Author Topic: Thoughts on this identification system idea?  (Read 17134 times)

jere

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Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« on: April 27, 2015, 06:19:31 PM »
John Harris wrote a great article on identification systems. Frankly, the ID system in Golden Krone Hotel is not particularly interesting. This article gave me a simple idea for a better one:

Instead of unidentified potions being complete mysteries, the player can see that each potion is one of let's say 4 possibilities. So I might see that one potion I am carrying is either:

Potion of Might
Potion of Restore Abilities
Potion of Immolation
Health Potion

This solves my biggest complaint with ID systems: it all feels like a dice roll. I might have the best potion in the game, I might have the worst. The safest and most boring option is to waste the potion in a quiet spot. In this system, however, I know I'm only getting a handful of outcomes. The risk/reward is more straightforward. I also think this is better for beginners because they don't have to rely on encyclopedic knowledge of all items to calculate the expected value of quaffing a potion.

In this situation, it might be worthwhile to chug this potion during a tight situation because I have a 50% chance of getting help in battle, a 25% chance of taking damage (and even Immolation might have advantages), and a 25% of nothing happening assuming I don't have any stat deficits.

Those 4 possibilities will of course get winnowed down throughout the game. If I were to chug a Potion of Might in this example, I'll know right away what it is. Using a Potion of Restore Abilities without stat loss or a Health Potion at full health would only remove two possibilities (I know the other two potions have immediate effects and nothing happens).

There's a bit of a domino effect in this idea in that identifying one potion type may identify another and so on. To mitigate that, it might be good to bundle up the potions: those 4 example potions would always be listed together as the "possible" potions for each other.

I'd really like to follow some of Harris's principles here:

Can bad items sometimes be put to positive use?
I should be able to completely eliminate any purely bad potions. For instance, I want to have a Potion of Blindness that is useful against some Medusa type creature.

Are there enough items in the game, relative to the length of the game and item generation rate, that the player is reasonably sure not to find everything in one game?
I want potions to be the only consumable and I'm planning on at least 30 kinds. Combined with a relatively short play time, this might work. It raises another issue though: is it too overwhelming for the player to have 20 items of the same kind in their inventory? Would it be much better to split the items up into scrolls and potions? If so, I lose some of the benefit here.

Are items sometimes not identified after use?
I'm brainstorming really hard to come up with items that only have effects in certain situations. I usually hate wasting scrolls/potions and not figuring out what I had. But at least in this system, you should typically find out something about the item you were holding through the process of elimination.

Thoughts?
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Samildanach

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2015, 07:31:24 PM »
I find it frustrating when you use an item and it has no effect. Yes, that tells you something about the items it isn't but it still feels unhelpful. With an item which you know must be one of four, if it has no effect then that dramatically narrows down the options.

Having said that, narrowing the options too much probably defeats the point of having item ID at all. It's a thorny problem, for sure.

jere

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2015, 09:31:01 PM »
It's definitely thorny. The major concern is that the identification subgame gets resolved too early. Hopefully this is mitigated by a large number of potions, but I will have to play around with it.

To clarify, the game would automatically remove the possibilities that can logically be removed after quaffing a potion. Either it has an effect and it's known right then. Or it has no effect and any possibilities that would have an effect can be removed. This will probably result in the player clearly realizing that certain potions are easy to identify (if all 4 possibilities would have effects, it's guaranteed) and some difficult. Which I think is good.

I'm thinking maybe bundling may not be such a great idea after all. If you pick up two potions in the same bundle, they'll be indistinguishable at first (this is actually no worse than 2 unidentified potions in any other RL, but the real problem is you lose some interesting choices).
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Paul Jeffries

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2015, 10:46:04 PM »
My first thought is to wonder how you would represent the possible options in the game - would you just present a list of what the potion could be when the user examined it?  That seems a little inelegant to me, and raises the (thematic) question of how they can tell it might be those four things but not anything else?  One other problem I see with it is that the identification game might be neutered depending on what exactly each group of four was.  If all four are beneficial then you know you can try it without worrying about it, if all are bad then you can just throw it at an enemy and see what happens and so on.  Maybe that's what you want but if the groups are randomised then it means that some runs could be much harder than others.

It seems to me that you're thinking 'how can I make this system less-bad?', which strikes me as a strong case for getting rid of it entirely.  I would come at it from the other direction: presumably you want it in there for some reason, so what is that reason?  What, exactly, do you want the ID system to add to this specific game?  My advice would be to think of specific gameplay situations that you want to create and then work back from there.

The main problem that I have with ID systems is when they conceal an item which is pretty much vital for survival (usually healing potions) where failing to randomly ID it towards the start of the game can significantly handicap you.  I dealt with that in Rogue's Eye by, as well as the healing potion which needed to be ID'd, giving you a separate medkit item which had a clear function from the start.  That way, even though IDing healing potions was ideal, you still had a reliable means of healing during the early game - not knowing didn't cripple you.  I think making the player too reliant on IDing things is a dick move that tends to make the early game much harder than the late game.

Here's a system that I'm pondering for my current game:
- Every individual potion is unique and has multiple (two or three) randomised effects.
- You therefore don't learn to recognise potions, you learn to recognise effects.  So, you might be able to recognise a healing effect but the potion may have additional side-effects that you don't know - it might heal you but also poison you at the same time, for example.
- Effects don't always ID on use.  You might have to use multiple potions with the same effect until you can pick out the tell-tale scent, for example.
- You can mix potions together to strengthen effects or cancel them out.  For example, mix a Healing/Acid potion with a Healing/Alkali potion (either of which would burn you on its own) to end up with a base Double-strength Healing potion.  Some effects might combine to produce others.

This means that every potion potentially has both good and bad effects and the identification game doesn't become 'solved' as quickly - just because you've ID'd a positive effect it doesn't mean drinking a potion with that effect will be safe.  It also makes the choice of when to drink each potion more interesting - do you drink the potion of healing/strength now to get the STR + 1 or do you wait until you need the healing?  The potion-mixing sub-game lets players take some control over this to mitigate those risks and gives you ways of IDing effects without having to test them on yourself.

jere

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2015, 12:23:09 AM »
Quote
My first thought is to wonder how you would represent the possible options in the game - would you just present a list of what the potion could be when the user examined it?
I'm planning to have potions listed directly on screen in a column. For each potion, you'll have the actual unique potion icon and then next to that you have a row of up to 4 icons with question marks in between like:

[P1] : [a] ? [c] ? [d] ? [z]

[P2] : [c] ? [e] ? [f]

[P3] : [g]

Quote
If all four are beneficial then you know you can try it without worrying about it, if all are bad then you can just throw it at an enemy and see what happens and so on.
Besides the fact that there won't be a throwing option, I don't foresee it being that bad. The critical point from Harris's article here is that the game must be difficult enough that you can't afford to waste potions. If you have 4 beneficial potions, it'd be a total waste to try one out outside of battle. But when exactly to use it in battle will still be an interesting choice... I think. If this is an issue, I suppose I could make every group include both "bad" potions and good potions.

Part of the reason I'm attached to IDing is just because it's a genre trope, but still I think there's real value in it. Harris is very convincing on that. IDing is at it's best when you're forced to use a potion when you're down on you're luck with the knowledge that you're potentially digging yourself into a deeper hole. That risk/reward is what I'm trying to make more explicit.

Anyway, your system definitely sounds very interesting! I'd like to try that. Thanks for the feedback.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2015, 12:24:54 AM by jere »
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Trystan

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2015, 02:25:25 AM »
I like your idea of groups but what if instead of just being groups of explicit potions, the group is another modifier?

They could be tiered (such as: inferior, lesser, common, greater, superior) where "better" ones tend to be in the better tier or just different adjectives (such as: glowing, foggy, glittering, bubbling, thick). Or maybe both? So once you know what "glowing" potions are, you can narrow down what the "glowing red" potion is.

You could then give each group a subtle theme. Maybe "foggy" potions are all harsh tradeoffs (heal but become poisoned and slowed, increase stats but drop all items, etc), "thick" potions will affect the senses (blindness, detect curse, etc), "bubbling" affect terrain (target and surroundings catch on fire, smoke covers target and surroundings, etc), and so on.

You could even tweak the randomness: with no randomness the "glowing" potions are always healing, acid, see invisible, stone skin, and anti-poison, with low randomness one of each category is shuffled into another category, with full randomness there's no telling what the "glowing" potions are.

I can image being trapped in a corner with 1HP, three enemy orcs, and a bunch of unidentified potions. I don't know what they are, but I know the general type of effect. Should I risk everything and drink or throw a "superior foggy" potion, or try for a possibly safer aoe effect with a "common bubbling" potion?

Zireael

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2015, 06:56:43 PM »
Trystan, I like the way you're thinking, stealing that adjective-tier connection idea for Veins!

jere

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2015, 07:29:31 PM »
Trystan, your idea with "Glowing red" works perfectly if I implement the bundles. It both sets up an easy to understand naming system and provides some cover for the theme (e.g. these 4 kinds of potions tend to be "foggy"). I'm still leaning heavily towarsd totally random sets. It may sometimes lead to no brainers or tougher situations than normal, but I feel like the variety more than makes up for it.

The idea of hand designing those groups is really neat though. Someone should run with it.
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akeley

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2015, 07:57:53 PM »
Catacomb Kids implements similar system - at first potions are defined by colour, and when you pick them up and carry with you for some time you "notice" additional qualities like thick, light, warm, fizzy etc. Not sure though how/if this works as grouping since it`s a tough platformer in early alpha and I usually die very fast.

Morcrist

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2015, 04:46:44 AM »
Trying to exercise a little common sense here, but if you were delving in to a dungeon and encountered some unidentifiable vials of strange liquids...do you expect you'd actually DRINK them before finding out more about them? You'd have to be a complete idiot...or with nothing to live for.

So why wouldn't the expectation be for you to try to somehow identify them? If it was me doing the delving, I would think I would have at least half a mind to take them to someone I thought could help with the identification process. If you had a town system for your RL especially, I would imagine the player would know that someone in town would have at least a way of finding out more about unknown colored liquids with varying observable properties (foggy, glowing, bubbly, etc.)

And then of course there's the possibility that the PLAYER could have some kind of knowledge of the alchemical/apothecary. Modeled by some kind of skill system in the RL of course.

But seriously, barring some kind of game design mandate (i.e., the game REVOLVES around drinking unknown potions) why would a character EVER drink a vial of strange liquid? It just makes no sense. Even if you find yourself in the unenviable position of having nowhere to go but down to find your way out, it makes no sense. Russian roulette anyone? I can understand the throwing it at something to see what happens trope/system. Especially if the target is something trying to eat/kill you.

Meandering here a bit, but please bear with. If the trope/system is so important to the genre why do you only get two options? drink, or not drink. With a possible third being throw I suppose.

Why can't we actually do our own alchemical experimentation? Pour out a bit. On what? The ground? This wooden (organic) chair. That stone (inorganic) table. This (organic) orc corpse. That (unconscious organic) goblin body. This bone. That weapon or piece of armor. Etc.

If you're lazy make the player record the results. If you're generous store them in game for his consultation. Red fogging viscous. The ground? It hisses and evaporates. The chair? It etches it, smoking then evaporates. The table? It evaporates. The corpse? Dissolves a bit, smoking then evaporates. The body? Dissolves a bit, smoking then evaporates. Oh, and the goblin awakens, screaming in pain. Perhaps it dies. Metal? Evaporates. Leather? Etches, smoking then evaporates. Conclusion? Acidic vs. organic. Label? Warning: Do Not Drink. Suggestion: Throw at enemies.

You get the idea. Plenty of realistic ways to spice up the trope that are fun IMHO, without resorting to what seems to be artificial "gamey" constructs.

Either make identification something I can take part in, or leave it out altogether because seriously who in their right mind would quaff a fizzing green clear liquid unless they have nothing left to live for.

Interesting discussion!

Paul Jeffries

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2015, 10:59:24 PM »
Meandering here a bit, but please bear with. If the trope/system is so important to the genre why do you only get two options? drink, or not drink. With a possible third being throw I suppose.

Why can't we actually do our own alchemical experimentation? Pour out a bit. On what? The ground? This wooden (organic) chair. That stone (inorganic) table. This (organic) orc corpse. That (unconscious organic) goblin body. This bone. That weapon or piece of armor. Etc.

Some games (I'm thinking mainly of POWDER, but others have it too) let you dip objects into potions, which may or may not reveal the type of the potion (or item) and may or may not damage/destroy the item.  I quite like that system; it requires you to risk something in exchange for knowledge but the consequences of an unlucky dip are not totally devastating, plus thematically it isn't quite as stupid as just downing every random bit of sludge you find lying around in a dungeon.

I think the problem with pouring stuff out onto the ground/common environmental features is that there's nothing really at stake (especially if you're only using a bit of the potion) and no reason not to do it.  That means that once the player has learned a series of steps to identify a potion it's then a solved problem and they'll just need to repeat those steps every time they play.  So, it's realistic, but probably a bit dull in gameplay-terms.  You need to give the player some kind of cost to that action to make it an interesting decision.

Morcrist

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2015, 06:24:01 AM »
I think the problem with pouring stuff out onto the ground/common environmental features is that there's nothing really at stake (especially if you're only using a bit of the potion) and no reason not to do it.  That means that once the player has learned a series of steps to identify a potion it's then a solved problem and they'll just need to repeat those steps every time they play.  So, it's realistic, but probably a bit dull in gameplay-terms.  You need to give the player some kind of cost to that action to make it an interesting decision.
I hear you, and that makes a certain kind of development sense. It's just a game after all and should be about fun more than realism.

But...an interesting decision to me would be one that increases my knowledge of the game. Isn't that the definition of interesting? :D

Seriously though, I'm still all about realism in my games. I hate artificial gameplay restrictions. The thought that I might not be able to identify a potion any other way without drinking it because this is just a "game" and every decision has to have a "cost" to it...no thank you. I'd rather not even have that "option" in the game. If you're going to make it so I can ID a potion by making the moronic decision to drink it, then you better give me a non-moronic option as well. I should be able to 1) take it somewhere to a REAL alchemist, 2) experiment with it (at LEAST by throwing it at someone), and/or 3) have some way of having/increasing alchemical knowledge myself either during character creation (e.g., Potion Master perk) or throughout the game (e.g., putting points on level into Potion Mastery or Potion Lore, etc.) Those are all interesting decisions, in order of interestingness in my opinion.

And while the original poster's idea to categorize potions so that the moronic decision to drink it identify it isn't one sided and is perhaps therefore more...interesting? I still think it's a kind of artificial construct that is being used only because the original/default idea is so moronic that it's just begging for some love.










mushroom patch

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2015, 06:20:46 PM »
No, that's a definition that will help you write unfocused, bad video games. An interesting decision is one with nontrivial tactical or strategic implications in-game.

The problem with ID systems is that they are almost always either trivial to navigate via a flowchart that fits comfortably on one side of a standard letter size piece of paper or they're not and involve the player in the equivalent of paperwork in a video game. In the first case, there can be no "interesting decisions." In the latter case, you're doing something tedious in a video game when you could be playing frisbee or something instead.

akeley

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2015, 07:53:13 PM »
Trying to exercise a little common sense here, but if you were delving in to a dungeon and encountered some unidentifiable vials of strange liquids...do you expect you'd actually DRINK them before finding out more about them? You'd have to be a complete idiot...or with nothing to live for.

One should be rather careful with definitive statements when it comes to fantasy worlds, and that`s because there are plenty of plausible explanations for such scenarios. Especially this one, which is in fact rather realistic (and definitely not "moronic" ;)

It`s very simple, you descend into dungeon expecting myriad unknown situations and occurrences. That`s the deal.  You might be a simple warrior or mindless ogre, but you know these strange potions (or scrolls) can help you a lot but also carry great risks. Your call. You can keep on saving them till you`re cornered and indeed "with nothing to live for", or experiment, maybe in strategic positions like in Brogue, to minimise the risks. Another choice. Much more realistic for me than some resident dungeon alchemist that just happens to live there :P

Same with pouring - it might be "realistic" in one universe, but it might not in another, in which potions activate only on contact with living matter. Case closed.

Just for the record, I`m not at all against experimenting with the ID system - or even (though rather reluctantly) removing it sometime (like in TOME). But definitely against establishing one "party line" to toe along.

Paul Jeffries

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Re: Thoughts on this identification system idea?
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2015, 10:37:09 PM »
But...an interesting decision to me would be one that increases my knowledge of the game. Isn't that the definition of interesting? :D

I might agree with you in a non-permadeath game where you would only ever need to do that once, but in a Roguelike increasing your knowledge of the game will only happen the first time you do something, but you'll still have to keep performing that interaction over and over again to get the benefit every time you die.  There has to be another layer to the decision-making to keep it fresh when repeated.  Realism is already broken by being able to start the game again when you die and you have to take account of that in your design.