might love spears while another one evidently picked up a magic piece of armor during his lifespan.
All that said, I hates loot games (that is, games like Borderlands or Diablo that depend on the looting rather than the actual gameplay). I found Borderlands utterly boring because the game clearly centered around finding a shiny new gun while the gunplay itself sucked.
If I remember correctly, Ultima would drop a chest for you to open once you killed monsters. You would get cash, but I do not remember if you got loot as well.
Loot is good as long as it is not the primary focus of the game. I feel that to get better equipment you really only have 3 options:
1. Town vendors sell the good stuff, but the stock will need to update every so often and keep up with player level
2. Loot drops from monster kills
3. Rewards for Sub quests.
I think that a combination of 1 and 3 could be good. It also avoids the issue that plagues a lot of RPG’s where after the first couple of levels the player is rich and can not spend money fast enough. The down side is that you have to come up with a lot of interesting sub quests. It may not be hard from a programming perspective, but you have to think up the content.
If you are trying to stick to your Dec 1st deadline and a drop system would be trivial then I think you have your answer. knock that sucker out. :p
There’s a talk over at TED which is very related to your question:
Oooh, nice talk. Thanks, Kris!
If you add drops, you should add more inventory space!
I don’t know the drop system very well (I haven’t played any of those games myself), but one thing to avoid might be item saturation.
In Oblivion, after a while, I was accumulating masses of items, e.g., “Blah-blah’s Reflective Loincloth of Destiny”, “Insomiak’s Base Ring of Night Eye” etc. etc. and even though they were all powerful and useful, they no longer seemed like ‘treats’ or something out of the ordinary to pick up. They became as generic and redundant as plates and the various bits of bread left lying around.
If there’s a way to keep these items exclusive or massively desirable, it would be better than an ever-expanding inventory of items like Mr Potato-head from Toy Story carries around with him. 🙂
More on the drops and related material: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2487-The-Skinner-Box
Even better: trophy drops. (i.e. one of the drops that a Goblin (for instance) has is a “Goblin Tooth”) which then opens you up to the wonderful worlds of Item Construction (just 10 Goblin teeth will make you a spiffy necklace that gives you +1 to your pancreas!) and Side Quests (Norbert the NPC pines for the love of Shaniqua, but knows that the only way to win her heart is with a Goblin Tooth Necklace, because it will cure her diabetes!)
See, I might be able to get away with that, if I made it ridiculous enough 🙂