Level Scaling and RPGs: Hope for Skyrim

While there was a wide, refreshing variation of opinion on what people wanted out of their Elder Scrolls/open world fantasy game experience, there was a common thread that I didn't mention in my prior post, but that I'll mention here.
 
The main issue that bothers just about everyone about Oblivion (and probably would have bothered me had I experienced it) was the universal level scaling, where all enemies increased in power alongside the hero, in a sense negating your advancement.  Look up "level scaling" in Google, and Oblivion will be the number one suggestion. The other suggestions are largely other products produced with the same engine, Fallout 3 and New Vegas.  It created such a problem that it rippled throughout other games that were only tangentially related.
 
The primary difficulty when creating encounters is that you want to make them challenging, but not taxing, not impossible, not irritating, but not too easy.  Even when you're designing low-level encounters for a non-scaling environment, you have to think about balance to make sure that players get the most out of the experience. So how does one even pull that off?
 
Well, it's usually solved either through a series of meta compromises that adjust to the player, or everything is left alone, suggesting a path that players can use to progress.  A third option, one I won't go into too much, is to make everything so random that it's possible to run into an impossible situation, where things are so hard that they're actually unbeatable, forcing a reset.  While the latter can be charming in games with little to no investment of time or energy, I think we have a higher standard for RPGs and thus I'll ignore this.
 

The Hand-Crafted Path


If you have character advancement at all, where a character gets stronger as they progress, they will need to continually be challenged for the advancement to feel worthwhile.  One way to give the player that sense of accomplishment is to build a world in which there are increasing levels of challenges that you run into. These challenges may be surrounded by clues that suggest you should get stronger before you go here, or that here's a good place to grow stronger.  Instead of forcing the game mechanics to adapt to you, the player adapts to the world.  Or, if they're sneaky, they try to subvert the natural order and go to places they don't have any business going, which could result in arbitrary defeat or richer rewards.
 
The upside:  The world feels a bit more real if it doesn't intelligently react to you; and one of my favorite consequences is that you can challenge yourself by hitting harder missions than you're supposed to take.  I used to enjoy racing through Phantasy Star II without grinding at all, just so I could reach the points in the game where biomonsters were a lot stronger, giving much more experience and much more meseta.  In a well-crafted game these encounters can have a lot of challenge to them, but won't necessarily be impossible, and will reward the daring player.  In a sense, such a system allows players to adjust their difficulty level on the fly, picking challenging areas by GOING to them, rather than pushing a slider back and forth or letting the game engine do the work for them (and hoping it adjusts properly).
 
The downside: If a player has already advanced by hitting their head against harder encounters, when they return to an area that doesn't meet their current level they will be bored. In World of Xeen there are two sides to the world, Cloudside and Darkside.  The latter has harder encounters, a wealth of experience to be had, and is, in my opinion, the more interesting place to explore.  But since you can go to the dark side of Xeen at the very beginning of the combined game, you can advance so far that when you return to Cloudside, a lot of the minor quests are nigh meaningless, giving you meager experience and treasure.  This in itself isn't so bad, since that's the consequence for tackling harder stuff first, but it winds up meaning the content itself may be skipped, something many game developers feel invalidates all the time and effort they put into creating those parts of the world in the first place. There's also an issue with going into areas you're not ready for: if it's not obvious that you shouldn't be there, you may get wiped out so easily that the game could feel more frustrating than worthwhile. In poorly-planned games, grinding will sometimes be required before a player can survive in the next area, but this may be due in large part to the types of advancement schemes the game uses. 
 

Ye Olde Level Scaling


Using the Elder Scrolls as an example, there are three different versions of level scaling among the more recent games (I'm still not familiar with Arena's methods, but I'm considering playing it so I may know more in time). 
 
In Daggerfall, humanoid encounters scaled to meet the player, so that encounters when you're high level are usually tough and yield excellent loot, while fighting humans when you're weak and small won't necessarily clean your clock.  Creature encounters, though, remain constant, so that a harpy will always generate the same class of loot, and be about the same level of deadliness even when they become little more than nuisances. 

In Morrowind things got a lot more complicated: according to online sources, there are areas and events that have pre-set encounter levels, similar to the handcrafted system I detailed above. The monsters themselves in general belong to encounter classes, so that if you run into a daedra early on you're more likely to get a weak daedra, while daedra encounters later in your character's development will be a lot more deadly, yielding greater rewards.
 
In Oblivion, the notorious level scaling entered in full force, with every encounter somewhat matching up with player ability. This left a lot of people feeling as though their leveling was for nought, since whatever they did to get stronger, the game world got stronger to match, meaning that the lowliest random encounter was still as problematic as it was at low levels. 
 
Bethesda's first Fallout game, using the same basic engine as Oblivion, altered this pattern significantly, showing they were well aware of the criticisms against Oblivion: In Fallout 3 you almost saw a return to Morrowind's combination of hand-crafted and level scaled, only according to this report, it was the regions that scaled, not so much the creatures themselves. If you stumbled into a certain area early on, you would get early-level encounters. If you happened to bypass that place and come back late in your career, the encounters generated there might be much stronger.  The only way the player might know this was happening would be to compare notes with other players or play through again, since the encounter level for that area would stay the same for the rest of the game.
 
The upside: While complete level scaling is largely hated, some degree of level scaling allows the player to feel challenged when going into new areas. This may not be the most realistic scenario if advancement is significant each time their character increases in power, but it also maintains player interest in continuing to explore, as well as maintaining a sense of danger that might be lacking if they KNEW that such-and-such an area was made for low-level characters.

The downside: When done to an extreme, the player feels as though he or she is going nowhere. That little rat that bit you in the starting dungeon can now pierce your glass armor and somehow shrugs off a blow from a sword (actual results may vary). Your character may look snazzy in their new outfit, but beyond an added list of abilities the player feels a bit impotent, and since one of the common character arcs of open world RPGs is the sense that the player makes more of an impact on the world over time, deadening this feeling can leave this advancement feeling pointless.  This also serves in the opposite manner as well, since if the player DOESN'T advance, supposedly strong and imposing monsters will be EASY to take out, defeating any drama that might emerge from a climactic encounter.
    
---
 
I get the feeling that a combination, or the hand-crafted style, fits my gaming outlook more.  My favorite pastime in games like these is to challenge the borders, to try to sneak into places I have no business being in (just like in GTA when I try to get past arbitrary barriers early on). And when I say hand-crafted I only mean that certain types of areas have certain types of encounters, it doesn't preclude it from being used in a random generation scheme like the one I profiled in my previous post. 
 
As far as what Skyrim will have, I doubt Bethesda will make the same mistakes with it that they did with Oblivion. They seemed to have already learned from the results of universal level scaling, and will probably act accordingly.

Are there any systems which any of you have used into that took character advancement in rewarding or disastrous ways?
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Posted by ahoodedfigure

While there was a wide, refreshing variation of opinion on what people wanted out of their Elder Scrolls/open world fantasy game experience, there was a common thread that I didn't mention in my prior post, but that I'll mention here.
 
The main issue that bothers just about everyone about Oblivion (and probably would have bothered me had I experienced it) was the universal level scaling, where all enemies increased in power alongside the hero, in a sense negating your advancement.  Look up "level scaling" in Google, and Oblivion will be the number one suggestion. The other suggestions are largely other products produced with the same engine, Fallout 3 and New Vegas.  It created such a problem that it rippled throughout other games that were only tangentially related.
 
The primary difficulty when creating encounters is that you want to make them challenging, but not taxing, not impossible, not irritating, but not too easy.  Even when you're designing low-level encounters for a non-scaling environment, you have to think about balance to make sure that players get the most out of the experience. So how does one even pull that off?
 
Well, it's usually solved either through a series of meta compromises that adjust to the player, or everything is left alone, suggesting a path that players can use to progress.  A third option, one I won't go into too much, is to make everything so random that it's possible to run into an impossible situation, where things are so hard that they're actually unbeatable, forcing a reset.  While the latter can be charming in games with little to no investment of time or energy, I think we have a higher standard for RPGs and thus I'll ignore this.
 

The Hand-Crafted Path


If you have character advancement at all, where a character gets stronger as they progress, they will need to continually be challenged for the advancement to feel worthwhile.  One way to give the player that sense of accomplishment is to build a world in which there are increasing levels of challenges that you run into. These challenges may be surrounded by clues that suggest you should get stronger before you go here, or that here's a good place to grow stronger.  Instead of forcing the game mechanics to adapt to you, the player adapts to the world.  Or, if they're sneaky, they try to subvert the natural order and go to places they don't have any business going, which could result in arbitrary defeat or richer rewards.
 
The upside:  The world feels a bit more real if it doesn't intelligently react to you; and one of my favorite consequences is that you can challenge yourself by hitting harder missions than you're supposed to take.  I used to enjoy racing through Phantasy Star II without grinding at all, just so I could reach the points in the game where biomonsters were a lot stronger, giving much more experience and much more meseta.  In a well-crafted game these encounters can have a lot of challenge to them, but won't necessarily be impossible, and will reward the daring player.  In a sense, such a system allows players to adjust their difficulty level on the fly, picking challenging areas by GOING to them, rather than pushing a slider back and forth or letting the game engine do the work for them (and hoping it adjusts properly).
 
The downside: If a player has already advanced by hitting their head against harder encounters, when they return to an area that doesn't meet their current level they will be bored. In World of Xeen there are two sides to the world, Cloudside and Darkside.  The latter has harder encounters, a wealth of experience to be had, and is, in my opinion, the more interesting place to explore.  But since you can go to the dark side of Xeen at the very beginning of the combined game, you can advance so far that when you return to Cloudside, a lot of the minor quests are nigh meaningless, giving you meager experience and treasure.  This in itself isn't so bad, since that's the consequence for tackling harder stuff first, but it winds up meaning the content itself may be skipped, something many game developers feel invalidates all the time and effort they put into creating those parts of the world in the first place. There's also an issue with going into areas you're not ready for: if it's not obvious that you shouldn't be there, you may get wiped out so easily that the game could feel more frustrating than worthwhile. In poorly-planned games, grinding will sometimes be required before a player can survive in the next area, but this may be due in large part to the types of advancement schemes the game uses. 
 

Ye Olde Level Scaling


Using the Elder Scrolls as an example, there are three different versions of level scaling among the more recent games (I'm still not familiar with Arena's methods, but I'm considering playing it so I may know more in time). 
 
In Daggerfall, humanoid encounters scaled to meet the player, so that encounters when you're high level are usually tough and yield excellent loot, while fighting humans when you're weak and small won't necessarily clean your clock.  Creature encounters, though, remain constant, so that a harpy will always generate the same class of loot, and be about the same level of deadliness even when they become little more than nuisances. 

In Morrowind things got a lot more complicated: according to online sources, there are areas and events that have pre-set encounter levels, similar to the handcrafted system I detailed above. The monsters themselves in general belong to encounter classes, so that if you run into a daedra early on you're more likely to get a weak daedra, while daedra encounters later in your character's development will be a lot more deadly, yielding greater rewards.
 
In Oblivion, the notorious level scaling entered in full force, with every encounter somewhat matching up with player ability. This left a lot of people feeling as though their leveling was for nought, since whatever they did to get stronger, the game world got stronger to match, meaning that the lowliest random encounter was still as problematic as it was at low levels. 
 
Bethesda's first Fallout game, using the same basic engine as Oblivion, altered this pattern significantly, showing they were well aware of the criticisms against Oblivion: In Fallout 3 you almost saw a return to Morrowind's combination of hand-crafted and level scaled, only according to this report, it was the regions that scaled, not so much the creatures themselves. If you stumbled into a certain area early on, you would get early-level encounters. If you happened to bypass that place and come back late in your career, the encounters generated there might be much stronger.  The only way the player might know this was happening would be to compare notes with other players or play through again, since the encounter level for that area would stay the same for the rest of the game.
 
The upside: While complete level scaling is largely hated, some degree of level scaling allows the player to feel challenged when going into new areas. This may not be the most realistic scenario if advancement is significant each time their character increases in power, but it also maintains player interest in continuing to explore, as well as maintaining a sense of danger that might be lacking if they KNEW that such-and-such an area was made for low-level characters.

The downside: When done to an extreme, the player feels as though he or she is going nowhere. That little rat that bit you in the starting dungeon can now pierce your glass armor and somehow shrugs off a blow from a sword (actual results may vary). Your character may look snazzy in their new outfit, but beyond an added list of abilities the player feels a bit impotent, and since one of the common character arcs of open world RPGs is the sense that the player makes more of an impact on the world over time, deadening this feeling can leave this advancement feeling pointless.  This also serves in the opposite manner as well, since if the player DOESN'T advance, supposedly strong and imposing monsters will be EASY to take out, defeating any drama that might emerge from a climactic encounter.
    
---
 
I get the feeling that a combination, or the hand-crafted style, fits my gaming outlook more.  My favorite pastime in games like these is to challenge the borders, to try to sneak into places I have no business being in (just like in GTA when I try to get past arbitrary barriers early on). And when I say hand-crafted I only mean that certain types of areas have certain types of encounters, it doesn't preclude it from being used in a random generation scheme like the one I profiled in my previous post. 
 
As far as what Skyrim will have, I doubt Bethesda will make the same mistakes with it that they did with Oblivion. They seemed to have already learned from the results of universal level scaling, and will probably act accordingly.

Are there any systems which any of you have used into that took character advancement in rewarding or disastrous ways?
Posted by selbie

Morrowind had the most ideal level scaling system for me. The game made it abundantly clear that some parts of the world were just too harsh for my newbie character to enter, yet I didn't feel like I was being hand-held by the game. I guess part of the reason for that was the huge map. Oblivion's map in comparison was tiny - or at least it seemed so with the horrendous quick-travel.
For Skyrim I want those rats to pose a tough challenge, but once I return later, I want to be able to smite them with my uber Sword of Smiting just for the satisfaction of being able to.

Posted by Damodar

Good read! 
 
I hope the approach in Skyrim is like Morrowind's or Fallout's. Something like the method you described in Fallout could be cool if the way it groups regions is very broad.
 
Oblivion definitely did lack a feeling of growing more powerful the way that Morrowind did. At the start of Morrowind, a rat could mess you up; by the end, you're swatting powerful creatures away with ease. Really satisfying. 
 
I totally understand why Oblivion had scaling the way it did, but I'll take the feeling of actually growing my character over the crazy hours you can put in to an elder scrolls game and feeling badass over trying to keep the combat somewhat challenging at all times. You're absolutely right about Oblivion nullifying the thrill of finding some awesome piece of loot or some super secret unique item.

Posted by MildMolasses

I know I'm asking for too much, but I would love for them to ditch scaling all together. I hate scaling. I realise that with the open world, that is pretty much the only way that they can ensure that there is some level of challenge at all times. My problem is that I expect games to get more difficult through their design, not because the game engine kicks in a bunch of value increases because I gained a level. As an RPG, I expect to be able to overlevel my character if I am willing to put the time into grinding it out. I would rather open world games set up areas that I simply won't survive in unless I'm a high enough level (think the first Dragon Quest or FF games, where crossing a bridge into a new section of the map brought along enemies that would demolish you). 
 
Also, Oblivion had the worst levelling system ever created. I know there's no chance of them replicating that again, but jesus, what were they thinking?
Posted by Daiphyer

Great read, I agree with most points. I really want them to have an XP system, instead of "Just use them to get better". I also want them to do more of Borderlands style of scaling. There were areas that you HAD to grind to be even remotely close to beating, and when you'd go back to earlier areas, they would still scale with your level. It made the whole game feel challenging.  So, Bethesda, hand-craft the later areas, and auto scale the earlier areas when you go back to them. Simple.
Some challenging bosses perhaps?? We've already seen the dragon, but I hope it's not the only one. 
I also, was REALLY getting tired of going into caves. They made this huge beautiful world, and almost all the fights occur in the fuckin dark caves!

Edited by YoctoYotta

I would like to see every creature have a fixed level. The developer can avoid making the game a breeze by adding stronger variations of those creatures or new creatures all together as the player hits certain levels. If they're smart (smarter than me), they could probably explain the occurrence through story somehow.
 
Also, I'm not an Elder Scrolls purist . . . is the Fallout New Vegas idea of encouraging players to proceed in a particular direction total blasphemy?

Posted by Origina1Penguin

I know exactly how you feel. A combination system is best because it makes believable and rewarding progression across the game world without letting the player become ridiculously overpowered. Fortunately, mods can correct player discrepancies with a leveling system, but it takes a long time for decent ones to be released.
Posted by CptBedlam
@ahoodedfigure:  Very well written observations. But christ, now I have the sudden urge to play the Might and Magic games again that you mentioned. Ah those were the days...
Posted by valrog

I always loved how Piranha Bytes did things. I guess that would fall in the Hand-Crafted Path category.

Posted by Jimbo

If you're making an RPG then I think world consistency has to take precedence over combat balance.  
 
What they need to realise is that balance isn't the be all and end all of making satisfying combat anyway.  Arkham Asylum was universally praised for its combat, yet in 90% of the fights in that game you had no chance of dying at all.  Winning the fight was a breeze; winning in style (and building a good multiplier) was where the satisfaction came from.  If they can come up with a good enough combat system which is fun for its own sake and incentivize 'winning well', then the problem of encounters becoming 'too easy' is made redundant.  
 
Most of the time combat should be a challenge, but in cases where you are very over-levelled it should become about style and efficiency rather than survival - the rats shouldn't become super rats just because you've become a better fighter.  Obviously the opposite is also true: the Champion Arena Champion of the Universe shouldn't be a low level just because the player is a low level (which is what happened in Oblivion).
 
They can still be smart and flexible about it though.  If the narrative demands tension and a desperate last stand at some point, then by all means make sure the enemies are strong enough to back up the narrative.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Eh, I'm generally not a fan of level scaling at all, since it fixes the game at one difficulty forever. No grinding your way out of a difficult situation for you. Besides, it just doesn't make sense. What, when I'm gaining levels, so are the enemies? Are we all tied together in a cosmic sort of way? I don't remember that plot point in Final Fantasy VIII. VII, maybe, but not VIII.

Posted by PenguinDust

I kind of like the zone-system you mention from Fallout 3.  I feel that an open world game like this or TES5 should scale to a certain degree, but on the same note, if I enter a zone like I might in WOW and suddenly get my ass handed to me when across the street I am safe, then it creates artificial barriers to my exploration.  Some sort of compromise needs to be in place when I can run about and have some challenge but not be completely shut out of certain areas due to level requirements.  Perhaps the answer is that special quests and their mobs only trigger once you reach a specific level.  That way you could roam through an area relatively safely and then later return for bigger and better challenges when you're a higher level.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@selbie: I'm totally on board with that. I don't need empowerment so much, but I like to feel that the world has some sort of internal logic, like it will continue to function if left to its own devices.  So if the squirrel powers up alongside me it's hilarious, but doesn't make for a satisfying game.
 
@Damodar: I think the region-grouping thing was a great idea. I don't know how it worked out in Fallout 3, but the idea is neat because it sort of helps define a space for you. My personal preferences lean more toward hand-crafted, but out of the level scaling systems I've read about so far, this lets you feel like you own a place a bit more, since in a way you create the specific world as you visit the locations.
 
@YoctoYotta: What you say about stronger variations is sort of what a lot of games did. People would make fun of games that just had a different color of Angry Bees but I liked it. I thought of them as different species, even if they were really just recycling graphics. As far as stats, you might have something that behaves in a similar way, but might have an interesting counter to the usual tactic someone would use against them. Angry Bees with armor plating, and the like. 
 
I'm not familiar with New Vegas, but I think you're referring to the main thread pointing you in the direction of NV so you can get some payback or whatever? I know people who never bothered to go in that direction, but it seems like it pushes you that way a bit harder than most of the Elder Scrolls games. I don't believe in blasphemy when it comes to entertainment, so while you're probably right that it might violate a bit of the formula as it's understood, it seems also like some things are moving in that direction in other games. If it existed side-by-side with free-roaming I really wouldn't mind, myself.  Another thing about New Vegas, though: you weren't solving the problems of the universe. I LIKE small stories and I think they have inherent drama that lets you talk about identifiable human costs.  Fantasy games in particular tend to go a bit nuts with the saving the universe stuff. It's fine sometimes, but why not tell a more small-scale story?  You still have the option to ramp stuff up later, I guess.
 
@Origina1Penguin:  There any good mods out there that you're familiar with?
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Video_Game_King: @MildMolasses:  Very good points. A level scaling system, especially an extensive one, basically negates player effort.  I couldn't have put it better. I guess getting a wider variation of powers and weapons can be considered leveling by another name, but a lot of the time if the actual POWER of those items is relative to the current monsters then you wonder why you went through the effort of leveling and exploring at all.  
 
The more on-rails games I think made a SORT of scaling mechanic, in that you grind until you're able to enter the next area. But the good ones in my opinion at least left it up to you when you would proceed, so that people with a death wish, like me, could charge in ahead of the curve to see what might happen. 
 
@Daiphyer: I haven't played Borderlands, but I liked some of what I saw about its system. It DID feel a bit grind heavy, though, since I wondered if a player didn't do enough that they might be doing 1-point damage on a guy just because he's at high level, not because he's wearing power armor. I actually have an issue with that, since I like the idea that you can cut down a big baddy since he's still just a human being--  your lack of survival would be due to the big baddy having tons of friends. The leveling then has to do with taking out a big group of people, rather than your bullets bouncing off the guy just because he's experienced.  
 
So there were no places overland for the most part that had useful items or whatever?  I guess Elder Scrolls in general did that, but yeah, that sort of makes the landscape feel a bit like window dressing by comparison, doesn't it? Why not have a sword stuck in a mountain, or a huge statue that the player can scale? I mean, that's what fantasy's about anyway: seeing stuff we can't see in real life. No need to put it all in halls that remind us a bit too much of offices and school interiors.
 
@CptBedlam: Might and Magic was the shit, as the kids say. Still is, in my opinion. Xeen was the best of the ones I've played so far, too. Love the humor, the puzzles, and the character system. I could go into that game, play it for an hour or two, feel like I accomplished something, and let it sit there.  It felt like I got more events and interesting tidbits for the time investment.  Been playing MM2 on and off and it has a lot of that charm, though I miss Xeen's improvements.

 @valrog: Did it still feel big enough that you could wander a bit, though? I get the impression that people like to lump it in with Elder Scrolls for its playing style, but that it's all designed from the ground up rather than filling the empty bits with computer generated stuff.
Posted by ArbitraryWater

As an addendum, Wizardry 8 (my favorite old game of this year), also had level scaling. As far as I have read, each area capped at a certain level, so while you are very capable of dying on Arnika Road in the beginning, by the end they are just as much fodder as any of the other early game areas. Nonetheless, I kind of wish they didn't do that. The game would probably actually be even better if there wasn't so much blatant level scaling in the misguided attempt to always challenge the player (Kind of? It kind of does that?)
 
For as much as I would hypothetically prefer a hand-crafted system I think it's far easier for Bethesda to do the Fallout 3 style of scaling by region, or maybe do something we haven't suggested yet. Once again, the one thing I am willing to bet on that game until they actually showcase it is better roleplaying interaction and characters.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@PenguinDust:  That may be a solution, and you're right it's irritating to be in a place where you do well but suddenly smack into a border of evil you can't get across without getting shredded.  There was a place like that in Arcanum, where the thugs were much higher level than the surrounding thugs, which felt damned odd.  That was hand-crafted, though.  Just really awkwardly placed.
 
There are some things some games might be able to learn from MMOs, but that might not be one of them.  I remember exploring Everquest with my low-level iksar monk and that was damned fun, but most of my time was spent running and hiding because anything I ran into was so ridiculously scaled that there was no chance of anything except dying faster than my connection could show. Again, hand-crafted, but there's an art to scaling hand-crafted, too, I think.
 
As far as hybrid systems, I think your quest idea fits in well.  I think what I'm going to go into in my next post will be about advancement systems themselves, since many of them sort of necessitate scaling in the first place.
 
 @Jimbo: When I try to reflect on this stuff, I tend to want to go with my gut.  My best experiences have been in games where things felt consistent, where I felt like an animal species was largely the same, and where the challenge ramped up in large part due to the design of the place and how it was set up to receive me.

Your style idea makes a lot of sense. It would be relatively unprecedented in a Western-style RPG but not unthinkable.  Maybe your renown increases the fancier your moves are, so that if you take the safe moves and just club everyone in the head you'll get the reputation of an efficient but brutal killer, while someone who goes for the K.O. or the critical might get opportunities down the road, getting noticed by special factions who favor that style.  Sort of an answer to the guild system I was talking about in the previous post.

"They can still be smart and flexible about it though.  If the narrative demands tension and a desperate last stand at some point, then by all means make sure the enemies are strong enough to back up the narrative."
 
Yeah, because if it's left up to player devices, especially with a linear leveling system, many might force the game to be boring just by using the mechanics already laid out in front of them.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@ArbitraryWater:  Sort of capped scaling, I guess?  Well, that still gives you a sense of accomplishment once you manage to be a crusher of sausages in the sausage kingdom.  
 
The elephant in the room seems to be leveling itself, which drives a lot of these discussions so far and is something I'll probably address-- at least using the lens I've been viewing these other topics through.
 
Man, I wish I got paid for this.
Posted by ArbitraryWater
@ahoodedfigure: To be fair, leveling up enough to get a new spell is probably more balance tipping in that game than the singular process of actually leveling up. Once you get Noxious Fumes the early game becomes a lot more manageable, as nauseated enemies are significantly easier to hit. Oblivion has...scaling quest rewards. So it doesn't even have that shiny new toy that raises it's middle finger to the level scaling process. And I wish I got paid for all the bloggerizing I do. Would make my time sitting on the computer a lot more justifiable to my parents.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@ArbitraryWater:  I'm glad I type quickly and think about this stuff reflexively, otherwise I'd have no way to justify this at all other than it keeping me sane :)
 
I'd argue that equipment is sort of another way to "level".  I might go into pen and paper for examples on why this is so, since the middle finger effect is sort of why equipment exists at all, mechanically speaking.  Psychologically speaking it's because human beings like to hoard.  Or at least the ones that play RPGs do.
Posted by Ghostiet

I really prefer the way it was done in the first two Gothics - no level scaling. There was something amazing about running through the forest in the first game, completely scared because of the wolves running around and boy, were they assholes in the beginning stages. Especially when you go through the forest at later levels - you are still running, but now it's because you're so awesome you don't even need to fight those dogs, they touch you and die.

It really gave a sense of accomplishment. Especially if you tackled a tougher foe a lot earlier than you should - your first orc or the black troll in Gothic II are hard to forget.

Posted by Hailinel

The Level Scaling page was sadly bare for any form of informative content, but I went ahead and fixed that.
 
Anyway, I think that there is room for level scaling, but it needs to be done with far greater skill than was shown in Oblivion's slap-dash efforts at making the enemies more powerful.  Final Fantasy VIII at least provided an out through junctioning.  The only way that I could escape the feeling of being overwhelmed by level scaling in Oblivion was to ratchet down the game's difficulty.
 
Slogging through Oblivion Gate after Oblivion Gate against enemies that only become increasingly more difficult?  Not fun.
 
Trashing the entire line-up of arena combatants in one game sitting?  Hysterical!

Online
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Hailinel:  I've noticed a lot of games don't do arena battles very well unless they focus on them exclusively. Gladius was pretty fun, but was a tactical RPG basically SET in arenas, and the arenas were varied and the rules changed.  There have been others with arena features where the disappointing hilarity definitely followed, with super strong dude after super strong dude getting completely trounced.   
 
I don't remember how FF VIII's junction system worked as far as scaling was concerned.   It's sort of trippy for me to think of all these games I've played in different ways by using different design theories. Sort of like seeing a long-lost photograph of something that happened during childhood and noticing how different the memory was.
 
@Ghostiet: How expansive was Gothic II, would you say? Would it meet an exploration nut's desires or is it a lot more tightly woven than that?
Posted by Ghostiet
@ahoodedfigure:
I think it's perfect for exploration. The world is still pretty impressive and while the controls and exploration may be a little rough, there's just so much stuff hidden around I think you'll be satisfied.
Edited by valrog
@ahoodedfigure:  You could wander all you want. If you could survive. The beauty is that even later in the game, if you're not careful and a pack of wolves manages to corner you in, you're a dead man. The level of excitement is amazing because you never know when something will come and tear you apart. You just have to experience it. Some people find it too hard and frustrating, though, but I think it's brilliant.
Posted by tourgen
@ahoodedfigure:  wow, great writeup with lots of information.  Thank you.  I thought Oblivion was fundamentally busted.  It drove you towards building a character with primary skills which you wanted to level slowly (not use much) and secondary skills that you would concentrate on!  It was insane and backwards.  It produced the most idiotic builds I've seen in an RPG.  If you didn't build that way then the game would very likely get harder the more you progressed.  It just made no sense.
Posted by Hailinel
@ahoodedfigure:   FFVIII's junction system is completely separate from the level scaling.  The scaling is based on character level.  Going into the final boss battle with a Level 99 Squall was suicide.  But a Level 20-30 party loaded with effective junctions?  Doable.
Online
Posted by ryanwho

I still like FF8's scaling, where enemies have a base level and a max level. So the trex or whatever starts scaling with you at level 30 and stops at level 40. So go into the fight at level 20 and you're fucked. Go in at level 50 and its a piece of cake. This allows people who want a challenge to find it, and people who want to be bitches and grind can be bitches and grind. 

Posted by HaltIamReptar

My problem with Oblivion wasn't the level scaling but the ridiculous leveling system in itself.

Posted by Example1013

The thing about Oblivion's level scaling was that you weren't facing the same exact creatures. Sure, they were the same type, but the higher level creatures were all much more badass-looking and sounding, to go along with all that toughness. For instance, Skeletons became Skeleton Warriors became Skeleton Champions, etc.
 
Rats were always rats, and always level 1, and always had the same amount of health. This was especially obvious in the sewers, where you'd end up fighting rats all the time.
 
 
In Oblivion, I could handle the level scaling and the backwards leveling. It wasn't that hard to get around the leveling system, and the scaling wasn't too bad, as you could usually find ways to win.
 
The real issue for me was gear scaling. Each unique item had multiple tiers, and based on what level you were at when you received the item, it would be at a certain tier, and thus have that certain power. The higher your level, the higher the level of the item.
 
The problem with this was, some items could be amazing for your endgame character, but showed up fairly early on in quest lines. So if you wanted to be able to use a certain item at, say, level 20, you needed to wait to be level 20 to receive it. So if you progressed in the stories at all, you might end up losing access to some potentially really powerful piece of gear. It basically encouraged grinding out levels before completing quests for the sole purpose of getting the higher-tier versions of gear. I know that once I really started getting into crafting the perfect character, I realized that I had already missed some important pieces of gear that I really wanted on that character, because I'd already acquired it at too low a level.
 
It was the same thing with Oblivion Gates--the sigil stones leveled to you, so if you wanted a powerful enchantment, you'd need to be at a much higher level. I essentially completely put off doing the main storyline on a character solely because if I had gone that way, I'd lose access to top-tier sigil stones. And those suckers got powerful.
 
I'd argue that the game really needs tiered encounters--as in some encounters are always lower-level, some always higher-level--so that you have specific low-level and high-level gear, rather than this wishy-washy tiered gear crap. In fact, I'd really rather just have hard-gates on gear, so you can't use it until you're strong enough. Champions of Norrath did it with level gates (i.e. must be lvl 5 for this sword) and I loved it. Shadowbane did this with gates based on skill in whatever ability was required (i.e. you need so many trains in sword to access the most powerful swords).
 
Honestly, though, I'm really a gear fanatic. I devour loot-based games like Champions of Norrath. So the idea of missing out on the most powerful gear kills me. I loved how Dragon Age: Origins had unique items that were walled off, and I slaved away hours going around and getting all the rare armours and weapons.

Edited by YoctoYotta

New Vegas actually does something that's not plot-related to push you in one particular direction, actually somewhat reminiscent of FFXII's use of tough enemies to discourage under-leveled players from proceeding through areas too early. You start the game in a town placed on the western edge of the map, about mid-way between the northern and southern boundaries. While the game encourages you to stick to roads, and there are story related carrots that almost immediately encourage you to head due south (to the southwestern corner of the map), the game goes one step further to discourage open exploration by making the area due north and west extremely difficult to traverse, throwing brutally tough enemies in the area that can rip even high level characters apart very quickly.  The rest of the game plays out in the same way, encouraging you to make your way in an orderly counter-clockwise fashion around the map, not only until you get to New Vegas in the north central area, but bringing you back around to the prohibitively brutal area immediately north of where you start the game. This effectively prevents the player from accessing one of the cooler, more varied game environments until well into the game. All that said, that's an Obsidian choice . . . it may be completely against the ethos of Bethesda to limit player choice like that.
 
Regarding the enemy variations, yeah, there's definitely lazy "add-some-hit-points-and-palette-swap" ways of doing it. Like you said though, I think upgraded armor or different attacks/tactics are justifiable. I personally would like to see greater varieties of completely different species. 
 

@ahoodedfigure

said:

What you say about stronger variations is sort of what a lot of games did. People would make fun of games that just had a different color of Angry Bees but I liked it. I thought of them as different species, even if they were really just recycling graphics. As far as stats, you might have something that behaves in a similar way, but might have an interesting counter to the usual tactic someone would use against them. Angry Bees with armor plating, and the like.   
 
I'm not familiar with New Vegas, but I think you're referring to the main thread pointing you in the direction of NV so you can get some payback or whatever? I know people who never bothered to go in that direction, but it seems like it pushes you that way a bit harder than most of the Elder Scrolls games. I don't believe in blasphemy when it comes to entertainment, so while you're probably right that it might violate a bit of the formula as it's understood, it seems also like some things are moving in that direction in other games. If it existed side-by-side with free-roaming I really wouldn't mind, myself.  Another thing about New Vegas, though: you weren't solving the problems of the universe. I LIKE small stories and I think they have inherent drama that lets you talk about identifiable human costs.  Fantasy games in particular tend to go a bit nuts with the saving the universe stuff. It's fine sometimes, but why not tell a more small-scale story?  You still have the option to ramp stuff up later, I guess. 

Posted by CptBedlam
@ahoodedfigure said:
"@CptBedlam: Might and Magic was the shit, as the kids say. Still is, in my opinion. Xeen was the best of the ones I've played so far, too. Love the humor, the puzzles, and the character system. I could go into that game, play it for an hour or two, feel like I accomplished something, and let it sit there.  It felt like I got more events and interesting tidbits for the time investment.  Been playing MM2 on and off and it has a lot of that charm, though I miss Xeen's improvements."
To this day I can't get these M&M games out of my head. They are just so incredibly fascinating.
 
I started with M&M3 which I also still remember but not quite as vividly as the Xeen games.
 
Newer rpgs never had this effect on me. Man, I think I really got to play these games again.
Posted by stinky

leveling scaling in oblivion was a money saving technique so they wouldn't have to create new environments.  
instead of high and low level zones, it just  reused each to get out of creating differences.

it sucked big time to me, made leveling as a whole pointless, in RPGs i want my character to become all powerful. 
i also want to think of certain areas as dangerous that i need to work up to.

Posted by ViciousReiven

I for one WANT level scaling, but COMBINED with handcrafted.

How?

certain monsters will always be so-so levels ahead or behind you, that's right BOTH WAYS.
So that weak bunny you killed in the beginning of the game is still a weak bunny, it will always die to a single hit, and is never threatening. 
 
weak fodder enemies will always be a few levels below you, but to prevent them from being pushovers you give them something special, maybe they can only be killed from behind, or they have a higher leveled knight with them that gives them morale, and won't go down easily unless you take him out first, or maybe a mage who stands in the back and ressurects them as the fall.

some powerful enemeies will be the same way but above you instead.  
 The balance here is you'll always have enemies that are slightly below, slightly above, or equal to your current power, that way some victories are cake and make you feel good taking out enemies with minimal effort, some will be neck and neck becoming a who kill who first contest, and some you'll have to know what you're doing and learn weaknesses and tactics to overcome. 

Then there will be predetermined enemies, bosses that always remain the same, placed at a point where you're most likely to encounter them at the recommended level where they can give you a thorough beating but arn't impossible, the kind that you can grind a little bit or find better weapons before you take them on. 
 
And finally there are the top of the top, elite predetermined beasts that you can try to go after whenever you feel like it but have no chance of overcoming unless you have trained for them, weaknesses, tactics, tools, weapons, everything, they can one shot even skilled players and you should be afraid of them until you're absolutely determined to take them out, the WEAPONS in the Final Fantasy series are a good comparison, as well as many "true" final bosses. 

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@ryanwho: @Hailinel:  OK, I see.  Sort of a tiered system like @ArbitraryWater: was talking about in Wizardry 8.  
 
@HaltIamReptar: Was it practicing major skills until you level? I could look it up but I'd rather hear from someone who's played than read a wiki that's less likely to have personal insight about it.
 
@example1013: I see, so there really was some sort of limiter on the encounters.  The gear system, though, sounds like once a player knows about it, they're very likely to game the system to try to maximize the loot based on some meta principle of their current level, which doesn't sound terribly fun to me. 
 
I used to hate min-level gear, but you're right, that makes sense when you're trying to limit the power of the items people get early on without permanently breaking their usefulness. Another system I've seen is where items level with the character, so you sort of grow with the weapon or whatever.  I actually think this makes more sense just from a roleplaying perspective, because you become more familiar with it over time.  Hell, now I'm wondering why more game systems haven't used this (except for the nightmare of keeping track of variables).  Some games had leveling items, but they tended to be just vehicles to teaching specific characters specific skills (like in some Final Fantasy games).  I'm more talking about unlocking the potential of the weapon or armor or item...  Anyway, maybe I'll save that for a later post.
 
I only played Dark Alliance, but I thought Norrath sounded interesting.  Sounds from what you say like they did more than just change the setting.
 
@YoctoYotta: If they bury that railroading enough I tend to enjoy it more than it's something obvious and completely insurmountable.  But I guess that would feel like less of an exploration game for me, even if I might not enjoy it any less than an exploration game.  With Elder Scrolls the charm for me has always been that I can give the big F.U. to the main quest and dick around in sidelands FOR EVER until I get bored and quit.  Of course it helps if there's actually something to see, so a lot of the autojunk in Daggerfall wound up wearing me down after a while: I'd go to a new province, get cozy, hang out at the local temples, check out the shops, find a few dungeons, move on.  If things are too laissez-faire they wind up being bland.  
 
Speaking of species, it takes me out a bit when all the bears are the same, all of the wolves, etc.  Old Baldur's Gate had different colors and behaviors for bears, which made things feel right even though deep down I knew it was just different colors and stats and not some completely new model (geh, who's that picky?).   
 
@stinky: Yeah, once you figure out a system a bit of the magic sorta leaks out. I tend not to delve in too deep to try to understand everything for that reason, but I wind up understanding stuff just by osmosis I guess. Creating a world is labor-intensive, so I understand why they need to cut some corners sometimes, but they're sort of experimenting a bit too much without testing the idea a bit more ahead of time, it seems.  Ah well, we keep on paying them.  Sorta like an extended programing college at the buyers' expense :)
Posted by ViciousReiven
@Hailinel said:
" @ahoodedfigure:   FFVIII's junction system is completely separate from the level scaling.  The scaling is based on character level.  Going into the final boss battle with a Level 99 Squall was suicide.  But a Level 20-30 party loaded with effective junctions?  Doable. "
Ot go into the final boss at 99 with maxed out uber magic in all junction slots on fully upgraded GFs, and all ultimate weapons, that game gave you enough alternative options to overcome anything despite your level, you just had to know how it works.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@CptBedlam:  I started on MM2, on a console of all things.  Probably not the best way to experience it, and for a time I wasn't too into it.  But I came back, I think, because I liked how you could have a party that felt like your own, with their own weaknesses and quirks, all because of the effort you put into creating them and putting them through hell. 
 
I assume you have copies already?  I had to get most of mine from gog.com, since they had a six-pack of the first six games. The first one is interesting but a bit too hard and too janky to play with much zeal. I sorta gave up.  2 I'm already familiar with though, so even though I put it down I got pretty far, and would be able to pick it up and play at a moment's notice (should hunt down Corak's Cave next. Spells in there).
Posted by CptBedlam
@ahoodedfigure: 
 
Yeah I still have the copies. Whenever I digged through my old stuff, these went to the "keep it"-pile.
Edited by ahoodedfigure
@ViciousReiven:  Sounds like a reasonable system. You know what it reminds me the most of off the top of my head?  Dungeons and Dragons, and I mean the pen and paper game.  In the latest edition the GM is given a toolbox to set up encounters that match player abilities (or challenge them, depending on how sadistic you are).  There are minions, which are fodder that goes down in one hit (assuming you can hit them), then there are encounters that are about your level.  For high level stuff, boss equivalents, they usually sit alone or have a few minions, since they're made for crowd control that matches an entire party.
 
I do not see this as being terribly difficult to code, especially since you sort of laid out in your outline pretty much what the basic idea behind the encounter creation system is about.
 
That's not to say the system doesn't have a ton of flaws in my experience, including some of the tier shortcuts that other people have mentioned, in this case having to do with items and skills, but compared to the ham-fisted systems that video games sometimes get, I think modern video game producers might learn a bit from the scions of the people who gave CRPGs (etc) their popularity in the first place.
Posted by HaltIamReptar
@ahoodedfigure: It wasn't made clear how the leveling system worked in the game itself.
 
The leveling system encouraged you to deliberately choose skills that were not imperative to your character as your major skills.  In theory, you can be at level one and have the most powerful spells in the game.
Edited by Grumbel

Level scaling or not really depends on the way missions are designed. If you have "open" missions, like say in Gothic, where you basically just do something inside the world, the lack of level scaling is great, as it separates the world into paths you can take and those that you should better avoid for now. And getting back to some thieves who some hours earlier provided an unsurmountable obstacle is just cool.
 
On the other side in Mass Effect you have "closed" missions. Every mission starts with a cutscene and within that mission you are locked to a fixed location. Level scaling here is basically a requirement as otherwise you could get easily be stuck with an unsolvable situation. It is simply a much more controlled environment then an open game like Gothic and most of the freedom is simply about the order in which you want to play the missions, not in what you actually do.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Grumbel:  Do these open missions in Gothic sometimes take you near places you shouldn't be, or do they in a sense give you strong guidelines on where to go that help keep the difficulty manageable?
Posted by Daiphyer
@ahoodedfigure said:
@Daiphyer: I haven't played Borderlands, but I liked some of what I saw about its system. It DID feel a bit grind heavy, though, since I wondered if a player didn't do enough that they might be doing 1-point damage on a guy just because he's at high level, not because he's wearing power armor. I actually have an issue with that, since I like the idea that you can cut down a big baddy since he's still just a human being--  your lack of survival would be due to the big baddy having tons of friends. The leveling then has to do with taking out a big group of people, rather than your bullets bouncing off the guy just because he's experienced.  
 
So there were no places overland for the most part that had useful items or whatever?  I guess Elder Scrolls in general did that, but yeah, that sort of makes the landscape feel a bit like window dressing by comparison, doesn't it? Why not have a sword stuck in a mountain, or a huge statue that the player can scale? I mean, that's what fantasy's about anyway: seeing stuff we can't see in real life. No need to put it all in halls that remind us a bit too much of offices and school interiors.
 
Actually, in Borderlands you would less damage, because of your guns, but it was not like you are not hitting them at all. Also, I thought there was no grinding going on with Borderlands. I felt like the game made me experience everything it had to offer, because I needed to do some side-quests before going on to the next main story mission. It's a nice motive to go and play all the fantastically designed side-quests. Thank god they weren't anything like "Get this item from this guy, go there and give it to that guy". 
 
Yep, that's my point. Almost every quest in Oblivion had to do something with the caves. At first it was cool, but then it got real repetitive. I just wish I could fight near those gorgeous rivers, or those small islands.  
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Daiphyer:  Maybe my impression was based on watching someone who had a really crappy weapon, actually.  In my opinion equipment as increase in character power and intrinsic character power through leveling are very similar if not the same basic mechanic, so what I'm really doing is reacting to a boss character shrugging off a hail of bullets more than the specific mechanics. That's specifically an aesthetics issue, though, since I don't generally have a problem with there being challenging encounters you have to build up to beat.
 
I also think of grinding as doing things that you don't want to do in order to make you more powerful.  That's probably a corruption of what most people think, since the stereotype might more accurately be running back and forth in a game like Final Fantasy VII and waiting for random encounters to gain experience and loot.  What I've heard from some other players is that many of the side missions did feel like busy work or stuff that's unconnected to the main mission, but that's down to their personal preferences for missions I guess, since I haven't seen more than a few of them myself. 
 
Borderlands actually reminds me of a game I used to play offline all the time, Phantasy Star Online, where there were set areas, enemy spawns, and interesting items to be had with random stats. Games like that, and maybe Diablo 2 and such, make grinding less grindy than games where story and characterization is a bit more central to the gameplay.  
 
Since I've got your ear/eye, did you find you settled into certain weapons over time, and have more money than you knew what to do with?  Or were you still occasionally surprised by the weapons even after a long time of playing?
Edited by Daiphyer
@ahoodedfigure:  
 
Yea, Borderlands had some crappy bosses, that was one of the weakest point of the game. Most of them just required you to stand there and shoot them in their weak point till they go down. And no matter how over-leveled you are, the bosses still take alot of bullets to go down. 
Yes, there are 'some', but really, I thought most of the quests were really well designed. There are actually some that require you to platform, which was refreshing. As for the story, Borderlands never had a good story to begin with, through out the whole story you are like 'WTF?' and then at the end you'll be like "WTF?!?!?!?!", that's how bad it is. Many of the side-quests give you rare guns/mods that you wouldn't normally see a random enemy drop. 
I did certainly used some guns more than others during my 3 playthroughs, but they would always get replaced by something better(Even though I was no longer leveling up during my second/third playthrough) I was indeed really surprised that I got some unique guns even in my third playthrough.  
I never really used my money for anything, cause I'd get everything that I need from my abilities(Regenerating shield/health/ammo), occasionally buying some mods, but I never even got close to how much Jeff had(Which was 9999999)
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Daiphyer: I wonder if there might be a recycling mechanic for its next incarnation. Something where you can grind up inferior guns and get parts that could eventually construct the rifle of your dreams (with a few quirks that make drops superior based on weapon chassis you have to fit all the parts to), and some way to spend your money so that you don't get the 9-repeating issue.  Had that in Gladius for us, where we (well, not so much the me part of that we) would get more money than we could use.
 
Were the other character classes any good, or did you stick with your primary choice on the playthroughs?  If you switched it up, how was the variation between characters?
Posted by Daiphyer
@ahoodedfigure: Yes, I really want them to have a crafting system in the next one. Since I really liked the idea of BAZILLION guns random generation. 
  
I only played as the soldier, though my brother was playing Brick when we played Split-screen, and I played other characters to level 10. I didn't really like them. Their abilities and specialties are not as good as the Soldier, and the soldier really kicks ass. If I had to rate them in order of coolness/usefulness: Soldier > Brick > Hunter > Lilith.
Edited by Astras

After a long absence from Giant Bomb and coming back for a look, it's great to have a interesting read.. thanks for the blog.
 
After just playing Dragon quest 6 on the snes I can absolutely identify with your analysis of scaling level games such as Oblivion and Fallout, for me they are just not as fun. Even though in places Dragon Quest feels like a grind, the sense of achivement from leveling up and becoming stronger is one of the main ingredience of any RPG.
 
Levelling for me is not just about achieving higher base stats but also developing abilities that can be used intelligently to gain advantages over problems that are specifically crafted to cause problems in zonal area's in rpg's.
 Sword of vermillion is a prime example of this where by you start off not being able to see in dungeons and have a difficult time with certain mobs (Scorpions poisoning you etc) the game pushes u to the limit where you only make it back to town by a whisker before dieing, but then when you manage to aquire Poisoina (Cure poison) this ability allows you to feel much more comfortable in these areas.
 
 Might and Magic 6 required persistance also, I remember being in a bad way in a few of those dungeons but my limited abilities/loot and condition required me to return to town, refresh, gather new abilities that I needed to delve deeper into the dungeons even though sometimes greed got the better of me and I died :P
 
 I am a big fan of Final fantasy 6's  Esper system that let's your chosen abilities grow with experience through AP points you gain during encounters.
 
I just feel that mainly crafted games with area's that you either can't access or get stomped if you do at early levels feel much more fun, structured and traditional to me. I did not enjoy Oblivion or Fallout that much and tried to play Oblivion in many different ways:
 

  • Standard Play: Just annoyed me to the point where I wanted to scream
  • Not levelling: Just not sleeping ever, just got boring
  • Power levelling to make the game apparently easier: focusing on certain abilities and achieving multipliers just made the game ultimately boring.
 
Because of this I found myself mainly taking ta Grand theft Auto approach to Oblivion gameplay which just involved causing as much mayhem as possible with guards etc and trying to achieve *a 5 star rating. I desperately wanted to like those Betheda games as much as Morrowind but unfortunately the scaling systems, even though I appreciate the technical difficulties associated with a 'TRUE access all areas open world RPG' it is not for me and I appreciete, more linear RPG's but with more legacy RPG systems governing the game.
Posted by Astras
@ArbitraryWater: 
Was just wandering about the scaling by region system, if the player scouts all the areas possible early game say level 2.. does that mean that the gameplay in those areas when he returns late in game will be rediculous and easy?
Edited by ahoodedfigure
@Astras:  Welcome back!
 
It's been a long time since I've played Sword of Vermillion. That was a game that could be played in a few different ways if I remember right, since I don't think I concentrated on spells as much as seemed possible. There are plenty of examples on the PC and the console that do hand-crafted difficulty increases and do them well.  When done wrong they're horrible, but most of my fond memories came from this type of game, probably because I knew it was usually my own fault when I ran into trouble.  Like your experiences, sometimes I got greedy or too daring and paid for it, but risk/reward is a great way to up the tension for those of us who need a bit more stimulation.
 
One game that scales that I forgot to mention was the initial Final Fantasy Tactics.  I didn't like the scaling but I still played the game through 3 times, I think. One of the few games I've ever completed more than once.  Once I figured out what it scaled to (the leader) I deliberately left him out of most of the battles, which I'm not sure the designers of the game intended for the player to consider a legitimate tactic, but at least I wasn't running into trouble as often.
 
I never thought of cure poison as an actual method to limit exploration but it makes perfect sense now that I think about it. I ran into situations like that in Might and Magic, where I had the option to press on, knowing that the things my cleric and paladin couldn't help with might wind up causing the party serious problems if we were far away from town.
Posted by haggis

Scaling ought to be ditched altogether. We just have to be ready for the consequences of this: that some game areas will pretty much kick our asses and be inaccessible. I don't mind this, so long as the game designers give us enough alternate paths that the "open world" game doesn't suddenly become linear. Part of the fun (for me, at least) in these games is being scared a bit to enter those areas on the edge of my abilities. Fallout 3 restored some of that: going onto the Mall for the first time, for instance, when I was still pretty low-level, was pretty intimidating. But it wasn't a perfect system. 
 
I won't pretend to know what would be the solution to this problem other than to say that the pen-and-paper stat approach has been bent to the point of almost being broken. I'm not sure the narrative/open-world RPGs we're playing are best suited to that sort of stat calculation. They're too complex, and people play them in so many different ways that it's difficult for developers to balance things for everyone. Go one way, and the game becomes linear, go the other way and the leveling system seems pointless. Everything is a compromise.

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