Wednesday, July 25, 2007

We're Having a Party!

I was commenting on Matthew's comment that he would like to see more things like shared card resources in CRPGs. I started to answer when I realized that, as usual, I have a lot to say.

The big problem with CRPGs in my eyes is that individual characters do not feel like individuals. They're obviously cogs: a warrior is more applicable in some areas than a mage, and less in others, but that just means they're cogs with different teeth.

You could argue that this is because their personality doesn't show through into combat situations. The shy magician casts a fireball exactly the same as the gung-ho mad wizard. There are other arguments, but most of them are variations on this theme.

Sure, characters have stats and equipment, but those really don't have anything to do with their personality, and even when they do, it's boring. A personality really shouldn't be wholly about statistical difference, because that produces a wide range of extremely bland personalities. Characterizations are generally a better approach, and they don't have anything to do with statistical differences.

Some people have tried to make their characters more interesting in combat by adding social proximities and friendships and morale and so forth, but these are not usually very effective. If they were, we'd see them more often, because they're not hard to program.

I really like approaching this problem from a rules perspective. If each character had a bit more "memory", I think this problem could be solved adequately. By "memory" I don't mean actual memory, I mean a method of interacting with the rules of the game in a way that has more ramifications than how much damage you do next turn.

Specifically, let's imagine a Jedi game where your party consists of four or five Jedi. Now, if under the iron grip of the actual IP owners, each Jedi would have a few inapplicable statistics that determine how much ass they kick plus a "lightness" rating. In a more indie environment, your Jedi might have stats which are both personality and skill, such as a "foresight" stat or a "determination" stat.

But I've already waived stats, so let's instead go with decks of cards.

Lets deal each of your Jedi five Force cards. These cards are their cards, not some kind of pooled resource like you might normally see in a CRPG ("99 potions in inventory"). They can, however, give and trade cards, although with whom and what kinds of trades will vary based on their relationship. The cards they are dealt are not wholly random: they are heavily weighted, as I'll explain in a few paragraphs.

The idea here is that any Jedi can use any of the Jedi skills. Each Jedi is particularly good at one or two, but only if they play a particular suite of cards on it. Rylgo is an expert saber-fighter, exceptionally talented so long as he drops hearts. So Rylgo might always be hunting for hearts.

However, each Jedi's mood at any given moment is based on the suits of the cards they hold. And, of course, what cards they are dealt is based on their overall personality (when getting a new hand) or on their recent experiences (refilling a hand by drawing from the local Force).

Because this is a simulated card deck, we can add two categories of cards - "blue back" and "red back". They are the same in terms of skill use, but red backed cards are dark Force and twist your personality to the dark side of the suit. Worse, there's no hand limit for red backed cards. (Or something.)

The end result of this is that everything is linked together. When you try to manage your party, you're not just thinking of how to get a few extra strength points. You have to think about power, applicability, personality, and ethos simultaneously. And each character is an individual whose cards restock automatically based on their personality and mood rather than being wholly handled by you.

It has the potential to be irritating if they are given too much freedom in choosing and trading their own cards (damn it, P'le keeps getting dark side cards without me!), but handled correctly, this sort of thing offers a chance to give characters a distinct personality while amping the tension in combat experiences.

What do you think? Can you think of other methods of making a game where the rules and the character's personalities are deeply intertwined?

Oh, notice that this is not a very complex card system. It could be complexified, adding in poker hands or something, but when you have to manage multiple characters, that gets too complex. About as complex as I'd want to make it is to make their light saber or nonJedi skills especially amped if you play a particular card (IE a nine, or a queen). Any more complex, and trying to optimize four or five hands simultaneously will start to eat the player's brain.

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