Sunday, February 22, 2009

Durability, Range, and Luck

I've been playing a slew of tactical RPGs recently (I have a commute, so I have DS time for once). I have worked out... A FORMULA! Whee.

Basically, I have thought up a rating of measurement I call hardcoritude. If the hardcoritude is above one, the tactical RPG is hardcore. If it is below one, it is casual. The amount above or below determines how severely hardcore/casual it is.

This does have an effect. It's not just some arbitrary rating: casual games tend to have very specific gameplay choices that hardcore games do not. Let's take a look. We'll compare Rondo of Swords and Final Fantasy Tactics A2.

The formula is simple. Its (average movement speed times 1.5) divided by (average range times average tiles hit).

In Rondo of Swords, your average speed is 7ish. Most characters move at six, but some move a little slower and some move a lot faster. Because Rondo of Swords characters actually CAN move through enemies, we don't have to reduce our average movement speed to take into account "blocked paths".

The average range for ranged attacks in Rondo of Swords is six, trending higher as the game goes on. However, the vast majority of attacks are not ranged attacks - say, two-thirds of the things we do in the game have a range of 1 (or even 0). So, our real average range is a little under three.

The average radius of effect in Rondo of Swords is difficult, because few attacks actually do that "diamond effect" that most games use. Instead, they have all sorts of weird patterns, typically starting at range zero. We'll say, on average, 3 tiles is your average effective area of effect for area-of-effect-effects. But, again, the majority of attacks (especially ranged ones) are a single tile. If 80% of our attacks are single-tile attacks, we end up with 1.4...

The end result for our Rondo of Swords rating is (7 * 1.5) / (2.666 * 1.4), or 2.8. A very high rating.

Now, if we compare to Tactics A2. Tactics has an average movement speed of around 3.8. The effect range is typically 5 for ranged attacks, and a very high percent of attacks ARE ranged attacks because even warriors have them. So, say, 40% of attacks are ranged, which gives us a final value of 2.6. The average area of effect for AOE effects is 7 tiles, taking into account both summonings and normal AOE powers. However, only about a third of effects are AOE, so we'll go with a simple 3 for the average of all attacks.

Our final rating is (3.8 * 1.5) / (3 * 2.6), or 0.7, a pretty low (but not extremely low) value.

What does this tell us?

Well, casual tactical games trend heavily towards much higher levels of chaos. Basically, a hardcore tactical game starts to look more like chess, while a casual tactical game starts to look more like poker.

So a casual game will tend to have more HP because even support and artillery units will get hit by the high-range, high AOE effects, and it's more a matter of minimizing how effective such attacks will be rather than maneuvering to avoid them entirely.

Casual games will tend to have a much higher element of luck, too: in Rondo of Swords, your percentage to hit is always very high, so close to 100% that missing happens only very occasionally and only against units that are specifically fast. However, in A2, your chance to affect someone with something other than basic damage hovers between 50% and 80%. (It also has the annoying tendency to make any number lower than 95% into a 50-50 chance.)

The side effects these chances cause are also much more critical in a casual game such as A2. In Rondo there are side effects, but they are very minor. In A2, side effects can actually turn your characters against you or make them completely worthless for several turns.

This is a trend that seems to be solid for other tactical games as well. For example, Disgaea is slightly hardcore. It's a little hard to estimate because players will tend to get AOE powers that can hit literally dozens of tiles, and it's difficult to work geo tiles into the equation. But, at the edges, it's somewhere between 1.1 and 1.6. You'll notice that percentages and side effects exist in Disgaea, but it's pretty rare for them to change the tide of battle. When "poison" is actually one of the stronger side effects, you know you're dealing with a hardcore tactical game.

However, Disgaea is more casual than Rondo of Swords in terms of combat. Even magicians can typically take a few hits, there are side effects, and so forth. This is reflected in the number: it's more hardcore than A2, but not as hardcore as Rondo.

Yeah? Can you think of any games that break this mold?

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