Whatta Monster Do

Pokémon is, in general a well-tuned game. It is about collecting. It’s second biggest feature was exploring, at least until the hallway simulators starting Gen 4/5ish, and this meshes extremely well with collecting. Find new places, add to your collection. The combat system is Ultimate Rock Paper Scissors, with a complex elemental strength/weakness graph — and this also tests your collecting skills. You want a team of monsters that has good coverage of elemental strengths and situations.

I have some serious disagreements with Mr. Masuda on what makes Pokémon work; Pokémon has been letting the difficulty of its combat and the richness of its exploration wither on the vine, and at the same time has been half-assing some virtual pet functionality in. And I feel this undercuts what made a Pokémon player feel connected to his monsters, even while slapping a hasty bandaid over it. But the core of collecting is still there, and the rest of the gameplay still orbits around that core.

Digimon, on the other hand, was a virtual pet. The point was not to catch them all, but to raise them well. I’ve been test driving a Digimon 20th Anniversary pet to see what I want to steal, ditch, or improve for my V Pet, and… hm.

Here’s some groob animations while I ponder.

Well, lessee here…

  • The Digimon virtual pet comes about as close as a tiny plastic box with an LCD screen can to the pet owner experience. I can attest that 90% of owning a cat or a cockatiel is feed pet, clean up poop.
    • The other 90% is the pet’s adorable antics, which a virtual pet cannot reasonably emulate. You can have one or two pre-programmed antics, but the fact that all the antics are the same will become quickly apparent.
      • As the animations above attest, I’m trying to figure out how to put antics back on the menu. With evolution trees and RPG mechanics and this being a solo project, whatever I come up with needs to get a maximum number of behaviors out of a minimum number of animations. I also need to convey different species and temperaments with animations covering the same thing.
        • Hence “preen” and “observe” animations above.
        • One idea is to have idles for each of the six moods, plus a neutral. To minimize animations, we can merge fear and surprise, and anger and disgust. After all, a good deal of the fun I get out of owning a cockatiel is just observing his mood reflected in his crest, and seeing what he likes/dislikes, etcetera.
        • Another part of the fun, though, is that he randomly sings to me, and makes comments in cockatielese on his surroundings.
  • Virtual pets make up for not being real animals by being fake animals. That is, they can be dragons or dinosaurs or unicorns that metamorphose into bigger baddasser monsters and breath fire, and if your life gets busy and you decide to neglect them, you aren’t actually guilty of anything, and you can pit them against your friend’s virtual pet in match to the death and still not be guilty of anything.
  • There is something tactile and “real” about having a little tiny plastic box with rubber buttons that phone virtual pets simply cannot capture. So much so that I wondered whether I might drop everything and make my own little plastic boxes via 3D printing and arduinos and the like. But no, I want the flexibility that I can only get with full computing power.
  • The Digimon feels like it has the wrong amount of interaction. There’s not enough to do in a sitting, but too much to do in a day. The game is too simple when I want to play it, but demands to be played when I’m busy.
    • This is by design. It’s trying to be a pet, not a video game.
    • However, I think by making it possible to ‘play’ once or twice a day, but by making the play sessions more engaging, I can improve it.
  • I had thought, in my design, to streamline some things. For instance, Digimon have two infant forms before they get to “child” or “rookie”, where they are finally able to battle. I thought to combine the three forms, and make the larva the first combat form.

    However, the Digimon has convinced me there is wisdom to having a form that is tiny, cute, and evolves with almost no effort or time, to get you hyped for the mechanics that take more time. So I think I’m still going to combine the two infant stages into a single infant stage, but place an infant stage before the child form.
  • The combat system is severely underwhelming. Sure, the main point is to test how well you’ve raised your monster. So, watching a fight where the overall raisedness of your monster, plus a dice roll, play out against the overall raisedness of an opposing monster fits perfectly. But I don’t know what I’ve done that contributes to the fight. I don’t know what I could do different to change my combat outcomes.
    • I want to make a combat system that forms a suitable foundation for my Licensed RPG concept. But I have to be careful here. Making a virtual pet that tries to be Pokémon misses the point that what makes Pokémon’s combat system work is how it meshes with collecting. The bigger your collection, the more appropriate your tools for the combat.
    • I want to bring in some of the sense of the action from the cartoons..
      • Our Heros’ monsters could temporarily evolve in a pinch, but then reverted afterward.
      • But it was implied that normal time and growth would also cause them to evolve.
      • You get the sense that the monsters are fighting independently, and then their human partners can do things to aid (or interfere) with them.
    • But the most important thing is to make sure the combat mechanics orbit around the raising mechanics. Elemental strengths and weaknesses are fine, but they can’t dominate because that’s a mechanic tuned for a collecting game. There needs to be a strong connection between how you raise your critter, and what it does in battle. The player needs to see the connection and be able to choose actions based on the outcomes he wants.
  • In the same way, it’s not clear what use the training is. Yeah, you have to do it in order to achieve certain evolution outcomes. But does it make your character better in fights? If so, then how? Not only is there no indication in the game, there is no indication in the manuals or in the online literature.
  • I know what hunger means. I kind of know what weight means. I certainly know what DP are. But I have no idea what strength and effort mean. Why are they separate? What role do they play? Is your digimon’s combat strength a function of a hidden strength stat for his species and your strength hearts? I need to make sure the equivalents of these are clear and meaningful in my game.
    • Okay, so there is a hidden strength stat for each species, and it can be found on the internet. But again, the role it plays in combat is deeply unclear.
  • Presently, my form trees operate under the assumption that the child stage is the earliest, and I place my ugly-ducklings as final forms, but I don’t think that’s a wise idea any more. Making them adult forms is a much better plan.

I’m going to take a moment and look at strength ratios in monsters in Digimon.

Going in based on what I knew of the show, I expected a rough doubling in power each stage. But instead, we start with a 4×, drop to a 2×, then 1.5×, then 1.3×. Pity I don’t know how much chance and training affect fights.

You would expect either training, or species, which itself is an effect of upbringing, to be the primary factor, with the other option of the pair being the secondary factor, so that the majority of combat effectiveness is a measure of how you’ve raised your pet. But I just don’t know and I don’t know how to find out.

I would like smaller numbers. I had originally planned to use Fibonacci numbers as my power baselines, so that there would be φ-based power ratios. Then have individual monsters vary around those baselines by .5 in either direction (e.g. 0.5× to 1.5× base power). Let’s make a similar graph of how that looks…

I don’t have to do any of the math to see that this is going to be a mess. Okay. I can’t just slot Fibonacci numbers in and get results I’ll be happy with.

What if I start with 8 and 5, then recursively jump the average up by 1.618, with 0.75 to 1.25 bracketing?

This is closer to what I want, but it’s still not right. Each stage should be notably stronger than the last, but within reach of training.

What I really want is a range with a centerpoint, where the edges touch. So let’s turn that to 3 numbers per level, and call them minimum, maximum, center.

This kind of gets at what I’m thinking, but looking at it, I think linear growth, or tone the growth back like in Digimon or…

I’m being stupid.

Let’s say a buff/debuff is +1/-1. Let’s say a strong, or max buff/debuff is +2/-2. That means our minimum power level is 3. Let’s say we want a range of 5 for each level, and we want the maximum of one level to overlap the minimum of the next.

I’m still not content, but it’s no good to keep tinkering with it. These numbers don’t mean anything right now. Diagnosing what’s wrong is wasted effort.

Anyway, I think I’m done here. I recorded some necessary thoughts. I solved a couple of problems.

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