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As an ambitious RPG gamer, I've often came to the conclusion that something's off. You're fighting your way through a dungeon, loot some chests, fullfill some side quests to get the rewards and start to get stronger and stronger equipments and therefore stats to challenge even harder enemies. However, at some point you want to revisit one of the first places just to chill there .. and all the enemies are just .. meh. Of course, that's how it is, but in my opinion not how it should be.

Let me explain it this way: I want to create a game where getting +20 Strength is a bonus, a real progression, not the requirement to have the chance to even challenge stronger enemies. When both you and the enemy have +5 Health compared to the last fight, you didn't made any real progress since then. That's something that bothers me alot about games like Diablo that takes it to its extreme. As a player, I'd feel cheated.

Moreover, there's a term called mudflation. To explain that here's an example: Back when you start your journey, you fight a monster and get loot worth of 10 gold. 2 hours later, you made some progress and can now fight stronger monster that drop loot worth 50 gold. Let's say you have to spend 2 minutes to fight each of them, it's obvious which one's worse efficient-wise. The progress you made at the beginning starts to get smaller and smaller the further you progress through the game. "Oh, you saved 100 gold from the first hour? Sweet, now you get double that amount within 2 minutes slaying this high end monster." Meaning it's not only an issue of increasing numbers, but also of spend effort and time that gets worth less and less.

I want to create a game with visible progress, so just removing all stats and only relying on the player getting better game skills by playing the game isn't an option for me. However, I can't think of a system without said mudflation - even Dark Souls that relies heavily on the player's skill had to add some stats that you can't just ignore as a player, otherwise you won't be able to kill the end bosses within reasonable time.

Does anyone know a solution for that? I want the players to actually know they've made some progress (so just cosmetics as rewards isn't a solution either), but they shouldn't feel cheated.

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However, at some point you want to revisit one of the first places just to chill there .. and all the enemies are just .. meh. Of course, that's how it is, but in my opinion not how it should be

There's a few ways games address the issue of "early levels become trivial when you return to them"

One is to have a few world-altering events that globally make the game harder at certain points in the player's progression. For example, at some point in your game "an enemy nation (demonic army) has taken over the country" and the new enemies roaming around the same old areas are harder than they were when you went there earlier. (an example of this approach is Terraria)

Another solution (although I suspect you ruled this out based on the "real progress" line) is to have all encounters somewhat scaled to the player's level. For example, in Elder Scrolls games at low levels you just encounter crabs and wolves but at high level in the exact same areas you'd encounter bears and more magical creatures (or the Draugr are training)

When both you and the enemy have +5 Health compared to the last fight, you didn't made any real progress since then

If your stats go up over time, then the game becomes mechanically easier. Given that player skill improves over time as well, this means the difficulty curve is too hard at the beginning of the game and too easy at the end of the game unless you scale the encounters .... unless ..

maybe at the beginning of the game you can't fight everyone and you're avoiding most of the hard enemies in the area. Perhaps the game is structured that at early levels a lot of the challenge is in remaining undetected or escaping from bigger guys. This, however, can feel "un-fun" because part of the appeal of games is Rule of Cool and being able to feel Badass.

Another option is that enemy density increases over time in low-level areas. Fighting one zombie was easy when you just got out of the Academy, but the infestation is getting worse and worse -- can a more experienced you fight off 5 at once? An obligatory story from the DnD side: Tucker's Kobolds

Oh, you saved 100 gold from the first hour? Sweet, now you get double that amount within 2 minutes slaying this high end monster."

There's no core concept that says you even have to increase the values over time. I think the reason many games have an exponential curve is that that exponentially increasing numbers are, in themselves, enjoyable. That's why an entire genre of clicker games are popular despite having close to zero interactive gameplay.

Therefore, avoiding this trope is just an exercise in adjusting the scale curve from exponential to something linear or sublinear. One issue with this is you have is to avoid incentivizing farming. If the hard creature gives you 5 gold and the easy creature gives you 4 gold but you've gained +20 Strength in the meantime, you may just decide the best use of your time is to stay in the easy level and farm easy creatures for more gold per minute.

I want to create a game with visible progress, so just removing all stats and only relying on the player getting better game skills by playing the game isn't an option for me.

A common theme (especially in games falling into the Metroidvania category) is to keep the numerical buffs small and add skills and items that unlock new areas. Simultaneously many skills (wall-jumping, double-jumps, dashes) require higher player mechanics and increase character power in ways other than just hitting harder.

It's also a question of good interaction design. Can your core combat loop simply be enjoyable in its own right? When I was playing Assassin's Creed 2 at some point the "guards assaulting a merchant" random quests got repetitive, for sure, but at some level I just still enjoyed parrying a sword thrust and stabbing a guy in the face with a wristblade. When the player is otherwise having fun, you have greater leeway in the difficulty window.

Finally, you use some other numerical indicator of progress. You can give people toplists and best speedrun times. In many roguelikes, "how deep can you go before dying" is enough of an indication of progress. Diablo 3 borrows this idea in its Rift Runs, where how many levels deep can you survive is a way people measure their character's power. You could use the same idea without Diablo's inflationary economy. Many games can track visible progress with non-power metrics like "number of Pokemon collected" "Pieces of the Triforce retrieved" "Areas of the empire liberated" etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Something I found interesting in some metroidvania games is that they wouldn't scale up the enemies' difficulty at all, and in order to get around the challenge, they would make you fight a boss or explore to find a powerup that affected movement or something instead of simply dealing more damage. Castlevania SOTN did something similar sometimes. (though they never started you out with "hard" enemies) \$\endgroup\$ – SomeAmericanGuy Nov 10 '17 at 14:07
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However, at some point you want to revisit one of the first places just to chill there .. and all the enemies are just .. meh. Of course, that's how it is, but in my opinion not how it should be.

You either can scale the numbers of said monsters higher so that they're a threat, or you can replace those monsters with other monsters. You don't much like the former, which really leaves the latter as the only viable choice.

One important question I have with this scenario is this: why is the player there? Why has the player decided to go back to an old area? Are they looking for something? Did your gameplay require them to go there? Do they believe that the gameplay required them to go there (that is, are they unsure where they need to go and are just trying everything)? Or are they just "chilling"?

Well, if the player is just "chilling", then I would say that the player isn't interested in challenge. After all, your gameplay is (presumably) pointing them in the direction of where the challenge actually is. So if they've deliberately decided that they don't want to go there, maybe they don't want challenge.

So maybe you shouldn't force challenge upon them.

If the player is investigating old areas because they think something new may be there, then the presence of new monsters might give the player the impression that there really is something new there. If the game designer went through the effort to put new monsters there, they must be guarding something.

So if you do that, I would say that you have the responsibility as a game designer to actually put something there. Making the player believe that something will be somewhere when it isn't is a pretty large degree of mis-communication. And game design is all about communication.

At the same time, the lack of new monsters would also be indicative of a lack of new content. So if you want to put something in an old area, one gameplay mechanism to indicate this is to add new monsters.

The progress you made at the beginning starts to get smaller and smaller the further you progress through the game. "Oh, you saved 100 gold from the first hour? Sweet, now you get double that amount within 2 minutes slaying this high end monster." Meaning it's not only an issue of increasing numbers, but also of spend effort and time that gets worth less and less.

I think you're measuring "progress" incorrectly here.

When I play such an RPG, "progress" to me reflects what I have. Gold is not really a thing I have. It is useful only to the extent that it can be converted into something that's actually useful. So gold in and of itself is not progress; gold buys progress.

As such, I feel progress when I get a new weapon or some new armor. I feel progress when I'm doing more damage or taking less damage. How much money I spent to get that progress is irrelevant; what matters is ultimately how much progress you make over a certain period of time.

And therefore, absolute flux of gold (gold-per-unit-of-time) is not particularly important. What matters is its flux relative to the actual cost of items. That is, it is the item flux that matters: items per minute.

So long as the cost of items increases proportionately with the flux of gold, then the player's item flux will be constant. Indeed, most RPGs will have lower item-per-minute numbers at the end of the game than at the beginning, despite the fact that monsters may be dropping several orders of magnitude more money than they did before.

So ultimately, what you need to look to is not how much gold in absolute numbers you're giving the player, but the gold relative to the desired level-appropriate items.

If the use of larger numbers truly irritates you though, there are ways to avoid dealing with ever increasing sums of money while still having control over items-per-minute.

One suggestion is to remove money from drops entirely. Make money a reward for doing things in the game, completing quests or whatever, not for killing random things. So it doesn't matter how many things you kill; you don't make money by killing stuff, so you don't have to give more money just for killing bigger stuff. And since you're in strict control over how much money you give out for each quest, you can decide exactly how much to charge for items. And therefore, you can maintain control over item flux.

Another suggestion is to make it so that money drops based on the relative difficulty of the fight. If you're level 10 and the enemy is level 1, decrease the amount of money you get for killing them proportionately.

Of course, this poses a problem: the player may level up faster than they get enough money to get what they want, which could leave them in a sticky spot. They might have to grind out lower-level mobs for crap rewards just to be able to afford the stuff needed to progress.

But in all of these cases, you need to re-evaluate the prices and availability for items. You're giving the player consistent purchasing power throughout the game; you need to make sure that powerful items are either outside of the players' price or are simply unavailable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "So ultimately, what you need to look to is not how much gold in absolute numbers you're giving the player, but the gold relative to the desired level-appropriate items." - This assumes that the player spends most of their gold on items, and in reasonably short intervals. A frugal player might still decide to, say, skip an item tier or two only to be hit over the head with hyperinflation. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jun 14 at 9:41
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Adding to Jimmy's excellent answer, games can not only progress in terms of statistics but also in terms of complexity. You see this a lot in character action games which give you metroidvania-like abilities to access new areas but at the same time such abilities are usually also new fighting moves that are incorporated into your arsenal and can combo with your other moves, thereby increasing the complexity of the fighting system to a noticeable degree.

Thus, one thing you can do is decouple stat bonuses from complexity as the main source of difficulty in your game. Keep the statistical differences small, but increase the complexity of enemies with player progress. This way, late game enemies may have more complex movesets or, depending on the type of game, require combinations of different attacks or spells to defeat but have similar (although not equal) values of HP or strength compared to early game enemies. This is especially useful if you want to create a more grounded, realistic world - after all real people tend to differ much more in skill than in physical ability. This would also mean that a large buff in any given stat can make a difference for your character against every enemy in the game and never creep out of relevancy while you don't absolutely need to fight any enemy.

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