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The Essentials of RPG Design

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the main-characters-with-a-mysterious-past dept.

Role Playing (Games) 241

simoniker writes "As the latest in his Game Design Essentials series for Gamasutra, writer John Harris examines 10 games from the Western computer RPG (CRPG) tradition and 10 from the Japanese console RPG (JRPG) tradition, to figure out what exactly makes them tick. From the entry on Nethack: 'Gaining experience is supposed to carry the risk of harm and failure. Without that risk, gaining power becomes a foregone conclusion. It has reached the point where the mere act of spending time playing [most RPGs] appears to give players the right to have their characters become more powerful. The obstacles that provide experience become simply an arbitrary wall to scale before more power is granted; this, in a nutshell, is the type of play that has brought us grind, where the journey is simple and boring and the destination is something to be raced to. Nethack and many other roguelikes do feature experience gain, but it doesn't feel like grind. It doesn't because much of the time the player is gaining experience, he is in danger of sudden, catastrophic failure. When you're frequently a heartbeat away from death, it's difficult to become bored.' Harris' Game Design series has previously spanned subjects from mysterious games to open world games, unusual control schemes and difficult games."

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Role Playing (5, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561437)

Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

Re:Role Playing (0, Redundant)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561465)

Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

Amen brother.

Re:Role Playing (1)

Hoyty1 (1502645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561523)

Real men LARP.

Don't blame us because you can't get up from the table! Hoorah.

Re:Role Playing (3, Funny)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561715)

Hence the "nothing at all".

Re:Role Playing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562647)

I went to a Vampire LARP session once. They didn't look like real men...

Re:Role Playing (1)

HAKdragon (193605) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563561)

I went to a Vampire LARP session once...


..once.

Re:Role Playing (2, Funny)

Shoe Puppet (1557239) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562973)

Are you insane? Getting up from the table, that's almost like SPORTS!

Re:Role Playing (1)

Doug52392 (1094585) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563129)

LIGHTNING BOLT!

Re:Role Playing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562181)

Real men play RPGS in between getting laid and taking showers.

Re:Role Playing (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561585)

Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

Can't ague with that but the computer RPG games do have the advantage that you don't have to muck about with the mechanics and dice. Plus part of the fun of computer RPGs is the building up of the character to accomplish a goal, gain power and over come enemies. Tabletop is more about the story and the socializing making the computer based ones merely shallow experiences in comparison. (Kind of like physics with out calculus, or for the more socially inclined, sex without a partner.) Personally I think we should call the computer ones something besides RPGs.

Re:Role Playing (4, Insightful)

kingmundi (54911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561613)

I got into a discussion last week with an old friend about how World of Warcraft replaced Dungeons and Dragons for him. I, being a curmudgeon, pointed out that MMO's seem wholly lacking in placing the player as the sole hero of the world. And the mechanics of the game, just lead to number crunching, and acquiring loot. Even in those instances where World of Warcraft tries to thrust you into a story mode of defeating some world destroying foe, it is diminished by the fact you can do it over and over again. And millions of other people can do the same heroic world saving. Computers still have a long way to go in making up a story. Bree Yark!

Re:Role Playing (1)

Dr. Impossible (1580675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561929)

World of Warcraft [...] Computers still have a long way to go in making up a story.

What? Have you really not heard of singleplayer CRPGs?

Re:Role Playing (2, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562483)

CRPGs still have a long way to go, when compared with PnPRPGs. Some of the very best content I've ever experienced in the latter was a collaboration. The player did something completely unexpected and we ran with it - as though it was the actual idea the whole time. Hours of prep-time go in the trash (in favor of ad-lib crap made up on the spot), but the player comes away feeling like they really MATTER in that game world.

Re:Role Playing (4, Insightful)

rpillala (583965) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562043)

This is interesting in that your friend apparently views the game differently from you. That is, WOW is a social venue with a game attached that gives you something to do with your friends. The friends are more important than the game. Blizz has taken pains to ensure accessibility for a large number of people. The system requirements are low, the interface is responsive, and the game itself is extremely easy. All this improves the network effect of the game.

Re:Role Playing (4, Insightful)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562781)

There are different approaches to playing pencil-and-paper RPGs. Some people play socially, to be doing something with their friends. Some play to win, and will abuse the rules. Some like impromptu acting. Some like poking around in somebody else's imagination. None of these are inherently good or bad, but there's been plenty of conflict when people didn't realize that their colleagues were playing in a different style, or wanted something different out of the game.

Any MMORG will do for social players, really. Actors probably will avoid computer RPGs. The tourists will be happier with a rich and detailed world. The rules lawyers will like a game with complicated rules and, preferably, a real goal (although they're perfectly happy setting their own).

Re:Role Playing (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562185)

It's really a shame that after our party completed that really fun adventure module that all copies of it in existence spontaneously combusted and all electronic copies deleted themselves so that no one else could ever be the ones to save that village.

Re:Role Playing (5, Funny)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561647)

Yeah...they do.

DM: You stand before the gates of Yoren.

Gorack the Half-troll: I'm gonna roll to see if I can get hammered drunk at the tavern.

DM: What? fine. Roll to see if you get drunk.

Trantor the Barbarian: I'm gonna attack the gate guards!

DM: Oh for fu....ok, fine. Roll to see your damage.

Gorack: Yes! I'm hammered. I'm gonna feel up the tavern wench! Can I roll to see if I squeeze boob or butt?!?

Spatula the Mage: I'm with Gorack!

DM: *snaps* ROLL IT, THEN MORANS!

Re:Role Playing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561745)

real men role-play with handcuffs, ball-gags and women in schoolgirl uniforms.

Re:Role Playing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562475)

Hawt.

Re:Role Playing (0, Offtopic)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562823)

... and doubtless they're so proud of being real men that they proclaim this openly, right anonymous coward?

Re:Role Playing (1)

Dustie (1253268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562245)

I think you are thinking about "boys" not men :-)

Re:Role Playing (1)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562275)

Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

With a name like "sexconker" you should know that real men role play after a trip to the "adult" store. RAWR Catwoman, I am Batman! I'm going to grab you while you're on the litterbox... crap, I mean, nevermind.

Anyway, role playing is about spicing up the ol' bedroom, not pretending you are grabbing your robe and wizard hat.

Re:Role Playing (1)

StickansT (1585125) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562807)

isnt most Online PC RPGs just pen and paper with a GUI?

Re:Role Playing (1)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562863)

No. *Real* men role play in bed.

Joking aside, /signed. That does not mean CRPGs aren't enjoyable though - especially considering that your P&P group might not be available all the time ;) .

Re:Role Playing (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563049)

True enough!

I wonder if there are any articles out there describing key aspects of different dice systems and why some are popular and others are not. For example, despite the statistical shittiness of d20, it's extremely popular. The epic-feel roll-and-keep of 7th Sea (and L5R) are less so.

What are key things to keep in mind when designing a homebrew pen and paper system?

Inquiring minds want to know...

YOU FORGOT THE MAGIC (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561441)

FP

Re:YOU FORGOT THE MAGIC (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561463)

Seems like you didn't forget the fail, though, NUMBER 2!

PRIME SERIES (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561601)

BUT THE CID# WAS PRIME. ERGO, YOU FORGOT THE MAGIC



Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING. Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING. Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING.

Importing characters from earlier games (3, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561455)

As a long time player of RPG's like the Gold Box series, I really miss the ability to to import characters from earlier games into later installments (mentioned several times in this article). I know there was some talk about Mass Effect 2 or some other RPG's maybe bringing this back. I wish they would. I hate having to recreate a new character in every sequel, when I really just want to play as my original character. Knights of the Old Republic 2 is a great example of a RPG that would have been so much better if you could have simply continued playing as the original Revan instead of some faceless new douchebag.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561603)

I thought this was how Xenosaga should have worked. Episode 2 starts the second where Ep 1 ends, but suddenly you're all the way back to being completely weak and KOS-MOS can not learn the abilities she had in the first one.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561617)

One of the major pitfalls of importing characters is such:

Oh look, I just beat the game. I have the planet killing weapon. I know levels one, two, and three of every spell. I've got ninety nine's for every item in my inventory. My Gold/Gald/Gil/GP/Etc is maxed out too. I stopped the evil force that was about to (destroy the earth with a meteor)(end mankind and consume time)(open a gate to an evil artificial intelligence to end life)(resurrect an even more scary monster from beyond the grave).

Let me import my character for the sequel. Aaaaaaannnd, it's all gone. Somehow all of my gear disappeared, I've got to start from the beginning and kill giant spiders, rats, and thugs. My muscles have atrophied, my aim has gone to zero. I've got base vigor (what the fuck is the vigor stat supposed to do, anyways?!), and someone jacked all of my cash.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562001)

Or worse, you've still got it all and it's useless because in order to ensure that imported characters aren't overpowered, everything's been amped up by an order of magnitude or two.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562423)

And new players are confused when the character creator already demands that they pick five levels of spells before they have played even once (I had Baldur's Gate 2 but not BG1 so I had to make a new character and believe me, when you've never touched D&D stats before that's a total WTF experience).

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561859)

In every RPG I've ever played you start out pretty weak and helpless, and work your way up to being an unstoppable demigod. Starting the next game out with god like powers is going to ruin a lot of the game.

The only RPG I've really found character importation to be nice on was the Quest for Glory series. It helped that that series was mostly a point in click adventure game though, and being all powerful doesn't get you through the game alone.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (2, Informative)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562425)

Neverwinter did things rather well though. You start at level 1, and in one of the expansions (Hordes of the Underdark) the level cap is raised from 20 to 40. You HAD godlike powers. But there are suddenly bigger, better gods around.

Of course, that's power creep, and can be bad in multiplayer games: old players are forever greater than new players, and the newbies can't contribute.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (2, Interesting)

StickansT (1585125) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562969)

You ever try playing WoW? i was what they call a Pre-BC raider, or I started playing the First WoW game before the 2 expansions came out. When i hit 60 and got my "God like powers" it was fun. then the first expansion came out. I was lvl 60 and had to hit 70. My "God like powers" only helped me out so much. I still felt pretty helpless with it came to fighting new monsters that were my level or above. So all in all Blizzard did a nice job of making me feel like i needed to hit 70 inorder to gain my "God like powers" back. Same with the newest expansion.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562979)

That's not necessarily true... the one franchise that sticks out for me is the Jedi Knight series from the late 90's... they invented a couple of different scenarios where the main protagonist had forgotten his Jedi powers (demigod-like abilities, here), and had to regain them as he went. Or there's Neverwinter Nights, where expansion packs EXPECT that you start at level 20, and scale the difficulty accordingly (and they even handle the issue of backstory with an infinite number of possibilities of how you completed the original episode) You probably couldn't generalize this across genres, but the point is that if the story-telling is good enough, you can reboot characters across episodes of a franchise. KOTOR2 would have been FANTASTIC if they'd picked up the story with Revan; their inability to do so isn't because of gameplay, but because the storytelling wasn't sufficiently clever.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563507)

In every RPG I've ever played you start out pretty weak and helpless, and work your way up to being an unstoppable demigod. Starting the next game out with god like powers is going to ruin a lot of the game.

The only RPG I've really found character importation to be nice on was the Quest for Glory series. It helped that that series was mostly a point in click adventure game though, and being all powerful doesn't get you through the game alone.

It seemed to work pretty well in the original dot hack series, but that was because in each game, a new server would open up, with more powerful enemies.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562063)

The problem is that, as others have pointed out, at the end of most CRPG's your character has God-like abilities. So there are several options to make importing your character into the sequel work, none of which are particularly good:

  1. Make the sequel insanely hard so that either your God-like character from the first game has a hard time. This obviously ruins the game for people who didn't play the prequel
  2. Gimp you imported character (take away all their money, items and at least some stats) so they are about as weak as a new character. In this case, what was the point of importing your character in the first place?
  3. Keep the game at normal difficult, don't gimp your imported character and have your character cruise through the entire game in a couple of hours without ever hitting any serious difficulties.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (2, Insightful)

ahem (174666) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562565)

Seems like there's a middle ground where the designer could provide for a dual path experience. Create levels and challenges that can't be solved using the god-like tools developed in the previous installment. Newbies to the 2nd installment could play through and gain the tools they need along the way. Imports could play through and still be entertained by the challenges and gain new tools.

I think it's limiting to assume that any uber-powerful skill can be applied to solve any kind of problem.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562911)

Baldur's Gate 2 did it fairly well. You either imported your high-level char from BG1, or you started out with a lot of EXP when creating a new char.

Re:Importing characters from earlier games (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563391)

Actually, IIRC, many of the old games that used to allow it did it like this:

4. Allow you to keep your level 30, super badass character and scale up the games with new (much tougher) enemies, new spells/skills to acquire, etc. This is similar to #1, but to allow newbie to come in, it allows a new player to create a new character who is the equivalent of a level 30 badass from the first game.

That way, whether you're a veteran who wants to keep his old character or a newbie to the franchise, you can both get to enjoy it.

Not just RPGs (3, Insightful)

Nakor BlueRider (1504491) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561507)

This is pretty true of gaming in general these days. Many old games had the threat of failure (take a look at the list of challenging NES games), and you'd have to start over. Some old greats simply got harder until they beat youâ"like Tetris for example. Now of course it's a foregone conclusion that the end user will eventually win simply by persisting long enough.

It's not nearly on the same scale as Nethack versus modern RPGs of course, but the drop in difficulty is certainly not limited to the RPG genre.

I have to wonder if the shift toward online multiplayer (such as in the FPS genre) is at least in some small part due to people wanting to find the difficulty and challenge that no longer exists in most single-player games.

Re:Not just RPGs (4, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561679)

Well, its an issue of balancing "i want a challenge" with "fuck this, i quit". Back when I was 8 years old I had more patience for games like Final Fantasy, where I could enter a dungeon, spend 2 hours getting to the end, killing the boss, then get killed on my way out. I probably spent 15 hours on the marsh cave when I was a kid. But I'lll be damned if I'm going to go through that at age 26. If I can't have a save point in the dungeon, I'm not going to waste my time.

Re:Not just RPGs (2, Interesting)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561941)

I have to wonder if the shift toward online multiplayer (such as in the FPS genre) is at least in some small part due to people wanting to find the difficulty and challenge that no longer exists in most single-player games.

Maybe. But they aren't finding it. FPS Multiplayer games aren't hard. They are short, simple, incredibly repetitive, and there are no real consequences.

MMORPG competitive multiplayer for the most part isn't any better. The consequences are minimal with a few notable exceptions.

And even one of those games that is an exception... that has consequences... such as eve. Its not challenging personally; its only challenging at the massive group level.

In Eve, like a soldier in a war, the VAST MAJORITY of individuals are just there forming part of the mass, and don't meaningfully contribute to the overall success or loss.

You login and find your corporation captured a station while you were sleeping.

An hour later you fight a heroic battle absolutely maximizing every element of combat perfectly, and are still pod killed in nothing flat because because their reinforcements arrived before yours did.

Six hours later your corporation suffers a serious blow because the leadership defected to a rival corp taking a bunch of assets with them.

There are lots of 'challenges' in something like Eve, but many of them are far beyond the control or even influence of the individual player that it ceases to be fun on that level at all.

It can still be 'fun' but not really the same way defeating a single player game is, where everything is always centered on you and what you are doing. Where victory or defeat hinge on how well you play the game.

In Eve winning or losing a conflict is more often decided by which side you are on rather than anything to do with what you actually do during the conflict.

Re:Not just RPGs (1)

StellarFury (1058280) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563461)

I think the important thing to note here is that people are looking for higher challenges, not higher difficulty. (The way I'm using these words: challenge is on a relative scale, difficulty is absolute.) There are tons of difficult games out there (NetHack), but not so many challenging ones - ones that have dynamically adaptive difficulty. While this isn't a necessarily "dynamic example," I think one of the most successful takes on challenge has been the Metal Gear Solid series. A modern video game, but they pull their difficulty schematic from their old-school counterparts, such as Doom or Quake - four or five levels of difficulty. The difference being, in this case, that changes between difficulty levels are not simply "enemies do more damage," "less available medpacks," "more enemies," but distinct changes in AI intelligence, enemy capabilities, and consequences of failure (not just "death"). Thus, the game requires four or five different methods of play to achieve success in each level of difficulty.

I find that the games I'm most interested in are the ones that have more enriched worlds. Not graphics, necessarily, not character ability or growth, but a varied, interesting, and realistic response to actions in the game. It's like table-top RPGs - if your DM sucks, and can't give you realistic responses to your actions (either being too nice, or too harsh), the game won't be fun. When your DM doesn't suck, the game is engaging because the world is just as alive as you are.

Disagree strongly (5, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561509)

I disagree about nethack not having grind because it has permadeath. Permadeath in Nethack is the primary reason the game is almost entirely grind. If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong, in order to succeed in Nethack (or any roguelike for that matter), you have to play conservatively, beating up on things that pose no threat to you while escaping anything that might pose a challenge. Even if you can beat a challenging monster 95% of the time, eventually that 5% will catch up to you and all of your progress will be erased by a small handful of bad rolls. This is why only obsessives play Nethack, nobody else has the patience to grind their way up to the godlike levels required to survive the games final challenges.

From the writeup, it sounds like the author is one of the players who never makes it past the mid teens, because he constantly takes risks with his character and will inevitably lose.

Re:Disagree strongly (4, Insightful)

batquux (323697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561835)

From the writeup, it sounds like the author is one of the players who never makes it past the mid teens, because he constantly takes risks with his character and will inevitably lose.

But apparently has fun doing it that way. If the way you play takes the fun out of it, maybe you're the one doing it wrong. Now, a good game isn't so impossibly difficult that the only way to succeed is grinding but isn't so watered down that everything feels like a grind.

Re:Disagree strongly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562569)

But apparently has fun doing it that way. If the way you play takes the fun out of it, maybe you're the one doing it wrong. Now, a good game isn't so impossibly difficult that the only way to succeed is grinding but isn't so watered down that everything feels like a grind.

I have found an insatiable urge to maximize money and experience while minimizing risk. The moment I find the perfect combination of these three factors (basically finding the loophole and eliminating risk), the game is immediately rendered boring to me and I quit. Quite a self-defeating cycle.

Perhaps occasionally losing in a fun and risky manner is a better way to play.

Re:Disagree strongly (5, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562999)

It may be fun (for awhile), but he's only playing the first 10% of the game over and over again. The rest of the game may as well not exist if you design it that way.

IMHO, probably the best compromise between the two is the often hated "checkpoint" system, where you can only save a set intervals. Sure this means that if you work at it long enough, you can beat the game even with "bad" playing, but it also means you can reasonably take risks and actually have fun instead of tediously grinding your way to godhood.

For a Roguelike, this could be implemented as an autosave every time you go down a level, with death resulting in a restart at the beginning of the level. Sure it will take the "challenge" out of picking up random potions of Blindness or Weakness and having to drink them because there's no good way to identify them otherwise (scrolls of identify being considerably more rare than the random potions you will pick up), but that is not exactly a loss that I would mourn.

I know people will argue that "but if you beat the game you won't feel the need to play it anymore!", but to be honest after a few bullcrap deaths in most Roguelikes, I don't feel like playing them anymore anyway. I'd wager that 90+% of the people who have ever played Nethack have never seen more than the first dozen levels or so, and have not played it nearly as long as a traditional RPG.

Re:Disagree strongly (1)

batquux (323697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563601)

It may be fun (for awhile), but he's only playing the first 10% of the game over and over again.

This is a good point. It seems a lot of it is up to the player. The best thing a game creator can do then, is make the game flexible for different playing styles without forcing the player down too narrow a path. It still comes down to a balancing act to make it a challenge but not tedious. A game should let you get away with a little 'bad' playing without actually rewarding it as long as you don't do anything totally stupid. I think that helps with the immersion factor by letting you choose what you would do, not necessarily what the game thinks you should do.

Re:Disagree strongly (1)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561845)

If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong

Perhaps it's you who is playing wrong. Sure I die a lot in rogue-like games, but at least I'm having fun while doing it.

Re:Disagree strongly (3, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561965)

Play ADOM.

Grinding too long will kill you via corruption. It's advance in the game or have no chance at success. There are also level limits on some of the quests that, while not mandatory, are pretty much necessary for the special endings (and for certain classes, very much necessary for a regular ascension).

There is also the fact that the more time you spend on a level, the more likely it is for an out-of-depth monster to come and kick your ass.

In short... try ADOM. It's definitely a roguelike, but is different enough from a lot of other roguelikes that the gameplay is, IMO, much better.

Re:Disagree strongly (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561995)

I disagree with your disagreement. The key characteristic of grind is tedium. Even when you're playing conservatively, there are lots of options no how to proceed. It takes thought, you're not just doing the same thing over and over the way you would in Phantasy Star. The only time I ever felt like I was grinding in Nethack was when I just needed one or two pieces to complete my ascension kit, and had to find the right monster to drop the right items.

Nethack is a winner (3, Interesting)

us7892 (655683) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562191)

You must be under 25. Nethack requires an imagination. Check out this description of Nethack, and a story of one persons ascention with the Amulet, http://garote.bdmonkeys.net/nethack/index.html [bdmonkeys.net]

Re:Disagree strongly (2, Informative)

pthisis (27352) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562933)

If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong, in order to succeed in Nethack (or any roguelike for that matter), you have to play conservatively, beating up on things that pose no threat to you while escaping anything that might pose a challenge. Even if you can beat a challenging monster 95% of the time, eventually that 5% will catch up to you and all of your progress will be erased by a small handful of bad rolls. This is why only obsessives play Nethack, nobody else has the patience to grind their way up to the godlike levels required to survive the games final challenges.

I don't agree. Players going for their first ascension often grind out incessantly, altar camping forever and making sure they have a whole exact set of items before starting the ascension run. But you don't _have_ to do that, and there are plenty of players who can ascend 60% or so of their games while moving through quickly (20,000 turns per game). Even the ultra-high percentage guys like marvin don't do much grinding and usually finish in a quarter the time most newbies take.

My best streak was 6 consecutive ascensions (with different roles in each), and they were all fairly quick without any altar camping or other grinding behavior. You learn to use your "outs" so that you can move quickly but still have plenty of tools to evade anything that presents a serious threat.

One size does not fit all (1)

PvtBeauNiddle (1396847) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561553)

Is your RPG designed around the destination or about the journey? (JRPGs vs Western / Narrativist vs Simulation)

Re:One size does not fit all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561759)

I think it's unfair to lump in WoW with the rest of the games on that list...because there is a whole social aspect to the game that is ignored in TFA. It may be the story line and ease of use that first hooks WoW players, but it's those handful of interactions with random people that keep people playing.....not necessarily the style of play on quests/PVP/raids.

"Casual" mechanics (1)

Graelin (309958) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561685)

Not exactly revolutionary but this is a great description of the game mechanics involved in playing to the casual audience. Like it or not any game that wants widespread adoption will not be targeting the hardcore players more willing to reroll when they fail. It's too bad really since those games were far more entertaining than end-game World of Warcraft is today.

Another good reason for games to reward players for their time is that it requires far less testing. if your Cow kills my level 99 Amazon because of a glitch then I may uninstall rather than rerolling. If I only lose the time it takes to run from the graveyard then I don't care as much about how well tuned the encounters are. Perhaps the article mentions this but I'm too lazy to read it.

Re:"Casual" mechanics (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562085)

those games were far more entertaining than end-game World of Warcraft is today.

So why is it that world of warcraft is the single most successful game of all time?

How much money did "those games" make compared to the money that WoW is still making?

You speak as if there is some sort of objective criteria for entertainment value which "those games" met and which World of Warcraft does not. I will directly challenge this. Millions of players world wide find World of Warcraft so entertaining that they are willing to pay a monthly fee to continue playing it. If millions of people found "those games" as entertaining, then they would be paying monthly fees to be playing them too.

WoW is not as entertaining to you. That doesn't mean that they are less entertaining in some objective sense. It just puts you in a different target market.

I will add that all games get boring eventually. World of Warcraft will get boring to its current subscribers, and they will move on. "Those games" had their day, and got boring, and people moved on. Games are just like that.

Re:"Casual" mechanics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562421)

"How much money did "those games" make compared to the money that WoW is still making?" There wasn't as many players to play games back then.

how about... (3, Insightful)

greymond (539980) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561691)

we just give up on mmo's and micro transaction based flash games and go back to some good old Tabletop Gaming with friends that uses our brains and some funny looking dice - if you really need a computer, there are excel characters sheets and virtual dice that will run on any platform?

http://www.rpgnow.com/ [rpgnow.com]

http://www.yourgamesnow.com/ [yourgamesnow.com]

http://www.paizo.com/ [paizo.com]

http://e23.sjgames.com/ [sjgames.com]

Re:how about... (4, Informative)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561973)

Don't forget The Forge [indie-rpgs.com] , a great place to find off the beaten path games.

Oh, and, of course, Troll Lord games [trolllord.com] for those of us in the "get off my lawn" demographic.

If your cheap, you can wait a year until Free RPG Day [freerpgday.com]

Of course, me? I prefer boardgames. [boardgamegeek.com] (and card games [fantasyflightgames.com] ).

worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (3, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561733)

Of the rpg's I've played in recent years, the ones that were the most tedious were the ones lacking in good stories. It makes the entire play experience feel like a chore.

If bad storytelling is the first sin, then the second has to be needless complication. Oblivion is the prettiest rpg I have ever seen but the leveling mechanics were atrocious.

The whole bit about having numerical stats and assigning points is a holdover from pencil and paper gaming. I think they should just ditch the idea of leveling. If you just make it equipment-based, you start out with crappy loot and get better loot the further you go. Better loot means you can take on bigger tasks. If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game. When you have to think about how to play rather than simply play, all immersion is ruined.

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (3, Insightful)

Kadagan AU (638260) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562503)

If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

Never played Dungeon Siege, eh?

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (1)

Knave75 (894961) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562519)

What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game. When you have to think about how to play rather than simply play, all immersion is ruined.

That is certainly your preference when it comes to games. However, as a counterexample, I love the fiddly numbers in most games. In Starcraft, I had memorized the cooldown times, range, damage, etc. of every single unit. I could have run simulation battles on pen and paper... and I sometimes did. In Kingdom of Loathing (an MMORPG) I was part of a group that spent time working out the exact stats of every monster and the hit/miss percentages.

To me, numbers are fun, to you they are not. Yeah, you can make everything loot-based, but by having things being loot AND stats based, it makes more good numbers for me to crunch, which for me equals fun.

As a sidepoint, making everything loot-based would probably ruin the game due to twinking (giving new players super dooper loot)

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562525)

You would absolutely hate any classical-styled roguelike like Angband, ADOM, Nethack, Powder, Shiren the Wanderer, or Etrian Odyssey then, huh ...

>most tedious were the ones lacking in good stories
>the second has to be needless complication
>has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game
>When you have to think about how to play rather than simply play

Wait ... wait just a moment!

>When you have to think

Oh, I think that's your problem right there. :) Go on and please enjoy your hand-holding Final Fantasy 29. I'll be over here playing my ancient AND the new roguelikes that continue to push the envelope ...

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (2, Insightful)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563387)

By "when you have to think all immersion is ruined" I believe the OP meant "when you have to meta-game all immersion is ruined." Vanilla Oblivion, with it's level-scaling baddies, was definitely a game where you had to meta-game in order to succeed. Otherwise the monsters would level more efficiently than you would and eventually you would find yourself outmatched by the Goblins you had utterly pwned 10 levels ago.

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28563105)

If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

You do realize that you just described the basic leveling mechanism in Oblivion, right?

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (4, Insightful)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563383)

If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

They tried that in Final Fantasy II. (I don't need to add the "J" any more, do I? Everyone knows FFII as the NES game by now, not the US release of FFIV, right?) It sucked.

The problem is that it takes mindless grinding from "grinding to raise every stat" to "grinding to raise a single stat." So in that game you'd find yourself wandering around getting attacked, ignoring the enemies, and then fighting amongst yourself to boost HP and weapon skills to the point where the enemies in the next area wouldn't kill you. It also meant that you could easily gain useless equipment. (Great, I've got the Staff of Pwning, and everyone is Level 1 Staves.)

The whole bit about having numerical stats and assigning points is a holdover from pencil and paper gaming.

(There's no rule about responding in order, is there? Er, anyway...) I disagree. The numerical stats and assigning points are done in computer RPGs because the run on computers. A computer is good at handling numbers. When you get right down to it, every computer game has these numerical stats. For example, in an FPS, each weapon has a different damage stat and enemies have different health and armor stats. The player might not see the stats, but ultimately, every computer simulation basically handles things using numerical stats.

What I would agree with is having "large jumps" in power levels is a hold over from pen and pencil days. There's a reason that the level cap in WoW is 80 and the level cap in D&D is 20. (I think?) In WoW, the computer can easily handle the larger range in values, where a human with pencil and paper would easily get bogged down if they had to keep track of everything.

I think they should just ditch the idea of leveling. If you just make it equipment-based, you start out with crappy loot and get better loot the further you go. Better loot means you can take on bigger tasks.

The problem with that comes when combined with:

What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game.

Leveling allows a player to adjust difficulty within the game. If you absolutely suck at the game, you can grind until you get higher stats and reduce the challenges to the point where you can handle them.

If you tie advancement to equipment, if the player sucks at the game, they're either SOL because they can never gain more power until they overcome the current challenge, or they have to look into a guidebook to discover which pixel the Staff of Pwning is hidden under.

Otherwise, I agree - you shouldn't need a guidebook to be able to generally play the game. The game mechanics should be easy enough that you don't need to worry about permanently screwing up your character. Good PC applications have an "Undo" button for a reason - the user/player should not be punished for experimenting. ("Save repeatedly" isn't acceptable for a PC application, it shouldn't be for a game, either.)

But computer games are always going to have stats, and allowing grinding to advance turns out to make the games more accessible to a wider range of skill levels. The best players can blaze through at low levels, while the worst can slowly slog along.

Re:worst shortcomings are usually crappy stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28563405)

similar to leveling in the Fable series then, in that game you get general XP and XP based on the attack you used to kill enemies (magic, melee, ranged).

Stanley William Moore II (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28561739)

Diablo II comes to mind. Hardcore was twice as fun.

Re:Stanley William Moore II (1)

aarroneous (973056) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562381)

Exactly. But Diablo II's normal mode was a huge step back from Diablo I, where you had to recover items from your dead body, or they were lost forever. While not quite as painful as the death of a character, there was enough incentive to try to retrieve some nicer items. Ironically, all those "unique" items in Diablo II that were so overpowered when compared to regular magic items made re-acquiring them a non-issue as they were readily available.

Nethack is more exception than rule (3, Informative)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561753)

NetHack still has more game awesomeness than any other game I've ever played. Not only are you potentially one cockatrice away from death, but the levels are randomly built and stocked (never the same game twice) and there are a lot of them. The game has many levels that are fixed (castle, town, etc.) but even there what you will encounter is a total crap shoot; the game even takes into consideration the phases of the moon and adjusts your "luck" accordingly (sacrifices don't give you anything, etc.). It has something of a story arc; you are definitely not the same character by the time you've "ascended" and the puzzles and challenges fit accordingly to where you are in the story. Throw in an amazingly deep set of game rules, more items than you know what to do with (though you'll want to cache them on some levels 'cause you're gonna need them coming back up), more characters and monsters than in the D&D MM, and the ability to play it on every computer/operating system in existence.

In short, if you don't mind that it doesn't have multiplayer or graphics that require OpenGL or DirectX, it's the perfect RPG. But as a college freshman who discovered it on a VT100 in the library, I can easily say it's the game I've played the most over the years, bar none. And I've never played the same game twice. And, to my eternal frustration, I've never ascended (got as far as the plain of water, though!).

Re:Nethack is more exception than rule (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561947)

Try Linley's Crawl, or the latest, Crawl Stone Soup, the first roguelike I've found that's more fun than Nethack.

Re:Nethack is more exception than rule (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562791)

Actually, I find Crawl Stone Soup a bit too difficult in the beginning, try the PC version of Powder instead.

Game Designers Need to Strike a Balance (1)

Calithulu (1487963) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561813)

What it really boils down to is that game designers need to strike a balance between "Oh my God I'm going to die" and ease of game play.

Games like City of Heroes have this done right (we won't discuss the Architect missions). People that want more challenge can go and set their instance difficulty higher, earning more rewards (and more experience) for their troubles. More casual players can set the difficulty lower. Seems to be win-win.

Unfortunately, where games require that players share a broad world at all times this doesn't work out. It may be that outside of non-combat areas each difficulty level should be its own instance, and players go to the difficulty they want when they travel.

Yes, if you only look at the big popular MMOs (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561871)

If you're only looking at EQ/WoW/LoR/etc. then this is all true.
They are made to have very limited pvp and limited chance of death or failure.

But there is an entire genre of MMORPGs devoted to PvP and getting that adrenaline rush from the risk of "sudden catastrophic failure".

For examples, check out www.darkfallonline.com, www.moralonline.com, and www.pker.org for more info.

Re:Yes, if you only look at the big popular MMOs (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28563117)

don't lump all MMOs together- Final Fantasy 11 has incredibly harsh penalties for character death. You lose a nontrivial amount of experience points. It is not uncommon for characters to de-level upon death.

What makes Japanese games tick (2, Interesting)

joeflies (529536) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561893)

The Plot

1) A young naive protagonist who is resourceful and scrappy but not particularly strong.
2) gets caught up in a fight against an evil (organization, company, religion, empire, conspiracy)
3) requiring him to leave his small village
4) and gradually explore parts of the world on a linear path
5) until he eventually gets free roaming of the entire world
6) and eventually goes to visit outer space or time shift
7) on the way to fight the proto enemy, who turns out not be the real enemy
8) and eventually reaches the real, final enemy

And they all contain a job system, an elemental weakness system (fire, thunder, water, ice, earth, holy), a super move, time consuming optional side quests, etc.

That seems to cover most of the modern 3d Japanese RPGs including Final Fantasy VII-XII, Chrono Cross, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia series, as well as some of the 2d ones (like Legend of Zelda). RPGS within a series have a number of other common elements including chocobos, tonberry and a character named Cid.

And even though they are largely similar, I still love to play them. The structure is the same, but the quality of the implementation makes it worth playing.

Re:What makes Japanese games tick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562031)

1) A young naive protagonist who is resourceful and scrappy but not particularly strong.
2) gets caught up in a fight against an evil (organization, company, religion, empire, conspiracy)
3) requiring him to leave his small village
4) and gradually explore parts of the world on a linear path
5) until he eventually gets free roaming of the entire world
6) and eventually goes to visit outer space or time shift
7) on the way to fight the proto enemy, who turns out not be the real enemy
8) and eventually reaches the real, final enemy

So, you've described basically every folk tale from the last couple millennia (save perhaps step 5 and 6). It's a common, well-known storytelling technique, and it's working.

Re:What makes Japanese games tick (2, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562899)

On one hand yes. On the other hand, sometimes its asif the authors of these stories just got their copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces" [wikipedia.org] and are just using it as a checklist. It'd be nice if sometimes things got switched up or 99% of the plot wasn't discernable from the first training mission.

Re:What makes Japanese games tick (4, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562485)

1) A young naive protagonist who is resourceful and scrappy but not particularly strong.
2) gets caught up in a fight against an evil (organization, company, religion, empire, conspiracy)
3) requiring him to leave his small village
4) and gradually explore parts of the world on a linear path
5) until he eventually gets free roaming of the entire world
6) and eventually goes to visit outer space or time shift
7) on the way to fight the proto enemy, who turns out not be the real enemy
8) and eventually reaches the real, final enemy

What you just described there is referred to by mythologists as the Hero's Journey [wikipedia.org] and can be found in everything from Gilgamesh to Star Wars.

JRPGs are not actually RPGs though (1)

Dr. Impossible (1580675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28561983)

It's a misunderstanding that developed somewhere along the way, and I doubt it's ever going to be rectified. I suppose they must be called JRPGs for lack of a better term, but just because they're called that way doesn't mean they actually are RPGs. So they shouldn't be part of this article.

Re:JRPGs are not actually RPGs though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562109)

sure they're still RPGs - you just change R from meaing 'role' to 'rail' and its all good

Re:JRPGs are not actually RPGs though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562451)

Trying to drawn the line between east and west fails. If there's no multiplayer, there's no roleplaying of any significance. There's more roleplaying on Slashdot than in any of the article's games except WoW, strangely enough.

Megaten? Atlus? (1)

A12m0v (1315511) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562049)

Where is Megami Tensei and all its spin-offs and sequels?

Re:Megaten? Atlus? (1)

pieceofstone (1579885) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562135)

I was lamenting that there wasn't a peep about the Suikoden series, myself. I guess there was only so much space, although it seems a shame.

Risk versus Reward (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562051)

To paraphrase a certain master swordsman, "You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Even in Nethack all you risk is time. Eventually you'll progress. Might take starting over entirely but that's just another version of starting over from the last save. In any case, the reward for risking your time is progression of the game/story.

Re:Risk versus Reward (1)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563251)

The risk of having to start over entirely is a much greater risk than the risk of having to re-load. Greater risk translates into greater feelings of excitement. This is why I never play Diablo 2 without a hardcore character (one life only).

the same but different... (2, Interesting)

jt418-93 (450715) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562115)

this is also why there are no more janes type sims. no one is willing to spend a week learning how to work the controls just so they can take off and not blow up.... (mig alley im looking at you).
i LOVED janes games. longbow, f15, f/a18. excellent gameplay, good replay, tough to learn in sim mode.

the only hardcore game like that left i know of is ww2online [wwiionline.com]

No NWN? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28562265)

I mean, what? And no, it's not "a Baldur's Gate sequel". It's a unique game, driven mainly by user content, "firefox of RPGs" if you like it.

Wait, I cannot find Fallout, too. Is this a joke?

Re:No NWN? (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562609)

I mean, what? And no, it's not "a Baldur's Gate sequel". It's a unique game, driven mainly by user content, "firefox of RPGs" if you like it.

Wait, I cannot find Fallout, too. Is this a joke?

Articles written by people older than yourself will tend to focus on older content than you are accustomed to.

Neither NWN nor Fallout contributed as much as their counterparts on the list. Yes they were better incarnations, but the article is shooting for a notion of significance rather than success, per se. 'Essential' as meaning 'crucial to comprehension' rather than 'must not miss'.

Incomming!! (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562557)

Just wait till Homeland Security finds out about this Rocket Propelled Grenade manual.

You can expect a knock on the door, and Slash dot is going to to FISA court.

Like all video games (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562719)

The easier something is, the more people enjoy it.
And the harder something is, the more gamers enjoy it.

The only decision is, who are you going to market to? Stealing from VGcats:
Why make great when good sells better?

In with first anti-Mother post (1)

sarysa (1089739) | more than 5 years ago | (#28562785)

(sort of anyway...)

But the article reaked of bias when it got to the Mother (aka Earthbound) series. It elevated a controversial cult game to same level of the works of Chopin, who happens to be on my mind as I'm playing through Eternal Sonata. Earthbound in particular had some great features, but it also had some nasty downsides. I couldn't play with sound on after 30 minutes because the soundtrack literally induced headaches. There were many gross-out parts to the game that are best compared to fart humor. The esoteric references in the game typically are received two ways, with cheers from those who catch them and in-one-ear-out-the-other from those who don't.

An article purporting to be the "essentials of RPG design" needs to acknowledge when a game gets a lot of hate, and why.

Durn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28563137)

Sadly disappointed in the deception here. Got me all excited thingking I could learn how to make Rocket Propelled Grenades.

Games are too easy now... (4, Informative)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563217)

I think the difference being mentioned between nethack and 'grinding' is probably that (and nethack excluded) most games are simply too damn easy nowadays.

I know by being a gamer since 88' or so I must have a lot more developed skills and such --- but -- really... I put games on the hardest levels and almost never die or 'restart' or whatever the form of LOSS is that happens in games.

Games are just too damn easy. Mario for NES was hard and took work. Anyone remember Abadox? Or Battletoads? Most games were much harder.

But at present, games have all these things to tell you exactly where to go, a million places to save (if not at any damn point), and a hundred other incentives to basically always keep you going. And then, without the challenge, people are just not as excited by games and in this case, the work of the game in many RPGs has simply been reduced to a 'grind'.

On the new Prince of Persia, you can't make the mistake of falling off a cliff... some magic chick comes and pulls you up EVERY SINGLE TIME. YOU CAN"T LOSE! To me, that's boring.

I'm guessing somewhere in the business/marketing/sales department, richer gaming companies have figured out that permitting noobs to continually succeed generates more sales... Who knows... That has basically been my assumption as I've seen game sales climb while the net difficulty dropping significantly...

I guess my point is that easiness/laziness seems to sell more games, and even if it gets boring, it probably outsells equivalent games that carry challenge and accomplishment. Hell, much of the reason of the MMORPG is to fulfill the lack of accomplishment in our mediocre reality by becoming doctors and architects with only a week's worth of effort... We grind through university, quickly forgetting why we took ethics and US History --- and all the important material we were required to learn. .................

Anyway.. Games are too damn easy now. I just read some article where nintendo is setting up to actually put the game on auto-pilot and have it play FOR you. .... :/ (no comment). It would be nice to be challenged/pushed. Many of us are begging for it, but multiplayer competition is pretty much the only place where we can find it. Game Dev's themselves are pandering to the weak for quick cash -- no wonder the real work is being generated in competition communities.

Hm. (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 5 years ago | (#28563563)

...this, in a nutshell, is the type of play that has brought us grind, where the journey is simple and boring and the destination is something to be raced to. Nethack and many other roguelikes do feature experience gain, but it doesn't feel like grind.

Sounds like an attempt to prove "the game I like is OBJECTIVELY BETTER than the game you like." The other RPGs must be doing SOMETHING right, since they are far more popular with a much wider audience. Nethack is great, but it is not the sole pinnacle of RPG design.

Essential Mechanics? With regards to JRPGS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28563619)

Three things are essential:
-Angsty protagonist and possibly an angsty antagonist as well.
-Grinding, grinding, grinding.
-Cutesy anime girl sidekicks.

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