Posts Tagged ‘Disgaea’

Better writers than I have pontificated extensively about PvP in games, but I can’t help but echo Brian “Psychochild” Green’s comment on this recent post from the Elder Game writers:

Community Friendliness: Size Matters

Psychochild rightly notes that the social environment in his venerable Meridian 59 MMO is driven to toxicity by the guild-based PvP design.

Contrast that with the original “Horde vs. Alliance” design of World of Warcraft, and how it has changed over the years.  Sometimes it seems that everyone is happy to be fighting the Big Bad of the series, even if it means ignoring the old “Us vs. Them” mentality for a new “Us and Them, ’til Undead Destruction do us part”.  Sure, that plays havoc with the lore, but it does make for a somewhat less contentious social atmosphere for the game, with players united against the computer controlled bad guys.  That’s probably no accident, and probably good design.

I really do think that game design can have a significant effect on the population of a game, and that a deep focus on PvP and “Us vs. Them” will naturally be more toxic.  I also think that’s unhealthy.

Interestingly, as anyone who follows politics might note, “a house divided against itself cannot stand“.  It’s always interesting to me when political debate is less about the Big Bad of economic or social situations, and more about name calling and hyperbolic caricaturing of the Other guys.  Interesting, and sad.

So why do game devs persist in using such design mentality?  Certainly the Soldier vs. Demo campaign stirred up by Valve for their Team Fortress 2 game caused a considerable stir in the fandom.  It’s even lampshaded by the Valve guys at one point, with the Soldier noting that he doesn’t even know what the special weapon is that he gets if his team wins, but he WANTS it because it’s either him or the Demoman, and obviously, HE can’t have it.  (I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find a citation… my search-fu is weak today.)

One almost has to wonder what might be behind the contentious curtain.  In the TF2 case, probably nothing, and it’s just a self-aware clever PR stunt.  Does factional warfare make games more interesting than they have any right to be?  Did WoW benefit from the distractions of “Us vs. Them” when the daily gameplay was so… repetitive?  Did Warhammer Online bank too much on it, only to falter when it didn’t have enough to carry the game?  Is Darkfall (or any other heavy PvP game) worth playing?  (The answer on that last one probably depends on whether or not you like Counterstrike or TF2, methinketh.  There is a clear PvP mindset that you need for those games.)

Oh, and Allods Online makes me sad.  I’ll just echo Randomessa on this one.  I mean, I did already point out what I wanted out of my own ship… and that’s just not it. It sounds like it’ll be great for the “forced group” “us vs. them” crowd… that’s just not me.

And, perhaps most importantly, what exactly do the Democrats and Republicans want us paying attention to… and why?  Could they be obfuscating anything really vital?  Is the media doing their job at actually finding the truth?  Could there perhaps be something more important than endless namecalling and gamesmanship, shallow “debates” and partisan hackery?


I have games to play.  Flonne keeps telling me that Angels, Demons and Humans should get past prejudice, after all, and I’d hate to disappoint her.  Us and Them need to go storm heaven.

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Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a great little game.  Disgaea DS has also been a blast.  I’ve clocked 45 or so hours in the former, and 200 or so in the latter.  The “main story” of the former took about 30 hours to go through (chasing all side quests), and the “main story” of the latter took about 20 hours (doing some side dungeoneering).  I find I keep playing both well past the story’s end, albeit for different reasons.

The core gameplay of KH:358/2 is all about missions.  These are bite-sized chunks of the standard KH gameplay, an action-platformer-RPG… thing.  Missions range from recon to target hunting to simple baddie smashing (complete with small baddies, medium-sized baddies and Big Bad Boss baddies).  None of it is too taxing, but several missions require good timing, quick reflexes and/or knowledge of the terrain.

The core gameplay of Disgaea DS is all about tactical turn-based combat in closed square-grid arenas.  Players build up a cast of characters and field combat teams to take down a range of weird enemies.  Cutscenes tell a story between fights.  The ability to revisit missions and an optional Item World dungeon system provides combat on demand to earn more experience, money and items.  None of the tactics are all that demanding, but there are several that provide a more puzzle-like experience, rather than a simple tactical brawl.

The “post-game” is fairly different between the two.

In KH, I’m replaying missions to explore early missions with new abilities, chase tokens and treasures, or even play with alternate characters.  (Some are fantastic, some are awful.)  The core gameplay really doesn’t change much in the endgame, though, and the missions are exactly the same, only your approach changes.  The ends are the same, in other words, but the means change (fairly minimally).  I’m still chasing achievements and better loot, not new ways of playing the game.  (OK, OK, I can still unlock Sora as a playable character, but that’s not much, since he will play much like Roxas anyway.)

In Disgaea, I’m playing through the storyline again (yay for “New Game +” mechanics!) to see a different ending, but I spend most of my time in the Item World.  Item World levels are procedurally generated, and often a great playground for the geopanel system.  Every level I go to in the Item World is different.  The team I have is pretty static by now, but the stage that I’m playing on changes constantly.  I’m constantly tinkering with new content thanks to the procedural floor generator.  Sure, the ultimate end goal is always the same (defeat all foes or sneak to the exit), but the path through each level is different.  The ends are still the same, then, but the means change considerably more than they do in KH.

This is the difference between 200 and 45 hours logged.  I’ll play each more, I’m sure, but in the end, I spend a lot more time playing through the procedural content in Disgaea DS than I do playing through static content in KH.  To be fair, procedural content only works in certain formats.  The lovingly crafted beautiful 3D worlds in KH don’t lend themselves well to procedural content generation.  The procedural content in Disgaea DS is tile-based, with some larger multitile structures, but certainly nothing as carefully presented as KH worlds.

So, if there is a balance between pretty graphics and playability via content generation, I find that I fall squarely in the camp of gameplay.  I’m more interested in means than ends, at least when I’m playing games.

It’s not too surprising that I feel much the same way about MMOs.  To be sure, the content generation there will naturally be more in line with the KH model, being in 3D and requiring more assets.  I’m still most interested in varied, dynamic, interesting gameplay, rather than chasing loot through the same dungeons.  Raiders have told me that the dynamics of a group can provide some of that, so I can see myself dungeoneering a little while learning a dungeon, but once it’s on farm status, just going through the motions for better loot or arbitrary Achievements does nothing for me.

No, I want a living, dynamic world that I can influence and mold.  I want to color outside the lines, ignoring the ends.  I’d be content tinkering with the means, because once I get to the end, that’s all that you have to keep me in your game.

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Disgaea is packed with a bunch of good ideas.  I’ve logged over 100 hours with the game on my trusty DS (with a sadly defunct R button), and I’m still looking forward to playing more.  The game isn’t perfect, and has a few glaring flaws, but I wanted to point out the things they do well first (so yes, I’ll be writing a few articles on the game).  One of the best facets of the game is the way it handles classes.

Any character can equip any bit of gear.  Each character “class” uses gear a little differently, however.

The ten core statistics (HP, DEF, ATK, etc.) each have their own “inheritance” value.  This inheritance value is a percentile, typically between 50% and 100%.  It dictates how much equipped gear’s stats carry over to the character.  For example, a Mage class character with a 50% HP inheritance value will get a boost of 200 HP from a bit of gear that grants a base boost of 400 HP.  A Sniper character with an inheritance of 110% HIT will predictably get a 220 HIT boost from a bit of gear with a 200 base HIT boost.

As such, classes come with a relatively clear role, as defined by how their inheritances balance out, but the player isn’t locked into arbitrary equipping rules.  It’s perfectly possible to make an Axe wielding Cleric.  It’s not terribly smart, but it’s possible (and random enemies will often have such class/gear mismatches).  It’s all up to the player to choose how they want to approach character progress.

This freeform character control is a great way to handle development.  Classes are still present, but are more like guidelines rather than hardcoded expectations.  If you want your squishy mages to use the most incredible armor and carry pikes into battle, you can do that.  They won’t be as effective on the front lines as a battle hardened Ronin, but they will certainly be more durable than they would be in typical mage robes.

This flexibility is especially useful if mages have already learned all the magic they can and want to branch out.  Everyone can learn almost everything, taught by weapons, so it may well be smart to crosspollinate a bit for situational tactics.  Since you can change gear for free in a fight, you can afford to have several skills “on standby”.

And sometimes, it’s the little things like that that make all the difference in a pitched battle (though, to be fair, there aren’t a lot of those, considering the wide power band and the ability to outlevel pretty much any challenge).  It’s certainly most welcome in a game where tactical choices are what make the game tick.

It’s also possible to “reincarnate” a character as a different class, and if you do it right, they retain memory of what they learned in their previous life.  The level cap is an insane 9999 (not a typo), and since you can effectively level to the cap in each class, things can get extraordinarily grindy for the completionist.  For someone just exploring the system, though, the freedom is excellent.

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