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Designing S3: Stats

A while back, I wrote a post explaining that Setting Sun Saga (or S3) is a game I plan to make based on the model of Final Fantasy Tactics. This will be the first in a series of posts discussing various mechanics of S3, and attempting to outline an initial design for all these relevant mechanics.

Present thinking has led me to conclude that I want the unit stats in S3 to closely match those of FFT, and consequently, I will begin by describing the stats in that game, and then explain how I am planning to change aspects of these stats to better suit my game.

For reference, I recommend the excellent FFT Battle Mechanics Guide written by one Aerostar. This fantastic document provides a great deal of invaluable insight into the mechanics behind FFT, and some of the rationale for the way those mechanics were designed.

The Stats of Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics uses a Direct Stats system for its character development, and if you give the linked article a read, you will see that I agree with this approach for a tactical RPG where the player is tasked with managing a large roster of characters. So what stats does FFT use?

  • HP. This one is fairly self-explanatory, most RPGs feature Hit Points as an abstraction of unit health and well being; how far a unit is from death, to be more precise.
  • MP. Magic Points, used for casting spells and using abilities, another RPG staple, often also called Mana.
  • CT. Charge Time, in the Tactics series, is a bar that fills up to 100, granting a unit a turn when its CT is 100 or more. This determines the initiative order of units, as well as when spells are cast.
  • Move. How far a unit can move on its turn, in squares.
  • Jump. How high a unit can jump while moving, a unit will have to find alternate routes to bypass squares it cannot jump to.
  • Speed. Each invisible Clock Tick, the unit's CT increases by its Speed value, meaning that units with high Speed get turns more often.
  • Weapon Power. A rating indicating the relative strength of a weapon. Used in damage calculations for physical attacks. FFT allows you to dual wield weapons under certain circumstances, with each weapon having a separate Weapon Power.
  • Physical/Magical Attack. Two stats with very similar usage. They are used in damage calculations for physical and magical attacks, respectively. Unlike Weapon Power, these are innate to the character, and grow as the character levels up.
  • Class, Shield, Accessory, and Weapon Evasion. These four evasion percentage values are used to determine the unit's chance to evade attacks (by lowering an enemy's chance to hit). How these stats are used depends on which direction the unit is attacked from, and whether the attack is physical or magical. Weapon Evasion only applies if the unit has a weapon equipped, as well as a special ability that allows blocking.
  • Bravery. A special stat modified in combat and via special events, it determines the chance for the unit to use a Reaction Ability (such as Counter) and is also used in damage calculations for certain weapons or classes.
  • Faith. Another special stat like Bravery, it determines how much a unit is affected by magic spells (both friendly and hostile).
  • Zodiac Sign. Every unit is assigned a sign of the Zodiac that never changes over the course of the game. The twelve Zodiac signs have compatibilities with each other, and compatible units inflict more damage on one another, while incompatible ones deal less.

So, keeping in mind that I'd like to keep the stats in S3 pretty close to FFT, which of these are worth keeping, and which ones need to be replaced or revised?

Stats Worth Keeping

Hit Points are a no-brainer, really. You always need some way to represent how hard a unit is to kill, and while there are some interesting alternate ways to approach this problem, I don't think they are compelling enough to warrant complicating such a crucial aspect of every character.

Furthermore, a simple HP stat lends itself nicely to the way Tactics handles armor, that is, by simply boosting the unit's max HP instead of modifying some Damage Reduction value. I like the abstraction this provides, since Damage Reduction is hard to balance in these sorts of games (in Disgaea 3, for instance, the equivalent stat's damage reduction capability grows at a much slower rate than a unit's damage potential as it levels up, making the stat essentially useless). It's also ultimately not a very interesting way to grow your character in a game without some sort of aggro and tanking mechanic.

Move and Jump are also obviously necessary. Units will need a way to represent how far they can move, and how they can traverse the landscape, and these stats allow those abilities to be easily modified as well.

CT and Speed are the quintessential stats that make the Tactics series interesting, and different from other strategy RPGs. They add interesting tactical considerations, since you have to worry about the order your units get to act in, as well as casting times. This leads you to plan your actions more carefully, so that your big attacks can hit before an enemy can move out of the way, or otherwise screw up your plans.

The presense of the Speed stat also adds interesting character development possibilities, since you can build a character with high Speed, and use that as the unit's primary strength, since it will get more turns than units with a lower Speed.

Weapon Power is a simple and elegant way to manage the damage contribution that a character gets from a weapon. Having a stat like this makes it easy to compare two weapons to see which is better, at least on the surface, and interesting formulas can be used to base damage calculations off Weapon Power combined with other stats, ensuring that all classes don't use the stat in exactly the same way, while maintaining its use as a useful comparative between different weapons.

The different kinds of Evasion used in Tactics are another interesting departure from most other games. Suffice it to say, I think Evasion combined with the way HP is handled, facing modifiers, and an otherwise 100% success rate for attacks gives the game a unique feel, and I intend to stick closely to this system in S3. I actually have a whole 'nother post forthcoming about the way Evasion and Facing will work, so I won't go into detail at this point.

New And Revised Stats

While MP or Mana are just as tried-and-true as HP, they are an uninteresting way to represent what should be one of the most important parts of a character: the fundamental source of its power and badassery. Games like WoW and Dragon Age show that you can differentiate how a class works and, more importantly, how it feels to a player very effectively simply by changing the resource that the class spends to use its abilities.

Consequently, S3 will not use a simple MP system, but rather the dual resources of Focus and Stamina, which are spent and replenished differently and which fit nicely into the lore of the game. Unlike a game like WoW, however, and because a big focus of S3 will be switching classes like in FFT, all units will have both of these resources, but they will use them in slightly different ways. A post outlining the details of the Focus and Stamina system is in the works, and I will go into the details at that time.

FFT's Physical Attack and Magical Attack stats are the primary method of influencing the damage output of a character using a weapon or casting a spell. They are a clean and straightforward way to measure and build a character's ability in one of these two fields of expertise, and the classes are roughly divided among these two paths as well, so that building a character with high PA predisposes that character to be good in those classes.

I really like the directness of these stats, and I intend to go the same route in S3. I am, however, considering adding a third such stat to help diversify character builds, and more cleanly distinguish a third "tree" of classes that primarily depend on this new stat. If I decide to go this route, PA would likely become something like Brawn, MA would become just Magic (or maybe Brains?), and a third Attack stat called Agility would be added for nimble and ranged classes.

As I said, this is still just something I am considering, and while I think there would be some interesting potential there, particularly in hybrid classes that depend primarily on two of these stats, or even all three, it could turn out while designing classes or testing things out that the original mix of Physical and Magical Attack is enough.

The remaining pieces of the FFT stats system are the two alignment stats (Bravery and Faith) and the Zodiac system. Of these, Zodiac is closely tied to FFT's story, and frankly I consider both it and Faith to be deeply flawed and not very interesting. Bravery, on the other hand, has some promise, but in FFT it has minimal effect on the gameplay for the most part, and only certain physical classes use it for more than chance of counterattack.

For S3, I am planning a much more integral stat called Morale, which will resemble Bravery in some regards, but I intend for it to be used as a more direct representation of the concept of unit and squad state of mind. Just like the resource system, I have an in-depth discussion of Morale in the works, so I will hold off going into detail at this time, though I will say that I want Morale to feel like an intrinsic and dynamic measure of a unit's current status, like HP, rather than a static stat that only changes from equipment or levelling.

What's Next

Hopefully, this post gives you an idea of how a unit's internal workings will feel. I know I haven't gone into a lot of depth about the new systems I will be introducing, but this post is already plenty long enough, and they deserve their own space to be properly fleshed out.

My next Designing S3 post will likely go into detail about either Morale or Evasion, so stay tuned for that.

Also, as always, I would greatly appreciate any comments you may have on the set of stats outlined in this post. It is only through brainstorming, feedback, and iteration that this game has the chance to be any good.

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Designing S3: An Introduction

If you take a look at my About Me page, you'll see that one reason why this blog exists is to eventually serve as a design document for a game I've wanted to make for a long time now. I've been putting off this intro post, even as I develop drafts of actual design articles, but I think the time is right to start revealing information about what this game is and what my goals are in designing it.

The game I intend to someday make happen is called Setting Sun Saga, and it is a turn-based tactical RPG based closely on the model of Final Fantasy Tactics.

Why a FFT clone then, if we should call it that? Because FFT is one of my favorite games of all time; because I have many ideas about how to make my own game of this type, as well as a setting and the beginnings of a story I want to present with it; and because there are not many games of this type made anymore. What few tactical RPGs are released these days inevitably come out of Japan, don't take themselves seriously, and don't use FFT's unique approach to character classes or unit initiative, both of which I consider integral to the game's appeal.

In any case, though FFT will be the basic model for this game, which I will refer to as S3 from this point on to save on some otherwise tiresome typing anytime I wish to refer to it, below are some points I plan to emphasize in my design that will distance it from FFT and make it its own game.

  • A completely custom setting, with a set of classes, abilities, and mechanics that hopefully feel new and different.
  • More non-linear and player-driven narrative, taking cues from some of my other favorite games, like Planescape: Torment and the Fallout series, I hope to give this game a little bit of the freedom and meaningful choice that those classic western PC games offered.
  • New and interesting battle mechanics, with a major goal being adding interesting new decisions while maintaining FFT's surface simplicity and making sure that the unit stats and combat results remain clearly understandable.
  • More emphasis on custom units, one of my biggest problems with the original FFT is that you get a large roster of special story units as the game goes on, and these characters are clearly much better than any custom units you may have been cultivating. This is the opposite of what I want for S3, where I plan to keep the roster of special characters very small, and add depth and unique characteristics you can give your custom characters, to foster your connection with them and increase their utility.
  • Greater control of unit development, I want to stay away from the trap a lot of Japanese RPGs fall into, where characters' stats develop arbitrarily because they happen to level up while in a specific class, for example, leading to arcane hacks like trying to de-level them or otherwise working around the game if you want your characters to develop in a specific way.
  • Mechanics not limited by hardware, the Playstation, the original platform for FFT, didn't have an FPU. Consequently, all the formulae controlling the game are designed to work using only integer math, and while I definitely have no desire to fix things that are not broken, I will be reviewing systems to see if they can be made more robust on modern hardware.

So there you have it, hopefully now you have a clearer picture of the kind of game that S3 will be.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting articles about specific aspects of the game design, and I hope you will join me in discussing these deisgn decisions and provide your feedback on how to make Setting Sun Saga a success.

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