Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Towards Smarter Loot Systems

The typical way that I see loot working in ARPGs is simple randomization of attributes based on item type and a percentage chance. Roll a many-sided die and look up the result in the table, repeat this several times and you have your loot.

I don't think this is the best way to calculate what drops in an ARPG.

What matters is that players have interesting decisions to make with regards to gear--decisions that aren't as simple as seeing that 10% more damage is less than 15% more damage. You can generate interesting decisions here in a much more directed fashion than just dropping fully randomized but scaled-by-level loot.

When designing a loot system, we have to answer two questions:

  • How often should you be upgrading your equipment?
  • How often should you see a piece of gear that you have to consider as an upgrade?

We can think it through and exert control over it, or we can put some percentage chances in a loot table and hope that everything turns out OK. I'd prefer to design the loot system to guarantee as fun an experience as I can. That means taking more control over the kinds of modifiers that appear on items dropped for each class.

I think that if you have to consider a lot of loot and a high percentage of that loot has no value to you even before you put it in your inventory, you feel like you're wading through crap. The longer you go without interesting drops, the more bored you will become. This produces a feeling of "farming", which I don't think is a positive experience. It has negative connotations because gamers don't like doing it--farming is a reduction of the game to a tedious harvesting task that you could easily hire daylaborers to do and be better off. Tasks like that don't belong in games, they're an artifact of artificial difficulty and/or poorly or underdesigned gameplay.

The game should be aware of what would be an upgrade for you and what wouldn't. Upgrades should be dropped based on what you fight within a certain number of minutes of "challenging" combat. Don't even bother dropping trash. Only drop loot that is a sidegrade or an upgrade, and only drop loot that is equippable. Based on statistical and forum feedback the algorithm can be tweaked.

The game should be able to learn what modifiers people tend to pick on their items, and what people tend to put together. Based on these patterns for each, sidegrades can be generated that suit the kinds of builds that people actually use. In the beginning, such as system would need to be seeded with playtester-approved build information, and some noise would need to be added to the weights in the randomization of items in order to ensure that every character isn't siphoned into one of a few builds.

I think the current set of modifications and the way they work in Diablo III is well-suited towards this kind of system. If the longevity of the game is predicated on farming, as Diablo III's seems to be, my idea can still be effective, but may not be in the developers' best interest. What you really need is an end to the game--a feature that makes roguelikes great and has been lost along the development of ARPGs away from the roguelike foundation. But that's a topic for another post.


motstandet said...

What if character attributes are varied enough such that players are not looking to maximize a single one? I.e. there are many sidegrades.

An item of form (X,Y) will obviously be an upgrade to (X-2,Y-2), but what about an item (X+2,Y-2)? Perhaps something like Max Health vs Health Regen.

Is it always better to have more health over better regeneration? If so, then perhaps the game combat needs to be looked into, not itemization.

Tyler said...

Based on statistical and forum feedback the [loot] algorithm can be tweaked.

I see two problems with that statement:

1. Making changes based on feedback from forums is incredibly problematic. Your average gamer has a poor idea of what makes the game fun.

2. This implies that there's One True Loot Algorithm which is the Most Fun. I don't think a single solution can please everyone. Several of your suggestions would be less fun for me.

evizaer said...

Mot: I'm mostly hoping for a system that'd drop less crap. Sidegrades are great

Tyler: Forum feedback is very tough to deal with, but there are generally a few players worth trusting.

The key to this kind of thing is that you wouldn't TELL players that this is how you're doing things.

Anonymous said...

How about having more powerful npc monsters kill weaker players in a MMO game for taking the players loot, and then other players can take on the monsters and gain the loot second hand? :)

Anonymous said...

And, I should have added, npc monsters could then redistribute their gained loot between their fellow monsters, so that even lesser npc's can have interesting loot as well and not only the biggest and more powerful ones.

A rotation of equipment between npc's happening on an hourly basis. Preferably in ways that makes good sense, so that this system does not feel cheap and simplistic.

Machination said...

So long as every boar drops that stupid boar liver, I'm happy. Who ever heard of a liverless boar anyways? How do they survive?

Hyperian said...

@ Machination Wooooow dude... be careful... thinking all logically will get you into trouble

Anonymous said...

Speaking of loot, how about some kind of interception concept?

The interception event would stick to whoever has loot, meaning that the opponent of the interception acts as a magnet by the virtue of having loot, some particular loot or general type of loot on its person.

This way, instances could be meaningful, with instanced areas spawning on demand, as a meaningful event more so than a general area with npc's and loot/resources.

Anonymous said...

I guess it should be added, that in order for the instanced area to kick in, none of the players can not already be in a general public area.

Which means that some kind of transition has to happen before the event kicks in. Maybe when two players exit an area at the same time, forcing an event if eligible according to the game mechanics.

Anonymous said...

Correction: The players have to be in a general public area, in order for the event to kick in on a forthcoming transision (movement into other areas).