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What do you want in your ideal tactical crpg? And how to get it?
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Author Topic: What do you want in your ideal tactical crpg? And how to get it?  (Read 34286 times)
Mr. Fed
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« on: February 01, 2010, 12:27:42 pm »

[cross-posted from OO]

As I've discussed on many forums many times before, I love classic crpgs, and especially classic turn-based, tactical, top-down crpgs. Many of my favorites are indies. Tom's games are the best examples, Helherron is an excellent homage.  The Spiderweb games lack the tactical depth, but have many other pleasing elements.  There are even commercial games:  the ancient game Wizard's Crown (released a shocking 25 years ago -- a quarter-century, good Lord), to a lesser extent Shard of Spring and Demon's Winter, and a number of others.

I got to thinking about this last night. Two things were on my mind. First, what would the perfect classic tactical crpg (hereinafter CTG) have? Second, how could one make it happen?

What would the perfect CTG have?

Here are some elements I'd want to see in the prefect CTG. For now, let's assume that we're talking about a fantasy setting:

1. Multiple character classes with diverse abilities: I don't like games where you've got nothing but fighter or wizard.   I love ones where there are a bunch of classes that leave you thinking "Damn, I have to decide between having an archer and a bard. Maybe I will play through again with a different mix and see how that goes."  Helherron and Nahlkah are good examples. There should be a tradeoff for choosing one type of character over another.

2. Building your own party: none of this pre-generated or start-with-one-and-meet-people stuff. Half the fun of one of these games -- to me -- is spending hours of geekdom building the perfect party.

3. Tactical depth: by this I mean free movement around a battlefield, combat actions that create tactical opportunities (charging, backstabbing, facing, knockback, stunning, bleeding, called shots, etc.), spells or items that create tactical impact (ice, mud, fire, walls, etc.), and hopefully skills that are primarily tactical. You should be able to impact the outcome of a tough fight by the tactics you use.  Tom's games and Helherron are excellent examples.

4. Deep magic system: Once again, I like Helherron as an example. There are many spells, and you can spend more mana to make them more powerful, and they do a wide variety of things, including tactical battlefield improvements, out-of-battle things, etc. I also very much like Helherron's method of learning spells: you have to find spellbooks. This adds replayability and variety (what spell will show up in the store?), mystery (wow -- a spell I never encountered before!) and a new pleasing type of loot. I might add a few features to Helherron's spell system: spells that can only be used by a particular class (Bard spells, for instance), spells that can be learned in better or more powerful versions a la Avernum (that might have the same graphics or effect, but give more bang for the buck), etc.  I also like Tom's system of syllables; my only critique of it is that I'd prefer if you couldn't "unlock" them unless you found a book first.

5. Deep skill system: I want a lot of ability to customize a character. They key here is to have multiple potentially USEFUL skills, so that one actually feels some angst, and has to exercise strategy, when spending skill points. Helherron is not the best example -- it's got skills, but most are pretty much an obvious choice on level-up. What else is your Golem Barbarian going to do other than spend his skill points on his primary weapon? I don't have a strong preference between being able to spend points at any time (as in Natuk or POWS) or only at level-up (as in Helherron), but I want more variety, and I want the choice to HURT, again improving replayability. Once again, tactical depth opens up a lot of skill options -- note, for example, the stealth skill in Helherron that allows one to move without drawing attacks of opportunity. Skill points might buy you more levels of a minor skill, but fewer of a major skill, or you might have separate points for major and minor skills. Note: I would be interested in exploring a improve-by-doing skill system. By its very nature, that would require you to make difficult choices too -- if you fight with a sword and a bow, you aren't going to advance as quickly as the guy who fights only with the sword. Nahlakh is a good example.

6. Unlocked skills/feats: This is a variation on skills, above. I like having to find trainers to unlock various cool skills or abilities, or to rise in those skills or abilities. The Avernum series does a nice job with this -- you have to find the right people, and progress to a certain level in basic skills, to get advanced skills. Similarly, both Arcanum and Might and Magic 6+ had the concept of levels of mastery unlocking additional benefits in using the skill, and required you to find the various masters, with increasing level of difficulty as the mastery level went up. I also like the D&D 3e concept of feats, and think they could be used very well in a CTG with tactical depth. Examples: a magic feat that reduces the mana cost of fire spells by 25%, or increases the chance of success by 25%. A feat that increases the accuracy of called shots. Etc. etc. etc. Once again, you could have to find feat trainers to learn them.

7. Huge, busy world: The world has to have lots of cities and towns and villages -- including many that you just can't reach until later in the game. I LOVED finding the invisible town in Ultima III, and love the feeling of fighting my way through a tough area to reach a new city that might have better items for sale, new trainers, etc. I like the concept of places that don't appear on the map until you get a quest, hidden caves that you have to search for, etc.

8. Huge variety of items: I really don't like games where there are only a handful of generic magic items. "Magic sword," indeed. I like the system in Tom's games and Helherron, where there are a vast array of basic items, a vast array of potential item modifiers, and therefore a vast array of cool items. Helherron is just about perfect on this. It creates huge replayability and excitement. This is fun because (1) loot has variety, (2) there can be a wide variety of stores, etc.

9. Crafting: I like games with crafting, even if it is only crafting potions and scrolls. But I prefer ones with depth. Arcanum has simply awesome crafting -- I love finding schematics and scouring stores and trash cans to find the right ingredients to make that new item. Especially if you have a vast array of items, you could make a very credible small-scale crafting system in a CTG -- even if the crafting is not all done directly by the character. Say you can only create a potion after you find an herbalist to teach you the recipe, and find the right ingredients. You can have your sword enchanted, but can add the flaming attribute to it only if you bring the enchanter a salamander scale. You can make a scroll of your most powerful spell, but you'll need ink made from dragon blood to scribe it at more than the lowest power level.

10. Quests: I'm totally fine with "go kill this bad guy" quests. I think if the huge open-to-explore world and tactical depth are there, you don't need highly complex multi-trigger quests.

11. Dialogue: I suppose I'd like dialogue a little more complicated than Helherron or Nahlakh, but for this type of game I don't think it needs to be too complex. The Ultima IV style ask-a-one-word-question style is very old-school and has the potential to add some plot depth, but it can also be tiresome if you are the type of gamer who goes around asking your long list of words to every NPC. Also, it doesn't add replayability.

12. Graphics: really not that important to me. Really REALLY old games (say early 80s) are probably at the point where the graphics are a barrier to enjoyment. But I think that old-school top-down tile graphics are fine. I don't need isometric stuff or 3-D or anything. A little graphic VARIETY is nice -- different tiles for different settings, etc.


Now, how would one make the perfect CTG happen?

It would be a huge undertaking to code a CTG from scratch. But I got to thinking -- what if you could license the engine of a decent indie crpg, and then have folks tweak graphics, options, and gameplay?  You could have non-coders contribute by designing the world/dungeons/NPCs/items/balance/etc. You could have a few talented people do some of the art (which, given the genre, would be relatively low-impact -- it would be mostly modifying existing art from the engine to add more items, creatures, tiles, etc.) Then it would be a matter of capable coders modifying the licensed engine.  I have zero computer programming skill, so I have no clear concept of how hard it would be to take an existing engine and do this -- what do the experienced programmers among you think?


Another idea that struck me, literally in a dream -- a CTG, but in a post-apocalypse setting. Same depth of tactics, but psionics and mutations instead of magic, found technology instead of magic items, skill levels required to fix or use tech items, adventures through ruined cities, etc. Hmmm.....

Thoughts?
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SkeleTony
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« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2011, 10:32:49 am »

Wow. I somehow missed this when it was posted. A lot of what I would want in a perfect CRPG echoes what you wrote above but here are my two cents anyway...


1) Top-down or isometric, tiled graphics are best because I like to add my own custom graphics for various icons. Helherron and Tom's games are great for this(I only wish Tom had allowed for the monster/NPC graphics to be opened up and customized). I just cannot look at ascii anymore. I need at least Ultima 4/Nahlkah era graphic icons so I can tell a "Dragon" from a "Deer". I do not give a rat's arse about 3D.

2) Many races and many classes - I can live with a 'classless' system like the Exile games where you just build your generic, ideal character builds by selecting the skills and such you want, but I prefer some sort of 'class' system because then your "Necromancer" is a REAL Necromancer and not just a generic adventurer whom you spent your points on by buying "Death Magic" spell skills or some such. Also give me lots of classes. I love interesting classes that are not often seen in fantasy RPGs(but still have a precedent in the heroic fantasy genre, like 'Artificers') as long as they are not nonsensical( I would put "Merchants" and "Blacksmiths" here as I can see no real justification for them being in a party of adventurers on a quest). "Jesters" I tend to like(but they have never been done well in CRPGs) even though they seem at odds with my above statements.
I hate playing boring humans, elves and dwarves and halflings. Give me some orcs, trolls, minotaurs...whatever. Something more interesting that human-like generic PC races. Give me a variety to choose from. What pisses me off about the Spiderweb games is Vogel's freaking obsession with humans!

If Tom combined Natuk and POWS somehow(with all the races and classes from both games, retooled as necessary) so we could have 'Orcy' pirates whose spells do not go off the same round they are cast, that would be one of the greatest RPGs of all time! I would pay money to see this patched into Natuk or vice versa(orcs, half-trolls and ogres and the ability to build your entire party rather than a single PC in POWS).

3) Tactical combat(and lots of it!) - Turn-based(real time just cannot do tactics well and never will be able to by it's nature) and preferably with lots of options like dual-wielding, aimed attacks, etc.Helherron did this brilliantly(of course borrowing a lot from Tom's Nahlakh game) in many ways.
Wizardry 8 did this pretty well for a first-person party based RPG. Of course Natuk, Nahlakh and POWS/Tower of Darkness...

4) Magic System that makes sense - That will sound weird to some but I like a little logical consistency, as well as familiarity with the heroic fantasy genre, in magic systems.Do NOT give me your wonky "unique" magic system of disappearing runes or "fire and forget" spell casting whatever. Save that for the novel you want to write or for the unique mod for whatever CRPG construction kit you use. This is where I have my strongest criticisms of Tom's games. The spells found in the "prayer" list(in Natuk and Nahlakh. He kind of fixed this in POWS) do not have any consistent theme or discernible reason for not also being in the "magic" list(save for heal spells I guess). Why are all summoning spells "Prayer" spells?! Why is "Charm" a "Prayer" spell while "Confusion" is a "magic" spell?!
The 'Syllable' system in Tom's games(I did not even recall the same system was used in some Ultima game(s) before) was pretty cool. It was out of the norm but not 'wonky'. The spell system kind of made sense(unlike a system where once you cast a spell you know you somehow forget the spell and need to memorize numbers of the same spell to cast it more than once) and I could see it appearing in a good heroic fantasy book.
Helherron's spells and magic system, while having the same flaw with the "Prayer" and "magic" classifications, are superior to Tom's IMO. Not only are there many tactically interesting spells like "Diabolic Afterlife" and "Angled Cold Ball", but the ability to boost spell power by spending more mana is just fantastic(similar to Wizardry's system).

My personal preference would be that 'Priest' type characters(characters who get magic powers by virtue of being a priest of their chosen deity) would not have the same system that Mage-type casters would use. A system where the various gods each have their own lists of 'Powers' they grant to their Priests that the priest has to spend 'piety' to gain/use and the use would be a one time affair or something like that. So maybe the God "Healusall", god of healing grants his priests/clerics powers like "Faith healing" or "lay on hands" if they can spend 100 Piety(Piety would be accumulated much like experience but for doing deeds your god endorses/approves of) and this "Faith healing" ability, usable one time for the 100 piety spent, will heal 90% of wounds and cure disabi8lities like Blindness, and paralysis and such. Different gods have different lists of powers they grant.

Shamans and Witch doctors would use a more primitive magic like "Spirit magic" or "Voodoo" or whatever(or both!) which does not come from gods(they ARE magic spells rather than granted powers) but channel spirit energy and require expensive/rare reagents to cast. A voodoo doll custom made by a master Witch Doctor and a lock of the target's/victim's hair to cast "Inflict Pain" on some enemy, the reagents being good for 2 or 3 castings or something. Spell points(especially for Spirit magic) can work fine here.

Mages/Sorcerers/Wizards should operate by a more or less traditional Spell point system with various 'schools' or 'realms' of magic that one can(or must) specialize in. So Necromancers specialize in Necromancy, Summoners specialize in Conjuration, etc. And give me LOTS of different 'schools' of magic spells to choose from.

5) Items - Long lists of 'Materials' and magical effects/enchantments as well as skill bonuses or bonuses to damage etc., are preferred. This not only adds to replayability but I just love having to chose which to wear/wield based on the different advantages/disadvantages. That +2 Obsidian sword grants +10% to all resistances but this +2 Flaming sword does monstrous damage! Look at the list in Tom's Nahlkah information book for an example. Randomized items I feel are a must now.

6) Quests - I do not care how 'Fed Ex' the quests are. I do not want or have any use for 'puzzles' or boring, poorly written 'wall of text' dialogs. But "choice and consequence"(as the kids call it now) is fine and I really like how Jeff does this in his games(some Blades of Exile/Avernum scenarios as well).

7) At LEAST six PCs - Eight PCs is great and I love Jagged Alliance's '18' member 'party' as well but for f*cks sake enough with the 4-person party! I do not want to be forced to turn my thief into an 'Archer-mage-Ranger' because there are not enough party members to cover other roles. The end games in 4 PC party-based games tend to have parties of nearly identical PCs because of this.
Likewise I do not want to do Baldur's gate's 'Make one and meet more' thing all over again(sorry Tom but this is the primary reason I play about 12 games of Natuk for every single game of POWS I play. That and ORCS!).

Cool Lots of monsters! - Give me a variety of enemies to keep me interested. In some of those Exile/Avernum games(which I DO like) I get to where I am saying "More Nephilim?! I am done with this...".

Other than that I defer to most of what Mr. Fed said above.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2015, 07:29:04 pm by SkeleTony » Logged
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