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Insanity Difficulty - Beautiful Design! (mostly)

eskesk Registered User regular
edited June 2012 in Penny Arcade Games
I'm both happy and disappointed to say that from a gameplay standpoint this is one of the best games I've played in quite awhile (dissapointed only because there's really no excuse for bigger budgets not to have better design).

I was worried about starting on Insanity as I thought that might require grinding, but instead I got a grind-free strategic, almost puzzle-like rpg.

Some great things:
1) No real Grinding. There's a fixed number of enemies in each area. There is an (unannounced) option to fight in an arena, but I skipped this and it was sufficient for 90% of the game (see below).

2) Fights are self-contained. Fixed HP and starting MP for each fight (modulo equipment/classes) means each battle can be thought of as an independent problem to solve.

3) Increasing enemy power. This forces you to fight efficiently and actually makes the game more fun by not only adding challenge, but by clearly directing players not to use slow grinding strategies that mostly consist of healing.

4) Well-balanced battles. (Mostly?) The lack of grinding and self-contained battles means the designers could tweak each battle for your party's capabilities. On Insanity this means battles that are regularly winnable with only one or two turns leeway - creating tension and occasionally forcing you rethink your strategy.

5) Brilliant class system. Worth it's own post. In short the classes were awesome, added strategic flexibity, interacted with eachother, felt unique, and interacted with the base stats of the characters granting even more diversity.

6) Strategy evolves with level. Thanks in part to the clever MP and class system leveling feels meaningful - the way you play at the beginning of the game and the way you play at the end is decidedly different due to qualitatively new options that open up in classes and a ramping of enemy difficulty that requires you to exploit them.

Real Problems (game is still Great, but...):
1) Opaque Damage. Unlike, for example, Breath of Death there was no indication of how much damage an ability would do to an enemy before you selected it. Given that you didn't know the enemies' stats, resistances, or even base damage in some cases this sometimes meant a lot of trial and error. MOST importantly it dissuades the use of new strategies because of the extra work.

2) No way to quit. This was a serious gripe on Insanity. A single wrong action could scuttle any hope of victory, but you're stuck playing through the whole battle. It's especially bad combined with problem #1 as trying a new strategy forced you to fight entire losing battles that you realize were lost from the first turn. -- This actually led me to drop difficulty to Hard for a little while (when I got to the bank), until things got monotanous and I jumped difficulty back up again.


That opaqueness is really unfortunate. Adding a new button that gives strategic players numeric info on an ability and/or enemy would really help.
Otherwise great game! Can't wait to see what the next installment brings. It would be nice if there were more diversity in enemy strategies -- hopefully they'll cook something up in that regard for Episode 4. (Which I can't wait for!)

All in all, beautifully designed game! =)

Other peoples thoughts on game design aspects and on playing through on Insanity or other difficulties specifically?

esk on

Posts

  • eskesk Registered User regular
    edited June 2012
    (Sorry, minor clarification about my own experiences: I found that for most of the game I could fight battles on Insanity with only occasional losses (usually related to figuring out some game mechanic) but when I made it to the bank basically I'd usually lose at least one character on the first turn and 2-3 by the second/third turn.
    Healing just meant treading increasingly turbulent waters (no mass heal/revives) and I didn't at the time see a way to kill enemies quickly enough to offset the damage ramp. Experience in one battle in the last area in the game (see, no spoilers =) makes me think I may have been neglecting a simple strategy. Maybe I had to arena grind, or purchase better equipment? I don't know...)

    esk on
  • RainbowDespairRainbowDespair Registered User regular
    Actually, ability descriptions started out as being more technical (like our previous games), but playtesting revealed that most players would focus on the numbers and ignore the big picture. As a result, we changed to the descriptive approach for abilities and found that more players used a wider variety of abilities and paid more attention to overall strategy.

    The insta-lose button idea is interesting but I'm not sure how easy it would be to implement well.

  • eskesk Registered User regular
    edited June 2012
    An "insta-lose"/quit/reverse time button (I kept pressing 'q' hoping, irrationally, that I'd just pressed the wrong button last time =) would be awesome! Intellectual curiosity -- what makes it difficult to implement?

    I can see how overwhelming people with information can cause them to shut down a bit and how "mystery" (positive spin on "vague" =) may make people explore more. I don't really expect anyone to go to the work of adding an extra information button for everything. But, you know, if you're sleepless for awhile and want to work on something. :P ;) j/k

    Oh. A simple note that you can get through the game without using the arena to grind would also be great. Because it's an "rpg", with all the associated baggage, I wasn't sure if maybe grinding was what I was supposed to do. It would also cue players that like problem solving that Insanity difficulty is where they want to start. Just a thought. I'm a neuroscientist, not a game designer - so I'm sure there are lots of issues to weigh.

    Thanks again for the great game! (Well, plural really, I started playing through BoD and it was also a lot of fun and the slow MP leak made for a lot of tension. (Haven't played CStW yet.) Though, for my tastes at least, Rainslick is a large evolution in design.) [Oh, and now I finally know what your icon is. :]

    esk on
  • RainbowDespairRainbowDespair Registered User regular
    esk wrote: »
    An "insta-lose"/quit/reverse time button (I kept pressing 'q' hoping, irrationally, that I'd just pressed the wrong button last time =) would be awesome! Intellectual curiosity -- what makes it difficult to implement?

    If we just made it a single button, then people might accidentally push it (especially when using a controller) and the last thing we want is for people to accidentally kill themselves.

    The way we have our control code setup, it doesn't really allow for multiple button presses simultaneously without a hassle so we can't do that.

    If we had an insta-lose button that brought up a confirmation screen (Are you sure you want to give up?) that would work, but our battle system isn't really designed for that and it would be a fair bit of work (not necessarily putting it in but making sure that I didn't break something else in the battle system in the process).

    All in all, it's something I'll keep in mind for future games, but I don't think it's worth the effort for this one.

  • OsvirOsvir Registered User
    edited June 2012
    Amazing game, hit me in the nostalgia. I too wish to see the reverse time/quit match.

    How about a class, or item (escape rope/pod), serving that function? There isn't really a time mage class is there? *wink wink*

    EDIT: The item could reset everyone back to 100% health and remove all status ailments? (Even the monsters) which would be a "reset", and I believe it would fit the battle system too (and ability to upgrade said item just like potions or whatnot). Heck maybe it could even be strategic to throw such an item so you get a better "start" on the battle (on the ATB-bar)

    Osvir on
  • TriskTrisk Registered User regular
    The above points mirror my own, including problems. The reasoning for the opaque design does little to satisfy when I'm playing on Insane Mode or am the kind of game who would do so. Not using all the abilities gets me killed and I don't much care for dummies who die repeatedly on Normal because they refuse to use buffs, although I can appreciate the design philosophy going into it the sheer effort of experimentation required to learn the proper function of all the abilities makes this almost impossible and wondering whether it's design that is making this fight impossible or my own lack of knowledge (inhibited by the games design) that's doing it.

    Question. Without massive grinding is the Evil King even defeatable on Insane? Did you guys ever beat the game on insane on a standard playthrough?

    There were 3 fights the entire game I did not beat on insane, that was one of them, the other 2 were in the bank (3 golems I'm looking at you!) Typically fights with more people were infinitely more difficult than the bosses with the exception of the Evil King who's dark wave attack would easily wipe out my part in a single hit before I could so much as knock down his health to half. I agree with a lose button, just send me right out of the fight when I know I'm doomed.

    I think maybe pressing q on the battle screen and then have the screen fade slightly like a pause menu with

    "Give up?" in the center and yes no.

    Might work? Not really a glaring omission, I only wished for it twice, but would gladly receive it if it were added here or later.

  • yurnamehereyurnamehere Registered User regular
    esk wrote: »
    An "insta-lose"/quit/reverse time button (I kept pressing 'q' hoping, irrationally, that I'd just pressed the wrong button last time =) would be awesome! Intellectual curiosity -- what makes it difficult to implement?

    If we just made it a single button, then people might accidentally push it (especially when using a controller) and the last thing we want is for people to accidentally kill themselves.

    The way we have our control code setup, it doesn't really allow for multiple button presses simultaneously without a hassle so we can't do that.

    If we had an insta-lose button that brought up a confirmation screen (Are you sure you want to give up?) that would work, but our battle system isn't really designed for that and it would be a fair bit of work (not necessarily putting it in but making sure that I didn't break something else in the battle system in the process).

    All in all, it's something I'll keep in mind for future games, but I don't think it's worth the effort for this one.

    Perhaps a "Flee" menu item?

  • ChuckChuck Registered User
    Actually, ability descriptions started out as being more technical (like our previous games), but playtesting revealed that most players would focus on the numbers and ignore the big picture. As a result, we changed to the descriptive approach for abilities and found that more players used a wider variety of abilities and paid more attention to overall strategy.

    The insta-lose button idea is interesting but I'm not sure how easy it would be to implement well.

    Is there anyway to add an option for the more descriptive ability/item descriptions for players that want it? If not, please add one to your future games or just use the more technical ability descriptions. It was one of the defining features of your previous games that I really enjoyed and miss a lot in this game.

  • TriskTrisk Registered User regular
    Perhaps a "Flee" menu item?

    That would be awfully unecessary, fleeing would take time to execute and use and would be in every menu for every character when you might only use it a handful of time. Death isn't really a problem other than a few moments of setback and that feels like major overkill.

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