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Grinding Sucks – Modernizing the RPG

So I recently started playing The World Ends With You, a DS game by Square Enix. In recent years, Square Enix has been trying to address some of the age-old gripes that traditional role-playing games have been plagued with. Today, we’ll look at some of these classic issues and see how they are addressed.

Eliminating or reducing Grind Time

Grinding is tedious. It’s repetitive, and it’s boring. But sometimes, when you encounter a boss you can’t beat, or there’s a piece of equipment you want to buy but can’t afford, you have to go back and start running in circles to fight weaker monsters to level up. It’s a huge waste of time. This is a virtually unavoidable problem in typical RPGs.

Reduce Grind Time by making it faster

The most obvious way to reduce grind time is by reducing the length of battles. But it must be balanced in such a way that it doesn’t eliminate the challenge. One method is doing greater damage to enemies, or lowering the max HP. This effectively shrinks the amount of time a player is in battle for. But it has to be tuned in such a way that the player doesn’t feel like it’s to short and becomes a chore, and not ruin the balance of the game, or simply put becomes a nature of the system (economy).

A second method is to provide the player with options to end the battle quickly if he wants to, or to fight a normal way. Things like area attacks that do mass damage can end a battle against weaker foes quickly. The trade-off of course, is that it usually uses some form of skill points or magic points. This is good as it still provides the player a choice. But for the purpose of grinding, this may not be a very reliable option.

The World Ends With You is a bit of an exception, since it’s all action-based. The pacing then becomes how fast you can defeat the enemy. TWEWY encourages fast battles with a timer (not a timer against you, but sort of a record timer), and rewards you for beating enemies in record time.

If you get paid more, you grind less.

A second way to reduce grind time is higher payout of experience and money. But it must be done in such a way that it’s somewhat controlled without destroying the balance of the game.

If you make it too behind-the-scenes, the player may not be able to catch that he’s being rewarded more, and all it becomes is part of the economy. The best way is to make it very apparent to the player, and give the player option to control the amount he gets awarded. Equipment that gives multipliers is always a good method. The player then knows that it’s now an accelerated rate of accumulation, and it won’t seem as tedious of a grind anymore.

After combat in TWEWY, you are awarded a base number of points depending on the monsters you are fighting, standard RPG stuff. But they add in multipliers based on your performance such as your speed, the amount of damage you took, and special achievements, such as 30-hit combos, top-screen-solo combat, etc. So as the player becomes more experienced in playing the game, he also has to grind less. A good balance as it counters diminishing returns (as in the more you do play, the less enjoyable it becomes until it diminishes so much, you begin disliking it).

Auto-Grinding

Another way to reduce grind time is Auto Grinding. Essentially, some way to allow the computer to automate the grinding for you. So while your system remains on, you don’t have to be present to play it. Of course, this somewhat defeats the whole purpose of playing a game if the game plays itself.

Some auto-grinding is more of an exploit. Players tape up their controllers in a specific manner that causes it to repeatedly perform certain functions. Usually though, players can only automate on low-level enemies, as there’s nobody monitoring characters’ health, the characters would eventually die, defeating the purpose.

If players will go to such lengths to grind, why not make it a feature? FFXII did this somewhat, but just one step short of making it truly a feature. You could build the feature in so that it allows players the freedom of grinding, but restrict it so the player doesn’t over-grind and ruin the balance of the game. In FFXII, they could provide a spell or item that generates enemies, and it has a limited number of charges before the player has to take manual action, or the item could only allow you to grind up to a certain level. Each region could contain one specific to the “recommended level” for that region. I’m sure there are many kinks that would need to be worked out in that design, but you get the idea.

TWEWY uses the DS’s WiFi, Sleep Mode, and internal clock features for auto-grinding instead. This is an interesting design that works fairly well, without being intrusive the the gameplay or balance.

When you save and shut-down TWEWY, it begins to accumulate points based on the time it’s been shut-down until the time it’s played again, for up to 7 days. But at a significantly slower rate than normal. This maintains some balance so that your characters do not become overly powerful just by sitting around.

With the DS WiFi turned on and the system put into sleep mode, TWEWY will attempt to receive WiFi signals from other DS systems who also have WiFi turned on, be it playing TWEWY themselves, an entirely different WiFi game like Animal Crossing, or even Pictochat. It will even pick up WiFi signals from any device, like your laptop. Points are tallied and rewarded when you come out of WiFi mode. I haven’t tried it myself, buy I’m sure there’s a grading system to it as well – as in other TWEWY players will give more points than a laptop device for example.

The whole purpose of this? Players can stop playing for a while, but know that they aren’t really completely stalled. With a 7-day maximum, the player will have incentive to go back and play before the game becomes too stale and the player loses interest. With the added WiFi feature, players can enjoy being on the go, and not have to worry about grinding. Though the payoff is significantly less, it’s better than nothing at all. The player is rewarded under any circumstance, giving him options and flexibility to match his playing style.

Low Drop Rates Suck

Sometimes, you have to grind in order to get rare items from certain monsters. Sometimes you could be grinding for hours to get that single drop because the drop rate is like, 10% or 3%. TWEWY addresses this issue with what is essentially a drop rate slider based on your level. What it does is increase the drop rate of items, but as a trade-off, lowers your level and stats. So while this makes combat more difficult, you’re risk guarantees a better drop rate. This also helps when you are combatting low-level monsters for items (also known as farming). In addition, when you chain encounters together, you multiply your drop rate by the number of chains you make. More often than not, you end up getting a guaranteed drop rate. Of course, the trade-off is each progressive chain becomes more difficult, as the enemies get tougher, and you carry your healthbar over.

Again, this sort of flexibility is advantagious in all sorts of manners. It allows the player to enjoy the game at his pace and his playing style that doesn’t frustrate him. This sort of dynamic-by-choice game design has never really been seen before, giving the player much control, less frustration, and an overall more enjoying experience.

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  1. KneeNAR
    July 8, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I think grinding and farming will always be a part of rpg’s. It’s just a part of it. Take it away and it feels kinda empty.
    I for one love leveling up my character to crazy levels in the beginning of the game. Leaves me time to pay attention to the story and the characters, rather than spending ten days killing a difficult boss. That’s just me, though, but I do know many people who are proud of how much they spend in a game, gathering maximum HP’s and all the rare items, etc.
    I know one person who spent, altogether, about 4 years leveling up his FFVII characters. They all had 9999 HP, they all had max attack points, he had every single item and materia in the entire game, etc. But, that is FFVII, and on a completely different level from games these days XD.
    The Wi-Fi option in TWEWY is pretty nifty. ESP’ers are other people that own TWEWY, when you connect to them, I think you get about 150pp. When you connect to ESP’ers, you also get access to their “shop” through the “Friends” tab, which shows what they have equipped, and what you can buy. Civvies are people that are connecting through Wi-Fi from ANOTHER game, you get about 100pp. Aliens are any other Wi-Fi devices, including Pictochat. You get about 50pp from Aliens.

    Late reply, whoo!!!

  2. anonymousandlovinit
    October 7, 2009 at 11:28 am

    You mentioned low drop rates for rare items, and yet i’ve seen one or two games that had low drop rates for normal quest items.

    There’s a difference between having grinding a normal part of a game, and having the game structure directly enforce it. I’ve recently tried Rappelz, and realized the trend that had formed after I completed what must have been my tenth slaughter quest by level 20.

    Something i strongly dislike is when areas are divided by level brackets almost, but the divisions skip a few levels. One area will be suitable for levels 1-5, another for levels 6-10, and the next area suitable for levels 20-25, somewhere in there 11-19 were skipped. So, either you grind on low level munchkins for an eternity, or get slaughtered trying to gain more exp than you lose against the brutes in the next area. Ran into this sort of phenomenon with games like Fiesta and Secret of the Solstice.

  3. February 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I stumbled upon this site looking for already implemented versions of my auto grind idea. Auto grinding is the way of the modern RPG. The goal of an RPG is to maximize the fun and excitement and minimize the bore. This is why RPG’s are not modeled after real life – you notice your character never has to do the laundry or go to the restroom unless you’re playing The Sims. Your playtime on an RPG should be maximized with blood pumping adrenal excitement on dangerous quests for fantastic loot rather than sitting numbly at your monitor killing 5000 furpaws for cred while linkin park repeatedly blares in the background interfering with ventrilo.

    For these and other such insane rantings please visit my site at 3rddimension.wordpress.com.

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