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Liquid Metal Slime
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Let's discuss: Party size 
 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 4:52 am
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We're all aware of the OHRRPGCE's built in limit of four active party members. This is descended from that limitation being common in many JRPGs like the NES Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior games (and presumably at least a couple of the SNES Final Fantasies? I haven't played those so I wouldn't know), those in turn getting this golden number from a few computer RPGs like Ultima 3 (the Wizardry series that inspired Dragon Quest actually had a party limit of 6 player characters...3 in the front row, 3 in back, first-person dungeon exploration and combat alike).

And where do these trace it to? Dungeons and Dragons. The original published version of D&D had six classes - the Fighting-Man, Magic-User, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Hobbit.
    Fighting-Man was basically the Fighter/Warrior as we know it today, but with fewer mechanically-enforced options
    Magic-User was a wizard with extremely limited spell slots, especially at low levels
    Cleric was primarily there as a mechanical hard-counter to undead enemies, who could not be bribed or intimidated and were difficult to sneak around; they don't even get spells until after leveling up as a fighter with Turn Undead. Think less "white mage" and more "paladin".
    Elf was just a wizard who could decide every day to be a fighter instead if he felt like it
    Dwarf and Hobbit were just Fighting-Man with an unfavorable level cap, the dwarf getting a few non-combat utility abilities and the Hobbit getting excellent combat mobility


So if you completely remove the superfluous Hobbit and Dwarf classes, what you have are basically a heavy infantry warrior, an artillery mage with low defenses, a warrior specialized in taking down a specific enemy type who gains healing at higher levels as an afterthought, and a sort of a mixed attacker between the warrior and wizard. This however is not the classic four man adventurer party we're used to seeing and the reason for that is AD&D : The Greyhawk setting introduced the Thief class, which was not about combat utility at all, and clerics' white magic was made more potent and given to them starting from level 1 instead of level 2. Races were no longer classes, but added to the character as a separate asset.
    Fighter - Your main go-to guy when it comes to killing mortal foes from men to beasts to goblinoids to giants.
    Wizard - Able to accomplish many amazing, fantastical feats but can only do a few such things a day and needs to prepare in advance and hope he made the right selections for the challenges he'd face that day
    Cleric - Barely less able in melee than a Fighter, but also able to drive away evil spirits and zombies and able to heal injuries, something even the greatest arcane wizard would struggle with.
    Thief - Slightly less able in melee than a Cleric but still better than a Wizard, the Thief's main usefulness lay not in combat skills but in non-combat utility; better at climbing, sneaking, listening, hiding, and able to spot and disable traps and pick locks. The thief helped you get better value out of all the treasure your party found while the other three helped the thief survive to get to the treasure in the first place!


Most JRPGs and most OHR games completely lack these non-combat skills on characters, which is a shame; it largely shifts "keeping characters balanced" into just giving them roughly equal combat utility, which for the thief usually means increased speed, attack damage boosted to match the warrior (or exceed the warrior if conditionals are involved), maybe better accuracy and evasion even compared to the warrior.

For Dragon Warrior type games, a standard balanced four-man party is:
    A jack of all trades type hero, usually slightly stronger in the combat and white magic fields, then black magic third. He'll be the second-best tank, second-best physical attacker, second-best healer, and second- or third-best black mage.
    A warrior with no or extremely limited magic power, but undeniably the best in physical combat. Best tank, best physical attacker, magic use N/A.
    A black mage, casts spells that do damage and spells that buff or debuff, but probably forbidden from healing unless it's an HP-draining attack spell.
    A white mage, probably slightly stronger physically than the black mage and the best healer, probably also has buff and debuff spells. Might be better or worse than the jack of all trades hero at attacking with magic.


One thing I've been noticing in OHR games is to sometimes combine the warrior with a thief (Pickpocket/Mug) or the jack of all trades (hero gets a few stealing-based moves) or to drop the jack of all trades and make all four heroes specialized, possibly making the thief type a good DPS so he doesn't feel like dead weight in boss fights.



But you know one thing I don't think most games need? More than four heroes in a total adventuring party. More than four hero definitions maybe, for customization or class changes; Final Fantasy 1 had six hero definitions and a four-man party so you could use a fighter, thief, red mage, and black mage (or my usual preferences, fighter/black belt/red mage/white mage or fighter/fighter/red mage/white mage). Dragon Warrior 3 had a single required hero, 4/5* non-magic fighters with varying levels of combat and non-combat utility (Warrior, Fighter, Jester, Merchant, and in the remake Thief*), Cleric, Wizard, and a special Cleric-Wizard who could only be gained by leveling up the disobedient goof-off Jester to level 20 or using a rare consumable item at a certain mid-game location. You can define any number of them you want and leave them at the tavern, but you can only have three in a party at a time.

When you allow a player to swap in and out heroes beyond a maximum of four, things start getting weird. Only swapping at a designated base of operations of some sort where non-active heroes stand around or perform some sort of function when not in your party? Okay, I can kinda get it, but it doesn't explain why you only have four guys active when there's a total of five.

When you've got like ten, or a dozen, or 106 heroes it makes all sorts of sense on multiple levels to keep active group sizes down from both an in-universe perspective for certain types of quests and a game mechanical one. But if the story is only written such that five heroes are actually significant, why not just let five rather than four form a single active combat party? That's how many heroes you usually have in a sentai/power rangers team and it has many balance options of its own.

When you go to an inn and only active party members are healed, none of the reserves; did all those other guys simply not sleep because the player wasn't watching them?

And then allowing hero swapping anywhere is another can of worms entirely. Game mechanically it means you can remove danger from certain characters simply by putting them in your bag of holding - monsters and harmtiles won't hurt them, and maybe you have filler characters in there to provide a little extra tanking and damage while you wait to go to the inn to heal the character you actually care about. Storytelling-wise, how is a party of 20 or 30 heroes navigating all over the place, but monsters are politely only ever attacking the four in front and nobody in the back rows, spread attacks like Tornado and Nuclear Explosion are only hitting the four in front, and so forth? And worst of all, how is it a game over if those four in front die when there's a dozen other heroes at the player's beck and call to pull out of storage mid-dungeon...why not mid-fight?

The only game I've ever personally seen pull that off well was Dragon Warrior 4 (and I hear Golden Sun 2 had the same answer once you united with the party of Golden Sun 1, which had five total playable heroes but only four in the total party ever). This solution being that on the overworld your front four heroes participate in random battles but the four in the wagon will jump out and take over if their allies fall; in a dungeon, your four reserve heroes wait outside since the wagon is too big and bulky to take up and down staircases, so all four dying means death. (The usual generous Dragon Warrior party wipe: You're teleported back to the last place you saved, your money is cut in half but you keep your experience and items found.)

The best answer for most seems to be "Don't worry about it, it's just a game mechanic. All these heroes are necessary for game mechanical/storytelling reasons." But are they, really? Is it actually necessary game mechanically to have eight heavily armored warriors who each wield exactly one type of weapon, wear the same armor, and have exactly one combat technique...possibly not even unique? To have one thief who pickpockets and uses time magic and another who throws weapons and uses direct damage magic? Why not consolidate those two archetypes down to two heroes, each with a solid array of options? Do you need an Alchemist and a Black Mage to be separate characters? Or for that matter, do you really need to divide the mage role into a healer and a damage dealer instead of just having mages learn healing spells? No matter how many game mechanics you have in mind for combat, I'm absolutely certain you can fit it on a four hero party if you want to, and this will reduce the need for redundancy like "make sure every character can heal in some way" and such.

And when it comes to storytelling, a lot can be said for having more than four important good guys. It makes all sorts of sense that a bunch of people see saving the world or overthrowing a specific tyrant as an important deal, and maybe a few of them are able-bodied enough and free of other obligations to be able to join an adventuring party. This is when it's best to contrive reasons for the group to split up, to be divided into four-man bands for a split attack on the main enemy or whatever. Or have beloved heroes actually story-die at crucial moments making convenient free slots, so long as the new guy is actually different and not just a cheap clone of the other guy (like maybe your main warrior dies and is replaced not with another physical attacker, but a new mage). But maybe you can't contrive any more reasons to keep the party size at 4 or fewer heroes available to the player; the storytelling reasons for allowing more heroes will, to most, take priority over the verisimilitude reasons to forbid hero swapping and weird arbitrary party size limitations.

But here's another thing about having all those heroes: It's really hard to balance that many important characters getting the spotlight. It's hard balancing four or five, quite often people just resort to either the first guy in the party (a warrior or jack of all trades type) or the main girl who is probably his love interest for little or no reason (most likely a white mage) to be "The Chosen One" and more plot important than all the other heroes. I'll use an OHR game I love as an example here: Walthros. It's about as ancient now as the NES classic RPGs were when it was made so I feel it's a classic game worth examining here; it's definitely written well enough to be one. But the character roster:
    Bob is absolutely necessary (both as the main character and as the main healer, wonderful double duty there and I loved the main character being something other than a generic skirmisher type)

    Salom is a great second man for Bob to bounce off of. His personality may not be at all consistent from game to game, but it is pretty consistently strong no matter what form it takes.

    Super Walrus Man could have been written out of the plot for the most part, but he was loads of fun to read and play so his existence is justified

    Yuk Deluxe was superfluous and entirely optional; mostly his existence shows how nefarious it is to genetically engineer living creatures and sell them as combat slaves.
    Dinosaur Triple; they're a fun trio in their own right, but asking three whole heroes to be added to the roster of an RPG already struggling to justify all the heroes it has is a tall order. Dinosaur Micro has an absolutely microscopic screen presence to the point that I can't remember a single line he's uttered in the whole series, Dinosaur Giant is both hilarious and very strong, and Dinosaur Super being a bit of a bossy jerk gets Dinosaur Giant and Rice some chance for character development down the line; was Dinosaur Super being playable necessary to have him hang around and be a bossy jerk though?

    Woo is funny, but she's not really good in terms of gameplay and could basically have just as casually been written to stay in her home dimension or follow Super Walrus Man to the portal, pretend to join the party complete with fanfare, and then run away giggling at the last second.

    Gulob is important only in outside information the players of the game weren't privy to (the Sky Flyers comics) and comes quite late in the game. He basically has no personality, no presence, and no game mechanical reason for the player to keep him in the active party. He could've been too busy rebuilding his kingdom after an attack or simply not able or willing to leave and not much would really change aside from the iconic "Sky Flyers" trio not coming together in this specific game (which they got in Gato Suico: The Quest For Color...where he's still basically a non-character again anyway).

    Scotty is just Bob without magic or a personality. Barely improved sword skill, no personality, no story or gameplay reason to want to keep him.

    The five Rodentian Mice...storytelling wise it's important within this chapter for them all to exist, have their own stories and adventures, but of these only two have interesting stories: Ketchup with the resistance against a totalitarian government and Rice with her quest to get a magic sword...and despite being a swordmaster as well as an archaeologist, cannot wield it herself, and gives character development to the gameplay and humor beloved Dinosaur Giant. Gameplay wise, Rice as a decent warrior and Blueberry as a versatile but thematic mage are the only ones worth keeping beyond this chapter aside from the one secret cave with a boss whom Ketchup easily defeats but other characters basically can't hit.

    Dr. Pescado is there so briefly, and his skill set is just a pharmacy worth of healing items, not really much reason for him to be playable rather than just accompanying the party to the next major location as an NPC.

    Sombra and the Guinea Cow are just to make Bob less lonely when he's on the moon. Sombra is useful and fun in combat.

If I've actually forgotten anyone, I'm sorry but in a way that kinda helps with my point: The cast of heroes is just too large for the game's length and storytelling style, and most struggle both to find a niche in gameplay and to get development in the story. Of course many of these things I criticize were parodied in Walthrus: Return of the Crystals to the point that its versions of the characters (Super Walrus Man as a serial killer instead of a superhero, Rice as a child-grooming lesbian, Ketchup being communist, Grape being so fat he dies of a heart attack) wind up being a lot more memorable and sticking around in the collective player consciousness. And Wobbler has only gotten better at making games from here, a very solid early showing!

I really doubt Walthros could've worked with only four playable heroes, so while some characters were basically filler it's all forgivable as a fantastic learning experience and will make a good example of pitfalls to avoid for future developers. I have very high hopes for the remake, which seems to be adding new characters I've never seen before and removing some of my old favorites; with that much changed, it'll be an entirely new experience!

Did Vikings of Midgard need both Kitt and Olaf, rather than having the young Viking warrior learn how to go berserk from the old man he admires? Did it need all three of Styrge, Bram, and Freki as separate characters, or Renard to be separate from Night? Probably not, but in this case it's only ten total heroes and they're all lovable in their own way (except I haven't seen Renard yet and I never once liked Bram). The game could've been done with only four heroes, but since the original version was based around showing off a simpler version of the character select from FFH and its 24 class/race combinations, starting with eight and turning the cursor herself into a full-fledged playable character later seems just fine.

OHRodents was of course an absolutely tiny game with a huge cast of near-disposable rodent heroes. Radar, The Grand Zark, Pikahcu, and Nathan are simply not as good of party members as Blueberry, Misa, Bob, Rice, Jude, or Ketchup but all characters receive very close to the same minimal amount of character development ("one amusing dialog exchange near the time they're added to the party and one drawing in the ending scene" with Nathan and Jude getting a little more because I could always count on them to be there). It was a joke game made for the Ridiculous Games Contest anyway so going over the top with this aspect of RPG rosters wasn't out of place.

But on the other end, I very clearly remember the four generic, nameless heroes of the original Spellshard demo. I remember their appearances, their strengths and weaknesses, their equipment lists, one of the wizard's spells being "discomb" in all lowercase instead of a four-letter word in all caps, and so on. From Okedoke I remember El Garbanzo the bandito in search of his father, Senor Death the reaper, Senor Rialgo the farting bullet-resistant martial artist, and Schnee the mage with large tracts of land. For a non-OHR game example, simplistic as they were, I remember the four heroes of the first Golden Sun game and their one personality trait apiece (Isaac = quiet but shoved into a leadership position; Garet = impulsive but well-meaning; Mia = compassionate but sensitive; Ivan = socially awkward and was never taught reading minds is rude).

I'm sure some people remember some of the set parties I've handed out in fours before; I usually don't feel like my project's really gotten off the ground until I have four heroes to work into the eventual party, and have of late become ever more fond of just giving the player all four from the start, worrying about character development later. I'd say I did a pretty good job of that with Trytuges; its main failings are first and foremost the lack of exploration rewards, and second being a little bit of problems with combat (which can mostly be fixed by dropping spell prices a touch, adding more accuracy to a couple of characters, and triple-checking the monster spawning elemental issues).

In Maces Wild, Ken was obviously thought of first; Hera was actually the second because I figured a coyote and a hare would make an interesting pair of characters and I could build him mostly out of right and 45 degree angles and her mostly out of circles. TOBMAC was added because I figured it'd be cool to have an in-universe explanation for the game camera to some extent/hero cops collecting video evidence, so I made a CAMERA ROBOT. I decided it could have a tiny, ineffectual gun turret arm that doesn't hit as hard as the main heroes, but started out super-durable and had its stats go down every level as machines wear down instead of building muscle. Ken and TOBMAC having a character dynamic was basically an act of pure impulse that I did not make consciously and if anything, I'd say it was some of the character writing in Village People: The RPG rubbing off on me (I would be a horrible liar to deny its inspiring me and greatly influencing Maces Wild). Lesley was me deciding to import a sprite from an abandoned 8-bit project I never got off the ground; I decided to explain his medieval attire and larger size by having him be in basically a frozen cave man situation, only for the Renaissance era (or maybe more recently, given his Elizabethan English).


In conclusion: I think more than four heroes is usually not needed, sometimes it is needed for the storytelling if you want to tell that kind of story, gameplay-wise it's probably unnecessary, and allowing hero swapping does weird things you need to just be okay with allowing.
In the past, I apologized when I was in the right because I was afraid of peer pressure. For this, I apologize.

I must be cruel, but to be kind; that bad may begin, and worse be left behind.
-Prince Hamlet of Denmark
Metal Slime
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 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 6:52 am
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It does seem like large parties pretty much inevitably end up with some characters just not really getting used, or only being used in parts of the game that require them. And generally when you have a dozen or more characters some of them are "wouldn't it be cool if..." type additions with less thought put into how they fit into the story than others, so you end up with characters that the game itself basically ignores even if the players don't.

Seems like pretty much the only way that every single character in a large-party game actually gets used is if you go the Final Fantasy 6 route and have scenes and/or entire dungeons where you split up into multiple 3-or-4-member groups. (It helped that almost all of the characters had their own unique abilities and some backstory too, of course.)

My early attempts at games tended to flood your party with extra characters, probably in imitation of FF6 but... without most of the parts that actually made it work in FF6. One old game that I never uploaded anywhere had at least ten or eleven that I can remember, probably way more than that total... several of them literally just randomly joined you for basically no reason just so you could get at least a couple new characters on each continent. Another game that I won't name had the main characters of the early sections of the game become near useless halfway through due to newer characters making them obsolete, and something like 5 or 6 random optional characters with no role in the story thrown in near the end for no reason (including a Pikachu as an intentionally useless joke character.)

I've definitely moved away from massive rosters of playable characters in more recent years, though.

Okédoké as you mentioned only had four permanent party members (plus one very optional, very temporary extra party member in Chapter 6... I suspect most people who've played through the game missed her entirely, or at least never found out she could join the party for a bit), and that seemed to work out well. It was the first game I made where I actually had people commenting on which characters they liked more than others -- and heck, Señor Death even got fanart -- so apparently I made them pretty memorable compared to any previous attempt.

Bok's Expedition has the same four party members from start to finish. I had considered adding Immun the Numnum chef as a playable character in the early stages, but ended up deciding to just have him be a food-selling NPC instead. He would've had a bit too much overlap with Crikki I imagine, since both of them would have healing abilities.

FYS: AHS has seven party members total... but you never have more than four at a time due to some being temporary additions that only stick around for a little while.
Bok's Expedition -- DONE! Go play it!
FYS:AHS -- Underschool tunnels (west side) mapping and etc.
Puckamon -- Not until the reserve party is expanded.
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 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 4:37 pm
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Walthos' colourful character mix was interesting. And the choice before the fights, which heros would be useful, raised the tactical challenge. Unfortuneatly that means, that dying has to happen sometimes... which from my point of view a lot of OHRRPGCE games try to evade at any cost. The cakewalk so to speak. Not good. If an RPG is too easy, a book would have been the better medium.

Lufia 3 for the Gameboy had 9 characters in battle. Fantastic tactics!
Dragon Warrior Monsters for the Gameboy had 3 monsters in the party. Fantastic tactics!
Pokemon had 1 vs 1 battles with a reserve of 5 monsters. Tactics? Barely. Did the pokemon players cared as kids? Or even now? No. I mean look at the sales...

Of course highly different battle systems to what we have here.

All party sizes work. Plan the revolution in your game? You need an army for that. Imagine having an army of 20 characters, and you choose the best one for each situation. Do all characters need to have a fat story? Definetly not. The bigger picture counts.
The opposite of that would be the OHR game Boundless Ocean. Did I recall correctly, that Silhouette, as the woman is called, is the only playable character? The game tells her story very deeply, as it has plenty of time for that. The battles are hard, but not boring at all, because they are quick. See, one character is enough. 20 are fine too.
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 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 8:07 pm
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Bird I'd just like to correct you on Pokemon not having tactics. Competitive Pokemon (and to a lesser extent, Battle Tower/Frontier etc) is very tactical with a complicated metagame. I agree that the single player is rather simplistic though.
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 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 8:54 pm
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Pokemon is an RPG with moderately deep mechanics that usually doesn't have high enough difficulty to require the player to use any "tactic" deeper than just putting a Pokemon with a resistant type (Which Steel and Dragon almost always are) and using a super-effective move (which most of the free monsters you're offered at the start have at least one of each to cover every situation). It does get more tactical once you're facing off against fellow humans, and this is also where its poor general balancing comes into play; monsters designed simply to help the player learn about catching and evolution mechanics in the first couple routes get curbstomped by midgame NPCs, much less serious players with their own third-stage dragons and starters. And any new depth added to a new generation - physical/special split, Abilities, reusable TMs, Mega Evolution - all amount to very little in the main games because they're universally so easy.

So easy are Pokemon games, in fact, that any NPC trainer who isn't easily and quickly curbstomped by having a super effective move (Brock in gen 1 having Rock/Ground types who resist Ember even though they have stupidly low special defense and thus lose in a whopping two hits instead of the one apiece from Bubble or Razor Leaf while also having no offensive options that are any good against any of your Pokemon; Whitney in Gen 2 who uses status moves and so should you to tenderize her beef wall; Cilan and his brothers in Gen 5 who use a type super-effective against your starter and then tell you where to easily find a similar monkey that will beat theirs; champions Blue and Cynthia who have teams almost like a human player would make instead of going for a mono-type team with easily exploited weaknesses) players complain that it's "so very hard" that they've got bosses who almost hold up to the bosses of regular RPGs.

Pokemon double battles are a lot more interesting than single battles. Triple battles were introduced and immediately dropped - devs weren't sure of themselves and only put one each of Triple Battles (basically an even better Double Battle, potentially) and Rotation Battle (not a very interesting battle setup and the AI had no idea how to use it) so they didn't catch on due to being skippable. A completely one-on-one battle RPG can be interesting, but when both sides have more pieces to work with, it's usually considerably more so.
In the past, I apologized when I was in the right because I was afraid of peer pressure. For this, I apologize.

I must be cruel, but to be kind; that bad may begin, and worse be left behind.
-Prince Hamlet of Denmark
Metal Slime
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Re: Let's discuss: Party size 
 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 9:08 pm
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Nathan Karr wrote:
Did Vikings of Midgard need both Kitt and Olaf, rather than having the young Viking warrior learn how to go berserk from the old man he admires?


The fact that there isn't a classic "berserk" skill shames me, and this would've been a good sidequest for the two of them to train together. For the most part they're unique enough in their own ways to be useful, though most people will eventually replace Kitt with Olaf and never look back.

Nathan Karr wrote:
Did it need all three of Styrge, Bram, and Freki as separate characters, or Renard to be separate from Night?


Making Styrge functionally different from the other heroes was something of a challenge. I eventually settled on her skill list being an interpretation of a D&D Ranger's "favored enemy" function, but in retrospect she's a mix of fighter, healer, and mage with above-average attack and defenses. She gets a LOT more use in a speed-run.

Bram's real focus is as a buff/debuff quasi-mage with some direct damage attacks (and stealing). Though other characters do get speed altering effects, they're not as good as hers, and she may have one of the best single-target attack spells for the early game. Her utility drops off in the game's second act, but most people will stick with her because "I can steal items" - even though two OTHER characters can as well.

Freki's "kit" is all over the place, but is sort of designed for her to fit into most any party composition. Elemental spells, a multitarget heal/revive, a steal command, various attack functions - and her equipment selection's not bad. She'll never be the best at any one thing, but she's a good second fighter/mage/rogue/whatever.

Renard may arguably be a better mage than Night or Frumpy, but only if you go out of your way to learn his spells. Such is the way of Blue Magic. Character-wise, he could've been dropped from the roster - having his spells picked up by Styrge would've possibly been a better call (since she's the one who deals with monsters).

Nathan Karr wrote:
Probably not, but in this case it's only ten total heroes and they're all lovable in their own way (except I haven't seen Renard yet and I never once liked Bram).


More to your original point, they all have their own personalities - and while some get more development than others, they all have a possible use in the party.

Nathan Karr wrote:
The game could've been done with only four heroes, but since the original version was based around showing off a simpler version of the character select from FFH and its 24 class/race combinations, starting with eight and turning the cursor herself into a full-fledged playable character later seems just fine.


This was actually the biggest complaint I kept hearing over the years. I can't tell you how many messages of "But I want to play as Freki!" I got during the game's development.
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Re: Let's discuss: Party size 
 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 10:46 pm
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Nathan Karr wrote:
When you've got like ten, or a dozen, or 106 heroes

Ah, you must be referring to Konami's Suikoden. It's one hell of a premise, uniting 108 disparate heroes under one cause (granted, not all of them are combat participants and just serve auxilliary roles in your army, like managing shops or getting you access to a ship or whatever). But the obvious trade-off is that so many of those characters end up being completely inconsequential to the plot and only get the bare minimum when it comes to character development, if they even get that much - the first Fire Emblem notoriously had a few characters that literally never said a single word and were just cloned sprites of other characters. As much as I love diversity in my RPGs, small-ish groups feel much cozier to me.

I wonder what your opinion of Final Fantasy II is. There is a pre-determined four-man party that you'll finish the game with, but for most of the story you've only got three of them, with the ever-changing fourth member just being a temporary guest, usually over-leveled and with a pre-set combat niche, as opposed to your main party, whose abilities are sculpted by the player over time.

I've been mulling over the problem of party size myself, even though I'm leaning towards tactical gameplay more than standard JRPG-ing. With the system I'm building, there's room for 18 combatants in any one battle - 9 of the player's, 9 of the enemy's - but I can already feel that I'm going to bump my head against that limit later down the line. There are many characters I want to weave into this story, and very few of them will actually be required. While the core party will only consist of about 4 characters over the course of the game, chapter-to-chapter there'll be others that come and go, and I want to give the player the opportunity to take on sidequests to permanently keep party members they like. Completionists could eventually overwhelm the 9-unit capacity, so I'm thinking of adding some kind of extension to this. If a party has more units than what will fit on-screen, they'll just hang out off-screen and "tag in" one at a time as their allies get KO'd. This would apply to enemies, too, opening up the potential for, like, "wave battles" where you've got to endure a small army of baddies.

I can't deny that having so many fighters/characters to keep track of can get overwhelming, so I may take an approach opposite to what Nathan mentioned with Golden Sun 2 - for common quests you'll spend a lot of time with on the whole, party/enemy sizes will be smaller, and for more infrequent story-heavy missions, dungeons and such, where you'll logically want as much manpower as possible, that's when the limits will get broken and you'll be expected to go all out.

Back on the topic of four-man groups, it works really well from a narrative perspective, but it can feel a bit obsolete in modern games. The Bravely Default games have worked really well for me because they've built a great Job system that lets you mix up your skills and build the four characters to your liking. If a game is lacking in tools to customize party members, that's when more options with party members works best, like in LISA and Citizens of Earth. It's like, you're either building your characters, or your entire party, but the point is that few people will end these games with the exact same parties. Choices like these are a big part of what makes these games so compelling and replayable. This can even be condensed down to a single party member and still make a big impact. In Final Fantasy IV Advance, I seem to remember being able to track down one or more former party members, supposedly dead, and mix them into your endgame party, and in Phantasy Star IV, while you build up many different characters, in the end you have 4 required members and one extra friend of your choice. This is a nice compromise to having many party members over the course of an entire game with a small party size.
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Re: Let's discuss: Party size 
 PostWed Aug 12, 2020 11:25 pm
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Fenrir-Lunaris wrote:
Nathan Karr wrote:
Did Vikings of Midgard need both Kitt and Olaf, rather than having the young Viking warrior learn how to go berserk from the old man he admires?


The fact that there isn't a classic "berserk" skill shames me, and this would've been a good sidequest for the two of them to train together. For the most part they're unique enough in their own ways to be useful, though most people will eventually replace Kitt with Olaf and never look back.

Or in my case, replace Bram with Styrge and Night with Olaf and never look back.

Fenrir-Lunaris wrote:
Nathan Karr wrote:
Probably not, but in this case it's only ten total heroes and they're all lovable in their own way (except I haven't seen Renard yet and I never once liked Bram).


More to your original point, they all have their own personalities - and while some get more development than others, they all have a possible use in the party.


Yes, and balancing and differentiating those ten heroes was clearly a tall order. You made it work quite well, and extended the game's total length considerably when you decided heroes need character development beyond their recruit text when picked by Freki. There are ways mechanically it could've been crunched into four heroes (say Kitt the young up and coming warrior, learns Jump and Protect type attacks from a valkyrie mentor and various forms of rage-boosted attacks from Olaf Bearbreaker; Styrge the elven ranger who learns special spells from monsters due to her direct connection with nature; Frumpy the missionary, protecting the party from the living dead and keeping their bodies healthy with a combination of old-fashioned medical knowledge and a bit of white magic; and Night, who if she was in wolf form would've seriously reduced the requests for playable Freki). Those other heroes, then, would've recieved more or as much development over a shorter game and all the others could have full fledged hero sprite sets for new users to export and use for their own games. This is a direction that could have gone and would have been simpler, but what we got instead was grander.

So basically, despite hero-swapping causing weird logistical and storytelling problems, so long as the story is fun enough people won't mind.

Baconlabs wrote:

I wonder what your opinion of Final Fantasy II is. There is a pre-determined four-man party that you'll finish the game with, but for most of the story you've only got three of them, with the ever-changing fourth member just being a temporary guest, usually over-leveled and with a pre-set combat niche, as opposed to your main party, whose abilities are sculpted by the player over time.


My opinion is that this is the best thing FF2 did (second-best being the sprite work of the 8-bit original, third being music, fourth being monsters having full inventories of various things they can drop instead of just one item apiece, fifth being the scene where Guy reveals he knows the language of beavers). I was specifically thinking of FF2 when saying how okay I am with more than four hero definitions in-game if they keep conveniently rotating to only make up to four in the party at a time. A little bit of a shame that literally only the rotating guest slot characters ever get character development; it's like one scene each for Firion and Guy (Firion being seduced by a lamia and Guy revealing he can speak beaver fluently) and none at all for Maria?

Baconlabs wrote:
Back on the topic of four-man groups, it works really well from a narrative perspective, but it can feel a bit obsolete in modern games. The Bravely Default games have worked really well for me because they've built a great Job system that lets you mix up your skills and build the four characters to your liking. If a game is lacking in tools to customize party members, that's when more options with party members works best, like in LISA and Citizens of Earth.


I'm a big fan of character customization in basically all its forms. In fact, I like using the Old Level-Up Bug to control character advancement style for this reason as it's the easiest in-engine version of a class system; if only we could assign default equipment to every slot (or even "starting equipment" to the slots without scripting) it'd be even better. Fewer total heroes to manage (like FF2 again) makes this customization feel more meaningful too, I think.



One of my old game design plans was to basically copy the plot, overworld, items, and spells from FF1 but give the player four pre-set heroes with their own personalities and a limited set of class options; first hero could be a Fighter/Knight, Red Mage, or White Mage but could always be relied upon as a well-rounded white magic user (he'd be an anthro wolf), second could be a Fighter, Thief, or Black Belt and thus always relied upon for brute strength (he'd be an elf with a goatee and mustache), third could be a Black Belt, Black Mage, or White Mage and thus always relied upon to be an outstanding expert in a single, highly focused field (no magic, just punching; no fighting or white magic, just black; no punching or black magic, just the best dang healer around) and would be characterized as somewhat lazy and prideful, an anthro cat; the third was a girl whose name was picked with the auto-name feature in FF1 Dawn of Souls and picked up the three spare jobs not shared between two others already (Thief, Red Mage, Black Mage) making her a sort of agile magic attacker by default. "Default" options for each character based on their appearances would be Fighter, Thief, Black Mage, Red Mage (personality-wise it'd be Red Mage, Fighter/Black Belt, Black Mage, and N/A) and I was also planning on stealing boss personalities and dialog straight out of 8-bit Theatre as well.
In the past, I apologized when I was in the right because I was afraid of peer pressure. For this, I apologize.

I must be cruel, but to be kind; that bad may begin, and worse be left behind.
-Prince Hamlet of Denmark
Slime
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 PostFri Aug 21, 2020 10:22 am
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Personally, I'm more partial to smaller parties; 2 to 6 characters is pretty great, as if you get more of them, some of them are going to be either forgotten for most of the game, or are going to be overspecialized and will only be used in a handful of situations. Plus, the more characters you have, the harder it is to keep their XP/level close to one another, and to redistribute kit of a comparable quality among them.

I'm not going to settle on a "golden" number like 4 or 5 characters though, as it's really something that varies from one game to another according to the mechanics they offer.
Slime Knight
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 PostSat Aug 22, 2020 4:55 am
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I think there's 3 things to consider here:

1) the reason that we're still at four heroes is because to support more and support them functionally would make more sense with battlescripting, ergo, raising the active heroes also requires going into the guts of the battle engine, and the battle engine's barely been touched for the past 20 years (oh thanks now i feel older) , so --infinite loop--

2) having a lot of heroes is harder than people new to making games think. it's not linear either, it's actually exponential work as you add each character because each new character must also justify existing their existence with all the characters up to that point. It's why fighting games rarely add many DLC characters because adding one single character requires testing and integrating them into the sandbox with your cast of 20 or whatever, and it just keeps going up with each new addition. It's sort of amazing that Smash Ultimate continues to get new DLC at this point, because I don't want to be the tester that has to run tests against 70+ other characters.

any particular game i've worked on starts with many characters and cuts them down. i know in the design docs for Jade i had like 12 main characters, the final game pared it down to the main crew of 4 with some of the ideas of the other ones re-used as one-off heroes for special dungeons or as regular NPC characters. For the Tsilon ARG we had something like 20+ characters planned and ended up with 3 that actually got story moments past the first year. Halo Reach used to have 8 main characters and pared it down to 5.

3) and as pointed out above, with large parties you usually just end up with the reserve party being leveled by the main party or the annoying thing a lot of games used to do where you had to constantly rotate reserve heroes in to level them up, even Final Fantasy stuck to this until like, 10? Then you look for ways to justify it by having a split-up dungeon. Which isn't a bad thing, but it's basically a required trope of huge party RPGs to get your time investment return on all those principal characters you spent time creating.
Slime
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 PostTue Aug 25, 2020 11:16 am
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Eh, you're right, I didn't think about the increased load bigger parties put on the developer, as you have to introduce a more intricate balance system as to 1) justify the extra characters with gameplay reasons, 2) create more classes of characters as to make it interesting to have more people in the team and 3) make it so that nobody ends up as a one-trick pony that you'll use once or twice in the game only to find it subpar if not useless the rest of the time.
Metal Slime
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 PostFri Aug 28, 2020 7:16 pm
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WOW OWO can i get a TL;DR???

the party size is 4 in ohr. if you make your own battle system, it could be 9999+
Liquid Metal Slime
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 PostFri Aug 28, 2020 9:32 pm
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charbile wrote:
WOW OWO can i get a TL;DR???

the party size is 4 in ohr. if you make your own battle system, it could be 9999+


TL;DR version:

OHR only supports 4 simultaneous party members

5+ causes weird gameplay interactions that don't make sense (in universe) due to party swap complications and are highly questionable game mechanically

Each hero beyond the first is exponentially more work to balance and make all the heroes distinct; most people hit their sweet spot of designing characters somewhere in the 3-6 range anyway

Sometimes a game's writing is solid enough to get up to like eight or ten heroes with distinct personalities the player relates to, but usually a lot of them have redundant skill sets (and more often than not, mechanically the best party load out is "the three best physical attackers/tanks I can get and one healer to keep them all running" but that's a subject for another thread). OHR game designers in particular tend to bite off more than they can chew here because they want to make a game like Final Fantasy 4/6/7 with its large cast.
In the past, I apologized when I was in the right because I was afraid of peer pressure. For this, I apologize.

I must be cruel, but to be kind; that bad may begin, and worse be left behind.
-Prince Hamlet of Denmark
Liquid Metal King Slime
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 PostFri Aug 28, 2020 11:07 pm
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Seems like a lot of this is based off previous games and previous rpg expectations.
"balance" is subjective isn't it?
why use experience points?
why make the battles intentionally hard?
why do all the characters need to be deeply written? (aren't there plenty of games and stories with a ton of characters?)

You're talking about biting off more than you can chew... but shouldn't you?
If you don't try to do more than you think you can, you'll never improve.

1 party member? ...15? 100?
Doesn't it depend on the game?


My point is there is not a perfect amount of party members, because there is not a perfect game.
And! If you're making your game based off another game, like final fantasy, then you're already heading in the wrong direction right?
The more original you are the better right?
Liquid Metal Slime
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 PostSat Aug 29, 2020 7:01 pm
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Spoonweaver wrote:
Seems like a lot of this is based off previous games and previous rpg expectations.
"balance" is subjective isn't it?


To an extent, yes. There are multiple ways to be balanced; Chess has a tiny hypothetical imbalance (white always moves first therefore white is always one step ahead) that only matters if both players are basically top performers already; Paper, Scissors, Rock is theoretically completely balanced but knowing a bit of human psychology lets you meta-game other players and single player modes are basically just luck based with an illusion of choice or puzzle/memorization games depending on how they're designed ("Nathan always chooses scissors and tells you so before you fight him. Is he bluffing?").

Game balance overall is more art than science, including how much it's desired at all; in Pokemon, most legendaries, starters, and at least one (if not multiple) three-stage lines towards the end of the Pokedex are intentionally made to be stronger than most other Pokemon, sometimes specific starters are intentionally made better than others (Charmander is the worst starter choice mechanically in Red/Blue as he's at a significant disadvantage against the first two bosses and has no particular advantage against any gym leader aside from Erika who is a pushover to all three starters; Chikorita is similarly at a significant disadvantage in Gold/Silver, Fire type starters tend to be generally favored over the other kinds until X/Y).

In Pokemon, Dragon Warrior 3, and classic Dungeons and Dragons there are examples of "take an intentionally handicapped option early on and later it'll reverse itself into a major advantage" - Magikarp and Feebas for Pokemon going from fish that flop around ineffectually into sea serpents of tremendous power under certain conditions, the Jester class in Dragon Warrior being a disobedient jagoff who finds greater wisdom and becomes the powerful Sage, and Wizards in Dungeons and Dragons going from being no stronger than a person without a class and forbidden from wearing armor to being the second most powerful class around (sorry, but Clerics are just better from start to finish - start out like 80-95% as good at fighting as a Fighter and get access to things a wizard can only dream of like healing and raising the dead at the mere cost of being asked to behave like actual heroes should anyway).

My ultimate realization when it comes to "game balance" for single player is that it's actually not about numbers at all, but how you make the player feel. You let the player feel powerful with his heroes, start introducing stronger and slightly frustrating monsters, then give them a powerup that lets them turn the tables. It's an art of making the pattern of imbalances in favor of and against the player not feel too obvious or repetitive, and knowing your audience and their general levels of tolerance.

And for multiplayer it's also not about a bunch of numbers on the status screen all adding up to the same totals, but about different options having distinct feels and reasons to be used by someone. If an engineer making a healing item vending machine was better than a medic's syringe gun, there'd be no reason to play a medic, and if an engineer couldn't set up traps that trip up enemies in ways the other characters can't do with simple ambush tactics, there'd be nor reason to ever play an engineer (a lot of RPGs have the problem that mages simply are not as good of an option as a high-attack, high-defense/HP warrior type as the mage's damage options are more costly/conditional, their defenses are trash, and their status effects options are absent or so failure-prone or weak they'd might as well be absent).

Spoonweaver wrote:
why use experience points?


It's an easy abstraction for representing character skill level and combat experience. It's not always ideal, but it's a very tried and true method.

Spoonweaver wrote:
why make the battles intentionally hard?


You'd make intentionally hard battles for the same reason you'd make intentionally easy ones: Because you think the game would be fun that way and expect an audience to be looking for basically that.

In some games you want enemies to be literally zero threat jokes and let players easily win by holding down the spacebar/cross button. In others you want meaningful tactical choices and to reward preparation.

Spoonweaver wrote:
why do all the characters need to be deeply written? (aren't there plenty of games and stories with a ton of characters?)


Sometimes you want few characters and don't need them to be deeply written. Pokemon is an intensely popular franchise but you only get one playable main character per entry, who never once exhibits an actual personality of any sort, surrounded by people who have a one-note personality if even that and an army of literally interchangeable monsters who do all the actual battle system interaction. (The "best" "deepest" plot main series Pokemon games have ever gotten was a case of a generically bad bad guy setting up a PETA-like front organization as part of his generic world conquest plan while his son spouts pseudo-philosophical false dichotomies at you.)

Overall, most people prefer a character who has some sort of relatable or redeeming quality as a person. A villain with a little bit of depth or at least a motivation, a hero who struggles with recklessness and/or self-doubt, that sort of thing.

There are stories with tons of characters. Depending on the story's length, there might be time to flesh out more than like three to six of them, but maybe not. Maybe the writer only actually cares about three characters and the rest are basically accessories. Maybe a one-note personality trait and a catchphrase is the most you need for any of the major cast members.

[quote="Spoonweaver"]You're talking about biting off more than you can chew... but shouldn't you?
If you don't try to do more than you think you can, you'll never improve.

Better an unambitious game that exists (Trytuges) than an overly ambitious game nobody can ever play (look at the hundreds of games on Castle Paradox that consist of a single screenshot, or worse, a title screen, uploaded in 2003 that have no download link).

Obviously you should always be pushing your limits and trying to succeed, but you don't build muscles by trying to bench press five times your weight on your first day at the gym after thirty years of being a sedentary fat load. You find what your limits are and push yourself to just barely pass them with all your might, and for a while your limits will probably keep being further and further (eventually you'll plateau or age/illness will start winning the battle of attrition).

Spoonweaver wrote:
The more original you are the better right?


Not always. Some structures are used repeatedly because they're shown to work pretty reliably for a given purpose. "The bad guy wants to rule and/or destroy the entire world so we must stop him" is a generic motivation but it succinctly explains why every hero, however diverse or antagonistic, would band together in the cause and even the most passive person might take up arms: You live on this world and don't want that jerk killing you and/or bossing you around, and are dedicated enough to not dying/being enslaved that you're willing to fight him and his supporters to avoid such.

"The princess has been kidnapped!" is generic but it is also a pretty easy motivator. Whether the king's offering money, the option to marry into his royal bloodline, vassaldom under control of half his kingdom while he lives, or you just hate the idea of an innocent person being kept imprisoned by another person against her will abhorrent and will rescue her for the cause of believing in freedom itself. If you never explicitly state any of these, players are left to interpret it for themselves (an advantage silent protagonists have over heroes with defined personalities). If you define which of these motivates the hero, that humanizes them a bit (an advantage speaking heroes have over silent protagonists).

"There's two types of mages: Those who are very religious and heal people with magic and those who are bat guano insane and like blowing things up" is a cliche way to divide an RPG's magic system but it's also pretty intuitive.

"Swords are agile weapons with high accuracy and low damage, axes are heavy weapons with low accuracy and high damage" doesn't actually line up with historical battlefield weapons but it's intuitive in a game design sense. Likewise the idea that heavier body armor slows you down (the weight of individual pieces tends to be dispersed pretty well throughout the body, 70 lbs of plate harness doesn't hinder your ability to jump, tumble, or cartwheel) - a "game balance" conceit (though if the heavy armor is more expensive it should be an overall better option, probably) and more about "feel" than fact. A coat of mail weighing half as much as the plate armor for the same areas would probably be more of a hindrance than the heavier plate armor just because more of the weight presses down directly onto the shoulders.

"There's tall, fair-looking elves and sturdy, beardsome dwarves" is derivative of Tolkien's derivation of Norse folklore but a lot of people gravitate towards the idea of having some non-humans living near humans and interacting with them in fiction, having them be similar enough to humans to be really relatable, alien enough to be instantly recognizable, and making multiple ones that contrast against each other sharply by accentuating different aspects of humanity is also a pretty desirable structure. Elf and Dwarf for fantasy or Angry Warrior Human and Stoic Mystic Human (or Sturdy Emotionless Robot and Squishy Empathic Alien) in scifi might be generic pairings but that's part of why they work and resonate. You can certainly make dozens or hundreds of distinct sapient species but usually after the first five or so they start getting redundant (what's the real difference between a Halfling, a Gnome, a Leprechaun, a Christmas Elf, a Brownie, a Goblin, a Boggard, and a Kobold? Or between a Gnoll, an Orc, and a Hobgoblin? Or between a dozen giants of slightly varying size and greatly varying skin tone?). And for every original fantasy creature idea you have, it's probably already been done under a different name but there's nothing wrong with that; certainly including elves and dwarves just for the sake of including them because they're expected is probably a misstep (a lot of official D&D settings fall into this, or add mechanically-identical but flavor-altered substitutes just because "a kind of dwarf" and "a kind of elf" are expected in every single setting) but including them because you want them there is usually a good enough reason to have them. You could also for instance instead use big dumb ogres as your go-to strong warrior race and small, agile, candy-colored bears as your reclusive forest mages with a dying civilization.

All cliches came to be used frequently for a reason, and all can be used or ignored for any reason the author wants.
In the past, I apologized when I was in the right because I was afraid of peer pressure. For this, I apologize.

I must be cruel, but to be kind; that bad may begin, and worse be left behind.
-Prince Hamlet of Denmark
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