Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

RPG Stat and Leveling Systems

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

I have been thinking about RPG stat and leveling systems recently. It seems that most games use a few basic systems: Point Buy, Fixed Stats, and Random Stats. I will focus mostly on computer games, but this should apply to other games as well.

Point Buy

Point Buy is probably what most people are familiar with for computer RPG games. I am generalizing this a bit here though. The standard point buy system from Dungeons and Dragons is explained here.

Many computer games use a modified point buy system. If we generalize, there are two main parts to the point buy system:

  • The player has a pool of points to draw from
  • The may purchase stat points for his character using points from this pool

Fixed Stats

A fixed stats system is one that provides predetermined stat scores for characters. Many games start all characters out with 100 hit points, for example, or if the game has multiple classes, each class may start out with predetermined stats.

Random Stats

A random stats system is one in which the stat points are determined by some random factor. Dice may be rolled, or the computer may use a random number generator in some fashion. Often, limits or options are presented, such as being able to choose the higher of multiple numbers.

In The Game

Most computer games use a combination of these systems. A standard mixture is point buy on top of a fixed stat base. These can also be used during the game for character advancement as well. Not only can stats be improved, but skills and abilities can be selected as well. Other stat bonuses from equipment or skills are often included in the system as well.


These examples are just games that I am familiar with at the moment.

  • World of Warcraft — Uses a fixed stat system for characters (each class has set starting stats) with an emphasis on increasing stats with equipment and talents. Stats increase by a fixed amount when the character increases in level. Talents are selected using a point buy system. The character receives 1 talent point every level after 9 and talents cost 1 point to improve.
  • Diablo 2 — Uses a fixed stat base (each class has set starting stats) with a point buy system on top.  Each character receives 5 stat points and 1 skill point per level. Stats and skill cost 1 point each to improve. Some quests may grant stat or skill points as a reward.
  • On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (Penny Arcade Game) — Uses fixed stats throughout the game. Stats increase by a fixed amount when the character increases level. The player has almost no control over character stats. Some quests in the game will increase certain stats, however, but these values are fixed as well.

For me, it is interesting to look at these games and examine how the leveling systems affect my play. I enjoyed playing all of these quite a lot. If I rank these games based on amount of character customization, I find that the games with more customization options are games that I want to replay. I have almost no desire to play the Penny Arcade game again because I have already done almost everything. I do want to play more World of Warcraft, partially because there is a lot that I haven’t done (the game world is very large) but also because there are many ways that I can customize my character. Diablo 2, in contrast to WoW, has a much smaller game world, and I have explored almost all of it, but it also has a very high replay value because of amount of character customization that can be done.

Is this what it feels like to be insane?

Friday, August 8th, 2008

I recently bought Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 on Xbox Live. I like it well enough, and I like how the achievements are done more this time around.

But wow, am I ever bad at this game. I can’t hit enemies, can’t avoid running into them, often head straight for them even though I know that they are there, and randomly suddenly turn around to run into enemies.

And here’s what bothers me: I keep saying (or yelling, depending) things like “What??” or “I wasn’t there!” or “There’s no possible way that I went that direction!”

As I see it, there are only a couple of options here:

  1. The games has collision detection or control issues
  2. What I am seeing or interpreting is not what is actually happening

There is something wrong when I see that I have plenty of room between my character and the enemy and then I suddenly die from running into the enemy that I know wasn’t close enough to touch me. Either there is something wrong with the game, or there is something wrong with me, and it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with me.

I can live with this when playing online games. I can chalk things like obviously shooting someone in the head (there’s even blood on his face!) or being killed after I duck around a corner up to network lag, but in a single player game that isn’t played online, I have no other excuse. If it were a skill issue and I was just being overwhelmed with enemies or was bad at aiming (which may be a factor) I would be fine, but I will do things like run directly into the very first enemy I see, even though I know it’s there and I am trying not to do it.

And this is frustrating.

I’m not quite sure what my point is with all of this, but this is something that is frustrating and reduces my enjoyment of the game. Perhaps other people experience similar things? Maybe this really all can be chalked up to my being bad at the game?


Friday, July 25th, 2008

Many games employ a level of abstraction between the player and the character in the game. This often involves some kind of point assignment scheme. These points represent core statistics such as strength or agility, abilities such as “Sword Proficiency” or “Dwarven Language Skill” or meta-scores such as hitpoints or armor. Even games that have a high level of user interaction such as first person shooter games almost always employ something like a hitpoint score.

These numbers are useful because:

  • They provide a quantification of concepts that would be difficult to work with otherwise. This makes things easier on both the programmer/game and player. The game must represent the concepts as numbers in some way, and the player easily recognizes that a score of 2 in “Sword Proficiency” is greater (and more powerful) than a score of 1.
  • They provide a way to map user interaction onto a game character
  • They provide a mechanism for creating boundaries and barriers. Perhaps a character must have a score of 5 in Sword Proficiency before he can wield the Vorpal Blade or Important Plot NPC #28 will not talk to the character until they have more experience (level 3). Perhaps the character cannot even understand the NPC until he becomes more fluent in a certain language.

Data Organization

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

One of the things that bothers me about the standard computer desktop paradigm is that objects (files and such) only appear in one place. This fits in very well with the idea of a physical desktop — a paper document only exists in one place. If it needs to be in two places at once, a photocopy will do.

I often want to organize my files into categories. For example: I take a screenshot of a game that I am playing. Where do I store the file? My current convention is to follow my hierarchical folder structure down until the file fits: The screenshot is an image, so it goes in my “/images” directory. It is a screenshot, so it also goes in the  screenshots directory (“/images/screenshots”). It is from game ABC, so it also goes in the ABC directory (“/images/screenshots/ABC”). This is fairly straightforward so far. However, how do I categorize it now? It’s a really cool screenshot of my character (I have a “/images/screenshots/ABC/character_shots” directory) but it also has a good capture of the in-game weather (I also have a “/images/screenshots/ABC/weather” directory). There’s no real clear answer to this if we stick with the standard paradigm.

What I really want to do is tag or categorize this file. My quick initial pass at tagging results in these tags:

  • image
  • screenshot
  • game screenshot
  • ABC
  • character
  • weather
  • rain

This becomes even more important when I want to look for files. The standard file hierarchy I have set up now won’t help me much if I’m looking for all game weather screenshots.

I know there are image galleries that will provide some of this functionality, and I’m sure that there are file systems or explorer applications that will do the same for all types of files. (And I read that Vista was supposed to include something like this with the new file system, but this was cut, which was a shame. That was one of the major things I was looking forward to with Vista) Even so, the vast majority of users are still using the old paradigm, or even some other paradigm that doesn’t really fit — I’m sure you all know people who save their Word documents to whatever default location Word chooses.

Great Expectations

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Lately I’ve been mulling over the idea that games contain hidden transactions. No, not monetary transactions, but the idea that games contain lots of miniature contracts between the game (or designer) and the player.

From a player’s perspective:

  • If I open this treasure chest, I will receive an item.
  • Killing enemies or monsters should reward me or otherwise help me to achieve a goal.
  • Rewards should be comparable to the effort I put in.
  • If there is a puzzle or goal, then there should be a way for me to legally complete it.
  • If I press a button or toggle a switch, something should happen.

Those are some fairly common high-level design expectations that players have. (There are obviously many others, and more-specific ones as well) If the player finds that their expectations are not met (the contract is broken) they may feel frustrated, angry, or even betrayed. If the player consistently opens treasure chests and receives no items or kills monsters and receives no experience, then the game designer has obviously not kept up his end of the bargain!

I think that game designers have a certain degree of responsibility to uphold these expectations, or if they do not, to provide obvious alternate contracts.