Jul 152013

In most RPGs, ailment & other forms of non-direct attack abilities are awful. They tend to have a low chance of success that drops even further (or is outright resisted against) when you’re fighting bosses – aka the enemies where ailments would be the most useful. Occasionally, you’ll see a game where these kinds of abilities can be more useful – for example, in some of the Shin Megami Tensei and related games, you can find out which enemies are weak to various ailment elements & then only use those abilities on vulnerable enemies – but in most case it feels like these abilities are a wasted opportunity and everyone just ends up using direct damage & healing spells exclusively (with maybe a buff here and there).

One option is to just make these abilities have 100% success rate (like the Insanity effect in Cthulhu Saves the World) or make their success dependent on some other factor (like the Interrupt abilities in Precipice of Darkness 3 & 4 needing to hit right before an enemy’s turn for maximum effect). Still, this is not a perfect solution and we’ve been searching for something better for the past few years.

Here’s an idea that we’re toying around with for Cosmic Star Heroine – making these kinds of abilities have a 100% success rate but a variable MP cost. So for example, using a Poison ability on an enemy weak to it might cost 10MP but against a resistant enemy might cost 30MP. The cost might go up for repeated uses on the same target for certain abilities like Stun (to prevent permanent stun-locking) and the player could lower their general ailment MP costs by increasing a certain stat (like Speed or Cunning) or through various passives & equipment.

This system would allow us to include a wide range of ailments, debilitating effects, and other non-direct attack abilities while still keeping them balanced. It would give the player some fun decisions to make – is it worth using this ability on this enemy even though they’re resistant? – and allow them to create characters that specialize in these kinds of abilities by developing the right stats & passives. Ailments would become a valid & reliable element of combat strategy instead of a roll of the dice. To make this system would require extensive playtesting and the proper UI (need to make it quick & easy for the player to see how much these abilities cost on each enemy) but hey, we were already planning on making big improvements to our UI in this game anyway. 🙂

 Posted by at 2:32 pm

  22 Responses to “An Idea for Making Ailment Abilities Useful in Cosmic Star Heroine”

  1. Not sure if this will actually get viewed at this point, but, I always feel bummed out when ailments/debuffs are boring, or only really punishing to the player/party and not the enemies. I actually really enjoyed how they worked in FF13, where I used a party that buffed a single character to crazy levels, while the other party member debuffed the enemy. This was helped by the fact that effects always worked unless they were super resistant. They also did damage, not as much as a fire or ice spell, but enough that you didn’t feel like it was a waste to try the spell. There were other systems that helped it along, the chain system where each attack built up to a weakness in the enemy could be boosted significantly by status attacks.

    I’m not sure I like the idea of status effects costing more against certain enemies, mainly it sounds like it might end up clunky. Maybe instead just have the effects apply less frequently, and work like pokemon, where you may be paralyzed, but it doesn’t always steal your turn away. In that case an enemy with a high resist to paralyze only loses 1 out of every 10 turns where something weak can lose 5/10 or more. Also potentially worth looking at from pokemon is how long status effects last, three rounds, or what ever is appropriate you sit there looking stupid. A resistant would miss only 2 or 1.

    I’m not writing this out very well. Basically, I’m glad you are considering how to make status ailments actually useful to the party, and not just the enemy.

  2. The biggest problem with ailments is they cost MP, and that FEELS like a waste. MP is usually used for murdering things or slowing the murder being done to yourself, even in games where ailments are effective, that MP can be better spent elsewhere.

    What if you had 3 pools of MP, one for buffs/debuffs, one for healing, and one for offense? That way each could get a chance to shine, and characters could be better at one or another (Healer A could have more MP for de/buffs and Healer B could have more MP for straight healing). I don’t think this would be too complicated, Grandia did something similar to this with MP tiers.

    New debuffs would help too, everyone goes the same old poison/sleep/petrify route (is that a limit of the genre or is it just so ingrained we don’t know any better?).

  3. In the biological world, you have to have multiple types of antibiotic because the types of bacteria are resistant to different things. So, you could have like 5 different kinds of poison attacks, and whether an enemy is resistant to it might depend on what type of enemy it is, or how often you have used that attack before (have they adapted their technology?). That would make the type of bio-attacks or skills more dependent on player skill than on random chance.

  4. 100% success rate is a good start, but the problem with status ailments has traditionally been that they’re only useful in long battles against dangerous targets. If the enemy is weak there’s no need to use blind or petrify, and if the enemy dies in a few hits from direct damage abilities you don’t get much out of poison. Meanwhile, the few enemies that those things would be useful for are immune to them because that would trivialize the fight.

    Making non-boss fights difficult enough that status ailments are worth using is the best move you can make, IMO.

  5. I don’t know if this response will be read, but the kickstarter reminded me of this post and I had another idea.

    Certain enemies – perhaps only stronger enemies such as bosses or rare monsters – could have different reactions to certain ailments. For example: let’s say the party is fighting a giant bear monster. If the bear is blinded, its accuracy goes down, but it sends the bear into a blind rage – resulting in the bear attacking more often but less accurately as a defense mechanism. Another example: perhaps the Poison ailment does damage when a character/enemy does a physical action, so certain enemies might switch tactics and use magic spells instead, saving their HP from poison damage. The enemy might not be as strong in the magic department, but it would prevent them from taking additional damage per turn.

    This could be paired up with the 100% ailment success rate that was mentioned, either by default or at the cost of additional MP, with the only catch being that a player might find him/herself in a different or more difficult situation as a result of using certain ailments.

    Good luck with the Kickstarter – you have my support!

  6. Another idea that comes to mind borrows from the slot machine mentality of the trophy unlocking completionist stuff from Smash Bros. Melee.

    It requires a great deal of granularity, but what if your enemies have, as stated below, set resistances to status effects, such as, Goblin: poison resistance: 55%, and you cast poison for 10 MP. Now, you’re given the opportunity to wager additional MP to give your poison spell a better chance of landing. For example, every 1 MP you spend above the cost reduces the resistance by 5% for that spell cast. So, you can spend 21 MP to make it a sure thing, or 11 MP for a 50% chance.

    This lets the player decide how much randomness he/she is willing to put up with, and lets them land in those absolute times of need, assuming they have enough MP to begin with.

  7. Why not 100% effect rate w/ altered durations/damage/effects based on the enemy’s level of resistance to that type of effect. If poison would do 100 pts damage/round for 10 rounds against a critter w/ no resist, Have it do 75% of that for mildly resistant, 50% for resistant, 25% strongly resistant, etc

  8. That sounds pretty intriguing. I like it when alternate play styles, like this, are actually viable.

  9. Also what if status ailments had priority over other spells, say they went off before everything else in battle? There might be more incentive to use them if you could disable an enemy before they had a chance to attack.

  10. It would feel strange for your MP consumption to change based on enemy resistances. This first thing it made me think of is that the variable would have to be for the enemy’s resource and not the player’s. say it cost you 10 mp to cast poison, if you poison an enemy weak to poison he would lose 5~10 mp, and if you cast it on an enemy strong against poison he would gain 5~10 mp. While enemies wont likely have mp directly, the basic idea is the same. That is to say, the ailment effect would be the same on every enemy, but if the enemy was resistant he would also gain some kind of advantage (and it it’s still worth it to cast the ailment, that’s up to you) and an enemy weak would be further disadvantaged.

  11. Honestly, I could do without short battles against cannon fodder anyway, if the sole purpose is to just drain your resources. For example, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn had a great story and thoughtful characters, but it was unbearable for me to play because the most efficient battle strategy was “mash A until combat ends”. All these special abilities and absolutely no use for them, since combats end in one or two turns at max. If you’re going to drag me into a battle, make it a BATTLE, not a distraction.

  12. There’s a fair few possible ways to tackle the issue, but the problem is that after the first few rounds ailments are often not cast because the big damage has been rolled out against you and you either want to heal, or end the battle as fast as possible. Landing an ailment early on is great, but if it’s resisted then you ignore the spell and switch over to your standard meat-and-potatoes DD/Heal combos.

    The other issue is that ailments often don’t put out the same raw damage to end a fight quickly (which, while obviously not the point of them, makes them less desirable).

    So, one solution is to have a hybrid nuke/DoT – a lower powered spell that inflicts respectable damage and has a chance of adding an ailment. That’s a good start, and would make it viable throughout a fight. But…

    What if the ailment wasn’t just damage over time? What if it was *only* damage when the enemy did certain things? It’s not a new idea by any means, but it’s certainly under utilised. If I could cast Venom on an enemy and every time he attempted a physical attack he took damage as well, that would make me want to keep that spell on him – that’s free damage. Later versions of the spell could inflict more damage based on what the enemy was doing – the more damage they’re dishing out, the more they’re taking.
    And it’s not just limited to HP damage. MP damage is valuable too. An MP poison spell would be great because even kicking off 2 MP/round is valuable through the course of a fight.

    Other options could be a DoT that gets more powerful over time, but can be resisted each round (for only that round), or one that starts out strong (so it also acts as a sort of nuke) and gradually trails off.

    What if there was a DoT type that was strong but unlikely to land on the first cast? What if every time you cast it you lowered the creature’s resistance against it and increased the chance to land the spell? What if the ailment got stronger every time you cast it until the creature is afflicted? That would make the spell worth casting a few times until it landed and would make resisted casts feel like less of a waste.

    And lastly is one that’s been mentioned (and done) but spells & abilities that impart weaknesses to certain ailments – making them more likely to land and/or stronger when they do. The trade off could be that if a creature has been weakened vs an ailment type, that the ailment is stronger for a shorter duration.

  13. Is there a game with a system that will cause their resistance to an effect go down the more times you try it? Rather than just say an enemy has a 85% chance of resisting Poison1, and an 60% chance of resisting Poison2, it becomes say a 72.5% (.85*.85) COR the second time one casts Poison1, and a 36% (.6*.6) COR for Poison2, or a 51% (.85*.6) chance if they cast Poison1 then Poison2.

    Just throwing it out there.

  14. I definitely like systems where the application of status ailments is 100%, especially because that typically comes attached with an interesting method of application or effect. I would say the variable MP is an interesting idea. Perhaps a little tame, but that also means it’s less likely to fail miserably.

    Whatever route you end up going, I personally think the 2 most important things in this matter are how quickly you see a return on your investment, and how the ailment changes the flow of battle. Status effects aren’t used in random battles because status effects usually have a lead up time which isn’t worth it in a short encounter (obviously). The other one is the bigger one though, I think. Even in games where status effects are useful, they often fall into the trap of being the solution to a single problem. Status effects are interesting when they provide a different way of playing, as opposed to being a “if x then y” situation.

    But then, I’m sure you already know all this.

  15. What about something like Pokemon where certain moves have a chance of inflicting a status ailment/buff on top of doing damage? There’s also giving enemies enough HP/Def/Resistances that status ailments are only the reasonable way of bring down enemies quickly but that would get annoying if done too often. Maybe something like enemies that counter-attack or cause damage to whoever attacks it, if a certain status ailment isn’t used on it first? Such as having to freeze a fire based opponent.

  16. I like the variable MP idea – it makes me think of the caster having to focus extra hard and put all their energy into making the spell effect the powerful foe.

    Final Fantasy X did something I liked with status-inducing skills: they also did regular physical damage in addition to having a chance to land a status ailment. In the event that the ailment didn’t land or the enemy was immune, you didn’t waste a turn since you still did a moderate amount of damage (at the cost of some MP).

  17. I like the idea. You can even have some weapons have such abilities as use of item abilities, like a sap just attacking does damage, but using it will be a stun status effect. Abilities and character types can edit that more.

    I also really like Josef’s idea of non kill victory conditions. There is a lot of depth you can add to the story based on how the player handles certain fights. even have quests that require, say, poisoning someone then running away from the fight, or knock out this one guy and bring him along. You can kill his guards, but don’t kill him.

  18. I really liked the spellsword capabilities in Final Fantasy V, where Mystic Knights imbue their weapons with elemental spells or status effects that then are applied to the enemy (with appropriate percentage checks) with each attack. While not overly effective in shorter fights (and that’s always the problem with that sort of game), because the effect ends when combat does, it proves rather effective in the longer fights.

    One system I have always wanted to see done properly is beneficial spells and harmful effects lasting outside of combat. (Many systems do this with the harmful effects — poison, particularly — but I have yet to see one where the beneficial effects (outside of ‘float’ status) persist.) So, you have your poison sword buff last for, say, 100 ‘turns’. One turn is either a round of combat, or a step on the map. This gives spells like ‘regen’ a reason to be used in lighter fights, and spells like ‘poison’ can actually be prepared before the important fight starts, which furthers the resource management of MP system.

  19. Personally I really like ailment attacks, but like you said most of the time in rpgs people just power through the game with just regular attacks myself included. In Chrono Trigger I went through the entire game with Robo, Frog, and Chrono and relied on just beating up enemies with physical attacks (mostly) and special attacks on bosses. BUT there were a few enemies that you couldn’t do this on (the slime things) and I found that really cool, but they usually just died in one hit from an elemental attack and the thrill was over, so I think you should make more enemies like that and maybe a boss or two. Two games that did this well was Earthbound and Mother 3 in Earthbound Jeff could pretty much ONLY do ailment attacks, but he was REALLY weak, unless you knew exactly what to use on which enemy, and even then it wasn’t that helpful just made the battle shorter. So if you can balance CSH and make ailments actually MATTER then I think it could be really cool, and open up new ideas for characters and enemies

  20. Another option would be to attach them at the environment level. That is, you can “pre”-afflict an area with a status effect and have it carry into fights held at those locations. In a Chrono Trigger style scenario, imagine shooting a stream of poison at an enemy prior to the combat being engaged.

    Alternatively, you may want to try win conditions that don’t include killing all the enemies. If you can also win a combat by paralyzing everything, the status effect becomes much more attractive.

  21. Etrian Odyssey of course makes killing while under specific status effects a necessity for item drops – for instance (in a completely made up example), an Imp will drop Potion normally, but Antidote if you kill it while it is poisoned. This makes them more useful technically, but not really any better to use. EO also makes them extremely effective, but that’s another matter.

    Really, yes, the problem is as Imaria stated – buffs/debuffs only really matter over lengthy battles. My advice is just to let people use the ability that inflicts the status as an “enchantment” on their other attacks – for instance, Fire casts Fire, but Fire modified with the Poison inflictor does a little more damage and poisons enemies. Fire modified with the Sleep inflictor does a little less damage, but has a chance to put things to sleep. I guess kind of like the Path of Exile skill system, but with status effects.

  22. The problem with most ailments is that they only pan out over time, and most random battles are over quickly (or you at least WANT them to be). They’re useful against bosses because they’re longer battles, but that’s about it.

    The only exception I can think of comes from Precipice’s Hoboism and Cthulhu’s Insanity, in that it set up other, more powerful attacks. Enemies afflicted with X Y or Z became vulnerable to other attacks on TOP of smaller time-relevant damage. Even in tabletop RPG’s, the only time I see afflictions being used is when they set up some sort of combo.

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