Over at a blog called Gamecrush, Eddie Inzauto has a post about random encounters in CRPGs.

It’s aimed more at the console products rather than the PC. These days, we don’t see much in the way of random critters jumping out from ambush. About the only recent game I can think of might be Oblivion.

Neither of the Neverwinter games, for instance, had random encounters. All the monsters in Titan Quest were pretty much pre-placed.

Eliminating random encounters has a great benefit for designers: they can easily control character advancement, especially in games that have a level cap.

When every fight is preset, it isn’t too hard to calculate where a character should be at any point in the game (this includes any experience for doing a quest, too). Character progress can be kept at a fairly smooth pace.

When random encounters are thrown in, the picture changes. Aside from being a possible annoyance – that’s Eddie’s main complaint – players can start wandering around looking for such fights in order to gain levels. Or, as we say these days, grinding.

Of course, the earliest CRPGS were nothing but random encounters. Taking a step in Wizardry was nerve-racking, because you never knew when several gangs of monsters might appear to trash your team.

Then again, since these games were dungeon crawls, it didn’t matter much. This was the only way to gain levels.

More modern games, at least on the PC, have been scaling back or dropping random fights entirely. But we need to look at that word “random”, because I think Eddie is a bit confused there.

At one point in his article he writes: “In fact, the original Dragon Warrior for the NES subjected players to a fight EVERY TWO STEPS at a certain point in the game”.

Now, if that does happen every time you take those two steps in that area, the fights are not random; they’re pre-determined. Random is walking down an empty hallway, then coming back a half hour later to find something nasty waiting for you.

Random encounters are not planned. If you walk on a certain spot, and each time enemies show up, that isn’t random. It may be overkill as far as fights go, but it’s been put in specifically by game designers.

Random encounters occur when a hidden dice roll decides they should. That certainly adds a strong element of uncertainty to the game. And if the rolls come up too often, yes, it can be a very annoying thing.

Since I haven’t played any console games myself, I’m not in a position to judge whether CRPGs on those machines are throwing too many random combats at the player, or if the designers are just placing a lot of fight situations around that can’t be avoided most of the time.

Personally, I’m glad that random fights seem to be disappearing from the PC games. Designers usually have enough combat in games today that they really aren’t needed, except perhaps once in awhile to keep players on their toes.

Those of you who do play console CRPGs, what do you think? Does Eddie have a real case here, or is he confusing what’s placed in the game with what is really randomly generated?

Random Encounters on Gamecrush