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Making bloodlines unique without disrupting game balance

Noxious Skunk

Jen: 92
I've been wanting to have a discussion on this for some time now, and with the game becoming a simulation, I think it's a good time to talk about making the Taipii bloodlines unique in game. In my opinion, I feel like there can be great potential with this, especially with the simulation side of things, as it can create a unique world where it's denizens have their strengths and weaknesses to get their tasks done. However, one thing I've been noticing in other games that go this route is how it can disrupt the balance of the game, as it can make certain races/classes/bloodlines more powerful that the others, making the game unbalanced in the process.

Believe me, I do want a game where it's balanced, and not have to worry about a single bloodline being the best to play as. I also do want the option to have characters to be able to be good at whatever play style they choose to be too. However, I also want a game where each bloodline has something going for them other than NPC interaction or role playing purposes.

I've thought up of a few ways it can be done.

Option 1: Bloodlines have hidden skill boost and nerf in certain Skills.

Basically, how this one works is that Skills that the Taipii learn have attributes tied to them, and depending on what attribute it's based on, they either get a small boost of experience upon use (between 2.5 & 5 per half bloodline) a nerf with the same amount, or normal experience gain. This would mean that certain bloodlines would learn certain skills faster or slower than others, but can still master the skill just as the same as any other Taipii.

Option 2: In Character Creation, Bloodlines can get optional buffs and nerfs to skills based on their bloodline.

In this scenario, when players create characters, they have additional bonuses or handicaps they can choose from based on their bloodline. Note that they don't have to choose them if they want to, but it can help if they want to take skills that would benefit their playstyle.

Anyways, that's just my thought on this.
Monday, July 25, 2016 11:50am
Lead Developer
Jen: M
I'd also like to hear more thoughts on this, especially considering that I will be creating the new game implementation for core stats and skills soon.

From my experience with other games, I generally have not liked it when games linked seemingly cosmetic choices to performance in specific skills. I understand the motivations for doing so - it seems as if the world will be more interesting if the different races in the game are given histories and that history is reflected in character creation. However, I think that doing so too strongly encourages "ideal character builds" where stats like damage per second funnel everyone that wants to play a particular class to play as the same character.

What I am currently thinking is along the lines that when creating a character the player makes some choices that establish the character's history, and then performance in various disciplines is flavored by those choices rather than by bloodline. The selection of an origin city would be an example, as in selecting an origin city one is essentially selecting a childhood culture. A Taipii raised in Lantros would be taught perseverance and industriousness. This person's young life would be filled learning the importance of organized society, Lantros's social norms and customs (manners), and there would be high expectations on the individual to find and fulfill a useful purpose in society. Contrasting that a young Taipii raised in Ariiel might have significantly less structure and be more comfortable in chaotic environments. (How the different cultural environments translate to performance in specific skills will be an interesting brainstorm.)

While this approach has the upside that it separates performance from aesthetics it does have a downside, in that it makes the character creation process longer by including numerous non-visual decisions. Expecting someone that is new to the game to make permanent decisions for a character before they are given the chance to try out the different styles of game play is generally a poor design (although if the game makes it easy enough to create experimental characters without spoiling the narrative experience this can be acceptable.)
Monday, July 25, 2016 12:55pm
Jeff Leigh - Lead Developer - Right Brain Games

Jen: 22
I was thinking about your downside to history based playstyle modifiers and ways around it that don't involve making a ton of "learning" characters before settling on a "main" character. Then I remembered Oblivion, and how it tied all of the non-appearance elements of the creation process to activities during the game's tutorial zone. A solution that could be used in Antilia's case as well.

If we use the shipwreck as our tutorial, we can tie player choices and narrative together to build the character's history as part of the initial learning experience. Got immediately to work helping the survivors set up camp? Must be that "get-it-done" Lantros attitude. Similarly, grant players the ability at the end of the tutorial to revise elements should they wish (and perhaps gain insight on different solutions to problems should they replay later) before locking in and entering the full game world. An option on the creation menu to skip this and just choose background elements if the tutorial's been previously completed would get around the problem of a mandatory repetitive tutorial.

City of Birth, parental presence, social standing, childhood focus, personal mindset, schooling, young-adult life experience. All little things that together tailor a character to a specific playstyle, grant some bonuses to that direction of play, and penalize the opposites. And all things that could have a narrative question to establish based on player activity at some key point in the tutorial experience.

I'll stop here before I start scatterballing ideas or rambling incoherently.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 12:08pm
Anadais da'Lantros, Wanderer.
Jen: 13
I'm not too fond of race/bloodline being a purely cosmetic thing with no impact at all on a character's skills and stats, the same goes for gender, because then what's the point of all the lore about backgrounds and cultural differences? To dismiss this because it could promote min-maxing of specific character builds is a fool's errand. The people who like to engage in this sort of behaviour will do so regardless and while the results might be more visually diverse, they'll be just as generally unpleasant to be around. It should be possible to strike a balance that allows the different bloodlines' cultural peculiarities to subtly influence the character's strengths and weaknesses without railroading them towards a specific class, archetype or whatever you want to call it.

I was also going to talk about this rad idea of, instead of defining a character's history through a series of dialog boxes, having the player actually play through it and crafting their character's background through gameplay decisions... before realizing that that's more or less what ArgonFox has suggested. So yeah I'm all for it. Coincidentally, I'm currently re-playing Oblivion as well, I might even finish it this time ;P
Tuesday, August 2, 2016 5:44pm
Jen: 47
While I do appreciate the freedom to choose whatever race I want, with no impact on my stats...

Something always felt off that this little guy is as physically strong as me.

Unfortunately leveling the stats doesn't even keep the min/maxers away. People in pvp who want every advantage they can get will actually create a really small character to make it more difficult to see them in a fight, and harder to tell what move they are about to execute.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016 8:29pm
Jen: 13

I think I prefer character creation choices to have more of a effect on how I *start* playing. It's easy to figure out how I want to start, but how I end up playing a game later on is often very different. It kinda sucks to sink a bunch of time into a character, and realize I'm hurt by the fact I wound up playing something that doesn't match with how my character looks.

Since Oblivion came up: I enjoyed how it handled race perks. Race choice had a major impact early on, but much later on race perks were mostly overshadowed by the stuff you could do with gear and potions anyways. The extreme effects you could get from character creation was mostly from the birthsign, not race.

"I could be a khajiit and see in the dark FOREVER. Or I could just tough it out 'till I can tediously make a bajillion night-eye potions." Resistances were pretty much the same.

On the other hand minor/major skill picks were pretty important to how much your stats went up as you leveled. Which matters a lot since all the random bandits and necromancers would level with you.

And then there's Elder Scrolls Online (My experience may be out of date), where your race selection matters MORE as you progress. A choice that seemed like at worst an inconvenience early on can leave you struggling to keep up later. Or you have to play a build you don't enjoy just to manage.
Sunday, August 7, 2016 3:09pm
Jen: 47
I'm sorry for my delay! I've been pretty distracted, but the delay gave me more time to think, at least.

I would say, if I wanted one change to make the bloodlines more unique, it would be to give them different body models, more similar to Tettix's concept art. Each bloodline SEEMS to have some sort of inspiration from IRL animals, and relying heavier on those inspirations/differences might make them less "same-y". (BTW, does anyone have links to the fullsize versions of that concept art? Most of the versions I'm finding now are heavily cropped. Harder to show for examples besides the About page)

At the moment, it might not be practical to design, animate or clothe all those models, but in the future that's what I'd like to see. I thought the last version I saw of the change-anything-to-any-color-and-add-horns-or-tails character creator was cute, and I'd heard the models had to be very similar to fit into that version of the character creator, using the same mesh. However, I would rather have a character creator limited for the purpose of creating varied characters, rather than have the characters limited to fit a narrow one-bloodline-fits-everything character creator. Keeping some extra mix-and-match bloodline option might still be valuable though, a bit like Star Trek Online's "Alien" race.

Regarding perks and bonuses, I would prefer a system that does not lock characters in place upon creation, at minimum for three reasons.
-The first reason is to make people's "new user experience" a little more pleasant and predictable. I consider it a poor game development habit to flood a new player with game-changing decisions and specifics they might not understand yet.
-The second reason is to help prevent regret late-game and alleviate balance problems throughout.
-The third reason is to avoid railroading people into decisions as others have mentioned.

I would say I thought Mabinogi's lifestyle/whatever bonus system was among the better I'd seen, in the sense there was the option to change lifestyles/whatever on occasion with some benefits and drawbacks, and without crippling problems stemming from character creation. As an example, let's say Mabinogi as a game isn't perfect. I decided to create my first character as part of the Giant race with the blacksmith lifestyle choice, with intention of playing it as a blacksmith making my own armor. I soon found out that most armor can only be worn by specific races, and very few pieces of armor (maybe 4 or 5) could be crafted by blacksmiths AND worn by giants (All of which were impractical skill goals, unavailable patterns or downright ugly). I had some depressing prospects for the character as a blacksmith, but could change to something else.

I think I would like it if Antilia's player characters did have some sort of advantage in their backstory AND character creation was not the only opportunity to pursue those advantages. I could readily picture some character that did not have a background in a bloodline, area or tradeskill eventually finding acceptance and training in a sort of culture hub that could grant those benefits. For example, a non-vulan character eventually finding acceptance into a vulan city's "School of Charm and Social Tomfoolery". I can readily imagine some of those advantages being unlockable things like optional animation sets, clothes or equipment denoting status/contribution/training/interest, VIP invitation to NPC events like social gatherings or tradeskill drives, etc. As a completionist I would be eager to see that.

Edit: regarding unlockable stuff, I'm still hoping that someday unusual athletic/gymnastic moves are available
Friday, September 9, 2016 9:00am
Currently playing "Rusty" while in-game.
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