Monday, December 15, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 3: Hate PP? Urine Luck!

Okay, I'll admit that's an awful title. The real subject of today's blog is the resource systems of Pokémon and Tensai. I haven't mentioned it in the last two blogs, but Tensai wasn't designed to have a single player experience; I was creating JUST the Battler, and because of that, Pokémon's PP system, which was designed to be a sort of dungeon attrition system like a D&D “casts per day” or Final Fantasy 1's system simply wouldn't make sense.

Apart from the moves in Pokémon that only have 5 base PP, it's very rare to actually run out of uses of a move in a battle between trainers unless you're up against a Stall team, or you're playing 6v6 Rocky Helmet Magikarps. The only other exception came if you had a Pokémon with the Pressure ability, but even then, it wasn't that impactful in actually making the casting resource feel like a worthwhile part of the battle to worry about.

Because of this, I wanted a resource system in Tensai that would actually have an effect on the battle. And so, “Essence” was born. Essence basically works like mana systems in today's card games; you gain a little bit of essence every turn (however, essence spent is gone once it's spent, rather than you gaining even more the next turn.)

You would start and cap out at 50 Essence and most basic moves would cost around 10-25 Essence, depending on their base power and their effects, while the more powerful moves would cost 35-50. You gained 20 Essence per turn, and could elect not to attack and instead use the “Rest” command to recharge an additional 10 Essence for a total of 30, which would put you at the cap on the ensuing turn.

Draw a Card, Play Your Opponent
This system fed directly into the Action-Type system (see parts 1 and 2) as well, once you learned your opponent's team. For example, if your opponent only had 30 Essence, and you knew his strongest move was a 35 or 50, he couldn't use it this turn. That's one Action-Type you can eliminate from the realm of possible uses this turn. He can play Rock or Paper, but he can't play Scissors. Better play Paper yourself for the best odds!

If you saw your opponent rest on the first turn after hitting 0, it means he's rushing back to 50 Essence and probably wants to immediately use his strongest attack. If his strongest attack is a Magical Action-Type, ready up that Melee you have equipped and go to town while you take no damage!

From the attacker's viewpoint, it also made a player be wary on when to choose to use his strongest attacks; if you made it too obvious, you could be countered rather easily and use all that essence for naught. You would have to set up your opponent to unexpect the expected in order to deliver your wrath. Keeping smaller cost moves around so you can stay at max Essence and leave that threat of a high damaging move available was an important strategy.

By making the resource system actually impactful on the battle and give soft limitations on what moves could be used at a given time, it gave me as the designer a lot of control over the flow of a battle and more room for the direct Player-versus-Player Prediction interaction granted by the inclusion of Action-Types.

Mix, Mix, Swirl, Mix!
Furthermore, the Essence bar was split between whether the attacks were Aether (Magical) or Eidos (Physical) – if your move was Aether, you used Aether Essence. If your move was Eidos, you used Eidos Essence. Only one minor move in the game took Essence from both bars.

This meant that if you had Mixed-Damage type Sweeper with a powerful Eidos move AND a powerful Aether move, you could use the moves in succession, whereas if you had a Sweeper of just Eidos moves, using a 50-base power move would leave your bar depleted and force you to rest or use only weak moves until you recharged. While Mixed Sweepers weren't necessarily STRONGER than the more focused ones, but because of having their casting resource split into two bars, they could use more powerful moves more often, which could've give them a larger place in the eventual meta-game had Tensai ever been completed.

The separated Eidos/Aether resource system also encouraged players to potentially invest in one of their three moves as a Defensive or Magical Action-Type move of a different cost type (Clarification, Not all Magical Action-type moves were Aether. The two concepts are separate.) than their primary damage stat, even if they weren't mixed. Defensive-type moves almost all dealt a status effect in addition to a mild amount of damage, so it could come in handy having the ability to inflict Unstable or Stunned to an opponent with a Defensive move at any given time. By making this option on your Creature not cost the same resource as your attack moves, you could use it solely for its utility rather than caring about its inflicted damage.

A Balancing Metric, Should I Ever Need One
Last but not least, the revamped resource system of Tensai gave me an additional slider to use to balance moves, if the game had ever been completed. Say, for instance, a move felt like it did the right amount of damage, but its additional effects just seemed to much. But, if you removed any of those additional effects, the move wouldn't feel worth taking.

If they put that in Pokémon, and attempted to reduce its available PP, it wouldn't really affect the player-versus-player metagame too much. But in Tensai, I could increase the Essence cost and greatly affect its availability over the course of a battle.

I used this pre-emptively on Stun moves (read: Flinch from Pokémon.). Any move with a Stun except for a few exceptions costed AT LEAST 35 Essence. In other words, if you used it at 50 Essence, you could only use it one more turn successively before being out of Essence. This meant that you couldn't go Jirachi Serene Grace Iron Head RNG cheesiness to open up a battle. (Of course, since I gutted RNG, the Action-Type system alone nerfed this strategy, but it's still worth noting.)

I also used it on Increased Priority moves to make the majority of them cost over the 20 essence mark to ensure a player could not follow-up a Coup de Grace 50 Essence move with a high priority move; this may have been a heavy-handed over nerf before such a strategy was even tried, but my gut told me it would be necessary. The world may never know!

All in all, the resource system of Tensai was a mechanism I was very proud of how well it fit into the rest of the design of the game, and excited to see how it would be handled once in players' hands. That's all for today's blog.

Next time (maybe tonight or tomorrow), I'm going to talk about why there were only 3 moves per creature (hint: there is a fourth move), about signature moves (not the fourth move), and about trinkets (read: Pokémon held items.) Hope you've enjoyed the read. Stay tuned for more!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

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