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Glimpses of a Planned Game

Evil in our minds will never disappear.  We all have both evil and good in our mind, just as there are the crystals of Light and Darkness, the ground and underground.  But as long as the evil exists, so does good.  Just as you held good in your heart to fight evil.
~FuSoYa, Final Fantasy 4

That quote above, (along with such things as the Dark Knight to Paladin change) is pretty much an epitome of the Final Fantasy 4 theme (just as the statues of the one-winged angels in Nisan Sanctuary are epitomes of the Xenogears theme). Whether it is a cliche theme or not (arguably it is just a restatement of the yin-yang idea of 3000+ years ago) doesn't matter, what matters is that the theme is well expressed through the game. As I defined theme before, the change in the player after they have completed Final Fantasy 4 is that they better think in terms of Good and Evil, Light and Dark, and the balance between the twain. Whether it is a completely correct theme or not (in my mind, it isn't) is also not important. What matters is that the player gets a sense of the theme, whether the player is able to understand the model of the world presented by the game, and if they wish, adapt it to their own model of the world.

My design document for Ergintandal 1/5 is constructed thus: 1) story.doc; 2) design.doc; 3) lists.doc. I'll go over these from first to last. I won't cover my actual game's plan, I will instead cover the imagined equivalents from a commercial game: Final Fantasy 4. As you read, compare the plans of your own game(s) to the plan here, and if you see something which you have not yet done, make a note of it.

Story.doc & Final Fantasy 4

Story.doc, the largest of these files, contains the following: 1) setting elements (history summaries, map summaries, creature summaries, special topic summaries); 2) character summaries (and additional info about their interconnections); 3) the plotting outline (with synopses for each scene). This reflects my model that a story of a game (or a film, or a novel, or a play, etc.) is composed of the setting elements, which make up the imaginary world background, the characters, which make up the dramatis personae, and the scene-events, which make up the plot.

It has been said that we read novels (and, play story-driven games) to see characters that we would want to meet, see places that we would want to visit, and see things done that we would want to do. So, in creating a game, be mindful of this. Create a world that you would want to visit (or, live in). Create a cast that you would want to meet. Create a plot that you would want to participate in.

Setting elements show here: the tower of Babel, the Dwarf tanks, the underworld, an airship

* * Setting Elements Make Up the Imaginary World**

Setting elements are anything in the background. In Final Fantasy 4 (Final Fantasy 2 for the SNES for the one of you who doesn't know), here are a few examples of the setting elements: the crystals (arranged by element and luminousity), the Kingdom Baron (and the Kingdoms of Toroia, Fabul, Eblan, etc.), the airships (and the ships, dwarf tanks, etc.), the city of Mysidia (and the cities of Damcyan, Mist, Agart, etc.), the Paladin idea (and the Caller idea, etc.) the Meteo idea, Mount Ordeals, the Tower and Giant of Babel, the Lunarians, their moon, the other moon, the underground, the overworld, the big whale, the legend on the Legend sword, the idea of hypnotizing characters, imps (and all other random monsters), Shiva (and all other summoned monsters), the Land of Summoned Monsters, the Namingway family... you get the idea. All of these make up the imaginary world of Final Fantasy 4 (and what an interesting world it is). 

Also, note the interconnections. Paladins and Meteo are connected to Mt. Ordeals, which is near Mysidia, which has one of the crystals required to reach the moon, which Baron (actually, Golbez) wants, which it uses its airship fleet (led by Cecil) to get, who is then sent to destroy the city of Mist, where the callers live, who summon monsters from the land of summoned monsters, which is in the underground, where the dwarves and their tanks live, who protect the dark crystals.

Granted, many of these plot elements are derived from previous Final Fantasy games, world myths and legends, or both. I don't really understand  the idea of using a Hindu god and turning him into a female ice monster, or taking the biblical legend of the Tower of Babel and turning it into a world-destroying robot, but they are nonetheless part of the Final Fantasy 4 imaginative world. I personally prefer to avoid using names and legends from real life as much as possible, but there isn't anything terribly wrong with using such names, and you can make arguments in either direction.

So, it seems necessary that part of your plan for your game must include information about your game's (hopefully interesting and interconnected) imaginary world. My Story.doc file contains information on important setting elements from the imaginary world for my game. I have sections on each main monster type, sections on the history of the world, sections on the towns, sections on various classes of people, and sections on other important elements of the imaginary world.

When you have a character say a line of dialogue that only that character could have said, then you know that that is their correct line of dialogue.

* *Characters Make Up the Cast**

Characters in Final Fantasy 4: Cecil, Rydia, Golbez, Kain, Edge, the Four Fiends, the Dark Elf, FuSoYa... etc. Together, they form the cast. They are each distinctive. Rydia is optimistic and strong-willed, Edge is arrogant, Kain is taciturn, Rubicant is honorable, etc., etc. They also have relations between eachother. Kain is controlled by Golbez who captures Rosa who is in love with Cecil who is the best friend of Kain who is envious of Cecil who is the brother of Golbez who is hated by Tellah for the death of his daugher Anna who eloped with Edward. See how every character fits together, click click click, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle? See how the connections between them are not trite, but are interesting? Compare that to the connections in a typical Ohrrpgce game's cast. Also, compare that to the connections in your game's cast.

Another part of your game's plan must include information about your game's (hopefully interesting and interconnected) characters. My Story.doc file contains information on the characters, and information as to their personalies and connections. For each of my characters (not only my playable ones, every important character) I detail the following information: 1) Name; 2) Inward Description; 3) Outward Description; 4) History; 5) Story; 6) Similarities; 7) Battle Abilites; 8) Goals and Motivation; 9) Troubles; 10) Weaknesses; 11) Abilities; 12) Strengths; 13) Weapon and Armor Types; 14) Relations to other characters; 15) Miscellaneous notes. Unimportant characters may have single-sentence entries under each, important characters may have several pages under each of these 15 categories. Let me go into each.

1) Name: Their name is their name. Cecil is Cecil Harvey. Kain is Kain Highwind. Rosa is Rosa Farrell. You might also include their ages, etc., here, if you want. (Cecil is 20, Kain is 21, Rosa is 19). You can also include their class here. Cecil is a Dark Knight and later a Paladin. Kain is a Dragoon. Rosa is a White Mage.

2) Inward Description: Their overall personality... how logical they are, what is most important to them, whether they are independent or or sociable, how strong of a person they are, whether they are generally happy or  unhappy, use abstract or concrete thinking, how disciplined they are, whether they daydream very much, how enthusiastic, how flexible, how reliable, and so on. Mostly about their internal selves. Final Fantasy 4 isn't particularly focused on character personality, so I really can't say much more than that Cecil is introspective, that Edward is cowardly (in the beginning), that Kain is more pessimistic than Rydia, and that Yang is more self-disciplined than Palom.

3) Outward Description: A description of their appearance and mannerisms. Physical appearances are important, as they say a lot about the character. But mannerisms are also important: whether they are unsure in speech, how polite they are, how friendly, how bossy, whether they act the same toward everyone or act differently to different people, and so on, can have very large and diverse effects on how the player views them. It can be mentioned here that Yang, Porom, Rosa, and Cecil are more polite and formal and indirect... more "Japanese" than Tellah, Cid, Edge, and Palom, who have more "American" outward personalities.

It is important to distinguish between 2) and 3). Whereas 2) is their internal selves, 3) is what they show to the world. The first is their kokoro, their personal selves, how they are to themselves, the second is their behavior, their outward selves, how they interact with others.

4) History: their history, where they were born, who their parents were, their education, their childhood, what important things they have done in their lives. Cecil is the son of a Lunarian and a human, and was raised by the King of Baron (along with Kain, whose father was a Dragoon). Final Fantasy 4 is not very big on character histories. We know little of the childhood of Rosa, other than that her father was a knight. Histories are not always important to the story, but they can add depth to it, and give some insight on why the characters are who they are.

5) Story: their role in the game's story. whereas 4) is what they already did, 5) is what they will do in the game. The more important the character to the story, the longer this section will be. If the character is the main character, this section will likely be pages long. If the character is not very important, this section will be small. FuSoYa's role in the story is small: his role is to meet Cecil's group on the moon, reveal Cecil's past, explain about the Lunarians, go back to their planet to help them protect the world against the Giant of Babel, awaken Golbez from the control of Zemus, accompany Golbez to fight Zemus (although how he got from the planet back to the Moon without riding on the Blue Whale is rather mysterious), fight Zemus with Golbez, and then ask Golbez to accompany him in the Lunarian slumber. Not too large of a role, but still an important role. It is important to do this for every character, and to be sure that each character has an important role in the story. If their role in the story is weak, or if their role can be combined with another character's role effectively, consider deleting that character or merging two characters for purposes of precision. You don't need ten characters to have the same exact role and the exact same personality in the story. Each character should add something important to it.

6) Similarities: Are they similar to any other character in another game, or novel, or play, or movie, or TV show? Are they similar to anyone you know in real life? Are they similar to you? If so, in what ways are they similar to those people, and in what ways are they different? Also, are they similar to archetypes, and if so, which archetypes? Is Tellah a wise old wizard? It seems like he might be. But, on second thought, does the archetypical wise old wizard become irrationally vengeful? Not really. Tellah isn't an advisor wizard like Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), nor is he a teaching wizard like Merlin. Tellah is a vengeful wizard who often loses his temper and makes stupid mistakes. So saying that Tellah is just another old wizard isn't a very good comparison. However, saying that Cecil is just another do-good hero -is- a good comparison. Cecil isn't very different from every other hero. The only thing slightly unique about him is that he starts off serving the evil side, but comes to his senses in Mount Ordeals. But that difference is not very strong, so the comparison of him to the archetypical knight-hero is an apt one. Rosa is the stereotypical female princess-type character, even to the extent of needing to be rescued twice by the hero (once from the desert fever, once from Golbez). 

7) Battle Abilities: This one is self-explanitory. Dark Knight Cecil uses dark swords well, and can use a Dark Wave attack. Child Rydia uses White and Black Magic and can call a chocobo, but has weak attack and hit points.

8) Goals and Motivations: Would Edge be fighting with Cecil's group if his Castle wasn't destroyed and his parents were not monsterized by Dr. Lugae? Probably not. That is his motivation. His goal is to defeat Rubicant, and then Golbez, and then Zemus. Rydia's motivation was that Kain and Cecil killed her mother. Her goal becomes the same as Cecil's group after she lives in the Land of Summoned Monsters and learns of Golbez. Usually, but not always, all of the allies have the same goal. Otherwise, why would they be working together? Yet a goal is something that must be explained. The more interesting the explanation of why they have the goal that they do, the better. Rosa wants to save the world mainly because Cecil is saving it, and she wants to help him. Kain wants to save the world mainly to make amends for what he did while under the control of Golbez. Golbez wants to save the world because he doesn't like the idea that someone was telling him what to do. (It is important to remember that the goal does not have to be 'save the world'. It just happens to be the most frequently used one.) It is also important to name the goal of the enemy characters, and their motivations. What do the four fiends want? Why do they want that? No one knows. The four fiends are not very developed characters. Lugae, on the other hand, is slightly more developed. His goal is hard to understand because of his insanity, but his real goal is that he wishes to be important. Notice how he is extremely happy when Rubicant and Golbez are both gone. He yells "Now I am in charge here!". His motivation, which is the explanation of his goal, is never really explained, but most of the time when someone wants to be important it is because they don't have a self, and so cannot have self-respect, they can only have other-respect. Lugae is the classic power-hungry, attention-hungry mad scientist.

9) Troubles: their problems in life, their conflicts. Cecil is troubled as a dark knight because he doesn't agree with his actions. Kain is troubled because he is secretly in love with Rosa, knowing that Rosa and Cecil are in love with eachother (there is also an alternative explanation that Kain isn't in love with Rosa at all, but is simply envious and competetive with Cecil. I do not know which of these the authors of the game intended). Edward's trouble is that he sees himself as being too cowardly and wishes to be braver. Not every character in Final Fantasy 4 has troubles. Rydia, after she resloves her fear of fire, no longer has any. Rosa has no troubles at all. She is captured by Golbez, but that isn't really a trouble in the sense we are looking for. By troubles, I mean internal conflicts, problems that must be resolved by that person's own actions and decisions. Rosa has nothing of the kind. 

This brings up an interesting distinction. The distinction between important characters and non-important characters is that the important characters have internal conflicts, and that the unimportant ones do not. The more internal conflicts a character resolves in the story, and the stronger their internal conflict, the more important and interesting the character.

10) Weaknesses: 'character flaws'. Tellah's temper. Edward's cowardice. Rubicant's chivalry. Lugae's nonsane need for importance. Edge's undiscipline. Not every character needs a weakness, but most of your characters should have one or two. If they don't, you run the risk of making all of your characters too boring. Think of Shakespeare here: his tragedies all had a main character with one 'tragic flaw' which was usually also the theme of the play. Flaws need not be static: Edward loses his cowardice eventually. If a character dies, it should usually, but not always, be because of their flaw. Tellah died for his, Lugae died for his. 

A flaw need not always be terribly large and pervasive, and although it always should be significant to the story, it can just  be as small as some irrational phobia (fear of heights or spiders). A certain type of character, what Ayn Rand termed 'the Ideal Man' and Nietzsce termed the 'Ubermensch' need not have flaws, but just be sure that if you use one of these characters you know what you are doing, and be certain, that unless it is your intent to show a perfect world, you use no more than one or two flawless characters. Not many stories work with flawless characters, and not many authors can present them correctly, although when they do work, they can be quite memorable (examples: Mr. Spock from Star Trek, Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, Citan Uzuki from Xenogears).

Another thing to avoid is making your characters too flawed. This is my main dislike of Kafka's writings: not a single one of his characters had anything approaching nobility. Gardner aptly terms them clown-heroes.

11) Abilities: What they can do that most other people can't. Rydia can summon monsters. Cid can repair, build, and upgrade airships. Edge can sneak through walls. Tellah can use Meteo. Kain can jump really really high. Anything that a character can do that not many other characters can do goes here.

12) Strengths: Distinguished from Abilities in that Abilities are more specific things, whereas Strengths are more general things. Leadership is a strength, knowing German is an ability. Kindness is a strength, being good at crossword puzzles is an ability. Rydia's ability to cheer up a depressed group is a Strength, her ability to summon Ramuh (Indra?) is an Ability.

13) Weapon and Armor Types: Self-explanitory. Kain uses armor and spears, Tellah uses staves, rods, and robes.

14) Relations to other characters: Also self-explanitory. How well a character knows another character, which characters he or she hates, which characters he or she likes, which characters he or she is indifferent to, how he or she judges other characters, etc. Cecil  grew up viewing Kain as a brother-figure (assumably an older brother), and therefore has a hard time believing that Kain would betray him by siding with Golbez.

15) Miscellaneous notes: Anything that doesn't fit in any of the other categories I put here.

I advise that you decide which categories seem important to you. Add more that I forgot, if you feel them important. Don't just blindly use my 15 (in a couple of years, my 15 may be 20 or 10, I change them regularly), use some of your own ideas of what is important about a character. Then go through all of your characters, and for each fill in all of the categories you select. I promise you that the time will be refunded in the quality of your game.

Scenes need not solely happen outside of battle.

* * Scene Events Make Up the Plot**

A scene is a length of something (in a book, it is a length of pages, in a film, it is a length of time). A scene event is a chunk of plot. Something happens. If something important is different after a scene takes place, then it is a scene event. If nothing really happens in a scene, and everything is the same after the scene finishes,  then it is a scene description. Scene descriptions should be avoided costs, although some authors like to use them for city or landscape or character descriptions. But too many of these and you bore the player.

Scene events in Final Fantasy 4 include: Cecil stealing the crystal from Mysidia, Cecil questiong the king about his orders, Kain stepping in and defending him, Cecil being expelled from the Red Wings, and hundreds more, all leading up to when Cecil, with the power of light, defeats Zeromus, to when Cecil calls Golbez brother, and to when Cecil and Rosa are married in Baron. The events of Final Fantasy 4 are not just haphazard, every single one is important.

Another part of your game's plan must include information about the (hopefully interesting and interconnected) plot events. In my Story.doc file, I give scene synopses for every scene in the game. Each lists when the scene will take place, what other scenes it is connected to, who is in that scene, what is said, and in general, what happens. It doesn't give actual dialogue, it merely gives a short outline of what will happen.

And what is the theme of the game? The balance of Light and Dark forces. Almost every single character, event, and setting element in that game is related to this theme. Take for example the light and dark worlds, and the light and dark crystals. Look to the constant switching back and forth of Kain. Look at Cecil's change from Light to Dark. Even the very idea of White and Black magic is connected to the theme. But the theme is more than the simple battle between Light and Dark. The theme is that the battle between light and dark happens in each and every person. In this way it is distinct from the theme of Star Wars.

Therefore, when you are designing your game's imaginary world, characters, and plot events, always keep in mind the theme. You may opt to have no theme, but one will probably be found by obsevant players anyway, whether you intend one or not. I subscribe to the idea that knowing your theme is better than just letting it come out of your unconscious, for the same reason that knowing yourself is better than not knowing yourself. In addition, knowing your theme makes it a lot easier to express. You'll express a theme whether you know what you are expressing or not, so you might as well know.

Design.doc & Final Fantasy 4

Now for what may be the most important and most subtle aspect of a game, its gameplay architecture.

Gameplay can be divided into systems and subsystems, and by task. In Final Fantasy 4, the most important part of the gameplay is the battle system. There is gameplay outside of the battle system, but a large part of the decision making process (and gameplay is decision making, anything that isn't decision making isn't gameplay) happens in battle. There is also the exploration gameplay, and the battle-preparation gameplay (consisting of equipping weapons and armor, choosing who goes in which row, and healing HP and MP outside of battle). Most of the game can therefore be divided into three parts. The first is exploration gameplay, in which the choice is: "where do I walk?" and the goal is to "find things". The second is battle gameplay, in which the choice is: "what will my characters do?", or, more precisely, "who does which attack on which target(s)?" and the goal is to "win the battle". The third is battle preparation, in which the choices are "who equips what? who goes in what row? do I heal? how do I arrange my spells? what do I spend my money on?" and the goal is how best to "prepare the party for battle".

There is also a fourth and a fifth type of gameplay, which Final Fantasy 4 does not have, but which some games do. The fourth type of gameplay is event-gameplay, also known as the mini-game, for example, the opera scene in Final Fantasy 6, or the Snowboarding and Motorcycle scenes in Final Fantasy 7, or the card games in Final Fantasy 8 and 9. The fifth type of gameply is pervasive-decision gameplay, for example, the ethical choices one must make in Tactics Ogre, in Ogre Battle, in Ultima II: Quest for the Avatar. These choices change large parts of the game. Another example of this is in Final Fantasy 1. Your party selection in the beginning of the game is an important decision which effects the rest of the game in a very large way. Since these types of gameplay are not seen in Final Fantasy 4 (at least that I can see), I will save their full treatment for a future article focusing on gameplay architecture (perhaps that will be my goal for 2002: write a complete theory of gameplay architecture).

Areas to explore are known to the game designer as 'levels' or 'maps'.

**Exploration Gameplay**

Planning exploration gameplay is quite varied. It includes dungeon design, treasure placement, monster placement, puzzle design, town design, worldmap design, hidden wall placement, etc. It is much more complicated in a Zelda game than in a Final Fantasy game, so if you wish to learn from the best I recommend playing the Zelda series and paying attention to how exploration works. As for Final Fantasy 4, it is relatively simple. It consists of finding where you need to go (traversing a map), finding all the secret treasures (or as many secret treasures as possible), exploring towns, and little else. The decisions, while there, are not very difficult. See a treasure, go get it. See a house, go inside of it. Press switches whenever possible. Decide on which order to go to the Land of Summoned Monsters cave, the Slyph cave, and the Sealed cave. Decide on when your group needs to return to town to rest up. Bring the hovercraft to a certain spot and ride it to the cave of Eblana. Catch that black chocobo. It would have been nice to have more secret caves and more interesting dungeons, but the Final Fantasy series has never been known for interesting dungeons.

Don't neglect exploration gameplay. Make exploration interesting. Don't make linear dungeons, make challenging labyrinths. Don't make an insane amount of random battles and treasure chests be a substitute for interesting maps.

Examples of interesting battles.

**Battle Gameplay**

The core of battle is possible actions... the battle commands and which characters have them. Let me excerpt from The Second Edition FF2 Handbook. Read all of it, and note the variety of commands available as choices to the player.

- - - -=- -=- AVAILABLE ACTIONS -=- -=- - - - 

all classes may use ATTACK, PARRY, (run away), ITEM, or CHANGE as an action in battle.  in addition to this, certain classes have the following special actions available to them:

WH.WIZ (W):  WHITE  AIM(rosa only) TWIN(palom only)

ATTACK - launch a basic physical attack at any available target

PARRY - do nothing; during this time and until this character gets another prompt to take an action, defense in increased in some way i'm not sure of

CHANGE - all allies in the back row move to the front row and vice versa

ITEM - use an item in the party's inventory, change equipment in the left and/or right hand of the character taking this action, move items around, and/or use an equipped weapon as an item

(run away) - this option is not listed, but it can be used at any time by holding down the left & right buttons.  this will only be successful if at least one ally is available to take an action(or is already taking an action), you are not in a subcreen of the main action window, and the game is not paused.  you can also quit trying to run away at any time by releasing theleft & right buttons, at which time you may give the ally who is ready a different action.  if (run away) is successful, the battle will be aborted and you may lose an amount of gold exactly equal to 1/4 what you would have won if you had stayed and fought

WHITE - shows a listing of all white spells that the character knows

BLACK - shows a listing of all black spells that the character knows

NINJA - shows a listing of all ninja spells ...

CALL - shows a listing of all call spells ...

COVER - attempt to intercept most physical attacks aimed at a chosen ally by an enemy and become the target of the attack instead. the paladin will automatically COVER any fatigued ally (one with HP =< [ MHP/4 ])

OFF - cancels the previous COVER directive

JUMP - leap high into the air to launch a physical attack against a single enemy target with double the normal base ATT value.  a JUMP takes a full turn to execute, and while in the air the dragoon may not be the target of any kind attack.  all attacks which are directed to target the dragoon before a JUMP, but are not executed until the dragoon is already in the air will be ineffective or will target a different ally

PEEP - this has the same effect as the white spell of PEEP, but it's free

AIM - a bow & arrow must be equipped to be able to use this action.  AIM makes a physical attack as is normally done at single target, except that A% becomes 99%.  AIM has no extra side costs that I can see, so it seems to be superior to the ATTACK option in every way

DART - sacrifice a weapon in the party's inventory to cause exactly LV(of ninja) x (power of weapon) + (1,100) points of (DMG) to a single target. the special abilities and elemental attributes of the weapon that you use as a dart are irrelevant.  you could target an ally with this action, but the attack would be ineffective, and you would still lose the weapon forever

SNEAK - attempt to steal an item from a target.  if the target is slow, has 'stop','paralyze', or 'sleep', or your ninja is fast, the chances of this attack being successful are increased.  the type of item stolen will always be the same for a given type of monster, and is listed further on.  a successful SNEAK from a given monster does not in any way decrease the chances of being able to SNEAK from that same monster again.  you can potentially SNEAK an infinite number of items from a given monster.  SNEAK may be targetted against an ally or an enemy boss, but it is never effective in these instances. the SNEAK attack is neither magical nor physical

TWIN - either palom or porom may initate this action if both characters are in your party and have the capability to cast at least a 10 point magic spell (i.e. neither has 'mute','swoon','stone','pig', etc...).  once chosen, the other ally will terminate whatever action that has been started, and they will both begin casting either FLARE or COMET.  if either ally is incapacitated in the process of casting, TWIN will be aborted.  the effects of TWIN when cast successfully are listed in the magic section

HIDE - if HIDE is used, the ally may not be the target of any attack, and any  attack that was targetted at the hidden ally before HIDE was executed will fail or be redirected to another ally, as is the case with JUMP.  the only action available to a hidden ally is SHOW

SHOW - cancels the previous hide directive

KICK - launches a physical attack against all enemy targets.  i'm not sure exactly how this works

SING - ?

Note that this only covers the American version of Final Fantasy 4j (renamed Final Fantasy 2), it does not cover all of the Japanese commands (like Tellah's Recall, Dark Knight Cecil's Dark Wave, Rosa's Pray, Yang's Endure, and so on)! It is greatly important to remember that the -core- of good battle gameplay lies in the amount and variety of commands. There are other ingredients, such as enemy design, stat balance, and so on, but the core of it is the list of commands you are able to decide from. A battle system where you can only Attack and use Item will be pretty weak. A battle system with 300 spells which all do almost the same thing (harm the enemy) will also be weak. The better the variety of commands (including the variety of spells and variety of battle-use items), the better the battle system. Study the best battle systems, and you will always find that the better the battle system, the greater the variety of meaningful battle commands.

But, as I said, good battle commands alone aren't enough, you still need to create challenging enemies and balance stats. Don't make 800 different enemies who all fight identically. Give enemies interesting commands as well. Group them so that it becomes important who the player kills first, and have them work together as a team: a good example is the battle with the CPU, who has a defender and an attacker. The defender heals the CPU, the attacker attacks. If you aim first at the CPU it won't help much, because it will continue to be healed. If you kill both the attacker and the defender, the CPU will use a powerful attack on you. But if you kill the defender first, then the CPU next, the battle is easy: all you have to do is make sure not to die from the attacker's weak attacks. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of avoiding making battles challenging by stats alone. Don't just make your last enemy have a million HP and 999 attack power. A player doesn't like a half hour of holding the space bar and healing once in awhile. The player wants enemies that will force him to make decisions as to which battle commands to use and on which targets to use them on. Another good example: The Asura battle. The -only- way to defeat Asura, which I discovered only after many many failed attempts, is to cast wall on her, so that she becomes unable to heal herself. Another example: Zeromus shakes a bit before using Big Bang, so you have an advance warning as to when you will need to heal. The more you do things like this, the more interesting the battles will be.

Different people have different styles of battle. This is what makes battle gameplay interesting. Some people use spells as much as possible. Some use weapons and only use spells when they have to. Some people flee from random battles more than others. Some people memorize the weakness of every monster and use the appropriate spell and/or weapon, some people don't bother and just attack all monsters equally. You will know how well you succeeded in making your battle system from how many alternative styles of playing battles you see.

So, the rules for good battle gameplay seem to be: have a lot of varied commands for your characters, and make each of them useful at least in some situations, have a lot of varied monsters, have battle formations in which the enemies work together, design bosses to be more than just HP monsters, and balance stats.

It is also important to make each of your characters different, if for no other reason than that if you don't do this, the game will be more boring than it has to be. Do not, unless you know what you are doing, fall into the Final Fantasy 7/8 trap of having all of the characters identical excepting their limit breaks. Don't give all the best commands to the same character. And, make sure the stats vary: don't give every character identical HP amounts.

Equip to the strong but ammunition using Yoichi Bow, or to the weak but magic-power increasing Stardust Rod?

**Battle Preparation Gameplay**

This aspect has no core. The closest thing to a core would be the equipable items. But there are other battle preparation aspects. Battle preparation in Final Fantasy 4 is relatively simple, compared to, say, battle preparation in Final Fantasy 8 or 9. It consists of deciding who equips what, who goes in what position in the battle formation, how you heal, deciding how to level-up, and how you arrange your spells. 

By far the most interesting choices are in who equips what. Some people like to give Rydia bows and arrows, some like to give her Rods, some like to give her Whips, some like to give her Knives. Some just give her whatever is strongest (which is not always the best thing to do, in my opinion). Some people like to give Edge two boomerangs and put him in the back row. How you equip your characters has a good amount of significance to how you fight battles.

The overall rule is that in planning your battle preparation gameplay, try to make the decisions as interesting as possible. Don't make a sword always better than another sword, perhaps the weaker sword raises your speed whereas the more powerful sword does not. The player will have to decide whether they want speed or strength.

Lists.doc & Final Fantasy 4

Lists.doc is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of lists. It will probably be the last thing you design, and unless your game is very complicated or you want to be very meticulous you could skip lists.doc. This is how it works: 

List all weapons (example of Kain's spears):

Spears                  Power/Hit Rate:                 Special Effect:
------                         ---------------                 ---------------
Spear                                  9/99%                                         .
Wind Spear                  55/80%                                         .
Flame Spear                      66/80%                      Fire-based 
Blizzard Spear                   77/80%                       Ice-based 
Blood Lance                      88/22%                   Consumes HP
Gunge Lance                      92/80%                    Boosts stats
Flying Dragon Spear             99/99%                      Death           .
Holy Lance                      109/95%                      Holy-based
And then do the same with armor (grouped by type), items (also grouped by type), spells (again, grouped by type), enemy attacks, the items they leave,  towns, dungeons, stores, enemies, and whatever else you can think of. The most important thing to remember: this isn't a place for actual design, it's a place of keeping tack of things, so you have everything organized. Although lists are good, don't overdo it... you don't have to go to the lengths of this FAQ writer:

        Population of Town of Toroia
 _     /______________________________\     _
 \                              /

                              | Male | Female |
                           Kids|     1|      2|
                       Adult(s)|    11|     10|
                 Old people (s)|     3|      2|
                      Dancer(s)|  None|      7|
                  Nameingway(s)|     1|   None|
Total Male or Female Population|    16|     21|
                    Grand Total|______37______|

Another thing: don't decide on the stats of a weapon or armor until the gameplay tweaking phase. Don't put down that a sword has an attack power of 999, and then only later realize that this makes the game too easy. Don't decide on an enemy's hit points until after you try testing them out in battle against a party. Wait until you are going through the gameplay balancing phase (discussed in a future article) to decide on the final numbers. What you should do first is name all the weapons (and armor, items, etc.), and know who can equip what, and what special effects (if any) each weapon has.

And while it is good to list the name of the weapon, its numbers, its special effect, and who can equip it, it might also be a good idea to name where the weapon can be found, and give a sentence describing the appearance of the weapon. For an enemy, don't just give its name and stats, give where it is fought, what it looks like, and maybe even a little about how it fights in battle. You might even want to write about its lifestyle, what it eats, etc.

An excellent explanation of the power of lists in game designing was writen by Artmaker/Moonstone Spider for the now-doomed RPGonline. I believe it was called 'the list method'. If you can somehow acquire a copy of that article, do so. (Also, I'll be more than happy to reprint if the author sends it to me.)

In general, if it can be listed, it goes in list.doc. Making one may seem like hard work, and that may be because it is hard work. But, it has, at least in my case, been worth that time.

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