Sunday, August 14, 2011

Church of the Random Number God

One recurring annoyance I seem to notice with some kinds of games, mostly rpgs and roguelikes, is the annoying way they tend to use randomization. It is not that things are randomized that is really the problem (after all, roguelikes wouldn't be any fun if they made the dungeon layouts static, and combat should always have some small element of chance just to mix things up), mostly just the way they tend to get players stuck in loops, doing the same thing over and over for a chance at some rare thing or some event, and the fact that EVERYTHING is randomized even if there is no logic to it.

It seems that rpg/roguelike designers often put everything in the hands of the Random Number God, that fickle semi-deity that grants blessings to only the most lucky or the most boneheadedly determined of the players, and often curses just as many. How many pokemon fan has hunted for years in vain for a Shiny Pokemon? How many Nethack players have summoned hoards of water demons and ruined their sword trying to get Excalibur? How many old-school rpg players got mobbed by a billion monsters as they were desperately trying to get some place that they could heal? How much time is wasted by people killing the same type of monster over and over hoping for that rare thing it drops?

There are better ways to do these things. Why not let every few thousand encounters be a shiny? Why not have a particular place trigger the effect? Why not have enemies appear on the map? Why not enemies actually drop what they use, or have every so many encounters drop something? I like the way Dwarf Fortress pre-generates a world and it's history. Everything that exists in the game is there for a reason. The world is randomly made, but enemies all have populations and roam on their own. Things are built where they are for a reason, treasure always comes from somewhere, almost nothing is randomized in actual gameplay besides some combat rolls. It's a good example of randomness done right.

There should be no incentive to stay in the same place and do the same thing over and over. There should be no way most of the game boils down to luck. Randomization is a tool that can be used to mix things up, but it should not be the whole game.

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