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Battle Gameplay in General

Battles. The battle system. Perhaps the most important part of the gameplay of a RPG. The essence of conflict. Where novels and short stories can only narrate battles (which always wind up the same way everytime you read them), the game designer can make it so that the conflicts of the story are recreated with the player as participant.

Games can fall or rise based on their battle system. Final Fantasy 8 had an abysmal battle system, which was overly complex, forced you into repetetive spell harvesting, and overly easy, and for that reason many people never complete the game. Dragon Quest 7, in contrast, had a near-perfect battle system, so much so that it was actually fun to gain levels, and fun to fight battles. I don't believe a single battle in Final Fantasy 8 (with the exception of a few boss battles) was an enjoyable experience for me. It's not just the complexity of the battle system, the one in Dragon Quest 7 is at least as complex. Rather it was the weak level of difficulty (you usually can't lose a battle even if you try to) combined with the nonsensical nature of needing to draw spells out of enemies, store them, rearrange them, and keep them all organized and attached to various stats that made the game's battle sytem tedious. There were good aspects too (pressing R1 to trigger the gunblade increased the feeling of being in the game, for example), but by and large the battle system was doomed from the initial idea. To top that off, the enemies weren't a challenge (just summon your guardian forces over and over... which costs you nothing), there was no equipable armor (and only a few equipable weapons), and all of the characters were nearly exactly the same except for their limit breaks (called overdrive attacks, Haggard tells me). It took everything that was good about the Final Fantasy 7 battle system (the materia system, the range of weapons and bangles w/ materia slots, the equipable accessories, etc.) and threw it away, keeping only the limit break system and the summons and the idea of identical character abilities.

The Ohrrpgce is of course limited in comparison to commercial games in what is possible to make a battle system look like, but it still has a lot more flexiblity than most people suppose. So we here begin a journey through the Ohrrpgce's battle system.

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Battle Gameplay: Balancing Attacks

Attacks are the core of battle gameplay. Heroes, enemies, weapons, armor, and how you assign attacks to each of them is secondary compared to the attacks they use on eachother. In planning a battle system, the first place to start is planning what type of attacks will be in the game, and how they will work together and are categorized. 


Example: When I started planning the battle Tilde and the Mask of :P, I had to decide what attacks the playable characters would have. I decided that all the normal physical weapon attacks would be linked to eachother via the 'store target' & 'use recorded target' features. I also wanted Tilde to be able to 'summon toys' and to 'talk to other Elves to convince them not to fight him'. Later I made him able to 'talk to allies and himself to raise power and speed' and 'most enemies leave an item which contains their special attack'. Those five points form the essentials of the Tilde battle system. Everything else is based around those and were simply organic outgrowths of those five attributes of the battle system (the bosses being target-intensive, the spiders slowing you down, some bosses being able to delete stored targets and store new targets, some bosses being able to bring your power back down to its normal level, the Elf battle near the end where Tilde has to talk to the Elves, etc.). Tilde wound up with over 150 different attacks, but just 150 arbitrary attacks wouldn't have had coherency. It was adherence to those 5 principles which gave the battle system its integrity (and made the attacks easier to envision and design).

Here is an excerpt from Howto.txt (included with the Ohrrpgce Custom.exe). If you want to make a game using the Ohrrpgce's battle engine (you don't have to, but most games do) you'll need to make attacks. And you don't want attacks that are unbalanced, you want attacks that are balanced. So let me walk you through what is written in Howto.txt about attacks, and give more advice than is found in there.

     * Target Class
          + Enemy-- used only against your foes. Most normal attacks use
          + Ally-- used only on your friends. This is generally used for
            healing spells
          + Self-- used only on your self. These attacks only affect the
            one who uses them
          + All-- can be used on anyone. lets the attack hit anyone on
            the battlefield
          + Ally (including dead)-- Used on friends, even if they have
            zero health. This is most often used for life spells
          + Ally Not Self-- Any friend, but not yourself
     * Target Setting
          + Focused-- only one target. A cursor will appear in battle to
            let you choose who to attack
          + Spread-- everyone in the target class. Will affect all your
            foes, or all your allys
          + Optional Spread-- Choice of focus and spread
          + Random Focus-- one target, but you dont choose who. When
            enemies use this it is no different from ordinary focus
          + First target-- first enemy or ally in target class
This is fairly simple. All I can add is 'random focus' and 'first target' are very underused in most Ohrrpgce games, and a good way to make your game stand out is to use them creatively. For example, you would expect that a game would make the normal attack 'focused' and 'enemy'. In Tilde and the Mask of :P, the normal attack is 'random focus' for Tilde (which has the 'store target' bitset on) and 'recorded target' (not shown here because Howto.txt hasn't been updated since that was added. Also added have been 'revenge (last hit), revenge (whole battle), and previous target) for everyone else. The result is a gameplay system in which whoever the main character hits becomes the target of all the other characters. In Ergintandal 1/5, the short-range weapons are usually 'first target', and the long range weapons are usually 'focused', emphasizing the difference between them.

     * Damage
          + Normal-- attacker's attack power minus half of defender's
            defence power
          + Blunt-- 80% of attacker's attack power minus 10% of
            defender's defence power
          + Sharp-- 130% of attacker's attack power minus all of
            defender's defence power
          + Pure-- attack power plain and simple
          + No Damage-- absolutly nozzing!
          + Set to % of max HP-- uses "extra damage" to decide what
            percent to use. This setting bypasses many of the bitsets.
          + Set to % of current HP-- uses "extra damage" to decide what
            percent to use. This setting bypasses many of the bitsets.

The difference between 'normal', 'blunt', and 'sharp' may appear confusing at first. But let's set up a table to better illuminate the difference between these. NOTE: unless you have the bitset called 'damage can be 0' on, all the 0's would appear as 1's in the game (the minimum normal damage is 1).


Attack Power Defense Power Normal Blunt Sharp Pure
10 0 10 8 13 10
10 5 8 8 8 10
10 10 5 7 3 10
10 20 0 8 0 10
10 50 0 3 0 10
10 80 0 0 0 10
2 10 0 1 0 2
5 10 0 3 0 5
10 10 5 7 3 10
20 10 15 15 16 20
80 10 75 63 95 100
1000 0 1000 800 1300 1000
1000 1000 500 700 300 1000

First thing you notice is that 'pure' is almost always higher than any of the others. The other results are that 'blunt' is most useful for breaking through very high levels of defense (but fails when defence is less than half as small as attack) and that 'sharp' is most useful when the enemy has little defense power relative to your attack power (but fails when defense is more than 130% of attack). 'Normal' is in between these two, but fails when defense is more than twice as much as attack. So a 'blunt' attack will work well on heavily armored enemies. Most importantly, remember that 'blunt' is better than 'normal' and 'sharp' starting at the point when the defense power is half as much as the attack power. If you plan to have a game where defense power of the enemies is about around equal to attack power of the heroes (and vice versa), blunt will always win out, often by a vergy large amount (as seen in the last row of the table).

What does this mean for your game? It means that you may want to work this in to your attack structure. The most obvious way to do this is make 'bashing' weapons use the 'blunt' attack, 'piercing' weapons use the 'sharp' attack, and 'slashing' weapons use the 'normal' attack. But why be so unoriginal? There are many other ways to incorporate these different attacks into your game. Perhaps each 'special attack' of a fighter-type character can have four 'settings' (one for each of the rows in the table), and the player has to choose one of those settings based on what it things the enemies defense power is relative to his character's attack power. Of course, to prevent them from always choosing 'pure', you may want to make the 'pure' setting for that special attack cost more -- more mp to cast? more gold to buy? learned at a higher level? longer delay (slower)? -- than the other three settings.

     * Aim
          + Normal-- 4 times attacker's aim vs defender's dodge (expect
            88% accuracy if equal)
          + Poor-- 2 times attacker's aim vs defender's dodge (expect 75%
            accuracy if equal)
          + Bad-- aim vs dodge (expect 50% accuracy if equal)
          + Magic-- never misses
          + Magic-- attacker's magic power vs one and a half times
            defender's willpower (expect 25% accuracy if equal)
Aiming. Whether your attack connects with the enemy or connects with mere air. I must confess not knowing where these numbers come from... 88% and 75%... I get 80% and 66%. 7/8 = 88%, 3/4 = 75%, 4/5 = 80%, and 2/3 = 66%. So either the formula is 7 * aim vs. dodge for normal and 3 * aim vs. dodge for poor or those numbers are incorrect.

Let's cut to the chase and make the table.


Aim/Accuracy Dodge/Evade Normal Aim Poor Aim Bad Aim
10 0
10 5
10 10
10 20
10 100
2 10
5 10
10 10
20 10
100 10
     * Base Stat
          + Atk-- most attacks are based on the attacker's attack
            strength, and blocked by the defender's defence.
          + Mag-- makes the damage based on magic, and the defence based
            on will. normally used for spells.
          + HP-- damage is based on attackers remaining health (healthy
            hero does more damage, weak hero does less)
          + Lost HP-- damage is based on maximum health minus current
            health (an attacker near death does more damage)
          + Random-- a completely random number. Not used much for
          + 100-- base stat is 100, used for attacks that do a constant
            amount of damage regardless of the attacker's stats
            (especially used for curative items that can also be used
            outside of battle)
          + Any stat-- damage can be based on any stat (yes, that means
            that HP, atk and def are in the list twice-- thats for
            backwards compatability)
     * Target Stat Lets you choose which of the target's stats will be
       damaged (or cured) Damage done to stats other than HP and MP will
       go away after the battle ends.
Most games only use Attack and Magic for base stat and HP and MP for target stas, but that's boring. A lot of varation is possible in this area, just make sure it makes sense. Don't do something as simple as 'Aim Hit; Defense Hit; Dodge Hit' where attacks are based on that stat... that doesn't really make sense that your dodge or aim or defense would translate into damage without any explanation. What would make sense is damaging their stats or improving your stats based on your stats. Let's say you want to make an attack that increases your speed. Instead of taking the easy and simple way of just improving them by a certain percent or by a set value, you could increase your speed based on what your evade/dodge is. Or vice versa. Or you could make an attack that sets your HP equal to your MP but then cuts your MP in half. Or you can have a sword slash that harms the enemy but improves their defense (they now are more wary of you). You can have a 'desperation blow' that attacks the enemy strongly but then lowers your own attack power. Or an attack that doesn't do much damage but lowers the enemy's stats (in fact, that is how real battles are... when you wound an enemy in an actual battle, the pain and lowered morale of the wound often decreases their equivalents of 'evade/dodge', 'speed', 'attack', and 'aim'.) Or you might try an attack that increases your defense by your evade/dodge value but then sets your evade/dodge to 0 (giving up the possiblity of getting out of the way in exchange for more resistence). With some inventiveness, you can even make attacks that 'swaps' stats with each other in battle (hint: you'll need to use 'revenge').
     * MP Cost used for spells. Makes the attack consume magic points.
     * HP Cost used for self-sacrificial attacks. consumes some of the
       attackers HP to use.
     * Money Cost used for pay-attacks. Consumes some of your party's
 Attacks other than one's normal attack usually cost you something. This is an important point: atacks which do more damage than your normal attack yet cost nothing are stupid. Every atack that does more damage than your normal attack should have some drawback. Here is a list of alternatives:

* they can cost you MP
* they can cost a point of the FF1-style ability meter
* they can cost you HP
* they can cost you your money (or whatever your currency is used for)
* they can cost you items (if consumable items are used)
* they can cost you lowered stats for the rest of that battle
* they can cost time (have large delays or be chained to attacks that have long delays)
* they might not work on every enemy (perhaps they heal certain enemies)
* they may be unstoppable (chain to itself forever)
* they might increase the enemy's stats
* they sometimes never hit the enemy or may fail and do nothing
* they have a chance of backfiring and hitting you instead or both you and the enemies
* perhaps the enemy has a counter-attack ready if you use that attack
* or perhaps they summon help if you use that attack on them

If you've familiar with the Ohrrpgce you should have no problem figuring out how to do everything on that list. Usually you'll want to use one or a combination of these 'costs' for every attack that is more powerful than your normal attack. Keep the cost and the use of the attack balanced. Just as stong spells cost more MP, strong attacks should have stronger costs.

     * Chain to Causes another attack to follow immediately after this
       attack is finished. Can be used to make complete multi-part
       attacks. Only takes effect if chain% is higher than 0
     * Chain % the percentage of the time that the Chain to attack will
       be used. Most commonly this is set to 100, so the chained attack
       will always be used. (note: chaining an attack to itself at 100%
       is a silly thing to do)
Note: not always. An attack that chains to itself at 100% is good for a berserk attack. Just make sure the 'delay' is decent... around 20-50 at least.

Never underestimate chained attacks! They are one of the most powerful ways of making your battle system interesting, and even provide a form of "battlescripting" where the battle follows a set course. An interesting thing to do (and which I do in Ergintandal 1/5) is to have boss enemies that have a specific chain of attacks (each with a delay value, to give the characters time to attack) that is the only 'attack' the boss has but is a varied 'program'... you can chain dozens, or hundreds, of attacks together in order this way (have them repeat at the end by making the last attack call the first). This is a good way to get around the 5-attack limit of enemies. Want an enemy that can cast 50 different spells? An enemy that will call for help at a certain time and then never again for the rest of the battle? An enemy that will 'say something' in the beginning of the battle? An enemy that heals every four of its turns? This makes it possible.

Now we get to the bitsets. I'll take them one at a time for the ones that matter gameplay-wise (bitsets like 'irreversible picture' don't matter).

Cure Instead of Harm - self explanitory. However... all RPGs have cure spells, so yours has to have them too, right? Not necessarily. In Ergintandal 1/5, you can't cure during battles (except in very rare instances). Curing can only be done outside of battles (and it's free there). This makes most normal battles more challenging than in most RPGs, where as long as you are able to cure faster than the enemy can deal out damage the battle is pretty much in your pocket (unless you run out of cure). But in a game without curing in battles, this isn't an option. You have to kill the enemy, and fast. In my opinion, bosses where you have to hit, cure, hit, cure, hit, cure (repeat) are pretty stupid and a replacement for intelligent boss planning. Even if you have curing, unless you want your battles too easy, you shouldn't make it virtually unlimited, as it is in pretty much every commercial RPG today. Another option is to have curing cost money. If you had to lose the 30 gold you intended to spend on a new weapon every time you cure in battle, the player won't rely on curing too much, and will have to actually think about battle strategy and figure out how to kill the enemy in the fastest way possible.

Divide Spread Damage - to use this or not to use this? What makes the most sense is to use this when you have a choice between spread and focus (aka, the 'optional spread' target). Using it when the attack forces you to spread can be useful too, however, since a battle with a boss who has 7 lackies standing in front of them may be more protected from such attacks than a boss standing there alone.

Absorb Damage - useful for 'stealing life' attacks. A good alternative to infinite healing. However, don't do what Paladus did and have the best attack spell also heal you and cost a negligible amount of MP. Then there is no real reason to use any other attack.

Elemental Damage & Bonus vs. Enemy Type - You get eight 'elements' and eight 'enemy types' for your game. Use them well. Chrono Trigger had a nice system where each character was associated with an element (Crono was lightning, Lucca was fire, etc.), and since most of the enemies in the game used elemental-based attacks, it was often better to bring someone of a certain element to a certain enemy area. It also had elemental protective and elemental absorbing armor, which you would keep around until you found an enemy who used that element a lot, then put on the needed armor. This isn't the invention of Chrono Trigger, of course, even the first Final Fantasy had elements and monster types (although a bug prevented the monster types and monster type-specific weapons from working). So as a RPG, you're expected to have different types of enemies, different types of elements, and etc. That still leaves room for innovation. When I originally planned my first attempted game (a RPG based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) I assigned each 'element' as a 'weapon'. So there was 'sword damage', 'sai damage', 'bo damage', 'shuriken damage', and the like. Each armor would protect against certain types of weapons and less against other types. Some enemies would be weaker against some weapon types than other weapon types. Although the game was never finished, the system had potential.

Fail vs Elemental Resistance & Fail vs Enemy Type - These can be very useful. Don't want an attack to work on bosses? Then have the boss have resistence to that attack's element or have the boss be of an enemy type if fails on (you may, as I did in Ergintandal 1/5 have 'enemy types' just be a way to tell battle system which attacks work and which fail... one of my enemy types is called 'fail arrow' and another is called 'fail explosion', and those types are set on enemies where I want arrows or explosions to fail to damage.)

Allow cure to exceed maximum - Used for stat-raising and for increasing HP (or MP) beyond max HP (or MP). Be careful not to make it possible to raise them past 32767 too easily though, or the player may kill himself trying to give himself too many HP.

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Battle Gameplay: Balancing Attack Distribution

Once you have the basic idea of your attack system and some example attacks, you need to decide on which characters get what and which enemies get what. This isn't as simple as giving them whatever seems like they would have. Do that and you'll just have another unbalanced Ohrrpgce game. Another decision to make is which attacks are gained from where (or learned at what level). Gameplaywise, a character -is- his or her attacks and his or her stats (equipment just adjusts their stats and, in the case of weapons, primary attack).

Stats aside, the general guidelines for character balancing are simple: 1) don't give one character all the best attacks (unless they won't be on your party for very long). And: 2) don't give an attack to most of the characters. And finally, 3) a character's attacks should be more similar to eachother than they are to attacks of another character. 

This is easily seen in most well-balanced RPGs. Example: Final Fantasy 4 - Cecil as a paladin has protect "attack", a strong fight attack, and a few weak healing "attacks". All the elemental attacks (fire, ice, and bolt) go to Rydia, as do all the summons. All the strongest healing attacks go to Rosa. It would have made little sense to have taken all of those attacks (healing, elemental attack magic, protection, summoning) and arbitrarily distributed them to Cecil, Rydia, and Rosa, giving some summons to each, some heal spells to each, etc. That would defeat the purpose of the idea behind RPGs in general (my definition of RPGs is: characters with different and complementary roles in battle aiding eachother. With arbitrary attack distribution, there are no real battle roles, and so I question whether Final Fantasy 7 & 8 are RPGs at all.

Another thing you notice about Final Fantasy 4 is that not one character is the 'best', and that no attack is owned by more than a few characters. Obeying all three of the guidelines above, its characters are consequentially balanced.

Giving attacks to enemies (and bosses) is trickier work, but should obey the same guidelines. Don't give enemies attacks at random, treat them as characters to be balanced and given roles to play in battle. Since there are so many enemies, these roles can be more specialized. It's alright to make an enemy that can do nothing but heal other enemies, whereas making a playable character who can only heal other allies and do nothing else I would treat with suspicion. Also, enemies are more expendable, so go ahead and make enemies that explode, or enemies that fire six times, run out of ammunition, and have to flee the battle.

Bosses are a special case in attack distribution. Every boss should be a challenge, and need strategy to defeat (besides the level-up and keep healing during battle strategy). Since these battles require the most care, select boss attacks based on how you want that battle to work. You may want to design new attacks for each boss battle when you get to planning that battle.

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Battle Gameplay: Items

We have 255 items, and many of them will have a direct effect on battle gameplay. They can be equipped as armor or as weapons (see below sections) or they can be used in and out of battle. The traditional uses of battle items are healing items and items which release attacks. You can also do such things as connect items to plotscripts to alter stats, or have items teach you new abilities when you use them on a character. That you know.

But items can also be used to effect battle gameplay in other ways. How about a consumable item that when you use it calls a battle that gives you free experience? Or an item that can be used to suspend random enemy encounters for a few minutes? Or an item that warps you to the beginning of the map? All of these are easily done, and if used correctly can enhance gameplay.

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Battle Gameplay: Equipment

There are four slots for non-weapon equipment. Each equipped item can change any stat that the character has, and can alter defense against the eight elements. Most RPGs have a progression of weaker and less useful equipment to stronger and more useful equipment, the later ones being only found or bought in the later parts of the game, or cost more money. This is a highly prevalent system. The only alternative is to have all of the equipment equally valued, equally (in difficulty, not in means) obtainable, and equally useful, but in different ways (if they add one stat they would subtract another, if they protect against some element, they are weak to some other). Or you can have a mix of these two systems (there are certainly enough equipment slots to do that).

Common prevalance tells you that equipment raises defense and perhaps magic defense, and other stats are secondary. That isn't always important. Perhaps you could have a robot game where each slot was a different 'part' (head, arms, legs, torso), and -all- of the robots stats would come from those parts (the base stats would be 0's without any parts). That would provide more interesting decisions for the player (and as Sid Meier famously said, a game is a series of interesting decisions). Perhaps there could even be terrain-based parts... parts for snowy terrains would provide resistence against cold, for example,a nd the player would keep a collection of parts and switch them around based on what the mission requires. And perhaps the main source of parts would be other robots who the player defeats... (I should stop this... too much musing. I already have other games that need finishing).

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Battle Gameplay: Weapons

Each weapon is connected to an attack, and the character equipping that weapon gains that attack as his primary one. So a weapon doesn't only work as an equipment, it also has a primary role as an attack. Making all your weapons attach to the same attack (or to attacks which are identical except for the picture) is boring, the only point of changing weapons then becomes stat changes. 

Do not be constrained in your weapon choice by what other games have. Inventing new weapons adds to the individuality of the character or enemy type who weild them. Even if you do decide on using the conventional weapon (read: sword) as the main weapon type, give the swords individuality. Are you dying to see more 'fire swords' and 'holy swords'? Nor am I. When you give your weapons interesting names and  histories, special side uses if you use them out of battle, and special abilities in battle not seen before, you add a little more life to your game.

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Battle Gameplay: Heroes

Note: this section doesn't cover who the heroes are, that should already be known. It instead covers their gameplay role.

The idea of 'classes' is older than the (videogame) RPG genre, and goes back to Dungeons & Dragons, in which a player chose to be a fighter, mage, cleric, or thief (this were the first edition's classes, others were added later). This was faithfully copied, and soon enough Final Fantasy 1 had you choosing between fighter, thief (amazingly, they could not actually 'steal' or do anything else thief-like), black belt, and three types of mages. In Dragon Warrior 3, we had soldier, fighter, wizard, pilgrim, merchant, and jester, which was a nice innovation, as it based classes on actual (or at least fantastic) medieval occupations of that world. But that wasn't really original, since the first four are just fighter/thief/mage/cleric all over again, and no one ever really chose merchant or jester (although the game sort of 'forced you' to choose these gameplay useless classes). Basing your class system around 'fighters', 'magic users (an attacking type and a healing type)', and 'thieves' (fast, slightly weaker, fighters) is fine for many, but just keep in mind that you are being derivative, perhaps for no reason other than that is what you see everywhere else. And what does a class system where people are seemingly 'locked into' certain 'roles' mean thematically? Is it basically any different from the Indian caste system?

A common variation on the class system is to base classes on careers. Thus we get 'master engineer' (FF4), 'gambler' (FF6), 'bubble mage' (Wandering Hamster), and many other odd classes which are not traditional classes, but still lock a hero in a niche (not that this is always bad).

One alternative to the class system is to undifferentiate the characters, or allow the player to differentiate between them. This is seen in Final Fantasy 7 and 8, where it didn't work well, and in Revelations: Persona, the Saga Frontier / Romancing Saga series, and Final Fantasy 2j (not FF4), where it does. The reason it doesn't work in FF7 and FF8 is that any changes that are made to the characters over the course of the game are reversable and impermanent (just remove all the materia or all the guardian forces, and you are back at square one (no pun intended)), whereas the changes in those other mentioned games to the heroes are more permanent, and are based on what they actually do in battle or choose to improve in at level-up. I believe Final Fantasy 10 uses a system similar to this, one where the player has say in how the characters develop.

Another alternative to the class system is the class-change system, which is seen in Final Fantasy 3j and 5, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Dragon Warrior 7. In this, the heroes can change classes to whatever they wish, and learn abilites from each class, in whatever order they wish, combining atomic abilities to create multitudinous combinations. One can't deny the addictiveness of these types of games, but they can fail if done unwisely (witness Seiken Densetsu 3). Creating a class-change system in the Ohrrpgce is challenging, but can be done (especially if you use get stat and set stat to tweak stats when classes are changed), although it may be more trouble to make and balance than it is worth.

Decide very early what kind of hero classification system you are going to use, for many later gameplay decisions hinge on your choice here. If you use the class system, chances are you want to design enemies that also use the class system. If you use a class-change system, you're going to want to organize many of the attacks by class.

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Battle Gameplay: Enemies

Repeat note: this section doesn't cover which enemies are in the game... that should already be planned in the design. What you need to do now is turn those 'ideas of enemies' into enemies, with stats and attacks. If your game is based on a progressive level-up scheme, where the game flow is linear, the first level is the easiest, the second level is a bit harder, the third level is a bit harder, all the way to the final level, which is the hardest, enemy design is pretty simple: you just make a range strong and weak enemies, and place the weak ones near the beginning and the strong near the end. This is in fact what most RPGs do, nearly 95% I would guess. You don't see imps or slimes in the final castle in a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Warrior game, you see them in the beginning. And if you do see them later, they are 'super imps' (like the trickster) or 'super slimes' (like the king slime). I don't particularly like this system, but since it's used so often (even in my games And& and Tilde) I can't ignore it. This system does have the advantage of always facing new enemies every level, but it has the disadvantage of seeming artificial (does the real world work like that? Are challenges in real life just a little harder than the ones you have seen before? If you see a challenge from 10 years down the road, will it smite you unmercifully?)

If you're going to increase enemy difficulty as the game goes on, in such a way that at the beginning there is no possible way to kill an enemy from a few hours of play ahead of you, and there is no possible way for an enemy you fought a few hours of play behind you to kill you, you need to make a fairly large stat range. The first enemies will have very few HP, less than a dozen, and later ones will have several thousand near the end. Every enemy in the same area of the game should have around the same HP. If you are going to use this system, don't just set stats, make the enemies defeatable, and then leave it at that. Make the batles interesting and 'difficult' at every stage of the game, even if that difficulty doesn't come from stats. The enemies in Tilde usually have some way to defeat even high-level heroes if they aren't careful; the spiders can slow you down to very little speed, for example. Likewise, there should be some hope for low level heroes facing high level enemies. Most importantly, the quality of the battles should change as the game goes on. Fighting enemies near the end shouldn't be "just like fighting enemies in the beginning, only with 10x the stats and the spells are 10x stronger." What is the point of leveling up at all, if the enemies just get stronger as you go to the next area of the game? You're pretty much forced to level up, led by the hand. In Dragon Warrior 4, for example, in the instruction manual there was a list of 'suggested levels' for certain stages. If you were not at that suggested level, you are pretty much doomed. Most RPGs work the same way, and this leads to a feeling that you are under the thumb of the game designer, you can't break out of his plan for you. In order to progress you have to use the exact strategy he provided for you. In order to win you have to win the way he wants you to win. That isn't a game, it's mind control.

Compare this to a game where there is more freedom to succeed unconventionally. There are games where every player who plays the game wins in a slightly different way (instead of the previous model, where the only difference is that some win better and faster than others win, based on how quickly they are able to catch on to and follow the game designer's plan for them). In every game you are contrained by the rules of the game, it's just that in a freer game there is often no dominant strategy which only a fool wouldn't use (more on this when I write an article on gameplay architecture). A good example of this is character selection in the beginning of Final Fantasy 1. FF1 is a mixed case freedom wise, it has dominant strategies once you are in the game itself, but for character selection there is no 'best party'. In other words, everyone plays FF1 the same way, except in what party they choose at the beginning. My favorite party is made up of three red mages and a black mage. But I've never seen anyone else use that combination, even though I personally find it to be the most useful (and I've gone through the game with at least 7 different combinations). This idiosynrousity of party selection, where the player has to think about the choice instead of just choose arbitrarily or choose what the game designer intended him to choose  is in my mind what makes FF1 a good game. And more than that, there is an important bit of knowledge here: gameplay elements can be combined in different combinations, and if you leave that combination selection up to the player, more fun is gained for the game. It doesn't only apply to character selection, it applies to anything which can be combined or put in a particular order (permutated).

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Battle Gameplay: Enemy Formations

Getting -back- to battles (went off topic for awhile there), the best way to make interesting battles is to make enemies which can be combined well. Battle difficulty should not just be a matter of 'how many enemies, and how strong they are', it should be a matter of 'is this enemy combination dangerous?'

As said in a previous section, specialize your enemies. A good example of this is the 48 hour contest game Grief (by Mattgamerr and company). The battles are usually well designed (although they are few in number and each room has only one battle formation) because each enemy usually has only one attack, and that attack can be as simple as 'raising attack power of its ally'. A battle with 8 enemies of that type is a cakewalk, since none of them will attack you. A battle with 8 enemies who attack but don't hit very strongly is slightly more difficult, but not very. But a battle with 4 of the attack-up enemies and 4 of the hitting enemies is dangerous, even though it's still the same number of enemies as the other two cases. Make your battles more complex than this, of course, but this is what battle design should involve, it shouldn't just be a matter of sticking in whatever enemies you feel like sticking in.

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