Monday, December 22, 2014

Designing Tensai, Part 5: Making the Stars Align for Perfect Stats

So, since I've pretty much beat the core combat system to death for these Tensai blogs, I thought I would cover something a little lower-impact but, in my eyes, equally important to setting up a Pokémon clone for competitive success. And that's individual monster customization.

I already touched on the equipment that can be equipped and swapped to modify and adapt strategies on the fly, but there's an additional bit to the Pokémon formula that competitive players love to tweak, but it's covered in such a horrendous mess of never-really-explained mechanics and bits and pieces of information that were hidden from the player until the most recent generation.

I'm talking Effort Values, Individual Values, Natures, et cetera. In Pokémon, your monster gained “effort points” or “stat exp” each time it defeated another Pokémon, which could build up to boost your effectiveness in that stat. This was a sort of under-the-hood customization option that wasn't really clear to players until Generation 3 where the formula was adjusted to be a stat point for every 4 Effort Points you accumulated with a max of 255 effort points (the formula in generation 1 was the square root of the stat EXP you'd gained, with a max amount of 65,535, so 63 stat points just like the latter system). An individual Pokémon could not accumulate more than 510 effort points (which meant if you got 63 points in 2 stats, you had only 6 points, or 1 stat point left to be acquired).

If you didn't already know any of this stuff, there's a chance you're confused right now. And that's a big problem. The EV system is a convoluted mess that's hard for a player to learn and track. Furthermore, since the Evs in a stat could max at 255, but the point yield stopped at 252, there was an ability for players to “waste” a stat point they could've acquired had they not stopped training a specific stat. This is not true in Generation 6, but the fact that three generations existed with this limitation is a rather depressing notion.

When it came to the competitive scene, EVs were generally used either to boost offense or defense depending on whether a Pokémon was a sweeper or a wall, with EVs being assigned to Speed to reach certain break points to out-speed certain common match-ups the monster may face. Overall, this is a great use of the customization stats – players could choose to risk going second against a bad match-up for an extra punch against match-ups where speed was irrelevant. A meaningful choice had to be made in team building for what the player wanted out of their Pokémon's capabilities when building their EVs.

Then we have Individual Values and Personality Values. These have effects on your Pokémon's stats, appearance, and which ability (passive) it gains. IVs affect which version of Hidden Power your Pokémon gains, and whether or not your Pokémon can truly max out their stats. And yet, if you read the Bulbapedia pages I linked for them... it's an even more convoluted mess than EVs I described above. I'm not even going to attempt to describe how IVs work, because the system is so needlessly complex just for the sake of adding grinding to the single-player game for completionists who want the perfect creatures.

Well, Tensai's original designs were to be a standalone battler; no single-player. The grind is unnecessary, so variations in stats between different creatures of the same type were not a requirement for the game. Leveling up was also not present in my game, so having additional stat bonuses (like EVs) gained from battling other creatures was another unnecessary inclusion. But I still wanted the level of competitive customizability offered by natures, EVs, and the like, as well as the inclusion of a Hidden Power-like move with a variable element based off something other than the element of the creature using the ability.

Fortunately, Tensai was set in a fantasy world I've been world-building for years, and one of the core concepts of that world happened to fit perfectly into what I was looking to do in order to emulate Pokémon. So now it's time for a bit of a fantasy storytelling about the world of Astral Gate.

I mentioned back in the first blog the world had seven elements: Fire, Metal, Ice, Wood, Air, Water, and Earth. In addition to this, there is a duality of the spiritual and the physical, which I borrowed from Plato and labeled Aether and Eidos. Each of these seven elements pair with the duality for fourteen signs of their astrological Zodiac. Some examples are the Eidos Fire sign, a flaming bear known as Guiredaro, the Aether Wood sign, a giant rooster with leaves in place of feathers known as Cockatrees, or the embodiment of terror from the Eidos Metal sign, the Razor, a creature made of sharp bladed edges with the body of a scorpion and the head and aggression of a wolf.

With the existence of this concept, I not only had 14 creatures ready to add to my game, but also the ability to compress EVs and Natures into a single menu option that players could change when setting their team in order to determine which stats were boosted, by setting a critter's star sign. Each Zodiac would boost one stat by a reasonable amount, one by a small amount, reduce one by a small amount, and another by larger amount in my initial designs (there was a distinct possibility these would've been changed, especially stat penalties, which are generally not well-received by players, even with the positive trade-off of gaining the stats they want.)

I mentioned Hidden Power as well, a move that in Pokémon, could be any type depending upon the user's IVs (and prior to Gen 6, had variable power as well). For the sake of porting this move into Tensai, I simply created an attack move called Zodiac that took the element and essence depending upon the star sign assigned to the creature using the move, enabling some creatures to use moves not of their own element (but with a lowish base power). This was great for those who wanted to use a Health Pack or non-elemental weapon but still wanted the additional option of elemental coverage. Whether the move was physical or 'special' (in Pokémon terms) was determined by whether the Zodiac sign was Aether or Eidos as well.

In the event that this system was oversimplified and caused player frustrations between stat customization and the assigned Zodiac move element, I had the option to more deeply mimic the Chinese Zodiac and its use of Inner Signs and Secret Signs (since the primary Chinese zodiac is based off the year in which you're born, while Inner is based off the date, and Secret based off the time of day.) where a player could assign a second sign solely for the purpose of determining the element/duality of the Zodiac attack move.

For the sake of a standalone battler, this Zodiac sign based system (which, admittedly, isn't a unique idea; Final Fantasy Tactics has used it, and I'm sure others have as well.) happened to fill all the needs of the stat customization options of Pokémon with none of the grinding or needless complexity from the original iterations.

That's all for part 5, regarding simplifying the tangled web of numbers and bits and bytes and nibbles of hidden or only partially communicated information that is the Pokémon IV EV PV LV DV R2D2 system of values that create the variations between monsters in the game. Not sure what the next part will include; I still have to talk about the passive abilities in more depth, but I've nearly covered the majority of the core design of the game at this point. Hope you enjoyed the read!

No comments:

Post a Comment