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I see this article is getting some play on Game Banshee and RPG Codex. Grats, Shawn!
Here are some of my thoughts on your thoughts.
The chance to either go "stat-heavy", or to basically ignore the stat-management aspect of the game.
This seems logical enough and is employed in many existing CRPGs as you well know. I think it started with the "quick party" or pre-made characters on disk that you could load instead of rolling your own.
One caveat of this system is that it's easier for the designers to go with pre-made and stat-managed games, since they then have a better idea of the player's strengths at any given minute. The more you allow players to manage it, the more possible it is for them to either achieve some kind of "unfair" advantage or get the game into an unwinnable state. For instance, imagine you have a stat for "resistance," but don't realize that cranking it up far beyond what a "normal" player would do makes them immune to a whole species of beasties? Unless you've anticipated that and planned for it, it could screw up the balance.
Also, what if a player creates a party of nothing but wizards, nothing but fighters, etc., and not the standard warrior/cleric/mage/rogue/utility char? My answer is that the game should be flexible enough to accommodate it, though granted it could be a lot more difficult. IIRC Wizardry even let you go with one character instead of a party, who became a special class of "hero." Pretty interesting.
Detailed control over game-engine behavior, apart from the Easy/Medium/Hard/Insane difficulty options:
Another interesting idea. A designer would have to be very careful again not to screw up the balance too much though. It's a lot to keep in mind. Each one of these is interesting, so let's talk about them individually:
Food/water. I love what WOW did with these and is a sign of their designers' brilliance. Instead of making them required, they just provide temporary bonuses and/or help you heal or mana up faster. They also tied this into a profession (cooking) with its own set of fun challenges.
The early games that don't require you to get food and water justify it by saying, well, some things your characters just do on their own, like go to the bathroom. You don't have to control everything! There is a point where you have to draw the line. Do you really need a SIMS button to have the urinate?
Then again, peeing and pooping could be interesting, too, since you could factor in things like mobs who can smell it and track you based on that. So then you'd have to implement a latrine system, or at least bury your poo. Or perhaps you could use it conversely--peeing on trees and such might create a barrier that certain mobs wouldn't cross.
Some of the Rogue games and Dungeon Master allow you to eat corpses, which can have varied effects. I always thought this was interesting, too, since I love being able to use stuff I kill. (I've heard Monster Hunter is the ultimate at this). WOW is great here, too, about letting you skin monsters and make stuff out of their hides, cook their flesh, etc.
In short, a requirement to eat and drink isn't a big deal as long as you keep the necessary supplies handy and make it a bonus as well.
On a special note, requiring characters to drink water goes against history. That would get you sick and dead pretty quick. In the times most of these games are set, people seldom if ever drank water, not even children. They drank watered down alcoholic beverages. There's a reason sailors are known for their "grog." A barrel of water gets stagnant pretty quickly! This is why I laugh when you drink one bottle of booze in these games and your characters get drunk. Really? Can you imagine the resistance they must have after a lifetime of drinking? Even milk was fermented!
In short, to be realistic about water, you'd have to have them either boiling the water they find (or use some type of magical sanitation), or adding some alcohol to it. In other words, being realistic about water requirements is too complex to worry about. If you just "assume" the characters are doing this on their own, why not assume they planned ahead and brought water on their own and drink when they get thirsty?
And also, how long does it take to starve to death? MONTHS! Not seconds after you miss your meal!
My ultimate game wouldn't require you to eat to survive, but would eventually lower your stats. If you hadn't eaten anything in a month, let's say, you would be very weak in combat and perhaps take extra damage, lower resistances, etc. However, this is a small stick. The carrot is that you learn recipes and cook food you get from corpses or hunts, and most of it provides cool bonuses. Plus, if you're out killing stuff anyway, might as well have it benefit you in multiple ways.
Sleep/rest. I think resting makes sense and usually isn't too big of a hindrance. Many games have a rest/camp option, where you run a risk of being attacked. Some go as far as to let you post sentries, or have areas designated as safe spots to rest. Again I favor a non-fatal tactic. After a day without rest, your stats drop. You don't die. On the other hand, if you're well rested, you get perks (added alertness especially).
Item durability. Another thorny one. A lot of games have items that wear out, but compensate with a "blacksmithing" or "armorer" type of skill that lets you repair the stuff. Other games don't have it, but have random events where a helmet or shield gets destroyed after a particular nasty blow.
Realistically, the type of armor you see in most games would have required a great deal of maintenance and a small team to help you put it on and take it off. For your convenience, there was a slot on the back you could pop open to take a dump. The heat could be as fatal as the attacks the armor is protecting you from. (So again we're in that "if you're going to do X because it's realistic, why stop there?")
Again I'd go to carrot approach. Your armor and weapons never disintegrate completely, but if you sharpen, polish, coat it with dragon poo, etc., they gain temporary bonuses.
Magical item recharge. I put this in the same category as magical potions and scrolls. I generally hate them because I always save them for "when I really need them." In the past I've reloaded saved games because I'd rather reload than quaff one of those precious potions. Of course by the end I had hundreds of them.
I don't like healing or mana pots, nor wands and scrolls for this reason. I'd rather just make them unnecessary. If you want a wand of magic missiles, have it be unlimited but just make it too weak to be a game changer.
weight limitations. This can be fun if you are creative with it. For instance, I loved the mules in Dungeon Siege, and the "bags of holding" in D&D. It also makes sense to me that a character with too low of a strength score couldn't wield an heavy sword or bow. That brings up the interesting question of exercise, though. If you're carrying 300 pounds of equipment with you, wouldn't you bulk up? And I think we can assume that you'd set down the 300 pound bag as soon as you were attacked...
Again, realistically, looting corpses was a HUGE thing, and the #1 reason most soldiers were involved to begin with. You aren't a professional soldier, so that's your pay. Indeed, sometimes battles were lost because the soldiers were so busy looting that the other side was allowed time to regroup and attack!
I know I keep coming back to it, but I'd just go with the carrot/stick here again. If you carry too much, you suffer some penalties, particularly with movement. If you aren't carrying anything, you gain bonuses. I think faster movement is a nice tradeoff for lugging that chest of gold coins.
I actually want to design a whole game around this concept: "Miles E. Dwarf & Sons Dungeon Excavators." The heroes have already cleared most of the monsters; it's your job to go in and get all the treasure out, avoiding traps, dealing with stragglers. This could go as far as having to build pulley and winch systems or having ropes attached to teams of goats.
Real-time vs. turn-based. I'm a big fan of turn-based, so not much to say here. If I want action, I'll play Doom. That's not why I'm drawn to CRPGs. I've never seen an AI in a CRPG that I could depend on, like Rob says--the archers and mages are running right up into the melee. Turn-based does it better.
A good mix of procedurally/algorithmically-generated content. I'm a bit torn on this one. I like to feel that whatever I'm doing in a game has been "Intelligently Designed" by someone. If I feel like it's just being procedurally generated, I start to feel like I'm just running in place.
Imagine if J.R.R. Tolkien had procedurally generated Middle-Earth. If you can, you'll love Bethesda. If you can't, you'd better stick with the OCD designers who can tell you the 50 different species of fruit fly on this island in their world.
Procedurally generated content is the refuge of the lazy and the necessary evil of tech limitations. Now that we have (FAPP) unlimited memory, the only excuse for it is laziness, cheapness, or some desire to "make a game longer."
I do not want to find a Frost Shortblade of the Fire Troll with Leather Armrests ever again. If you're too #$@ busy to sit down and create a cool sword for me to find, then I'm too busy to play your lame ass game.
Moderately Multi-player Online/Offline RPG. I think I may have mentioned some of the books I've been reading on this; get Reality is Broken if you haven't already. Some of what you are concerned about has been addressed in various ways, such as the "passive" multiplayer in Spore.
I think you'd really like the format of D&D Online, too, which does precisely what you're talking about. The "open world" part of it is actually pretty minor; the idea is that you'll take your small parties into the instances for short sessions. Unfortunately, it wasn't well designed (like all the AD&D stuff lately) and lacked the magic.
I was reading an article in Game Developer yesterday about "griefers" that was really good. They gave some great examples of people who went to extremes just to be irritating. I don't know what you can really do about people who just won't play nice. I don't think there's anything you could come up with that couldn't be abused.
My recent example is Mario Kart on the Wii. You can't chat or do anything, but some griefers actually find ways to use the obscure foreign characters to make their names into curse words. I mean, what kind of punk ass would do that? The sad part is, probably only 1% of the players. But that 1% is what gets noticed.
I think then the only solution is to make it easy to filter or ignore punks like that, or just make your system immune to it. The achievements on XLA are a good way to make things feel like multiplayer without having you actually play with other people, for instance.
Blizzard and the rest recognize that while a griefer pays a subscription, he causes five other subscribers to cancel.
You could easily write a whole book about the issue and the various ways designers have tried to deal with it. Ultima Online is especially interesting in this regard, as is Eve Online.
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