Realms Beyond Blog Updates - Party Interactions and Group Combat

If you're the kind of player who prefers to gather their party before venturing forth and are a bit tired of the currently popular trend of games having but a single protagonist, you'll be pleased to know that Realms Beyond, an upcoming turn-based RPG from Ceres Games, will give you a full party to work with. And while they're at it, the developers will throw in some grouped enemy minions in the mix to make the game's combat feel more dynamic and exciting.

Here are a few paragraphs that touch on bringing your party to life:

At this time, we had planned to post more details regarding the game’s combat system, but lately, we were also busy adding a large number of story elements to Realms Beyond and while doing that, we decided to switch tack and share with you instead our thoughts about storytelling in a party-based CRPG. Needless to say, we will deliver the promised info about the combat system next week.

You may recall that somewhere in our initial blog posts we raised the subject that most modern RPGs these days tend to tell the journey of a single character. The player is the hero, the central figure around everything else revolves, etc. This approach oftentimes leads to pre-determined companions being added to the party over time, who typically bring with them their own personalities. Since Planescape: Torment made having sidekicks with real personalities a must-have feature 20 years ago, it has literally become a genre trope.

However, in many ways, this trend resulted in roleplaying games often feeling more like adventure games where part of the story is to meet these additional characters and get them to join you. On the one hand, that is a great way to create immersion, of course, and pull players into both the game’s world as well as its storyline. It also creates an emotional attachment to these characters because of their unique personalities. I mean, what would Planescape: Torment have been without Morte, the floating and taunting skull?

On the other hand, however, it also results in a very linear way of telling a story in most cases, that resembles the way stories are told in other media, such as books or film. It is ultimately, a very different kind of experience you got from playing some of those old-school RPGs we have been recounting among our key influences.

It may be debatable whether there is one definite or perfect way of telling a story in a game, or if there are several viable approaches to it. That is not what we want to highlight here, however. Instead, we’d rather have you understand why we thought it might be interesting to choose one way of telling the game’s story over another.

To start off, let’s flip that coin back to the other side. Let’s not look at the Ultima, Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age way of telling a story, where you, the hero make friends, but rather turn to the Phantasie and Pool of Radiance way of storytelling, in which your party is making the journey.

Playing these kids as a kid with a wild and overactive imagination, it was hard not to bring the world and creations of those games to life in your mind while playing. Even though every character was not much more than a listing of its attributes that you attached a name to—and in the case of Pool of Radiance, a head and torso also—the beauty of these games was that your imagination would fill in all the blanks for you. It is an incredibly powerful tool that many writers, and filmmakers, incidentally, rely upon. Many things become much more effective when you don’t see them. It gave your imagination room to fill in whatever it thought worked best—the prettiest girl, the most terrifying monster… you name it.

And some bits about battle crowds:

Players are eager to see their characters’ turns and they are also excited to see whether the main opponent will kill their party during his next turn. And while there is something intensely gratifying in wiping out 12 goblins with a single fireball, no one really cares to watch each of them move and attack, one after the other. In fact, frequently, some of us were tempted to reload and see whether their wizard has a higher initiative this time around, just so he could get rid of the masses of little annoyances in one swoop before combat starts in earnest. So, what to do? It was this particular problem that made us sit down and think about possible solutions to handle crowd movement in combat for less relevant opponents.

The Temple of Elemental Evil attempted to tackle the problem with a menu option that, once activated, allowed enemies within the same initiative group to move simultaneously. It turned out to create cool packs of hobbling and wobbling goblins but, as mentioned above, did not always help. In a battle with a small number of semi-bosses that happened to be in the same initiative group, say, a giant, a werewolf and a demon, you DO want to anticipate their attacks separately. Not to mention that it looks somewhat awkward, if not to say, nonepic, when these individuals go through their moves all at the same time like synchronized swimmers.

Our approach was to properly categorize opponents. Boring minions go in one group, more epic enemies are treated separately. We decided unilaterally, that our level designers would be responsible for choosing which opponents should be grouped together and which ones shouldn’t. Thus, the concept of ‘minion crowds’ was born and we found the idea to provide several, additional advantages.

Rather than rolling the initiative individually for each opponent and then grouping them up accordingly, we reversed the approach and instead group them up beforehand and then roll their initiative only once, as a group. This prevents a group of minions to ‘spread out’ over the initiative list and act individually—a case that the The Temple of Elemental Evil approach didn’t prevent.

Further, we are adding some additional ‘identity’ to the members of such a group that goes beyond the simple fact that they act simultaneously. This means that we are tweaking their AI to make sure they stay together and all attack the same target whenever possible. Not only does this seem more natural, but we also think that it might add to the strategic depth of our combat system—and even if it won’t, it will still be a great deal more atmospheric. As an additional side effect, it will give the player the opportunity to predict a mob’s behavior to some extent. As far as we’ve implemented this, (grouping and movement already look good, but the accompanying AI is still very basic) our idea feels great and we hope we’re well on our way to make turn-based combat a little more appealing.