Over on his blog today, Gareth Fouche (Scars Of War designer) has a post up on ways of breaking the save/restore cycle outside of the usual “everyone dies in combat” situation.

We’ve dicussed saving/restoring before, in Death And The CRPG and Save Me!. However, what Gareth seems to want is something that deals with non-combat events in a way that isn’t randomized.

For instance, take lockpicking. When success is determined by a roll, and you really want that door open, you’ll just restore until the right number comes up. However long that takes.

So he’s looking at two ways of doing things. One is the Iron Tower (Age Of Decadence) method, whereby a simple check is made against your skill versus a preset difficulty. Ergo, if that lock is set at 40, and your skill is 35, you’ll never get it open. Restoring won’t help.

This setup is used in Avernum 5 by the way, at least for picking locks and defusing traps. The skill is called Tool Use, and works for both locks and traps.

The other method is the one Coyote is implementing in Frayed Knights, with his “drama stars” system. There, you can earn drama stars from certain situations, but the stars go away when you reload the game.

That has the obvious drawback of losing stars when you quit playing for the day. So even if you’re not trying to “game the system”, you’ll be penalized.

In my view, there is a big problem with such a method. It might be okay in a comedy RPG like Knights. But in a serious game, it can easily divert the player’s attention away from the game itself.

Once tell players that these stars, karma points, or whatever can do “neat things” for them, and they’ll start looking for ways to accumulate them. What happens then to any carefully-crafted story?

That’s especially true if those “magic points” will go away when you quit the game. Aside from that, it’s just a device to keep players from doing the save/restore routine. It feels like a quick and dirty patch to keep players from doing something the designer doesn’t want them to.

What’s really going on here is that at least some designers want players to accept failure. Not absolute, as in dying in combat, but as in not getting the lock open, defusing the trap, persuading the NPC, or making the superduper potion.

How many players want to accept that? Certainly, there are some who will accept failure, but most of us will look for a way around that, usually by reloading, or even outright cheating if possible.

For one thing, any time a skill check is made, we figure, “this must be important”, or why bother? Who wants to screw up something important? Who knows what the developer has in mind here, and what terrible thing might happen if we don’t succeed?

And I see no reason to add another constraint on players. CRPGs, by their very nature, are constrictive enough. Why make them more so? Why deliberately design in something that will generate frustration? That’s something we can well do without.

Beating The Odds on Gareth’s blog