Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Let's first go back to discussion about traps. The first problem is that even if not harmful random traps are just too random. They make the game world look like a random generic place which I think it not good. Then Numeron said something interesting: "even damage traps can be used to get monsters to walk over when chasing the player."

Then why monsters can't set traps for the player, making the same mechanism work against the player? It's because setting traps is hero exclusive. The traditional or high fantasy design is based on the myth of hero, who is some way more gifted than anyone else in the world. In fact this design is familiar from the first computer games like Pacman who can eat pills and use the magic power of that big special pill. And how about Link from Zelda-series? He can use the master sword to beat evil monsters. That design is like a lock and key, they both must exist.

But what if the hero didn't have any special skills? It would pretty much also remove the lock or high fantasy evil & big monsters. Well, maybe not if there are other ways to defeat them, but I guess it requires more original design and therefore rarely used in games.

One of the important hero exclusives is magic. It's probably the most commonly used exclusive and that's why many role-playing games can't be won without magic. Sometimes wizards become more powerful than fighter characters, because magic in entire form is hero exclusive. Some monsters can use magic, but it's usually restricted for tactical reasons, so that the player can prepare for the spells and have a key for them.

The obvious problem in low fantasy is then how to make the player character survive in the first place? It's an interesting question and from my point of view it's so much better than following the same old road of high fantasy. Everything feels new and you can expect to have gameplay balance issues that need to be solved in some clever way.


corremn said...

A good topic, and I like it because this is exactly what I did in sewerjacks. From start to end the player is no more powerful that most creatures encountered (and in a lot of situations is much worse off) and once overwelmed will die quicky. The player "simply" overcomes such obsticles by employing intellegent tactics. Adjusting the tactics of the AI is a way to balance such games as long as there is some varity to approaching situations.

JohnH said...

I'll approach the issue by looking at the game which obviously inspired how traps are handled in nearly all roguelikes: Rogue itself.

Other games may not have fully thought through the purpose of traps in the game, but Rogue's developers certainly have. The historical purposes of traps in a roguelike, to my eyes, is:

1. It adds additional cost to needless exploration, and gives the player an incentive to reduce the number of room spaces stepped upon.

2. It adds unpredictability to the game. Rogue, for all its randomness, is, tactically, a very ordered game. Most monsters do not move randomly so long as a player is in sight. Traps decrease how well the player can take advantage of that predictability (by, say, lining them up for wand shots, losing them in branching corridors, running to the stairs for a quick escape, etc).

3. Simply, it is a random variant in the game that cannot be simply overcome. Rogue isn't meant to be a game which perfect play always wins. There is always the chance that a bit of very bad luck will scuttle a run. That's what makes the high score list meaningful; it is a fact of game development that, if there is a perfect strategy that can overcome all the game's obstacles every time, then someone will find it. It's basically been found for Nethack, even. Nethack's dungeon has been, in a real sense, conquered by experienced players, but Rogue's is still perilous.

It's worth noting that roguelike trap design is tricky. Instantly fatal traps are (mostly) bad. Most roguelikes play it safe by making traps fairly weak. Nethack's traps, excepting the odd fatal poisond spiked pit trap, polymorph before magic resistance is found, and fire traps without fire resistance. Nethack's traps -can- be used on monsters, but the effects are usually so weak that it's not worth it (monsters will deliberately jump onto polymorph traps, if clearly outclassed and given the chance).

Possibly the major roguelike with the most dangerous traps is ADOM, but even there the traps are usually on doors.

Creative use of traps, as corremn says, is a rich avenue for design exploration. One of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer's bonus dungeons puts traps on the player's side, allowing him to pick up and reset traps and making him immune to them. It's a cool idea.

Krice said...

How do you know what the developers of Rogue thought about traps? When I read the history of Rogue I was left with feeling that they (couple of young hippie guys) just made something, without really knowing what it was.

It looks like you want to see traps in Rogue as clever game design, because you invented "reasons" for them, but I think plain random traps are just boring and annoying.