Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Economy in Roguelikes - Part I: Thoughts

In games that even roughly follow the RPG template, as the game progresses the player or party increases in power on two axes (axis plural apparently, I love English). One axis is character strength or experience, the other being character equipment and items. As someone who's creating a game, specifically a roguelike, making these areas of the game interesting is critical to my success. I'm going to cover some of my recent thoughts on the second area, equipment and items, in a short series of articles.

Anyone who's played a recent RPGish game has seen the drill. You start off equipped no better that a set of dirty rags and a dull knife and end the game in shiny enchanted plate armor and a +5 sword of awesomeness. This provides both a "carrot" to the player (look at how awesome your equipment is), and a "stick" (get behind on the equipment curve and suffer). In almost every game, the way one goes about this is pretty standard.
  • Enemies drop trash items and/or cash that one collects
  • Enemies (sometimes bosses) randomly drop items worth keeping
  • Unused items can be sold to shops for cash.
  • Cash can be used to either buy new equipment, gamble for new equipment, or improve existing equipment
There are some consequence to this system, one major one that has come to my attention is what I've seen called the "vacuum cleaner" behavior: Since in roguelike you have one life, people play optimally. Since every item dropped can be converted to cash, which can be converted into power, one should collect every item and return it to town to sell. This is generally boring, so games have come up with "band-aids" to patch over the issue.
  • "Town Portal" scrolls, to make return to the market less painful.
  • Pack mules or Bag of Holding - Increase amount one can carry, making return trips to sell items less frequent.
  • The items enemies drop are low weight and stackable (Final Fantasy XII), also reducing frequency of return trips.
  • Pets who can return to town and sell items (Seen in Torchlight)
  • Transmute spells, which will convert items to cash.
  • Shops and merchants who are co-located near/in the dungeon at hand.
  • Have a time system, either food or a deadline, which punishes players for returning to town more than the item is worth.
  • Remove the selling system in its entirety (Crawl)
The other half of the issue is returning home to buy better equipment. This almost always follows the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness (read this link). The ways I've seen new equipment introduced into game include:
  • As you travel farther from the starting area, or visit new towns, better equipment appears for purchase. 
  • As you progress in the plot, items shops everywhere restock with better items
  • Many items exist for purchase from the start of the game, but you can't use the good ones due to lack of skill, strength, or level
  • Many items exist for purchase from the start of the game, but are priced out of range of all but the most dedicated grinding players
Analysis of these thoughts and my plans for Magecrawl's economy will have to wait for another post. Let me know if I missed something, or your thoughts in the comments.


Todd said...

My idea was inspired by Dwarf Fortress and the traders that come and visit your fort periodically.

Why not have wandering traders or 'roving shopkeepers' who will trade with you -- either via gold (that sword costs 600) or barter (hey I could really use some food, do you have any?).

Depending on your theme, these could be similar to tinkerers or gypsies. Or heck, just other (non-player controlled) adventurers.

This would alleviate the need to constantly go back to a town or shop-level.

Of course, you could always just kill them and take all their stuff! (If you dare)

humpolec said...

Links to TV Tropes should be accompanied by a HUGE warning, it's one of the biggest timesinks in known Internet :)

donblas said...

Seriously, TV Tropes is a timesink that will devour your afternoon.

Jotaf said...

I was thinking of removing shops entirely, but that's due to laziness; just removing the ability to sell would be enough. Can you think of a good reason why selling should be in the game since it is so disruptive? :)

An alternative: common worthless items can't be sold; they are worth 0 gold! It would surely mitigate the vacuum cleaner effect.

Nolithius said...

Solutions for this trope often look good on paper, but lead to player frustrations once implemented.

For example, limiting a vendor's supply of gold will just force players to hop from vendor to vendor looking for one with enough gold. Downplaying the availability of magical items reduces item variety and flavor, while tightly limiting a player's inventory space also ends up feeling more restrictive than fun.

I'd be interested in seeing where you go with this topic and how it's implemented in MageCrawl.